Taking the long view, this season hasn’t been all together unsurprising for your favorite baseball team. They had a shot – not a great shot, but a definite shot they had – coming into the season. And they’ve played just about in line with that. They are in fourth place as we approach the trade deadline, probably too far back to say they are in it, but not like 20 games back like they have been the last handful of years. The goggly-eyed optimist in me says “but their pythag!” but the steely-eyed realist in me says “but their record.” Pythag or not, they took their shot and it rimmed out. Like I said, this isn’t surprising.
There have been a few actual surprises for us to goggle our eyes about, though. Derek Dietrich single-handedly synchronized the menses of every woman of child-bearing age in the tri-state area when he hit dozens of home runs in a three-week stretch. Sonny Gray came to Cincinnati and immediately resumed slicing up eyeballs. There is always something fun to find in baseball if you look a bit deeper than the overall record.
Personally, I’m pretty sugared up by the explosion of Phil Ervin. His top-line numbers are enough to make any grown up shout like a four-year-old. He is slashing .358/.429/.605 in 91 PAs. There are only five players in baseball this season with as many or more PAs and a better OPS than Philly’s 1.034 mark, and they are pretty much all vying for their league’s MVP (Yelli, Belli, and Trout, along with hotshot prospect Yordan Alvarez and some guy named Alex Dickerson). He is knocking the snot out of the baseball, and it is kinda surprising and very fun.
It’s a long-time coming, too. Ervin was the Reds’ first-round selection back in 2013 out of Samford. He didn’t play against premiere college competition in the SEC or the PAC-12, so he was seen as a raw, toolsy, untested athlete at the time. He was all projection and it was pretty clear it would take some time for him to develop. And that’s exactly what happened.
He has over 2,500 career PAs in the minor leagues. Compare that to Nick Senzel, another first-round college bat. He moved really quickly up the ladder and got only a shade over 1,000 PAs before reaching the majors. The Reds have been very deliberate with their development of Ervin. But is it finally paying off?
Well, I dunno about that. His monumental production has come nearly exclusively against left-handed pitching this season. Against righties (58 PAs), he is hitting a pedestrian .264/.328/.358. Against lefties though, he is more-or-less an automatic bazooka grenade: .536/606/.1.071 with eight extra-base hits in just 33 PAs. And it’s not like he has a history as a lefty-slayer. In 83 PAs against lefties last year, he OPS’d .749.
Is he on a wicked heater? Absolutely. But is it just a heater or is it the beginning of something sustainable? Well …
Looking at his batted-ball data, well … yeah, he’s getting pretty lucky. His BABIP is above .500 (!!!) on an average exit velocity of just 86.8 MPH. He has put 55 balls in play but barreled up only three of them. His wOBA is an elite .433, but given his rates his xwOBA is just .305.
Look: Philly Ervin has destroyed baseballs for the last month and it has been tons of fun to watch him. I hope he keeps doing it forever. I think it would be tons of fun if Philly and Dietrich teamed up for a bosstacular platoon in an outfield corner and combined for like 50 home runs or something.
There is nothing less fun than a beady-eyed scientist stepping in with a bunch of numbers and science bottles and shit and beginning a lecture with the phrase “well, actually …” So I won’t do that. Let’s just have some fun and watch some of these fun baseball players have some fun doing fun stuff on the baseball field. We owe it to ourselves and each other.