Welcome to the MLB Star Power Index — a weekly temperature reading that tells us which players are owning the baseball conversation right now. While one’s presence on this list is often a positive, it’s not necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you’re capturing the baseball world’s attention for one reason or another. The players listed are in no particular order. Thanks to Brad Botkin and our CBS Sports NBA compadres for letting us borrow the concept. 

Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber has two first-pitch leadoff home runs within the last week or so — one of them off no less a moundsman than Clayton Kershaw. Here’s that one: 

On Tuesday, he gave the same treatment to Ivan Nova

Mr. Nova, your thoughts?

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Same here. Then on Wednesday night, Schwarber doubled off the first pitch of the night he saw from Lucas Giolito, who may be the AL Cy Young front-runner at the moment.

It’s understandable that Schwarber occasionally takes such an aggressive approach. After all, this season four of his 16 home runs have come off the first pitch of a plate appearance, and against first pitches he’s batting .400 and slugging .800. For his career, he’s batting .396 and slugging .965 against first pitches. 

Really, all the league’s hitters should probably take the cue and ambush that first offering a bit more often. League-wide hitters this season have a AVG/SLG of .348/.616 against first pitches, and that’s pretty much in step with prior years. As you’ve already surmised, that’s much better than hitters fare on or after subsequent pitches. 

With that in mind, some additional #hotfacts with regard to attacking first pitches: 

  • The first pitch of a plate appearance in 2019 has been a strike 60.8 percent of the time. 
  • Compare that figure to the overall strike percentage of 42.2 percent, and it’s clear that the first pitch is usually the best opportunity to get a hittable pitch. 
  • Despite all that, hitters this season have swung at the first pitch just 29.7 percent of the time. 

None of those numbers are out of step with multi-season recent history. In particular, Schwarber seems to be on to something when it comes to dry-gulching the very first pitch of the game — something he’s equipped to do as a leadoff hitter with pop. As ESPN’s Sam Miller wrote late last season, almost every first pitch of any given game is a fastball. His homer off Kershaw and his double off Giolito to start those games were off fastballs. His homer off Nova was on a sinker. Hard stuff in the zone as the first pitch, all. 

Anyway, here’s to seeing more of that kind of thing. Not only is it entertaining for fans, it’s also quite possibly a wise tack — at least until pitchers adjust to the adjustment. Viva la dry gulch!

Imagine for a moment that you, the URL-clicker, know nothing of this game. “A man dutifully plied his trade not long after breaking his own face,” someone remarks in a station of the metro. 

“Ah, yes,” you say by rote and with the certainty of prophets. “Max Scherzer dutifully plied his trade not long after breaking his own face.”

Even if you don’t know that Max Scherzer is of the ilk who pitches with a broken face, you know that Max Scherzer is of the ilk who pitches with a broken face. 

First, the decision: 

And now its consequences: 

As you see above, Scherzer has the visage of a man who recently landed on the fightin’ side of Bullock Gustafson after an evening of indiscretions at the Trench Mouth Saloon in Bandolier, Wyoming. Factually, he bunted himself in the face and emerged from it with a broken nose and a shiner worthy of a generous application of frozen T-bone. 

Less than 24 hours after getting punched in the face by a baseball, Scherzer went out and shoved against the Phillies: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 10 SO, 2 BB. Pretty moving pictures: 

Non-pretty moving pictures: 

Should we be surprised that a moundsman who curses at himself and his managers and audibly grunts from maximum effort even in the dumb All-Star Game should be able to marshal the wherewithal to ignore facial trauma and do his got-dang job? No, we should not be surprised. 

This is the part of the story in which hockey evangelists, upon discerning the opening strains of the “someone praising toughness in another sport” conch shell, tell you that that’s nothing because they remember the time that Spitknife O’Crankovich played two shifts without a head. To hear, though, you must first listen. And, lo, my people, we are not listening.

It seems like every year some of us go to marathonic lengths to declare someone other than Mike Trout to be the best current player in baseball. On one level, it’s understandable — repetition begets tedium. We lurch toward the incorrect just for the sake of Something Different. Maybe we’re doing it again in 2019. 

Yeah, sure, right now Cody Bellinger leads Trout in WAR by a count of 6.2 to 5.0, but it would be among the least surprising developments in the history of history if Trout overtook him at some point. It says here that’s what will happen. 

So Trout at this writing has a slash line of .299/.462/.651, which comes to an OPS+ of 196. He’s got 157 total bases in 71 games. Trout also leads the majors in walks and OBP and leads the AL in home runs, RBI, SLG, OPS, OPS+, total bases, and HBPs. Speaking of which: 

Baseball-admirable fellow travelers right there. 

Anyhow, Trout is so otherworldly that he was recently subjected to some rarely-glimpsed-in-the-wild complimentary trash talk, courtesy of Marcus Stroman. Bear witness: 

And in case you misperceived this as ironic in nature and execution: 

No doubt buoyed by Stroman’s hosannas, Trout went out the very next night and perpetrated this upon all of Canada: 

Story checks out. 

The Royals are bad. They’re right now on pace for 107 losses, which would make for the worst season in franchise history. This is despite not really undertaking a down-to-the-studs rebuild like some other bad teams. That makes this worse in a sense. What’s worse than worse is that all this pain and suffering won’t net them the top overall pick in 2020, should paces hold. That’s because the Orioles are even more lousy than the Royals. 

Jorge Soler? Jorge Soler has been a blessed respite from all the bad baseball in Kansas City. Right now, the 27-year-old is as you see above sitting on 20 home runs. Relevant factoid forthcoming: 

In terms of raw pace, Soler is on target to get there — i.e., become the first 40-homer dude in Royals history. 

However, that plays out Soler has put up some highly nifty numbers since the start of the 2018 season. The Royals acquired him from the Cubs in exchange for Wade Davis back in December of 2016, but Soler struggled deeply and badly in his first season in KC. Since the depths of 2017, though, Soler has put up an OPS+ of 118 with 29 home runs and 35 doubles in 499 at-bats. Soler has the impressive scouting reports from his minor-league days and was not so long ago on the cusp of being a top-10 overall prospect. Now it seems Soler is finding his level. 

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