Warning: Tenuous link ahead.
A few years ago, the town of Flint, Michigan suffered a catastrophe when cost-cutting measures forced the residents in the General Motors-based city to consume lead-contaminated water resulting in death, disease and birth abnormalities. Political and economic wranglings allowed the disaster to continue for years.
Across the state border, there are no such problems with the drinking water in Ohio (note the effortless segue). I don’t know if it’s something in the water, but starting pitchers from the two Ohioan MLB teams look like they are taking something. They are playing certainly playing a different game to the rest of the league.
Five of the top-10 starters this season play for either the Cleveland Indians or Cincinnati Reds. Which means that only five of the top-10 starters play for the other 28 teams.
Bauer has increased his spin rate to that of a baseball Rumpelstiltskin. He has the highest strikeout rate of his career (14.90 K/9), and his flattering 0.93 ERA puts him in contention for Cy Young Award recognition at the end of the season.
Yankees-reject, Sonny Gray, has built on his 2019 resurrection. Free from New York media demands and sub-standard coaching, the Nashville native is also striking out opponents at a career-best rate of 13.13 K/9. Couple this with his 2.25 ERA and 0.92 WHIP, and we might have the start of a season to eclipse last year’s All-Star campaign.
Just like the Met’s (not Mets’) Washington Crossing the Delaware, Luis Castillo’s headline stats of 0-2 record and 3.91 ERA, are not a true picture of the facts. Castillo has been the best of the trio of Reds’ pitcher, and his 1.99 FIP with 12.13 K/9 goes some way to explaining his position in the top-3 of WAR among all starters this season.
With Mike Clevinger‘s season build-up hampered by injury, the Indians needed Zach Plesac to take the leap forward, and he duly obliged. The recently disgraced pitcher was enjoying 1.29 ERA with 10.29 K/9 until his youthful exuberance/Cummings-like arrogance/sports star ignorance (delete as appropriate) got the better of him.
There can be few doubters about Shane Bieber‘s brilliance. At 13.99 K/9, he is striking out batters for fun while posting 1.63 ERA. You know that Bieber is elite, but do you know what? You must read Russell Eassom’s deep-dive.
With an improved strikeout rate, reduced walk rate and more groundballs, Aaron Civale (10.89 K/9, 2.84 ERA) has also made impressive progress since last season and could be on the verge of a major breakout.
And although he is a little wild at times (11 walks in 22⅓ innings), the strike-throwing version of Carlos Carrasco is back after successfully battling leukaemia. Imagine having a rotation where Carrasco is your fourth or fifth best option.
The Indians starters have averaged 10.88 K/9 with 2.39 ERA despite their best starter over the last couple of seasons, Mike Clevinger, looking like a shadow of himself on the mound. Although off it, he has effortlessly slotted into the outspoken bad-boy role vacated since Bauer moved across Ohio.
Perhaps my favourite stat about the Ohio pitching is that even including Wade Miley, Deejay Antone and Anthony DeSclafani, the Reds starters have still combined for a superior strikeout rate (11.69 K/9) than either Gerrit Cole (10.49 K/9) or Jacob deGrom (11.45 K/9).
Obviously, it is nothing to do with the water in Ohio, but the plaudits must go to the coaching set up in both teams that enables mediocre talents to be converted into elite, and elite talents to get even better.
Gavin is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @_tramps