Real or not? Ramon Laureano can do things you’ve never seen before

We had a ridiculous catch, throw and double play that wasn’t officially a double play on Sunday and, yes, it involved Ramon Laureano, the rocket-armed center fielder for the Oakland Athletics:

Thanks to the heads-up backup on the play by catcher Nick Hundley, the A’s got Justin Smoak trying to tag up from first base. Laureano did not receive credit for an assist on the play, as his throw was officially ruled a misplay, with the second out going 2-4 rather than 8-2-4. Anyway, it was still a crazy play and a reminder of Laureano’s insane arm strength. He has five assists this season, and going back to his debut last year, he has 14 assists in just 70 games and 584 innings — or just under half a season of full-time play.

To put that total in perspective, the last player with 20 outfield assists in a season was Alex Gordon in 2011. Since 2000, only four outfielders have 20-plus assists: Richard Hidalgo (2003) and Alfonso Soriano (2006) with 22, Robert Fick with 21 in 2002 and Gordon. Those four were corner outfielders; the last center fielder with 20 assists was Andruw Jones in 1998.

That seems to be the upper limit for outfield assists in modern baseball (in part, with more strikeouts and more home runs, there is simply less action that can lead to assists). That makes Laureano’s assist total even more impressive. The last outfielder with 25 assists was Dave Parker with 26 in 1977 for the Pirates. And, yes, Parker’s arm was legendary:

Is Laureano on that level? He certainly has made several highlight-reel throws early in his career, and the pure arm strength is obvious. In fact, his throw home on Rowdy Tellez’s sacrifice fly in the sixth inning Sunday was clocked at 100.8 mph, the fastest outfield throw this season. (The Blue Jays won the game 5-4.)

Two aspects must be considered when evaluating the value of an outfielder’s arm: assists — or outfield kills as some like to refer to them — and preventing baserunners from advancing, such as going from first to third on a single. That part gets tricky because all outfields are not created equal. If you play left field at Fenway, it’s certainly easier to hold a runner at second base on a base hit.

Also, keep in mind that speed can help make up for arm strength, as a fast outfielder may get to a ball a step or two quicker. Still, the players with the most assists are generally those with the best arms — Gordon has a terrific arm and Hidalgo had a cannon. I can’t say I remember anything about Fick’s arm, and Soriano’s was apparently better than advertised. In the defensive runs saved era since 2003, the players with the most runs saved via their arms in one season:

Hidalgo, 2003: 17
Soriano, 2007: 14
Yoenis Cespedes, 2014: 14
Gordon, 2011: 13
Gerardo Parra, 2013: 12
Leonys Martin, 2014: 12

That’s a pretty good proxy for the best arms of the past 20 years. Many would mention Ichiro Suzuki as well. He had a career high of 12 assists in 2003, when he was credited with six runs saved with his arm. I would say Ichiro’s arm was a little overrated — very good, but not in the Parker/Jesse Barfield/Laureano category. Over his career, he held runners from taking an extra base 50.9 percent of the time while playing right field, compared to the MLB average of 46.7 percent.

Anyway, Laureano’s arm is a unique and wonderful weapon, enough to prop him up as a viable Gold Glove candidate, even if doesn’t have the raw speed of some other center fielders. Overall, he began the day with plus-3 defensive runs saved (plus-4 with his arm), trailing Kevin Kiermaier and Lorenzo Cain (plus-5) and Harrison Bader (plus-4) among center fielders.

Speaking of Cain — who remarkably has never won a Gold Glove — he performed a little magic of his own on Sunday:

Dodgers take three of four from Brewers: Despite Cain’s catch, the Dodgers won a wild game 6-5 on Cody Bellinger’s home run in the ninth off Josh Hader:

Quick thoughts on a fun series:

1. Fun to see Bellinger and Christian Yelich duke it out. Bellinger homered twice in the series to give him 11 for the season, and Yelich homered four times, including twice on Saturday. But it should have been five home runs, as Bellinger robbed him in the eighth inning:

2. Remarkably, that’s twice Yelich has been robbed already this season, as Mike Trout took one away earlier. And he’s still hitting .353/.456/.859 with 13 home runs and 31 RBIs. Clayton Kershaw may have had the best approach against him on Sunday, walking Yelich with one out and nobody on in the first and again with one out and nobody on in the third.

3. Pretty solid effort from Kershaw, even with four walks in six innings. He allowed just two hits and induced 17 swing-and-misses, his most since Opening Day of 2018. He sat 89-91 with his fastball, averaging 90.1 mph, a small tick up from 89.8 in his first start. Can Kershaw still be effective with that fastball? Sure. I think there is going to be a trade-off here. He’s probably going to walk more batters because he’ll be throwing more breaking balls and be less likely to challenge hitters with a fastball in a hitter’s count. But the guy knows how to pitch and he can throw his curveball and slider in the zone. Limiting home runs will be key, especially if he has just walked a batter. He’s probably a six-inning pitcher at this point. It’s not peak, Cy Young-level Kershaw, but he’s going to win games.

4. That is, assuming the Dodgers’ bullpen doesn’t blow them — as happened on Sunday, when the Brewers tied it on Eric Thames’ three-run homer in the eighth off Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers’ bullpen remains somewhat unsettled. It ranks 20th in the majors with a 4.81 ERA and entered Sunday ranked 25th in win probability added. That will go down after the combined blown save from Pedro Baez and Jansen.

5. The Dodgers did beat Hader twice in the series, with Bellinger’s home run just the second Hader has allowed to a left-handed hitter in 141 career innings (Anthony Rizzo got him last year). It was also the first time Hader has allowed a home run in three straight appearances. I don’t see a reason to be overly concerned about Hader just yet. Other than the three home runs in 12 innings, all his other numbers are better than last season. He made a couple of mistakes and the Dodgers made him pay.

2 Related

Red Sox sweep Rays: The most important result of the weekend was undoubtedly the Red Sox winning all three games in Tampa, including Sunday’s 4-3 win in 11 innings. The Red Sox began the series eight games back, so a sweep in the other direction would have meant an 11-game deficit. Trailing by five games and heading back to Fenway for a 10-game homestand gives the Red Sox some good vibes for the first time. Joon Lee has more from Tampa.

Tough times in Mets-ville: Jacob deGrom missed his start this weekend with a “barking” elbow and was placed on the injured list, although it felt better after treatment and he might not need an MRI. So we’ll wait and see on this situation.

Meanwhile, the Mets lost deGrom’s game on Saturday as the Cardinals roughed up spot starter Chris Flexen, and then Noah Syndergaard scuffled again on Sunday in a 6-4 loss, allowing eight hits and six runs in five innings. A couple of the runs were unearned, but Syndergaard labored through 93 pitches. He’s 1-2 with a 5.90 ERA in five starts, and while his peripheral numbers remain strong other than a .355 BABIP, he has struggled with runners on base (which might just be related to the BABIP):

Bases empty: .209/.274/.343
Runners on: .356/.375/.556
RISP: .370/.379/.519

Batters are hitting .339/.377/.518 against his fastball. He has to do better.

Will the last person left standing please bat for the Yankees: With Aaron Judge the 13th player on the injured list for the Yankees after suffering a “significant” oblique injury, six of the nine position players in Aaron Boone’s Opening Day lineup did not play in Sunday’s 7-6 victory over the Royals. Despite all the injuries, the Yankees went 5-1 during the week against the Red Sox and Royals. Clint Frazier has been huge, blasting his sixth home run:

James Paxton also became the first Yankees pitcher with 12 strikeouts and no runs allowed in consecutive starts. (David Cone is the only other with at least 12 strikeouts in consecutive games, regardless of runs allowed.) The bullpen, however, blew Paxton’s 5-0 lead when the Royals scored six in the eighth. So aside from all the injuries, Boone has to be a little worried about the bullpen, especially Chad Green, who has allowed 10 runs in 7⅓ innings. The Yankees are 15th in bullpen ERA, but given all the injures in the lineup and a thinner rotation, the Yankees really need the bullpen to be lights out as they wait for everyone to get healthy.

Random thoughts off the weekend: A few more notes!

— Wild one in Arlington as the Rangers nearly blew a 10-1 lead in beating the Astros 11-10. Shawn Kelley fanned Robinson Chirinos with the bases loaded to end it. The Rangers scored 20 runs in winning the final two games of the series. Joey Gallo has been terrific so far with a .281/.382/.734 line and eight home runs. He even hit the first sacrifice fly of his career. If he can hit even .250 instead of .206, he becomes one of the top weapons in the league with his power.

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— Tough injury for Matt Shoemaker, who was off to a good start with the Blue Jays. He tore an ACL and is out for the season. He had been possible trade bait if he had continued to pitch well.

— After going 0-6 at home against the Astros and Indians, the Mariners rebounded to take three of four in Anaheim. They bashed 14 more home runs in the four games, giving them 56 in 25 games. That’s more than what the ’79 Astros (49) or ’75 Angels (55) hit all season.

— Good to see Byron Buxton continuing to hit. He has 12 doubles in Minnesota’s 19 games. As Aaron Gleeman pointed out on Twitter, that’s tied for the most doubles since 1960 in a team’s first 19 games. Start the Earl Webb Watch!

— How about Jon Gray with one hit and no runs allowed against the Phillies at Coors? That’s three excellent starts in a row — the first two were at San Francisco and San Diego, so pitching well against one of the better lineups at Coors is a good sign that maybe Gray finally will have that big season we’ve been waiting for.

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