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Newking the National League

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Don’t be distracted. Sean Newcomb destroyed the Dodgers and announced his presence with authority.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Newcomb made two statements on July 29th that he will doubtless never forget. One is that he apologized for Twitter comments made when he was a teenager. I won’t comment on what he said, the stupidity of youth, the pitfalls of social media, or the absolute mortal prissiness of our day. Because that day he served notice to baseball and managed to have the Dodgers wrapped around his fingers for eight and two-thirds innings. And I’ll be Bonifacioed before I let that statement be forgotten.

For the third time in four years, a Braves pitcher took a no-hitter into the ninth. Not to belittle Folty’s effort versus the A’s last year or Shelby Miller’s versus the Marlins in 2015, but Newcomb was facing a very good lineup in the Dodgers. How good?

That’s eight above average hitters (2018 numbers through July 26) that he would face. And it’s not like they are bad versus lefties. Five are above average versus lefties, and the starters had an wRC+ of at least 78. Hey, you know how some of us wanted Machado? Yeah, he is second to Max Muncy in terms of wRC+. But before I show you what he did to the Dodgers, I want to talk about Sean’s curveball.

Sean Newcomb has a really compelling curveball. It’s nearly a 10-4 curveball that dances in front of lefties before darting away and crowds righties inside. When he is locating it and not leaving it chest-high in the left-handed box, it’s an excellent piece of his arsenal and every bit of the 55/60 grade that Fangraphs places on it. But there’s the rub.

In 2018, the spin rate is down and the miss rate is up. He is using it about a third less (to 14.2% from 21.6%). Facing the Dodgers, he decided that he really didn’t need it, only throwing it six times in a career-high 133 pitches. Boy, did he ever make a good call because the fastball was alive.

Let’s see what Manny Machado had to say about Sean’s fastball.

Maybe Max Muncy would have better luck.

How about you, Yasiel?

He threw his four-seamer that day at an average of 93.5 MPH compared to 92.8 mph for the rest of the year. He threw his fourth-hardest fastball (96.1 MPH) during that start, as well as three of his hardest 21 fastballs of the year. This pitch chart of the first time through the order distills Newk’s gameplan: “Until you can hit it, here it is.” That and a curveball strike three to the pitcher Ross Stripling just for giggles. The Dodgers responded with four strikeouts and an inability to hit the ball to the outfield.

The second time through the order looked much like the first. Here he is slicing the black of the plate with a 95 MPH fastball.

Cody Bellinger has seen 20 pitches on two strike counts from Newcomb at this point in his career. Almost all are fastballs, with some curveballs in there, and two sliders that weren’t close. He has almost abandoned the curve and the sliders have been waste pitches in the past. And he is killing it with the fastball all day. So I don’t know exactly what Bellinger was thinking here when he sees this belt-high slider for strike three, but I bet it was something like: “What the... ok the dugout is this way?”

Remember that declining curveball? Here it is.

It took Sean Newcomb 39 pitches to get through the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. He kept the ball down more, only going above the strike zone three times. Yasiel Puig would break up the perfect game with a walk, and the Dodgers managed to hit a few balls near the warning track. But they couldn’t manage to knock Newcomb off the rails.

No-hitters are tough. For one, complete games have been declining for decades. It’s just tougher to pitch a whole game, let alone do it without giving up a hit. And in practically every attempt I have seen, you see the pitcher laboring and you want to give anything you can to get them to complete it. According to Fangraphs from 2013 to early 2018, pitchers are about three times as likely to lose a no-hitter in any early inning making it to the next. Once you get to the sixth, it become about a 50-50 chance to get to the next inning. Putting no-hitters on a Fight Club-level clearance seems like the least you could do. However, that day it seemed unnecessary. Sean seemed to the toying with the Dodgers.

His fastball was still screaming through at 93.3 MPH in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. Pitch #133 was logged at 94.0 MPH. The footage for that?

He went hard after the Dodgers and was rewarded. Sean Newcomb with below average control results in a game like Sunday versus the Brewers. Sean Newcomb on point is dangerous to the health of baseball. His game told the league that when his fastball is on, don’t bother getting off the bus. After the game, that message was lost because we were trolled confronted with controversy. This is a reminder that no matter what his teenage Twitter tells, his fastball will show you what it’s like.