Saturday 29 December 2012

Guest Post: Blockbuster

A look back at magical moments from:
Special guest author Minor Leaguer from Bluebird Banter

“MAR-CO SCU-TA-RO! *clap clap clap clap clap*” There’s something magical about such a chantable name, isn’t there? 

San Francisco Giants fans had little reason to chant Marco Scutaro’s name when he was acquired from the Colorado Rockies for AAA prospect Charlie Culberson. They were in first place and just acquired a 36-year old infielder who was batting .271/.324/.361 in the thin air of Denver. The Giants needed someone to fill at the hot corner after Kung Fu Panda tried to do splits, and when Pablo Sandoval was to return, the team needed someone to replace either Brandon Crawford or Ryan Theriot afterwards—two players who barely scraped above .300 OBP. They could’ve done better—they could’ve tried to acquire someone with a bigger name to catch up with the haul that the Los Angeles Dodgers got from the Boston Red Sox.

But it turned out to be the best deadline trade of 2012. His teammates grew to love Marco so much they actually started calling him “Blockbuster,” and after the Giants won the NLCS, ace Matt Cain called the trade “the best thing that’s ever happened so far.” Better than his wedding day, better than the day his daughter was born. What did Marco do to deserve all the praise? 

In the two remaining months of the regular season after Marco first put on a Giants uniform he hit .362/.385/.473—he went from creating 25% fewer runs than the league in Colorado (75 wRC+) to being 37% above average in San Francisco (137 wRC+). His strikeout rate dropped from an 8.4% before the trade to 5.2% afterwards. (For comparison, the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays’ second baseman Kelly Johnson had a 27.4% strikeout rate.) 

He was on a red-hot streak entering the playoffs, but then the magic started: he somehow just stopped missing baseballs. He played all five games of the NLDS and did not strikeout once, and only recorded one K in the seven NLCS games. Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan looked through every single Marco Scutaro at bat during the NLCS. and found that, out of the 78 swings he took, he only missed the ball twice. In that magical seven-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, he hit .500/.533/.607, he didn’t go 0-for in any game and managed to record six multi-hit games, collecting 14 hits in 28 at bats. 

But the magic could have easily ended in the top of the first in game 2 of the NLCS. Marco, the 5’10”/185-pound second baseman, was trying to turn a double play when he was crushed by Cardinals’ 6’4”/235-pound runner Matt Holliday’s hard slide over second base. AT&T Park was showering boos as Marco rolled around the infield dirt in pain. Watching on TV, I thought his season was over.
But as you can see in the video, after a few minutes, the diminutive Venezuelan stood right up, dusted himself off and continued playing for his team. Two batters later and it was his turn to come up to bat and what did he do? Slam a line drive single up the middle against Chris Carpenter. Later in the game, he loosened a tight 2-1 Giants lead by lining another single with the bases loaded, scoring three (with the help of an error). He continued his success against Carpenter in Game 6, hitting a two-run double in the second inning. 

Marco contributed 3 hits and took a walk in the final game of the NLCS, which was decided early on when the Giants took a 7-0 lead by the end of the 3rd inning. But of course, the players had to complete the requisite 9 innings of play, despite the skies opening up to a pouring rain by the top of the 9th. Very appropriately, the NLCS ended when Matt Holliday, the man sacked Marco game 1, popped a ball straight up to the skies where it mixed with the rain to drop into the glove of the Giants’ magical second baseman. Did he think that the moment was pure magic? Judge for yourself. 
Image courtesy of SBNation
Of course, describing Marco Scutaro’s NLCS as “magical” doesn’t mean his success was mana granted from the heavens. As Blue Jays fans may remember, Marco had a knack of creating magic: remember when he took second base on a walk when he caught the Phillies’ infielders napping? It is his natural talent, hard work, and intellect that gave him that magic. 

 Marco was awarded the NLCS MVP trophy, and later with a $20-million contract to allow Giants fans to chant “MAR-CO SCU-TA-RO! *clap clap clap clap clap*” every home game he plays in for the next 3 years. Looks like they’ll have more magic in store.

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