The return. The standing ovation. The home run. The second standing ovation. The other home run. The third standing ovation. The shutout in Arlington, followed less than two hours later by the dagger in Oklahoma City. You really could not have drawn it up any better if you had tried, right down to the shared identifying mark of the night's two great Dallas/Fort Worth sports heroes. And even if your basketball allegiances lie elsewhere/nowhere and you're only concerned with the baseball side of things, it is indubitably heartening to see the Rangers' two greatest offensive stars rejoin the fold with the team still in first place.
In this moment, however, I want to deflect the focus away from those parties and tell you something you probably haven't realized: Alexi Ogando is the greatest pitcher in major league history. It's all right here in the numbers. The numbers are the truth. The cake is a lie. I ... oh, what's that? Your hysterical laughter has you teetering on the brink of unconsciousness from oxygen deprivation? Well, let me know when you've finished with all of that nonsense and rejoined reality. Go ahead. I'll wait.
The (actually serious) answer is no, I haven't -- at least in the sense that Ogando is in the midst of doing some things that have actually never been done before (provided you're cool with arbitrary manipulation of playing-time cutoffs), and stubbornly and inexplicably continues to resist the entire conception of regression back towards the mean. The man who has defied the odds on more than one occasion over the last couple of years is now literally breaking the game of baseball one inning at a time, and I keep waiting for him to stop doing it ... and yet he keeps on doing it again and again and again.
With his first major league complete-game shutout -- and the first individual home shutout by a Rangers pitcher since Vicente Padilla stopped texting from the dugout tunnel just long enough to throw a shutout on April 27th, 2008 -- safely tucked away underneath his belt, Ogando is now sitting pretty with a 43-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio (and a respectable six home runs allowed) in 59.1 total innings, a fielding-independent ERA (FIP) of 3.68 that would play very well in the No. 2 rotation spot on a first-division ballclub ... and a 1.81 ERA. Here's where things begin to get weird, and where the extent of Ogando's game-breaking ability over the course of his brief major league career becomes readily apparent.
Enjoy the following statistics, but be very mindful of what they're actually saying: Since 1871, 4,094 different pitchers have logged at least 100 career innings in the major leagues. Ogando, who now sits at the 101.1-inning mark for his career, presently boasts the largest FIP-ERA differential * (1.82 runs per nine innings) of any 100-plus-inning pitcher in major league history. He also possesses the fourth-lowest career BABIP (.223; incredibly, Neftali Feliz occupies the top spot with a career .209 mark), the lowest ERA- (39; this is the FanGraphs equivalent of the era- and league-adjusted ERA+, except in this case lower is better), and the highest left-on-base percentage (92.7 percent) of any 100-plus-inning pitcher in the history of the game. This is what Kanye West might call "[blank]ing ridiculous" -- you know, if he traded in his MPC 2000 for a spreadsheet. And liked baseball.
[* - Just to clarify what this means, a positive FIP-ERA differential is indicative of a pitcher who prevents more actual runs from scoring than his strikeout, walk, and home run numbers suggest that he should, or is pitching "above his peripherals"; this could be due to a high baserunner strand rate (or LOB%, which Ogando has), or a great defensive supporting cast (which Ogando has), or immense fortune in having batted balls hit directly towards fielders and converted into outs (or BABIP, which Ogando has) -- though it should be pointed out that beyond a few specific exceptions, pitchers have limited control over their BABIP rates.]
I'm already well aware of what you're thinking about all of this. If you're not thinking at all, let me spell it out for you: the vast majority of those 4,000 pitchers have logged considerably more than 100 career innings, and the mostly luck- and environment-induced vagaries of BABIP, LOB% and such are generally ironed out as pitchers accumulate more innings and approach what are to become their career norms. Case in point: if I increase the career innings cutoff to 1,000 innings, Mariano Rivera becomes the career ERA- king (49 ERA-), Andy Messersmith assumes the low-BABIP mantle (.240), and so on. It's a lot of fun to look at Ogando's dominance of every other pitcher in the history of the game given a 100-inning cutoff, but that's really all it is -- a fun, trivial little exercise that doesn't really entitle Ogando to any special plaudits or accolades, because 100 innings isn't a sufficiently large body of evidence to conclude that he compares in any way to the all-time greats.
There is, however, a point I want to make in all of this: Ogando will regress away from his present sub-2.00 ERA and back towards the higher, albeit still respectable 3.68 FIP, but the degree to which it will actually happen remains subject to debate, and his season could still end up being very unique on the whole. As I've already demonstrated, strange things can and do occur in smaller 100- to 200-inning chunks that are far more difficult to seek out in the larger 1,000-plus-inning chunks -- things like abnormally low single-season BABIPs, high FIP-ERA marks, and the like that could all equate to a much lower seasonal ERA than any of us could have expected from Ogando in a starting capacity.
Consider this: Ogando's current expected BABIP -- which is based upon such inputs as batted-ball rates and the like -- is .302, or a shocking 103 points more than this season's actual .199 BABIP. It's now quite obvious that Ogando's rotation spot is indefinitely locked in, but let's suppose that the Rangers skip over him a few times throughout the summer as a means of protecting his arm, and he finishes the season with 150 innings. If you projected that same .302 BABIP over his final 90 innings and mixed that with his 60 innings of .199 BABIP baseball, you'd end up with a final seasonal BABIP of .260. Or he could perform a bit better than that and knock it down to .250, which would still place his season among the top (or luckiest?) five percent of all individual starting pitcher seasons since 2000.
I'm not at a point where I can feel comfortable calling Ogando a legitimate "homegrown ace," largely because you don't attain that most prestigious of labels without actually being an ace for an entire season (or two), and also because it remains unclear where he's going to come to rest in the rotation hierarchy when it's all said and done, and whether he will prove physically capable of jumping to 140-150 innings (or more) in a single season ... but, hell, he's done just about everything else to shatter my preconceived notions and prove me utterly wrong at just about every turn since the starter experiment began, so he might as well go and pull all of this off as well.
Because, well, that's what game-breakers do.