Gnats of the Week: Week Five

Your weekly rundown of the best worst players in baseball.

Welcome back to Gnats of the Week! It’s the series where I take everything that happened in Major League Baseball this week and single out the most brilliantly stupid performances to be enshrined in eternal (until next week) glory.

What is a gnat, you ask? Good question. Gnats are the little guys, the washed-up utilitymen, unheralded prospects, and unproven entities who seem to come out of nowhere to make their mark on a game. If you watch a lot of baseball (and if you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet on it), then you know that this happens pretty much every day.

These players are delightful stories, unless, of course, they’re playing your team. Then they’re the most daggum irritating thing you’ve ever seen. That’s what makes them gnats; a truly beautiful phenomenon.

New in this week’s gnatatorium: some sweet-swinging catchers, a California lefty with something to prove, and… well, Matt Duffy. What more could you possibly want?


Honorable Mentions:

  • Matt Beatty: 4-6, HR, 7 RBI, 3 R vs. Brewers on Sunday
  • Kevin Pillar: 2-4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI vs. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals on Monday
  • Isan Diaz: 5-16 (.313), 2 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB, 1.088 OPS vs. Nats, D-Backs, and Brewers


Third Runner-Up: Cole Irvin

8 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 9 K, W vs. Blue Jays on Tuesday

In his first 45.1 innings as a Major League pitcher, Cole Irvin gave up as many runs (35) as he had strikeouts. After posting a 5.83 ERA as a rookie in 2019, he was hardly even given a shot with the Phillies last year, throwing just three innings before he was picked up by Oakland for cash considerations in the offseason.

Leave it to the A’s to put the young lefty on the right track. Pitching in his home state for the first time since high school, the Anaheim native has been stellar filling in the Oakland rotation. In his past four starts, Irvin has allowed just four runs while striking out 29, good for a 1.42 ERA and .568 opponent OPS.

The most recent performance was his most impressive yet: he went eight full innings of one-run, three-hit ball against the potent Blue Jays lineup, holding Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to 0-8 with five punchies. It was the longest outing for an A’s starter all season, powering a 4-1 win.

If you need another reason to root for the guy, enjoy this clip of him basically dragging the entire Phillies organization for doubting him. Warranted or not, I love a good player-team beef.


Second Runner-Up: Jacob Nottingham

2-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI vs. Julio Urias, Dodgers on Sunday

The Milwaukee Brewers pulled off a rare feat recently when they managed to lose all three of their active catchers in the span of nine days. On April 22, they DFA’d third-stringer Jacob Nottingham, who was soon picked up by the Mariners. Five days later, backup Manny Piña went down with a fractured toe against the Marlins, forcing the Crew to call up Luke Maile from their alternate site. Things seemed under control until Omar Narvaez, who had started 23 of the club’s first 30 behind the dish, strained his hamstring playing the Dodgers that weekend. That left Maile, who hadn’t caught a Major League game since 2019, as the only catcher on the active roster.

Milwaukee once again reacted quickly, calling up top prospect Mario Feliciano for a day and then orchestrating a trade with Seattle on Sunday to bring back Nottingham, who spent a grand total of three days with his new team before heading right back. He earned the start against L.A. that same day. Low pressure, right?

The 26-year-old Nottingham came out swinging. In the third inning, he yanked a Julio Urías curveball 408 feet to right-center, the only run allowed by the Mexican lefty that day.

The game was long since decided, but Nottingham wasn’t done. He followed that up with an oppo taco in the eighth inning, this time scoring two:

So in four at-bats Sunday, after being DFA’d twice in one week, Nottingham equaled 50% of his home run total from the entire 2020 season (20 games, 48 ABs) against the best team in baseball. Gnat power at work.


First Runner-Up: Martín Maldonado

 3-4, HR, 2 RBI vs. Gerrit Cole, Yankees on Thursday

You can’t blame Gerrit Cole for getting a little complacent. After all, he was just named A.L. Pitcher of the Month for racking up a whopping 62 Ks in 37 innings over six starts in April, all with two runs allowed or less. But as he should certainly know, you can’t afford to take a nap against the Astros’ lineup. Giving up two massive dingers to a former teammate in Yordan Alvarez is the kind of thing that happens as a result.

What you don’t expect from Cole, even on an “off day” (he still gave up just two runs, but struck out only four), is to get mashed by Martín Maldonado. If you take out the two Alvarez homers, the veteran catcher (.642 career OPS, .430 so far this season) accounted for two of the other three hits amassed against Cole in his seven innings: almost identical 70-mph singles that dropped perfectly in short left-center. He didn’t advance past first either time. In the gnat community, they call this “baiting the hook.”

But before we get to the dramatic finish, keep in mind that this happened just two days prior, in game one of this series:

That play at the plate resulted in Maldonado leaving the game in the sixth to be replaced by Jason Castro, who earned the start on Wednesday, too. So not only were the ‘Stros looking to avoid a sweep (which they would never hear the end of from the trash can-banging Yankee fans), but Maldonado was out for blood in his return. Now fast forward to the ninth inning, with the Astros now holding on to a 5-4 lead thanks to a big eighth inning vs. the Yankee bullpen. In steps Maldonado with a chance to salt it away…

That’s 106.2 miles per hour off the bat, 386 feet just inside the foul pole and game. It’s Martín time. Good night, New York.



6-16 (.375), .921 OPS, 5 R, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 2 SB vs. Reds, Dodgers & Pirates

Matt Duffy’s no scrub, to be sure. The 30-year-old Cubs infielder has a career WAR of 8.2 and a solidly average .283/.341/.379 line over four full seasons and change. He is, however, the perfect combination of generic name and under-the-radar mediocrity, a brand no doubt aided by spending most of his career in San Francisco and Tampa Bay. He’s the kind of guy you could walk up to on the street and instantly know was a baseball player, but wouldn’t be able to identify him as “Matt Duffy” in 100 guesses.

He’s also the kind of guy that will infuriate you when he single-handedly beats your favorite team, no matter how well you later realize he’s actually been playing. Or at least, that’s how I imagine Dodger fans must have felt on Wednesday night when Duffy went 3-4 with a walk in five plate appearances against Walker Buehler & co., scoring the first and last runs of the game for Chicago and knocking in the game-tying ribby in the 11th before coming home to walk it off.

To me, the ultimate Matt Duffy moment is him running around the field chasing his teammates, who have evidently forgotten he exists, immediately after scoring the game-winning run (in fairness they were looking for Anthony Rizzo, who was hiding in the dugout).


Duffy went 4-8 with four runs scored in the Dodgers series alone, a Chicago sweep. But he didn’t stop there. He drove in what proved to be the game-winning run in both of the first two games vs. Pittsburgh this weekend, a pair of 3-2 wins on Friday and Saturday. The latter was more dramatic, highlighted by this beautiful (Duffyful?) piece of clutch hitting:

Almost single-handedly powering a five-game win streak? Very good. Earning a sweep of the reigning World Series champions? Even better. The Matt Duffy experience: never heard of him, but somehow I hate him.


Photos by Gerry Angus, Leslie Plaza Johnson & Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)

Wynn McDonald

Born a Kentuckian, much like Dan Uggla. Braves fan by choice, unlike Dan Uggla. I enjoy long walks on the Brandon Beachy. @twynstagram

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