Monday, June 29, 2009

Trivia - Ichiro is on a different level

Ichiro is currently leading the entire league in batting average at .372. The next closest players are David Wright and Hanley Ramirez at .339, which is a 33 point differential.

The last time that the Major League Batting Leader had at least 30 points on the 2nd place finisher was 1980 when George Brett hit .390 and Cecil Cooper was next at .352.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Big Papi Watch

David Ortiz went 1-4 on Sunday in the Red Sox 2-1 loss to the Braves. He has raised his batting average to .220 and is hitting .317 in June with 7 of his 8 home runs. He has thrived since he was moved to the 5th spot in the lineup from 6th. He is hitting .346 hitting 5th, compared with .235 hitting 6th, and .195 hitting 3rd.
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Cincinnati's New Nasty Boys?

The Reds have not been known for great pitching in recent years. The last time the Reds won the World Series, in 1990, they had one of the most memorable bullpens in history: Rob Dibble, Randy Myers and Norm Charlton threw hard, dominated hitters and were, well, nasty. That will not be replicated, but the Reds have a really good bullpen in 2009, possibly their best since the Nasty Boys.

The Reds have been near the bottom of league in pitching for most of the past decade. This year, their team ERA is 9th best in the Majors, and their Bullpen ERA is 3rd. Last year, their bullpen was decent and ranked 8th, but in 2007 it was 27th. The Reds have three pitchers this year who have appeared in 25 games with an ERA under 2.00: Arthur Rhodes, Nick Masset, Francisco Cordero.


Arthur Rhodes

You know Arthur Rhodes, he's probably pitched for your favorite team recently. He's 39 years old, been around forever (since 1991) and is with his 7th team in 6 seasons (he also missed 2007). He has had some great seasons before (1.72 ERA is 71 games with the 116-win 2001 Seattle Mariners, which had a Nasty Boys-like bullpen with Jeff Nelson, Kaz Sasaki and, yes, Norm Charlton). He is 11th all-time in strikeouts per nine innings, and he is unhittable this year. The league is hitting .161 against him, 7th best in the league among pitchers with 20 innings.

Nick Masset

Nick is 2nd best in the league in opponents batting average, with the league only hitting .144 against him, while last year, the league hit nearly .300 against him, so he has made a giant leap forward to become one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. He was traded from the White Sox at the trade deadline last year in the Ken Griffey Jr. trade. He struggled for parts of three seasons before arriving in Cincinnati last year, so it seems like a really good fit for him.

Francisco Cordero

He's making 12 million this year (Masset is making 400K), so he'd better be this good. With 18 saves, a 1.97 ERA and only 1 blown save, he is in the upper echelon of closers in baseball. He has a really good closer for several years, so there is no reason to think it will not continue. This is only his 6th season of being a full-time closer and he is already 7th among active pitchers with 229.

There are a couple of other really pitchers in their bullpen who are having good seasons too, such as Danny Herrera, who is 24 years old, a 45th round draft choice (!) of the Texas Rangers in 2006, and has a 2.05 ERA in 32 appearances. David Weathers, the 39 year old veteran, is have a nice year too with a 2.46 ERA.

If they can keep it going, Herrera, Masset and Cordero could be a nice trio to anchor their bullpen in the future. Cordero is 34, but seems to have a few good years left in him, and is signed for at least 2 more years in Cincinnati. For this year, though, with the Reds at 37-37 and only 2.5 games out of the NL Central, they may have to lean on the ageless Arthur Rhodes, along with Masset and Cordero, to stay in the race in the weak NL Central.

Bonus Trivia: Cincinnati has a .500 record and is exactly at .500 both at home and the road. Since the season expanded to 162 games in 1961 and '62, only 6 teams have finished at .500 with basically identical records at home and the road: The 1966 Indians, 1968 Braves, 1991 Angels, 1993 Dodgers, 2002 Phillies and the 2005 Nationals.







Saturday, June 27, 2009

Trivia - Team Batting Struggles

MLB : JUN 12 Padres at Angels

The Padres and A's are both hitting .235 as a team. If either of them ended up with a team Batting Average under .240, it would be the first time a team has done that this decade. Things are not really looking up either: they are both near the bottom in June as well, with San Diego hitting .223 this month and Oakland hitting .221 in June. At least San Diego has Tony Gwynn Jr. hitting .333 and playing every day now. Oakland has no one hitting over .300, so it could be a very difficult task to get over .240.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Giants need more power to sustain surprise playoff run

MLB: JUN 23 Giants at Athletics

I am impressed with the Giants' pitching and the fact that they are leading the NL Wild Card Race. They have a really impressive group of pitchers if they do happen to make it to a playoff series. Tim Lincecum is one of the top pitchers in baseball and already has a Cy Young under his belt. Matt Cain is having a great year and the wily old vets Barry Zito and Randy Johnson have shown (some) flashes of their former selves. No one would want to face Lincecum twice in a 5 game series. He hasn't been in the playoffs yet, but it isn't hard to imagine him pulling an Orel Hersheiser or Josh Beckett and taking over a playoff series and carrying them to victory.

Then you look at the offense. It isn't just that they don't score runs (and they don't), its that they have no one who should be doing much better than they're doing. They have some good, professional players, like Edgar Renteria, Randy Winn and Aaron Rowand. They are all guys you want on your team, but none of them has a consistent history of being a run producer. Rowand had 27 home runs in 2007 for the Phillies, but it was an aberration. The Giants are dead last in the Majors in home runs and that will make it nearly impossible to go deep in the playoffs.

Now, the lack of power is almost surely due in part to their enormous stadium which is great for pitchers and terrible for hitters. That is not an excuse, though, for not having a single player on the roster who is legitimately expected to hit even 25 home runs. This just is another reason why giving Barry Zito 423 trillion dollars (only slight exaggeration) to be at best a 3 starter was stunningly bad. There are plenty of guys in baseball who go into every season expected to hit 30 home runs. They might not do it, but every team needs one. The last Giant to hit 30 home runs in a season other than Barry Bonds was...Jeff Kent in 2002.

They were too dependent on Barry Bonds for offense for too long and it is hurting them now. Against the odds, this might be a year where they can do something special. Cain and Lincecum might be the next Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. They have Randy Johnson too, still dangerous at 45. The bullpen is one of the best in baseball. As I said before, they have some veteran professionals who know how to win.

MLB: JUN 24 Giants at Athletics

It was rumored that the Giants were interested in Dan Uggla and Nick Johnson. If the Marlins would be willing to part with Uggla, that would make sense for the Giants. He is just the sort of home run hitting, big strikeout, mediocre batting average player they need. In order to get him, they may have to give up young starter Jonathan Sanchez, who is 2-8 for them now. If Sanchez still has value, they should move him for a power hitter. Make the move and try to win before Lincecum becomes a free agent and prices himself out of their range (he's only making 600k now). They have not had a new, genuine offensive leader on their club other than Barry Bonds since Matt Williams burst on the scene in 1990.

Maybe the current offense will be jolted to life with the presence of a new power hitter who will take some of the pressure of them. The San Francisco Giants have only won 2 playoffs series in their history (the NY Giants won the 1954 World Series) and they were both in 2002. Decent chances to make it deep in the playoffs are few and far between. I am not rooting for the Giants over anyone else, but it is a great story that they have come out of nowhere to lead the Wild Card Race. They are putting too much pressure on their pitchers to be perfect every time out. It might not be enough, but they need more home runs to have a chance at competing. Plus, it is time for them to really get past Barry Bonds and that means getting someone new who can produce runs on a consistent basis.

Magglio's home run gives surging Tigers another boost

MLB

I wrote last night about how some of the game's struggling stars gave their teams a boost last night. Magglio Ordonez has never quite been a superstar, but he has had big seasons for the Tigers in recent years.

He had been recently benched indefinitely after slumping the entire season. Today, he hit a 2-run homer in a game the Tigers won by 1 run against the Cubs. It was only his 3rd home run of the season. If he starts hitting and driving in runs, I seriously doubt anyone in the AL Central can catch the Tigers, who are 5 games up on the Twins. Fernando Rodney will make it interesting closing out the 9th, but probably less than Todd Jones used to. Having Magglio get hot now could push the Tigers to a really big lead, which is not that much smaller than the Dodgers have now in the NL West.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Big night for struggling stars

Vladmir Guerrero ended his 28 game homerless streak tonight. It is amazing the number of superstars who have struggled terribly this season: David Ortiz, A-Rod, Vlad, even Magglio Ordonez. Tonight was a very good night for some of these players: Vlad homered, A-Rod drove in a few runs and David Ortiz hit a home run, had two hits and drove in 3.

Luckily, these teams are not completely dependent on them as much as other teams would be. The Angels could really use Vlad putting up big numbers in the middle of the lineup, but they are deep enough to win without him. They are 11th in the league in scoring runs. which is typical for them. The Angels also are tied for the best team Batting Average in the league. They are not hitting a lot of home runs (22nd in the league), so that is where Vlad needs to come in. Relying on Torii Hunter to provide the power is a mistake, he usually hits under 25 home runs a year. It's good news for the Angels, they just need more of it from Vlad.

Maybe you should just walk him instead

MLB: JUN 21 Cardinals at Royals

So far this year, Albert Pujols is 5-5 with 3 grand slams when the bases are loaded (he even calls his shots sometimes, too). Remember when Buck Showalter walked Barry Bonds with the bases loaded about ten years ago? That should be considered when Pujols comes to the plate with the bases loaded this year too.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Trivia - Strikeouts without homers

From 2000-07, there were only 2 players with 120+ strikeouts and less than 10 home runs: Juan Uribe in 2002 and Mark Teahan in 2007.

In 2008 alone, there were 5 players with 120+ strikeouts and less than 10 home runs: Fred Lewis, Akinori Iwamura, Jack Hannahan, B.J. Upton, Carlos Gomez (142 K, 7 HR).

2009 might be even worse! The possible culprits: Fred Lewis, B.J. Upton, Josh Fields, Jordan Schafer, Emilio Bonifacio (1 HR, 60 K), Jhonny Peralta, Michael Bourn, Delmon Young, Dexter Fowler.

This is a new trend. In the past, even the big strikeout guys with low batting averages would hit at least 25 home runs (Rob Deer, Pete Incaviglia, Gorman Thomas, Dave Kingman), although there were exceptions then who had high-strikeout seasons with few home runs (Juan Samuel, Delino DeShields).

Most of the players on pace for 120K and less than 10 home runs are young players, who will hopefully grow out of this as they mature. It is amazing how quickly this particular stat went from being an anomaly to a growing trend in the last two years.

Fuentes is helping to lead the Angels back to the top of AL West

MLB: MAY 14 Red Sox at Angels


The Angels have not been themselves this year. There are many reasons, and one of the biggest has been the decline of their usually dominant bullpen. The loss of Francisco Rodriguez has obviously been a huge component. Another one of their stalwarts, Scot Shields, struggled before being lost for the season to a left knee injury. Even Jose Arrendondo, who burst onto the scene last year with 10 wins out of the bullpen and a 1.52 ERA, has struggled with a 5.55 ERA.

They do have a bright spot now: Brian Fuentes. He is leading the league in saves with 19 and a 4.24 ERA, but that does not tell the whole story. He struggled in April and was beginning to pitch consistently in May, despite a few bad outings. Entering a game on May 30th in Seattle, he had 13 saves, 2 blown saves, 2 losses and a 4.08 ERA.

The Angels were accustomed to a dominant closer and not having the worry about late-in-game situations. After all, they had Francisco Rodriguez last year, who saved 62 games last year, breaking the previous record of 57 held by Bobby Thigpen. He had dominated for them since they won the World Series in 2002 and after becoming closer in 2005. From 2005-2008, he had a 2.35 ERA and averaged 49 saves and season and leading the league 3 out of 4 years.

For Fuentes, May 30th was the moment he reverted back to his early season struggles. This was likely a critical point in the season because they were underachieving, falling behind in the division race and thought they had this game in hand. Entering the 9th inning, the Angels were leading 3-0 against the Mariners and Fuentes was brought in to close the game. He recorded two outs, and allowed two runners on. With a 1-1 count and 2 outs, Jose Lopez took him deep to tie the game up. The Mariners won the game in the 10th inning on a sacrifice fly by Yuniesky Betancourt.

The reaction from the game's starter, rookie Matt Palmer said it all: it was "deflating for the whole team", but did say as well that they have a "great closer" who he wouldn't trade for "anyone else". The loss put the Angels back 5.5 games, tied for their most of the season. Considering that their closer last year had 62 saves with a 2.24 ERA, this was likely a tense moment for both Fuentes and the Angels. Remember, he famously lost his job as closer for the Rockies to Manny Corpas in mid-2007 before the Rockies heated up and went to the World Series. A bad outing can happen to any closer, his his ERA was 6.52 after the first month of the season and that is unacceptable for the closer.

Just after that critical point, things improved dramatically. He has gone 6-6 in save opportunities with a 0.00 ERA since the game. The Angels have gone 11-7 in June (and losing tonight) and are only .5 games back in the division to the Rangers. Although several other members of the bullpen have struggled, Justin Speier has also picked things up recently too, going 2-0 in June with a 1.59 ERA. Jason Bulger also has a 2.24 since the beginning of May, so things might be rounding into place. Getting back to having a strong bullpen, the Angels' strength for so long, is one of the main reasons they are in a strong position to win the AL West this year (along with a weak division).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Orioles are winning. Can it last?

My initial reaction to the Orioles sweep of Philadelphia on the road this weekend and winning 7 out of 8 games against the Braves, Mets and Phillies is that it will not continue. After all, they're the Orioles. They haven't finished over .500 since 1997 and usually have an epic collapse in the 2nd half of the season. That doesn't mean that this season could not be different. After all, who expected the Rockies, Tigers, Rays or Brewers to make the playoffs a few years ago?

The best news for the Orioles is that their pitching has been much better recently than it was earlier in the season. Their team ERA has been 4.05 over the last month, as compared to 5.05 for the year. Their bullpen has been very good, with Jim Johnson, George Sherrill and Brian Bass all pitching very well for the last month.

The offense? They have some really good young hitters: Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Luke Scott. Matt Wieters is unproven, but has the potential to be a great player. They even addressed one of their other main problems this weekend by winning on the road: 8-20 before they played Philadelphia over the weekend. They swept the defending champs, including 2 1-run victories. They have some big tests coming up soon: Boston, Angels, Toronto. Can they reach .500? They also seem to be more resilient than in the past. The impressive sweep of the Phillies this weekend is a good step towards .500, and that's a lot for the Orioles.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Today's Trivia - The Babe Ruth of G/F

Luis Castillo, 2nd basemen for the NY Mets, is leading the league in Ground Ball/Fly Ball Ratio with 1.68. He also won the crown from 2004-2007 (when he was with the Marlins, Twins and Mets) and only failed to win in 2008 because he did not have enough at bats to qualify for the batting title. Not surprisingly, he is also one of the most prolific singles hitters, ranking 13th among actives players, but in many fewer at bats than most of the players ahead of him (Ken Griffey, Garret Anderson, Omar Vizquel). Unfortunately, the thing he is known most for this year is

He gets a single 24.6% of the time he has an AB. By comparison, Rod Carew was at 25.8%, but he had a career average 37 points higher. I will cover this stat more in the future.

Big Papi Watch


Big Papi went 1-4 with a double and no RBI or runs scored off of former teammate Derek Lowe. The Red Sox beat the Braves 3-0 behind Josh Beckett's 5-hit shutout.

The Tigers had a very good day


Tigers beat the Brewers 9-5 with 17 hits. The best part was that Alfredo Figaro, just brought up from the minors to replace Dontrelle Willis, won his Major League debut. His line: 5 IN, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K. Last year, Armando Galaragga came pretty much out of nowhere to win 13 games and 3.73 ERA. It's just one game, but Figaro could end up helping the Tigers a lot this season.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Updates

Dan Haren: Won his start on Thursday night, raising his record to 6-4. His line was 7.0 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K. It was not his best outing, but still very good. It could only take one bad outing to ruin his incredible stats, but it has not happened yet. His WHIP is still .82 and K/BB is 7.38, which would both be among the best of all time if they continued until the end of the season.

David Ortiz: 0-4 on Friday, but the entire Red Sox lineup only had 2 hits the entire game, so it is not that big of a deal. He is still hitting .325 in June with a .1113 OPS.

Today's Stat


The Minnesota Twins are on pace to commit only 57 errors, which would break the Major League Record for fewest errors throughout a full season currently held by the 2003 Seattle Mariners with 65.





Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Liriano's struggles loom large for Twins in AL Central Race



When looking at the Minnesota Twins, there are a lot of interesting story lines. There is the amazing home/road record split (22-13 at home, 11-21 on the road), the emergence of Joe Mauer as maybe the best player in the game and the rise of Kevin Slowey. They are trying valiantly to contend for a playoff spot in a very weak AL Central, but one player in particular seems to be holding them back. That player is Francisco Liriano and he is having a terrible season. After allowing 4 runs in 7 innings tonight, he is 2-8 with an ERA of 5.91. He not only leads the AL in losses, he has one of the worst ERAs as well.

When he debuted in 2006, the results were electric. It looked like Santana and Liriano were a 1-2 punch like Schilling/Johnson that could lead the Twins to the World Series. Unfortunately, Liriano got hurt that season, had Tommy John Surgery and missed 2007. After a very rocky start this year, he won his last two starts and had respectable outings in each. That is the best he can do right now: respectable, but not dominant.

It seems the Twins are in somewhat of a similar situation to the Red Sox with David Ortiz. Ortiz has a much longer track record, but anyone else with numbers this bad would have been benched. They are not ready to give up yet because they know the talent is there. Just like with the Red Sox, the Twins cannot afford to have someone with these numbers playing such a key role on the team.

If the Twins want inspiration for this situation, they can look at the Tigers' Justin Verlander, who lost 17 games last year before coming back strong this year. On the other hand, they can also look at Dontrelle Willis, former phenom, who has fallen off a cliff since arriving in Detroit. Neither of them had to deal with recovering from Tommy John surgery, either. Liriano isn't the only former young standout facing monumental struggles, either. Fausto Carmona might be having an even worse season for the Indians, although the Indians are further out of the race than the Twins.

If Liriano continues to pitch the way he has in his last three starts, with an ERA of 3.78, the Twins can probably live with that and it might not sink them in the playoff race. In the long run, they would have to decide if he can ever come back to form and whether it is worth their trouble to find out. If he pitches like he did in May, when he was 2-4 with a 7.12 ERA, then they will have a tough decision to make. The Twins have a good organization and they probably have several minor league pitchers who could get better results immediately. He is young and hopefully will regain his form someday, but the Twins need consistent pitching this year and he is not providing it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Is David Ortiz getting back to normal?

It looked all but over. David Ortiz was done, and there was no doubt about it. He even had to defend himself, saying that people needed to “trust him” because he was “not finished”. The Red Sox dropped him from his usual 3rd spot in the lineup to 6th and it appeared there was nothing else to do if he continued to struggle. But, something strange happened along the way to retirement: he started hitting again. Over the last two weeks, he is hitting over .300 and has an OPS of over .1000. His overall numbers are still terrible, one of the ten worst hitters in the Major Leagues among regular players. Could it be that he is still a really good player that had a few really bad months?

He was also a slow starter last year too, although for not as long. He hit .198 through April, but turned it around in May. This is a considerably longer slump, but he is not necessarily a lost cause or washed up. In 2007, J.D. Drew started off his Red Sox career by hitting .216 through the end of May with 2 home runs. He did not have his best year, but he rebounded to finish the year hitting .270 and hit .280 last year with 19 home runs. If people are expecting Big Papi to hit 50 home runs again, that might be asking too much. I would not be surprised to see him finish with numbers similar to 2008, when he had 23 home runs and 89 RBI with a .264 average. He will have to hit well the rest of the season, but he is capable of putting up big numbers if he is right. The Red Sox lineup should provide him with ample RBI opportunities throughout the season. He is only hitting .238 at Fenway where he typically hits over .300, so if he even approaches that his batting average will soar. He has also hit 4 home runs, of his 5 for the year, in his past 23 AB, a very good sign.

Red Sox fans should reserve judgment for a while because you should not place too much hope on only a few weeks. If I had told the Red Sox in May, during the depth of his slump, that Ortiz would hit .300 with 4 home runs through the first few weeks of June, they might not have believed me and surely would have been excited. It is good news for baseball if he is back, it was too sad to see such a sudden decline for a beloved player.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Is Dan Haren having one on the most dominant pitching seasons ever?


It might be hard to believe, but a pitcher with a 5-4 record is statistically having one of the all-time most dominant seasons. Dan Haren, who pitches for the Diamondbacks, actually started off 0-3 (with a 1.90 era) and has gone 5-1 since. Unfortunately, even if he continues at this pace, he is unlikely to win the Cy Young Award without a Win-Loss Record that is very impressive. He is not even leading the league in era, although he is second. What he is really doing best is dominating hitters by not allowing hits, not issuing walks and collecting strikeouts.

There are a number of stats to measure pitcher dominance: WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched), K/BB (Strikeouts to Walk Ratio), Opponents Batting Average, Strikeouts per 9 innings to name a few. I have devised a stat that combines two of the most important: WHIP and (K/BB). By dividing WHIP into K/BB, you can rank pitchers against each other, combining the ability to keep runners off the bases with the ability to strike hitters out and not issue walks. It takes a rare and special pitcher to truly excel at both of those. The problem is that many pitchers that get strikeouts also walk too many hitters (Nolan Ryan, Kerry Wood, Steve Carlton) and control artists who limit walks either get hit or don’t get the strikeouts (Brad Radke, Paul Byrd, Josh Towers). The starters that excel at this statistic year after year are the best in the game: Roy Halladay, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Johan Santana, Chris Carpenter and Curt Schilling.

How good are Haren’s numbers? Well, if the season ended today, Haren would have the 2nd best WHIP of the live ball era (behind only Pedro Martinez’s ridiculous .74 in 2000). His K/BB ratio would be the 11th best of the modern era at 6.92. This would give him a .11 ratio of WHIP to K/BB. To you give some perspective, Cliff Lee had a .22 during his Cy Young Award Season in 2008. Randy Johnson’s best ever was in 2004 when he had a .14. Haren may come down to earth eventually or have a really bad outing that destroys his ERA quickly, like Johan Santana did against the Yankees this Sunday. If he does not come back to earth, this will be a season for the ages.

Haren is in pretty good company for his career stats too: He is 7th among active pitchers in WHIP and the 6 ahead of his are all surefire or likely Hall of Famers (Rivera, Hoffman, Martinez, Santana, Smoltz, Randy Johnson). He is 5th among starters in the modern era in K/BB and ahead are Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Ben Sheets and Santana. The important thing is for this incredible, historic season not to be forgotten about because he plays for a bad team and he doesn’t end up winning 20 games.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Best Bargain in Baseball is...

There are many different players to choose from this year. Contenders would have to include Adam Jones, Johnny Cueto and Tim Lincecum. This is not based purely on comparing production salary. Jones is only making $435,000, but he is 6th in the AL in Batting Average at .324 and top 20 in both runs and RBI. He was a 1st round selection in 2003 and expected to play like this someday. I am also basing this on what they were expected to do and how difficult is was for them to get to this point. Tim Linceum was also a 1st round pick and moved quickly to the Majors. No, my pick is Heath Bell, who is not only making a paltry $1.2 million, but he was never expected to be in this situation. He had to struggle just to stay in the Majors, let alone be a star.

He has been around professional baseball since 1998, when he signed as an amateur free agent with the NY Mets. This was a year after being selected in the Amateur Draft by the Devil Rays in the 69th round and refusing to sign. He did not make it to the big leagues for 6 years, until 2004. He pitched well in limited action, but struggled in 2005 and barely pitched in 2006. He was traded in a largely ignored trade after the 2006 season to the Padres with Royce Ring for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson. Considering he had not recorded a decision the year before, the Padres couldn't have been expecting much.

He had his breakout in 2007, pitching 81 games and a 2.02 ERA, followed with 74 games and 3.58 in 2008. Then something happened that no one expected: Trevor Hoffman left. He did not retire, he left for another team. The Padres, not having a lot of money, chose to promote from within and held their breath (he had 0 saves and 7 blown saves last year). Many good pitchers have failed at being closers, but he was given the opportunity of a lifetime. He had 2 saves in his career, in 2007. Coming into this season, he 12 blown saves and 2 saves and he will still given the job.

With 18 saves as of June 13 , he leads baseball. He leads K-Rod, Rivera, Hoffman, Papelbon and Lidge. K-Rod is making $10 million, Rivera $15 mil and Hoffman $6 mil. His ERA is 1.37, one of best among closers. K-Rod is better as is Trevor Hoffman, who is at 0.00. His K/IP and K/BB ratio is better than K-Rod. Luckily for him, he only has a 1 year contract, so he can cash in. With only one year of experience, some teams may be reluctant to sign him to a big deal, but he will dramatically increase his salary nonetheless. In a few months, he has jumped from relative baseball obscurity to one of the most dominant closers in the game. For now, he is a great baseball story and the best bargain in the game.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Which players are like Albert Pujols (in this one respect, anyway)?

Albert Pujols is the best run-producing contact hitter in baseball, especially with Gary Sheffield in decline and Barry Bonds out of baseball. His strikeout totals look like Wade Boggs and his RBI totals like Hank Aaron. He is unique in that respect, but who else is capable of scoring and driving in runs without striking out? Justin Morneau is the only other player to drive in 100 runs on the list, so it is all relative. These are not the guys who drive in 100 runs, but most of those players are striking out more than 100 times a year.

The formula: strikeouts/(runs + RBI). The way it works: The lower the percentage, the better. It appears that if you are <.30, you are very good in this department. If a player has 100 runs scored, 100 RBI and only struck out 40 times, the percentage would be .20. If the same player struck out 100 times, the percentage would be .50. It might not be the list of the absolute best hitters, but an interesting mix of players. Some of these players are elite and some of the others are more surprising. I went through the entire league as best as I could, only looking at players with at least 500 AB. I am going to show the list of the top ten from 2008, then followed with a list of some of the great seasons from the past.

Albert Pujols .25
Dustin Pedroia .26
Joe Mauer .27
Bengie Molina .27
Casey Kotchman .28
Placido Polanco .29
Brian Giles .36
Yuniesky Betancourt .36
Conor Jackson .37
Justin Morneau .38

This is a mix of power hitters and contact hitters, with the most interesting hybrids being Casey Kotchman and Conor Jackson. What this mainly shows is that they are both solid professional hitters. They only combined for 26 Home Runs, which is not good for first basemen. But, they also produced 149 RBIs and only struck out 100 times between them. Bengie Molina seems a good candidate to not strike out, but who would have guess that he would have 95 RBI?

Betancourt? Puts the ball in play and scores a decent amount considering he does not have power. He is the least accomplished player on the list, but there is some value in what he can do.

For historical comparison, here are a few great seasons from the past to compare.

1941 Joe Dimaggio .05
1934 Lou Gehrig .11
1941 Ted Williams .11
1997 Tony Gwynn .13
1929 Mel Ott .13
1931 Babe Ruth .16
1954 Stan Musial .16
1988 Wade Boggs .18
2004 Pujols .20
2003 Gary Sheffield .21

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Can the Tigers make it deep into the playoffs?

Who has the biggest divisional lead in baseball? Easy, the Dodgers. Who has the 2nd biggest divisional lead in baseball? Suprisingly, its the Detroit Tigers. They have a 4.5 game lead over the Twins. The Tigers have the 9th best record in baseball, but they are blessed by the weakness of their division.

Can the Tigers make it to October? Absolutely. The Central Division looks weak this year and it may only take 90 wins or so to win it. They are in the middle of a critical 5 game series in Chicago against the White Sox right now, and have won 2 of the first 3. They have Verlander and Jackson going in the next two, which gives them a very good chance to finish strong. Winning those two games would put the White Sox 7.5 games out, a high hurdle at any point in the season. Anything is possible, but none of the other teams in the division has shown any reason to think they can make a run.

Do the Tigers have a chance of going deep in the playoffs? Yes. Edwin Jackson would probably be second in the AL in Cy Young balloting right now, behind Zack Greinke. Justin Verlander is showing that last year was an aberration in a brilliant career. Two great starting pitchers can make any playoff team competitive, particularly in the 5 game divisional series. The bullpen is inconsistent and several of their better hitters are having off years (Polanco, Ordonez). If they get a little more offense and they can get good pitching out of Rick Porcello and Armando Galarraga, they can be a force to be reckoned with.

In October, should they get there, the Red Sox are always dangerous, but less so without a strong Big Papi and the Rangers have a history of disappointment in October. The Yankees have been making early exits for several years as well. The team I would be worried about is the LA Angels. They are only starting to get their staring rotation together this year and their bullpen is likely to improve. But, if Jackson and Verlander keep pitching like this, they might be the best 1-2 punch in the playoffs, and that could be hard to beat.

Friday, June 5, 2009

New Giants Bullpen Coming Up Big

Let's not talk about the offense. Bengie Molina is their leading home run hitter. That says it all.

It's the pitching is responsible for them going from a winning percentage of .444 last year to .528 this year. Their team ERA has improved from 4.38 to a 3.80. Tim Lincecum is being Tim Lincecum, and dominating hitters again. Matt Cain has made a big step forward, lowering his ERA from a respectable 3.76 to a dominating 2.27. Barry Zito is being Barry Zito (the Giants version anyway). Randy Johnson has provided a little bit of a spark, but he's 45 and he is above 5.00.

The biggest area of improvement is in their revamped middle relief corps, where they have 3 new pitchers with at least 20 appearances under 2.70: Justin Miller from the Marlins, Brian Medders from the Diamondbacks and Jeremy Affeldt from Cincinnati.

Jeremy Affeldt, once the future ace of the K.C. Royals has re-emerged as a great middle reliever. His ERA is 1.88, he is tied for fifth in the league in appearances and leading the league in holds. He was supposed to be the future ace of the Royals when when he was brought up in 2002, but struggled through injuries. He was eventually turned into a closer, but only ended up with 13 saves and continued to struggle. In 2006, the Royals finally traded him midseason to the Rockies, and he finished the season over 6.00 in 54 games. In 2007, he finally found his niche and went 3.51 over 75 games for the Rockies and even dominated for them in the playoffs. He followed it up with a nice 2008 with the Reds and signed with the Giants for this year. At 30, which is turns today, he is one of the premier middle relievers in the game.

Can the Giants keep in up or even compete for the playoffs? They have no margin for error, with their anemic offense. Matt Cain is good, but unlikely to continue his torrid pace all year. Barry Zito has shown no indication of being able to put up the numbers he put up in Oakland, although for nearly 20m (Sorry Giants fans), he should be much better than 1-6. The Dodgers are clearly better and possibly the Padres and Diamondbacks as well. If the Giants do finish over .500, you can thank the revamped bullpen.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Defending champs are road warriors

The Phillies are suddenly the 2nd best team in baseball, on the strength of their road record. Their road record is 19-6, while their home record in 12-14. That's right, they have one of the worst home records in baseball and are still one of the very best. If road record was the only statistic, the Phillies would be leading the next best team by 7 games.

What about last year, when they won the World Series? They were 44-37 on the road, 2nd best in baseball. Without even worrying about the strength of the road schedule, 19-6 is no scheduling fluke. Yes, they recently had a 4 game sweep against the worse-than-hapless Nationals in Washington. They also just had an impressive sweep of the Padres in San Diego where the Padres were 17-6 beforehand. They are getting a really, really good test right now by playing the Dodgers in LA. The Dodgers are currently 20-6 at home.

The numbers
Home - .250, 126 runs, 5.15 era
Away - .282, 161 runs, 4.59 era

One possible explanation is they just happened to get hot at the same time as they started playing a lot of road games. On May 14th, they were 16-16. Since then, they have gone 15-4. During that stretch, 11-2 on the road and 4-2 at home. Before the run, they were 8-12 at home and 8-4 on the road. So, it could be that the road trips just happened to coincide with an major uptick in offense, but 19-6 on the road is unreal. Right now, their starting rotation is still a mess, with several ERA's well over 5.00, but the bullpen is superb.

Most of the recent surprise W.S. champs disappeared the next year, from the Marlins to the White Sox to the Cardinals, but these Phillies aren't going anywhere. They are the road warriors of baseball and have to be taken very seriously at the season moves along.

Who will be next to 300 wins?

Let me save you the suspense. There are only 2 legitimate candidates within the next 15 years: C.C. Sabathia and Roy Halladay. Sabathia has more margin for error because he is younger. The key question for Halladay, beyond injuries, is whether he is more Mike Mussina or Randy Johnson. Randy Johnson is 45 years old and was 70 wins short of 400 when he turned 40. Mussina retired after turning 40 and was only 40 wins short.

Most pitchers do not pitch deep into their 40's, and the ones that do are usually soft-tossers, such as Jamie Moyer. Halladay is a big, burly power pitcher and a workhorse. He logs a lot of innings, leading the league last year. If he is like Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson and can keep pitching until he is 45, I think he will get to 300. If he is like other mortals, then no. Right now, Halladay is at 140 wins and rolling. He is the best pitcher in the game right now.

C.C. Sabathia is at 122, but is only 28 and now wears a Yankee uniform. He is another big, make that really big, burly power pitcher. He might be able to rack up enough wins by the time he is 35 to make a run at it.

A lot of people say no one will get to 300 again. They said it after Clemens and Maddux and Glavine and now Johnson. They all did it in an era of relief specialization and 5 man rotations and even steroids! It can be done, especially now that home runs are down dramatically with steroid testing. It takes a freak of nature who is both very good and very lucky. Most pitchers get hurt and can't last until they're over 40. My guess is that Halladay is the type that would go for it if it was in sight, like Johnson did. There were rumblings that Andy Pettitte might retire soon, and he is the closest one who is not Jamie Moyer. He is at 220 and not even 37 yet, but it does not seem to be a possibility for him.

I do not believe anyone will reach 300 wins in the next decade, unless Tim Hudson really catches fire and he is at 146 wins and age 34. There is a decent chance that from the current generation of great pitchers will do it: Sabathia, Santana, Halladay, Oswalt. It won't happen for a while, so enjoy the Big Unit's accomplishment.
 
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