Friday, April 30, 2010

Joel Zumaya's comeback is a major factor in Tigers' playoff hopes

Surprisingly, the team with the best bullpen ERA right now is the Detroit Tigers with 2.22.  The Tigers were 22nd last year, with a 4.34 ERA.  They made some good moves in the offseason, although they probably didn't think they would turn out this well. 

One of the biggest changes, though, came from someone who has been on the team for a long time, and has made huge strides forward this season. 

Jose Valverde (signed as a free agent): 12 G, 11 IP, 0.82 ERA, 7 SV
Joel Zumaya: 10 G, 14.2 IP, 1.23 ERA
Phil Coke (Acquired from the Yankees in the Granderson trade): 12 G, 13 IP, 1.38 ERA
Eddie Bonine: 9 G, 12 IP, 1.50 ERA
Fu-Te Ni: 7 G, 10.2 IP, 1.69 ERA
Ryan Perry 9 G, 8.2 IP, 3.12 ERA

Their ERAs could change dramatically, of course, with one bad inning, but it seems like they have a solid group in the bullpen for the first time in a while.  In their 2006 World Series run, they had the top overall ERA in baseball, and were 4th in relievers' ERA.  In 2007, their bullpen ranking dropped to 23rd, and it was 27th in 2008. 

It's probably no coincidence that 2006 was the last year where Joel Zumaya pitched in more than 30 games.  It was also the last season where he had an ERA under 3.47 (it was 1.94 over 62 games in 2006).  A couple of preposterous off-field injuries cost him a lot of time on the field, but he seems to have finally made his way back

A big part of his problem over the last few years has been his control.  Last year, he gave up 34 hits and walked 22 in 31 innings, for a WHIP of 1.81.  This season, though, he has allowed 12 hits and walked none in 14.2 innings, while striking out 16.  Unless this is some kind of a bizarre early-season fluke, the Tigers will have one of the best 8th/9th innings combos in baseball with Zumaya and Valverde. 

If he's healthy, there is no doubt that he'll strike out a lot of hitters (he throws over 100 mph), and he probably won't allow a lot hits.  Even if he allows 2 or 3 BB/9, he'll be extremely tough this year.  If he has Eckersley-like control all season? He could have one of the great seasons ever by a reliever.

They can probably count on good work out of Fu-Te Ni (2.61 in 36 G last year), Phil Coke and Ryan Perry (Eddie Bonine's 2009 stats aren't encouraging, but he does have great numbers so far this year).

No matter how badly Zumaya pitched or how many ridiculous injuries he sustained, it was always worth it for the Tigers to be patient, because he is a special talent.  It's not everyone who can get Nolan Ryan to say they have the "best arm I've seen since I don't know when."  Zumaya is one of the more interesting players to follow right now, because we have no idea how good he can be (who expected 16 SO/0 BB?), and he is clearly getting better. 

It seems like he's been around forever, but he's only 25, so the sky is still the limit.  The Tigers are probably still holding their breath that he won't hurt himself, but their playoff chances are looking a lot better now than it was before the season, and the bullpen is one of the biggest reasons.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Luis Atilano, unexpectedly helping the Nationals contend in the NL East

It was a good week for the Nationals, and they're feeling it (Washington Post)
"It's just contagious; winning creates more winning," relief pitcher Tyler Clippard said. "Right now we're getting a taste of that. I know we're all pleased with that, and hopefully we can continue to do that."

On Wednesday, the Nationals received another solid performance from a bullpen that has a 0.77 ERA in the last eight games, and they hit two home runs to win their second in a row against the Cubs (10-12) before a crowd of 36,660.

"Everybody wants the ball in their hand," Clippard said. "Everybody wants to make the next great play. Everyone wants to make the next big hit."
A big part of the recent turnaround is that rookie Luis Atilano replaced the injured Jason Marquis and has had 2 great starts.  Marquis was awful, going 0-3 with a 20.52 ERA over 3 starts, including allowing 7 ER without getting an out on April 18th (think he might be spending some time in the bullpen when he comes back, especially with Stephen Strasburg stampeding through the minors).  Atilano is 2-0 with an 2.25 ERA through his first 2 ML starts.
It was a long road to the ML for Atilano, who was drafted in the first round of the 2003 draft by the Braves, and was traded to the Nationals in August 2006 for Daryle Ward.  With a few exceptions, he didn't begin pitching well in the minors until the last few years.  He's mainly a control pitcher, not striking out a lot of hitters, usually averaging under 5 K/9 in the minors (until his 2 starts at AAA this year, where he was above 7 K/9), and sure enough, he only had 1 strikeout in each of his first two ML starts. 
After 2 starts, he's suddenly an important part of the Nationals rotation.  Their other starters (Olsen, Stammen, Lannan, Hernandez) have been inconsistent throughout their careers, and that will probably continue.  The fact that he pitched so well right out of the gate, and after toiling in the minors for 7 years, speaks well of Atilano, but how he'll pitch over the next few months is hard to predict.  If he keeps it up, though, the Nationals might have another month over .500 and continue to shock the baseball world.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 2009 Leaders / 2009 Leaders

MLB: Top OPS, April 2009 (75+ PA)/2009 (400+ PA)
1. Kevin Youkilis (Red Sox) 1.203 (#6, .961)
2. Manny Ramirez (Dodgers) 1.154 (#9, .949)
3. Raul Ibanez (Phillies) 1.151 (#29, .889)
4. Nick Swisher (Yankees) 1.144 (#47, .869)
5. Adrian Gonzalez (Padres) 1.141 (#7, .958)
6. Evan Longoria (Rays)1.134 (#34, .889)
7. Albert Pujols (Cardinals) 1.132 (#1, 1.101)
8. Jason Bay (Red Sox) 1.123 (#21, .921)
9. Brandon Inge (Tigers) 1.114 (#171, .720)
10. Chase Utley (Phillies) 1.105 (#26, .905)

Monday, April 26, 2010

The A's and Angels are close at the end of April again, but it won't last

Oakland is 12-8, and just had a nice series against Cleveland where they had wins of 10-0 and 11-0 (in addition to a 6-1 loss in the middle).  They have a huge test coming up this week with a 3 game series in Tampa starting Tuesday. 

They've had some decent wins so far, including taking 2 of 3 against the Angels a few weeks ago.  Their best series of the year, though, was a 3-game sweep at home against lowly Baltimore, so they still have a lot to prove. 

They're 2.5 games ahead of the Angels, who most people expect to win the division.  Unfortunately for the A's (and the rest of the division) the Angels usually play worse in April than they do the rest of the season. 

Maybe this season is different.  Go back 4 years: In 2006, the Angels led the division by 2 games on April 26th (following a trip to ALCS in 2005), and the A's ended up winning the division by 4 games. 

In 2006, the A's had some power: Frank Thomas (39 HR, 114 RBI), Nick Swisher (35 HR, 95 RBI), even Eric Chavez (22 HR, 72 RBI).  So far this year, Kurt Suzuki is their top power hitter (4 HR, 11 RBI), and there aren't a lot of contenders to take his place (except maybe Kevin Kouzmanoff).

The A's scored nearly as many runs in 2009 (759) than 2006 (771), but their lineup doesn't seem to have enough firepower to compete with the Angels.  They have some excellent pitchers (Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Ben Sheets, Andrew Bailey), so it wouldn't be surprising to see the A's surpass their performance from the last few years. 

Not only do the Angels have a more potent lineup, in addition to what should be quality pitching (the bullpen will probably be an issue), the AL West almost always looks different than people expected at the end of April.  The A's brief reign atop the AL West is probably coming to an end pretty soon, although the 2010 A's pitching might be good enough to put them over .500 for the first time since 2006.

On April 26th:
2010 A's (12-8) ahead of Angels (10-10) by 2.5 G
2009 A's (7-10) 4 G behind Seattle (12-7), Angels (7-11) 4.5 behind Seattle
2008 A's (15-10) and Angels (15-10) tied atop the division
2007 A's (11-11) 1 G behind Angels (12-10)

End of Season
2010 ?
2009 A's (75-87) 22 behind Angels (97-65)
2008 A's (75-86) 24.5 behind Angels (100-62)
2007 A's (75-87) 18 behind Angels (94-68)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Can Seattle win if they don't hit home runs?

The Seattle Mariners, who were a trendy pick to win the AL West, are living up to expectations with a 9-7 record (.5 games out), and they haven't even had Cliff Lee pitch yet.  They've had predictably great pitching from "King" Felix Hernandez, who is probably the AL Cy Young favorite at this early stage of the season. 

They have also had great work from closer David Aardsma, who has 6 saves without allowing a run, and Sean White, who also has a 0.00 ERA after 6 relief appearances.

With the Angels having a down year so far and the fact the Oakland was a last place team just a year ago, the Mariners are seemingly in a good position.  The main issue is their offense, which ranks 25th in runs scored and 29th in home runs (they've hit 6 in 16 games).  Of the 25 players in the AL with at least 61 AB, only 7 don't have a home run yet.  Of those 7, 3 are on the Mariners: Jose Lopez, Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro. 

While they're not exactly the Rodriguez/Griffey/Buhner trio from the mid-90's Mariners, those three did combine for 54 home runs last year.  Their top home run hitter from last year, Russell Branyan, is in Cleveland and I'm not sure how many they can expect to get out of a 40 year old Ken Griffey Jr (who has 0 HR through 38 AB) or Milton Bradley (who has 2 HR, but he's a tough player to project for the entire season). 

Who else is in their lineup? Uh, Jack Wilson, Chone Figgins, Rob Johnson, Matt Tuiasosopo and Mike Sweeney.  Unless Mike Sweeney begins hitting like it's 2001, they'll be lucky to get any power out of that group.

Even if Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee and David Aardma finish 1-2-3 in the Cy Young balloting, it'll be a huge struggle to compete for the playoffs if they can't hit 100 home runs as a team.  One year ago today, the Angels were 6-9 and 3.5 games behind Seattle, but they still finished with 97 wins despite mediocre pitching.  Maybe Lopez and Gutierrez (he is hitting .393) are just having an early season power slump, and they'll combine again for 40+ home runs, but . 

As of right now, there is no one in their lineup I am confident will hit 20 HR this season.  While it's possible to score runs without hitting a lot of home runs, it's going to be difficult to compete with the Angels if they finish dead last in home runs.  Since they're winning right now, it might not seem like the biggest deal in the world.  At some point, it's going to catch up with them, and they make have to make some tough decisions about what to do next.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Rangers love to run against the Red Sox

The Rangers stole 9 bases tonight in a loss to the Red Sox, all of them against Tim Wakefield and Victor Martinez.  They had two players with 3 stolen bases (Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz) and that is only the 13th time that a team has had 2 players with at least 3 stolen bases in one game:

1921 (Browns), 1922 (Browns), 1931 (Brewers), 1934 (Red Sox), 1982 (Braves), 1985 (Cardinals), 1986 (Dodgers), 1990 (Cardinals), 1991 (Cardinals), 1992 (Brewers), 2000 (Marlins), 2009 (Rangers), 2010 (Rangers)

The most recent game was...Red Sox at Rangers (August 15, 2009): In a 7-2 victory, the Rangers stole 8 bases against the Red Sox: Ian Kinsler (1), Elvis Andrus (3), Julio Borbon (4).  6 were against Brad Penny and Jason Varitek and 2 were against Fernando Cabrera and Jason Varitek.

Elvis Andrus (who made his ML debut in April of 2009) is one of three players to be one of the teammates with 3 steals in multiple games.  The others were George Sisler (St. Louis Browns 1921, 1922) and Ozzie Smith (St. Louis Cardinals 1990, 1991). 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Are the Astros finished?

The Astros started 0-8 (they are now 3-9), so they are probably out of the playoff race according to what happened other teams that started as badly.  While early season performances are often a good predictor (the Orioles are who we think they are), I'm not ready to write off the Astros just yet.

One reason to think it will get better is that Lance Berkman (who is likely to return tomorrow) hasn't played yet.  He's their best all around hitter and they've clearly missed him.  Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence, have been abysmal, but they're too good to continue like this for too long. 

Carlos Lee (who is making nearly $20 million this year) can be counted on to hit over .300 with around 30 HR and over 100 RBI, but he's currently hitting .104 with 0 HR and 5 RBI.  Unless there's something physically wrong with him, he'll start hitting (having Berkman back could be the key).  Within a few weeks, they could have Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee driving in the runs in the middle of the lineup and their entire offense might look a lot different.

The top of their starting rotation, with Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, is solid and could be great. I thought that Rodriguez was a candidate for a breakout season and it's too early to say otherwise (his last start was pretty good too).   Like most teams, the bottom of the rotation doesn't inspire much confidence, but it isn't terrible either with Brett Myers, Bud Norris and Felipe Paulino.  

Aside from the Cardinals, the NL Central is weak.  The Cardinals are 8-4, and have had great work from their entire starting rotation.  Carpenter and Wainwright are both going to contend for the Cy Young Award again, but no one knows how Brad Penny, Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia are going to pitch for the rest of the season. 

The Cardinals have underperformed in some recent years, such as winning only 78 games in 2007 after winning the World Series the year before.  Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols also both missed time with injuries in Spring Training, and the Cardinals could be in trouble if either of them went down for an extended period.

The point is that the Astros (who have started winning) could look a much different team in a few weeks and may have righted themselves in time.  If they start playing well at home (16 of their next 19 games are at home), Berkman gives them a jolt and Lee starts hitting, they could be around .500 by the time they go to St. Louis on May 11th.  Yes, the Astros making the playoffs is still a long shot, but there are reasons to think they are much better than their early season struggles indicate.

Update: Well, it wasn't everything they need, but it was a win (they're 1-6 at home after tonight).  In Lance Berkman's first game of the season, the Astros beat the Marlins 7-5, with Berkman going 1-4 with 2 RBI.  Hitting behind him, Carlos Lee went 1-4 (a double) and Hunter Pence went 2-3 with 2 runs.  Jason Michaels also hit a pinch hit 2-run homer in the 8th inning. 

They need Lee to start mashing (he still doesn't have an RBI through 13 games), but at least he got  a double, Pence had a good game and Berkman got back into the lineup.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Out of Milestones?

A Wall Street Journal article named "Baseball May Be Running out of Milestones" posed the question of whether baseball was running out of firsts.  I can understand the concern, although it doesn't worry me very much. 

The first thing to understand is that the article would only would classify something as a milestone if it was truly a first.  If something happens for the first time since 1912, it doesn't count.  If you pitch 2 consecutive no-hitters, that doesn't count either, because it's been done.  You would need to pitch 3 no-hitters for it to be considered a milestone. 

If you're willing to stretch it, which I guess they're not, there will always be firsts because there are so many different stats in baseball (such as the first time a left-handed closer has saved 30 games at night with a SO/BB over 5.00). 

Luckily, there are plenty of rare events (and even firsts) that could happen at some point in the near future.  Even if it's the first time that a baseball event has happened in someone's lifetime, that will probably be good enough.  Here are a few:
  • 7 hits in a 9 inning game
    • This only happened once in the 20th century: Rennie Stennett on September 16, 1975 for the Pirates in a 22-0 blowout at Wrigley
    • Stennett was the last player to have 7 hits in a game, even including extra inning games (it happened 3 times in extra innings: 1932 (Johnny Burnett), 1962 (Rocky Colavito) and 1970 (Cesar Gutierrez)
    • There have been 38 games where a player got 6 hits since 1976 (only Kirby Puckett did it twice)
  • Single-Season Record for doubles: 67 (or even 60 doubles)
    • Earl Webb set the record in 1931 with 67 doubles.  The closest anyone has gotten since 1936 was Todd Helton, with 59 in 2000.  Even if is 67 is out of reach, 60 would be a great milestone to reach.
  • 100 stolen bases
    • The modern record is 130 by Rickey Henderson in 1982.  The last player to have 100 was Vince Coleman in 1987. 
    • No one has ever reached 80 since Vince Coleman in 1988. The most stolen bases in a season since 1988 was Jose Reyes, with 78 in 2007. 
    • This is the type of thing that doesn't seem very plausible now, but will probably happen at some point.  For instance, no one stole even 80 bases between 1916 and 1961, but Maury Wills stole 104 in 1962.
  • 2 perfect games in ML in one season
    • Several times, there have almost been 2 perfect games in a calender year (Jim Bunning in June 1964, Sandy Koufax in September 1965), (David Wells in May 1998, David Cone in July 1999), but not since 1880 have there been 2 in one year (they were actually 5 days apart!)
  • Hit a Home Run in 8 or more games
    • The record is 8, held by Dale Long (1956), Don Mattingly (1987) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1993)
    • Kevin Mench had home runs in 7 consecutive games in 2007, as did Barry Bonds in 2004 and Jim Thome in 2002.  Right now, Chase Utley and Matt Kemp are at 4.
    • This would be one of the best, because everyone could follow it over a week or more, unlike a one game event like 7 hits
  • The single-season record for HR by a 2nd basemen 
    • The current record is 43 by Davey Johnson in 1973.  Chase Utley already has 6 home runs this year, so this is one that could fall at some point.
I wouldn't be surprised if there are more firsts that people are expecting this year, not to mention plenty of rare baseball events that are unexpected and exciting.  I'll keep looking, so keep checking back in.

Update: Ubaldo Jimenez tossed the first no-hitter in Rockies history tonight, in their 18th season.  The Mets (49th season), Padres (42nd season) and Rays (13th season) still have never had a no-hitter.  The only no-hitter tossed in Colorado (Mile High or Coors) was by Hideo Nomo for the Dodgers in 1996.  If Jimenez tosses another no-no in his next start, he'll tie Johnny Vander Meer and have the first home no-hitter in team history.

Update: The Mets-Cardinals 20 inning game tonight was the 35th game that went at least 20 innings since 1920, but the first with over 26 combined strikeouts.  The Mets and Cardinals combined to strike out 35 times: Mets' hitters struck out 16 times and the Cardinals had 19 strikeouts.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How dominant was Matt Thornton over the last two seasons?

White Sox reliever Matt Thornton is off to another great season: 1-0, 1.59 ERA, 10 SO, 1 BB, 5.2 IP.  He's pitching even better than in 2008-09, when he was also dominant:

Multiple Seasons: 65+ IP, 2.75 ERA, 10.25+ SO/9, 2.75 BB/9 (Since 1900)
6 Randy Johnson 1995, 1999-2002, 2004
5 Pedro Martinez 1997, 1999-02
3 Billy Wagner 2002-03, 2006
3 Eric Gagne 2002-04
2 Tom Henke 1987, 1989
2 Trevor Hoffman 1997-98
2 Robb Nen 1998, 2000
2 Arthur Rhodes 2001-02
2 J.J. Putz 2006-07
2 Matt Thornton 2008-09

Thornton is unusual in that he is the only pitcher other than Arthur Rhodes with multiple seasons who was not a closer or starter.  Thornton did take over as closer at the end of September last year when Bobby Jenks was hurt and converted 3 saves.  Thornton obviously has the stuff to be a good closer, and he'll probably jump back into the role if Jenks is hurt or traded.  

Thornton, who is 33, has a club option for 2011 with the White Sox.  There's no reason to think that he can't be a fine closer, but it's worth noting that Arthur Rhodes was wasn't effective when he finally got his chance to close in 2004 with Oakland (at the age of 34).  Fortunately, Rhodes did bounce back and become an effective set-up man again and is still pitching at age 40.

On the other hand, plenty of other pitchers without the track record of Thornton have made the transition effectively, such as Heath Bell, Ryan Franklin, David Aardsma and, so far at least, Jon Rauch.  As great as being closer can be, though, seeing what happened with Mike Gonzalez and Jason Frasor in the past few weeks might be enough give one pause if they would even want the position.   

Thornton's already in great company and will probably succeed if he gets another chance to close at some point.  If he doesn't become a great closer, though, being the next Arthur Rhodes isn't so bad.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Active Streak: Who always reaches 100 pitches per start?

It's not always a good thing for a starting pitcher to reach 100 pitches in a game.  It can indicate that the pitcher is laboring for outs and being inefficient, as opposed to someone like Greg Maddux, who could pitch a complete game with around 80 pitches. 

Depending on the pitcher, it could simply mean they are throwing too many pitches and they will either wear down before the season is over or be injured. 

Even with the potentially negative aspects, a pitcher with a long streak of throwing over 100 pitches is usually doing something right.  A pitcher lit up in the first few innings isn't making it to 100 pitches, and it generally means less work for the bullpen.  While efficiency might be preferable, it is hard for a power pitcher that goes deep into games to avoid 100 pitches. 

A case in point of a staff ace that consistently had over 100 pitches was Randy Johnson, who had 5 separate streaks of at least 20 consecutive starts with 100+ pitches.  His best streak was 37 games from June of 1992 until July of 1993.

The longest active streak is "King" Felix Hernandez and no one else is even close.  The rest of the list does speak well to some other young pitchers, especially Ricky Romero:

(Active) Most consecutive starts with at least 100 pitches:
Felix Hernandez (Mariners) 29
Ricky Romero (Blue Jays) 11
Matt Garza (Rays) 8
Bronson Arroyo (Reds) 7
Johnny Cueto (Reds) 5
David Huff (Indians) 5

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Will the Rangers continue to have great starting pitching?

The Rangers got another good effort from their starting rotation.  Tonight, it was Colby Lewis (fresh off of a successful 2 year stint for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp), who is now 2-0.  He went 5.1 innings, allowed 2 runs, 3 hits, 4 walks and 10 strikeouts. 

In most years, this type of start would be rare and wonderful, but it is common through the early part of 2010. Not only isn't it unusual this year, it actually hurt their starting rotation's (league leading) ERA by raising it from 1.85 to 2.02.

Their rotation...
  • C.J. Wilson: Hadn't started a game since 2005, but had over 250 relief appearances.
  • Colby Lewis: 1 ML victory since 2003, spent 2008-09 in Japan.
  • Rich Harden: 50-29, 3.38 793 SO, 763 IP
  • Scott Feldman: 25-21 in his career, but 17-8 with a 4.05 ERA in 2009.  Has only issued 1 walk over his first 14 innings in 2010.
  • Matt Harrison: 13-8 with a 5.75 ERA over 26 starts between 2008-09 for the Rangers
Texas Rangers: Starters' ERA
2010: 2.02 (1st in ML)
2009: 4.61 (18)
2008: 5.51 (29)
2007: 5.50 (29)
2006: 5.11 (26)
2005: 5.04 (26)
2004: 5.16 (25)
2003: 6.24 (30)
2002: 5.26 (29)
2001: 6.00 (30)
2000: 5.56 (28)

While I don't expect the Rangers to have the best team ERA for their starting rotation (or be in the top 5), they might have a serendipitous situation on their hands.  The question with Harden has never been his talent, but his health.  If he stays healthy, he could dominate. 

Feldman went 17-8 last year and seems to be getting better.  Colby Lewis pitched well in Japan for two years and has started out 2-0 in his return.  Wilson and Harrison are wild cards, but they are holding their own so far.

It is impossible to overlook the past and the dreadful pitching the Rangers have consistently had over the year.  Then again, few would have predicted 5 or 10 years ago that the Rockies would ever have respectable pitching. 

If Harden stays healthy and finally has his breakout season, the rest of the rotation could fall into place.  They have a lot to prove, but a starting rotation that can post a 2.02 ERA through the first 8 games has potential.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Early Returns: Hitting with RISP

BA with RISP
1 D-Backs: .405 (29rd in 2009)
2 Padres: . 328 (27th)
3 Giants: .296 (26th)
28 Blue Jays: .180 (21st)
29 Astros: .170 (12th)
30 Orioles: .158 (2nd)

The D-Backs have only had 37 AB with RISP (lowest in the ML), compared to 59 for the Padres, 71 for the Giants, 84 for Detroit (highest).  Still, a .405 BA is impressive, and Chris Young has gone 3-5 with 2 HR and 9 RBI.  It's one reason that they're 4-2, aftering going 70-92 last year. 

I'm surprised that the Orioles were 2nd last year, so maybe they're is some hope for them to recover.  The Blue Jays lead the ML in home runs and a good lineup.  The Astros will probably start hitting too, because Carlos Lee is hitting .111 (overall, 0 AB with RISP) and Hunter Pence is at .120 (overall, 0 AB with RISP).  They're both quality hitters and will start hitting at some point, and Lance Berkman could return this month.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Jimmy Rollins: Walk Machine?

ML Leaders in Walks
9 Adam Dunn
9 Nick Markakis
8 David Wright
8 Daric Barton
7 Colby Rasmus
7 Nick Johnson
7 Jimmy Rollins
7 Chase Utley
7 Hanley Ramirez
7 Brian McCann

Jimmy Rollins?  He walked 44 times last 725 plate appearances.  To put that in perspective, there have been 197 instances of a player having at least 725 plate appearances in a season, of which there were only 34 times where a player failed to walk at least 45 times.

Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about this in Saturday (when Rollins was at 5 walks):
No, Jimmy Rollins isn't looking to walk more. The Phillies shortstop isn't trying to take more pitches like a conventional leadoff hitter. And he isn't changing the approach that has led him to scoring at least 100 runs in five of the last six seasons.
So he says.
"They're not throwing a lot of strikes," Rollins said. "It's easy to walk."
But . . .

"But it's also knowing you're feeling good," Rollins said. "You're seeing the ball good. You know what you want to swing at."
There have been players who have dramatically improved their ability to draw walks later in their career, though they generally seem to be power hitters who are pitched around more as they develop more power (Jack Clark is one example).

Although he's only 31, this is his 10th full season in the league, and he's never drawn more than 58 walks in a season, hit .300 or had an OBP of .350.  That didn't stop him from winning the MVP award or having a great career, but it's a good sign that he might be capable now of drawing more walks without sacrificing his aggressiveness at the plate.

It's unlikely that he'll walk 100 times, and maybe it's just an early-season anomaly, but his increased patience at the plate could be a early indication of a big season for Rollins.

Update: Rollins injured his right calf during warm-ups before Monday's game and is scheduled to have an MRI on Tuesday.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Major League Leader in Wins...with 3 Innings Pitched

This is getting ridiculous.  Toronto Blue Jays middle reliever Casey Janssen is now 3-0.  He is the only pitcher in the entire league with three wins and he has piched a grand total of 3 innings.  His ERA, appropriately enough, is 3.00.  Prior to this season, he had 10 wins (and 17 losses) in 206.2 innings.  At the rate he's going, he could make a run at one of these guys:

Fewest Innings to...
5 Wins: 1965 Roy Face 5-2 20.1 IP (Pirates)
10 Wins: 2008 Jose Arredondo 10-2, 61 IP (Angels)
15 Wins: 1959 Roy Face 18-1, 93.1 IP (Pirates)
20 Wins: 1954 Bob Grim 20-6, 199 IP (Yankees)
25 Wins: 1990 Bob Welch  25-6, 238 IP (A's)
30 Wins: 1931 Lefty Grove 31-4, 288.2 (A's)
35 Wins: 1913 Walter Johnson 36-7, 346 IP (Senators)
40 Wins: 1904 Jack Chesbro 41-12, 454.2 (Yankees)

Early Returns

.420 BA, 7 RBI
Placido Polanco (Phillies): .520 BA, 8 RBI
Miguel Cabrera (Tigers): .476 BA, 7 RBI
Josh Willingham (Nationals): .444 BA, 7 RBI (5 of the 7 RBI came in the first 3 innings of today's game)
Nelson Cruz (Rangers): .444 BA, 8 RBI
Daric Barton (A's): .421 BA, 7 RBI (fell to .381 after going 0-2 on Sunday)

Miguel Cabrera (Tigers): .522 BA, 8 RBI
Placido Polanco (Phillies): .481 BA, 8 RBI
Nelson Cruz (Rangers): .450 BA, 9 RBI
Josh Willingham (Nationals): .421 BA, 7 RBI

Friday, April 9, 2010

Highest Single-Season ERA

This is a list of the highest single-season ERA's that can be quantified in numerical form, because quite a few pitchers have actually had worse seasons.  There have been 48 times when a pitcher has allowed earned runs in a season without recording an out, which is ERA of infinity.  The all-time leader in this category is Bob Kammeyer (Yankees) who gave up 8 ER in his one relief appearance in 1979, but failed to record an out.

Highest Single-Season ERA
189.00 Jeff Ridgway, 2007 Rays (.1 IP, 7 ER)
189.00 Joe Cleary, 1945 Senators (.1 IP, 7 ER) (The only appearance of his career)
162.00 Joe Hudson, 1998 Brewers (.1 IP, 6 ER)
162.00 Tom Qualters, 1953 Phillies (.1 IP, 6 ER)

The 2010 leader is Jeff Samardzija (Cubs), whose current ERA is 108.00 (.1 IP, 6 R, 4 ER), but he should be able to bring it down soon and avoid becoming a part of this list (at least he has recorded an out).

Carlos Silva

Carlos Silva is getting his first start for the Cubs tonight against the Reds.  It will be the 2nd NL start in his career, with the first being a no-decision on August 2, 2003, for the Phillies.

Over the last two years, with Seattle, he went 5-18 was a 6.81 ERA.   Over 183.2 innings, he allowed an incredible 12.45 H/9, and a .330 average.  He was in a class by himself the last few years, allowing many more hits per game than even Livan Hernandez and Sidney Ponson.

Early in the spring, he had a bad outing that left Lou Piniella almost speechless:
"It wasn't, uh …" manager Lou Piniella said, letting the media fill in the blank. "The results were really not good. I can see where he locates a lot of pitches in that thigh area, and that's a ball that you can drop the bat head on fairly easy. … But this is the first time out, so hopefully he gets better from here."
Does Silva just throw it out and put it behind him?

"I have to, you know what I mean?" he said with a laugh. "If I'm going to stay with this game, I'm going to be a mess."
Most H/9, 1000+IP
11.13 Chief Hogsett (1929-1944)
10.98 Dick Coffman (1927-1945)
10.98 Benny Frey (1929-1936)
10.97 Carlos Silva (2002-present)
10.85 Sloppy Thurston (1923-1933)

He also tends to issue very few walks (including only 9 in 188 IP in 2005), but even those have been going up.  One thing he probably has going for him is low expectations.  If it doesn't look like batting practice for the Reds tonight, people will be pleasantly surprised and he might be able to become a part of the Cubs rotation for a while. 

Ted Lilly should be returning to the Cubs rotation soon, which will result in someone getting bumped.  If Silva pitches tonight anything like he did in Seattle, his stint in the Cubs rotation won't be long.

Update: Was that the real Carlos Silva? 6 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 3 SO, 1 BB.  I doubt that the Cubs were expecting that, but they may have found something here.  His next start is scheduled to be  a day dame against the Brewers at Wrigley on Thursday, and he could further cement his status in the rotation, which he'll need for when Ted Lilly returns.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

NY Yankees and the White House

It's hard to know what to make of this, other than it's an interesting coincidence that the Yankees love playing with a Democrat in the White House, and are mere mortals with Republicans in the White House.  With 30 chances to win a World Series with a Republican as President, they have failed each opportunity since 1958.   

New York Yankees
Democrats: 20-3
1933-1953: 11-1 (Wins: 1936-39, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1949-52) /(Loss: 1940)
1961-1969: 2-2 (Wins: 1961-62)/ (Losses: 1963-64)
1977-1981: 2-0 (Wins: 1977-78)
1993-2001: 4-0 (Wins: 1996, 1998-99, 2000)
2009: 1-0

Republicans: 7-10
1921-1933: 4-3 (Wins: 1923, 1927-28, 1932)/Losses (1921-22, 1926)
1953-1961: 3-3 (Wins: 1953, 1956, 1958)/(Losses: 1955, 1957, 1960)
1969-1977: 0-1 (1976)
1981-1993: 0-1 (1981)
2001-2009: 0-2 (2001, 2003)

Here are some other teams that like playing with Republicans in office more than the Yankees:

Brooklyn/LA Dodgers
Republicans: 4-3 (Wins: 1955, 1959, 1981, 1988)/(Losses: 1953, 1956, 1974)
Democrats: 3-8 (Wins: 1916, 1963, 1965)/ (Losses: 1920, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1966, 1977, 1978)

Phaldelphia/Kansas City/Oakland A's
Republicans: 8-3 (Wins: 1910, 1911, 1929, 1930, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1989)/(Losses: 1905, 1988, 1990)
Democrats: 1-1 (Win: 1913)/(Loss: 1914)

Boston Red Sox
Republicans: 4-2 (Wins: 1903, 1912, 2004, 2007)/(Losses: 1975, 1986)
Democrats:  3-2 (Wins: 1915, 1916, 1918)/(Losses: 1946, 1967)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Are the Giants a playoff team?

It's too early to know anything for sure, but the Giants are looking like at least a playoff contender after their impressive sweep of the Astros.  To be fair, the Astros aren't a very good team, but they're not total pushovers either (I think). While they can feel confident in Tim Linecum pitching well his next time out,  Barry Zito (who pitched well in his first start) is a different matter after his rocky tenure with the Giants. 

The last time they won their first 3 games was 2003 (they went on to win their first 7), when they won 100 games and the NL West.  They also won their first 6 in 2002, when they came within a six outs of winning the World Series, and their first 3 in 2001 when they finished only 2 games behind eventual World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks.

They'll be a lot like they were last year, when they had the 2nd best team ERA and scored the 5th fewest runs (and had the 2nd fewest home runs).   They have some good tests coming up, facing the Braves at home, then the Pirates at home and the Dodgers on the road.

Update: Eduardo Perez thinks the Giants will score enough runs to compete and that Aubrey Huff will be a key asset:
The Giants' starting five are going to be fine. San Francisco's question mark is not going to be pitching; it's going to come from the cleanup spot. Can Huff handle the job? He definitely can.

Cabrera ties it with 2 outs in the 9th

Miguel Cabrera spoiled Luke Hochevar's great outing (7.2 scoreless innings) with an opposite field home run in the 9th inning off Royals closer Joakim Soria to tie the game at 1.  Not only where there two outs when Cabrera went deep, it was a 2-2 count and the 10th pitch of the at-bat (he had fouled off 6 pitches).

Update: The Tigers went ahead on a Carlos Guillen RBI single in the top of the 11th, but Alberto Callaspo promptly tied it in the bottom of the 11th with a home run off Jose Valverde.  After a Billy Buter single, Rick Ankiel doubled home pinch runner Willie Bloomquist. 

What should the Tigers expect from Max Scherzer?

It's Scherzer's first start for the Tigers, and in the AL, and there are high hopes.  In his 2 years in Arizona, comprising 46 G, 37 starts, 9-15 record and a 3.86 ERA.  He was traded to the Tigers from Arizona as part of the 3-team blockbuster deal between the Tigers, D-Back and Yankees.  This year, though, a lot is expected of him:

Jamie Samuelson wrote in the Detroit Free Press that Scherzer might be the key to the Tigers season:
So my final pick is Scherzer. If he can live up to the hype that accompanied his arrival in the majors in 2008, he can give the Tigers a front three that really can mask some other issues on the team. When the Tigers won in 2006, their top three pitchers were Verlander, Bonderman and Kenny Rogers.
Keith Olbermann mentioned him on his blog, Baseball Nerd:
I'm conflicted about a Cy Young Winner between an easy bet like Felix Hernandez or Lester or Beckett, and some darkhorse candidate coming in from the NL like Max Scherzer.
On Fangraphs, David Golebiewski concluded that the only thing that could hold Scherzer back is injuries:
The most likely reason is that Arizona doubts Scherzer’s long-term health and viability as a starting pitcher. To recap his extensive injury history since 2006: shoulder and biceps tendinitis in ‘06, shoulder inflammation in 2008, shoulder fatigue and tightness in 2009. His health certainly bears watching, especially considering that Scherzer’s innings total increased from 109 in 2008 to 175 in 2009 (major league innings plus one rehab start).
There’s little doubt that Scherzer has the talent to become one of the top 20-30 starters in the majors. Few pitchers combine his ability to miss bats with quality control. The question is: can he hold up physically?
Unless someone unexpectedly steps up like Jeremy Bonderman, Scherzer will probably be expected to at least replace Edwin Jackson, who went 13-9 with an ERA of 3.62.  The Tigers could end up looking pretty smart on this because in Scherzer, they got a 25 year old with a great arm (Detroit News):
Scherzer was eighth in the National League in strikeouts per nine innings (9.19) in 2010 and twice had 10-strikeout games. Even in a league where the absence of a designated hitter brings pitchers to the plate, Scherzer's strikeout numbers were impressive. His overall statistics (9-11 record, 4.12 ERA in 30 starts) were less gaudy, although plausible on a Diamondbacks team that finished the season 72-90.
Scherzer has a four-seam fastball that runs in the 93-94-mph range and has reached 99. He has a serviceable slider, as well as a change-up that he considers his second-best pitch. Noteworthy is his lack of a sinking, two-seam fastball, which is standard for most starters.

"But his four-seamer moves," said Rick Knapp, the Tigers pitching coach. "It's not like it's flat. Even as a four-seamer, his fastball has life."
Even in a year where he didn't post a great ERA(4.12) or record (9-11), his strikeout and strikeout-to-walk totals were good in 2009:
April-May: 57 SO, 22 BB, 54.1 IP
June: 26 SO, 13 BB, 29 IP
July-August: 67 SO, 16 BB, 56 IP
September: 24 SO, 12 BB, 31 IP

If he keeps that up, he'll improve his record and ERA this season with the Tigers, even if moving to the AL isn't usually such a great thing for a pitcher.  If he has a great season, which he is capable of, it could be a major factor in the AL Central race this year.


Update: Scherzer is pitching very well through 6 innings: 0 ER, 1 H, 2 BB, 3 SO.

Update: He was taken out after 6 innings, and the reliever gave up a run, so Scherzer won't be getting a decision, but he was impressive and Tiger Nation will breathe a sigh of relief.

Jason Heyward

Braves phenom Jason Heyward was a popular pick for NL Rookie of the Year, and he didn't disappoint in his first game, hitting a 460 foot home run in his 1st ML at-bat (and swing).  He is only 20 years old, and he could easily join some exclusive company if he has the delivers the type of production that many people are expecting from the young star:

.300 BA, 20 HR, 85 RBI (20 years old or younger)
Mel Ott 1929
Ted Williams 1939:
Mickey Mantle 1952
Al Kaline 1955
Orlando Cepeda 1958
Alex Rodriguez 1996
Jason Heyward, 2010?

Of those players, only Ted Williams and Orlando Cepeda were in their first ML season, as Heyward is this year.  Is it too soon to bring this up?  Probably not considering that was picked by 31 out of ESPN's 38 experts to win the NL Rookie of the Year and Derek Lowe compared him to a young A-Rod.  Heyward appears to be the rare 20 year old who can handle the Major Leagues and all of the hype, but it is very early.          

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Edwin Jackson

Edwin Jackson has his first start as a Diamondback tonight, after having the best season of his career with Detroit last year.  He made his first All-Star team, and it was good enough to get him over $13 million for 2 years with Arizona. 

He has the talent to be a great pitcher for a long time, and pitched like it for much of last year, before reverting to prior form late in the year.  He'll be facing off against Chris Young of the Padres, who also has a lot of ability, but has also been way too inconsistent.  Getting a fresh start and moving back to the NL should help Jackson find his form.  He's also catching a break getting to face the Padres, who scored the 2nd fewest runs in baseball last year (barely edging out the Pirates).  If he has trouble with them, it's probably a bad sign. 

2003-2008: 25-30, 5.15 ERA
Pre-All Star, 2009: 7-4, 2.52 ERA, .212 BAA (Best in the AL, 80+ IP)
Post-All Star, 2009: 6-5, 5.07 ERA, .290 BAA

Update: Jackson lasted 5 innings, and gave up 3 runs, with 5 SO and 1 BB.  Not that good, but not terrible either.  Chris Young, on the other hand, was sensational: 6 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 5 SO, 3 BB.  A great start after struggling last year (4-6, 5.21 ERA) before having season-ending surgery in August.

Monday, April 5, 2010


4:33: Blue Jays are leading 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, and the biggest news is that Vernon Wells went 3-4, with a HR and 3 RBI.  The Blue Jays need him to play like the superstar the they signed to a $126 million extension in 2006, and for today, he did.  Last year, he only had 15 HR in 630 PA, with a .260 average.  He's still only 31, so an MVP-type comback isn't out of the question.  He's batting 4th with Aaron Hill and Adam Lind in front of him, so there should be plenty of RBI opportunities.

6:05: Well, it didn't work out so well for the Blue Jays: they lost 5-4 after Jason Frasor gave up 2 runs in the ninth. Nevertheless, Adam Lind and Vernon Wells went 6-7 with 2 HR and 4 RBI, and Shaun Marcum pitched reasonably well, so it wasn't all bad.

6:15: I guess the Braves know what they're doing.  Jason Heyward hit a 3-run home run in his first major league at-bat.  It's going to be tough for some pitchers on the Cubs to look at their ERA for at least a few weeks: Carlos Zambrano: 54.00, Jeff Samardzija: 108.00.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

AL MVP Candidates

ESPN's 38 experts made predictions about who would win the postseason awards.  Their picks for the American League MVP:
  • Evan Longoria (9)
  • Alex Rodriguez (7)
  • Mark Teixeira (6)
  • Joe Mauer (6)
  • Miguel Cabrera (5)
  • Kevin Youkilis (2)
  • Justin Morneau (1)
  • Derek Jeter (1)
  • Nelson Cruz (1)
There's a good chance that the AL MVP will be among their picks, although there were some other players in the AL that are likely to put up huge numbers last year.  Adam Lind and Aaron Hill will not only have to put up big numbers again before they're put in this category, but they're on the Blue Jays, a team that is unlikely to be in contention.  They would need unbelievable numbers to win the MVP on a losing team, which is unlikely to happen. 

Kendry Morales didn't get any votes from ESPN (although he did from Jon Heyman on, but he'll probably be a contender. He was one of the best hitters in baseball during the second half and will be an important part of the Angels lineup. 

Potential MVP candidates: Ichiro, Ben Zobrist, David Ortiz, Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter, Chone Figgins, Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Jason Bartlett, Michael Young, Robinson Cano, Jason Kubel, Robinson Cano, Kendry Morales

Might be an MVP candidate on a better team: Nick Markakis (Orioles), Billy Butler (Royals), Aaron Hill (Blue Jays), Adam Lind (Blue Jays)

Have the talent, but will have to play much better than last year: Carlos Pena, Curtis Granderson, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Quentin, Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui, Magglio Ordonez

I might be missing a few, but that probably covers it.

.300, 30 HR, 100 RBI (AL - 2009)
Adam Lind (Blue Jays)
Kendry Morales (Angels)
Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)

.300, 15 HR, 50 RBI (Post-All Star Break, AL - 2009)
Mark Teixeira (Yankees)
Kendry Morales (Angels)
Adam Lind (Blue Jays)
Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)

.300, 20 R, 20 RBI (September, AL - 2009)
Adam Lind (Blue Jays)
Aaron Hill (Blue Jays)
Mark Teixeira (Yankees)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Will Ted Lilly have a breakout season in 2010?

Ted Lilly went 12-9 with an impressive 3.10 ERA in 2009.  He had knee surgery last July and shoulder surgery in the offseason, so his health could be an issue this year.  He's not scheduled to join the Cubs until a few weeks into the season

He is also 34 years old and still hasn't had a true breakout season.  One reason to be hopeful for 2010, though, is that he has solved his control problems over the last few eyars, while reducing the number of hits he allows and has maintained his solid strikeout totals. 

He took his pitching to a new level in 2009: He had a 1.056 WHIP in 2009 (walks + hits per innings pitched), which was 5th best of all pitchers with at least 175 IP, and his 4.19 SO/BB ratio was 8th best

He's had some good seasons in the past (and All-Star appearances in 2004 and 2009), including his 2008 season where he went 17-9 with a 4.09 ERA, but he's never received a Cy Young vote.  Based on his excellent numbers last year, he might finally be in a position to become an elite pitcher:

Ted Lilly (2009): 12-9, 3.10 ERA, 177 IP, 151 SO, 36 BB, 1.056 WHIP, 4.19 SO/BB, 7.7 SO/9, 1.8 BB/9

How good were these numbers?  A lot better than I thought.

12 Wins, 175 IP,  .550 W-L%, sub-3.11 ERA, sub-1.06 WHIP, 4.19 SO/BB, 7.6 SO/9, sub-1.90 BB/9 (Since 1900)
Sandy Koufax 1963
Bob Gibson 1968
Greg Maddux 1995
Pedro Martinez 1999, 2000, 2002
Kevin Brown 2000
Johan Santana 2005-06
Javier Vazquez 2009
Ted Lilly 2009

His age, recent surgeries and past inconsistency are major concerns, as is how effective the Cubs' offense and bullpen will be this year.  If he can return quickly and stay healthy, he could easily have his best season yet. 

The National League is stacked with great starting pitchers this year like Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Chris Carpenter, Dan Haren and Ubaldo Jimenez (not to mention Roy Oswalt, Jair Jurrjens, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, Wandy Rodriguez and Ricky Nolasco, among others), so it could be very difficult to sneak in and get any Cy Young votes this year, but Lilly is in a good position to at least get into the discussion if he continues to pitch like he did in 2009.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Will the Red Sox jump ahead of the Yankees in April again?

Fearless prediction: The Red Sox will play better in April than they will the rest of the year, and the Yankees will play worse.  It's pretty much the natural order of things:

                                       Red Sox                                  Yankees
2001                    16-9 (.640); 82-79 (.509)        14-12 (.538); 95-65 (.594)
2002                    16-7 (.696); 93-69 (.574)        17-10 (.630); 103-58 (.640)    
2003                    18-8 (.692); 95-67 (.586)        20-6 (.769); 101-61 (.623)
2004:                   15-6 (.714); 98-64 (.605)        12-10 (.545); 101-61 (.623)
2005:                   12-11(.522); 95-67 (.586)       14-15 (.483); 95-67 (.586)
2006:                   14-11 (.560); 86-75 (.531)      9-14 (.391); 97-65 (.599)
2007:                   16-8 (.667); 96-66 (.593)        13-10 (.565); 94-68 (.580)
2008:                   16-11 (.593); 95-67 (.586)      10-14 (.417); 89-73 (.549)
2009:                   14-8 (.636); 95-67 (.586)        11-10 (.524); 103-59 (.636)

I could probably go further back, but you get the point.  Even if everyone knows what will probably happen after a slow Yankees start, there will be inevitable panic if they're hovering around .500 (or below) at the beginning of May. 

If the Yankees were to sweep the Red Sox in the first series of the year, it would almost represent a cosmic imbalance in the baseball universe.  The most likely result is that the Red Sox will win some games, Rivera will blow a save or two and the Sox will build up a surprising lead over the first few weeks, but it won't last (the only Division Title they've won since 1995 was in 2007, when they built up an 11.5 game lead by the end of May, but ended up barely hanging on).

There's no reason to think this year will be any different.  Last year, the Red Sox jumped out to a good start despite having traded Manny Ramirez the year before, and with David Ortiz having an impossibly slow start. 

The drama of the Yankees getting a slow start is a staple of the baseball season, it would be unfortunate to lose it (watch out for Granderson to struggle, Phil Hughes to adjust poorly to being put back in the rotation, and Chan Ho Park to revert back to 2002-2007 form).  Maybe their talent and momentum from the World Series is so great that they'll start strong, but I wouldn't count on it.     

Update: April 4th: Red Sox battled back from a 5-1 deficit to win 9-7.  C.C. Sabathia pitched poorly, as did Chan Ho Park, taking the loss. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ryan Howard: 2010 NL MVP?

At, they had 13 experts make predictions for pretty much everything about the 2010 season.  While there were a few surprises (one picked the Reds to win the NL Central and another picked Ricky Nolasco to win the NL Cy Young Award) they agreed on a lot: Yankees will win the Series (8 out of 13), Phillies wiil win the AL East (unanimous), Braves phenom Jason Heyward will win the NL Rookie of the Year (12 out of 13). 

They were some different choices for NL MVP, probably because there are concerns about Albert Pujols' health.  The selections: Albert Pujols (5), Hanley Ramirez (2), Prince Fielder (2), Chase Utley (2), Troy Tulowitzki (1), Justin Upton (1).  I can easily imagine any of these players putting up numbers good enough to win the MVP this year (although Justin Upton might be a stretch).   

There are a few other players who would could have been plausibly selected (Ryan Braun, Derrek Lee, Matt Holliday), but the snub that surprised me the most was Ryan Howard.  He finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2009, 2nd in 2008 (in a fairly close vote), 5th in 2007 and 1st in 2006 (the only player in the NL to finish in the top 5 each of the last 4 years). 

Yes, he strikes out too much (typically around 200 times a year), can't run and doesn't play good defense.  What he does is hit balls over the fence and drive in runners better than anyone else in baseball.  It was a somewhat shocking, though, to see how much better:

Most RBI (since 2006)
Ryan Howard 572
Albert Pujols 491
Alex Rodriguez 480
Justin Morneau 470
Miguel Cabrera 463

Most HR (since 2006)
Ryan Howard 198
Albert Pujols 165
Adam Dunn 158
Prince Fielder 158
Alex Rodriguez 154

He has such a lead, that he's still #1 if you take it back to 2005, when he only played in 88 games.

Since 2006, he has had at least 45 HR and 135 RBI each year.  There have only been a few players in Major League History to do that more than twice over the course of their entire career:

45, HR, 135 RBI (Since 1900)
Babe Ruth: 8 (1920-21, 1926-31)
Ryan Howard 4 (2006-2009)
Sammy Sosa: 4 (1998-2001)
Lou Gehrig: 3 (1927, 1931, 1934, 1936)
Alex Rodriguez: 3 (2001-02, 2007)
Ken Griffey: 3 (1996-98)
Jimmie Foxx: 3 (1932-33, 1938)

I can understand why they picked other players: Not only are they all good, they're more exciting and have better all around games.  Ramirez,  Utley, Tulowitzki and Upton could all be considered 5 tool players, while Fielder put up Howard-like numbers last year with a better batting average and fewer strikeouts.  It's normal to be more intrigued by players that do it all as opposed to a specialist. 

While Howard game is only hitting, this will be an interested season for Howard.  The power numbers have been there, will probably be similar but his batting average, strikeout and walk totals are what need to improve.

Howard's batting average and walks have slipped since 2006, when he hit .313 with 108 walks in addition to 58 HR and 149 RBI.  In 2008, his average slipped to .251 with 81 BB and 199 SO (and still came close to winning the MVP).  Last year, he brought his average to .279, walked 75 times and struck out 'only' 186 times.  In the 2nd half of 2009, he hit .305 (compared to .257 in the 1st half), while hitting just as many home runs. 

He hit well early in the postseason, winning the NLCS MVP, hitting .333 with 2 HR and 8 RBI in 5 games.  In the World Series, well, Game 1 wasn't too bad, with 2 doubles in 5 at bats (he hit .174 with 1 HR and 13 SO over the 6-game series). 

If he can get his average up closer to .300 this season, lower his strikeouts and put up his typical power numbers (45 HR, 145 RBI), he'll be right there in the MVP discussion, and might even win it again if Pujols can't up his usual numbers.

Update (April 2nd):  There was an interesting tidbit about Howard in Jayson Stark's new article: Who are the American Baseball Idols of '10?:
And a couple of ticks down the lineup, Ryan Howard (.306 spring average, .882 OPS) had such an eye-opening offensive approach this spring, he caused one scout to predict: "If he keeps this approach all year long and remembers there's another side to the field, he's going to hit .300 and he's going to win the MVP by a mile."
Update (April 3rd): ESPN put up their Awards picks today.  They had 38 experts make their selections, and Howard was predicted to win NL MVP by two experts: Joe Morgan and Brendan Roberts (ESPN Fantasy).  The rest of the selections: Albert Pujols (16), Troy Tulowitzki (5), Hanley Ramirez (4), Chase Utley (4), Prince Fielder (2), Matt Kemp (2), Ryan Braun, Andrew Ethier, Matt Holliday.
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