Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Day Willie Mays Played Shortstop

Willie Mays turned 80 this week and terrific stories have been written about the great player. His reception in San Francisco was really well done and well deserved. But while others have celebrated the great career of Willie Mays and recounted his exploits over and over, this writer thought he would celebrate the greatest player he ever saw in a different way. This is a story of the craziest game in which Willie Mays ever participated. The game was so crazy that Willie Mays actually played shortstop for three innings. He was 33 years old at the time.

It wasn't Willie's first foray at short. He played shortstop for one inning in 1963. He didn't get any chances in that game and strangely enough, he didn't get any chances in this particular game either. Which was probably just as well. Though we would like to think that if somebody had actually hit the ball to Mays, Willie would have made the play. But everything was strange about this game which took place as the second game of a double-header on May 31, 1964 at Shea Stadium. After playing nine innings the first game, Mays played 23 innings of the second game. Yes, that's right. 23 innings.

The Giants had won the first game behind Juan Marichal's complete game victory. Mays had gone one for three in that game with a walk and a run score. At the start of the second game, Willie was batting .382 with an OPS of 1.260. The Giants were in second place at the time and were only a half a game back of the league leader. They would eventually finish in fourth place despite 90 wins that season. Alvin Dark was the manager. The Mets were in last place, as usual, a place they had never relinquished since coming into the league in 1962. Casey Stengel was still their manager and the Mets "improved" in 1964 from 111 losses the year before to "only" 109 in 1964. But on this day, they played one of the longest games ever.

The second game of the double-header on May 31, 1964 in Shea Stadium started normally enough for Mays. He was in center field where he belonged. The Giants started Bobby Bolin. Bolin was 25 at the time and was a good pitcher for the Giants for many years. He was a swing man who made 23 starts in 1964 but also made 15 relief appearances. That was the way Bolin's career went. Baseball-reference credits him with 50 saves while also compiling 34 complete games in his career. Whatever you needed from Bolin, he would give it to you.

The Mets started Bill Wakefield, a native of Kansas City, MO. 1964 would be Wakefield's only season in the majors, which is surprising because he didn't have a bad season in 1964. He started four games that season and relieved in 58 others and ended with a 3.61 ERA in 119+ innings. Wakefield didn't last long in this game, which was his second start of the season. He pitched two innings and gave up two runs. The Mets had a rally going in the bottom of the second and George Altman pinch hit for Wakefield. Little did Casey Stengel know that he needed every inning out of his pitchers he could get.

By the end of the third inning, the Giants had taken a commanding 6-1 lead and the Mets had gone through two pinch hitters and three pitchers. A fourth pitcher, Al Jackson, was used as a pinch runner in the second inning rally that resulted in the Mets' lone run. Willie had gotten a single in the first inning to drive in a run but grounded out during the big four-run rally the Giants put together in the third inning.

Leading 6-1 would seem like an easy win for the Giants, but the Mets got to Bolin late in the game. Eddie Kranepool drove in a run with a triple and later scored in the Mets' sixth inning off of Bolin and an inning later,  Joe Christopher hit a three-run homer to tie the score at 6-6. 1964 was the only season Joe Christopher saw full-time duty and it was his only good season. He ended up with a 134 OPS+ in 1964.

Meanwhile, Tom Sturdivant and Frank Lary had held the Giants scoreless to allow the Mets to come back and tie the game. Kranepool hit a double after Christopher's home run, but Bob Shaw came in for the Giants to end the threat. Christopher's homer was the last run either team would score for the next fifteen innings!

On the Mets side of things, Larry Bearnarth started the eighth inning and pitched seven scoreless innings. Bearnarth was a nondescript pitcher who pitched parts of five seasons. This was probably the game of his life. Galen Sisco came in to start the 15th inning and pitched eight scoreless innings. For the Giants, Ron Herbal began the ninth inning and pitched four scoreless innings. Herbal was another swing man for the Giants and was a pretty good pitcher for them for several seasons. He gave way to Gaylord Perry.

Gaylord Perry was just 25 years old at the time and in his first full season for the Giants. He too was a swing man that season and made several starts in 1964 but also pitched many times in relief. What the future Hall of Fame pitcher did in this game is legendary. He began his quest in the 13th inning and pitched ten scoreless innings! The only trouble he had was in his first inning of work when the Mets got back to back singles but right fielder, Jesus Alou threw out Amando Samuel trying to go from first to third. That must have made old Casey happy.

And what of Willie Mays? How did he get to shortstop? In the top of the eighth inning, Willie McCovey pinch hit for starting shortstop, Gil Garrido. After McCovey struck out to end the inning, Jim Davenport went in to play shortstop. In the top of the tenth inning, Matty Alou pinch hit for third baseman, Jim Ray Hart. Dark wanted to keep Matty Alou in the game, so he moved Davenport to third to take Hart's spot and he moved Willie to short so Matty Alou could play center. The Giants did have another infielder on the bench but it seems obvious at this point that Dark did not want to lose the offense of Alou, so Willie played short.

As mentioned earlier, Willie Mays played shortstop for three innings. How strange that must have looked! Again, unfortunately for us, he never got a chance to make a play there. Herbal was simply mowing the Mets' batters down and only one single went to left. There is no way of knowing that hit's relation to Mays. In the top of the 13th inning, Cap Peterson (Charles was his given name) pinch hit for Herbal. Peterson was a light-hitting utility player who played parts of seven seasons. He started out as an infielder but was used mostly in the outfield by the Giants.

Peterson lined out and the Giants didn't score in the thirteenth inning. In the bottom of the 13th, Dark did a double move when he brought in Gaylord Perry. Dark put Perry in Harvey Kuenn's spot in the line up. Kuenn had made the last out in the top of the inning and was playing left-field. Peterson stayed in the game and moved to third. Davenport moved back to short. Matty Alou moved to Kuenn's spot in left and Willie Mays went back to familiar territory in center. And that's the way it stayed for ten more innings.

Finally, in the top of the 23rd inning, the Giants finally got to Galen Cisco. It appears that it was Cisco's game no matter what happened. Cisco got the first two outs in that last inning without a problem. But then Davenport hit a triple. The next move is baffling and if this author can question Casey Stengel's thinking all these years later, it does seem strange. Stengel ordered an intentional walk to Cal Peterson. Remember that Peterson was not a good hitter and was batting .158 at the time. Sure, the pitcher's spot was next up, but surely, the Giants would pinch hit for Gaylord. They had to. Plus, there were two outs. Why not go after the weak hitting Peterson? But Casey walked Peterson intentionally to make it first and third.

The Giants did indeed pinch hit for Perry. Del Crandall pinch hit. He was the backup catcher which made this move dangerous for the Giants. Tom Haller had already caught 22 innings! Can you imagine catching for 22 innings? Crandall was 34 years old and toward the end of his career. He was probably one of the last guys on the bench. If the Giants didn't score, Crandall probably would have gone in to catch and a pitcher would have had to play the field.

But that became moot when Crandall lined a rope to right field for a double. That scored Davenport. Jesus Alou then singled to score Peterson. Willie Mays grounded out to end the inning. The Giants finally broke the tie and led 8-6. But they still had to get the Mets out in the bottom of the 23rd.

Haller stayed in at catcher to finish his marathon. Bob Hendley, one of the Giants' starting pitchers, came in to pitch. It was to be his only relief outing of the season. Hendley struck out two of the three Mets' batters and the other popped out to end the game. Hendley today would have been given a save.

The game lasted seven hours and twenty-three minutes. If you include the first game of the double-header, the two teams played a total of nine hours and fifty-two minutes of baseball. Shea Stadium had been packed with over 57,000 fans. They got their money's worth. Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Jesus Alou played every minute of those two games as did Christopher, Kranepool and shortstop, Roy McMillan of the Mets. Galen Cisco got the loss despite his heroic outing and went on to lose 19 games for the Mets that season. The Mets lost both games of the double-header.

As for Willie Mays, he went one for ten in the second game with a walk, a strikeout, a run scored and a run batted in. His averaged started that game at .382 and finished 23 innings later at .364. He should have won the MVP that season as he hit 47 homers and was far and above any other player in the league in WAR. But they didn't know about WAR in 1964. The Cardinals won the pennant and Ken Boyer won the MVP, though his season couldn't be counted even among the worst of seasons Willie Mays ever had.

But imagine if you were sitting in Shea Stadium that day and got to see almost ten hours of one of the greatest players of all time? Imagine being a fan in the stands to watch the greatest center fielder of all time coming in to play shortstop for three innings. That would have been something to see! Happy Birthday, Willie Mays.

Game Picks - Saturday: May 7, 2011

Yesterday featured another fast start followed by the (by now) familiar collapse on picks from the West Coast. The Indians' offense went dormant and lost despite another great outing by Masterson. Ubaldo Jiminez left with a lead, but his bullpen blew the game. But this picker shouldn't complain. After all it was a positive day. It just wasn't the wildly positive day that seemed to be taking shape. The surprises of the day were the Mets beating the Dodgers and the runs that Cliff Lee gave up despite striking out sixteen batters. Derek Lowe might have thrown a no-hitter if he hadn't gotten hurt.

Saturday's games do not look like fun to pick. There is a rookie making his debut. There are other young pitchers who have had various results. There are the enigmas of the Twins and Red Sox. And Bartolo Colon again gives us the question of how long he can keep pitching as well as he has. Let's take a look:

  • The Reds over the Cubs: The only question here is if Bronson Arroyo can keep the Cubs in the park after giving up three homers in his last outing. The Reds should hit Casey Coleman.
  • The Red Sox over the Twins: Clay Buchholz looked much better in his last outing and while the Twins never seem to lose behind Brian Duensing, you have to go with the Red Sox at home.
  • The Bay Rays over the Orioles: Jeremy Guthrie is a lot better pitcher than people give him credit for, but Hellickson can be very good too. Have to go with the Tampa Bay Rays, who simply are the better team.
  • The Tigers over the Blue Jays: On paper, this is a good match up between Justin Verlander and Ricky Romero. But Romero was pushed back two days with a strain in his midsection. That's never good. Verlander will be tough. Will Bautista be back for this game? Haven't heard.
  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: The Brewers have lost several in a row and the reaction is to want to go with the law of averages that they are bound to win some time. With Yovani Gallardo due to break out of his pitching woes, today would seem like the day. But the Cardinals are rolling and Lohse has been good except for his last start against the Marlins. Torn on this one.
  • The Braves over the Phillies: So much is going on in this game. How will Julio Teheran do in his MLB debut? If he can give the Braves five good innings, the Braves' bullpen is good enough to win it. The Phillies go with Kyle Kendrick taking Oswalt's place. Kendrick simply isn't very good plus he hasn't started all year. Won't go long.
  • The Astros over the Pirates: Morton has been decent for the Pirates, but Bud Norris has been electric. The Fan never thought he would ever type that last sentence. But it's true.
  • The Mets over the Dodgers: Chris Young versus Jon Garland in the battle of the junk-ballers. Young's slop has been more effective than Garland's. How far will Ethier go?
  • The Royals over the Athletics: The Royals should bunt about ten times this game as McCarthy can't seem to make the play. Can't give a ringing endorsement to the Royals though as they have to hope Hochevar gives them a decent start. Hosmer gets his first hit today.
  • The Nationals over the Marlins: This is the upset pick of the day. Volstad is completely unreliable while Gorzelanny will battle you and keep you in the game. Still waiting for Jayson Werth to have a big game.
  • The Yankees over the Rangers: Riding the Colon wave until he proves otherwise. Holland with the loss. The Yankees gave him his only loss of the season.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Padres: Daniel Hudson has to have a good first inning to win. Dustin Moseley goes for the Padres. He's been great, but will he get any run support?
  • The Giants over the Rockies: Bumgarner is 0-5. Did you ever think that would happen after that World Series? He gets his first win tonight. Emil Rogers started the season great but has fallen apart lately.
  • The Mariners over the White Sox: This little voice keeps whispering: "The White Sox aren't this bad. The White Sox aren't this bad." But gee, they keep losing game after game. Doug Fister doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence, but he's not a bad pitcher. Gavin Floyd seems like a good pitcher, but the results aren't there. Ugh! What a hard game to pick! 

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Angels over the Indians: Alex White was good in his debut, but it's doubtful he will go beyond five innings. He faces Jared Weaver. Angels win.

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 41-40
Month: 41-40
Season: 253-223
Games of the Day: 17-20  Doggone this feature!

Friday, May 06, 2011

New Pitchers Faring Better Than New Batters

On Twitter this morning, a figure was being bandied about concerning how first year batters were faring this season. If this number is remembered correctly, first year batters were batting .172 this season. If memory is also correct, this figure was said to be the lowest in years. This Fan thought it would be fun to reverse the statistics quoted and see how first year pitchers were doing. The overall answer is: Very Good.

First year pitchers (and this doesn't include rookies such as Brandon Beachy who pitched a little last year) have pitched 326.2 innings thus far and have an ERA of 3.50. That's pretty darn solid as a group. Collectively, they are giving up 7.59 hits per inning and are striking out 7.52 batters per nine innings pitched. As you can probably figure, the walks are quite high at 4.25 walks per nine innings, but overall this young group of pitchers is doing quite well and have accumulated a total of 5.3 WAR.

Some of the standouts thus far include Michael Pineda, of course, whose pitching has increased the frenzy of speculation concerning the trade fate of Felix Hernandez. Also included is the Orioles' standout, Zach Britton, who has already accumulated 1.4 WAR and is near the top of MLB in several categories.

Other standouts include relief pitchers, Aaron Crow of the Kansas City Royals, Pedro Beato of the Mets and Al Alburquerque of the Detroit Tigers. Crow has already compiled a WAR of 1.0 in relief! Other first year relievers of note include Joshua Collmenter of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cody Eppley of the Texas Rangers, Joe Paterson of the Diamondbacks and Eduardo Sanchez of the St. Louis Cardinals. Sanchez has been thrust in there as a closer for the Cardinals and it's been adventurous for the youngster, but he has three saves thus far.

A couple of more first year pitchers holding there own are Lance Pendleton of the Yankees, Nathan Adcock of the Royals and Louis Coleman, also of the Royals.

As offense continues to plummet the last couple of years, young hitters struggle and young pitchers seem to have the upper hand. Now that Mr. Hosmer is heading to the Royals' line up, we'll have to see if those offensive numbers get a boost.

As usual, and its wonderful Play Index really came in handy for this little search and Microsoft Excel adventure.

Where Did Brandon Beachy Come From?

Brandon Beachy has truly been one of the surprise stories of the 2011 MLB season. He wasn't on anyone's top prospect list. He wasn't drafted. He beat out Mike Minor (who was on top prospect lists) for the job in Spring Training and has since thrown seven starts for the Braves. And he's been terrific! Who the heck is this guy and where did he come from?

If you look at Beachy's Wikipedia page, you'll learn that he played Indiana high school ball with his two brothers and helped take his team to that state's Class AA championship. But he wasn't offered a big time college scholarship and went to a small Indiana college where the biography goes on to say that he played the infield and pitched occasionally. It wasn't enough to get him on anyone's draft radar. Somehow, the Atlanta Braves found him and signed him to a free agent contract in 2008. Nice find, that.

And so this amateur free agent that nobody but the Braves noticed went to their minor league system and rose like a rocket. 2010 became a magical season. He started in the Southern League (Double A) and started a handful of games but pitched mostly in relief. He was fabulous. He got promoted to the International League (Triple A) and all he did there was pitch with a 2.17 ERA with a 9.45 K/1.2 BB ratio. Just two years after he was signed, he made his major league debut.

Beachy made three starts for the Braves after his call up. He lost his only two decisions. His walk rate wasn't what it was in the minors, but he gave up no homers and finished with a 3.00 ERA. Hardly anyone noticed. That was enough, though, for the Braves to invite him to Spring Training where he flat out beat Mike Minor for a job in the rotation. Again, this is a guy who wasn't on anyone's prospect radar. Skeptical was the only word for his expectations.

But here he is now after seven starts to begin the season. His WAR is tied with David Price, Tommy Hanson and Jaime Garcia. That's some pretty good company. His won-loss record continues to be unlucky and he's only 1-1, but his ERA is an impressive 2.98. And if you think that ERA is fluky, his FIP is exactly the same at 2.98 and his xFIP is only slightly higher at 3.19.

All of Beachy's numbers are good. He has struck out 9.6 batters per nine innings, which leads starters on his team. He's walked only 2.3 batters per nine for a very impressive 4.09 strikeout to walk ratio. His WHIP sits at 0.969 and he's been stingy with hits with only 6.4 hits per nine innings. Yes, his BABIP is very low at .245 so he may regress a little bit. But when you are striking out that many people, BABIP isn't as important as if more balls were being hit in play.

Fangraphs' Pitch/FX data shows his fastball to average about 91.8 MPH. That's not blow away fast, but Fangraphs does rate the pitch this year at well above average in effectiveness. His other very good pitch is the slider. He throws the slider 16.6 percent of the time and Fangraphs again rates that pitch as well above average. His change up, which he throws 9.6 percent of the time and his curve ball (9.9 percent) are both given negative scores by Fangraphs. One interesting statistic is that Beachy gets batters to chase 33.4 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. It will be interesting to see if teams start making him throw strikes as the season progresses.

The fifth starter of any rotation is a guy you hope will at least keep his team in the game for a chance to win. Most teams around the league struggle with this rotation spot. But the Braves have a guy who is rated currently among the top pitchers in the league. Brandon Beachy has been a startling story to this point and despite the Braves' somewhat sluggish start this season, gives the team hope that they can remain relevant throughout the season.

Game Picks - Friday: May 6, 2011

The Arizona Diamondbacks pulled out a thrilling win against the Colorado Rockies last night. Gerardo Parra and Chris Young hit solo homers in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the score at two runs apiece. Justin Upton then hit a walk-off single in the eleventh inning to ice the win. The reason this game is mentioned is that if it wasn't for the heroics of these players (or the goats that pitched to them), this picker's day yesterday would have been even more of a disaster than it was. The week and the month of May are both back in the red again. But at least the Game of the Day was finally correct. This exercise has been pretty frustrating the last couple of weeks!

Okay, the knuckles are cracked and this Fan is buckling down. The game face is on. With a steely grunt, here are Friday's picks:

  • The Reds over the Cubs: The day starts off with a really tough and interesting pick. Matt Garza, despite his record and ERA, has been one of the best pitchers in the National League this season. Edinson Volquez has been maddeningly inconsistent. Here's why the Reds win: The Cubs are not a patient bunch. That helps Volquez more than it helps Garza.
  • The Phillies over the Braves: Cliff Lee goes for the Phillies and Derek Lowe for the Braves. Lowe has been better than his record. Cliff Lee is better than his current stats. Going with Philly at home.
  • The Astros over the Pirates: Wandy Rodriguez against Paul Maholm. Wandy is one of the best pitchers in the league. The Astros don't have a closer though. So this will be interesting.
  • The Orioles over the Bay Rays: Scary pick to make here, but that's how good Zach Britton has been. Shields with the tough luck loss.
  • The Blue Jays over the Tigers: The Tigers have been pitching really well of late. But that doesn't include lefty, Phil Coke. Jesse Litcsh seems a lot better than his record and the Blue Jays are at home and can thump.
  • The Dodgers over the Mets: Hiroki Kuroda should feel right at home in the spacious Citi Field. Jon Niese has been inconsistent. The Dodgers are a little banged up though. Still think they win.
  • The Twins over the Red Sox: Scott Baker will either be one of the Fabulous Baker Boys or Home Run Baker. Which one will it be today? Tim Wakefield goes for the Red Sox. This is cruel, but the Twins should bunt a lot as that is Wakefield's biggest nightmare.
  • The Yankees over the Rangers: Ivan Nova has to be good for this pick to pan out. Matt Harrison was rolling along this season until the Yankees beat him up last time they faced him. He's struggled ever since.
  • The Athletics over the Royals: Gio Gonzalez will be good. The question is the A's offense and whether they can get to Sean O'Sullivan, who has been decent as the fifth starter. He walks too many batters though. The debut of Hosmer, of course, will be this game's wild card.
  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: Randy Wolf has been okay this season, but he faces Jaime Garcia. Garcia has scuffled a bit in his last two starts, but some home cooking should help. Pujols is starting to hit. Look out NL.
  • The Padres over the Diamondbacks: The D-backs played eleven thrilling innings last night and then had to travel to San Diego after that game. They will be a weary group. Tim Stauffer should beat Galarraga at home.
  • The Indians over the Angels: Justin Masterson's record does not appear to be a fluke. He's pitching really well. The Angels counter with Tyler Chatwood, who hasn't embarrassed himself at all this season.
  • The Mariners over the White Sox: Felix Hernandez pitches a gem against a struggling White Sox team and wins by two runs over a very good, Philip Humber.
  • The Rockies over the Giants: It's time for Ubaldo Jiminez to come up big. He faces the always tough, Matt Cain. If the pitchers equal themselves out, you have to go with the Rockies offense.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Marlins over the Nationals: Jordan Zimmermann has pitched well, but the Nationals can't hit and won't hit against Ricky Nolasco. The Marlins are turning into quite the story this season.

Yesterday: 5-7
Week: 32-34
Month: 32-34
Season: 244-217
Games of the Day: 17-19

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Time to Worry Over Chris Carpenter?

Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals has made thirteen starts since the last day of August last year. During that span, his record is 2-6 with 40 earned runs in 82.2 innings of work. That works out to a 4.35 ERA over that span. So far this year, he is 0-2 with an ERA of 4.19. Worse yet, Carpenter had been downright stingy with home runs allowed in 2009 and 2010 but has given up six already this season in 43 innings of work. Should we be worried about this 36 year old pitcher?

Maybe. Or maybe it's time in his career when he can still help the Cardinals and not be the dominant pitcher he was in 2009 or for the first three quarters of the 2010 season. Perhaps it is time to lower expectations a bit. Carpenter did make 35 starts last year with a total of 235 innings pitched. That's a lot for someone who was 35 years old and just two years removed from major injury problems that cost him two years of service in 2007 and 2008. Perhaps his tank got emptied a bit last year towards the end. He certainly seemed to wear down similar to what Tim Hudson, a similar aged pitcher with similar skills, did in Atlanta.

But there are other signs that he's just not in sync yet and has a chance to still be the kind of pitcher the Cardinals expect from their ace. His velocity is a tick below where it was in 2009, but it's slightly above his 2010 averages. Pitch/FX also shows with his heat maps that he is throwing with the same sort of patterns this year as in 2010 and 2009. The only real difference in his charts is a slight dip in horizontal movement in his fastball. His release points look consistent as always.

Part of Carpenter's strategy was to get easy outs by inducing right-handed batters to pull the ball and left-handed batters to hit the ball weakly the other way. In 2009 and 2010, his OPS against in both those situations were very low. Perhaps with less movement on his fastball or perhaps because batters have adjusted, his OPS against in those two situations is dramatically higher. Carpenter may have to make slight adjustments to counter what hitters are doing in those situations.

Carpenter has given up a much higher line drive percentage than in his past. When a stat like that is way off his career norms, you expect it to come around to what he usually does. You would also expect his rate of homers to fly balls come down to his career average over the course of the season. His current homer to fly ball percentage is extreme at 16.2 percent. That's way over his career average of 10.6 percent. In fact, the only year he came close to that high a percentage was 15.5 percent way back in 2004.

One other thing of note: Carpenter throws more change ups than he did in 2009. In 2009, only 1.6 percent of his pitches were change ups. That figure increased to 3.7 percent last year and is at 4.2 percent this year. The pitch seems to be his least effective pitch and it looks like he is getting hurt with the change up this year. It might be a good idea for him to throw less of those going forward.

The bottom line from this Fan's amateur sleuthing through his numbers seems to be that Carpenter hasn't lost his stuff. His velocity is where it was last year. He may need to figure out why there is less movement on his fastball, which may be just a slight mechanical adjustment. His K/9 and BB/9 rates are just fine and consistent with his career. Carpenter just needs to get back to his career norm for homer to fly ball ratio and line drive percentage and he'll be fine. The prediction here is that once the weather improves and he gets into a regular rhythm, he will still have a good season for the Cardinals as long as he stays healthy. No real worries here.

Game Picks - Thursday: May 5, 2011

All in all, it was a positive day. The Braves swept a double-header. The pick was a split. The Boston Red Sox played until 2:45 in the morning and lost to the Angels. They had a chance to win in the 12th inning but had a runner thrown out at home on a wall-ball double. The Cardinals' bullpen let them down again, thus ruining that pick. Arrieta and Davies actually had a pitchers' duel, which was shocking enough and the Orioles came out on top. And the White Sox can't buy a win no matter how many times they are picked here. They now have the worst record in baseball. Who saw that coming? And Scherzer was stellar against the Yankees.

But there were more good picks than bad. Toronto had a good game over the Bay Rays. Lincecum didn't give the Mets anything, nor did Wilson the Mariners. And Cahill was as good as predicted against the Indians to finally give that team a loss. The amount of correct picks brought the week to even and the month as well. But the dang Game of the Day feature is back on a losing streak and several games under .500. Irritating.

Surprisingly, there are twelve games on Thursday's schedule. There hasn't been a single Monday or Thursday yet where hardly anyone played a game. Eight games are day games. You have to love that. But the Red Sox and Angels probably don't after finishing their game just a few hours ago. Pity the poor Angels who have to catch a plane back to the West Coast after the game. Here are the picks for Thursday:

  • The Astros over the Reds: If you have followed this feature for a while, you know the Fan hardly ever picks a pitcher coming off the DL to win. Thus picking Brett Myers over the returning Homer Bailey.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: You have to like A. J. Burnett's chances in that big ballpark. So the Yankees win even though Rick Porcello has been very good of late.
  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: Kyle Drabek is a rookie and as such, you can't expect him to win games against the elite teams of the league. He showed that against the Yankees his last time out. Meanwhile, David Price has been somewhat of a mystery this season. Thinking he has a big game today.
  • The Giants over the Mets: Sanchez should shut down the Mets while the Giants and their limited offense gets to Pelfrey, who hasn't been very good. Aubrey Huff is starting to hit.
  • The Red Sox over the Angels: Expect John Lackey to shut down his former team and for the sleepy Red Sox hitters to muster enough runs over Pineiro. Expect this game to be quick with a wide strike zone for a quick getaway after last night's marathon.
  • The Marlins over the Cardinals: The Fan has picked the Cardinals every game so far this series and that hasn't gone well. Today they get to face Josh Johnson, arguably the best arm in the NL. That said, this doesn't come with a ringing endorsement. Such easy picks are never easy. Jake Westbrook hurls for the Cards.
  • The Royals over the Orioles: Bruce Chen is steady and should win. Chris Tillman can't keep himself in the game long enough and that puts the game in the Orioles' bullpen. Not good.
  • The Athletics over the Indians: Brett Anderson is very, very good. Jeanmar Gomez is not.
  • The Braves over the Brewers: Tough game to pick with Brandon Beachy and Shaun Marcum both being very good. The Brewers seem to have gone cold though and the Braves are starting to pick it up.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Rockies: Another tough game to call. Both Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy have been very good. Look for the D-backs to jump on Hammel in the first inning, which has been a problem for Hammel.
  • The Rangers over the Mariners: If you go by the pitchers' ERA against the opposing team, this should be a Ranger win. Colby Lewis had a 1.55 ERA against the Mariners including a 1.18 in Safeco. Vargas has a 4.86 ERA against the Rangers. So the Rangers should win 5-2, no?

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Phillies over the Nationals: This one should be an easy pick with Roy Halladay, the beast of the east, matching up with John Lannon.

Yesterday: 16-10
Week: 27-27
Month: 27-27
Season: 239-210
Games of the Day: 16-19  grrr

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Thinking About Wade Davis With Concern

There are currently two starting pitchers in the major leagues that have pitched more than twenty innings and have struck out less than four batters per nine innings. Wade Davis is one of them and Dustin Moseley is the other. We've already discussed Moseley in this space. He certainly is a fun story thus far. But what of Wade Davis? Isn't Davis supposed to be a young stud pitcher? Why is he striking out so few batters? Why are only eight percent of his pitches swings and misses?

The first thought was velocity. Has Wade Davis lost velocity? In his last outing against the Twins on April 27, Davis had two swinging strikes all night. His four-seam fastball averaged 90.77 and he topped out at 93.1 MPH (thanks to Brooks Baseball). After looking at Fangraphs' Pitch/FX data, Davis is averaging 90.7 MPH on his fastball. So his last outing was right about his season average. This averages is about 1.7 MPH slower than last year. Please keep in mind that Pitch/FX is not perfect. But these numbers seem to indicate that Davis has lost a little something on his fastball.

Even more of a concern is the movement on his fastball. According to Fangraphs' data, Davis' fastball averaged -3.0 of horizontal movement last year. This year, that figure stands at -1.8. That means that there is 1.2 inches less of break per pitch or translated, a straighter fastball. Doesn't this sound a lot like Phil Hughes?

But Wade Davis is faring a lot better than Phil Hughes did. Davis has won three of his five decisions and is currently sporting a nice 2.77 ERA. Fangraphs is not impressed though and his FIP and xFIP are a lot higher than his actual ERA (3.58 and 5.12 respectively). Davis is certainly benefiting from a low BABIP of .267, but that is not that much lower than his 2010 figure of .272 and isn't far off from his career number. Putting the ball in play with Tampa's slick fielding isn't a bad idea.

Many Wade Davis statistics are in line with his career averages. His ground ball and fly ball percentages are little changed. His walk percentage is little changed. His infield fly ball percentage is up slightly. The real anomalies are the strikeout percentage and his homer to fly ball ratio. The strikeouts we've already talked about except that the number has slipped now in the last two years. In certainly a small sample size, Davis has only given up one homer this year. That's good for a 1.6 percent homer to fly ball percentage. His career average is 8.2 percent. If all other things remain the same, you would expect this percentage to go up over time.

So far, like Dustin Moseley, his cohort in the low strikeout per nine category, Davis is succeeding and having success. This Fan would be concerned for both though as that low a strikeout percentage doesn't seem viable for the quality of pitching that is occurring. Will Davis continue to be this successful? It's possible. But the Bay Rays should be concerned because it doesn't seem likely. And the loss of velocity and movement on his fastball would be a deep concern.

Game Picks - Wednesday: May 4, 2011

This game picking feature is like a fantasy baseball team without a closer. Every day the picks start strong and every day the late games ruin it all. It's almost like everything west of the Mississippi has a mind of its own and delights in torturing a picker on the right coast. Last night's picks started 6-2. They finished 8-6 with another darned rained out game. The washed out games have been unbelievable. In the beginning, teams were playing double-headers. Now it seems these games are being put off until later. Some teams are going to have a major string of games coming. Uh oh. This picker has turned to whining. That's not good. Oh, one more thing? Can people just chill on Liriano's no-hitter? No, it wasn't pretty. No, it wasn't spectacular. But it's in the books. Enjoy it. And most importantly, it led to a correct pick.

The point is that this picker still needs a big day just to get out of the red this week (and month for that matter). Can Wednesday be the day? Let's try this again:

  • The Reds over the Astros: Isn't it good that Dusty Baker had too many starters at the beginning of Spring Training? Well, it seems that the Red Sox said that last year and their starters ralphed most of the season. Ibid the Reds. Travis Wood starts today. Wasn't Homer Bailey supposed to come off the DL and start for Wood? Anyway, he's faced by Aneury Rodriguez, a Rule Five pick who has only made eight relief appearances this season.
  • The White Sox over the Twins: Did anyone see this series being irrelevant at the start of the season? Danks hasn't won yet, but it hasn't been his pitching. Blackburn has only won once and it has been his pitching.
  • The Cubs over the Dodgers: Haven't gone wrong picking Zambrano every time out so far. Lilly got whacked last time he faced the Cubs, who have a lot of right-handed bats to neutralize the lefty.
  • The Brewers and Braves split a double-header: Zack Greinke starts tonight. Wonder if he knows that the Royals have a better record than his Brewers? But the Brewers are only 3.5 games out of the lead so he's still on a contender. Estrada pitches the first game for the Brewers. The Braves counter with Hudson and Hanson.
  • The Pirates over the Padres: Kevin Correia goes home to play his old team. Want to bet that he'll be stoked? He faces Richard, who is iffy.
  • The Blue Jays over the Rays: Brandon Morrow has been slowly rounding back into stud form. He gets there tonight and beats Niemann.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: Freddie Garcia had a bad game and still only gave up three runs in five innings. He should be better this time out against a team he faced a lot last year. Scherzer has been good this season, but the Yankees will get to him or burn him out early to get to the weak bullpen.
  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Marquis has been a major surprise this season. But the Phillies will wait out his change up and the Nats won't hit Worley enough to catch up.
  • The Red Sox over the Angels: Almost picked the Angels here thinking that Beckett is a concern after his last outing. But then remembered that the Angels can't beat the Red Sox.
  • The Giants over the Mets: Lincecum started the season great. Then has faded a bit. Capuano is the wild card in this game. If he can hold down a Giants' offense that has been sputtering, this pick could be in trouble.
  • The Royals over the Orioles: Should be a high scoring game with Arrieta and Davies. Toss up here.
  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: Jhoulys Chacin has been great thus far and pitches well in Arizona. Enright with the loss.
  • The Athletics over the Indians: These Indians are amazing, aren't they? But they face the A's ace in Cahill. Tomlin has been real good but it still seems like a mirage. How long can he keep winning with few strikeouts?
  • The Rangers over the Mariners: Tough game to pick with Wilson opposing young phenom, Pineda. Still think the Rangers are the better team. But they sure need Hamilton back.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Cardinals over the Marlins: Carpenter has to win some time. Facing Javier Vazquez could be just the ticket.

Yesterday: 8-6
Week: 17-21
Month: 17-21
Season; 229-204
Games of the Day: 16-18

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Mike Stanton And Occasional Thrills

Mike Stanton hit another bomb last night. The young slugger has a flair for hitting some of the most monstrous shots in baseball. Monday night's shot was a laser that hit the third deck in St. Louis so hard that it ricocheted back on to the field almost as quickly as it left. Mark McGwire, sitting in the Cardinal dugout, had to appreciate the bomb and remember when he used to hit them like that. Stanton has hit four home runs now in this still young season. Each one has been hit further than 400 feet. Mike Stanton is only 21 years old. Imagine when he learns how to hit.

First things first. Stanton needs to change his name and use his given name of Giancarlo. While that first name doesn't fit the Stanton surname, at least we wouldn't think of that lefty reliever that Joe Torre and Art Howe ground into dust in New York. There have been three Mike Stantons now in this Fan's lifetime. That's too many. Giancarlo would set him apart. All that said, if Stanton keeps hitting shots like he hits them, he will be the Mike Stanton that everyone remembers.

And no, Mike Stanton hasn't yet learned to hit in the major leagues. In 485 major league plate appearances, Stanton has hit a steady .260. He strikes out 32.5 percent of the time (34 percent overall). His line drive percentage of 15.4 percent shows a guy that doesn't center the ball often enough. He has negative pitch values on any kind of pitch that has a wiggle in it. From what the stats are showing, why anyone would ever throw him a fastball is beyond this writer's imagination. His only positive pitch numbers come against the fastball. And yet opposing pitchers are throwing him nearly 60 percent fastballs.

This is not a slam by any means against Stanton. The kid has increased his patience at the plate and is swinging at 28.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, a nice improvement over the 32.1 percent last year. While his batting average has stayed the same this year as last, his on base percentage has risen from .326 to .360. That shows signs that he is figuring things out a bit. But he has to be more consistent to attain the superstar label that everyone projects for him. Right now, he's streaky. He's hit two homers in three days and on Monday, hit a homer a triple and a single. If he can get his contact rate up, then he will be a star.

Regardless of all that, Giancarlo Stanton...umm...Mike...has become quite the show. His slugging percentage is north of .500 for his short career thus far and when he hits the ball, he does some damage. With power like his, he's one of those players you just have to watch on a regular bases in hopes of seeing one of those rockets hit off his bat.

Game Picks - Tuesday: May 3, 2011

And the walls came tumbling down. Yesterday was a mess. There are no other words to describe it. Only two correct picks all day. And the silly thing was, one of those correct picks was a typo. If you look at yesterday's picks, all the justifications pointed to a Tigers win with Verlander on the mound at home. But for some reason, the Yankees were listed as the pick. So even one of the two correct picks was pure luck. It takes extraordinary skill to get that many picks wrong in just one day. Judging from how the day went, it's probably a good thing that one of the games yesterday was washed out due to weather.

So now the week is in a deep hole after finishing in the red last week. In the immortal words of Ricky Riccardo: "Lucy, we got work to do."

  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: The battle of the "Ays" begins today in St. Pete. It should go well for the Bay Rays against Jo-Jo Reyes who has shown no reason to be in the Blue Jays rotation. Wade Davis simply needs to hold the Blue Jays to four runs to win.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: A tale of two teams going in opposite directions. The Tigers won't be helped by Sabathia on the hill for the Yankees. They counter with Penny.
  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Livan always messes with this picker's head. But the Phillies should win behind Cole Hamels.
  • The Red Sox over the Angels: The Angels simply can't be the Red Sox, especially at Boston. Lester out pitches Haren in a great pitching match up.
  • The Reds over the Astros: The same pitching match up as yesterday's rained out game. Leake still beats Happ.
  • The Braves over the Brewers: Another good pitching match up of Estrada and Tommy Hanson. Estrada has been surprisingly good. Hanson has always been good, though his record never seems to show it.
  • The Giants over the Mets: R. A. Dickey and Ryan Vogelsong are both great stories. The Giants have been really struggling on offense (ever since they sent Belt down). But they should hit Dickey.
  • The Royals over the Orioles: Both Bergesen and Francis are 0-3. Somebody has to win. Both teams have been mild surprises.
  • The Twins over the White Sox: How the heck do you pick this game? Two struggling pitchers in Liriano and Jackson. Two struggling teams. Gracious. Going with Liriano with a prayer.
  • The Cardinals over the Marlins: Two good pitchers here too in Sanchez versus McClellan. Going with the 4-0 McClellan at home with his offense behind him.
  • The Athletics over the Indians: The Indians will get tested in this western road trip. Tyler Ross has been really good for the A's. The Indians go with Carmona, who has been inconsistent.
  • The Padres over the Pirates: The Pirates keep winning and Latos keeps losing. Sooner or later, those things have to reverse. Garret Jones has been on fire and Latos will have to get him out. Karstens goes for the Pirates.
  • The Dodgers over the Cubs: This one should be easy. That's always a scary thought. But Billingsley at home against Dempster, who can't get anybody out lately, should be a slam dunk.
  • The Rangers over the Mariners: The Rangers have too many good right-handed bats to counter Bedard. Ogando should win and shut down the M's.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Rockies over the Diamondbacks: How can the D-backs keep putting Saunders out there? de la Rosa should win easily.

Yesterday: 2-7
Week: 9-15
Month: 9-15
Season: 221-198
Games of the Day: 16-17

Monday, May 02, 2011

MLB.TV is the Bomb

This space has featured many statements over the past few years that there has never been a better time to be a fan of Major League Baseball. With statistics of every breadth imaginable at your finger tips, live update box scores and thousands of baseball writers on line with daily content, it's a great time to be a Fan.

A big part of these times is MLB.TV. While this writer is loathe to hype up a product or give endorsements here in the FanDome, this writer is featured in an article extolling the virtues of the on-line service. And this Fan meant each and every quote given to that article's writer. MLB.TV is not that expensive and if you are a fan of baseball, you've got to have it.

Check out the article, and thanks to Mark Newman for including the Fan in the piece.

Justin Verlander - Off to a Bad Start, Right? Wrong

Before the season started, there was a general consensus that Justin Verlander was a stud pitcher. In the last two seasons, he had gone 37-18. He's won at least 18 games three of the last four seasons. In 2009, Verlander had 269 strikeouts. Last year, the strikeouts weren't as prevalent but he still struck out 219, good for 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings. But then this April, Verlander has lost three of his first five decisions. Every time he was shown in a highlight, a homer was being hit off of him. He's had a bad start, right? Nope. Not really.

If you look at Verlander's stats, only the homers have been a problem. He's given up six of them in six starts and his homer per nine innings rate is the highest of his career at 1.3. His homer per fly ball rate is more than double last year's figure and sits at 11.5 percent. And yes, some of those homers have been harmful to his record in their timing and frequency. But that's only one statistic.

Many of his other statistics show him to be even better than the last few years (in this season's early sample size). His WHIP is the lowest of his career at 1.024. His strikeout to walk ratio is a healthy 3.31 as he is striking out 9.2 batters per nine innings. His hits per nine innings are the lowest of his career at 6.4. His ERA is only slightly elevated to 3.64 but his FIP is 3.72 and his xFIP stands at 3.31. So you can't make a case that Verlander is having a bad start to his year.

Yes, his WAR (0.7 at Fangraphs, 0.8 for B-R) does not put him anywhere near the pitching leaders at the moment. He's not even on the first page at Fangraphs' leader board. But WAR hates homers. It absolutely detests them, so that is understandable. But the Fan would say here that Verlander is as good as ever and still one of the elite pitchers in the American League.

If you look at Verlander's pitch type values, he's still throwing good stuff. His fastball, slider and curve are all showing positive values. Only his change up is lagging behind in value to his previous years. And he's throwing a bit more change ups this season, perhaps something he and his catcher should think about.

Don't worry about Justin Verlander. He's still one of the studs on the mound in baseball. He's still averaging seven innings per start. He takes the ball every fifth day without fail and comes out throwing gas and other nasty pitches each time out. The only stat that is over his career averages is the homer rate and you have to believe over the long haul that those numbers will go back to his career norms. Yes, his BABIP is seriously low at .228, but as that rises to a norm, the homer rate will come down and Mr. Verlander will be just fine. The jury is still out about his team though.

Game Picks - Monday: May 2, 2011

The Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets' game hung in the balance and as it did so, the day for this picker did as well. A Phillies win would push the day in the plus column. A Mets' win would mean another negative day.  The picks had been tied for the day at 7-7 in yet another tough day of picking. The outcome of the game was intensely important. The Phillies were the Game of the Day pick as well. But then the stepson called. The wife, who had gone to bed answered the phone upstairs. Then the daughter called. Both said to turn on CNN. The wife came downstairs and we turned the channel. And suddenly, the outcome of the game didn't matter anymore. The day of picking became forgotten. Everything was now focused on the news in front of us. The history happened right before our eyes.

It wasn't until the wee hours of the morning when we could sleep. There was so much to digest. Whenever history has been made, the Fan is always reflective. It's as if there is no capacity to want to make a snap judgement that will be regretted later. Plus, there are always so many more facets to the story. What are those families feeling that lost loved ones all those years ago? What new danger are our servicemen and women now facing? Is travel going to be a scary proposition for a while? All those thoughts had to have their moments before sleep could come.

And thus these picks are late. The Fan hopes you understand. Surprisingly, the wife still had to go to work. Fortunately, the Fan could sleep. But the show must go on as they say. So here are Monday's picks. Though again, they feel a lot less urgent this morning.

  • The Rangers over the Athletics: Holland and McCarthy sort of even each other out. They are pitchers of similar skill and accomplishment. When the pitching match up breaks even, go with the better offense.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: The Bartolo Colon story is about as good as it gets in baseball. But the Tigers will score four runs off of him and Verlander will give up less than that. Verlander is 4-3 with a 3.90 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
  • The Giants over the Nationals: Bumgarner and Gorzelanny are both winless and are 0-6 combined. One of them has to win. 
  • The Angels over the Red Sox: Weaver continues his great pitching. Buchholz still looks to figure it out.
  • The Reds over the Astros: It's been a long time since this Fan correctly picked a game involving the Astros. Got to be right some time. Leake should beat Happ.
  • The Brewers over the Braves: Yovani Gallardo has caused a great deal of concern so far. His strikeout rate is way down. He hasn't pitched well. But Gallardo is 3-0 lifetime against the Braves with a 1.96 ERA. But will he be that same pitcher this time out against Jair Jurrjens? Who knows.
  • The Orioles over the White Sox: The Orioles match up well against Buehrle with all their right handed power. Plus, Guthrie is the Orioles most experienced pitcher. Should add up to another win for the Orioles and another loss for the struggling White Sox.
  • The Cardinals over the Marlins: Good match up of Volstad versus Lohse. Lohse has been terrific since the beginning of Spring Training. Volsad pitched a shutout against the Cards last time out, but that was a period when the Cards were really struggling last year. Too much offense for the Cards.
  • The Padres over the Pirates: There are two strikes against the Pirates. First, Harang is very good this year, especially at home. Second, the Pirate counter with McDonald. It's that third strike the Fan is worried about.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Dodgers over the Cubs: Kershaw should strike out a bunch of Cubs at home while the Dodgers should tee it up against Russell.

Yesterday: 7-8
Week: 7-8
Month: 7-8
Season: 219-191  (at least there is one positive number in there!)
Games of the Day: 15-17

Sunday, May 01, 2011

16 NL Teams - 16 Fascinating April Stories

The first month of the season has been put in the book and each team has a story to tell. Whether they are playing well or poorly, each team has a narrative worth telling. That's why we love baseball. The narrative may change next month. April's trends could be all but forgotten by the end of May. Sample size certainly has a role in many of these stories. But, let's review April with one quick story from each team in MLB.

The Philadelphia Phillies: Like most of the teams we will survey, there are lots of things to talk about with the Phillies. The front four of the rotation received much hype before the season and it's fascinating to see how that will all work out. The results thus far are solid with only Halladay showing continued brilliance. Rollins and Victorino have begun the season in bounce back fashion. Raul Ibanez isn't hitting at all. Lidge has not pitched and the bullpen has held its own. But the most fascinating story thus far for the Phillies has been the play of Ben Francisco and John Mayberry. Francisco has a 115 OPS+ in 107 plate appearances and Mayberry has a .946 OPS in 36 plate appearances. The two combined have more than offset any loss of Domenic Brown and Jayson Werth while providing solid fielding. Their success has helped keep the Phillies on top.

Florida Marlins: Their overall April record is fascinating enough. Josh Johnson was already known as one of the great pitchers in the National League. The slow start of Hanley Ramirez is interesting. The fact that Bonifacio has fooled his manager for another month is interesting. Logan Morrison was a great story until he got hurt. Chris Coghlan has been surprisingly adequate in center and solid at the plate. Gaby Sanchez is having a good year. Stanton has had moments. But the most interesting story so far for the Marlins has been the pitching of Ricky Nolasco. He's had five solid starts, is only walking 1.1 batters per nine innings and his emergence has given the Marlins a great one-two punch in the rotation.

Atlanta Braves: Chipper has come back with a solid season. Heyward has hit seven bombs and has a 140 OPS+. Uggla and Freeman have had slow starts. The Braves record is fascinating in its disappointment considering the rotation has been solid. It's no surprise that Brian McCann has been fantastic. The biggest story from this perspective has been the pitching of Brian Beachy. The rookie has only two decisions in his six starts including a win and a loss, but his peripherals are fantastic with a WHIP of 0.991 and a strikeout to walk ration of 3.60. He's been terrific.

Washington Nationals: The loss of Ryan Zimmerman has been devastating on the offense and seven of the starting line up are well under 100 in OPS+ (eight when Ivan Rodriguez starts). Only Jayson Werth is above 100. Jordan Zimmermann has shown flashes of being good and is throwing strikes. Livan is Livan. The most fascinating story thus far for the Nationals has been the play of catcher, Wilson Ramos. Wouldn't the Twins love to have HIM back. Ramos has been so good that he has dashed I-Rod's hopes of having another year as the number one catcher. Plus, Ramos has thrown out 44% of base steal attempts and has played solidly behind the plate. It's early, but he's been the best story for the Nats.

New York Mets: The Mets have a lot of interesting stories and they are not all bad. Several of their players are having solid seasons including Carlos Beltran as this Fan predicted before the season. Reyes is playing really well. Chris Young is pitching well. The return of Jason Isringhausen has been interesting. But the big story for the Fan is Ike Davis. Since his story was just chronicled in the last day or so, we'll let you go read that post for more. Suffice it to say he's really broken out as a star (thus far).

St. Louis Cardinals: So many great stories! The failure of the bullpen early on has led to six blown saves. Can you imagine what their record would be as they are still 16-11! Kyle McClellan has been great as Adam Wainwright's replacement. Kyle Lohse has been fantastic, but that is no surprise to @throatwarbler who predicted as such. The struggles of Chris Carpenter is fascinating for the wrong reasons. But the real story for the Cardinals is their offense. They lead the league in just about every category and Albert Pujols hasn't even gotten going yet. Berkman, Holliday, Theriot and Colby Rasmus have led the Cardinals to a hitting rampage.

Cincinnati Reds: That the Reds finished above .500 and within striking distance of the Cards is fascinating because they really haven't played well at times. Joey Votto has continued his MVP season of a year ago. Scott Rolen got hurt. Bronson Arroyo is a fascinating study as a starting pitcher (check out his K/BB ratio!) but the best story thus far has been the play of Brandon Phillips. We all knew he was a good player, but thus far, he's been a superstar with a slash line of: .355/.413/.527.  Phillips has already scored 21 runs and has an OPS+ of 157.

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers are still in the NL Central mix despite problems for Yovani Gallardo and the bullpen. The offense is second to the Cardinals in most categories. Shaun Marcum has been everything they hoped he would be. Greinke will be back this week and his loss for April is a story to tell. But the most fascinating story has to be Ryan Braun. We all knew he was good. But in the words of TCM, he's been crazy good. He has easily been the best player in baseball for April. You can't have a more fascinating story than that.

Chicago Cubs: Soriano has ten homers already. The bullpen has been solid despite leading the world in walks. Carlos Pena has been fascinatingly bad as has Tyler Colvin. Matt Garza has been fantastic, but fantastically unlucky. Zambrano has held his own. Fukodome has a .383 batting average and a .486 OBP, but 22 of his 23 hits have been singles. Starlin Castro has been very good (great even) on offense and a challenge in the field. Darwin Barney has been a major surprise and would normally be the most fascinating story. But that honor has to go in dubious terms to Ryan Dempster. Dempster has been so bad that it's painful. He struggled at the end of 2010 too and the interesting thing will be to see if he can dig himself out or if the Cubs pull the plug. You have to wonder if there is something physically wrong with him.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates have nearly the same record as the cubs, but while that is bad news for the Cubs, that is good news for the Pirates. They have seldom been pushovers this year and all you can ask as they rebuild is that they play competitive baseball. Mission accomplished so far. Kevin Correia and Charlie Morton have winning records and good ERAs but are only striking out 4.0 and 4.6 batters per nine innings thus far. The young Neil Walker continues to look like a star. Other young players like McCutchen, Tabata and Alvarez haven't really gotten going yet, nor has Lyle Overbay, who should have a good season. The most fascinating story thus far has been the bullpen tandem of Joel Hanrahan and Chris Resop. The two have been dominating with Resop even outshining the closer. That one-two punch in the bullpen keeps them in a lot of games and when they have the lead, they keep it.

Houston Astros: Wandy Rodriguez had a good start yesterday, which may signal the end of his early season struggles. He really is one of the best pitchers nobody knows about. Brett Myers and Bud Norris have been solid. Hunter Pence has been very good if not great yet. Carlos Lee and Chris Johnson have started off very poorly which is more surprising for Johnson than Lee. Michael Bourn is a good center fielder. But he's not going to blow you away. Their catchers have been very good offensively (collectively). So far, Bill Hall hasn't been much help. The most fascinating story thus far has been Brett Wallace, who has really broken out nicely. His .988 OPS is spectacular in a poor scoring environment. He has only hit one homer thus far, but has nine doubles and a triple. It will be interesting to see how Wallace fares the rest of the season.

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies have built a nice separation thus far in the NL West. And they've done so without contribution from Ubaldo Jiminez. That's fascinating. Troy Tulowitzki is poised for an MVP run. CarGo has started slowly. Todd Helton has had an encouraging start. Jonathan Herrera's batting average is starting to fall after a really hot start, but his patience at the plate has been outstanding with 15 walks already. Third base has been fascinating for all the wrong reasons as Jose Lopez and Ian Steward have been abominable. The bullpen has been outstanding. Street has ten saves already! But the real story thus far for the Rockies has been Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa. They are 7-2 between them, both have ERAs under three and have been rock solid for the Rockies. You would expect the Rockies to hit but they've started somewhat slowly. The Fan said early in the season that they had to pitch well. Mission accomplished so far.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Plenty of story lines. It was Matt Kemp early, but nobody can dispute that Ethier has been the real story with hits in 26 games in a row. His heroics have finally pushed some of the ownership story to the second page.

San Francisco Giants: The Giants big story unfortunately just ended with an injury that will cost Pablo Sandoval six weeks of his season. That's really a shame because he was raking. Buster Posey is off to a pedestrian start. The same can be said of Cain and Lincecum despite brilliant moments. Brian Wilson still has eight saves after a brutal start. Pat Burrell has five homers but only eight RBIs. Sanchez is still great. If only he could pound the strike zone more regularly. If one were to have to pick the best story for the Giants thus far, it would be the pitching of Guillermo Mota. He's been lights out with a very high strikeout rate and a minuscule walk rate. He's been a real lifesaver for the Giants, who were extremely lucky to break even for the month of April.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-backs have played much better than last year. The Fan heard one commentator say that they were the forgotten team, and that is right. You hardly ever hear about them. Their offense has been very good and only one regular (Kelly Johnson and he should rebound) under 100 in OPS+. Ian Kennedy has been very good in the rotation. The rest of the rotation has really struggled but Galarraga, Enright and Hudson all had decent starts their last times out. The bullpen has been solid except for the one meltdown of Putz yesterday. But the real story? The most fascinating story for the D-backs has been Ryan Roberts. Roberts has been fabulous with a 1.007 OPS with 15 RBI in just 20 games. His 168 OPS+ leads the team. Right behind Roberts is Stephen Drew who is making this Fan's prediction of a breakout season look very good right now.

San Diego Padres: The biggest story for the Padres has to be their offense. They are last or next to last in every major offensive category. Only Nick Hundley is having a good season. Tim Stauffer, Aaron Harang, Dustin Moseley and Clayton Richard have been a solid rotation with only Matt Latos struggling. Moseley is certainly a fascinating story. But you can't have any narrative about the Padres without including their offense or lack of it as the leading point of interest thus far.

Early MVP leaders: Joey Votto, Matt Kemp, Ethier, Lance Berkman and Ryan Braun.
Early Cy Young candidates: Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson.

Game Picks - Sunday: May 1, 2011

After Saturday's day games, this game picker was sitting at 6-1 and feeling on top of the world. The only blemish to that point was Brett Anderson getting unexpectedly whacked around. April was going to end on a high note! NOT! Wandy won at home (should have seen that coming). The Red Sox lost...again. The Twins looked good until Baker came out of the game. Then they imploded. The Marlins blew Josh Johnson's lead. The White Sox had an ugly inning. Garza finally won a game he should have won. And the Padres blew their yearly average and scored five runs. In that entire stretch of games, only the Rockies win over the Pirates was a correct pick.

And so the Fan had his first week end in the red. April ended with a whimper and just a modest 53.6 percent success rate. That's hardly a rousing success. The Game of the Day feature ended up under .500.

At the risk of being totally cliche, perhaps April showers will lead to May flowers. It's a fresh week and a fresh month and let's see if this dang thing can start off on the right foot:

  • The Indians over the Tigers: Phil Coke has not been a good starter and Masterson is 5-0. Why does that not sound comforting enough? Law of averages, perhaps?
  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: The teams have split so far and the Blue Jays are no pushovers. Jesse Litsch is also a pretty good pitcher. But Nova was good his last time out and the Yankees are at home.
  • The Mariners over the Red Sox: All signs point to a Mariner win. King Felix verses old man Tim Wakefield sounds bad. But again, when everything seems so right, things have a way of biting you.
  • The Giants over the Nationals: Matt Cain is simply a safer pick than Jordan Zimmermann.
  • The Cardinals over the Braves: The Cards get out the brooms with Jaime Garcia throwing bee-bees. And the cards score off of the erstwhile and should-be-embarrassed Derek Lowe.
  • The Angels over the Bay Rays: Will Alex Cobb pull out a Worley and win an emergency start after a call up from the Durham Bulls? Unlike Worley, Cobb is facing Jared Weaver.
  • The Brewers over the Astros: Narveson goes for the Brewers. lists Wandy Rodriguez as the Astros' starter. Umm...he pitched yesterday. He's good, but not that good.
  • The Orioles over the White Sox: Gavin Floyd has been good. But Zach Britton has been better.
  • The Twins over the Royals: The Royals are the better team at this point. But Pavano always messes this picker up when he's picked against. Pavano has a winning record against the Royals but a very high ERA. Hochevar, though, has not looked good in his last two outings.
  • The Rockies over the Pirates: Morton was good his last time out against the Giants. But the Rockies at home are a different story. Ubaldo Jiminez gets his first win.
  • The Athletics over the Rangers: Gio Gonzalez has a 3-1 career record against the Rangers with a 2.09 ERA. That should do it against Matt Harrison.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Cubs: Two struggling pitchers in Daniel Hudson versus Casey Coleman. Hudson was better his last time out though. So going with him.
  • The Marlins over the Reds: The Fan hates picking against Bronson Arroyo. There's just something gutty and heroic about him. But the Marlins seem like a better team right now and Nolasco has been pitching well.
  • The Dodgers over the Padres: Not thrilled in picking Garland to win against his former team (or anyone else for that matter). But poor Dustin Moseley can't buy a win.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Phillies over the Mets: The Phillies love being on national television. They just do. And Cliff Lee, after a couple of pedestrian starts, will look like Cliff Lee. Chris Young with the loss.

Yesterday: 7-8
Last week: 45-48
Last month: 212-183
Season: 212-183
Games of the Week: 15-16