Saturday, August 13, 2011

Jeremy Hellickson's Quiet Season

Jeremy Hellickson was one of the most hyped young pitchers and he did nothing to dispel that last year after he was called up by the Tampa Bay Rays. He won his first three starts in spectacular fashion before the Rays shut him down and let him finish the year in relief. Despite his rather ineffective relief appearances, Baseball America still ranked him as the #11 prospect before the 2011 season. With all that noise, why has his season been so quiet?

It's not like Hellickson is having a bad season. He is 10-7 with a 3.05 ERA. He is averaging six and a half innings in his twenty starts. That's all good stuff, right? So why isn't his name still on everyone's lips? Perhaps part of the reason is that the Bay Rays have had a quiet season. Even after beating the Yankees last night, the Rays are still eight and a half games behind the wild card pace in what seems an impossible uphill battle. Whispers have been swirling that they may let Johnny Damon walk to a contender sometime soon.

But another reason may be that Hellickson isn't blowing hitters away like he did last season in his early starts. His K/9 this season is only 5.32 after recording a rate of 8.2 last year and over nine for his minor league career. Fangraphs gives him only 1.2 WAR despite his record and his twenty starts. For one, his K/BB ratio of 1.79 has to be a bit of a disappointment. And his BABIP is a minuscule .227 with a strand rate of 79.8 percent. Granted, part of that is because the Bay Rays can really field well. But still, it's heavy on the luck side.

Because of those facts, his FIP of 4.24 is +1.19 of his actual ERA. He's also given up fourteen homers and his walk rate is the highest in his professional career. Put all of that together and you've effectively dampened the buzz factor. But does that make Hellickson a disappointment?

Not from this corner it doesn't. Hellickson has been a solid starter for the Rays. Mike Mussina once said that if you win half your starts, you're a good pitcher. Hellickson has done that. He now has a .667 winning percentage for his career. He's only given up 6.9 hits per nine innings and features a WHIP of 1.138. Wouldn't most teams be thrilled with such a starter? Wouldn't it make sense to pitch more to contact when you have all those great fielders behind you?

Hellickson's starts have garnered an Average Game Score of 57 this season when 51 is the league average. Tonight he has a chance to shut down the Yankees and keep the Rays' slight hope alive. Hellickson's change up has become a very effective pitch in the major leagues and for his first full season, what's not to like? He's going to get even better as he learns more about his craft and matures. His season has been quiet and he isn't blowing hitters away. But he's been successful...even if nobody is noticing.

Game Picks - Saturday: August 13, 2011

Livan! Livan Hernandez beat Cole Hamels with his arm and with his bat. How does he do that? Livan is Methuselah and every game he pitches brings out the shakes in a game picker. Why? Because on any given start, he can do what he did last night. And that was the Game of the Day too. Oh well, it wasn't a bad day. It was a strange one though.

This picker knew that Carlos Zambrano would lose to the Braves. Five homers weren't expected though. This picker didn't expect the Yankees to lose with C.C. Sabathia on the mound giving up just as many homers as Zambrano. David Price finally had a great game though. The Padres looked like a good pick over the Reds until the eighth inning--the slot Mike Adams used to pitch. Now he pitches those innings for the Rangers and the Padres lost the game.

The Athletics over the Rangers turned out to be a laughable pick, especially after the Rangers scored nine runs in the first four innings. Duh. Bad pick. Ricky Nolasco simply out pitched Matt Cain, but both pitchers were great. So that negative pick was a least more understandable. But the Royals beating the White Sox? The White Sox are sure confusing.

And in the anti-Sabathia game, the Dodgers and the Astros went a combined eight for sixty-two at the plate with only one run scoring in ten innings. But at least that pick was right. Poor Bud Norris. He pitched his heart out.

So we slide into Saturday. It's finally a sunny day here after the monsoon season. The golf course is closed due to excessive water. Sigh. The only thing left to do is to leisurely pick Saturday's games:

  • The Angels over the Blue Jays: Ricky Romero is good. Jared Weaver is better. Neither team is scoring very well at the moment.
  • The Pirates over the Brewers: The Pirates are definitely headed in the wrong direction, but get a break tonight with the injury to Chris Narveson. Marco Estrada will get the start for the Brewers instead. Kevin Correia needs to hold the Brewers to five runs or less though.
  • The Bay Rays over the Yankees: Jeremy Hellickson is 2-0 in three starts over the Yankees in his young career. This picker has no faith in Phil Hughes.
  • The Athletics over the Rangers: Let's try this again. Trevor Cahill has terrific numbers in his career against the Rangers (caution SSS). The A's can get some runs off of Colby Lewis.
  • The Tigers over the Orioles: Jeremy Guthrie will gut it out but the Tigers will score more runs than the Orioles. Max Scherzer needs to be better than he has been though.
  • The Indians over the Twins: Josh Tomlin continues to defy logic and was very good against the Rangers in his last start. He should get the win at home over Brian Duensing.
  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Not thrilled with this pick. John Lannon has been pitching well and Roy Oswalt is pitching his second time since coming off the DL.
  • The Braves over the Cubs: Randy Wells gives up too many homers and the Braves are hitting them in bunches lately. Derek Lowe goes for the Braves, so that's a caution.
  • The White Sox over the Royals: Luke Hochevar has been great in the second half but won't get any run support as the Royals face Jake Peavy.
  • The Reds over the Padres: This picker really likes Tim Stauffer. But he pitches for the Padres who won't score enough runs off of Homer Bailey to win.
  • The Giants over the Marlins: Tim Lincecum shouldn't have any trouble in this one. Javier Vazquez is listed for the Marlins, but this picker thought he heard he has left the team for a personal matter? Could have faulty memory here.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Mets: This is not a confident pick. Daniel Hudson has really struggled of late and Mike Pelfrey is always capable of a good game. But the D-backs are a much better team. Who knows.
  • The Mariners over the Red Sox: Felix Hernandez beat the Red Sox last time out and he's pitching brilliantly again. Josh Beckett is a tough opponent though.
  • The Dodgers over the Astros: There might not be any offense in this one either as Wandy Rodriguez goes up against Clayton Kershaw.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Cardinals over the Rockies: Jaime Garcia against the Rockies will be better against them at home than he was in Colorado. Jason Hammel simply hasn't had a good season.

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 48-32
Month: 93-67
Season: 967-808
Games of the Day: 82-50

Two Pitchers - Ten Homers

Since the live ball era began, a pitcher giving up five homers in the same game has only occurred 89 times. Last night, it happened twice. C.C. Sabathia gave up five solo homers to the Tampa Bay Rays (yup, it's been done before) and Carlos Zambrano gave up five homers to the Atlanta Braves. Two pitchers - ten homers. Sabathia will surely make his next start. Zambrano? Who knows. He cleaned out his locker after the game.

The duo tied a major league record that had stood alone since September 21, 1996. On that date, fifteen years ago, Jeff D'Amico and Dave Tehlgeder also gave up ten homers. Jeff D'Amico was pitching for the Brewers and faced the Tigers. Oddly enough, D'Amico won that game and improved his record to 13-6! Tehlgeder wasn't so lucky and was pitching for the Athletics against the Seattle Mariners.

In all the games played since 1919, two pitchers did something that's only happened 89 times. And they did it in the same night. It's not something you see every day, that's for sure

Friday, August 12, 2011

One Rank of Contenders' Starting Pitching

Cherry picking statistics is hazardous to your health (and reputation). But this writer wanted a quick and dirty overview of how contending teams have stacked up according to their starting pitching. One stat consulted is Game Score or Average Game Score. Developed by Bill James, the formula goes like this:
  1. Start with 50 points.
  2. Add 1 point for each out recorded, so 3 points for every complete inning pitched.
  3. Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th.
  4. Add 1 point for each strikeout.
  5. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed.
  6. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed.
  7. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed.
  8. Subtract 1 point for each walk.
Again, lots of different statistics should be looked at before making judgments. But the Average Game Score is a good place to start for a quick look at starting pitching. Here's how the current contenders rank in the Average Game Score of its starters:

If you have trouble seeing the list, just click on it to make it bigger. Some conclusions based on the list:
  • There is no surprise in the two leaders. The Phillies and Angels' have had great starting pitching. The Angels' rotation is the only thing keeping them in the race.
  • That said, the Rangers' score is surprising. Their staff seems uneven at times, but overall, it's been a good rotation.
  • The Indians rate the lowest here, but eliminating their weakest link and replacing him in the rotation with Ubaldo Jimenez was a great move. 
  • The Red Sox scored surprisingly well considering their injuries. And Erik Bedard should be more help than hindrance.
  • The Yankees rotation was supposed to be crap when the season started, but they have held their own. Tweaks must be made though as they sort through whether Burnett or Hughes should get the bulk of the starts and whether they can come to grips with Ivan Nova being as successful as he's been.
  • The Braves have to worry about Tommy Hanson's health but they've been strong all year.
  • The White Sox hang in a lot of games because of their pitching. Peavy has been a help.
  • There is a lot of worry about the Tigers' rotation in this corner. Furbush was a nice pick up along with Doug Fister but inconsistency from Porcello and Scherzer are disconcerting.
  • The Brewers' rotation has been a strength as can be seen easily from the list.

That's a quick view from here. Nothing profound. Just a peek and what we have to look forward to down the stretch.

Still Confused By Fielding Stats

Wins Above Replacement or WAR is a pleasant taste on the palate from a batting perspective because it is understandable. Jose Bautista walks more, has a higher slugging percentage and strikes out less than Curtis Granderson. As such, when we are fed those statistics, the dominance of Bautista over Granderson in WAR makes solid sense. Base running is pretty easy to swallow too, though there are inherent questions such as what happens when a base runner doesn't take the extra base because the game is lopsided. But fielding metrics, an integral part of WAR, still taste bitter when rolled around the tongue.

Let's make it perfectly clear before moving forward that this writer doesn't know anything about how these numbers are compiled. Before this post gets roasted on some heady site about being the stupidest thing ever, this writer fully admits to his total lack of inherent knowledge on these things. The point of this post is that it's one thing to tell us novices what we should believe. When it comes to the fielding aspect of these statistics, tell us why we should believe them.

Okay, here's the crux of the question: The Fan understands why Bautista is having a better offensive year than Granderson. But how is he having a better defensive season? If you were to pick an outfield on the playground and offense was not the main picking criteria, which outfielder would you want out there? Okay, we must grant the obvious question that both men play different positions. And the positional aspect is played out in the computation of WAR with different values being assessed to each position. Granderson gets positive points for playing a more important position.

But all this Fan can see is that when you look at Fangraphs' Leaderboard,  you see a -1.0 next to Bautista for fielding and -8.0 next to Granderson. If you look at Granderson's page on Fangraphs, you see that there have been 237 plays in Granderson's "zone."'s page for Granderson says he's had 269 chances. The difference might be that B-R doesn't mention plays out of his zone and Fangraphs does separately. But this Fan doesn't know if that's the difference from the two sites. All this Fan knows is that both sites give Granderson -8 runs below average for his body of work this season.

Bautista, on the other hand--who has a few games at third base to muck things up a bit--has had 170 chances in the outfield or roughly 2.27 chances per game out there compared to Granderson's 2.40 chances per game. Both have made three outfield errors and Bautista has two more assists (8 to 6). But here is where it gets confusing. Granderson (according to Fangraphs) has made 52 plays out of his zone in 112 games this year compared to 55 plays out of his zone last year in 134 games. And yet, he is supposedly having a much worse year in the field this year than last. Huh? Jose Bautista has made 41 plays out of his zone in the outfield and 6 at third base but he has a better fielding rating.

And this is a dumb question probably but this Fan has asked it before and hasn't gotten an answer. And how can you learn anything if you don't ask questions, right? But say that the Fangraphs stats say that Granderson has had 237 balls in his zone and he's made 210 plays. That comes to .886 for his Revised Zone Rating, a figure lower than last year. According to that same site, Brett Gardner has made an incredible 91 plays outside of his zone as the left fielder. How many of those plays happened in Granderson's zone? Does that count against Granderson? Even if an out was made? Please, someone, let this Fan know the answer.

What this Fan does get is that according to the Fans Scouting Report, Gardner has much better instincts than Granderson and an off the chart first step. But if an out is made because Gardner gets there quicker and catches the ball in Granderson's zone, does that count negatively against Granderson?

The sheer ignorance of this writer is probably showing. A layman shouldn't be trying to write a doctoral thesis. But there is no crime in simply trying to understand. It's simple and easy to understand that Bautista is having a better offensive season than Granderson. It's easy to understand that Granderson is having a better year on the basepaths. But the fielding thing continues to boggle the mind. Give this Fan three Grandersons in the outfield over three Bautistas. But from what the numbers say, Bautista is having a better fielding season. It's darned confusing.

Game Picks - Friday: August 12, 2011

Yesterday was getaway day in Major League Baseball. Of the ten games that were played, six of them were played during the day. This old picker may be old fashioned, but baseball was meant to be played during the daylight hours. To paraphrase an old Carpenters song, "Getaway Days and Sundays never get me down."

What did get this picker down was having the rain hold up all day yesterday only to roll in after only two holes played in the Thursday golf league. What a bummer. And it didn't just rain. It dumped. That was the end of this week's league play. The southwest is having a drought and in northern Maine, there's been twenty-five inches of rain since early May. This must be the new rain forest.

The picks? Oh, yes. The picks. They had a good day on Thursday with seven out of ten on the plus side. Of course, the Astros had to melt down to get there, but a bullpen does not exist for the Astros. For those who denigrate the save as a statistic, just look at Houston. The poor blighters.

Incorrect picks included the Mets again. They have been this picker's bane this season. Two of the other teams that give this picker headaches played each other. Naturally the Cubs won when this picker picked the Nationals. And finally, this picker's mouth is hung open at how badly the Blue Jays played in their series against the Athletics.

Friday's picks:

  • The Tigers over the Orioles: Brad Penny's ERA is nearly a full run higher than Alfredo Simon's. But this is the Tigers versus the Orioles after all.
  • The Indians over the Twins: First, the Indians are at home. Second, Justin Masterson is pitching. Third, Carl Pavano is pitching for the Twins. 1+1+1 equals an Indians' win.
  • The Yankees over the Bay Rays: C.C. Sabathia is 16-2 with a 2.11 ERA against all teams not including the Red Sox. The Yankees have done well against David Price this season and they are home.
  • The Angels over the Blue Jays: Really want to pick Brandon Morrow to win this one, but Ervin Santana has been incredible lately.
  • The Padres over the Reds: The Friars start Matt Latos who should shut down the Reds. Bronson Arroyo has been more gutsy than good.
  • The Giants over the Marlins: No Hanley Ramirez for the Fish and Matt Cain is a very good pitcher. Ricky Nolasco goes for the Marlins.
  • The Braves over the Cubs: The Braves wouldn't trade Mike Minor at the deadline and it's time he showed why. Carlos Zambrano goes for the Cubs.
  • The White Sox over the Royals: Zach Stewart is the real deal and beat the Twins in his last outing. He should beat the Royals too. Bruce Chen goes for the Royals.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Zack Greinke pitches at home where the Brewers rarely lose. Paul Maholm goes for the Pirates.
  • The Cardinals over the Rockies: Not a ringing endorsement for Kyle Lohse here, but he should give up fewer runs than Aaron Cook. Plus, the Cardinals are home.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Mets: Dillon Gee is still 10-3, but he's been stuck there for a while. Meanwhile, Ian Kennedy just keeps on winning. Something magical is happening on this Arizona team.
  • The Athletics over the Rangers: C.J. Wilson blasted pitching in Oakland and gets his non-wish. Karma will get him for that. Plus, Brandon McCarthy has been dealing.
  • The Red Sox over the Mariners: Blake Beavan has been terrific with six straight quality starts to begin his career. That streak will come to an end against the Red Sox line up. John Lackey looks better lately.
  • The Dodgers over the Astros: Bud Norris is good, but he is an island. The Dodgers will start either Nathan Eovaldi or Clayton Kershaw. Either will be just fine for the Dodgers.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Phillies over the Nationals: This one should be a no-doubter with Cole Hamels matched up with Livan Hernandez.

Yesterday: 7-3
Week: 39-26
Month: 84-61
Season: 958-802
Games of the Day: 82-49

Thursday, August 11, 2011

You Just Know It's Going to Happen

Watch enough baseball games and you get as good at predicting things  the same way you know who the killer is when you've watched a million detective shows. There are just some things you know are going to happen because you've seen them a million times before. For those of you who need a shortcut so you don't have to watch a million baseball games and still want to look smart at a party or in the bar, here's a short list of things you can guarantee when watching a baseball game:

When a batter watches a grooved fastball right down the middle for strike one, he is almost sure to strike out on a breaking ball in the dirt. This used to be called the "Alfonso Soriano Rule" in the Fan's house. Now it's probably the "Mark Teixeira rule." Be careful now that you know this one because it will drive you freaking crazy.

When a runner is on second with no outs, a batter will be universally praised by the broadcasters and in his own dugout if he grounds out to the right side of the infield. This is the "Giving Yourself Up" rule. In other words, the batter gave himself up to move the runner to third where the runner can score on a fly ball. The reality is that the play itself is self-defeating. No team ever gets more runs by making more outs. Oh, and you can guarantee that the color guy in the broadcast booth will say something like: "Those are the little things that never show up in the box score."

Outfielders who lazily throw the ball in to the infield after a single never pay for their sins. They can nonchalantly flip the ball in, sometimes with a lollipop arc and the base runner will never take advantage of that casual laziness. You might see it happen once in a decade.

Caucasian ball players are never accused of not hustling. If a player is accused of such a crime, whether it be running to first on a ground out or anything like that, it's always an Hispanic or African-American guy. Hey, white guys dog it too you know.

Young starting pitchers always throw a lot of pitches. There should be a primer for young pitchers coming up from the minor leagues that says, "Hey, you are getting this promotion because you threw strikes and got outs. Pitch the same way in the majors." But they never do. It is downright common to see a rookie pitcher with 45 to 50 pitches after just a couple of innings. Hey, man, this is your shot. You have a better shot succeeding in the strike zone than by walking people and getting behind in the count.

Every pitch even remotely close to hitting the dirt gets thrown out of the game. If a pitcher throws a splitter, you might as well just put a can of baseballs right next to the mound and save time. What a waste. Families can't afford to put gas in their cars, but they throw out seven dozen brand new baseballs every game.

If a team employs a shift against a batter, eight times out of ten that shift will work. Drives this observer stark raving loony. Yes, this is also the Mark Teixeira-when-batting-left-handed rule. HIT IT THE OTHER WAY!

When a relief pitcher walks the first batter, a run will score. That's just the way it is.

Whether a game is meaningful for a team or not, a left-right-left combo in the batting order will always mean at least two pitching changes in the late innings. Doesn't matter if the team is the Astros or Braves, you know it's going to happen.

This one is similar to the first one: If a left-handed reliever throws a called first strike to a lefty batter, the third strike will always be one of those Whiffle Ball curves that make a lefty batter look like an idiot. Why do lefty batters always fall for that?

If a batted ball goes all the way down the line to the corner, the outfielder will never pick it up cleanly. It's as if the outfielder is given too much information with all that stuff in his vision. If this happens in the left field corner, the fielder will always just lollipop the ball back into the infield. Watch next time, you'll see.

When bad teams play good teams, one of the following things will always happen to the bad team: a runner will be picked off; a batter will pop up with the bases loaded; a relief pitcher will walk the first two batters he faces; an error will lead to a big inning; a wild pitch will occur with a runner on third. Guaranteed that one of those things will happen.

A broadcast will never show the K-Zone--or whatever you want to call it--on the pitch you really want to see if the ump got it right or not. The pitch will usually occur when the broadcast team is doing a promo for that network's upcoming programming.

At least once an inning, an umpire will call the exact same pitch a ball and then a strike. K-Zone will show the pitches to be in the exact same spot.

Whenever a home plate umpire takes it upon himself to determine if a checked swing occurred or not, he gets it wrong. Guaranteed.

Broadcasters will always say that speedy runners should be better bunters. This is the Gardner-Borjos Rule. It doesn't matter if the third baseman is close enough to shake the batter's hand, the fast guy should be a better at bunting.

A deep fly ball will never result in a runner tagging at first base. The only exception to this rule is if the Angels are playing.

On a bad baseball team, when a batter walks on four pitches, the next batter will always swing at the first one.

In the National League, if a runner is on second base with less than two outs, the pitcher will always try to bunt. Never mind that there is still a slight chance for the pitcher to get a hit. He will bunt.

With a runner on second and two out (in the National League), the eighth batter will always be walked to get to the pitcher.

When a young pitcher is pitching a great game, his manager will always leave that pitcher in for one inning too many. The last inning always ruins the outing.

Again in the National League, if a pitcher bats for himself late in the game (say the sixth or seventh inning), he will always struggle in the next inning and have to be pulled anyway.

On bad teams, if a relief pitcher comes in with the bases loaded, he will always either walk the first batter or throw a wild pitch or balk.

A pinch hitter will either swing at the first pitch wherever it is thrown or watch a meatball pass by for strike one. One of the two will always happen.

When there is a runner on first and one on third, the pitcher will always try that fake to third, fake to first move. The crowd will always boo.

Bad teams will always have a guy try to get to third from second on a ground ball to the shortstop. Happens every time. Or if there is a runner on third with less than two outs, the contact play will be on and the runner will be thrown out at home on a ground ball to the infielder.

In Fenway Park, any opponent who hits a wall-scraped double will result in the broadcaster stating, "That ball would be an out in any other ballpark." If a member of the Red Sox does the same thing, then it was a clutch hit and a great piece of hitting. This isn't just the great team of Orsillo and Remy. The same holds true for national announcers.

There is at least one bad call in every game the St. Louis Cardinals play. If it was a football game, this would be the Don Shula Rule.

Opposite field hits will always be termed: "A great piece of hitting."

Left handed batters will always be credited with great swings. You'll rarely hear the same thing about a right-handed hitter.

No announcer will ever mention C.C. Sabathia's girth. Never. Ever. Prince Fielder and Pablo Sandoval do not get the same treatment.

A foul ball will always be sliced or hooked. A foul ball is never called straight. A long fly foul will always be called a, "loud strike."

Oh, and in a detective show, the good looking, helpful lad or lass will always be the killer.

Game Picks - Thursday: August 11, 2011

Yesterday's picks started 7-1 with the only blemish the Dodgers game against the Phillies. And that pick was correct for most of the game until the Dodgers' bullpen imploded. That would be a reoccurring theme as the day tanked after that lovely start to finish at only 8-7. Talk about snatching mediocrity out of the hands of victory.

The picks were on the wrong end of an improbable five-run outburst in the ninth inning against Joakim Soria and Aaron Crow. Seriously, the Royals had that game. How did it go so bad so quickly? Depending on which team you were rooting for, that was the most thrilling ninth inning for the Bay Rays ever...or it was the biggest meltdown in the back end of a bullpen you'll ever see. Either way it was dumbfounding.

Oh, some of the picks were rewarding. A Giants' loss followed later by a Diamondbacks' win (both picked correctly) leapfrogged the D-backs into first. Ubaldo Jimenez got his first win for the Indians over the Tigers. That was a correct pick. Ivan Nova belongs in the Yankee rotation and showed why again yesterday for that correct pick. The Pirates were correctly picked behind Karstens. But there wasn't enough to push the day into any kind happy feelings at the end.

But Thursday is another day in a season that continues to roll along. It's been a fun season, hasn't it? There is nothing like the daily fix of MLB and drama every day. Thursday features a shortened schedule of ten games, but six of them are day games. Sweet! The picks:

  • The Mets over the Padres: Cory Luebke just pitched in relief the other day, but he's scheduled to start today? That doesn't make sense. Jonathan Niese goes for the Mets and should win no matter who pitches for the Friars.
  • The Reds over the Rockies: Johnny Cueto should beat Jhoulys Chacin as long as he stays away from those hot chicken wings.
  • The Blue Jays over the Athletics: Not a great pitching match up with Guillermo Moscoso facing Brad Mills. But Toronto is at home and Brett Lawrie fever is at a high pitch.
  • The Yankees over the Angels: Bartolo Colon just has to be decent to beat the Angels and the struggling Tyler Chatwood.
  • The Nationals over the Cubs: Ryan Dempster has been more than adequate of late and is good at home. But this game hinges on Jordan Zimmermann and a Nationals' offense that can score a bunch of runs.
  • The White Sox over the Orioles: The Orioles have enough right-handed bats to counter Mark Buehrle. That's the good news. The bad news is that they are starting Chris Tillman.
  • The Tigers over the Indians: Justin Verlander stops the bleeding for the Tigers as they should outpace Fausto Carmona, who has been better of late.
  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: The Cards better win this one or they are sunk into a deep pit they may never climb out. They have the right guy out there in Chris Carpenter. But Yovani Gallardo is good too. Tough one.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Astros: This pick would feel better if Joe Saunders wasn't starting. But the Astros, despite their plucky manager, don't have much to counter with and poor Brett Myers is 3-12.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Bay Rays over the Royals: After last night? Forgetaboutit. Jeff Niemann finishes off the Royals and beats Danny Duff.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 32-23
Month: 77-58
Season: 951-799
Games of the Day: 81-49

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

James Shields is Dealing

Watching James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays this year after watching him last year is a night and day experience. He simply doesn't look like the same pitcher. Last year, his body language was different. He often looked beaten and frustrated. This year, there is a toughness in his demeanor and the results certainly show a difference. Daniel Aubain over at COSFBA asked an open-ended question as to why Shields is so much more effective this year than last. To this observer, the difference seems to be that he's more aggressive early in the count in the strike zone.

Last year was a brutal season for Shields. He gave up 34 homers and his ERA ballooned to 5.18. Both totals were among the lead leaders for starters. He also had an extraordinarily high BABIP of .341. So when he wasn't giving up homers, his batted balls found holes at an alarming rate. So what's the different this year? How has he gone from one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball to a guy that's thrown four shutouts and eight complete games to go along with a sparkly 2.80 ERA?

With a quick glance, it appears that much is the same as it's always been for Shields. His line drive, ground ball and fly ball percentages nearly mirror his career norms. His K/9 rate is up nicely, but not dramatically. His walk rate is down nicely, but again, not dramatically. So what's the difference? Again, that difference seems to be how he is controlling the at bats instead of allowing the batters to do so. What does that mean? Let's take a look.

James Shields is throwing more first pitch strikes. His percentage of 64.3 percent is the highest of his career. But, for those looking along, it's not dramatically higher than the past. Last year was 62.1 percent. Big deal right? Well, it is a big deal if you follow that up with strikes to put batters in defensive counts.

Last year, Shields was in an 0-1 count 431 times as compared to this year's 344 times. Last year, he started a batter off 343 times at 1-0 compared to this year's 251. That's a 1.36 ratio compared to last year's 1.25 ratio. But it doesn't stop there. Last year he was in 2-0 counts 110 times and 0-2 counts 170 times. This year,  he's had 2-0 counts 94 times and 0-2 counts 154 times. This year's ratio of 2-0 counts compared to 0-2 counts is 1.638 compared to 1.545 last year. And it continues deeper into the count. Last year, he had 231 1-2 counts. This year, that figure is already up to 197. Last year, 168 of his counts got to 2-1. This year, that figure is only 109.  The ratio difference here is the key. His ratio of 1-2 counts to 2-1 counts last year was 1.375. This year, it's at 1.807!

What does that mean exactly? It means that Shields has the batter more often in counts that favor Shields instead of the other way around. Because of his effectiveness at getting ahead in the count, his strikeout rate is higher, he is throwing more curves and change ups and he easily has a higher swing rate outside the strike zone than his career norm. He's inducing more infield pop ups and is producing less contact on strikes too.

Add all that up and you have a more aggressive pitcher, which has to lead to lower pitch counts, deeper games, less homers and a lot more confidence. This author had read somewhere that Joe Maddon was responsible for this consciousness of getting ahead of batters, but can't find the source. It makes sense though as Maddon would know these kinds of numbers. Whatever the case, Shields is controlling his own fate this year rather than allowing the batter dictate how his games on the hill will go.

Three Cheers for Revivals!

We as a people are captivated by revival stories. Whether it be Lazarus rising from the dead or an old actor getting one last great part and an Oscar nomination, we love to root for someone making it back from the trash heap of history. Last night we had several of those kinds of stories. There was the Chien-Ming Wang start for the Washington Nationals. Dontrelle Willis pitched eight strong innings for the Reds (and got another hit). Micah Owings pitched three strong innings with four strikeouts and raised his record to 6-0 with a 2.58 ERA (he got a hit and scored a run too). Jason Isringhousen recorded his sixth save after most people thought his career was over. And LaTroy Hawkins picked up a win for his eighth different team in his eleven year career. If you like back from the dead stories, they were like shooting stars last night.

Let's start with Chien-Ming Wang. Wang won nineteen games for the Yankees in both 2006 and 2007. He was heading for his third straight very good season in 2008 as he was 8-2 after fifteen starts. But he blew out a wheel running the bases during an interleague game (leading to one of the last bombastic outbursts from George Steinbrenner). Wang missed the rest of that season. The pitcher tried to come back in 2009 but he wasn't right and took a bunch of serious lickings before mercifully being shut down. He did make a few more appearances later in the year in relief, but he wasn't right.

After a pitcher wins 55 games in only 95 starts for the Yankees (good for a winning percentage close to .700), you would think the Yankees would give him a chance to work it out. But he was cut loose faster than an undersized fish and he signed with the Nationals. But his leg problems led to shoulder problems and he missed the entire 2010 season. After not earning a dime of his 2010 salary, you would understand if the Nationals would have followed the Yankees' lead and dumped him too. But they didn't. They signed him this year--granted, for a lot less money--and gave him a chance to work his way back.

And he did make it back to the majors and made his first start for the Nationals on July 29. It didn't go well. He gave up six runs with nine base runners in only four innings and lost. He next started August 3 against the Braves and it went little better. He lasted five innings in that game and gave up eight base runners and six runs again (though only two of them were earned). And then came his gem on Tuesday night.

Wang pitched six full innings. He carried a no hitter through five and gave up only one hit and two walks through six. One of those three base runners was erased by a double play. Two things were encouraging about that start. The first is that Wang was throwing his sinker at 92, or just one MPH less than his heydays with the Yankees. The second was that he induced eleven ground balls compared to just four fly balls. That was vintage Chien-Ming Wang.

It will remain to be seen whether Wang can build from that game (after all, it was against the Cubs). But those of us who root for dead-risings will be watching.

Next, we come to Dontrelle Willis. One frustrated Reds' fan said on Twitter that Willis was just good enough to lose. This observer thinks that statement was unfair (though understandable from a rabid fan's point of view). Yes, Willis is now 0-2 in his six starts since returning from the dead. But in those six starts, he's given up runs in the following order: 2, 2, 3, 2, 2, 3. Wouldn't you take that from any starting pitcher? The big thing for Willis is that he is throwing strikes. His 2.6 walks per nine is his best since his halcyon days of 2005. The D-Train is back on the tracks.

Let's face it: Micah Owings has never been a very good pitcher. Oh, he had a decent rookie season for the Diamondbacks in 2007 when he became a fan favorite in that market. But his 8-8 record and 111 ERA+ were deceiving and a bit lucky. He actually had a similar season in 2008 but was less lucky and his ERA ballooned.  Obviously the Diamondbacks didn't think that highly of him as he was the old "Player to be Named Later" in the Adam Dunn deal that sent the slugger to the Diamondbacks and Owings to the Reds.

Owings had two disastrous years for the Reds. His walk rate ballooned, which isn't a good thing for a guy prone to giving up homers. His WHIP was over 1.5 both years for the Reds and 2010 gave him three straight years of ERA+ in the 70s. The only startling feature about Owings was his ability to hit. In 215 big league plate appearances, Owings has a .512 slugging percentage and a career OPS+ of 110! He's hit nine homers in his career. But even that part of his game fell off with the Reds in 2010.

It was no surprise when the Reds non-tendered him after the season. Owings caught back on with the Diamondbacks and started the season in Triple A. But he's now made twenty appearances including four starts and has picked up a habit of scooping up those vulture wins. His 2.68 ERA is misleading as heck as his FIP is over four and batters are only hitting .228 with balls in play. Owings has also stranded 83% of his base runners. Those are unsustainable numbers. But still, we can include Owings in the back from the dead column and hope his luck continues. As long as he is in the big leagues, we get the thrill of his offense as a pitcher.

Jason Isringhausen is 38 years old. He's made 667 appearances in his career but made none last year and only nine the year before that. And here he is in 2011, back from the dead for the New York Mets. Isringhausen has made 46 appearances this season and is now the Mets' closer after they traded K-Rod. He has six saves. His next save will be the 300th of his career. His K/9 of 8.0 is his best since 2006 and his WHIP of 1.180 is his best since he was the Cardinals' closer in 2007. Before he became the closer, Isringhausen recorded fifteen holds. Not bad for a guy everyone thought was finished.

LaTroy Hawkins finishes this back from the dead post. Hawkins, like Isringhausen, is 38 years old now. As mentioned, he's pitching for his eighth team in eleven years. He had a very good year for the Astros in 2009 but made only 18 appearances for the Brewers in 2010. They didn't go well and he was as welcomed in the game for Brewers' fans as was Trevor Hoffman. Hawkins compiled only 16 innings the entire season and gave up 15 runs. There was a bit of bad luck involved. His BABIP was over .400 and he struck out over ten batters per nine innings. But all of those things matter little if you only contribute 16 innings all season which included three losses against no wins.

This season, Hawkins has become a thriving and reviving member of the Brewers' bullpen. Hawkins has pitched 38 times this season for the Brewers and has a sparkling 1.73 ERA (with a 2.90 FIP). He has 17 holds and a win to show for those appearances. His strikeout rate is half of his career average, but he isn't walking anyone either. Plus, he's given up only one homer all year. The addition of Francisco Rodriguez pushes Hawkins down to the seventh inning and lower leverage situations, which is perfect for him to thrive.

We love resurrection stories. We love when people pick themselves off the floor and again perform at a high level. In Major League Baseball, several of those stories all played a part in yesterday's games. That makes for a fun night for any Fan. One of this writer's favorite Twitter follows, Dave Gershman (@Dave_Gershman)--of ESPN's Sweetspot, Beyond the Box Score and Marlins Daily fame--mentioned during Wang's outing that Yankee fans were probably gnashing their teeth over Wang's success. This Fan replied that Life is bigger than your favorite team and he agreed. Such revival stories are good for the heart and one of the reasons we love our sports so genuinely.

Game Picks - Wednesday: August 10, 2011

Yesterday proved that cute is ugly. After determining that Monday's pick meltdown was due to too many picks being of the cute variety, the picks for yesterday stuck to good-old hard logic and the results were significantly better. With a full slate of games, there were only four incorrect picks. One was a happy occasion as Chien-Ming Wang won his first game after a long road back.

The other three incorrect picks were more mundane. Rich Harden was too much for the Blue Jays and that was unexpected. Though it seems like Jose Bautista isn't right at the moment. Bet he is hiding an injury. The Brewers - Cardinals game could have gone either way and it went the wrong way with a Brewers win in the tenth inning. And the last wrong pick was Madison Bumgarner totally shutting down the Pirates and the Giants finally got him some runs to work with.

But that was it. The other picks went beautifully. A.J. Burnett has become as predictable as Old reverse. The Twins couldn't hold back the Red Sox. The Mariners couldn't hold off the Rangers. James Shields was brilliant for the Bay Rays. And Cliff Lee was brilliant (ho hum) against the Dodgers.

Moral of the story? No cuteness. Got it. Wednesday's picks:

  • The Dodgers over the Phillies: This pick is logical because Chad Billingsley has his best ERA in day games in a pretty good sample size. On the other hand, Vance Worley's only loss and only bad game this season occurred in a day game.
  • The Pirates over the Giants: Jonathan Sanchez has become the West Coast version of A.J. Burnett. Jeff Karstens will have to have a good game though unlike his last outing.
  • The Yankees over the Angels: The suspension of Jared Weaver was a lucky break for the Yankees who feature Ivan Nova today. Nova belongs in that rotation and is having a good season. Weaver's replacement, Garrett Richards could pose some problems. All he's done in the minors is win. He throws strikes and if he has good composure could be a surprise.
  • The Orioles over the White Sox: The Orioles are down, but the pick here is for Tommy Hunter to have a good outing and for the Orioles' offense to get to Philip Humber, who has fallen on hard times.
  • The Indians over the Tigers: The Tigers have seen Ubaldo Jimenez in interleague play this season, so he won't be an unknown. But if the pitcher is on, he can shut the Tigers down. Rick Porcello is also capable of shutting down the Indians. If the pitching cancels itself out, go with the home team.
  • The Blue Jays over the Athletics: Gio Gonzalez has struggled on the road all season. The Blue Jays start Henderson Alvarez, a young pitcher who has won four in a row in the minors.
  • The Braves over the Marlins: Tim Hudson is back to throwing consistently well and he will need to as Anibal Sanchez has had no luck in his last ten outings, but is still a good pitcher.
  • The Reds over the Rockies: The Reds seem moribund lately and have fallen out of the race. But with Kevin Millwood (seriously?) pitching for the Rockies, Mike Leake should get a win. Kevin Millwood??
  • The Royals over the Bay Rays: The Royals' young hitters should jump all over Wade Davis' flat fastballs and Felipe Paulino finally gets a well-earned win.
  • The Mets over the Padres: Not a solid pick here as neither R.A. Dickey or Aaron Harang engender strong feelings of success. Going with the home team Mets.
  • The Nationals over the Cubs: In the stinker game of the day, Ross Detwiler faces Rodrigo Lopez. Oh joy.
  • The Red Sox over the Twins: This one won't be close as Jon Lester easily outpaces Nick Blackburn.
  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: The Brewers are on fire, but Randy Wolf is their weakest starter. Jake Westbrook isn't much better. Going with the Cardinals at home.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Astros: This picker is off the Josh Collmenter bandwagon, but the Astros are starting another so-so rookie (Henry Sosa) making yet another major league debut.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Rangers over the Mariners: Derek Holland should bounce back from a bad outing at home. And the Rangers should jump all over Jason Vargas.

Yesterday: 11-4
Week: 24-16
Month: 69-51
Season: 943-792
Games of the Day: 81-48

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Livan Hernandez and the Middle of an Egg

Yes, that's an obscure heading, eh? It's actually an inside joke. Many moons ago, the Fan's son was going to bed before his first day of school. Perhaps it was the second grade or something. As was the custom, his father said a prayer with the boy and part of that prayer was that the boy would not have a mediocre teacher that school year. Before the prayer could go further, the boy stopped his father with a tug on the sleeve and asked in response to the word, "Mediocre," "Daddy, what does the middle of an egg have to do with anything?" Needless to say, there were no more prayers that night as the father couldn't stop laughing. And that's the story of the heading of this post.

Livan Hernandez is in his sixteenth season of pitching. Can you believe that? He signed with the Marlins in 1996 and got into one game with them that season. Hernandez then started seventeen games in 1977 and went 9-3 with an ERA of 3.18 and a FIP of 3.54. Hernandez then won two games in the NLCS and two games in the World Series and he was one of the toasts of the baseball world. Since then has been a long, long string of middle of the eggs.

The thing is, Livan is as consistent as you can get. Since 1998, he's never strayed with a FIP under 3.91. His ERA+ for his sixteen years is 96. That's about as league average as you can get. His won-loss record after all those years is 172-174. More middle of the eggs.

What is truly remarkable (at least to this observer) is that his current season (at the age of 36) is pretty much a replay of his entire career. No, the win-loss record isn't pretty at 6-11. But look at his peripherals this season compared to his career average (the first number is this season, the second, his career average):

  • ERA:  4.41, 4.39
  • FIP: 4.00, 4.39
  • WHIP: 1.421, 1.440
  • Hits per nine innings: 10.4, 9.9
  • Strikeouts per nine innings: 5.5, 5.6
  • Walks per nine innings: 2.4, 3.0  thus making up for a few extra hits.
  • Homers per nine: 0.9, 1.0
  • Line Drive Percentage: 22 percent, 22 percent.
  • Ground ball Percentage: 40.5 percent, 41.6 percent.
  • Swinging strike percentage: 6.3 percent, 6.4 percent.
  • Contact percentage: 84.9 percent, 84.6 percent.

This will be Livan Hernandez's fourteenth straight season with more than 30 starts. That's remarkable longevity and durability. His closest career comparable pitchers are John Burkett, Mike Moore and Camilio Pazqual. The last one is fitting as Pasqual was a fellow Cuban.  All three of the above had one very good year. Livan had one pretty good season. But all four had long, basically unspectacular careers. Livan Hernandez has never been in the top 20 in Cy Young Award voting. His rWAR after sixteen seasons is 27.7 and his fWAR is 35.8. So depending which system you go by, he's averaged either 1.78 WAR per season or 2.23. He's never been overpaid and has earned around $50 million in a career that has been worth upwards of $84 million.

Mediocrity isn't really a bad term when it applies to Livan Hernandez. It simply means that he has eaten up innings for every pitching staff he's ever been on and every game gives you league average performance. Oh, there will be clunkers along the way (especially if he pitches in Colorado) and there will be an outstanding game thrown in there from time to time. But there is something to be said for a pitcher that has lasted this long and been so consistent.

Game Picks - Tuesday: August 9, 2011:

Yesterday's picks took a serious beating. And it's humbling. After debriefing and studying the picks, they were too cute. The picks weren't logical. They seemed to be made by a picker who wanted more to be splashy than correct. Too harsh? Maybe. But that's just the view from here.

Take the Red Sox game versus the Twins. This picker thought it would be cute to pick the Twins. And for half the game, the pick looked like a winner. But the Red Sox are too good and the Twins are so bad. That should have been the logical conclusion. A lot of the picks were like that. Let's not even discuss the Diamondbacks game. What the heck happened there? The Diamondbacks sure are missing the boat to catch up with the Giants. The Giants keep losing and the Diamondbacks could be like three games up in the standings. It was good to see the Pirates win though, even if it meant a bad pick.

Okay. No more cuteness. No more trying to look splashy. Just cold, hard analysis for Tuesday's games:

  • The Angels over the Yankees: Dan Haren is 4-1 lifetime versus the Yankees with a good ERA with an 8.0 K/BB ratio in the new Yankee Stadium. Plus, A.J. Burnett is pitching for the Yankees.
  • The White Sox over the Orioles: The cute pick would be to pick Jo-Jo Reyes, who the Orioles got off the scrap heap. But the White Sox are the surer pick with Gavin Floyd bouncing back after his horrible start against the Yankees.
  • The Indians over the Tigers: Doug Fister would be the cute pick (apologies for continuing this theme). But Justin Masterson beat the Red Sox in his last outing and is the better pitcher. The Indians are at home.
  • The Blue Jays over the Athletics: The A's are hitting better these days, but face a hot pitcher in Brett Cecil. Plus the Blue Jays are at home and should hit a couple of dingers. Rich Harden goes for the A's.
  • The Rockies over the Reds: The Reds have blown the game in every outing that Dontrelle Willis has pitched. Willis will get a hit, but no run support. Carlos Gonzalez makes the Rockies better and should back starter, Esmil Rogers.
  • The Bay Rays over the Royals: Jeff Francis hasn't been very good. James Shields has been very good. That's the pick then.
  • The Mets over the Padres: Wade LeBlanc has been winless so far and it should remain that way as the Mets jump him at home. Chris Capuano should pitch well for the Mets.
  • The Rangers over the Mariners: Michael Pineda can be overpowering. But the Rangers will wait him out and wear him down. Alexi Ogando with the win.
  • The Cubs over the Nationals: The two teams were rained out yesterday. The same match ups today. Chien-Ming Wang and Matt Garza. Garza wins that battle.
  • The Red Sox over the Twins: Erik Bedard won't be spectacular. But he doesn't have to be with the Red Sox offense. Liriano goes for the Twins.
  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: Tough game to call. If Edwin Jackson is on, he should win at home. Shaun Marcum is a tough customer though. But Marcum got hit pretty good by the Cardinals last time.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Astros: The Diamondbacks have to win this series against a lowly team. It didn't start well. Jordan Lyles goes for the Astros and got his first win of the season last time out. Jason Marquis will have to pitch well to win.
  • The Phillies over the Dodgers: Ted Lilly has been better of late and in the past, a lefty would be tough for the Phillies. But Pence balances them out now. If Mayberry would get the start, he would help too. Either way, Cliff Lee wins.
  • The Pirates over the Giants: Carlos Beltran doesn't help the Giants if he can't play. Madison Bumgarner has to be the hardest luck pitcher in baseball. James McDonald just keeps getting better.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Braves over the Marlins: The Braves are a different team since Dan Uggla started hitting. Brandon Beachy should win over a non-strike throwing Clay Hensley.

Yesterday: 3-7  oof
Week: 13-12
Month: 58-47
Season: 932-788
Games of the Day: 80-48 

Monday, August 08, 2011

A Fan's Soft Spot for Ian Kennedy

When one has been a Fan of Major League Baseball for fifty years, emotional ties to players are inevitable. These emotional choices aren't rational and you can't control them. They just come to be. Sometimes those emotional commitments come back to bite the heart. O.J. Simpson and Roger Clemens come to mind. But as in love, the heart has a mind of its own. Players become adopted and cherished despite the warts we can now all look at in advanced statistics. Such a soft spot for this writer is Ian Kennedy of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Ian Kennedy is probably this writer's favorite pitcher since Bill Swift. It started back in 2007 when Ian Kennedy made three improbable starts at the end of that season for the Yankees and finished 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA. It continued in sympathy in 2008 after Kennedy and Phil Hughes were the subject of rabid debate when Brian Cashman refused to trade them for a stud pitcher. Cashman's decision led to disaster in 2008 when Kennedy started that season 0-4 with an awful ERA over eight. Hughes fared little better.

The Yankees basically gave up on Kennedy, who in all honesty, did not really own up to his poor performance and did not handle the situation maturely. But still, for some reason, this writer adopted him like Bagheera did Mowgli. And thus, it was upsetting when the Yankees included Kennedy in that blockbuster trade that sent players all over the place and netted the Yankees only Curtis Granderson, who seemed on the downside of his once-promising career.

Of course, we all know that Granderson has resurrected that career and is a big part of the Yankees' 2011 season. But Kennedy surprised everyone by having a successful campaign for the Diamondbacks last season. He made 32 starts for the Diamondbacks and though he went 9-10, his ERA was respectable (though his FIP was +55). Still, there was little concern for what the Yankees gave up because the general consensus was that Kennedy was a bit lucky and Phil Hughes won 18 games for the Yankees in 2010.

Turn the clock ahead a season and Ian Kennedy is now 14-3 after 24 starts. Phil Hughes has had a fruitless season for the Yankees and it appears that the New Yorkers gave away the wrong pitcher. A case could still be made (if looking at things honestly) that Kennedy has been lucky this season too. But sustaining a low BABIP over two full seasons might be more of an indication of Kennedy's ability to induce weak contact combined with good defense from the Diamondbacks (especially now sans Mark Reynolds).

The Diamondbacks are 17-7 in games Kennedy has started. Kennedy has beaten the Phillies, the Reds (twice), the Giants, the Cardinals and the Brewers along the way. He also pitched eight shutout innings against the Giants in another game where he didn't get the decision. Ian Kennedy has been a big-time pitcher for the Diamondbacks this season. His 3.0 fWAR puts him in the Top 20 among MLB starters.

Let's dig a little deeper into why Kennedy has been successful. His 3.26 K/BB ratio is the best of his career. He is inordinately successful at inducing pop ups to the infield (13.5 percent). He is inducing more batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone (also at a rate the best of his career). He does a reasonable job at keeping the ball in the ballpark (no easy feat with games pitched in Arizona and Colorado).  His fastball averages only 89.9 miles per hour, but Fangraphs still gives the pitch a high rating because of movement. He's developed a cut fastball that he is employing this year for the first time with good success.  That gives him five pitches in his arsenal and for unscientific data, baseball people says that he is a smart pitcher who knows how to pitch.

That is all heady stuff but for this writer, it all comes down to the emotional attachment. Ian Kennedy was adopted way back in 2007 and you can do all the analysis you want. The only fact that counts to this man-crushed writer is that his boy is 14-3 for a contending team. Woot!

The Brewers Brilliant Trade

There were a lot of trades at the MLB trade deadline that scored a ton of ink (or link). Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn and Erik Bedard were among the notable. The Mets needed to trade Francisco Rodriguez, a player with a large looming option in his contract from a team with monetary troubles. And so K-Rod's trade to the Brewers was viewed more in the salary dump category than in a win situation for the team that picked him up. Since K-Rod's first appearance for the Brewers, the team has gone 15-5. And while there are a lot of factors that went into those wins, K-Rod might have been the missing piece of a puzzle for the Brewers.

Before Francisco Rodriguez showed up, the Brewers had a huge problem. The team had blown seventeen saves and most of them resulted in losses. Those blown saves came not from the closer, but from the set up guys. Not only demoralizing, those losses kept the Brewers packed in the standings with the Cardinals and Pirates. Their save percentage was in the bottom third in the majors and games frittered away at an alarming rate. In the twenty games since K-Rod has arrived, they have only blown one save (it was K-Rod's) but they still won that game. A lot of those blown saves turned into gully washers where so many runs occurred that the games were put out of reach. In K-Rod's blown save, he did give up two runs, but he kept it there and the Brewers won that game.

Not only did the Brewers make a terrific acquisition in acquiring Francisco Rodriguez, but they handled the transition perfectly. K-Rod had always been a closer. But the Brewers have a terrific closer already in John Axford. The trouble was they couldn't get the game to him. Meanwhile, K-Rod had this explosive clause in his contract that if he finished so many games this season, a huge contract would be guaranteed for the next season.

The Brewers wanted to keep Axford in the closing role, which would have cost K-Rod a lot of money and probably would have led to a very unhappy camper. What the Brewers did was to sit Rodriguez down and rework his contract to make it a mutual option. The matter was resolved and whether or not K-Rod finished a game became a moot point.

To be honest, more credit for this development goes to K-Rod than to the Brewers. As this insightful article (click the link) points out, K-Rod originally had asked the Mets to eliminate the clause because it was affecting how the Mets were using the reliever. As the article points out, that made it easier for the Mets to gain the Brewers' interest. To his credit, Rodrigeuz wanted to pitch meaningful games and while a large part of that is to enhance his future value, it also eliminated any pressure on the Brewers to use K-Rod in a certain way.

Axford now has 32 saves with only two blown saves all season. The Brewers have gone from a dogfight to a now-comfortable three and a half game lead in the division. The starters are getting the game to the set up guys, who are now getting the game to Axford. The acquisition of K-Rod took some of the other relievers out of high leverage situations and gave them a better chance to succeed. Rodriguez has pitched in high leverage situations his entire career and has handled them beautifully (for the most part) since joining the Brewers. He now has two wins and six holds and that's a hand in eight of the Brewers' last fifteen wins.

It might be an exaggeration to say that if the Brewers had stayed pat with their bullpen, they might have lost half of those games. But it's not an exaggeration to know that they have won them. Contenders made flashy moves that were rightly talked about. But the Brewers' trade for Francisco Rodriguez might be the one that ends up making the most impact. As stated in previous posts, deadline trade deals are made to get teams into the playoffs. Judging by the results thus far, the Brewers made a heck of a deal.

Game Picks - Monday: August 8, 2011

Sunday was a good day except that (as a Fan) the favorite team lost and the Game of the Day pick came up a-crapper. Ironically, this picker finally gave up picking the Reds to beat the Cubs and then they finally did. The Mets bullpen blew another game. To be sure, they stopped sweating a bit when they traded K-Rod, but they had no Plan B.

But there were a lot of good picks yesterday. It was predicted here that Tim Lincecum and the Giants would salvage the last game of the series against the Phillies and they did. Ervin Santana over Felix Hernandez was a good pick. Another Ian Kennedy win was a good pick. John Lannon and the Nationals over the Rockies was a good pick. And so were the White Sox and Brewers' sweeps.

All in all, it was a good day and the first non-losing Sunday in several weeks. Eleven games are on the schedule as teams continue to rarely get days off since the All Star break. Several teams have to be running out of steam at this point and this picker tries to keep that in mind during the picks. Monday should go like this:

  • The White Sox over the Orioles: John Danks has pitched well in the second half and the White Sox should score a few runs against Jeremy Guthrie.
  • The Marlins over the Braves: Derek Lowe has been a mess since early June. Brad (a-bird-in-the) Hand should be pretty decent. Stanton goes yard?
  • The Twins over the Red Sox: The Red Sox just finished a tough series. Their bullpen is tired and they had to travel to Minneapolis late after last night's game. Tim Wakefield pitches, so hopefully, Jim Thome will get a start. Scott Baker has decent career numbers against the Red Sox.
  • The Reds over the Rockies: Homer Bailey had a great start in his last outing. The Rockies are reeling and Jason Hammel hasn't been very good.
  • The Royals over the Bay Rays: Luke Hochevar is 3-0 in his last few starts and this picker picked against him all three. Keeping the fingers out of that socket this time. Jeremy Hellickson will get little run support.
  • The Padres over the Mets: The Padres just swept the Pirates and now have the Mets in their aim. Don't know if Tim Stuaffer will get any run support but he's a good pitcher and the Mets will be without Reyes. Mike Pelfrey with the loss.
  • The Rangers over the Mariners: These are the types of games the Rangers need to win. Matt Harrison should be good at home and the Rangers should get enough runs off of Charlie Furbush to win.
  • The Cubs over the Nationals: The combination of Matt Garza pitching against Chien-Ming Wang should result in a Nationals' loss. The Cubs have been playing better.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Astros: Wandy Rodriguez will hang in there, but the D-backs should win behind Daniel Hudson.
  • The Phillies over the Dodgers: Hiroki Kuroda shut down the Padres, but the Phillies aren't the Padres. And the Dodgers won't score off of Roy Halladay.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Giants over the Pirates: Alas, as we bury our hopes for the Pirates as they sink like the Titanic. Ryan Vogelsong with the win over Charlie Morton.

Yesterday: 10-5
Week: 10-5
Month: 55-40
Season: 929-781   Corrected: Forgot to carry the one and cost the total 100 wins!
Games of the Day: 80-47

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Game Picks - Sunday: August 7, 2011

The last two days were in the plus column thus ending the week in the plus column as well. But Friday was a much better day than Saturday. After two games in the Yankee - Red Sox series, this picker has gotten both picks wrong. Comically, the picks each day for the Reds have been wrong for a week as the Cubs keep cleaning their clocks. The Diamondbacks had a golden opportunity with the Phillies overwhelming the Giants all series but those D-backs simply couldn't take the bull by the horns. The Braves don't look like a contender at times and fell to the Mets. Brandon Morrow had a perfect game after five, but after Yunel Escobar messed up a play at short, Morrow had a loss after six. The A's put a beat down on the Bay Rays and Brandon McCarthy was better than this picker gave him credit for and that pick went bad. And finally, in the Rangers - Indians game, there was no scoring until the seventh inning. The Rangers won the inning, 4-3 but lost the game on a blown save by Neftali Feliz.

And so we head into a new week and a full day on the MLB schedule. Of course, the Yankees - Red Sox game will be the nationally televised game on ESPN. Well, duh. Here's how that game and the rest of the games should go:

  • The Mets over the Braves: Dillon Gee has totally baffled the Braves three times and though Mike Minor has thrown well in the Braves' system, give the Mets the win.
  • The Cardinals over the Marlins: Jaime Garcia must throw well on the road and the Cards need to get to Javier Vazquez to make this pick a good one.
  • The Padres over the Pirates: The Pirates unfortunate slide continues as Kevin Correia has not been good of late. He is a better pitcher on the road however. Matt Latos should have a big game. This Fan thinks it all went downhill for the Pirates after they dumped Lyle Overbay. Just a thought...
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Alfredo Simon has been surprisingly good but Ricky Romero has been even better lately.
  • The Bay Rays over the Athletics: The Rays are on this every other game thing. David Price has been disappointing, but he should beat a severely struggling Trevor Cahill.who has gone from ace to base.
  • The Brewers over the Astros: The Brew Crew is on a serious roll and Zack Greinke keeps it going. Bud Norris is a good pitcher, but he had a blister problem his last outing.
  • The White Sox over the Twins: Peavy was supposed to pitch yesterday but Zach Stewart got the call and was very good. Peavy hasn't won in a while and is due. Brian Duensing gets the loss.
  • The Cubs over the Reds: Okay, the Fan cries, "Uncle," in this one. The Reds can't beat the Cubs. Randy Wells versus Bronson Arroyo.
  • The Nationals over the Rockies: John Lannon hangs in there. Aaron Cook has a neck problem, but is still scheduled to pitch. We'll see.
  • The Angels over the Mariners: Felix Hernandez doesn't have good success against the Angels and Ervin Santana has been unbelievable since early July.
  • The Giants over the Phillies: Tim Lincecum saves the day with a good performance. Roy Oswalt makes his first start since mid-June and those kinds of starts always make this picker nervous.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Dodgers: Ian Kennedy will win the battle of aces against Clayton Kershaw. Who knows how, but that's the pick. And yes, it's an emotional one and not a head pick.
  • The Indians over the Rangers: Colby Lewis simply has not been reliable, mostly because of the long ball. Josh Tomlin, however, has been very reliable.
  • The Red Sox over the Yankees: Josh Beckett either shuts the Yankees down entirely or the Yanks beat him the heck up. There never has been an in between. But the Red Sox love facing Freddie Garcia.. Red Sox back in first.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Tigers over the Royals: Bruce Chen's magic has lost its zen and a no-zen Chen won't get the "wen" against Max Scherzer.

Friday: 10-5
Saturday: 8-7
Last Week: 52-43
Month: 45-35
Season: 819-776
Games of the Day: 80-46