Saturday, May 05, 2012

If only David Ortiz could run

There is no doubt that David Ortiz is the best designated hitter in the game. The guy can flat out rake. He is batting .371 with an on-base percentage of .426 and a slugging percentage of .670. Unlike a couple of years ago, there seems no safe place or way to pitch him. He is quick inside again. He works the count to his favor. He is just a great hitter. But there is only one other thing he can do to help his team as a DH. Run. The guy can't run. In fact, he runs like Walter Brennan.

And David Ortiz is supposed to be in the best shape of his life. At least that is what the spring reports told us. And that great work Ortiz has done has seemed to do wonders to maintain his acumen at the plate. But did he forget his wheels? From a personal standpoint, it is well known here what a 56 year old man runs like. Ortiz runs like that. The legs are moving, but they aren't going anywhere. There is a hitch and a giddy-up in the attempt. Ortiz looks like that. Take the eighth inning of last night's game with the Baltimore Orioles. The game went thirteen innings before the Red Sox succumbed to the Orioles. Watch this play:

Cody Ross stings the ball toward short on a line. But Hardy made an unbelievable dive and catch. David Ortiz had started running. He tried to get back to first. It took f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Double play. 

Yes, a player is a DH because he can't do much of anything else. David Ortiz might still have a first base mitt around somewhere in case there is an interleague game, but he isn't expected to use it more than once or twice a season. Broken wheel guys like Vlad have manned the DH position since the Rico Carty days. But Ortiz has never had a leg injury. He hasn't blown out his knees. He just can't run. In fact, since 2002, only Konerko has a worse base running score on Fangraphs than David Ortiz. Since that season, Ortiz's base running has cost his team 44.6 runs. That is like 4.4 lost wins in that time frame. 

And not only can David Ortiz not run. He can't slide either. To prove that point, this post will leave you to one of our family's favorite all-time plays. We laugh about it to this day. And here it is. If the embedded video doesn't work, click the link. David Ortiz is the bomb as a hitting DH. There is no other weapon in baseball like him at his position. But gosh, the guy cannot run...or slide. It is almost embarrassing.

Remember this?

Game Picks - Saturday: May 5, 2012

Just another mundane day of picks in a long string of them. The Orioles keep fighting and scratching...and winning. The Cubs beat the Dodgers. Didn't see that coming. The closer cost the White Sox pick. The Rangers looked lifeless against the Indians. The Cardinals couldn't beat the Astros. And for some reason, this picker just can't accept how bad the Angels are. And so, out of fifteen picks, only eight came in. Just another murky day in a murky week.

Perhaps the end of the week will be a good one. Come on, Saturday, save the day! Here are today's picks:
  • The Dodgers over the Cubs: Let's try this again. Chris Capuano has been pretty good and is pitching deeper into games. Chris Volstad is not pitching well at all.
  • The Phillies over the Nationals: Tough game to call. Should be a tight one with Vance Worley out-dueling Gio Gonzalez. The Phillies will need to score three runs though, not easy for them.
  • The Orioles over the Red Sox: Okay, Orioles. This picker surrenders. Jason Hammel somehow keeps pitching well making the Red Sox pound the ball into the ground and Aaron Cook is greeted rudely in his first start of the season. Both bullpens should be gassed after last night.
  • The Mets over the Diamondbacks: Going with the Mets at home with Johan Santana on the mound. Patrick Corbin goes for the Diamondbacks and that does not instill enough confidence to pick the D-backs.
  • The Giants over the Brewers: With Braun out, the Brewers' offense is Giants-like. You know Madison Bumgarner will give up two runs or less. The only question is if the Giants can score two or more off of Randy Wolf.
  • The Pirates over the Reds: The Reds rarely win two games in a row. Mike Leake has been pitching awful. Which is sad because the guy is liked here. James McDonald is coming into his own.
  • The Asros over the Cardinals: Bud Norris will be good. Again, it all boils down to whether Jaime Garcia can avoid his usual bad inning somewhere in the middle of the game. Picking that he can't.
  • The Rangers over the Indians: Derek Holland is 4-1 and pitching well. He's left-handed, which isn't good for the Indians. Derek Lowe has been very good. But is due for a clunker. Two Dereks. Heh.
  • The Yankees over the Royals: Interesting following these games on Twitter, KC bloggers are either viscous against their own team or viscous in their hatred of the Yankees. Get a grip, people. Hiroki Kuroda has a better chance of being on his game than Felipe Paulino making his first start of the season.
  • The Bay Rays over the Athletics: The Bay Rays may never lose again. Jeremy Hellickson goes for them against Bartolo Colon, who lost a heart-breaker his last time out.
  • The Braves over the Rockies: Could be another high scoring game. Jamie Moyer in Coors is dicey. Mike Minor is dicey after his last outing. Hard one to pick.
  • The Marlins over the Padres: How long do the Padres stick with Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett? Both have been pretty useless. Mark Buehrle should hold the Padres down enough for the Marlins to get to Clayton Richard.
  • The Angels over the Blue Jays: Yeah, yeah. Stupid, right? The Angels have to hit some time. Why not today? C.J. Wilson over Kyle Drabek.
  • The Mariners over the Twins: So the Twins won a game last night. They face Felix Hernandez tonight and won't score. The Twins go with Jason Marquis, who is capable of anything.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Tigers over the White Sox: Max Scherzer thinks he's found his problem. This pick takes his word for it. Gavin Floyd toyed with a no-hitter last time out. Don't think he will in this one. Big comeback win for the Tigers last night.
Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 41-38
Month: 27-26
Season: 216-175
Games of the Day: 18-11

Friday, May 04, 2012

Brandon Morrow emerging

Brandon Morrow of the Toronto Blue Jays has been wicked awesome (as they say a lot here in Maine). He has now thrown 20.1 innings of scoreless baseball and has won his last three starts. Naysayers will say, well two or three starts do not mean much in the grand scheme of things and his last two dominant starts have been against the Mariners and Angels--not exactly offensive juggernauts. And those naysayers would have a point. Small sample sizes are always dangerous. But, it is the way Morrow is winning that has this writer excited to say the least.

The thinking here has always been that if Brandon Morrow could pound the strike zone and pitch efficiently, there would be no stopping him. And suddenly, that is what he is doing. In his complete game masterpiece last night against the Angels, Morrow threw just 102 pitches. And for the second straight start, he did not walk anyone. In fact, of his 102 pitches, 75 were strikes. This a new Brandon Morrow.

How new? Consider that Morrow has always struck out his fair share of batters. His strikeout per nine rate has been over ten for two straight seasons. This year, he is striking out four less batters per game and yet, he still has the best strikeout to walk ratio of his career at 3.63. With Morrow's pure stuff, throwing strikes is the key, especially early in the count. If he does that, then his slider is his strikeout pitch because he throws it from a similar arm slot and the batter has no chance. Last night, seven of his eight strikeouts came on the slider.

Just as important as throwing strikes is where he is throwing them. Fifty of his 75 strikes came in the lower half of the strike zone. Most of his swinging strikes came from below the strike zone. Those pitches in the lower half of the zone have resulted in more ground balls this season as his ground ball percentage is at 47.5 percent, much higher than his 38 percent career average. That is also important as Morrow has always struggled with a high home run percentage. The less fly balls he throws, the less chance of homers. Morrow is also making it difficult for batters two square his pitches as his line drive percentage is only 11 percent this season.

The next step for Brandon Morrow is to win consistently and beat tough competition. His roughest start of the season was against the Tampa Bay Rays. Morrow has to start winning his share of those games. For his career, in games against teams with winning records, Morrow is 17-21 with a 4.67 ERA. Morrow has the stuff to do that, especially if he can continue to pound the strike zone, keep the ball down and get ahead in the count to put batters away.

With game scores of 71 and 89 in his last two starts (50 is average), Brandon Morrow is emerging as the kind of pitcher this observer always thought he could be. 

Game Picks - Friday: May 4, 2012

This has been a tough week for picking baseball games. The Yankees have lost three straight to teams you would think they would beat. The Indians and White Sox seesaw back and forth each night and the picks have been a day late for each. The Pirates took a game from the Cardinals and showed some resilience doing so. And there was a great pitching duel between Ross Detwiler and Ian Kennedy, just as this picker predicted there would be. However, this picker backed the wrong pitcher and Detwiler was better. That's the way it goes some times. 

But there were some really good picks in there. The Marlins were predicted to sweep the Giants. They did. The Reds were predicted to beat the Cubs. They did. Joe Blanton was featured as a good choice. He was. And Brandon Morrow was the pick and he was totally awesome yesterday. And of course, the Bay Rays keep winning. 

So, what about Friday? A full schedule and lots of interesting games to consider. The picks:
  • The Dodgers over the Cubs: Paul Maholm has won two games in a row in convincing fashion. But the Dodgers hit better as a team than the Phillies do and present much bigger problems offensively. Chad Billingsley had one bad start between all the rest of his good ones. He should win.
  • The White Sox over the Tigers: The Tigers are reeling and can't even get a win when Verlander pitches. Tonight they face Jake Peavy who has turned the clock back to 2007 the way he is pitching. The Emoticon, Drew Smiley, has been very good for the Tigers. Going with Peavy.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: If there is one constant thus far, it is that the Reds win when Johnny Cueto pitches. And it is hard to not like their chances hitting Kevin Correia.
  • The Nationals over the Phillies: How times have changed. Last year, this would have been an automatic pick for the Phillies. Not this year. Stephen Strasburg over Kyle Kendrick.
  • The Rangers over the Indians: The Rangers have some health issues in the outfield. But they have plenty of other weapons to dismember Jeanmar Gomez. Colby Lewis should be decent enough to win.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Mets: The Mets have been a mild surprise thus far. But the Diamondbacks are the better team. Wade Miley has been terrific. Dillon Gee has been uneven. Despite the Mets being home, going with the D-backs.
  • The Red Sox over the Orioles: The Orioles aren't backing down from anyone and Wei-Lin Chen has been very good. But it appears the old Jon Lester is back and the Orioles can't touch that no matter how much spunk they have,
  • The Cardinals over the Astros: Kyle Lohse goes for his fifth win tonight against the Astros and Lucas Harrell. He should get it as the Cards have too many weapons for Harrell to beat.
  • The Yankees over the Royals: C.C. Sabathia will once again have to be the stopper to end the Yankees losing streak. He has done that many times for the Yankees before and his last two starts have been terrific. Bruce Chen is Bruce Chen: gritty, determined. But it won't be enough.
  • The Braves over the Rockies: This one will probably be a slug-fest. Tim Hudson has historic troubles in Coors and is only making his second start after missing all spring. Guillermo Moscoso doesn't frighten anyone. Big score.
  • The Marlins over the Padres: The Marlins should continue to make the most of their West Coast trip and Josh Johnson should win his first game of the season over Anthony Bass and the hapless Padres' offense.
  • The Angels over the Blue Jays: Which slugger will get out of their funk sooner, Pujols or Bautista? Ervin Santana is 0-5. He has to win some time. Henderson Alvarez is good, but feeling this is the Angels' game to win.
  • The Mariners over the Twins: Jason Vargas versus Carl Pavano isn't exactly a dream match-up. And the Twins just look dreadful. Going with the Mariners and Jesus Montero will be the difference.
  • The Brewers over the Giants: Zack Greinke should enjoy pitching at AT&T Park and the Giants are sinking after getting swept by the Marlins. And this isn't the same Tim Lincecum we've known in the past.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Bay Rays over the Athletics: The Rays might have started out with a tough schedule. But it sure has been cushy the last two weeks. David Price over Tyler Ross. With ease.
Yesterday: 5-4
Week: 33-31
Month: 19-19
Season: 208-168
Games of the Day: 17-11

Thursday, May 03, 2012

BBA Linkfest - Harper's Ferry Generals

Welcome to another Thursday edition of the BBA Linkfest where we travel around the world of the General Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. The General Chapter sounds like such a boring kind of thing, but it is not! It is simply a term meaning that the writers who comprise the chapter write about general baseball topics and do not focus on one specific team. There is great writing going on here. Please click a few links and see what talented writing can be found here.

Let's start our round trip with The Platoon Advantage. This site is a must stop for baseball content. And TCM's piece about the Twins' aversion to strikeout pitchers is just one of the very many examples.

Absolutely loved this Sully piece over at Sully Baseball that gives you each teams' most recent no-hitter. Of course, the Angels had one last night.

In an absolutely beautiful piece of writing, Mike Viso of Through the Fence Baseball sees a lot of the Josh Hamilton story in Evan Gattis. 

Scott Engel of the X-Log does a thoroughly professional job with his inside look at the Detroit Tigers. Super.

Missed this last week for some reason. One of this linker's favorite follows on Twitter is @ladywezen who is Larry Granillo's main squeeze. She is also a great writer in her own right as this celebration of Fenway Park's 100th anniversary. From

Eugene Tierney has a fantastic piece over at 85% Sports on Minor League drug suspensions. Man, there is goods stuff around the chapter this week!

Sooze over at Babes Love Baseball has a get well card for Evan Longoria, who will miss a large chunk of time with an injury.

The proprietor of The Ball Caps Blog has a problem with the San Francisco Giants' uniform numbering system. 

Have told you once and will tell you again, nobody does game recaps better than Stevo-sama of The Baseball Enthusiast. Here is yet another example.

Baseball Unrated celebrates the arrival of Bryce Harper. The kid is off to a good start.

FHPromos of Baseballism had a Twitter debate about booing. Which side do you fall on?

Justin Jabs watched a great night of baseball and takes us along for the ride on his Baseblog site. Fun post.

Aaron Somers is back from honeymooning and caught up on some reading. His book review can be found on Blogging From the Bleachers.

Kyle Davis of Call to the Pen has a hysterical take on Tim Welke's blown call at first base. Laughed a lot reading this one.

Loved this Mario Salvini post on great uniform moments from time. Super stuff. Check it out on Che Palle!

Matt Whitener of Cheap.Seats.Please. tickled all this Fan's warm spots with a post on Derek Jeter. 

Curley Bender of Crum-Bum Beat (one of the favorite things to type each week) thinks the Atlanta Braves are really good. 

TheNaturalMevs of Diamond Hoggers has found the next Nostradamus and has the text messages to prove it. Who knew it would be another of our chapter's writers!?

Dugout24 talks about donuts...the Prince Fielder kind and the batting kind.

Hersh over at For Baseball Junkies agrees with Joe Sheehan that we should get rid of the save statistic. Disagree in the whole but they've got a point.

The Baseball Index needs to stop making MVP picks. For the second year in a row, that site's pick has a major injury.

Grubby Glove has a great post on a Topps giveaway that actually worked. Fun read.

Any article about Bo Jackson is an "in" for this reader. But The Hall of Very Good has a unique one that is indeed special. Bo knows how to give his heart.

Theo of Hot Corner Harbor ponders how history will remember the careers of Paul Konerko and Johnny Damon. Great read.

Left Field has an update on his new beers resolution. Great writing, but will never get the taste of the stuff. Blech. Then again, this superb writer also likes Crazy Horse. Brothers don't always agree about stuff.

Ryan Smith has an excellent post over at Major League A**holes stating that it is not too early to call Albert Pujols a bust for the Angels.

Jonathan Mitchell has a great piece up at MLB Dirt on NL minor league players that are begging to be called up (with their play that is).

This Fan has a love/hate relationship with other fans fortunate enough to go on treks to all 30 Major League ballparks. Navin Vaswani had a wonderful such trip a couple of years ago. Chuck Booth has done it twice! Dadgum him! But we can share his adventures vicariously in his latest report to MLB Reports. Much fun.

Nik of Niktig's Baseball Blog reports on Bryan LaHair's monster April. Happy for the guy. Paid his dues.

Old Time Family Baseball reviews a movie called "Knuckleball." Oh man, hope that comes out on disc some time! 

And last, but certainly not least, Mark Zell of the Pop Fly Boys has a super post on what teams should be panicking as the calendar rolls from April into May. 

Have a great week, everyone!

Game Picks - Thursday: May 3, 2012

Congratulations, Jered Weaver! A no-hitter! And that's for making that pick correct. It might have made the difference in a day just barely over .500. But the Yankees lost again to a good, young pitcher, the Red Sox lost to a guy that should have been picked. You could see the conflict in the pick yesterday. Always stick with the gut reaction, William! Justin Verlander lost. Jeff Suppan won (what!?). The Indians continue to be the confusing team. And Clayton Kershaw gave up three homers. Oh, come now. And, finally, after coming around to finally pick Joe Saunders, his team loses!

Those bad picks masked some really good ones. The Blue Jays were a great pick as was Samardzija and the Cubs. The Astros over the Mets was a good pick. And the Braves over Doc Halladay was a good pick, though there was no clue such a donnybrook would break out.

Today is one of those intimate Thursdays with only nine games on the schedule, but five of them are day games. Love that. Here are today's picks:
  • The Phillies over the Braves: Not a big believer here in Randall Delgado and Joe Blanton pitched well in his last outing. After getting piled on for his game-winning homer yesterday, Chipper Jones will probably sit today but that is just a guess. He does make a difference in that lineup.
  • The Reds over the Cubs: Have not picked one Homer Bailey game correctly all season. He should win today. Ryan Dempster is coming off the disabled list to face him and that is always a concern.
  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: The Cards are just too good a team for the Pirates. Jake Westbrook has been good. Erik Bedard has been decent for the Pirates but the Cards will get to him.
  • The Marlins over the Giants: Two teams struggling offensively. The pick here is that Anibal Sanchez is a better pitcher than Ryan Vogelsong. Could the Marlins sweep a series?
  • The Diamondbacks over the Nationals: Hate this pick. These are two of this Fan's favorite NL teams and two of the favorite pitchers are pitching in Ian Kennedy and Ross Detwiler. Sticking with Ian Kennedy.
  • The White Sox over the Indians: Have no idea what to do with this series. The first two games resulted in bad picks. Justin Masterson has lost velocity. John Danks is up and down. Who the heck knows.
  • The Yankees over the Royals: Nervous about Dan Duffy and that sore elbow. Also nervous about David Phelps getting his first start. The Yankees are beat up but the Royals are the Royals. Tough one.
  • The Blue Jays over the Angels: Brandon Morrow is starting to put it together. And when he does, he is one talented pitcher. So is Dan Haren. But the Jays can hit better than the Angels. Another tough game to call.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Rays over the Mariners: The Rays never lose these days. The last time they did, Jeff Niemann was the pitcher. He pitches today, but has a good career track record against the M's (SSS). Kevin Millwood goes for the Mariners. Not making the obvious jokes here.
Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 28-27
Month: 14-15
Season: 203-164
Games of the Day: 16-11

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

David Wright quietly having great season

The New York Mets really seem to be out of the mainstream of baseball discourse. Who talks about them besides the thousands of New York Mets bloggers? We might have heard a few things about Santana and his comeback. We might have heard about Davis and his slow start. But the Mets are a surprising 13-11 with a team full of home grown players that few people know. We do not even hear much of David Wright these days except the occasional foray into his pending free agent status. But David Wright has been terrific thus far this season.

Would you know before this post that David Wright currently leads all of baseball with a .495 on-base percentage? That is even higher than that Kemp guy out in Los Angeles. Think about that for a second. In 21 games, David Wright has been on base for half of his plate appearances. Astounding. In those 21 games, he has not been on base in a game only once this season. And he is batting .395!

David Wright had all but disappeared for the past two seasons. His home ballpark had seemed to suck the life right out of him. In his first four full seasons with the Mets, David Wright finished in the top twenty in MVP voting every season--the last three seasons in the top ten. The last three seasons? None. After hitting 86 homers the previous three seasons, Wright sunk to just ten in 2009 when Citi Field opened. He rebounded in 2010 with 29 but he became vulnerable to strikeouts, which rose dramatically to 161. Then he only played 102 games in 2011 and hit just .254.

But there are signs that the old David Wright has made a reappearances. His strikeout rate is back down to where it was in his glory days at 15.1 percent. That rate had zoomed in the above 20 percent range for the past three seasons. But his walk rate is the highest of his career at 17.2 percent. In fact, he has walked more than he has struck out. But there is a caveat there.

Five of his sixteen walks have been intentional. With hitters behind him like Ike Davis and Lucas Duda struggling, pitchers are being careful with Wright. And when a guy is hitting .395, that is probably a smart thing to do. Davis is starting to hit some and if the Mets' first baseman can again be productive, pitchers might have to face Wright more often.

Despite the struggles of Davis and Duda, the Mets are currently second in the National League in batting and on-base percentage. Guys like Thole and Murphy are hitting really well as is their new center fielder, Nieuwenhuis (who has become the new hardest name to spell in MLB). But David Wright is again the team's leader. Wright is quietly piling up some great at bats and this can only help his case as he becomes a free agent after this season. 

Wright has been a resurrection story this season. If people haven't noticed this as of yet, they will soon if his great season continues.

Game Picks - Wednesday: May 2, 2012

Mayday! May day! The first day of May was not a good picking day. And only a late West Coast rally prevented it from being a disaster. At one point, the picks were 1-6 as the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Braves, Nationals and Mets all lost. And once again, there was a rain out. There seems to be a lot of those lately. Oh well, at least the Ricky Nolasco over Matt Cain pick was a good one.

Wednesday's picks:
  • The Blue Jays over the Rangers: Taking Ricky Romero over Matt Harrison in this one. Romero has been terrific and Harrison struggled in his last outing. Blue Jays are at home.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: Justin Verlander should cruise in this one. And all the Tigers have to do is wait out Ollie Perez...Jonathan Sanchez.
  • The Astros over the Mets: Wandy Rodriguez might be on his best stretch of pitching in his career. Chris Schwinden was allowed to pitch decently in his debut and then inexplicably left out there to give up six runs in his last inning of work. Hope Collins didn't ruin the kid.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: Drew Pomeranz had some forearm tightness in his last outing. That's not good. Plus, he faces Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw should be dominant, Coors or no.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Nationals: Let's see, this should be Edwin Jackson's off start, right? He was good his last time out. So that's right. This is Mr. Hyde's turn. Plus, can't pick against Joe Saunders anymore. Burned all season by doing that.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: Those pesky Orioles have been daunting this picker all season. Jake Arrieta has been part of that. But, hey, picking against Ivan Nova and his stupendous winning streak would be crackers.
  • The Cubs over the Reds: The Cubs and Reds were rained out yesterday. The same pitching match up is listed for today. Jeff Samardzija and Bronson Arroyo.
  • The Red Sox over the Athletics: Really want to pick Brandon McCarthy over Daniel Bard. But can't pull that trigger. The Red Sox at home. The A's have little for a lineup. Got to go Red Sox.
  • The Braves over the Phillies: Really tough one to pick. Roy Halladay versus Tommy Hanson. Both have been terrific. Toss up.
  • The Bay Rays over the Mariners: The Bay Rays just keep winning and winning. Who needs Evan Longoria? James Shields is 4-0. Still not used to him being this good. Blake Beavan is the victim in this one.
  • The White Sox over the Indians: Will likely be the debut of Johnny Damon. It won't matter. Phil Humber will beat Josh Tomlin.
  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: A.J. Burnett has already beaten the Cardinals once this year and has a good record in St. Louis. But Lance Lynn has been too good to pick against.
  • The Angels over the Twins: Wasn't it nice of the Twins to stop by and make the Angels feel better about themselves? Jered Weaver over Liam Hendriks.
  • The Marlins over the Giants: April is over, so the real Barry Zito can re-emerge. Carlos Zambrano sure is walking a lot of people. But the pick for him is easier to swallow than one for Zito.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Brewers over the Padres: It is Yovani Gallardo, who hasn't been great, but is pitching against...wait for it...Jeff Suppan. Jeff Suppan. Let that sink in a few minutes. Stir and then laugh some more.
Yesterday: 6-8
Week: 20-20
Season: 195-157
Games of the Day: 16-10

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Austin Jackson living large

One of the great joys of following baseball is watching young players develop and come into their own. Guys like Wieters for the Orioles now look totally more confident than just a couple of seasons ago. Easy outs become clutch hits. Weaknesses are mitigated. And magic happens. That is all what we are seeing from Austin Jackson this season. He has grown right before our eyes. Now in his third full season, Jackson looks more confident and his play readily reflects a player who is figuring out life in the Major Leagues.

The glaring weakness in Austin Jackson's game to this point was the strikeouts. When he made contact, good things happened. His BABIP has always been way above league average, but putting the ball in play has been the problem. And since he hits line drives at a pace above most mortals, he will always have a good BABIP. Contact was the problem. Much was made of attempts to cut down on his tendency to go down on strikes this spring. And though we've heard that before from other big-time strikeout guys, this time, it actually seems to have meant something.

In Austin Jackson's first 304 games in the majors, Jackson struck out 351 times. This season. in 21 games, he has struck out only 20 times. His 21 percent strikeout rate still seems a bit on the high side. But that is a darn sight better than the 25.8 percent he has averaged for his career. And while he is striking out less, he is walking more. His 12.8 percent walk rate is far and above his career 8.0 percent walk rate. For years, people have been talking about those silly Tigers that kept batting Jackson at the lead off position. And yes, his OBP of .317 last season did make that decision silly. But this year, his .376 on-base percentage justifies his batting order position for perhaps the first time in his career.

And this is a progression at work for Jackson. His O-swing percentage, or the percentage of pitches he swings at out of the strike zone, has decreased in each of his big league seasons. Currently at 26.7 percent, he is already getting there. But if he keeps progressing and can get that discipline down a few more percentage points, there will be no stopping him.

To see Jackson's offensive game round into something near awesome, a complete package is developing. He is already one of the most exciting center fielders in the game today. That play he almost made on Curtis Granderson on Sunday was unbelievable and no other center fielder in the game would have come close to that ball, never mind almost catch it. A case could be made that Jackson is the best fielding center fielder in baseball right now. Seriously. Name someone better.

Everything about Austin Jackson's game is better. He has the highest ISO of his career, the highest wOBA, the highest OPS, the lowest strikeout rate. There was a time as recent as last year's post season, when it was a relief to have Austin Jackson come to the plate in a big situation. A relief for the opposition that is. Now, seeing the young center fielder stride to the plate brings apprehension. 

It is early in the season. The sample size is still a big small. Let's see if Austin Jackson can keep this up. This observer thinks he can. Fangraphs currently ranks him as the third most valuable non-pitcher in baseball. And he's still not as good as he is going to be.

Game Picks - Tuesday: May 1, 2012

The first month of the Major League Baseball season is now in the books. The standings show us that the Washington Nationals are in first place in the NL East. The Los Angeles Dodgers are firmly in control in the NL West. The Cleveland Indians are in first place in the AL Central and the new and improved Angels are playing .348 baseball. Who had those facts in your office pools? Despite the topsy-turvy nature of the season, the Game Picks finished the month forty picks above .500 and the month ended on a nice 8-3 day. The only regret from yesterday was not going with James McDonald as that is what the gut was saying and the gut was ignored. But otherwise, not bad.

A full fifteen games are on the schedule today. There is no double-header for the Royals - Tigers game that was rained out yesterday. That is a break for the Tigers and not the Royals as we shall see. Here are Tuesday's picks on this first day of May:
  • The Nationals over the Diamondbacks: Jordan Zimmermann is really good. Trevor Cahill is really just sort of good. Should be a win for the Nationals at home.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: The Yankees have owned Brian Matusz. He can't get them out. Phil Hughes has not been very good. But tonight, he'll get the win if he can last five innings.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: If these two teams had played yesterday, Luke Hochevar would have faced Duane Below and would have had the advantage. The rained out game gives the opportunity to skip that start and go with Rick Porcello instead. Advantage gone.
  • The Rangers over the Blue Jays: The Rangers should have Drew Hutchison for supper and Neftali Feliz should do a decent enough job on the Blue Jays lineup. Jose Bautista has a triple slash line since September 1 of last year of .226/.379/.378. Have pitchers found something on him?
  • The Cubs over the Reds: Jeff Samardzija has been very good. Bronson Arroyo hasn't been as bad as expected. But going with Samardzija in this one.
  • The Red Sox over the Athletics: This was one of the few clunker picks from yesterday. Won't make that mistake again. Felix Doubront should beat Jarrod Parker.
  • The Braves over the Phillies: Brandon Beachy should not get too much resistance from the Phillies' lineup allowing the Braves to score two or three runs off of Cole Hamels to win the game.
  • The Mets over the Astros: After looking at the Mets' box score yesterday, the first thought was, "who are these guys?" The trouble is, the same can be said for the Astros' lineup. Jon Niese over J.A. Happ.
  • The Indians over the White Sox: You have to like the way Chris Sale is pitching for the White Sox. But the feeling here is that Ubaldo Jimenez has a good outing and out pitches Sale. Not overly confident of this pick.
  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: The Cardinals are holding steady despite some injuries. Charlie Morton will get his share of hitters to pound the ball into the dirt, but Adam Wainwright is going to win his first game of the season today.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: This one will depend on how well Ted Lilly's stuff translates at Coors Field. But Kemp and company should score their share against Jhoulys Chacin.
  • The Brewers over the Padres: The Brewers are familiar with Edinson Volquez and should score. Though the first two spots in the lineup of Weeks and Morgan really need to get going. Braun can't do it all by himself. Well, he did yesterday. But anyway, Shaun Marcum will be good enough to win.
  • The Angels over the Twins: It seems the Twins just keep sending Francisco Liriano out there to teach him a lesson. It's such an odd thing. Jerome Williams with the win.
  • The Marlins over the Giants: Ricky Nolasco loves pitching in California and his record at AT&T Park shows it. Matt Cain won't be easy though.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Bay Rays over the Mariners: If the M's could not win with Felix Hernandez yesterday, they won't win with Hector Noesi today. Matt Moore gets his first win of the season.
Yesterday: 8-3
Week: 14-12
April: 189-149
Games of the Day: 15-10

Monday, April 30, 2012

Jason Hammel is an ace?

Jason Hammel has made four starts for the Baltimore Orioles. His numbers are eye-popping. A win-loss record of 3-0 can be discounted as a misleading statistic, but not with ERA - FIP - xFIP numbers of 1.76 -2.45 - 2.78. Those are some pretty numbers. But they aren't the only ones. After a career of strikeouts and walks per nine being 6.33 and 3.10 respectively, this season, those same stats are at 8.65 and 2.77. And how about his tidy little 1.00 WHIP after a career with that statistic being at 1.45? And one last number to round out the picture: He has a home run per nine this season of 0.35 after a career of 1.03 in that category. So what is going on here?

You have to remember that all of us...yes ALL of us...laughed at the Orioles for basically trading Jeremy Guthrie straight up for Jason Hammel. What were they thinking? And there was a basis for the laughter. Hammel had a career ERA of 4.88. And that could not even be explained for pitching half his games at Coors Field in Colorado. Sure, he had career ERA of 4.97 there. But his road ERA of 4.79 on the road was not much better. And he actually had a better winning percentage at home in Coors than he did on the road. So, yeah, there was reason for skepticism. But Hammel has made a monkey out of us all and has made the Orioles look brilliant. So again, what is the difference between this Jason Hammel and the old one?

Ground balls and strikeouts. Those are the differences. The strikeouts have already been discussed. Hammel's swinging strike percentage is up by three percentage points and his contact rate is down from a career 82.7 percent down to 75.7 percent. That would certainly account for the strikeouts. But even more glaring is the ground balls.

For his career, Jason Hammel has averaged 45.5 percent of his batted balls being grounders and 34 percent being fly balls. This season, those percentages are 61.8 percent and 23.5 percent respectively. For his career, Hammel has a 1.34 ground ball to fly ball ratio. This season, it is 2.63. That is an amazing turnabout. And, sure, four starts scream small sample size at us, but still. These are trends that bode well for a starter that has seemingly reinvented himself.

Pitch/FX data shows that Hammel has converted himself from a four-seam fastball kind of guy to a two-seam fastball kind of guy. He really started developing the latter last season when he threw the pitch 13.1 percent of the time. But he still threw the four-seam fastball 47.5 percent of the time. This year, the data shows that he is throwing the four-seam fastball only 20.9 percent and is throwing the two-seam variety (known also as a sinker), 40.5 percent of the time. He is also throwing his slider more and less curves and change ups. What we see here is a different pitcher from the past and so far, it shows.

Jason Hammel will have a big test against the Yankees tonight. His starts thus far have come against the Blue Jays (twice), the Twins and the White Sox. All of those teams have had offensive struggles. His start against the Yankees will tell us a bit more what we have here. But to this point, Jason Hammel has looked like an ace for the Baltimore Orioles and that comes as a major surprise.

Game Picks - Monday: April 30, 2012

Sunday didn't go very well in the game picking department. No, it did not go well at all. As such, on this last day of April, this picker will quickly put that day in the rear view mirror and look forward. After all, May is when spring officially starts here in Maine. Better days are coming.

Monday's picks:
  • The Marlins over the Diamondbacks: Patrick Corbin makes his Major League debut for the Diamondbacks removing Josh Collmenter from the rotation. While this picker applauds the latter fact, picking a newbie has always been problematic. Instead, the pick is for Mark Buehrle to have a good game and win.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: Obviously, the Orioles are no pushovers this season and Jason Hammel is one of the reasons why. But he is not going to win all of his starts this season. Hiroki Kuroda will pitch well and win.
  • The Phillies over the Cubs: Vance Worley will be the difference in this game. His chances of winning seem infinitely better than Chris Volstad.
  • The Royals over the Tigers: The Tigers are reeling a little bit these days. There are holes in their lineup and are forced to start Duane Below today. Below has been terrific in long relief. But will that success translate well to starting? Luke Hochevar looks solid this season and if he can get Cabrera and Fielder out, should have a good game.
  • The Rangers over the Blue Jays: The way that Yu Darvish pitched against the Yankees, how can you ever pick against him? Kyle Drabek has been decent, but he won't be against this Rangers' lineup.
  • The Athletics over the Red Sox: Clay Buchholz has been missing his change up and can't get his fastball down. Lots of homers have resulted. Tommy Milone on the other hand, has been terrific. A lot will depend on if Milone can pound the strike zone and hold down the Red Sox.
  • The Braves over the Pirates: If the Pirates could score some runs for James McDonald, that would be the pick. But they won't score many against Mike Minor and as good as McDonald has been, the Braves will score a run or more better than the Pirates will.
  • The Bay Rays over the Mariners: The Bay Rays seem pretty darn unbeatable at this point. So despite Felix Hernandez on the mound, the Rays behind Jeremy Hellickson should win again.
  • The Astros over the Mets: The thought here is that Bud Norris should pitch well against the Mets and R.A. Dickey will bend enough to allow the Astros to win.
  • The Rockies over the Dodgers: Aaron Harang has a swollen big toe and pitching in Coors will be no fun for him. Juan Nicasio has shown glimpses of being terrific and can hold the Dodgers down a bit.
  • The Angels over the Twins: Two struggling teams. C.J. Wilson will be the difference in this one and should have no trouble getting the win over Nick Blackburn, who has an ERA over seven.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Brewers over the Padres: Randy Wolf will win this one and wish he pitched at Petco all the time. Joe Wieland has not won a start yet and that will continue in this one.
Yesterday: 6-9
Week: 6-9
Season: 181-146
Games of the Day: 14-10

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Game Picks - Sunday: April 29, 2012

Let's get this out of the way right from the start. Picking the Yankees to win when Freddy Garcia was starting goes down as the stupidest pick in the history of this feature. The day was above .500 but how much better could it have been if Stephen Strasburg had been given some runs and Adam Kennedy hasn't been let down by his bullpen? Strasburg has now started 22 games in his career and picked up his tenth no-decision. What a waste. Do you know what his ERA is in those ten no-decisions? How about 1.44. Again, what a waste. Two things must happen. One, the opposing pitcher really focuses because he knows Strasburg won't give up many runs. And secondly, his team plays tighter than a snare drum. The extra-inning loss to the Dodgers also ruined Bryce Harper's debut. The kid went one for three with a ribby from a sac fly.

Oh, there were some good picks in there. The Angels won...finally. The Reds won behind Johnny Cueto as predicted. The Mets won as predicted as did the Cardinals and Blue Jays on a big game from Brandon Morrow. Wei-Lin Chen was fantastic for the Orioles, but the pick was the A's. Oops. The Rangers did win behind Colby Lewis as predicted. Joe Maddon left Jeff Niemann in the game one inning too long. Jake Peavy held the Red Sox about as good as you can hold a hot hitting team. But Jon Lester was even better and the pick went south to the tune of a 1-0 Red Sox win.

The Game of the Day feature has been awful streaky. It was correct seven days in a row. Now it has been incorrect for three days in a row. The Nats were the Game of the Week pick. Matt Kemp ruined that with his walk-off homer. How good is Vin Scully? On the call, Scully announces the homer and then stays quiet as Kemp frolicked and the crowd chanted, "MVP!" Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. Scully is a national treasure.

Okay, Sunday, here we come. A new week begins. The Royals - Twins were rained out yesterday and won't make up the game on Sunday. So fifteen games it is. Here are the picks:
  • The Angels over the Indians: This picker is calling it. Pujols hits his first homer of the year off of Derek Lowe. Ervin Santana wins his first game of the year too.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: This picker is still steamed that the Yanks pitched Garcia yesterday. What a crock. C.C. Sabathia beats Max Scherzer in the series finale.
  • The Blue Jays over the Mariners: Henderson Alverez has pitched so well and has nothing to show for it. The Blue Jays fix that today and beat Jason Vargas.
  • The Marlins over the Diamondbacks: If Josh Johnson pitches like he did last time, the Marlins win. Wade Miley is good too, but going with Johnson and the Fish at home.
  • The Reds over the Astros: The Astros brought up Jordan Lyles to start the game. Won't work. The Reds will jump all over him and Mat Latos will win.
  • The Cubs over the Phillies: Matt Garza should shut down the feeble Phillies attack and the Phillies start Kyle Kendrick. Not a good idea.
  • The Athletics over the Orioles: Probably should go with the Orioles, but if Bartolo Colon is strong, the A's could steal this one as the Orioles start Tommy Hunter.
  • The Pirates over the Braves: Tim Hudson makes his first start of the season off the DL. Never like those situations. Going with Kevin Corriea instead.
  • The Royals over the Twins: Save pitching match up as yesterday. Bruce Chen still beats Jason Marquis.
  • The Cardinals over the Brewers: Can you say, "Sweep"? Even with Zack Greinke going for the Brew Crew, they lose a tight one to Jaime Garcia and company.
  • The Mets over the Rockies: This picker doesn't want either Jamie Moyer or Johan Santana to lose. Both great stories this season. But one of them wins and the other doesn't. Think it will be Santana.
  • The Giants over the Padres: Still have no faith in Clayton Richard. On the other hand, there is a lot of faith in Madison Bumgarner
  • The Nationals over the Dodgers: Let's try this again. Gio Gonzalez is back in California and has been terrific thus far. He matches up against Chris Capuano. This game will depend on how patient the Nats are with Capuano. And the Nats aren't the most patient of teams.
  • The Rangers over the Bay Rays: David Price has picked it up a notch, but the Rangers should get to him. Derek Holland will have to be good though.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Red Sox over the White Sox: The Red Sox are not dead. They are doing the same thing as last year. Slow start and then boom. The White Sox have so many holes in the lineup, that Josh Beckett won't have any trouble. Gavin Floyd gets cuffed around a bit.
Yesterday: 8-6
Last Week: 51-39
Season: 175-137
Games of the Day: 14-9