Saturday, September 03, 2011

Respect for Livan Hernandez

Mark Townsend over at Big League Stew wrote a great piece on the Washington Nationals' decision to shut down Livan Hernandez as a starter so they could evaluate what they have for young pitchers the rest of the season. For the Nationals, who have little to play for in September, this makes perfect sense. While this season is a wash, the Nationals do need to know where their future lies and let's face it, Livan Hernandez might or might not be thirty-six years old. What is surprising is the grace that Livan has displayed while taking this news.

Livan Hernandez has been the source of much ridicule in this space. Some of it was probably fair and in retrospect, much of it was probably not. The truth of the matter is that Livan Hernandez is not an elite starting pitcher. But that doesn't mean he has been an ineffective one. His 2.1 fWAR this season ranks him twenty-first in the National League. According to his fWAR, Hernandez has been more valuable than Ryan Vogelsong, Kyle Lohse, R.A. Dickey and Bud Norris (to name a few). 2011 marked the fourteenth straight season that Livan Hernandez has made at least 28 or more starts. That's remarkable consistency and durability. He's making a paltry million dollars this season and yet his pitching has been valued by Fangraphs at $9.4 million. In other words, the Nationals aren't just asking an old pitcher to step aside. They are asking a solid starting pitcher to stop pitching. Yeah, he throws an 84 MPH fastball, but so what?

The Nationals have no plans to pitch Livan from the bullpen. All they want him to do is mentor the young pitchers and take a turn pinch-hitting once in a while. Most pitchers would scream and kick at such a move. Heck, even his half-brother, Orlando, would probably kick at being asked to step aside like Livan. But if you read the "Stew" piece, Hernandez has an extreme loyalty to the Nationals and their GM, Mike Rizzo. He felt he was helped when he was young and he's willing to help others. For a guy who can still pitch to take a stance like this is refreshing. And this Fan accords him all the respect he deserves for handling this so terrifically.

For all the fun this writer has had at Livan's expense, this writer doesn't want to see Livan go away. There has been something quietly comforting in knowing Livan has been out there year after year making his 28 to 33 starts. He looks like a construction worker (no offense) and throws like a beer league player. But he competes and he succeeds at least half the time. There is value to that and as long as he's been compensated fairly, he's given each team he's pitched for their money's worth. Watching young pitchers and their 95 MPH fastballs develop is fun and exciting. But it's never comfortable. When that young pitcher has a hundred pitches logged by the fifth or sixth inning, it can be a drag. Watching Livan Hernandez pitch has been like reaching into a drawer for your favorite sweat shirt. It may not look good, but it sure is comforting.

Good for you, Livan. Much respect to you. But this writer hopes your days as a starting pitcher aren't over.

Game Picks - Saturday: September 3, 2011

Labor Day Weekend is turning into a labor picking games. Those dang Cardinals have become this vortex of bad picking. Pick them to lose and they win. Pick them to win and they lose. This time, Chris Carpenter came up a crapper. One pick was brilliant though. It was predicted that Derek Holland would come up big against the Red Sox and did he ever. That is how to pitch to the Red Sox. Aggressive and don't walk anyone. Well done. Ivan Nova won again for the Yankees. Riding him like a jockey in an ostrich race.

The Astros had the Brewers, 2-0 after six innings. Unfortunately, this isn't Little League and they play nine innings. Final score, 8-2. Good pick. Brandon Beachy had the Braves in good shape when he was pulled. Chad Billingsley was terrible as predicted. But the Braves' bullpen blew the game. How many times has that happened this year? Try none. Bad pick. David Price was brilliant through six innings. But again, games go nine innings. Price blew the game and the pick in the seventh. The Twins whacked Tyler Chatwood. Good pick. And as always, Justin Verlander was a good pick.

And thus it went. Up. Down. Up. Down. Oh well. Perhaps Saturday will get the picker over this mini slump:

  • The Pirates over the Cubs: This first pick is a stinker. It's Ross Ohlendorf and his 6.27 ERA versus Casey Coleman and his 7.10 ERA. Oy vey.
  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: The Jays will feature their best pitcher in Ricky Romero and Bartolo Colon is a risk against a fastball hitting team. But the Yankees at home are tough.
  • The Athletics over the Mariners: Brandon McCarthy has been dominant lately but faces a well-rested Michael Pineda. Could be a bullpen game with the edge to the A's.
  • The White Sox over the Tigers: Ozzie's team doesn't give up and Gavin Floyd should be better than Brad Penny.
  • The Cardinals over the Reds: Hmm...Should just go opposites in this game. But still thinking Jaime Garcia wins at home over Homer Bailey. Bailey should give up a couple of gophers.
  • The Red Sox over the Rangers: Erik Bedard should be better than Colby Lewis in this one, especially with the Red Sox at home.
  • The Bay Rays over the Orioles: Tough game to call. Alfredo Simon has been pretty good for the Orioles and Wade Davis got roughed up in his last start. The Rays have trouble hitting at home. Thinking here is that the Rays win a close one with Farnsworth getting a save.
  • The Brewers over the Astros: Chris Narveson has missed time with a cut on his hand. How well he pitches will decide this game as Bud Norris will keep the Astros in the game.
  • The Mets over the Nationals: Dillon Gee is the Ivan Nova of the Mets. The guy hardly ever loses. Tom Milone makes his major league debut for the Nats.
  • The Indians over the Royals: This one will be close as David (Hassle) Huff and Luke Hochevar have been pitching well. The Indians will find a way to win while the Royals will find a way to lose.
  • The Braves over the Dodgers: A battle of good young pitchers as Mike Minor out duels Nathan Eovaldi. Beware of Minor's sixth inning though.
  • The Padres over the Rockies: Will take Cory Luebke at home any day of the week. Alex White has struggled with the Rockies but will pitch well in San Diego.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Giants: Yes, Ian Kennedy will out pitch Tim Lincecum. That's right. He will.
  • The Angels over the Twins: Jared Weaver is back for the Angels and that should mean a win over the struggling Brian Duensing.

And the Game of the Day! 

  • The Phillies over the Marlins: Cole Hamels just has to get Mike Stanton out and the Phillies win over Ricky (Go Figure) Nolasco.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 53-30
Month: 12-14
Season: 1136-914
Games of the Day: 96-55

Friday, September 02, 2011

A Few More BBA Links

Three more links for you. Both features are worth reading!

Over at the Ball Caps Blog, Daniel ponders the dearth of offense in the western U.S.

Robbie Clark over at Baseblawg wonders if it is time for a female GM in baseball with the Cubs' job open.

And Jonathan Mitchell (me hombre) over at MLB Dirt asks why a pitcher can't win the map. Don't know what that means? You'll have to read it!

Game Picks - Friday: September 2, 2011

This game picker had his face squashed by yesterday's picks. Perhaps that was just punishment for challenging the Yankees' manhood. If so, perhaps it was deserved. In fact, one of those bad picks was the Red Sox who actually lost a game that A.J. Burnett started. Interesting. Elsewhere, little went right, or at least according to this picker's thoughts. Gio Gonzalez became the kind of pitcher that this picker thought all those times the picks for him went sour. Go Figure. Forty year old Miguel Bautista won a game. Amazing. A Dodger's rookie pitcher pitched the game of his life. Where did that come from? In the Royals - Tigers game, starters Jacob Turner and Danny Duffy had nothing. Then Aaron Crow had nothing. And then the Royals said, "Coke me." And Coke choked. Sheesh.

So September didn't exactly start on the right foot. Bob Netherton is probably chuckling that another Brewers' pick went south. Ahem. But even with a bad night last night, the week is still a good one. Let's just forget yesterday happened and focus on Friday's picks shall we?

  • The Cubs over the Pirates: Brian Burres makes the start for the Pirates. He was 5-9 with an ERA near five in Triple A. Hardly inspiring. Ryan Dempster is usually a good pick at home.
  • The Tigers over the White Sox: Until somebody beats him, Justin Verlander has to get the pick. John Danks goes for the White Sox.
  • The Nationals over the Mets: Ross Detwiler was rhapsodized here in this place and then went out and threw a stinker. Time to make up for making this picker look silly, Mr. Detwiler. R.A. Dickey won't be in-vested in this time. Did you get it? Oh, never mind.
  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: Brandon Morrow is like a young A.J. Burnett, which means he could very well shut down the Yankees, right? But Ivan Nova is the Yankees' good luck charm.
  • The Bay Rays over the Orioles: David Price is back to pitching goose eggs. Zach Britton was good his last time out too. The Bay Rays struggle offensively, so the Price better be right.
  • The Phillies over the Marlins: Brad Hand is a lefty. That's the only thing good you can say about this match up with Roy Oswalt.
  • The Rangers over the Red Sox: Andrew Miller is a lefty and without Nelson Cruz, the perpetually injured outfielder, the Rangers are vulnerable. Kevin Youkilis is back for the Red Sox. So why is this picker picking the Rangers? Derek Holland comes up big.
  • The Braves over the Dodgers: Chad Billingsley is just ordinary on the road. Brandon Beachy, meanwhile, has been blowing the place up lately.
  • The Indians over the Royals: The Fan keeps blithely picking the Indians like they are a good team or something. The Royals are playing good baseball and feature Bruce Chen and his voodoo pitching. But Justin Masterson might win this game all by himself.
  • The Cardinals over the Reds: Okay, Cardinals, you win. You're not dead yet. Chris Carpenter over Johnny Cueto.
  • The Padres over the Rockies: Aaron Harang was born to pitch in San Diego. Kevin Millwood was born to be sucking down milkshakes at his age.
  • The Twins over the Angels: Jared Weaver went to a funeral. That'll teach the Angels to pitch him on short rest. Tyler Chatwood is about the same as Carl Pavano, meaning the Twins have a chance to win.
  • The Athletics over the Mariners: Guillermo Moscoso won't soon forget his trip to Boston. But the Mariners are no Red Sox. And Jason Vargas looks lost.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Giants: Let's see...Joe Saunders beat the Padres. The Padres hit better than the Giants. Matt Cain is good to give up two to three runs. Sounds right.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Brewers over the Astros: Lucas Harrell is starting for the Astros. Who? Apparently he is a guy the Astros claimed on waivers from the White Sox. He has a good minor league record. But odds are that he is a AAAA pitcher. Either way, Zack Greinke wins.

Yesterday: 4-7
Week: 44-23
Month: 4-7
Season: 1128-917
Games of the Day: 95-55

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Yankee Pitchers Lack Cahones.

This is a rant. In fairness to you loyal readers, you need to know in advance that there is no statistical evidence to back up this claim. It's simply an organic response to watching another pathetic performance by a Yankees' pitcher against their rival Boston Red Sox. Even stud pitcher, C.C. Sabathia turns into a pile of goo when facing the Red Sox and it's embarrassing to watch. Yes, the Red Sox are an offensive juggernaut. No doubt. But they are missing a few gears lately and it hasn't mattered. Please remember that it was the Yankees and their starting pitchers that got the Red Sox out of their early April swoon and sent the Red Sox on to their season of domination. Not kicking that team when it was down was an ultimate Yankees loss in this mega-game of chicken. And yes, this writer is questioning a pitching staff's manhood.

After watching these games all season, Yankee pitchers too often lack the killer instinct. They get Boston batters into pitcher's counts and then fail to put them away. By the time the at bats end, the Red Sox hitters end up in hitter's counts and then do their damage from there. This disease of the Yankees starts with A.J. Burnett but has spread to the rest of the team. The symptoms? Start by dominating the at bat with an 0-2 count on great pitches. Then nibble your way into a 1-2 count, then a 2-2 count and then a 3-2 count and then whirl around quickly to see where the next mashed hit goes. It's incredible really. Last night, Burnett's prime disciple, Phil Hughes, took his turn down this merry path.

This symptom really shows prominently against David Ortiz but is not limited to him. If this Fan had a dollar for every time the Yankees got Ortiz into an 0-2 count only to fiddle around until they either walked the guy or allowed him seven pitches to find one he likes, a fresh tank of gas could be purchased at the gas station. And gas ain't cheap these days.

The Yankees and the Red Sox are sort of like the U.S. and Japan. After defeating that country in World War II, the Americans helped rebuild the nation they defeated and taught them to the point where the Japanese became better students than the teacher. The Red Sox looked up at the Yankees in the standings for years and then finally learned the secret. They watched the Yankees in those late 1990s and early aughts wear down pitching staffs by getting them deep into counts. The Yankees still employ this strategy, but the Red Sox do it better now. And the Red Sox are beating the Yankees at their own game. The Yankees should know this. But instead of pounding the strike zone through the entire at bat, they allow the Red Sox to work deeper into the count and then do damage.

Some would call the Yankees pitching this way as not giving in to the Red Sox hitters. Bull feces! Not giving in to them would mean making quality pitches in a manly fashion once you are ahead in the count. It doesn't mean throwing the ball eight inches outside and hoping the ump is having a bad day.

Tonight, A.J. Burnett gets the ball to face the Red Sox. Watch history repeat itself if you'd like. This writer won't be watching.

BBA Link Fest

Your faithful Flagrant Fan is the new president of the general chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). The poor blighters. Anyway, the general chapter is the chapter that features sites that don't just follow one team. They are generalists. As this writer well knows, it's a tougher row to hoe as it's much easier to build a following when a fan base comes built in. Presiding over these great members is an honor as there are terrific writers among this group that you should add to your daily list of must-read sites. What follows is a a list of links from some of their best stuff in the past week. Do this old Fan a favor and right click on the links and open the posts in a new tab.

Bryan (the other baseball writer in Maine) over at Replacement Level Baseball Blog ponders in prose on whether there is a regional bias in Hall of Fame selections. He might be on to something.

Blaine Bontz over at the Call to the Pen does a great job of summarizing the National League MVP contenders. So glad he included Joey Votto!

Daniel over at the always entertaining Ball Caps Blog likes what he sees of the new look Houston Astros. Not sure they are the wave of the future or just MLB on the cheap, but Daniel has a good take.

Diamond Hoggers pays worthy tribute to Vin Scully, the Dodgers' broadcaster in honor of Scully announcing he will be back next year for his 63rd season. Great job here!

Theo over at Hot Corner Harbor apologizes for not posting much lately and atones by giving us a great piece on Jim Thome. Worth waiting for!

Bill over at The Platoon Advantage is on a serious roll. His latest work renames the divisions in baseball much like the NHL divisions are named. Highly entertaining.

This links page will be a weekly feature and will appear here every Thursday.

Game Picks - Thursday: September 1, 2011

The month of August ended with an ear-splitting bang as the picks went 25-5 in the final two days of the month. Yesterday concluded with only three bad picks for the entire day. One, as Mr. Netherton pointed out, featured the Cardinals who won behind Jake Westbrook. Westbrook not only pitched well, but did this. Another bad pick was the White Sox whose Jake Peavy gave up six runs in the first inning. The Twins held on (barely) to win 7-6. The last bad pick of the night owes an apology to J.A. Happ of the Astros. He limited the Pirates to four lonely base runners and killed that pick. The Astros scored two runs, one on an error and one on a bunt. Scintillating.

But that was it. There were lots of great picks. The Indians pick was a lucky one as it took sixteen innings for them to bring that pick home. But this picker did say that game would be a squeaker and sixteen innings would certainly qualify for that in spades. One unfortunate correct pick featured the Reds and Dontrelle Willis. The guy is pitching great for the Reds and can't buy a win. The Reds could play a thousand games against the Phillies and never win a game.

September is a beautiful month here in northern Maine. By the end of the month, the colors will be amazing. But it's bittersweet because we don't get a very long summer here and by the end of this month, it will be long past time to put the shorts away. Oh well, at least there will be lots of baseball. As the month begins, let's consider the picks on the first day of September:

  • The Indians over the Athletics: Gio Gonzalez normally would silence an offense like Cleveland's. But he's not been himself this season and has struggled more often than not. Fausto Carmona is no lock as a pick either.
  • The Phillies over the Reds: This game at least offers the Reds a chance as Vance Worley hasn't pitched well in day games and the Phillies will probably rest a regular or two after a night game. But the Phillies will still win. Mike Leake goes for the Reds.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Tommy Hunter is pitching okay for the Orioles and at least goes deep into games for them. But the Blue Jays' bats have come alive a little bit and Luis Perez is pitching well since he got in the rotation.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: The Tigers' top prospect, Jacob Turner, gets the call in this game and he's a good one. He'll pitch well and the Tigers will score enough off Danny Duffy to win.
  • The Pirates over the Dodgers: Brad Lincoln made this picker look foolish in his last outing hence this pick. The Pirates are also helped by the Dodgers featuring Dana Eveland on the mound. Eveland has just a so-so minor league career.
  • The Brewers over the Cardinals: Take that, Mr. Netherton! Brandon Dickson (another Brandon!) goes for the Cardinals. The young Dickson has looked good in a couple of relief outings but starting against the Brewers is a whole other kettle of fish. Yovani Gallardo has turned in on in the last month or so and starts today for the Brewers.
  • The Marlins over the Mets: The Mets are starting Miguel Buatista. Miguel Bautista!? This guy has had more major league lives than a cat. The Mets will be his eleventh MLB team. Bautista may or may not be forty years old. Meanwhile, the Marlins will counter with Clay Hensley.
  • The Red Sox over the Yankees: How irresponsible is it for the Yankees to keep putting A.J. Burnett on the mound? Will Jesus Montero be behind the plate? Won't matter. Jon Lester with the easy win as Burnett will implode at some point.
  • The Nationals over the Braves: Tim Hudson doesn't seem to finish seasons well. He struggled mightily in his last start. On the Nationals' side, Chien-Ming Wang gets better and better with each start.
  • The Rangers over the Bay Rays: Two good pitchers in this one with C.J. Wilson versus Jeff Niemann. The Rangers will prevail at home behind Wilson.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Angels over the Mariners: Charlie Furbush is better at home, but the Angels should win behind Ervin Santana who hopefully wasn't ruined by pitching on three days rest his last outing.

Yesterday: 12-3
Week: 40-16
August Final Tally: 250-169 (59.7 percent)
Season: 1124-910 (55.3 percent)
Games of the Day: 94-55 (63 percent)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Scott Feldman - Rangers Secret Weapon?

Scott Feldman held the Tampa Bay Rays to two singles and a walk in six innings of work on Tuesday night. Does that mean anything in the Rangers' grand scheme of things? Should it? All those are interesting questions as the Rangers forge ahead toward their second straight division title (if they can hold off the Angels, that is). Feldman has gone from 2010's Opening Day starter to non-existent since the trade deadline of last year. But his performance opens some thoughts.

First off, Feldman probably wasn't quite as good as his 2009 season indicated. He did go 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA and that looks pretty darn solid. But his batting average on balls in play indicate a bit of luck in the process. His low strikeouts per nine combined with that BABIP of .273 meant that Feldman's FIP was +23 of his actual ERA. Conversely, Feldman wasn't quite as bad as his 7-11 record last year with that alarming 5.48 ERA. In that case, his BABIP was unlucky at .327. His strikeouts per nine went even lower, but in this case, his FIP was actually -75. His FIP seems to indicate that he wasn't that much worse in 2010 than he was in 2009.

It seems pretty obvious looking at everything that Scott Feldman wasn't overly healthy last year. His velocity dipped two MPH from 2009 to 2010. His two-seam fastball still had lots of movement, but with less velocity, he didn't get away with as much as he did the previous season. Feldman had off-season knee surgery so it is reasonable to assume that his loss of velocity was due to a bad wheel. Further evidence of that seems to be in the lowest ground ball rate of his career and 30 point rise in his HR/9.

Feldman's sample size is extremely small this season, so it's hard to build a great case here. But his velocity is back where it was in 2009. His ground ball rate is back in spades. You wouldn't expect him to be able to maintain a ground ball rate of 68.2 percent! His career average is 47 percent and that is a realistic number. You also can't expect him to continue with the lowest line drive and highest infield popup rates of his career either. But the small sample size does seem to indicate that the guy can still pitch.

So what do the Rangers do with him? He's signed to make another $6.5 million next year and has a $9.25 million option for 2013 (with an albeit really cheap buyout). That's pretty pricey for a pitcher that the Rangers don't seem to have much use for. Perhaps a trade will be likely. After a successful couple of outings toward the end of this year, a lot of teams might have their interest piqued by a guy who has won 17 games before.

But let this writer make a bold statement. Scott Feldman is a better bet than Colby Lewis. Don't get this writer wrong. Colby Lewis is loved here for his story and what he did to get back in the majors. But he's homer prone and his BABIP is not sustainable. Thus his performance is inconsistent. Lewis had a brilliant run in the post season last season and you can't take that away from him. But going forward, if you have an infield of Beltre at third, Andrus at short and Kinsler at second, wouldn't you rather have a ground ball machine pitching than a fly ball pitcher like Lewis?

If this writer was in charge of the Rangers, Feldman would get another couple of starts. Rest your starters who have been toiling in the heat all summer. If nothing else, you build trade value for Feldman. Or perhaps, you can see a fresh pitcher who might actually be a better option going into the post-season.

Game Picks - Wednesday: August 31, 2011

Yesterday was one of the best picking days in the history of this site. And it would have been perfect if not for two slights on pitchers that had great performances. Both Jeanmar Gomez of the Indians and Edwin Jackson of the Cardinals deserve apologies for being slighted here yesterday. Those were the only two incorrect picks. The only real lucky pick was the Orioles coming back on the Blue Jays and winning in extra innings. The rest were like this picker saw them. What a day!

How is a picker to follow that! Well, you can't. But the picks must go on:
Last day of August!

  • The Tigers over the Royals: Felipe Paulino has been solid for the Royals. This pick is more about Rick Porcello and his ability to force the good young bats of the Royals to pound the ball into the ground.
  • The White Sox over the Twins: Scott Diamond was a victim of poor managing from Gardenhire in his last outing as he was allowed to pitch one inning too many. He's not bad. But Jake Peavy should shut down what meager offense the Twins can offer.
  • The Dodgers over the Padres: It took most of the season to get there, but Ted Lilly has finally found his happy place. He should beat the Padres and Wade LeBlanc.
  • The Giants over the Cubs: If the Giants can't beat Rodrigo Lopez with their own Madison Bumgarner on the mound, then this season is toast anyway.
  • The Indians over the Athletics: Rick Harden isn't as bad as his last start and Ubaldo Jimenez isn't as bad as his season indicates. Indians win a squeaker.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: There is a lot going on in this game even though it's sort of meaningless. Jo-Jo Reyes faces the team that dumped him and he faces the pitcher that took his place: Henderson Alvarez. Alvarez hasn't quite put it together yet for the Blue Jays but does tonight.
  • The Mets over the Marlins: Chris Capuano threw his best game of the year last outing and it's really not a fluke. He can be really good and it's too bad his story is lost in a tough Mets' season. Meanwhile, Chris Volstad has been a disaster. What happened to him?
  • The Red Sox over the Yankees: Josh Beckett is hard to figure in his career against the Yankees. He's either been absolutely unhittable or he gets lit up like a boy scout bonfire. He doesn't have to be great today to beat Phil Hughes.
  • The Phillies over the Reds: Poor Dontrelle Willis. He's pitching his heart out keeping his team in the game while hitting the snot out of the ball at the plate and he can't buy a win. Cliff Lee keeps it that way. Look for John Mayberry, Jr. to do something grand today.
  • The Braves over the Nationals: John Lannon was pretty good his last start, but still lost. Derek Lowe was pretty good his last start and still lost. One of them has to win.
  • The Pirates over the Astros: J.A. Happ has been the most unsuccessful starting pitcher in baseball this season. John McDonald, meanwhile, is an emerging star.
  • The Bay Rays over the Rangers: This pick is a nod to James Shields, who really has had an excellent season despite his 12-10 record. His fate tonight will depend on how well Alexi Ogando pitches for the Rangers and lately he's been vulnerable.
  • The Brewers over the Cardinals: In a battle of two pretty good fifth starters, Jake Westbrook should give up slightly more runs than Randy Wolf. The Brewers are at home.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Rockies: Esmil Rogers pitched a really good game his last time out but Jim Tracy left him in there one inning too many and it unraveled. Joss Collmenter must pitch well and not walk anyone to win.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Mariners over the Angels: Felix Hernandez must be excellent, but there is no reason why he can't be. Dan Haren looked gassed in Texas in his last outing. Close game.

Yesterday: 13-2  Woot!
Week: 28-13
Month: 238-167
Season: 1112-908
Games of the Day: 93-55

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Alex Rodriguez and Intentional Walks

No matter how you may want to view Alex Rodriguez and his career, the one thing you have to admit is that he's been a prodigious slugger. One of only a handful of players to hit more than 600 homers, he also has quite a batting resume. His lifetime slash line is: .302/.386/.568. He's driven in 1884 runs and before he is done could become one of the few players ever to drive in over 2000 runs. But there is a curious thing about Alex Rodriguez and his statistics. He's only compiled 88 intentional walks in his career. Why would that be?

The intentional walk is a somewhat modern invention. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig didn't have intentional walks. Well, that's not entirely true. There have always been intentional walks. They tried without success to ban them in 1920 for example. The correct way to say this is that they only started recording intentional walks in 1955. So guys like Ruth and Gehrig were intentionally walked, but there is no way of knowing how many of their recorded walks were intentional. The 1955 date of beginning to record intentional walks is troublesome as well because that was mid-career for guys like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Ernie Banks.

But even with that said, Mays, Aaron, Mantle and Banks were all afforded the "four-finger salute" many more times than Alex Rodriguez. Again, why is that? To prove the point, take a look at this little spreadsheet this writer put together:

As you can see, on this list, only Jose Canseco hit more than 450 homers and had less intentional walks per homer than Alex Rodriguez. You could understand that to a degree because Canseco was an all or nothing kind of hitter. But Alex Rodriguez has been a much more balanced, all around hitter than Canseco ever was. So what gives?

In A-Rod's first six years, he batted in front of Ken Griffey, Jr. for the Seattle Mariners That would explain some of those early years. Griffey, as you can see on the list above compiled far more IBBs than A-Rod because there wasn't a hitter to protect Griffey like Griffey protected A-Rod. But even so, In 1996, A-Rod hit 91 extra base hits and batted .358. You would think you might want to take your chances with Griffey, no? By 1998, A-Rod was clearly the better hitter. But from his rookie season in 1994 to 1999 (the Griffey years), A-Rod was intentionally walked only four times.

In 2000, Griffey was gone and Alex Rodriguez had another great season but was nearly matched in hitting performance by Edgar Martinez. Still, A-Rod was the guy. His IBBs increased to five. But Edgar Martinez was intentionally walked eight times and even Jon Olerud was intentionally walked eleven times.

In 2001, Alex Rodriguez was with the Texas Rangers and hit 52 homers. His 1.021 OPS was clearly the best on what was one of the best offenses in the game of baseball. He was intentionally walked six times. Rafael Palmeiro was walked intentionally on eight different occasions. Palmeiro had a great season, but was he more fearsome than A-Rod? In 2002, A-Rod hit 57 (!) homers and his IBBs bumped up to twelve--the highest of his career. But he was still outpaced by Palmeiro who was walked intentionally sixteen times.

It wasn't until 2003, his tenth season in the big leagues, that Alex Rodriguez led his team in intentional walks with ten. Palmeiro had nine and Mark Teixeira had six. 

2004 began A-Rod's Yankee years and in his first year, he was intentionally walked six times. Gary Sheffield was given seven free passes that season. From 2005 to 2008, A-Rod led the Yankees in intentional walks with 36 total or an average of nine a season. Eleven was his high water mark with the Yankees in 2007 when he hit 54 homers. Since 2009, his totals went from seven in 2009 (Teixeira had more) to one in each of the past two seasons. It's been common in the past couple of years for Teixeira to be walked to get to A-Rod. Plus, with the emergence of Robinson Cano, nobody wants to face him with runners on base.

Alex Rodriguez is in his eighteenth season and again, has been one of the most prolific run producers in major league history. And yet, despite that fact, he has averaged only seven intentional passes per 162 at bats. For a slugger his caliber, nobody has been intentionally walked less. It's puzzling. It might even be confounding. And the lack of free passes might be one of the reasons he shares the major league record for career grand slams. Has it been a lack of respect? Has it been the deepness of the line ups he's been a part of? It can't be because of the myth that he isn't a clutch player. A-Rod has a .943 career OPS with runners in scoring position and a .966 career OPS in high leverage situations.

It's certainly puzzling. But there it is.

Game Picks - Tuesday: August 30, 2011

Tim Lincecum, why are you so confusing? Et Tu, Max Scherzer? Some pitchers just fill a picker with dread and those two certainly do that. Their lack of performance marred an otherwise successful day of picking. The thing with Lincecum was that he was the Game of the Day. There were two other bad picks. The Mets swept their double-header over the Marlins when a split was predicted. The Marlins certainly played dead all day scoring only two runs in eighteen innings. The other one was the Indians beating the A's despite a brilliantly pitched game by the A's Brandon McCarthy.

But there were so brilliant picks too. The Astros over the Pirates was a really smart pick as was the Mariners over the Angels and the Blue Jays over the Bay Rays. The rest of the correct picks were fairly easy to make.

Tuesday returns us to a bit of normalcy as the schedule looks pretty much like it should. No double-headers, no hurricanes. Here are the picks:

  • The Tigers over the Royals: Doug Fister is showing himself to be a good pick up for the Tigers. This picker doesn't quite trust him completely, but he should hold the Royals to fewer runs than Jeff Francis allows to the Tigers.
  • The Athletics over the Indians: Perhaps Trevor Cahill's last start indicate a return to form for the pitcher. For this pick's sake, let's hope so. The Indians are starting Jeanmar Gomez, a pitcher that has made two spots starts for the Indians. Neither of them went well.
  • The Orioles over the Blue Jays: This might be the only Oriole win of this series as Jeremy Guthrie was great his last time out and Brett Cecil was not.
  • The Marlins over the Mets: Hate this game. Mike Pelfrey has not beaten the Marlins in his last fifteen attempts. Javier Vazquez is no picnic to pick either. Yeesh.
  • The Yankees over the Red Sox: C.C. Sabathia has been whacked around by the Red Sox this year and the Red Sox have had their way with their New York rivals. The one caveat in this game? John Lackey.
  • The Nationals over the Braves: Picking the Braves just doesn't feel right in this one. Jair Jurrjens gave up 13 base runners in six innings his last outing and still didn't give up a run. That's a bad case of the yips with runners on base by the Cubs there. Jurrjens simply hasn't been sharp since the All Star Game. Livan Hernandez is the pick.
  • The Astros over the Pirates: Charlie Morton might be running out of gas. His last outing was not a good one. Meanwhile, Henry Sosa looks really good for the Astros.
  • The Rangers over the Bay Rays: Tough pick to call. Jeremy Hellickson is great. But Scott Feldman, making his first start of the year, has a really great career line against the Bay Rays. This could become a bullpen game and the Rangers are stronger there.
  • The White Sox over the Twins: The White Sox are determined to compete despite a mediocre ball club. This Fan is officially impressed again with Ozzie Guillen. Zach Stewart over Anthony Swarzak.
  • The Brewers over the Cardinals: This series is a moot point at this point in the season and you would think that Edwin Jackson could be better than Shaun Marcum who has struggled against the Cards. But going with the Brewers at home.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Rockies: The D-backs are on fire and pitching has been forefront. Wade Miley walked too many batters his last start, but he limited the Nationals to one run. The D-backs should score on Aaron Cook.
  • The Angels over the Mariners: The improbable line of Jerome Williams versus Anthony Vazquez. Your guess is as good as this picker in this one.
  • The Dodgers over the Padres: Hiroki Kuroda is finally starting to get some run support. Tim Stauffer could be tough but Andre Ethier now has a bug up his bonnet and Matt Kemp has been phenomenal.
  • The Cubs over the Giants: The Giants can't score and that puts enormous pressure on its pitching staff. It's starting to show. Matt Garza shuts them down again. All Ryan Vogelsong can do is pitch well and hope.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Phillies over the Reds: Roy Halladay will help us remember that Clayton Kershaw hasn't won the Cy Young Award yet. Bronson Arroyo with the tough luck loss. 

Yesterday: 9-4
Week: 15-11
Month: 225-165
Season: 1099-906
Games of the Day: 92-55

Monday, August 29, 2011

Brewers First to Be Assigned a Magic Number

Every major news site has its advantages. From Yahoo to Fangraphs to to to ESPN and, yes, Each site has strengths and weaknesses and to this Fan's simple way of looking at things, all are necessary stops in the baseball journey. As such, a stop was made to Yahoo's standings this morning and Lo and Behold (!), the Brewers have a magic number in parenthesis next to their name. They are the first team to get assigned a magic number this season. That number is at eighteen. Any combination of nine wins by the Brewers and nine losses by the Cardinals and the Brewers win the division. Isn't this amazing?

Everyone knew that the Brewers were going for it before the season started. They made the Zack Greinke trade (though that trade came anchored with the worst shortstop in baseball). They made the Shaun Marcum trade. They fought the thoughts of trading Prince Fielder. But did anyone really think they would be this good? Well, let's put that thought another way: Did anyone think they would be this much better than the rest of their division? Hardly. We knew the Brewers had three stars in Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Richie Weeks. They had the potential for a much better pitching staff than last year. But there were a lot of questions marks. 

Only Braun, Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee have played 125 games or more. Richie Weeks lost significant time to injury. McGehee has fielded well but his offense has been a real drag. And let's not ask about his base running. Betancourt is at 0 fWAR, which is actually comforting that he at least isn't in the negative numbers this year. But the guy still walks only 2.9 percent of the time and his fielding has always been suspect. So how did this team get so far ahead?

There are a couple of factors. First, they started matching their home success with road success. In the beginning of the year, they couldn't buy a win away from home. But since early July, they've done much better on the road. Secondly, love him or hate him, Nyger Morgan has added significant and surprising value to the Brewers. Corey Hart is having a valuable season despite some missed time.

Okay, here is another obscure stat you might not know and it helps this team in an invisible sort of way: Every single member of the starting rotation (pitchers) has a positive batting fWAR. Show this writer another team that can say that. That means they don't just give away the ninth position in the batting order.

But it is also that starting rotation that has buoyed this team with their arms. They aren't the Phillies rotation. They aren't much better than the Yankees' rotation (such as it is). But they are good enough and that basically is the difference between this year's Brewers and last year's. They are tied for eighth in the majors (30 teams) in fewest runs allowed as a rotation compared to last year's 27th place in that category. Greinke and Marcum have provided the stability needed to move Yovani Gallardo and Chris Narveson to their proper spots in the pecking order. Randy Wolf is a quality pitcher for a fifth starter. The rotation is allowing almost a full run less this year per game than last year. That's a major difference.

Last year's bullpen featured the unfortunate end of Trevor Hoffman's great career. That bullpen was the 26th most effective bullpen in baseball last year. That's not good. This year, that same bullpen is ninth in effectiveness. That's a big improvement. That bullpen was bolstered by what this writer feels was the biggest in-season trade this season by obtaining Francisco Rodriguez.

The Brewers have taken care of their rivals. The Reds are the only team the Brewers haven't played well in their division. Even with their losing record against the Reds, the Brewers are 32-18 against opponents in their own division. That's getting it done.

The Brewers' rise to the top has coincided with surprising collapses in St. Louis and Cincinnati. Both those teams were supposed to be strong this season. The Reds won the division last season but stood pat in the off season and that proved to be unwise. The Cardinals made fundamental flaws in their team make up (most notably on defense) and lost Adam Wainwright to injury. All these forces have combined to give the Brewers the third most wins in the majors and there is little or no chance they don't win the National League Central. Anything that happens after that in the post season is a crap shoot as always. Bottom line: If they are in it, they can win it. Anything can happen in the post season.

The Brewers have to be near the top of this season's top stories. They have buried their division and have earned the distinction of the first team to have a Magic Number for us to look at.

Rick Ankiel Can Throw a Little Bit

A lot of time is spent in this place talking about a player's value. This writer has become a disciple (though admittedly not a great student) of sabermetric statistics in evaluating players. That stance is on the right side of history. But this site started as a fan site. The Flagrant Fan is all about a long-time baseball fan talking about the game and the players he loves. Rick Ankiel falls short of the sabermetric society. He is a somewhat useful player this season and others, but he's not an elite player and is barely above replacement. That's the sabermetric valuation of his baseball skills. He strikes out a lot, he hits nearly the lowest percentage of line drives in baseball. He swings at 36.5 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. He only has occasional power now. That's the cold hard facts.

But there is another valuation of Rick Ankiel. We as fans still love his story of a talented pitcher who lost his art, reinvented himself in the minors as an outfielder and plucked out a MLB career despite the setbacks. The Fan value side of things also revolves around that legendary arm...the same arm that once made him such a promising pitcher. Ankiel has played in 89 games this season. Unfortunately, we don't get to see that gifted arm very often. He has the same number of outfield assists (seven) as he has homers. But when we do get to see it, what a thrill! He made a throw on Sunday that was simply amazing.

So to honor the fan side of Rick Ankiel and not the saber side, here are some highlights of our man throwing a baseball like few other people can. Enjoy:



7/29/2011  Wow!


3/19/2011  Laser!

9/26/2010  Incredible!





Since this post first aired on August 29, Ankiel has picked up a couple more outfield assists. Here one of them:

Game Picks - Monday: August 29, 2011

Northern Maine got its own tepid piece of Irene and it's still blowing outside. As weak as this storm is now, one can only imagine what it was like when it was howling full steam. It's also somewhat unique thinking that a system like this started in Africa and traveled all this distance. Amazing.

Not amazing were yesterday's picks which fell below the .500 mark for the day. The Yankees only split their double-header with the Orioles, the Rangers beat the Angels (Weaver indeed was not the same on short rest) and the Twins beat the Tigers. The Royals beat the Tigers which shows the vagaries of picking Brad Penny. And the Cardinals won, so it's probably time to stop picking against them every game, eh?

There were some really cool highlights in the day. David Price was rocking and rolling as he struck out fourteen batters. And look, we all know that Rick Ankiel isn't that great a baseball player. But when he throws from the outfield, there are fewer more exciting plays in the game. What an arm!

There are thirteen games on the Monday schedule including a double dip in Citi Field in NY (almost called it Shea!). The season grinds on and August is nearly done:

  • The Mets and Marlins split their double-header: Two teams going nowhere and the natural result is for each team to win a game each.
  • The  Tigers over the Royals: Max Scherzer should beat Luke Hochevar. But this Scherzer/Porcello combination sure is shaky and unpredictable.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: Alfredo Simon is the kind of pitcher that can shut down the Yankees if he is on. So Freddie Garcia better be as good after he sliced his finger as he was before he did.
  • The Athletics over the Indians: The A's are playing good ball against most teams not named the Red Sox. They are especially hitting well right now. Brandon McCarthy is pitching well while David (Hassle) Huff was rocked the last time he pitched.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: The Blue Jays need to break out of their funk and score some runs while they have their best pitcher (Ricky Romero) on the mound. Wade Davis should afford that opportunity.
  • The Phillies over the Reds: One might be tempted to doubt Cole Hamels' health or the recent walkoff performances, but ultimately, the Phillies are simply the better team and Hamels is a better pticher than Homer Bailey.
  • The Astros over the Pirates: Ross Ohlendorf didn't fool anyone in his first start back from a long stint on the DL. The Astros have been decent of late and have their best pitcher (Wandy Rodriguez) on the mound at home.
  • The White Sox over the Twins: Mark Buehrle should beat Kevin Slowey, who hasn't shown much in his last two starts. Buehrle's having a quietly good season.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Rockies: Daniel Hudson was great his last time out but faces a tough line up. Alex White will have his hands full though.
  • The Mariners over the Angels: Blake Beavan is a pretty good pitcher who has already beaten the Angels once this year. Joel Pineiro is better than he's shown this year but he is no Jared Weaver, who would win this game easily if the Angels had left their rotation alone.
  • The Dodgers over the Padres: The Padres have hit better in the second half and Matt Latos is still a tough customer. But Clayton Kershaw? He da bomb.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Giants over the Cubs: Tim Lincecum does his thing and though Randy Wells has a three game winning streak, he can't keep up with the Freak.

Yesterday: 6-7
Week: 6-7
Month: 216-161
Season: 1090-902
Games of the Day: 92-54

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Game Picks - Sunday: August 28, 2011

Saturday was surreal. It was a beautiful day here in Maine and baseball was being played around the country. But at the same time, the knowledge was always present that millions of Americans were going through their own personal hell as inches of rain fell, winds blew and the lights went dark. The picks were great from the games that were played. But who cares? What does it matter? We're supposed to begin our own little Irene odyssey by eleven o'clock as a predicted three inches of rain are supposed to fall over an already soggy landscape. Hope the sump pump works!

And more games are being played today. So the picks have to be made, even if the heart really isn't in it:

  • The Indians over the Royals: Bruce Chen is always capable of a well pitched game. But he better go all the way if he does. Justin Masterson is terrific and the better pick to win.
  • The Rays over the Blue Jays: The battle of the "Ays" hasn't been much of a battle. The Tampa team from St. Pete (?) finishes them off behind David Price. Brandon Morrow continues his mystifying season.
  • The Reds over the Nationals: Jordan Zimmermann makes likely his last start of the season. He's pitched well but rarely gets support. The Reds behind Johnny Cueto will keep that reality right to the end.
  • The Yankees sweep the Orioles: The Yankees aren't happy with the Orioles and you don't want to make the Yankees unhappy. Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova versus Zach Britton and Brian Matusz. Will Baltimore have power? Will the field be playable?
  • The Tigers over the Twins: The Twins offer no resistance as Brian Duensing has lost his way and Brad Penny somehow gets it done.
  • The Pirates over the Cardinals: Can't be any more disappointed by a team than the Cardinals. What a fall. Second year in a row too. Jeff Karstens over Kyle Lohse. Could be high scoring. But the Pirates have a better bullpen.
  • The White Sox over the Mariners: Gavin Floyd has been good of late and Jason Vargas should put up only mild resistance.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: The Dodgers and Matt Kemp are on a roll. Kemp has been the player of the year. Nathan Eovaldi has an artistic name and the pitching cred to match. Jhoulys Chacin goes for the Rockies.
  • The Giants over the Astros: Hard to pick against Matt Cain at home even if Bud Norris will put up a spirited defense.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Padres. Love Cory Luebke, but love Ian Kennedy more.
  • The Angels over the Rangers: This Fan eats crow as Jared Weaver wins despite this picker's protestations in yesterday's post. Colby Lewis has been maddening. Better get Feldman loose early.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Brewers over the Cubs: Zack Greinke versus Casey Coleman sure looks like a mismatch. The Brewers never lose at home. Well...they never lose anywhere lately.

Yesterday: 9-4
Last week: 53-42
Month: 210-154
Season: 1084-895
Games of the Day: 91-54