Monday, July 30, 2007

Brave move

The Braves have added Mark Teixeira and it will be interesting to see how he performs away from hitter-friendly Texas. Atlanta hopes the answer is "very well" given the prospects sent to the Rangers.

Teixeira’s career home/road splits are interesting, particularly because he’s got 1,316 at-bats both at home and on the road. He’s .302/.378/.576 lifetime at home and .264/.358/.489 on the road. Those numbers translate to 84 HR and 294 RBI at home and 69 HR and 205 RBI on the road.

Last year, though, Teixeira hit .298-21-62 on the road compared to .266-12-48 at home. He had 323 AB at home and 305 on the road. In 2005, he had 30 HR at home and 13 HR on the road. Certainly mixed signals.

According to the Bill James Handbook, it was 12% easier to hit homers in Texas compared to other AL ballparks from 2004-2006. Conversely, Atlanta ranked slightly more difficult than neutral in the NL.

Still one day left to make a terrible trade

With less that twenty-four hours remaining before the trading deadline, Omar Minaya made a deal that, in a break from Mets July tradition, seems perfectly reasonable. Minor leaguers Drew Butera, a twenty-three year old catcher, and Dustin Martin, a twenty-three year old outfielder, are on their way to the Minnesota Twins organization in exchange for Luis Castillo, who will play, and likely bat, second for the Mets. Neither Butera nor Martin will be missed and the addition of Castillo's salary is not going to hamstring the Mets so the only real question is whether or not adding Castillo to the major league roster makes the Mets a better team.

At .304/.356/.352 for the year, the thirty-one year old Castillo is not the hitter he once was. From 1999 to 2005 with the Marlins, Castillo put up an OBP of .379 and occasionally hit a ball for extra bases. Neither is he the hitter Ruben Gotay has been so far this season (.350/.382/.504). On the surface this may seem like another instance of the Mets choosing Veteran Presence over plain old performance (see also: the case of Castro v. Lo Duca).

As much as I like Ruben Gotay and think he could be a long term solution at second base for this franchise, he is not going to keep hitting .350. He hasn't hit higher than .290 at any level since 2001, when he hit .315/.398/.457 in 184 at bats in the Gulf Coast League at age eighteen. He is on a hot streak that is bound to come to an end at some point. I would have been quite content for the Mets to just stick with Gotay at second base for the rest of the season, but Castillo is definitely a safer bet to keep getting on base for the next three months. Castillo is in no way big upgrade over Gotay offensively, as Gotay clearly has more power, but Castillo will be a solid hitter for Willie Randolph to stick in the two hole every day.

Of course, if offense was all that Castillo brought to the table, I wouldn't be happy about this deal at all. But, as Minaya has stressed in explaining this move, Castillo represents a significant defensive upgrade. Gotay is just not a good second baseman. He might be someday, but he is not now. Castillo has a strong defensive reputation and by all accounts is still at least solid with the glove. That is a lot more than can be said for Gotay.

This deal isn't anything to get too excited about, but it does improve both the infield defense and the bench, where Gotay can be a serious impact bat. The Mets' offensive issues remain and are unlikely to be addressed by four PM tomorrow afternoon. But if someday Carlos Beltran returns to center field, Lastings Milledge takes over in right and Ramon Castro gets a few more starts at catcher, Luis Castillo will look pretty good at second base.

It was also announced today that Pedro Martinez will make his first rehab start on Wednesday, throwing 45 pitches for the St. Lucie Mets. If he toes the major league rubber this season, it will not be for a few more weeks. But I am still a lot more excited about this than I am about Luis Castillo. The end of July might not be such a bad time to be a Mets fan this year.


Someone needs to alert the Tigers pitching staff the second half of the season (post All-Star break version) has begun. Detroit’s once feared pitching is giving up .288/.353/.442 since the break and the starters are yielding .297/.363/.477 during that time.

Against the Angels, the Tigers might as well have been playing T-ball. Maybe they should have suggested it – things couldn’t have gone much worse. Anaheim batted .386/.467/.574 in demolishing Detroit in a 3-game weekend set.

The Tigers are 8-10 since the break. Detroit’s pitching has given up 7 or more runs 8 times during that span. Thanks to the offense, the Tigs are 3-5 in those games. But the inability of the starters to pitch deep into games has taken a toll. The last Detroit pitcher to get a win was Andrew Miller on July 18 – and that’s 13 games ago.

Kenny Rogers went back on the DL, this time with left elbow inflammation, so that won’t help the situation. With Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya on the DL, the pen isn’t deep enough to handle the continued excessive workload.

Detroit still is a game up on Cleveland in the loss column despite its recent woes. One would like to believe this funk can’t last, that the Tigers are too good. But the struggles, particularly since they’re on the pitching side, are baffling.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

And to top it all off, I got a sunburn

Even more disappointing than winning just two of three from the Pirates is splitting a four-game series with the Nationals. As has happened so often this season, the New York bats were shut down by some less than distinguished starting pitchers. The Mets got excellent starting pitching from Orlando Hernandez and John Maine in games two and four, respectively, but Jorge Sosa and Mike Pelfrey failed to shut the Nats down in one and three.

The offense continued to suffer from a distinct lack of Carlos Beltran, who may soon hit the disabled list, though Lastings Milledge did a solid job in his stead. Also beneficial to the offensive cause were the return of Moises Alou and an injury to Paul Lo Duca. Alou had just one hit in the series, a double on Friday. Ramon Castro started two games and went three for seven with a double and a home run. Lo Duca hit two singles in seven at bats, strained his hamstring and is threatening to be back by Tuesday so that he can catch Tom Glavine's potential 300th win. Altogether, the Mets put up just fifteen runs in three and a half games, including Sunday's rain-shortened win, against Washington's below average pitching staff.

My Shea Stadium experience was somewhat more pleasant than the Mets' as I got to see a 3-1 win from the front row of the upper deck without a drop of rain on Saturday afternoon. Of course, in lieu of rain, we got plenty of sun, heat and humidity. If the people building CitiField could figure out a way to air condition an outdoor stadium, I would really appreciate it.

Next up for the Mets (59-46) is a tough six-game road trip that begins in Milwaukee against the Central division-leading Brewers (57-49) who have lost three straight. Glavine (9-6, 4.51 in 2007; 299-197, 3.49 career) will take on Jeff Suppan (8-9, 5.08) in the opener on Tuesday. Oliver Perez (9-7, 2.84) vs. Dave Bush (8-8, 4.91) and Sosa (7-6, 4.59) vs. Claudio Vargas (9-2, 4.30) will be the matchups in games two and three. The Mets' division lead stands at 3.5 games over the Phillies, who will also spend the week playing the Cubs (55-48) and Brewers.

Friday, July 27, 2007

And now for something completely different

Fear not

The Tigers bullpen has fallen on hard times again and there's word Detroit might trade for Kyle Farnsworth. That's not a big surprise considering Farnsworth did some of his best work for the Tigers a couple years ago.

I like what Jim Leyland had to say following the game.

"If you can't throw strikes up here, you can't pitch up here," Leyland said. "You've got to change, or we'll look elsewhere. If you're picking and picking because you're afraid of a bat, you might as well go home."

I couldn't agree more. I was having this very discussion with someone Wednesday night. It's amazing how often a reliever is brought into a situation -- say, to get a lefty out -- and they walk the guy. Please, come in and throw strikes. The great relievers were guys that challenged hitters; if they got beat, at least they made the other team do something rather than give it to them.

We were talk about Cole Hamels, who despite giving up 22 HR so far this year, which is 1.5 per start, has a 3.63 ERA and 11 wins. Why? Because he's only given up 33 BB. He doesn't compound his problems. Johan Santana is another; he's given up 22 HR but only 34 BB. James Shields in Tampa Bay, too. Those 3 guys rank among the top 9 for fewest BB/9 among pitchers with more than 2,000 pitches this year.

Chase over?

The Phils received a crippling blow when Chase Utley was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken finger, sidelining him for 3-6 weeks. Philadelphia probably would have struggled to stay in the playoff hunt anyway because of its pitching, but this could hasten the fall.

If the Phillies were to make the playoffs, it would be unprecidented from the standpoint that no NL team has qualified for the postseason with a pitching staff that ranked worse than 11th in ERA, at least going back to 1996. Philadelphia is last this year.

Here is a look at the playoff qualifiers with their offense/pitching ranks. Interesting that the No. 1 offense made the playoffs only 5 times while the No. 1 pitching made it 10 times:

2007 (as of today)
NYM 9/3; Mil 4/8; LA 7/5; SD 14/1

Mets 3/3; StL 6/9; SD 14/1; LA 4/4

Atl 4/6; StL 3/1; SD 13/7; Hou 11/2

Atl 5/1; StL 1/2; LA 9/4; Hou 6/6

Atl 1/9; Chi 9/3; SF 6/2; Fla 8/7

Atl 8/1; StL 2/4; Ariz 1/6; SF 3/2

Atl 13/1; Hou 2/10; Ari 3/2; StL 4/3

Atl 6/1; StL 4/7; SF 3/4; NYM 7/3

Atl 6/1; Hou 8/3; Ariz 1/2; NYM 5/5

Atl 3/1; Hou 1/2; SD 8/3; Chi 4/11

Atl 3/1; Hou 5/3; SF 4/9; Fla 8/4

Atl 4/2; StL 7/6; SD 6/3; LA 12/1

Thursday, July 26, 2007


When is winning two of three a disappointment? When you're the New York Mets playing the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Mets' offense fared well enough against some decent starting pitching. But one bad inning from Oliver Perez on Thursday brought an end to dreams of the team's first series sweep in a month. The Phillies and Braves are doing all they can to keep the Mets comfortably in first place, but every time the boys from New York seem about to get on a roll they go and do something silly like lose a game to the Pirates.

The Mets did put eighteen runs on the board in three games despite losing Carlos Beltran to an abdominal strain before game two and seeing Moises Alou's return from injury delayed yet again. I think this time it was the gout. Possibly polio. Lastings Milledge started the final two games in center and had a terrific overall series with six hits including two home runs and a double. Paul Lo Duca actually outhit Ramon Castro over the course of this series, going four for eight with three doubles compared to Castro's two singles in four at bats. In general, the offense seems to have woken up a bit, scoring 5.14 runs per games since the All-Star break, more than half a run better than their pre-break average.

John Maine had the best start of the series, allowing two runs in seven innings on five hits and a walk with seven strikeouts and hitting his first career home run. But Tom Glavine was good enough to get career with number 299 on Wednesday, allowing three runs in six innings on eight hits and three walks with two Ks. Then there was Perez, who absolutely dominated his former team for five innings, allowing one hit and striking out eight, before coming undone in the sixth, when he allowed five runs that will all count as unearned due to his own throwing error. Then Scott Schoeneweis and Joe Smith combined to give up three runs of their own in the seventh as a result of which Smith has been sent to AAA for the first time in his professional career.

The Mets (57-44) remain four games up on their nearest competition and once again boast the best record in the National League. If that's not enough to make a Mets fan feel better after Thursday's game, the next four games on the schedule feature the Washington Generals...I mean Nationals (43-58) providing the opposition. Jorge Sosa (7-5, 4.36), Orlando Hernandez (6-4, 3.14), Mike Pelfrey (0-7, 6.12) and Maine (11-5, 3.04) will start for the Mets against Mike Bacsik (3-6, 4.39), Tim Redding (1-2, 2.92), Billy Traber (2-1, 4.09) and Jason Bergmann (2-5, 4.56). I am planning to be at Shea Stadium for the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, so of course the forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms. But if you happen to be at the game or just watching at home and you see a handsome you man sporting stylishly long hair and a 1987 Doc Gooden #16 road jersey, feel free to say hi. If you're watching at home, say it pretty loudly or I won't be able to hear you.

Rappin' Ryan

Ryan Raburn went 4-for-5 with 7 RBI last night to help lift the Tigers to a 13-9 win over the Chisox. Raburn, 26, wasn’t the only hot bat, either. Mike Rabelo and Brandon Inge both had 3 hits while Curtis Granderson had 2 knocks and 3 runs.

In 2004, Raburn, a second baseman/outfielder, was among the Tigs’ top 10 prospects according to Baseball America after batting .301/.390/.533 in 366 AB at Double-A Erie. After two consecutive seasons at Triple-A Toledo he barely cracked the top 30. He hit .275/.352/.490 last year, a marked improvement from his .253/.323/.437 in 2005.

A little more on Granderson: Since the All-Star break he’s batting .431/.491/.745 with 5 doubles, 1 triple, 3 HR and 8 RBI in 51 AB.

Good to see Detroit rally last night for a win, especially after a brutal loss the previous night (blowing a 7-run lead and wasting a solid start by Virgil Vasquez.

The market

The Padres traded set-up man Scott Linebrink to the Brewers yesterday and got 3 pitchers in return. Linebrink is 31 and was 3-3, 3.80 this season. The Pads got lefty reliever Joe Thatcher, 25, and two 20-year-olds, lefty starter Steve Garrison and righty starter Will Inman. Thatcher was 2-1, 2.08 with 33 K in 21 IP at Triple-A Nashville and will join SD.

If the going rate is 3 players for a Linebrink, the Phils are in trouble.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tough for Phils to fill via trade

The Philadelphia Inquirer today has another story about Phils GM Pat Gillick needing to get pitching for his club. This is hardly breaking news. But it's hard to imagine the Phils being able to significantly upgrade their pitching with the players they could offer in trade talks.

Philadelphia has, pretty much, 1 chip -- Aaron Rowand. Beyond that, there's little, especially if the team won't part with fan fav Shane Victorino. Rowand would most likely have to be traded to an AL contender for a prospect because he's a free agent. No one that's out of the playoff chases is going to trade anything worthwhile for a player they're going to lose in the fall.

The Phils don't have any prospects to offer for an established player that can help them now. Consider it is taking names like Yanks pitching prospect Phil Hughes (reportedly not available), Braves catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman (plus prospects) to get teams to talk. The Phils don't have anyone close.

And please, will people stop tossing Dontrelle Willis' name out there as though he's Bob Gibson.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

ERA up, player down

I seem to recall a number of Phillies fans moaning over not having Robinson Tejeda on the staff after he got off to a 3-1, 3.82 start in 5 games for Texas in April. Since then, Tejeda was 2-8 with a 7.93 ERA. He was sent to the minors yesterday.

Big boppers

Thanks to Curtis Granderson's 3-for-3 night, the Tigers' top five batters in the order are hitting at least .300 -- Granderson (.303), Polanco (.334), Sheffield (.300), Ordonez (.362), Guillen (.308). I would think that's rather uncommon.

Newcomer Mike Hessman, 29, is known as a power hitter -- he led the International League with 27 HR while at Triple-A Toledo -- but it was a bloop single with 2 outs last night that was the big blow against Chicago. It drove in 2 and gave Detroit a 7-6 lead. Also, Hessman made a nice pick at first on a throw by Carlos Guillen, saving runs earlier in the game.

The bullpen provided 4.1 innings of 1-hit relief after Andrew Miller was unable to get out of the fifth. Miller struggled with his control, but I would think should be OK down the road.

Day-night twinbill today. Virgil Vasquez, who got lit up on national TV in his only big league appearance this year, gets the call up to start the second game. He's pitched well lately at Toledo. Gavin Floyd gets the call up for Chitown. If these guys pitch to their past performances, it could be offensive.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Obviously Rick Down was the problem

The Mets' latest trip the the west coast began inauspiciously with losses in two of three games in San Diego. But the offense finished up strong to help them win three of four from the Dodgers and come out ahead for the week. They're still not quite running roughshod over the National League, but taking four of seven on the road from a couple of playoff contenders is a step in the right direction.

For once, the offense had to bail out the starting pitchers, who did not have a particularly good week. Among starters, only Orlando Hernandez and Oliver Perez had an ERA under six for the week. Tom Glavine's attempt at win number 299 was especially disastrous as he gave up six runs and didn't make it out of the third inning. I'm not too worried about the starting pitching as I think with Perez, Hernandez and John Maine, the Mets have the personnel to forge a formidable playoff rotation. I am a little worried that Glavine could be the fourth or fifth best starter on the team and get the first or second slot in that playoff rotation.

Of course, if the bats come through like they did this week, that might not be a problem. After all, the Mets did win that game Glavine started. They scored forty runs in these seven games with the heart of their lineup leading the way. Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Carlos Delgado hit a collective .329/.391/.634 with seven home runs this week. None of the other regulars did much with the bat this week, though Ramon Castro did get two starts and go three for nine with a home run. Paul Lo Duca had four hits in the other five games and all of them were singles. Ruben Gotay, who will be the starting second baseman for the foreseeable future thanks to Jose Valentin's broken tibia, did have six singles in eighteen at bats.

The offense may also get a boost when the Mets return to play on Tuesday as Moises Alou will likely make his long-awaited return from the disabled list. Alou went one for four for the Brooklyn Cyclones on Sunday and apparently made it through the entire game without injuring himself. As long as Alou is healthy, he should hit and the Mets can certainly use some offense out of an outfield corner. Neither Shawn Green nor Lastings Milledge has hit consistently well, though Milledge has come through in some important situations, driving in eight runs with just eight hits so far this season. Given that Green has been awful (.195/.263/.264) against lefties this year and Alou will need regular days off, finding Milledge playing time shouldn't be a problem.

The Mets (55-43) stretched their division lead to 3.5 games on Sunday with a win and a Braves loss. They will have a chance to extend it further this week as they play two of the worst teams in the league in the Pittsburgh Pirates (41-56) and the Washington Nationals (42-56). The Pirates will send Ian Snell (7-7, 3.31), Tom Gorzelanny (9-5, 3.20) and Paul Maholm (6-12, 4.57) to the mound to try to tame the resurgent Mets offense. The Mets will counter with Maine (10-5, 3.07), Glavine (8-6, 4.51) and Perez (9-6, 3.00).

Just win, baby

It hasn't taken long for the expectations to reach a new level in Detroit. The Tigers lost to KC today, losing the series, and prompting this response from manager Jim Leyland:

“You get spoiled around here," Leyland said. "We’re not going to win every day. We’re not that kind of club. We’ve got a real good team and play a lot of other good teams. There are other teams playing for big stakes, just like we are. When you lose a series, it’s like you’ve got poison ivy around here. It’s just not that easy to win major league games. So I don’t have any problem with what’s going on there.”

The Tigers still have the best record in MLB at 58-38. (By my count, they were 65-32 on this date last year.) They begin an 11-game road trip Monday, and have been greeeaaaat on the road, going 32-17. Detroit has 5 games in Chicago, then three in both Anaheim and Oakland. Is it just me, or does it seem like the Tigs are on the West Coast a lot?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sometimes Gary makes sense

After the Tigers got beat Friday night, Gary Sheffield said, "This one we just got our butt kicked, and you try to erase games like this and not dwell on it too much. You just try to come out tomorrow and score a lot of runs."

Saturday: Tigers 10, KC 8.


The Tigers came crashing home last night, losing 10-2, which wasn’t totally unexpected, given the 3 emotional games they played in Minnesota and the fact they were facing KC’s best pitcher, Gil Meche. The Royals are playing better ball, too. They’re “just” 11 games under .500 and on pace for 72 wins (I figured 70-75 wins for them in April). There are 7 teams in MLB with a worse record than KC, and the White Sox and O’s are only a game better than the Royals. KC is 31-27 since May 12.

I happened to be checking out the Royals’ stats and noticed Jimmy Gobble was having a pretty nice season. He’s 4-1 with a save and 2.67 ERA. Then, I noticed his BAA is .292 and his WHIP is 1.60. Those numbers don’t seem conducive to a sparkling ERA, so I realized he must be letting a lot of inherited runners cross the plate. And lo and behold, he has permitted 13 of 38 inherited runners to score. Last year, he allowed 12 of 48 for the season. So his pretty nice season is somewhat deceptive.

Speaking of inherited runners, I noticed the Cubs have two of MLB’s best in stranding runners: Carlos Marmol and Michael Wuertz. Marmol has been lights out this season, giving up just 20 hits and 5 runs in 33.2 IP. He’s got 45 K and 14 BB. He’s 2-1 with 1 save and 6 holds. His ERA is 1.34. He has stranded 19 of 20 inherited runners. Wuertz has struggled in recent weeks, but still has stranded 22 of 23 IR.

Friday, July 20, 2007

My crazy idea

Not that hitting really is the Phillies problem, but Iwas thinking about the lineup last night and came up with this idea:

Shane Victorino
Pat Burrell
Chase Utley
Jimmy Rollins
Ryan Howard
Aaron Rowand

I understand this would never happen. But Victorino is a leadoff man, much more than a No. 2 hitter. Rollins will have to live with the fact Victorino is more valuable there, which is no knock on Jimmy.

Burrell in the 2 spot because he takes a lot of pitches AND would probably get to sit on fastballs with Victorino on first base. Imagine the way pitchers would throw to Burrell with Victorino's speed on first and Utley on deck.

Utley is the best hitter, he goes 3. I don't think Burrell would clog the bases too much because Utley gets so many extra base hits.

Rollins would be 4 for two reasons. First, if the side is retired in order in the first, he's LEADING OFF the second. Next, if Howard's on base ahead of him, it does clog the bases. Howard would have to live with the 5 spot, but it shouldn't hurt him too much with Jimmy getting on base ahead of him. (More fastballs, too?). Then Rowand and whatever is left.

This lineup seems to make so much sense to me, but I know Jimmy and Ryan would be pissed. Yet I think if they ever did it, and saw the results I envision, they would love it.

Jays beat Wang

According to Yahoo! MLB News, Wang jammed Wells who then produced a "little trickler". Jays manager John Gibbons declared, "It's huge."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Winning the hard way

The Tigers completed a 3-game sweep in Minnesota today, winning all 3 games by a run. The explosive offense was mostly quiet in the Metrodome, but came through when needed (Maggs!). Meanwhile, the Detroit bullpen was stellar, giving up just 1 run and 8 hits in 9.1 innings.

Detroit came into today batting .167/.214/.258 in the first 2 games in Minnesota. The bats woke up a bit today, going 14-for-42 (.333) in the 10 inning finale, a 4-3 victory. The Tigers were able to pull out wins in the first 2 because their pitchers yielded just .200/.297/.215 entering today.

Detroit is 11-3 in July, and did it against Minnesota, Cleveland, Boston and Seattle – a rather tough stretch. The Tigers can’t afford a letdown with 3 at the CoPa with KC.

Overall the Tigers were batting .274/.334/.452 in July coming into today’s game. They were hitting .300/.379/.518 with RISP and .321/.429/.623 with 2 outs and RISP.

The pitching was giving up .225/.304/.359 in July entering today. They were yielding .137/.290/.245 with RISP and .154/.290/.231 with 2 outs and RISP. The relievers, who were a weak spot until recently, were giving up .221/.310/.368 in July. Prior to July, they were .274/.349/.438.

Todd Jones has 8 appearances in July, picking up 7 saves. He pitched 9 innings, giving up 7 hits, 2 walks and 0 runs. He has 5 K. His ERA was 6.23 on June 26, and is now 4.69.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nate is big in Minny

Nate Robertson has made 4 starts since returning from the DL, and last night’s was by far the best. Perhaps, his best start of the season, in fact. He gave up 3 hits and 0 runs in 7 innings at Minnesota. It was Robertson’s first start since July 8, thanks to the All-Star break, which might have given him extra time to aid his recovery from the “tired arm” that landed him on the DL in early June. Robertson has pitched 23.2 innings with 17 hits, 10 walks and 19 K since his return. His ERA during that span is 3.04.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Inge at third

Tom Gage in the Detroit News had a story today about Brandon Inge's terrific defense at third base. Getting to watch Inge play the field on a regular basis is a treat. He makes great plays it seems every night -- to his left, to his right, into left field, charging and barehanding, diving into the stands.

He also makes more errors than most, but that's only because he gets to so many more balls in tough spots. The errors were discussed as part of Gage's story, capped by a dig at lead-footed first baseman Sean Casey:

The down side of many plays Inge makes is he sometimes gets to his feet so quickly that he hurries his throw. The adrenaline rush of making the play can result in an adrenaline-rushed error. He's been working on correcting that, however.

"I'm so amped that I've thrown the ball away," he said. "But now, even though it might look like I'm showboating, I take the time to set myself. I take the time to calm down. But Casey helps me, too."

How so?

"By taking five seconds to get from where he's coming from over to first base. I have to wait on him anyway."

"Thanks, Brandon," said Casey, not even close to being offended.

Monday, July 16, 2007

What a Grand is worth

Curtis Granderson’s AL ranks this season:

Triples, 16 (1)
Doubles, 26 (T5)
Runs, 69 (5)
Homers, 13 (T30)
SB, 10 (T20)
CS, 0 (T1)
BA, .293 (T29)
SLG, .566 (7)
OPS, .910 (11)

Fielding: 7 assists, 2.93 range factor (2.46 AL average), .989 fielding percentage (.989 AL average).

Granderson benefits from Comerica for hitting triples. He has 11 of his 16 triples at the CoPa, which ranks as the easiest ballpark in the majors to hit triples. Overall, though, Granderson is batting .260/.326/.503 at home and .323/.360/.624 on the road.

And he's still a work in progress.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

If Rickey was the hitting coach, they'd have won all four

The second half of the season began with a bang for the Mets as hitting coach Rick Down was fired and Rickey Henderson was hired to replace him. The Greatest Of All Time has already done some occasional coaching for the Mets, working with Jose Reyes in particular in Spring Training. Reyes is having his most Rickeyesque season yet, with his OBP a career high .389, so I can't wait to see what Rickey can do with the rest of the team.

This move paid immediate dividends, as the first two Met hitters of the second half, Reyes and Ruben Gotay, homered. Then it turned out Rickey was to be the first base coach and Howard Johnson the hitting coach and the Mets only scored twelve more runs the rest of the weekend. That was enough to win a barely acceptable three of four from the worst team in the NL thanks to three good starting pitching performances.

Orlando Hernandez and the recently disabled Oliver Perez each pitched six innings and allowed two runs. El Duque earned a narrow 3-2 win on Thursday while Perez was the beneficiary of a veritable offensive explosion as the Mets put five big runs on the board on Sunday. The best performance of the weekend came from Tom Glavine who allowed just one run on two hits with five strikeouts in eight innings on Saturday. This was barely enough to earn his 298th career wins as the Mets pushed across their second and final run of the night in the bottom of the eighth.

In spite of the presence of Rickey, the Mets' offense in this series closely resembled the one that got Rick Down fired. Overall, the team hit a decent .273/.367/.422 for the series. But with runners in scoring position, they hit just .216/.310/.270. On Saturday night they had eleven hits and two walks but scored just two runs. Entering Sunday, the team was hitting .250/.340/.378 with RISP for the season, compared to .268/.333/.419 overall. The National League as a whole was hitting .260/.350/.406 with RISP, .261/.329/.412 overall. There's little reason to believe the Mets' lack of clutchness is anything more that just bad luck. The Mets' fortunes with RISP should begin to even out and their numbers in these situations will more closely resemble their overall numbers, as is the case with the rest of the league. But right now it is awfully frustrating to see the Mets get a runner to third base with nobody out and strand him time and time again.

There was some good offensive news as both Lastings Milledge and Roben Gotay started all four games of this series and each hit well. Milledge had four hits including a double and a home run and either scored or drove in the winning run in each Met win. Gotay had six hits including a double and a home run. Really, every Mets starter had a decent series with the bat aside from Paul Lo Duca and Carlos Beltran, who combined for just three singles. Beltran did draw five walks in the series. Ramon Castro started Sunday's game and was on base more that Lo Duca in the three other games combined, hitting a double and a single and drawing a walk.

Things get a bit tougher from here as the Mets (51-40) take their 1.5-game division lead to San Diego (50-40), home of the best pitching staff in the NL. Jorge Sosa (7-3, 3.92), El Duque (5-4, 3.20) and John Maine (10-5, 2.91) will start the three games for the Mets. David Wells (4-5, 4.31), Jake Peavy (9-3, 2.19) and Greg Maddux (7-7, 4.35) will go for the Padres.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Casey at the bat

I don't like to repeat myself, but Sean Casey's turnaround this season continues to amaze and delight. On April 21, Casey was batting .158 and slugging .193, with 1 RBI and 2 runs. Jim Leyland said he wasn’t worried; I was. That’s why Leyland does what he does, and I just write about it. In his 65 games since April 21, Casey is batting .341 and slugging .463, with 34 RBI and 24 runs. Over his last 44 games, The Mayor is batting .371 with a .955 OPS. Since hitting his first HR on June 19, he is .373 in BA, 1.067 in OPS and has 13 RBI in 17 games. He absolutely crushed one last night in Safeco, which isn't one of the easier parks to hit homers.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Dazed and confused

The Tigers lost a bizarre game last night in Seattle. Leading 2-0, the Mariners scored all 3 of their runs during an odd sequence in the fifth inning. It's all explained here.
Actually, two unusual plays with the umps cost Detroit. First, Pudge Rodriguez getting ejected after arguing (and bumping) the home plate umpire over the failure to call interference when Seattle's Yuniesky Betancourt crossed in front of Pudge trying to throw out a stealing baserunner. Pudge was correct.
The second play involving Carlos Guillen and Adrian Beltre (in which Beltre did touch second base and was tagged -- possible twice -- by Guillen after oversliding second base, only to be ruled safe at third, but out on appeal for failing to touch second) and also involved Pudge's absence since backup catcher Mike Rabelo dropped a solid throw from Magglio Ordonez, and then made an ill-advised throw to second that started the above mentioned sequence. Richie Sexson scored what proved to be the winning run while all of it was going on.
And to think Jim Leyland was glad he didn't have to deal with the stress of the All-Star Game anymore.

Another rant for Tram

I heard Jayson Stark say today that Barry Larkin was a sure Hall of Famer in his eyes. If that’s the case, what about Alan Trammell? Oh, poor Tram.

Larkin played 19 seasons (2,180 games) and posted a .295 lifetime BA with 198 HR and 960 RBI. He had 1,329 runs and 379 SB. He won the MVP Award in 1995 when he batted .319-15-66 with 98 R and 51 SB. He finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting 2 times and Top 20 three other times. Larkin had a career OPS of .815 and 5.92 runs created/27 outs. He won 3 Gold Gloves.

Trammell played 20 seasons (2,293 games) and posted a .285 lifetime BA with 185 HR and 1,003 RBI. He had 1,231 runs and 236 SB. He was second in the MVP voting in 1987 when he was robbed by George Bell. Trammell batted .343-28-105 with 109 R and 21 SB. He finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting 3 times and the Top 20 three other times. He won a World Series MVP in 1984. Tram had a career OPS of .767 and 5.19 RC/27. He won 4 Gold Gloves.

Cal Ripken, without going into all the numbers, had a career .787 OPS and 5.38 RC/27. He won 2 MVPs and was in the Top 10 one other time and Top 20 four other times. He won 2 Gold Gloves.

Trammell has never received more than 17.7% of the Hall of Fame vote in 5 tries. I wonder how much different it would be if Tram won that MVP Award in 1987. He got 12 first-place votes while Bell got 16 and lost by 21 points. Bell had a .957 OPS that season, .004 better than Tram. And Tram’s Tigers won the AL East over Bell’s Blue Jays. And, for the record, Bell’s .960 fielding percentage in the OF that year (11 errors) was well below the league’s .980 average.

I guess Tram is also hurt by Ripken’s presence in the AL at the same time, but their career OPS and RC/27 numbers are probably much closer than many people would think. According to, the most similar batter to Tram is Larkin.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Going deep

Ichiro's performance in the All-Star Game got rave reviews from AL players and coaches. This from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Few American League players were surprised Ichiro's shot reached the wall. His batting-practice displays of power are well known throughout the league, and that was before he put on an impressive show during BP on Tuesday.

AL manager Jim Leyland clearly noticed.

"He probably hit more home runs during BP than anybody -- and he made it look easy, like it was nothing," Leyland said. "I'm not too happy about that, because we (the Tigers) open against the Mariners on Thursday."

Said Twins first baseman Justin Morneau: "It's like he does whatever he wants to do at the plate. It's almost like he's playing around."

It reminds me a lot of what they used to say about Wade Boggs when he was with the Red Sox. Never one to hit many homers in games, Boggs was the player everyone wanted to watch in batting practice because of the bombs he hit. Of course, hitting BP fastballs is different than facing live pitching, but it gives you respect for what some of these guys can do with the bat.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Life's a pitch

Here is a look at some first-half numbers for the Tigers pitching staff. Detroit is pretty much average, overall, with a 4.31 ERA (4.44 AL average), 4.73 runs per game (4.74), 6.3 K per game (6.4), 3.4 BB per game (3.3), 1.0 HR per game (1.0), and 72% LOB (71%).

Prevailing wisdom says the Tigers’ pitching will improve in the second half, with Kenny Rogers healthy and back in the rotation, and injured Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya returning at some point to bolster the bullpen. I’ll buy that the rotation should be improved with Rogers, but I’m not sure about the bullpen. Neither Rodney nor Zumaya were pitching great prior to their injuries, so I don’t think it’s a given that they will come back and pitch at a top level – particularly Zumaya.

But even if the pitching remains only average, it might be enough if the offense continues to hit at its first-half pace. The offense, though, is bound to slump at some point and is only an injury away from being reduced in effectiveness. Most likely, the pitching improves a little, the offense drops a little, and the Tigers continue to win at around a .600 clip.

Season half-full

The Mets reached the artificial midway point of the season two games ahead of their nearest competition and lucky to be there. After a strong start that left them with 34 wins and 18 losses at the end of May, they've gone 14 and 21. They are only two games behind their pace from last season in which the division race was decided somewhere around the middle of June. But the significant decline in all areas of the game over the last two months does not inspire confidence going forward.

The offense has been the biggest problem. What was one of the top few run-scoring apparatuses in the league last year and at the start of this year has fallen to the middle of the pack, eighth in the league in runs per game. Carlos Delgado's decline has been the most glaring--.265/.361/.548 in 2006, .242/.305/.435 in 2007--but several other players have also dropped off significantly. Paul Lo Duca has gone from a surprising .318/.355/.428 to a more predictable .274/.321/.372. Jose Valentin was a revelation in 2006 at .271/.330/.490 but in 2007 he's a thirty-seven -year-old man hitting .243/.297/.388. And Carlos Beltran has thus far failed to replicate his monster 2006 in which he hit .275/.388/.594, falling to just .264/.340/.477.

All of this is especially problematic given that no one else has stepped up with a big improvement to compensate. Jose Reyes is getting on base more at .387 compared to .354, but his slugging has dropped off from .487 to .439. David Wright's .292/.373/.506 line is basically the same thing he does every year, though he's stealing more bases and looks improved defensively. And after a hot start--.355/.412/.538 in April--it turns out Shawn Green is still Shawn Green at .275/.325/.428 for the year.

So several important hitters are having down years, the Mets still aren't getting anything from their corner outfielders and no one is having a huge year. So why are things going to be okay? Well, for one thing, Ruben Gotay and Ramon Castro are providing more offense off the bench than any 2006 reserve did. More even than He Who Is Called Endy. Secondly, Lastings Milledge is finally ready to return and rescue left field from the David Newhans of the world. Moises Alou could theoretically return at some point as well. But most importantly, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado are just better than this. Beltran has battled some minor leg injuries and Delgado had wrist surgery in the offseason and missed most of Spring Training. This may not excuse or even explain their performance thus far, but both seem healthy now and I think it is very reasonable to expect more of them in the second half.

The bullpen has also been something of a disappointment after a hot start. Billy Wagner has been great all year in non-All-Star competition and Pedro Feliciano has done almost as good a job of making Scott Schoeneweis obsolete as Schoeneweis himself. But everyone else has struggled at one point or another. Joe Smith got off to a phenomenal start but has cooled off recently, perhaps as a result of being overworked or the league just catching up to him. Aaron Heilman has been quite ordinary. Guillermo Mota has pitched like a guy who's not taking steroids anymore. Aaron Sele has been fine as the long man. As I may have mentioned, Schoeneweis has pitched poorly and been utilized ineptly.

The saving grace of the team has been the starting pitching, with an ERA of just 4.05. The Mike Pelfrey Experiment has not gone well thus far as the twenty-three year old has an ERA of 6.10 in eight starts with more walks than strikeouts. But aside from Pelfrey, the team's worst regular starter has been Tom Glavine with a 4.36 ERA. Glavine hasn't been much more than solid overall, but he has been durable as usual, leading the team in innings pitched. Jorge Sosa has been a surprisingly decent replacement for Pelfrey with a 3.92 ERA in eleven starts. Orlando Hernandez has occasionally been either injured or awful, making just thirteen starts and giving up five or more runs in four of them. But he's also been brilliant at times, allowing two or fewer runs in his other nine starts including four starts in which he pitched at least six shutout innings. This all adds up to a 3.22 ERA in 78.1 IP. Nothing El Duque could do in the second half would be shocking, whether it be getting blown out, getting injured or pitching a no hitter. Maybe he'll even do all three.

The stalwarts of the rotation have been two men who inspired much doubt prior to the season. Oliver Perez has a 3.14 ERA, 85 strikeouts and 37 walks in 94.2 innings. John Maine is at 2.71 with 93 Ks, 40 BBs and 109.2 IP. Perez has been somewhat inconsistent in his last few starts and has missed a bit of time with a minor injury but Maine has been healthy and excellent all year. The starting rotation was the team's biggest question mark prior to the season but right now, thanks in large part to these two, its ERA is more than half a run lower than in 2006. With the return of a certain future Hall Of Famer perhaps only a month away, this rotation could carry this team awfully far.

Now all the remains is for the Mets (48-39) to play about 74 more regular season games, weather permitting. The first four of these will take place at home against the Reds, who are tied for the worst record in the National League at 36-52. El Duque, Maine and Glavine will start the first three games for the Mets with Perez possibly making his return from the DL to pitch the Sunday finale. Bronson Arroyo (3-9, 4.84), Matt Belisle (5-6, 5.28) and Aaron Harang (9-2, 3.67) will start the first three for Cincinnati.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The skipper

Here's a good column by Michael Rosenberg in the Detroit Free Press regarding Tigs manager Jim Leyland. An excerpt:

"He doesn't sleep much, and he doesn't eat much, possibly because both activities would get in the way of smoking. He admits he is nobody's model for a healthy lifestyle. And he often darts around the clubhouse like the nicotine addict he is. I don't know anybody who walks so intensely."

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hitting on all cylinders

Time to review some first-half numbers for the Tigers, starting with the offense. Detroit is putting up some scary good offensive stats. Here’s a look at the Big O:

Detroit is batting .290, six points ahead of the Angels and well above the AL average of .268. The OBA is .352, which is third in the AL (.339 is average). The team’s SLG is .473, No. 1 (.419 is average). The Tigs are hitting an unbelievable .329 with RISP, well in front of No.2 Seattle at .291 and above the .273 average. They are seeing 3.74 pitches per plate appearance, which is around the 3.79 norm. They lead the league in line drive percentage at 20% (average is 18%), which probably helps explain the BA. According to Hardball Times, roughly 75% of the balls classified as line drives go for hits. All of this translates to a league-best 5.95 runs/game (4.89 is average).

By position, Pudge Rodriguez’s .750 OPS ranks in the middle of AL backstops. He is .288-8-46, which I’d say is adequate given his age and the fact he bats sixth or seventh in a loaded lineup.

Sean Casey’s .759 OPS is near the bottom of regular first basemen, but he’s hitting .300 and is second in this group with 21 doubles. His .300-1-34 is pretty amazing considering where his stats where after the first month. Like Pudge, he fits nicely in the lineup, particularly his low 25 K. And even though his hustle doesn’t result in speed, he does hustle.

Placido Polanco’s .815 OPS is No. 3 among regular second basemen and his .335 BA is the best. He is .335-3-38 and his .395 BA/RISP is much the best. His 61 runs created are second to Brian Roberts, and well ahead of the rest of the pack.

Brandon Inge’s .761 OPS is in the middle third of AL third basemen. He is .248-11-41, which, like Casey, is solid considering he was batting .111 near the end of April. All things considered, if you toss A-Rod, Inge is comparable to anyone – especially since he drives in all his runs batting No. 8 or No. 9. Of course, he gets plenty of chances there with this lineup.

Carlos Guillen’s .968 OPS occupies its usual No. 1 spot among AL shortstops. He is .325-14-67. His 60 runs created are No. 2 to Jeter’s 71, but Guillen has 74 fewer plate appearances. Guillen’s 8.4 RC/G edge Jeter’s 8.3. (RC/G measures what a lineup of Guillens or Jeters, in this case, would produce in 27 outs.)

Craig Monroe’s .659 OPS is last among regular left fielders. C-Mo is batting .223-9-44. He is one of the few, if only, Tiger hitters to struggle season long.

Curtis Granderson’s .884 OPS is No. 2 among CF, behind only Torii Hunter. He is .283-12-43, plus 15 mind-numbing triples so far. The other 11 CF that qualify as regulars have 26 triples combined. If he ever learns to hit lefties, watch out. He’s batting .139 in 72 AB vs. LHP; .322 in 267 AB vs. RHP.

Magglio Ordonez’s 1.050 OPS is best in right field. He’s .367-13-70. He’s got an AL best 84 runs created among RF (and No. 2 overall) and leads all players with 11.5 RC/G. Ranks with Polanco and Guillen as the most season-long consistent hitter in the lineup.

Gary Sheffield’s .970 OPS is No. 2 among DHs to David Ortiz. Shef is .303-21-58 and leads all DHs in HR and RBI. He is tops among DHs with 74 runs created and 9.3 RC/G. Another Tiger who didn’t roar until May came around.

Marcus Thames has an .810 OPS in limited action. He is 244-10-28. His power is wicked – 26 HR in 348 AB last season and 10 in 131 AB this year. Omar Infante has a .640 OPS in 113 PA. He is .284-0-11, but has been a savior by playing 2B, SS, 3B, CF and RF this year (with just 2 errors).

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Gimme a break

After two straight winning weeks, the Mets stumbled into the All-Star break losing five of their last seven. The offense continued to struggle as they scored just twenty-six runs. The pitching got absolutely slaughtered in a three-game sweep at Colorado, giving up thirty-four runs but they settled down a bit, allowing just seventeen in a four-game split in Houston.

Carlos Delgado did have another good week at the plate, hitting .345/.394/.552 with one home run. But the only other Met regular with an OPS over .700 for the week was David Wright at .353/.353/.559. Ruben Gotay and Ramon Castro did both have good weeks in part-time roles.

It would be nice to see both of these guys get more playing time in the second half of the season as neither Jose Valentin nor Paul Lo Duca is doing much of anything with the bat lately. Finding out if Gotay and Castro can continue to hit with more playing time could also pay dividends next year when both Lo Duca and Valentin could be gone. Castro will probably never be much more than a solid part-time bat, but at just twenty-four years old, Gotay has a chance to be the Mets' second baseman of the near future. He won't provide nearly the defensive value of a healthy Valentin, but he does appear to have some power in his bat. His .514 slugging percentage is second only to Castro's .538 for the team lead. The stop starter is Wright at .506.

The bad news this week wasn't just limited to the scoreboard as injuries continued to pile up. Jorge Sosa and Oliver Perez each went to the DL with supposedly minor injuries, leading to Jason Vargas and Dave Williams making starts in the majors. Each pitched three and one-third inning with Williams allowing eight runs and Vargas nine. Perez and Sosa should be back after the break. Carlos Gomez will be out quite a bit longer with a broken bone in his left hand. As of Sunday, the Mets only had three outfielders on their major league roster and one of them was David Newhan of the .291 slugging percentage. Why they would send Ricky Ledee down but keep both Newhan and Sandy Alomar, Jr., a third catcher, on the roster eludes me, but I figure there will be a little roster rearrangement before they play another game. Lastings Milledge did finally play some baseball games this week as he went eight-for-nineteen with a double, a triple, a home run and a stolen base for AA Binghamton. Hopefully he'll be back in New York in time to start in left field on Thursday.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Fearless predictions, Part II

A look at four more players that caught our eye so far:

Marlon Byrd: .388/.443/.560 in 134 AB. His BABIP is .462. Even with his improved line drive/groundball stroke, that number should tumble. He had a .329 BABIP in 216 AB in 2005 with Washington and batted .264. That seems more likely.

Reggie Willits: .324/.416/.384 in 219 AB. Last year, he had 11 BB and 10 K in 58 PA. This season, he has 37 BB and 36 K in 267 PA. I’d say those numbers bode well for the 26-year-old. He has a .388 BABIP this year, which is 45 points higher than last season. If he keeps the ball out of the air, he should continue to get hits. He might not hit to a .324 tune, but .290-.300 is in range.

Pat Burrell: .207/.371/.392 in 222 AB. Burrell has always hit the ball in the air a lot, but even more so this season. One difference is his HR per flyball percentage has dropped from its usual 15-17% the past few years to a merely mortal 10.7%. The lack of punch coupled with a decrease in line drives makes one wonder if there is more here than meets the eye. His .231 BABIP might not all be bad luck, but it is well below the .298 he had last year and the .341 he produced in 2005. Burrell has always been an enigma, and will remain so. But if he gets playing time in the second half, and is healthy, he has nowhere to go but up. (Although, all parties involved would probably prefer out – as in out of town.) If his BABIP and HR/F are simply bad luck and not indicative of injury, he could put up decent numbers in the second half.

Richie Sexson: .210/.301/.424 in 276 AB. The Pat Burrell of the AL, with 15 HR and 48 RBI. His BABIP is .214, probably because his line drives are decreased and popups are increased. His 19% HR per flyball figure is on par with last season, when he batted .264-34-107. If he can start hitting the ball on a line again and get his BABIP up to the .300 level it saw in 2005 and 2006, he could improve nicely in the second half. Just 10 more base knocks at this point of the year would've jumped his BA from .210 to .246.

Fun fact to impress your friends

You can use this as a trivia question, if you like. There are 51 players in MLB history to record at least 150 career triples. Only 1 of those players never reached double digits in stolen bases for a year. He is Stan Musial.
Musial finished his career with 177 triples. Twice he had 20 in a season and once he had 18. He also had 725 lifetime doubles, good for third place in MLB history. The following is from an early edition of The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract:
"The image of Musial seems to be fading quickly. Maybe I'm wrong, but it doesn't seem to me that you hear much about him anymore, compared to such comparable stars as Mantle, Williams, Mays and DiMaggio, and to the extent that you do hear of him it doesn't seem that the image is very sharp, that anybody really knows what it was that made him different. He was never colorful, never much of an interview. He makes a better statue.
"What he was was a ballplayer. He didn't spit at fans, he didn't get into fights in nightclubs, he didn't marry anybody famous. He hustled. You look at his career totals of doubles and triples, and they'll remind you of something that was accepted while he was active, and has been largely forgotten since: Stan Musial was one player who always left the batter's box on a dead run.
"Musial's performance in MVP voting is the most impressive in the history of the award. Musial won three awards; so did Mantle, Berra, Campabella and DiMaggio. But Musial also finished second in the voting four times, meaning that he had seven years in which he was regarded by on-the-scenes observers as one of the two best players in the league."
It should be noted Musial also had a fourth, fifth, sixth, 2 eighths, and a ninth in the voting. Musial won his first MVP at the age of 22 when he batted .357/.425/.562 in 617 AB. At the age of 41, Musial finished 10th in the MVP voting after batting .330/.416/.508 in 433 AB.
The Man, indeed.

Sox it to me

I just saw the Twins are beating the White Sox 20-13 in the 9th inning. At first, I thought I was looking at the score wrong. Ozzie Guillen probably wishes that was the case. This is the first game of a twinbill in Chitown! Nothing like sitting through 33 runs, 39 hits, 6 errors (5 by the Sox) with another game coming up at 8.

But fear not, South Siders. Gavin Floyd rides to the rescue in game two. The Chicago media is reporting Floyd has matured and added a slider since imploding in Philly. We'll see. There is no confirmation Gavin Floyd is related to this man. (It's a Jersey thing.)


Todd Jones is 3-for-3 in saves with 3 perfect innings since Sparky spanked him last week. First, I get The Mayor straightened out, and now this. I wonder who I should pick on this week? And does this only work with players in my age group?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Fearless predictions

Over the next few days, Sparky will examine the first-half performances of players and predict whether they will improve or regress in the second half. First up are a couple of surprise hitters in the AL, Carlos Pena and Jack Cust.

Pena is batting .285/.393/.612 this year for Tampa Bay. He has 19 HR and 49 RBI. I don't think Pena will improve on his numbers, but I don't know that he'll fall off much, either. He always could hit the ball hard, and far. In 2004, he hit 27 HR and 19.3% of his flyballs went yard. In 2005, he hit 18 HR and 26.3% of his flyballs left the field. Those are both a pretty high percentage of flyballs turning into homers. This year, his percentage is 31.9. He probably will suffer some drop, but his track record indicates it's not a total fluke. He's improved his line drive percentage, which is good, and lowered his percentage of infield popups. His BABIP is .316, which isn't fluky high, either. If he continues to reduce his strikeouts, he should be able to maintain something close to his current pace. He is 29 and could be finding his prime, and has no pressure on him in Tampa Bay -- another plus.

On the other hand, I can't see Cust continue to put up gaudy numbers, even though he's proven in the minors he can hit for power. Cust is batting .280/.399/.607. He has 15 HR and 41 RBI. His percentage of flyballs that become homers this year is a remarkable 42.1 (A-Rod, as a point of comparison, is at 28.8). Cust's BABIP is .372, and note he is hitting five points lower than Pena in overall BA. He's only batting .279 with RISP and has 67 K in 168 AB. Entering this season, Cust's career percentage of plate appearances that ended with either a homer, a strikeout or a walk (the Three True Outcomes) was 47.8 combined in the minors and majors. When those flyballs stop leaving the building at the rate they've been going so far this year, Cust will probably return to earth with them.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

First half surprises

As the All-Star Game approaches, I decided to revisit The Hardball Times win shares above bench (essentially win shares minus loss shares) to see who was tops at each position, and how much better they were than the No. 2 player. Here is the list:


C: Victor Martinez (11) +4 over Joe Mauer
1B: Carlos Pena (9) +1 over Kevin Youkilis
2B: B.J. Upton (8) +1 over Brian Roberts
SS: Orlando Cabrera (10) +1 over Derek Jeter
3B: Alex Rodriguez (11) +7 over four others
OF: Ichiro Suzuki (14) +1 over Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerrero
DH: David Ortiz (9) +1 over Gary Sheffield


C: Russell Martin (9) +6 over Brian McCann, Chris Snyder
1B: Albert Pujols (9) +1 over Adrian Gonzalez, Dmitri Young, Prince Fielder
2B: Chase Utley (11) +5 over Dan Uggla, Orlando Hudson
SS: Jose Reyes (9) +1 over Edgar Renteria
3B: Miguel Cabrera (10) +2 over David Wright
OF: Eric Byrnes (10) +2 over Aaron Rowand, Barry Bonds, Corey Hart

This list produced several surprises, I think. Three are in the AL: Pena, Upton and Suzuki. Pena, a flop in Detroit, has found himself in Tampa Bay. He is batting .283/.387/.613. He has 19 HR, 42 R and 47 RBI in 68 games. In 2005, Pena struck out 95 times and walked 31 times in 295 plate appearances. This season, in 254 PA, he has just 62 whiffs and 34 BB.

Upton has missed time on the DL, but he’s .320/.396/.545. He has 9 HR, 36 R and 31 RBI in 56 games. He is 13 of 18 in SB. Suzuki, with the best WSAB in MLB, is batting .369/.424/.471. He has 5 HR, 57 R and 39 RBI in 80 games. He is 23 of 25 in SB. Because he plays in Seattle, he doesn’t get nearly the recognition he should – right now he’s the MVP based on these numbers.

I’d label Martinez a mild surprise, only for his WSAB dominance over the rest of a deep catcher position in the AL.

In the NL, Russell Martin might not be a household name, and as another West Coast player he will have difficulty in that regard, but he’s been a standout. Martin is batting .306/.371/.483. He has 9 HR, 47 R and 55 RBI in 80 games. He’s 16 of 19 in SB. He’s also throwing out 31% of opposing baserunners.

The outfield in the NL is filled with surprise names, starting with Byrnes. He is batting .314/.367/.504. He has 13 HR, 52 R and 46 RBI in 85 games. He is 15 of 20 in SB. He also has 8 assists. Rowand is .309/.385/.472 with 11 HR, 50 R and 43 RBI in 84 games. He is 5 of 6 in SB. He has 9 assists. Hart is batting .313/.384/.529. He has 11 HR, 41 R and 33 RBI in 67 games. He is 16 of 19 in SB.

Byrnes, Rowand and Hart all are batting between .340-.350 on balls in play, which is above the expected figure of somewhere between .295-.310 for most players. Byrnes, though, is owed it – his BABIP was .238 with Colorado and .221 with Baltimore in 2005. Suzuki’s BABIP is .400 this year, but that’s not completely unusual for him. His BABIP was .401 in 2004 and .350 in 2006. Upton’s BABIP this year is .447, which would suggest he could see his .320 BA drop in the future. He hit .258 in 2004 (.339 BABIP) and .246 in 2006 (.313 BABIP).


I visited the Retrosheet site today (I added a link under Around the Horn) and was just surfing around because I never really checked it out. I came upon a section where outstanding game performances are listed and noticed that Nolan Ryan struck out 19 batters three times in a game in 1974 for the Angels. Two of these were in extra innings, but nonetheless, a remarkable feat. I also noticed Ryan was 1-1 with a no decision in those games. Remarkable, too, I think.

He got the ND in a 15-inning game in which he lasted only 13 innings. His counterpart, the Red Sox's Luis Tiant, went the distance in taking the loss, 4-3. Interestingly, Tiant had a 19-K game in 1968, going the distance as his Indians beat the Twins, 1-0, in 10 innings.

Ryan later in 1974 beat the Red Sox, 4-2, with a complete game, 19-K effort. Eight days later, Ryan lost a 19-K game, 1-0 in 11 innings, to Mickey Lolich and the Tigers. Both Ryan and Lolich went the distance. The time of the game was 2:41.

In 1977, Ryan struck out 19 Blue Jays in 10 innings of work, but got a no decision as the Angels needed 13 innings to win, 2-1.

Randy Johnson must have attended the Ryan school of hard luck; he got a ND in his 20-K game in 2001 and was 1-1 in 19-K games in 1997. He also had a ND in an 18-K game in 1992.

Pitchers with at least 18 Ks in a game are 18-4 with 5 ND in MLB history, so you can see Ryan and Johnson were anomalies.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Super Grover

Stanley beat me to the Mike Hargrove farewell. I was surprised by Grover's decision, but I'm sure he is happy with it, even if he can't fully explain it.

My first job out of college was as the public relations director of the Cleveland Indians' Class AA team in Williamsport, PA, in 1988. Grover was the manager. He was a great guy to work with and his family was terrific. His wife, Sharon, did all she could to make the young players and their families feel at home even though all were far from home. For years I had a white Ford Escort that was easy to pick out because it had a Chief Wahoo sticker on the back of it; a sticker slapped onto the car when I first got it by Sharon.

I remember throwing pitches to Grover's son, Andy, who was probably 5 or 6 at the time, in an open area between the concession stand and home clubhouse. This was our routine many nights while Andy waited for his dad to get done with paperwork after games. I can't believe Andy is now playing ball in the minors; we're getting old.

Maybe that's what Grover realized, too. I certainly wish him and his family all the best.


I have fond recollections of Mike Hargrove as the manager of the Baltimore Orioles from 2000 - 2003 and his sudden resignation as manager of the Mariners compels me to say so.

The O's had a distinct lack of talent in those years yet watching them play was fine because they played good ball. They lost because they got outplayed, sure, but they got outplayed because their opponents were better. They did not do themselves in. When they got a decently pitched game and a clutch hit, they generally won.

Part of Hargrove's managerial style was to go to the bullpen early and often. There were no quick games with Grover as manager. Once he got to his bullpen, he had no compunction with using 'em all to get a win. The "Human Rain Delay", as he was called in his playing days for his deliberately slow plate routine prior to each pitch, was the "Human Game Delay" when managing.

With the growing frustration it is to be an O's fan, I had been considering turning my attentions to the Mariners, purely because 'Grover was the manager. Now that he's gone, I'm guess I'm stuck with the O's.

Hargrove resigned with the statement that his "passion has begun to fade". I wish him well. I hope he regains his passion.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

This is more fun

The Mets salvaged the month of June after a poor start thanks to a return to National League competition. They went a respectable 8-7 in interleague play, and if the World Series is changed to a best-of-fifteen format I like their chances, but they've put up a much healthier 38-27 record against the NL. This past week they took five of seven from the Cardinals and Phillies, finishing June with twelves wins and fifteen losses and extending their division lead to four games over the second place Braves. Sadly a Sunday loss meant a streak of five straight wins continued to elude them.

The key to the Cardinals series was pitching, as the Mets scored just seven runs in three games but they took a bit more advantage of Citizen's Bank Park's cozy dimensions, scoring twenty-two runs in four games. The worst starting pitching performances of the week came from Jorge Sosa and Mike Pelfrey on Saturday and Sunday as each gave up three runs in five innings. Sosa got a win and Pelfrey a loss. John Maine had the best start of the week, limiting the Phillies to just two runs, one earned, in eight innings on Friday, with four hits, no walks and six strikeouts.

Several Mets had good weeks at the plate, including Carlos Beltran with four home runs in two games on Friday and Saturday and David Wright hitting .273/.414/.636 in the seven games. But perhaps most surprising was the man who led the team with eight hits on the week, Carlos Delgado. It was not quite an offensive explosion, but the struggling first baseman hit .308/.379/.692 for the week with a pair of home runs. He's had brief flashes like this before and is still hitting a paltry .232/.296/.424 for the year, but a good week is a good week and if he can continue to be productive, the Mets could regain their status as an offensive juggernaut.

This week's episode of bizarre bullpen management came in Tuesday's loss to the Cardinals. Willie Randolph brought Scott Schoeneweis in to pitch to a right-handed batter in the top of the eleventh inning. To the surprise of no one aside from perhaps Randolph, the game did not remain tied for long as Mr. Three-Years-$10.8-Million allowed the first batter he faced, Brendan Ryan, to hit his first major league home run. I understand that as long as he's on the team, he has to pitch once in a while--though Aaron Sele might beg to differ--but Randolph consistently uses Schoeneweis is situations that do not play to his meager strengths. Entering Sunday, righties were hitting .339/.437/.729 against him. Basically, he turns every right-handed hitter into Sammy Sosa circa 2001. There's no reason he should pitch to anyone but lefties. And even then only if Pedro Feliciano is unavailable or the Mets are at least four runs ahead or behind.

In happier news, four Mets were chosen for the National League's All-Star squad. Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran were chosen by the fans to start and Billy Wagner joins five other closers on the pitching staff. While John Maine was clearly robbed--he's a top five starter whether your stat of choice is wins, ERA or Baseball Prospectus's VORP--the Mets will have a solid contingent of players trying to make sure game one of the World Series takes place at Shea.

The Mets (46-34) will conclude the first half of the season on the road with series in Denver and Houston. Game one against the Rockies (39-43) will take place Monday night and pit Tom Glavine (7-5, 4.12, 297 career wins) against Jason Hirsh (3-7, 5.21, 6 career wins). Oliver Perez (7-6, 3.14) and Maine (9-4, 2.74) will finish up the series for New York against Aaron Cook (4-5, 4.70) and Josh Fogg (3-6, 5.31), respectively.