Friday, May 27, 2011

Joyce to the world

Matt Joyce is among the AL leaders in WAR -- virtually on par with anyone in baseball not named Jose Bautista -- and he's doing it all with one hand. Well, against pitchers of one hand, anyway. Joyce is raking righties. For the year, he is batting .397/.455/.690 against RHP. Some of this is luck, as his BABIP is .443, but Joyce has a career OPS+ of .929 vs. RHP.

Now, the question: Will Joyce ever be able to hit lefties, or should he be platoon only? In his career, he has 658 PAs vs. RHP and 84 PAs vs. LHP. His career line against southpaws is .167/.274/.264.

Joyce won't turn 27 until August, so he is just entering his prime years. If he could hit for power against lefties, which he hasn't in his limited chances so far, it would probably be worth letting him go to the plate. He certainly will not get better by sitting the bench. On the other hand, the opportunities against RHP are plentiful, so he is a valuable weapon. Maybe it's better not to mess up his head with trying to hit lefties.

When Chase Utley came up, it was thought he wouldn't be able to hit lefties. After a year or two of some struggles, he started to mash them. I guess part of it depends if you have a suitable platoon partner. Otherwise, I guess it's best to give Joyce his chances and find out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I was in Florida for a weekend of business during the winter, but stayed down an extra day to catch a spring training game. I saw the Cardinals and Marlins play. The Cardinals catcher for much of the game was Tony Cruz, who was destined to start the year at Triple-A. Yesterday, though, he got the call to start in the bigs. He responded by going 3-for-5. I just happened to flip on the game when he came to the plate for his first at-bat, and singled.

The following notes are from I took these photos with a camera I'd bought in December and was just messing around with at the spring game.

Cardinals catcher Tony Cruz went 3-for-5 vs. the Padres on Tuesday with a double and two singles in his Major League debut. He was the first Cards player with three or more hits in his debut since Terry Pendleton on July 18, 1984, and only the fifth to do it since 1919. The others: Enos Slaughter ('38), Creepy Crespi ('38) and Ernie White ('40).

Cruz was the 17th catcher since 1919 to have at least three hits in his big league debut. The two most recent occurrences before Cruz's game took place last year, when Wilson Ramos went 4-for-5 on May 2 and J.P. Arencibia was 4-for-5 on Aug. 7.

Cruz's three hits were one more than the Padres' total in their 3-2 loss to the Cardinals.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Same but different

Here is the story of two pitchers, one in the AL and the other in the NL.

Entering last night, the NL pitcher was 5-2 with a 2.17 ERA. The AL pitcher was 1-5 with a 4.23 ERA.

Following were their stats in several categories, NL/AL.

K9: 4.88/4.82
BB9: 1.76/1.75
HR9: 0.41/0.88
GB%: 45.5/50.0
BABIP: .224/.312

The NL pitcher is Kyle Lohse and the AL pitcher is Jeff Francis. Looks like Lohse has been a little bit lucky and Francis has been a little unlucky. I'll be interested to see what happens moving forward.

Tribe time

The Cleveland Indians show no signs of slowing down, despite Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner -- their most productive hitters -- being injured. Asdrubal Cabrera is the only active player batting .300 (at .302) but the Tribe ranks No. 1 in the AL with a .266 team BA, thanks in part to Hafner's .345 mark. Their .761 OPS is No. 2 in the league.

Pitching wise, outside of Justin Masterson (5-2, 2.52) and Josh Tomlin (6-1, 2.41, 0.82 WHIP) the starters have been below average. The bullpen, though, has been ridiculously good outside of Chad Durbin. This is a very young staff, too. Durbin (33) is the only pitcher older than 29. Fausto Carmona, at 27, is the elder statesman among starters.

It will be interesting to see how the Indians fare the rest of the way, but they might be too young to know they're not this good. It doesn't seem like they do anything particularly well, nor do they do anything particularly poorly. That might be plenty good enough in the AL Central.

One thing is probably for sure, Tomlin is likely to tumble. He is not a high strikeout pitcher, not a high groundball pitcher, and is living off a .175 BABIP.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ups and downs

Ex-Tiger reliever Todd Jones was nicknamed Roller Coaster for his penchant for turning saves into wild rides. He would have been the ideal closer for this year's Detroiters.

The Tigers' season so far? It looks like this: Lose 2, win, lose, win, lose, win, lose 3, win 4, lose 3 of 4, win 4, lose 7, win 10 of 11, lose 5. Their longest losing streak is 7 and longest winning streak is 7. I don't know for sure, but it would seem that having a 7-game losing streak and a 7-game win streak within the season's first 45 games has got to be rare.

Perhaps even more unusual is the fact those streaks were separated by only 4 games.

It seems likely this is the way the season will go and the Tigers will end up around .500, as they are right now at 22-23.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

King Cole

Despite going 29-15 with a 3.22 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 139 ERA+ in 2007 and 2008 (Oh, yeah, and winning a World Series MVP) some Phillies fans came unglued when Hamels went 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA in 2009. There were even suggestions he should be traded.

As noted here during that season, Hamels looked to be mainly a victim of bad luck as his walk, strikeout and homer rates all were on par with the previous years.

Lo and behold, Hamels went out in 2010 and posted a career-best 3.06 ERA. He was victimized by a lack of run support, finishing 12-11. Throw in his work this year, and Hamels is 17-13 with a 3.03 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 131 ERA+ over his last 42 starts. His K rate is 9.2/9, walk rate is 2.5/9 and HR rate is 1/9.

Even still, some fans seem cool to Cole. Too bad. They're failing to recognize a heck of a pitcher. Even with his average 2009 campaign, Hamels ranks No. 13 among all MLB hurlers for WAR beginning in 2007. Those ahead of him: Halladay, Sabathia, Lincecum, Haren, Verlander, Lee, King Felix, Greinke, Beckett, Weaver, Lester, Jimenez. There are a few Cy Young winners in that group, as well as a few no-hitters.

Not bad company.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

No hitters

The Phillies trotted out a lineup last night with only three legit full-time big leaguers, so it's no surprise they managed only one unearned run. The lineup included Michael Martinez, Wilson Valdez and Dane Sardinha. Yikes.

But over their last 33 games, the Phillies are batting .225/.298/.342. They are averaging 3.4 runs per game during that span. Of course, they're 19-14, but this is not a recipe for success. They've turned into the team equivalent of Daniel Descalso (.217/.295/.337). They are being outhit and outslugged by Cole Hamels (.263/.368).

The weight on Chase Utley's bad knee just got heavier.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gibson's power and speed

I remembered this play, but wanted to find documentation. It sums up Gibson's abilities. Strong enough to hit a ball over the right-field roof of Tiger Stadium and fast enough to circle the bases on a 440-foot drive to center. And score even when a base-runner ahead of him was thrown out. Read about here.

Gibson finally an All Star

I guess a player's big moments can make them larger in your memories. They were talking tonight on MLB Network about Kirk Gibson being the only MVP to never play in an All-Star Game as a player. (He was named to the coaching staff for this year's game.) That seemed unbelievable to me, and all the talking heads as well.

So I looked up Gibson's stats. There were many surprises.

Gibson played 17 seasons in the big leagues, but topped 132 games only 3 times. He got more than 467 PAs only 6 times. Although he broke into the bigs at the age of 22, he didn't become a regular until the age of 26. He never hit 30 HR in a season and he never drove in 100 runs. He scored 100 runs only once. He never batted .300 in a full campaign and reached that level only once in his career.

Yet, he ranked below league average in OPS+ only three times in his career. He stole 26 bases or more in six seasons. From 1984 through 1988, he batted .282/.369/.500 for an OPS+ 139 while averaging 27 HR, 86 RBI and 30 SB. He also, of course, hit two memorable World Series dingers during that span.

He was fun to watch. I can still picture him flying around the bases. He was big and fast and played with an abandon that, ultimately, not even his 6-3, 215 frame could withstand.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Running low

Last year, the Phillies scored 4 runs or fewer in 51% of their games. So far this year, they've done so in 64% of their games. They continue to defy the odds, going 2-2 when scoring 2 runs, 6-4 when scoring 3 and 4-1 when scoring 4. They are 13-1 when scoring 5 or more and 10-0 when scoring 6 or more.

Running with the Pack

With 39 games played, the Orioles are practically at the quarter pole of the 2011 AL East race and have the leaders in sight. I'm not convinced they are stalking the pace-setters, but this start is vastly superior to the start of the last 2 campaigns.

With a record of 19-20, the O's are just 3 games (in the loss column) behind the division leading Rays, from whom they just took 2 of 3 in Tampa Bay. The O's have scored 156 runs on the season and allowed 176. Allowing 1/2 run per game more than you score and being within 1 game of .500 is an efficient use of runs. The offense will have to step it up as this cannot continue for very long.

The offense is 11th in the AL in runs scored. Pitching is 13th (ERA). Again, efficient use of a weak offense and inconsistent pitching to be within a game of .500.

The O's are 10-11 at home and 9-9 on the road. The road record is a significant improvement over prior campaigns.

The O's are 7-9 against the AL East, 8-9 vs. AL Central and 4-2 vs AL West. No single glaring weakness. 0-4 vs the Yankees and 0-3 vs Cleveland are the bugaboos.

The O's are 16-12 vs RH pitching and 3-8 vs LH. This must change for the O's to keep pace with a .500 record, let alone keep pace in the AL East. This is a glaring weakness that AL managers will exploit by juggling rotations and/or calling up left handed minor leaguers for spot starts in order to load up lefty starters for a series with Baltimore.

So, on to Boston for 2 games and then back home. The O's catch a little break in getting Matsuzaka and Lackey in the 2 game set. Both have been hittable thus far. The O's send Tillman and Britton. Tillman vs Matsuzaka favors the Sox as Tillman pitched well in his last start and has yet to pitch well 2 starts consecutively in the AL, but perhaps the O's can outslug the Sox with Matsuzaka on the mound. Britton vs Lackey would appear to favor the O's.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Insert own joke here

Kids at tomorrow's Tigers game receive a Magglio Ordonez mini bat.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Unlucky Lee

Over his last 19 regular season starts, Cliff Lee is 5-8 with a 4.30 ERA.

That is the "bad" news. The good news is Lee has been a victim of nothing more than bad luck, I think. I examined his stats, particularly to see if he "throws too many strikes," as some talking heads have suggested, and found little evidence.

First, the bad luck: balls are dropping for hits this year more than usual, at around a .350 clip. His lifetime average is .297.

As for his pitching, he's got a ridiculous 11 K/9 rate, which is by far the best of his career. Yet he is in the strike zone only a little more than previous years; 57.2% compared to 56.6% in 2010 and 56.9% in 2009. (I guess it can be noted his rate is almost 10% higher than the MLB average.) Hitters are making contact at 80.8%, which is below Lee's career average of 83.4% (and makes sense giving his K rate).

It appears Lee is relying less on his fastball and more on cutters and changeups this year. Some of this might be attributed to the way pitches are classified and logged, but still it seems logical given the increase in Ks.

Bottom line, though, is he's not throwing more pitches in the strike zone and batters are making less contact. I would think these are good things. Less contact and more hits is just bad luck.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What I say?

Ever since I proclaimed the Tigers' offense as suspect, they've won 8 of 9 games, scored 10 runs twice, 9 runs twice and averaged almost 7 runs per game. (They've also struck out double digits on four occasions.) Their OPS is .815 compared to .701 previously.

Some of the success can be attributed to the return of Victor Martinez, signs of life from Austin Jackson, the promotion of Scott Sizemore (who has only a 90 OPS+, but is better than Will Rhymes' 59) and the placement of Brennan Boesch No. 3 in the lineup.

Hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera seems a good spot for the free-swinging Boesch because, theoretically, he will see more fastballs. In 10 games in the three hole, he is batting .350/.378/.550 with 2 HR and 10 RBI.

Overall, though, I have a feeling this is going to be a team that runs hot and cold offensively. I guess we'll just hope the hot streaks outnumber the cold.

Hale and Hardy

J.J. Hardy may not be a great shortstop, but he's playing one on TV.

The Baltimore Orioles are 6-2 in the 8 games Hardy has started at shortstop. One of the 2 losses was the game in which Hardy left after one AB to go on the DL.

In his return from the DL, he went 4-5 with a HR. The Orioles have won 2 straight from Seattle with Hardy's return, beating rookie sensation Michael Pineda and 2010 Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez.

Defensively, he has good range, deft hands and a strong arm. He has yet to commit an error.

Offensively, he's hitting .348 with an OBP of .444 and Slugging at .609.

The downside is Hardy's brittleness. He's been plagued with trips to the DL each of the last 3 seasons, counting the current season. This is, of course, the reason the Orioles were able to acquire him. Hopefully, the Chesapeake Bay humidity will soften the brittle Hardy to a robust suppleness because, in the 8 games he's been on the field, he has been the Orioles best player.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Magglio's struggles

Magglio Ordonez is off to a horrible start for the Tigers, a start that is widely attributed to his surgically repaired right ankle. He is batting .169 with a .411 OPS.

Still there is some reason to hope he can turn it around. First, I guess, being healthy would help. But Maggs is making contact at a high rate and hasn't seen his strikeout rate increase, so it's not like he can't put wood on the ball.

His line drive rate is a little lower than usual, but still pretty good. The most noticeable change in his batting profile is a spike in ground balls. This is most likely the result of not being able to drive off that right foot. His GB% of 57.4 is well above his career 44.4 mark.

Maggs also might be a little unlucky. Following are BABIPs for ground balls, fly balls and line drives. The first number is the AL average; the second is Maggs.

Ground balls: .223 AL -- .100 Maggs (4-for-40)
Fly balls: .136 AL -- .000 Maggs (0-for-17)
Line drives: .718 -- .818 Maggs (9-for-11)

Maggs' BABIP overall is .191; the AL average is .285. If Maggs' stats mirrored the AL averages above, he would have about seven more hits and be batting .260.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Stark contrast

After I wrote my previous post, I came across this from ESPN's Jayson Stark regarding the Tigers: "And at some point this team has too many good hitters not to score."

You can read the full story here.

Again, I respectfully disagree with Mr. Stark. As an additional point, Detroit's team BABIP is .293, which ranks No. 13 in all of MLB, and to me means as a whole the team has not be unlucky at the plate. (The Braves and Orioles are tied for worst, at .263.)


"Detroit is very talented. They've got great pitchers out there and an offense that is one of the best in baseball. They are going to get some things going. It's a matter of time." -- Curtis Granderson.

That's what is called being polite, although it mirrors what often seems to be said nationally about the Tigers. I do not believe it to be true, however.

In my opinion, the Tigers right now have one legitimate major league bat in their lineup, and that obviously belongs to Miguel Cabrera. Alex Avila is swinging a hot stick right now, and appears to have potential, but it is too soon to say anything more about him. Magglio Ordonez was a prime hitter before injuries took a toll. What he is now is anyone's guess. Getting back Victor Martinez should help.

From there, Detroit's lineup looks largely like guys suited to being role players or Triple A.

Will Rhymes was sent to the minors to make room for Scott Sizemore in the hopes of upgrading production at the top of the order. But Austin Jackson is struggling and might always struggle if he cannot make contact. Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn might be nice hitters in small doses, but are likely to be exposed the more ABs they get -- as was the case last year for Boesch.

Brandon Inge would be an acceptable player at 3B because of his defense, which, by the way, seems to be in decline, if he was on a team with some offensive production elsewhere. That's not the case here. Jhonny Peralta looks older than 28.

Ramon Santiago, Don Kelly, Casper Wells -- not a lot to get you excited there.

As for the pitching, you have to like your chances with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, but Phil Coke, Brad Penny and Rick Porcello are unpredictable. And probably need offensive support to be successful. Offensive support that appears absent from here.