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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 396

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Miggy pimp.gif
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i got to 11 on beat the streak and it got broken. haven't done it since laugh.gif
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Houston Rockets | Houston Texans | Houston Astros | Texas Aggies
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Cabrera pimp.gif
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The heat map for Cabrera's third homer:


It wasn't THAT far in, but it was in. And he still took it to straightaway center. Unreal.
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Originally Posted by do work son View Post

i got to 11 on beat the streak and it got broken. haven't done it since laugh.gif

It's so hard to keep a streak haha
"Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't." - Bill Nye

"Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't." - Bill Nye

post #11856 of 73000
Side note from actual baseball-ing: how the **** did the Orioles win ESPN's national poll for best uniform? I see there's a ton of hate for the Yankees/Red Sox/Dodgers/Cardinals at play here mean.gif
A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

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i'm feeling for mariners after this last game with the tribe. through two innings in clutch situations, they played the worst in-field defense i've seen in a long time.
"what ch'all know 'bout dem Texas boys!?!"
"what ch'all know 'bout dem Texas boys!?!"
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Originally Posted by Th3RealF0lkBlu3s View Post

Side note from actual baseball-ing: how the **** did the Orioles win ESPN's national poll for best uniform? I see there's a ton of hate for the Yankees/Red Sox/Dodgers/Cardinals at play here mean.gif
I rock with the O's uniforms smokin.gif

However I think the Cardinals have the best overall set of uniforms, and they solidified that when they introduce these this year:
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I also feel the Cards have the best uniforms in baseball. I also think Jim Caple is an idiot. His rankings for the AL were terrible. I don't know why they didn't have Paul Lukas do both leagues, not much more work to it.
A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

post #11861 of 73000
Not a fan of Boston's stuff...

The Dodgers have the best gear.
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Gallardo just doesn't have his best stuff this season.
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Jim Johnson has had a rough going lately, he was lights out last year
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Janssen also finally showing vulnerability.
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I was campaigning for Corbin on Twitter when it seemed like the Diamondbacks/Indians trade talks were centered around Cabrera. Thought they could pull both he and Bauer for a star shortstop, especially since Corbin wasn't ever highly ranked.

7-0, 1.44, and he pitches in one of the toughest parks in baseball. laugh.gif

Bauer was still the right choice, though. I'm not disputing that at all.
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Damn, Corbin's numbers. That's another prospect my Angels have let go doing well elsewhere. Him and Jean Segura smh
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The Nats are entering a free fall.
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Matty donating 1K for each homer to OKC (hometown) victims. Until the ASB.

My guy.
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Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

The Nats are entering a free fall.
A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

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post #11870 of 73000
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

The Nats are entering a free fall.

I haven't watched y'all all season Til today. What happened?
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Thread Starter 
Unlikely stars key for Pirates.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In 2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates started the season 54-52 before falling apart in August. Last season, the Pirates started 59-44 before falling apart in August. This season, it's déjà vu all over again so far. Winners of eight of their past 10 games, the Bucs are 26-18, sit tied with the Reds for second place in the National League Central and have moved to a season-best 12th in the Power Rankings. And although no one expected Pittsburgh to keep up its upstart act in '11, and few were expecting it last year, this year might be another story.

"Unlikely stars" isn't a term you hear too often, and with good reason. But if the term applies to anyone in baseball the past two seasons, it's A.J. Burnett. After two seasons with a plus-5.00 ERA, the New York Yankees openly tried to discard Burnett to anyone who wanted him. At a bargain basement price, Neal Huntington & Co. in Pittsburgh took a chance on Burnett, and it has paid off handsomely. Burnett was a revelation last season, and he has been even better so far this season. Three pitchers this season are striking out more than three of every 10 batters they face: Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer and Burnett. Unquestionably the team's best pitcher, Burnett, is bringing stability to a rotation that has rarely had it since the days of Doug Drabek.

This is good because the rest of the rotation is a bit of a jumble at the moment. Wandy Rodriguez continues to play "how low can you go" with his strikeout rate, but considering he is also not walking anyone, his K-BB is at a career-best 3.56. Because he is missing even fewer bats than ever, it brings in question just how long he can be successful, but, right now, things are rosy.

[+] Enlarge
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Francisco Liriano has allowed just two runs in his first 11 innings in a Pirates uniform.
The same can be said for Jeff Locke of late. After a three rough starts, Locke has had five quality outings in his past six starts, posting a 1.70 ERA. He still is walking too many people, but there are positive signs. This is also true for Francisco Liriano, who has allowed just two runs in his first 11 innings in a Pirates uniform. Liriano hasn't been good for a whole season since 2010, but the Bucs will ride the wave until it crests.

Rodriguez and Liriano might disintegrate at any moment, but there could be reinforcements coming from two fronts. Jeff Karstens and James McDonald are on the shelf right now, but both could be back in the fold by June. Neither is going to be mistaken for Greg Maddux, but they will in all likelihood be better than the Jonathan Sanchez/Jeanmar Gomez duo of death the team has run out there at the back end of the rotation. Of course, there's a chance that, by the time they are ready, they will have been leapfrogged by Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, the best pitching prospects.

Ranked eighth and 20th in Keith Law's preseason top 100 prospects list, the duo are repeating the high minors this season and could be ready by midseason. Cole, 22, was cuffed around by the Pawtucket Red Sox, and has struggled in general with his walk rate, but he mastered both High-A and Double-A in less than 70 innings apiece, so, if he continues on that path, he will be ready fairly soon. Taillon has been doing even better. He entered Sunday's action with a 2.82 ERA and 2.53 FIP (fielding independent pitching) in 44.2 innings for Double-A Altoona, then proceeded to toss a quality start in which he struck out 10 hitters. It was his second double-digit strikeout performance of the young season. Still just in his age-21 season, Taillon might need to graduate to Triple-A before the Bucs pump him to the big league level, but certainly there will be no hesitation on manager Clint Hurdle's part if the team thinks he can affect the pennant race.

Back in 2007, most left the Colorado Rockies for dead when injuries knocked out starters Aaron Cook and Jason Hirsh in the same week, and, although they had to patch one spot with the likes of Elmer Dessens, prospect Franklin Morales helped stem the tide. Ranked No. 30 by Baseball America heading into 2007, then-21-year-old Morales had just 17 starts at Double-A and three at Triple-A under his belt when he was summoned to the majors, and he didn't disappoint. He tossed eight starts down the stretch to the tune of a 3.43 ERA and was a big reason Hurdle's bunch helped coin the term "Rocktober" in Denver that fall. Cole and Taillon carry a better pedigree than did Morales, and both will shortly have just as much experience, so they certainly could figure into the mix as the dog days approach this summer.

Their presence could be just as instrumental as Morales and his fellow rookie in 2007, Ubaldo Jimenez, were for Hurdle's first playoff team. The other facets of Pittsburgh's game are good but not great. Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte might be capable of carrying a team for stretches -- and McCutchen in particular hasn't gotten really hot yet -- but, over the course of a season, they will need help. This is also true, albeit to a lesser extent, with Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon in the Bucs' bullpen. These four players make their units average, but not much more than that.

The good news is that the team doesn't have a major weakness anywhere on the diamond. The Pirates could use a better-hitting shortstop than Clint Barmes, and they are a little thin on designated hitter-type players, but neither is exactly a unique problem among NL clubs. A lack of major flaws doesn't necessarily beget excellence, however, and it will be on the starting pitching to push the Bucs to the next level. If Burnett continues to dominate, and Locke and the rest of the rotation can come through, dreams of a black-and-yellow October might commence in earnest.

Miggy eyes another Triple Crown.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- If there’s an opportunity before the postgame on-the-field interview on "Sunday Night Baseball," I’ll give the player a quick heads-up about what questions I will be asking, especially if it’s anything out of the ordinary. It’s not standard operating procedure to ask the guy who got the decisive hit for the winning team about a player on the losing team.

So before the green light came on, I mentioned to David Murphy that I intended to ask him about Miguel Cabrera’s remarkable "Sunday Night Baseball" performance, when the Tigers third baseman clubbed three home runs.

Murphy smiled. “Good,” he said, “because I was going to talk about him anyway.” He went on to discuss how easily everything seems to come for Cabrera at the plate.

Watching Cabrera in 2013 is like seeing Babe Ruth in 1927, Ted Williams in 1949 or Hank Aaron in 1959: a Hall of Fame-caliber hitter at his peak, doing stuff that few people -- or nobody -- have done before. As of Monday morning, Cabrera is hitting .387, which is more than 20 points higher than anybody else. He has 47 RBIs in 42 games and is on pace for 181. He has 11 homers and an OPS of 1.116 while compiling almost as many walks (21) as strikeouts (23).

Jim Leyland managed Barry Bonds and knows something about great hitters, and while Leyland generally runs away from comparisons, he did have some general observations before Sunday’s game about the best of the best hitters:

1. They see the ball quicker, and they hit it better. When the pitcher is releasing the ball -- or maybe even before -- Cabrera and Bonds and hitters of that ilk have had the ability to recognize the pitch and its trajectory.

2. They understand when pitchers are trying to get them out on pitches out of the strike zone and have the wherewithal to react. We saw this repeatedly from Cabrera on "Sunday Night Baseball," when twice he fell behind in the count no balls and two strikes and then calmly took pitches out of the zone until he worked himself back into the count before clubbing home runs.

3. There is a consistency to Cabrera’s swing that Leyland compared to the metronome-like movement of windshield washers on a car. He doesn’t jerk his swing through, with the effort reducing the efficiency of the swing, and the swing path always allows him to reach the ball with the barrel. You will see aggressive swings from other excellent hitters -- guys like Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, etc. -- that will finish with the batter being a little off-balance, or in Beltre’s case, even on one knee. But with Cabrera, Bonds, Williams, the swing almost always looks the same, powerful and consistent and with maximum torque at the moment of contact.

What draws the notice of other hitters are his adjustments during at-bats. During a recent game against the Astros, teammates noted, Cabrera eschewed his typical stride against a Houston starter all the way up until the count was 3-2 before going with his usual leg kick on the last pitch.

Cabrera will go without a stride if he’s convinced the opposing pitcher is going to throw an off-speed pitch on the edge of the strike zone -- and will go with his leg kick if he thinks there is going to be a fastball. Few hitters in baseball can make these kinds of radical physical adjustments from pitch to pitch while maintaining their swings, and nobody is better at it than Cabrera.

Triple Crown threat
Through 42 games, last two years.

2012 2013
BA .304 .387 *
HR 8 11
RBI 34 47*
*1st in AL

His preparation for each pitcher is simple. Cabrera explained over the weekend that he doesn’t really dig into the written scouting reports that are available to the hitters, because he feels like that information is dated -- based on what the pitcher has done in the past. Cabrera does watch a little video as it runs in the Tigers’ clubhouse, but what he really wants to know is what each pitcher is doing that day -- how hard he’s throwing, what pitch is working for him, and, in Cabrera’s words, “how’s he going to try to get me out.”

He carefully watched Derek Holland warm up Sunday, saw him throw his first six pitches to Omar Infante and Torii Hunter, and Holland had it going. A crisp fastball, a hard-veering slider that broke down toward the back foot of each right-handed hitter. Holland is a good pitcher having a good season, and Cabrera completely overmatched him, as he has many pitchers.

The first home run he hit went 441 feet to right-center field. Cabrera’s second home run was a vicious line drive through the middle -- and on this replay, you can see how Holland threw his hands up in the air to protect himself because he thought the ball was coming at him. Instead, it landed about 350 feet away from him, over the center-field fence.

On Cabrera’s last home run, he fell behind in the count no balls and two strikes -- as he had before the second home run -- and looked a bit overwhelmed by a Tanner Scheppers nasty inside fastball. Cabrera was able to draw his hands in, get to the fastball and mash it over the center-field fence, again. It was as though hitting had stopped being difficult for him, to hit that pitch in that spot as far as he did.

The Tigers had a rough series, playing horrendous defense in one bad inning Sunday, and Cabrera made a mistake among many Detroit gaffes.

But he lorded over the field Sunday night in a way that few players ever have or ever will.

David Murphy, theoretically the star of the game in the Rangers’ win, met with other reporters.

"Very nice to be on the winning side," Murphy said. "Big game, fun game, national TV. We got to witness the best hitter in the game hit three homers."

From Elias: Cabrera is the first player in history to have a three-home-run game the season after winning the Triple Crown. On Sunday he became the 23rd player in MLB history to go 4-for-4 with at least 3 homers, 5 RBIs and 4 runs.

There is talk, again, of a possible Triple Crown, writes John Lowe. He is this era’s Ted Williams, says Alex Avila.

• The Rangers rallied repeatedly to win this series, writes Jeff Wilson. As Leyland, Rick Porcello and other Tigers noted, the Rangers just kept piling up great at-bats in this four-game series, one after another, and the stress on the Detroit pitching staff was extraordinary.

Justin Verlander lasted 2 2/3 innings in his start in this series, Anibal Sanchez made it through only 2 2/3 innings and Doug Fister lasted just 4 2/3 innings. Leyland kept having to go back to his bullpen, which is why he had to watch young reliever Jose Ortega melt down through 39 pitches in the sixth inning Sunday: He had to get outs from somewhere, and he had all but run out of options.

Over the four-game series, the Detroit relievers accumulated 17 1/3 innings and 278 pitches. Luckily for the Tigers, they have a day off Monday before facing Cleveland, because their bullpen needs a break.

• Jurickson Profar was called up from Triple-A to replace the injured Ian Kinsler on the Rangers' roster, but there is no indication whatsoever that Profar is in the big leagues to stay. The Rangers hope Kinsler’s absence will be confined to the 15 days he’s on the DL, and Profar wasn’t even in the lineup Sunday night. He is expected to start Monday night.

On top of that, Rangers manager Ron Washington does not seem ready to embrace the kind of rotating infield system (in which Beltre, Kinsler and the others would be rested regularly) that would be required to get Profar the kind of playing time he would need to develop. Profar may well be headed back to Triple-A.

Around the league

• The Dodgers’ bullpen blew it again, sinking L.A. to eight games under .500. A team that was built by its front office -- it thought -- to contend for a World Series title is instead on a pace to win 70 games. Which means that all bets are off and no move, no change short of Clayton Kershaw being asked to pitch right-handed should be considered a surprise.

Robin Ventura said it best when he met with the White Sox players last weekend: If the losing continues, something’s going to change. Players will lose their jobs, or staff members will lose their jobs, but something will change. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly doesn’t have a contract after the end of this season despite asking for one.

The upcoming series against the Brewers could be pivotal in decision-making.

It was Brandon League who had a big meltdown Sunday. Steve Dilbeck wrote the other day about the Dodgers’ shaky defense.

• From ESPN Stats & Info: The Indians have won 17 of their past 21 games and have a plus-52 run differential during that stretch. Along the way they’ve faced eight former Cy Young Award winners and have won seven of those games.

How Justin Masterson beat Felix Hernandez Sunday, in a start in which he threw seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts.

A) Strikeout machine: recorded third career double-digit strikeout game, and strikeout rate of 40.7 percent on Sunday was his most since 2009.

B) He had a great slider: hitters were 0-for-8, and he struck out 7 of 11 batters with that pitch (second-most since 2009).

Masterson was "the man," writes Dennis Manoloff. The Indians ran the bases aggressively.

• Matt Moore is 8-0 but not overwhelmed by it all.

• Here's my ranking of the top 10 teams in baseball, which is separate from’s more official power rankings that will come out later Monday:

1. Texas
2. St. Louis
3. NYY
4. Cincinnati
5. Cleveland
6. Boston
7. Detroit
8. Arizona
9. Atlanta
10. Pittsburgh

You keep waiting for the Nationals to take off on a long winning streak.

Dings and dents

1. Eric O’Flaherty is resigned to the idea that he’s headed for season-ending surgery, writes Carroll Rogers.

2. Bryce Harper was out of the lineup again Sunday as he continues to get treatment after running into the wall in L.A. last week. Harper could be back in the lineup Monday.

3. A couple of Phillies are set for MRIs.

4. Andrew McCutchen is dealing with some soreness.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Johnny Cueto is considering changes to his delivery, writes John Fay.

2. Ned Yost is likely to shift Kelvin Herrera out of an eighth-inning role.

3. The Cardinals called on a lefty.

4. Mike Rizzo hasn’t started talks about an extension with the Nationals, writes Adam Kilgore. From his story:

Earlier this season, the Washington Nationals exercised their option to extend General Manager Mike Rizzo’s contract through the 2014 season, a move widely interpreted as a reward for Rizzo’s stewardship of a franchise that ascended from losing 297 games in three seasons to a 2012 division title.

But exercising the option may have created a potential fissure in the relationship between ownership and its general manager. Rather than discuss a new deal that would keep Rizzo in Washington long term at a price commensurate with his experience as a GM, Nationals ownership instead locked Rizzo into one more year on its terms.

5. Ryan Flaherty was sent to the minors to play every day.

When small sample sizes matter.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Miguel Cabrera is the planet’s best hitter and he explained the other day why he doesn’t really draw much information on the written scouting reports available to all players: All of that is based on what has happened in the past, and isn’t necessarily related to what’s happening today.

Cabrera watches some video of opposing pitchers before each game, but what he really wants to see is the pitcher throwing at the outset of a game -- in his warm-ups, in working to the first hitters of the game. Cabrera feels like he’ll glean from that small sample so much usable information: How hard the pitcher is throwing that day, what pitches are working for him that day, how he the pitcher might try to beat Cabrera that day.

"Small sample size" has become a common performance observation, in dismissing particular results. It can be applied to players in September and October, but generally speaking, it’s probably heard more this time of year, as we try to wrap our brains around Josh Hamilton hitting .200 and Carlos Gomez hitting .360. "Small sample size" is employed as a cautionary phrase, as in: Be careful, don’t believe everything you see, because it’s not really representative.

But here’s the funny thing about that. Small sample sizes are used in decision-making dozens and dozens of times during in each game, before each game, after each game.

It starts early on a game day. A manager gives a player a day off because he didn’t look good in his at-bats the day before, like on Saturday, when Mike Scioscia gave Josh Hamilton time off the other day to "recharge." A staff sets its lineup according to who appears to be swinging well in recent at-bats.

A pitcher warms up in the bullpen and within a few dozen pitches, he has a feel for which pitches seem to be moving more effectively that day, and which are not. If his curveball isn’t good, if he’s spinning hangers and doesn’t have confidence in it, this greatly reduces the likelihood that he’ll throw the pitch, regardless of what all the data suggests about how the No. 3 hitter handles curveballs. The pitcher will keep searching for the curveball warming up between innings, but it’s also possible he’ll ditch the pitch all together. The catcher might recommend that based on the movement of the handful of changeups he’s seen in warm-ups, this pitch could be a better option.

A pitcher looking for solutions in a game might ignore the large sample sizes altogether, based on what he’s seen. I recently talked with Sergio Romo about his decision to throw Cabrera a meaty fastball for the final pitch of the 2012 World Series, and he talked about how Cabrera had seemingly begun to lock in on his slider, with better and better swings. Romo and catcher Buster Posey talked about this, about these handful of pitches that seemed to be losing ground for him, and decided to go with a fastball that froze Cabrera and created a moment that will be replayed over and over.

A lineup of hitters watch a pitcher work to the first couple of hitters he faces, and right away they’ll make decisions on what’s working and what is not. In the midst of the Rangers’ comeback on Sunday Night Baseball, Tigers rookie Jose Ortega missed with a breaking ball and Elvis Andrus stared out at the mound, like Clubber Lang staring down Rocky Balboa, trying to intimidate him, at the beginning of Rocky III. It was as if Andrus was trying to say: "You have to throw me a fastball, and I pity the fool." In that moment, everything that Ortega had done well in his career leading up to that at-bat, and to the David Murphy at-bat that followed, was completely meaningless. He was limited to fastballs, cornered by the small sample size of what he could control, and Murphy anticipated a fastball and clubbed it for a game-winning home run.

A catcher’s arm seems sluggish on a given day, so baserunners are more likely to take off. A reliever seems under the weather -- maybe he’s hung over, and the opposing players know it --- and they’ll adjust their strategy. A manager will call for a bunt and the hitter will look terrible making his first attempt, as if he’s not seeing the pitch well that day, and so the manager completely alters the strategy. A veteran starter looks fresh on a cool day, so the pitching coach lobbies the manager to let him go beyond his normal pitch limit.

A young pitcher is called up from the minors to make an emergency start and if he doesn’t do well -- like Josh Lindblom for the Rangers on Monday -- then he’s sent back.
If Lindblom had thrown six scoreless innings, regardless of what was on the back of his baseball card and written in his scouting reports, he’d get another shot, because of the small sample size. From Evan Grant’s story:

"What was clear Monday was that Lindblom’s fastball still isn’t refined enough to get major league hitters out on a consistent basis. Lindblom struggled with an average four-seam fastball during spring training and struggled again with it on Monday.

"There is a lot to learn from this," Lindblom said. "But, basically, it’s just about executing. I have to compete with my fastball, that’s my bread-and-butter. You talk to any pitcher, no matter what level they are at, and it comes down to fastball command."

A hitter gets a start and knocks out three hits, and as a result, he’ll get more starts, because in a lot of cases, there is surprising success. A.J. Ellis of the Dodgers wasn’t a high-end prospect, ever -- he was an 18th round draft pick, and had a .676 OPS in Class Double-A at age 25, but he kept getting better and kept taking advantage of each opportunity as he advanced. Now, at age 32, he’s one of the most productive everyday catchers in the big leagues, with an OPS of almost 1.000. The small sample sizes -- seemingly improbable, based on his history -- grew because the small samples created opportunity.

So should we ignore small sample sizes? No. Because the folks who run teams pay attention to them and make choices based on them, and so do the players.

Around the league

• Don Mattingly is the manager of the Dodgers, until the Dodgers say he’s not, and GM Ned Colletti is not talking. A sure-fire formula for dismissal speculation is when a team with a record-setting payroll gets off to a terrible start. Mattingly says he’s talked to his bosses and nobody has fired him.

But the good thing is that Mattingly gets to manage Clayton Kershaw once every five days, and on Monday, Kershaw was great again.

From Elias: This was the 22nd straight start in which Kershaw allowed three earned runs or fewer. The last pitcher with a longer streak was Pedro Martinez, spanning the 1999 and 2000 seasons.

How Kershaw won:

A) His curveball. He got 11 outs on 20 curveballs on Monday; his most outs recorded with that pitch in any of the five seasons for which we have data.

B) He's retired 42 hitters with his curveball this season, yielding one hit/walk with the pitch

C) He's gotten 12 swing-and-misses on it in his last 2 starts. He got 13 of them in his first eight starts of the season.

D) Kershaw averaged 93 MPH with his fastball, matching his fastest average fastball velocity of the season. He had nearly a 20 mph separation between that pitch and his curveball, which averaged 73.3 mph.

• Patrick Corbin has a perfect won-loss record so far.

From Elias: Patrick Corbin is the third visiting pitcher to throw a nine-inning complete game at Coors Field with 10 or more strikeouts, and the first since 1998. The other two? Pedro Martinez and Kevin Brown.

Patrick Corbin is the second pitcher in the last 20 seasons to open a season with nine straight starts in which he allowed two runs or fewer in six innings or more. The other is Ubaldo Jimenez, who opened 2010 with a dozen straight such starts for the Rockies.

How Corbin won:
A) His breaking ball. Corbin repeatedly tantalized Rockies hitters with his breaking ball. He threw 34 of them and the Rockies went after 21, missing on 15 of them (almost all of which were thrown down-and-in to righties or down-and-away from lefties).

B) This breaking ball is Corbin's signature pitch. Opponents have taken 94 swings at it and missed 54 times. His 58 percent miss rate is easily the highest in the majors.

C) Corbin's 39 strikeouts with his breaking pitches are the third-most of any pitcher in the NL this season, trailing only A.J. Burnett's 44 and Kershaw's 42.

Only with benefit of 20-20 hindsight could we know exactly how different the world could be for the Angels, who traded Jean Segura (in the Zack Greinke deal) and Patrick Corbin (in the Dan Haren deal) and did not sign Matt Harvey after drafting him in 2007.

• A couple of weeks ago, I e-mailed a friend who lives in Cleveland and asked about the area’s response to the Indians’ strong start, and his response was: mild.

But it’s probably getting stronger by the day, because the Indians keep winning, in a style fitting of the movie Major League. They had another wild win on Monday against the Mariners thanks to Yan Gomes' walk-off homer, and the excitement is building, writes Terry Pluto. Especially with Detroit coming into town tonight, with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander lined up and ready to face the Indians.

From Elias: The last time Cleveland had three walk-off wins in the same series (and/or within a four-day span) was July 23-26, 1992, against Kansas City. Carlos Baerga hit a 14th-inning sac fly on the 23rd, Junior Ortiz singled in Mark Whiten on the 25th, and Baerga hit a solo homer on the 26th.

The Indians have the best record in extra-inning games (5-0), one-run games (11-3) and have the most walk-off wins (five).

From Elias: After the Indians’ victory on Monday, Terry Francona said, "You don’t often see your opponent score in three straight innings and you win." Indeed! It had been 17 years since any team rallied to win after its opponent scored a game-tying or go-ahead run in each of its last three turns at-bat. The last team to do so was the Red Sox in an 8–7 win over the Rangers in 1996, with more than 40,000 games played in the interim.

Gomes’s secret is beet juice, writes Paul Hoynes.

Quick hitters

• From Elias: Yankees are 19-0 when scoring first. Only team since 1900 to open a season with a better such record -- 1990 Reds: 20-0 (went on to win World Series),

The heroes for them again on Monday were Lyle Overbay, who was cut free by the Red Sox in spring training; Travis Hafner, who wasn’t sure if his career was over during the winter; and Vernon Wells, who was given away by the Angels.

The downside for the Yankees is that CC Sabathia is not throwing well, as John Harper writes.

• The Phillies are now 1-9 in 10 Cole Hamels’ starts this season after Monday’s loss

• What happened Monday in the Rays’ game was baseball anarchy, says Joe Maddon.

• That team moving up mostly unnoticed in the NL West standings: the San Diego Padres, who won again on Monday.

Dings and dents

1. Ryan Vogelsong suffered a broken hand, and now the Giants need a starting pitcher.

2. Royals catcher Salvador Perez hurt his hip. Not good.

3. Shane Victorino is hurting.

4. A Nationals reliever broke his hand by punching something.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. A mayor got involved in the Astros’ TV negotiations.

2. White Sox GM Rick Hahn says there are no plans to dismantle his team. I’ve had conversations with rival evaluators this spring about a basic problem the White Sox have: Besides Chris Sale, they lack high-impact foundation players. They’ve got some good veterans, but not a lot of high-ceiling core guys.

And, as Mark Gonzales writes, it’s interesting that Gordon Beckham is playing some shortstop during his minor league rehabilitation assignment, because Alexei Ramirez is a tradable commodity. (The Cardinals could be an interesting fit.)

3. The Twins have some options as they consider another starting pitcher.

4. The Rangers cut Derek Lowe.,0,2025795.story

Starting pitching market limited.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Since Major League Baseball and the players' association agreed to a new labor deal and MLB followed that up with record-setting television contracts, the clubs -- with money burning a hole in their front-office pockets -- have been aggressive in signing the best talent to long-term deals. Just ask Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander, as well as others who’ve taken less.

One of the ripple effects, however, is that the ranks of the best of the summer trade market have been thinned out. Yes, more starting pitchers will become available as the summer goes along, and some teams will find gems -- remember the Tigers’ aggressive trade for Doug Fister -- but generally, the market for starting pitchers is shaping up to be limited. Here’s how you might rank them as of today:

1. Scott Feldman, Chicago Cubs

Feldman has had many peaks and valleys during his career, but right now he is getting excellent results. Opponents are batting .214 against him this season, and he’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven consecutive outings -- including his 6 2/3 innings of scoreless ball that he threw against the Mets on Saturday. His use of his curveball has climbed markedly, to complement his sinker and cutter; there is an effective range of velocity of about 14 miles per hour for him these days. From ESPN Stats & Info: how Scott Feldman won Saturday, in allowing no runs in 6 2/3 innings:
A. He had a very good curveball: The pitch retired seven batters (and netted him eight outs, since one batter hit into a double play).
B. Only one baserunner reached against his curveball -- Ruben Tejada on a Starlin Castro error.

From The Elias Sports Bureau: Feldman pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings and added a two-run double in the Cubs’ 8–2 win over the Mets at Wrigley Field. Over his past four starts, Feldman is 3–0 with four RBIs. The only other Cubs pitcher in the past 15 seasons to go 3-0 or better and drive in four-plus runs over a four-start span is Carlos Zambrano, who did it in 2003 and again in 2006.

Would any team surrender a package of high-end prospects for Feldman? No. But in the starting pitching market that is beginning to take shape, he might be the best option.

Feldman just keeps rolling, writes Toni Ginnetti.

2. Matt Garza, Cubs

He will throw his first pitch of his 2013 season Tuesday, and what Chicago might get in return for him in trade would depend entirely on how he pitches. If he goes back to being Matt Garza of the Rays days, well, he could ascend to become the most-sought-after pitcher of the summer. He’s eligible for free agency this fall.

3. Ricky Nolasco, Miami Marlins
His results are not good -- he has a 4.39 ERA -- but other teams may be willing to give him a mulligan on those numbers because of how noncompetitive the Marlins are and focus instead on how Nolasco is throwing. Rival executives will probably focus more on his fastball command and quality of his secondary stuff than they will about his statistics, because pitching for a team so bad means he’s throwing in a lot of meaningless games. Nolasco is making $11.5 million this year, or about $2 million per month for any team acquiring him, and he'll be eligible for free agency in the fall.

4. Bud Norris, Houston Astros

Norris is 4-4 with a 4.32 ERA while making $3 million this year, and as an arbitration-eligible player, he is in line for a healthy raise this winter. Will Norris be around when the Astros begin to climb out of the competitive trench they are in now? Probably not. But Houston’s decision on when to trade Norris is complicated by the reality that it is in danger of becoming one of history’s worst teams. Is he worth more to the Astros -- and to Astros fans -- if they keep him in the hope that he gives them a better chance of winning, say, 50-55 games? Or should they take advantage of his market value this summer -- and the weak market -- while swapping one of the very few recognizable names the franchise has?

We’ll see.

5. Lucas Harrell, Astros

Everything written about Norris above applies to Harrell, who is 3-4 with a 5.11 ERA.

6. Jason Marquis, San Diego Padres

He’s signed for $3 million this year and is off to a good start, with a 3.49 ERA -- with some good fortune, given his eight homers and 24 walks allowed in 49 innings. Some rival evaluators view him as an NL-only option, given his age and stuff.

7. Edinson Volquez, Padres

San Diego does have some starting pitching depth in the pipeline as others work their way back from injury, and Volquez is eligible for free agency this fall. He is off to a really rough start, at 3-4 and a 5.55 ERA, with 24 walks in 48 2/3 innings.

8. Bartolo Colon, Oakland Athletics

The Athletics have other options, and Colon is obviously not part of their long-term plan -- and he is affordable, making $3 million for this season. So far in 2013, Colon has a 4.56 ERA, with just two walks in 47 1/3 innings.

9. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

A total wild card. The Phillies had the opportunity to consider dealing him (and maybe others) before and after the trade deadline last summer. But even after the Dodgers claimed him on waivers, the Phillies backed away from the idea of dealing him -- and in any event, Lee turns 35 in August, at a time when he’s among the most expensive pitchers in the game. He’s making $25 million this year, will make $25 million for 2014 and in 2015, then has a staggering $12.5 million buyout on a $27.5 million vesting option in 2016, when he turns 38. He’s pitching effectively now, with a 2.83 ERA in nine starts.

Depending on how teams fare in the weeks and months and assess the whole buyer/seller question, other pitchers could become available, like the Jays’ Josh Johnson. But for contenders looking for rotation help, the pickings could be incredibly slim -- which might make it a good time for teams that have increasingly expensive pitching talent with two to four years of service time to move their guys. (Like Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays).

News and notes

• I wrote here the other day about the ripple effects of the David Price injury for the Rays, and Marc Topkin sees it the same way.

The bottom line is that the Rays won’t get the big trade package they’d want for Price, whether it happens this winter or next year or the year after that, until Price shows dominance again.

• Derek Holland will pitch for the Rangers on “Sunday Night Baseball” against Fister. Holland outlined his routine in a conversation with Orel Hershiser and me Saturday, saying that the dominoes of routine start for him the day before his starts:

A late-night dinner of pasta -- chicken carbonara.

A hockey video game.

A breakfast of three eggs over easy, bacon, pancakes.

Another hockey video game.

A nap of about 1½ hours.

Food at the Rangers’ clubhouse, something like Subway.

Pre-warm-up routine, which will culminate between 6:30 and 6:35 Central time tonight, when he hears AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.

• Justin Verlander went back to basics in his bullpen session. He feels that his basic problem is mechanical and fixable. There was some sentiment on the Rangers’ side that Verlander’s arm action in his start on Thursday was something different, something they hadn’t seen before -- observations that support Verlander’s belief that there are fixes to be found in his delivery.

• Max Scherzer really feels like he has locked into something good with his curveball, in how he grips the ball -- a pitch that will complement his fastball, changeup and slider because it’s thrown at significantly less velocity. The pitch really kicked in for him, he says, when he started against Minnesota on April 29.

• By the time the second inning ended Saturday, Anibal Sanchez looked like someone who had done too much work in the Texas heat ... which was precisely his situation. He left in the third inning, and the Rangers won, John Lowe writes. Elvis Andrus had a really big day. Ian Kinsler is still hurting.

• The Diamondbacks won an unusual game.

• From Elias: Gerardo Parra’s first-pitch leadoff home run off Tom Koehler provided the only run in the Diamondbacks’ 1–0 win at Miami. The last time a first-pitch home run in the top of the first inning held up as a contest’s only run was on September 14, 1993, when the Pirates’ Freddy Garcia connected off the Marlins’ Chris Hammond at Joe Robbie Stadium in a game that was called due to rain after six innings. But the last time it happened in a nine-inning game was on Sept. 2, 1963, when rookie Pete Rose went deep off the Mets’ Jay Hook at the Polo Grounds in New York. That was the first of 18 career leadoff homers for Charlie Hustle and the penultimate leadoff home run hit at the ballpark on Coogan’s Bluff. (The Giants’ Felipe Alou would hit the last one 10 days later.)

• As of Sunday, the Marlins have the majors’ worst record at 11-32. The effort from Tom Koehler was wasted.

• Jeffrey Loria went to a game for the first time this season Saturday and nobody noticed, writes Dave Hyde, who says that apathy has set in. The Astros won Saturday with a really strong relief effort.

Dings and dents

1. Two seasons ago, the prime guys in the Atlanta bullpen bore an enormous workload, and whether it’s coincidence or not, two of the three have suffered major injuries. Eric O’Flaherty has a ligament tear, this just a couple of days after Jonny Venters had Tommy John surgery, Mark Bowman writes. Now the Braves’ bullpen -- thought to be the best and deepest in the majors -- is a concern for Atlanta.

The good news is that the Braves will get additional pitching depth in the weeks ahead when Brandon Beachy comes back. The bad news is that there figure to be extraordinarily few good options on the trade market this summer.

2. Alexi Ogando hid his arm pain from the Rangers, manager Ron Washington said.

3. Chris Young is back for Oakland, writes Susan Slusser.

4. Adam Dunn, who has just started to hit, is out with back spasms, Daryl van Schouwen writes.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Jake Odorizzi is going to replace David Price in the Rays’ rotation while the left-hander is out.

2. Jose Altuve rejoined the Astros.

3. Josh Hamilton was benched again.

4. Ned Yost says he will remain patient with Mike Moustakas and others.

5. Tony Cingrani is going back to Triple-A.

6. The Yankees acquired Reid Brignac.

Twins set up for promising future.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Piece by piece, the Minnesota Twins are getting better. It’s just that you can’t really see it yet -- not at Target Field, anyway.

The big league Twins have been something of a surprise in how effective their pitching has been, and Minnesota begins today two games under .500, at 18-20, in last place in the packed AL Central. But it’s almost impossible to overstate how well the pieces have been coming together in the Twins’ player development, even beyond the emergence of Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia, outfielders who have made their respective major league debuts this season.

If you want to know how well third-base prospect Miguel Sano is progressing at Class A Fort Myers, well, let’s put it this way: He has been to the Florida State League this year what Miguel Cabrera has been to the American League, hitting .368, with a .465 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of 1.142. There is a presence about Sano, who just turned 20 last week, and a leadership quality, says Twins assistant GM Rob Antony. Sano, born in the Dominican Republic, has been aggressively working on his English and insists on doing his interviews in his second language, Antony says. “Even though they might be in broken English,” said Antony, “he knows that’s important.”

If the Twins had just one high-end prospect like Sano, they would be doing fine, but then there is Byron Buxton, the center fielder who was the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft. He is 19 years old and wrecking the Midwest League, hitting .343 with a .445 on-base percentage. “Not that we had any questions about his makeup,” said Antony, “but he has maybe exceeded our expectations.”

Rather than go home and relax after last season, Antony said, Buxton started training early in the offseason, with the understanding that the preparation he did this past fall would help him get through the long season ahead. “He has treated this like his profession,” said Antony.

Kyle Gibson, the 2009 first-rounder who is recovering from the Tommy John surgery he had 20 months ago, has pitched well in recent outings and is likely on the cusp of a promotion to the big leagues. There are others, too, including D.J. Baxendale, who is dominating the Florida State League.

In a conversation last summer, Twins GM Terry Ryan talked about the need for more talent, for more help -- a lot of it. Soon enough, it will be in place for the Twins, who appear to be building a team that could be very powerful within a couple of years. I agree with what old friend Peter Gammons says: When you think of the Twins of 2013, think of where the Texas Rangers were in 2007 and 2008, and where the Rangers were headed at that time.

Sano has his agent’s attention, writes David Dorsey.

A bump between two outfielders cost the Twins on Friday night.


• For Reid Ryan, Friday was a special day, writes Alyson Footer.

From her story:

Possessing keen business savvy while also understanding the baseball side of the game is key for this position, which made Ryan a solid candidate and a target for [Jim] Crane. While overseeing the sales, marketing, ticketing and communications aspect of the [Astros'] organization, Ryan will be a resource for general manager Jeff Luhnow while also serving as a public face of the franchise.

Pointing out that player development and on-field decisions are Luhnow's to make, Ryan added: "I will be here to help Jeff all he wants. I feel like I maybe bring a dimension that some of the other people that have been in this job haven't had: I was a player -- I've been around it. I know enough to be dangerous. If Jeff wants my advice, I've never been short on giving my opinion, and I'll definitely do it."

Ultimately, Ryan's goals are twofold. First, put the fans first. "We've got to make sure we're taking care of their best interest," he said. "If we take care of their best interest, they'll take care of us."

No. 2: take care of the players. "We've got to make sure we're doing everything in our power to be able to develop the best players, to attract the best players and to obtain the best players we can, because it's all about the players," he said. "If you don't have good players, it's tough to be in this business. And they're coming. It may not be this year. It may not be next year. But they're coming, and it's got me really fired up."

Ryan says this is a dream come true, writes David Barron.

• There are only three teams with more wins than the Pittsburgh Pirates, who won again Friday when the Astros messed up. It doesn’t get much uglier than this.

Pedro Alvarez was "the man" for Pittsburgh.

• Rick Porcello was "the man" for the Tigers, who won Game 2 of the four-game series against the Rangers. We’ve got the Rangers and Tigers on "Sunday Night Baseball" this weekend. Miguel Cabrera is hitting lasers these days.

• Dr. Michael Kaplan was on the podcast Friday talking about David Price, Roy Halladay and Jonny Venters, and he sees a long recovery road ahead for one of the veterans.

• Matt Harvey’s starts have become must-see TV, and his start against the Cubs on Friday was an imperfect masterpiece, even before he got the game-winning hit.

From ESPN Stats & Information: Harvey is the second starting pitcher this season to get the go-ahead RBI in his win in the seventh inning or later. The other was Clayton Kershaw against the Giants on Opening Day. He’s the first Mets pitcher to do that since Sid Fernandez in 1993. It was only the second RBI by a Mets pitcher all season.

Harvey is faring considerably better than the rest of the Mets' pitchers this season.

W-L: Harvey is 5-0, and all others are 5-16
ERA: 1.55 versus 5.42
WHIP: 0.72 versus 1.60

How Matt Harvey beat the Cubs:

A) Established his fastball early (56 percent of his pitches first time through the order).

B) Increased the use of his off-speed stuff each time through the order (62 percent the second time through, 67 percent the third time through).

C) He threw eight first-pitch fastballs to the first nine hitters, then threw just eight to the next 18 hitters he faced.

D) He recorded six strikeouts, all with two outs (career high for two-out strikeouts).

E) Great command: His strike percentage of 73.6 was a career best (78 of 106 pitches were strikes).

F) Mixed up out pitches: third time in his career recording a strikeout with four different pitches (fastball once, changeup once, curveball and slider twice each)

G) Kept the ball down: He induced a career-high 10 grounders thanks to 35.9 percent of his pitches being down in the zone. That rate was the second-highest of his career.

Matt Harvey pitch selection, by time through order Friday
First: Fastball 56 percent, off-speed 44 percent
Second: 38 percent, 62 percent
Third: 33 percent, 67 percent

• Edward Mujica continues to be dominant.

• Justin Upton changed the game for the Braves.

From ESPN Stats & Info: Justin Upton's sixth-inning home run Friday went 461 feet, his longest home run of the season and fifth-longest of his career. The average distance of his home runs this season is 427.4 feet (MLB average: 397.4), the highest for any player with at least five home runs.

• Most good hitters feast on pitchers down in the strike zone, but Paul Goldschmidt is a dominant high-ball hitter, writes Mark Simon. Goldschmidt had four hits Friday night as the Diamondbacks crushed the Marlins and moved into a tie for first place.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. David Lough was promoted.

2. Jon Rauch has been cut.

3. The Mariners called up a reliever.

4. Hideki Okajima is back in the big leagues.

5. Mark Feinsand thinks the Yankees should give Joe Girardi an extension.

6. Jair Jurrjens is back in the big leagues today.

Dings and dents

1. Brett Myers made his first rehab start.

2. Adam Dunn is dealing with a sinus infection.

3. Joe Mauer has a stiff back.

4. Ross Detwiler will miss at least one start.

5. Jason Heyward was activated from the disabled list.

6. Brandon Beachy continues to make progress.

7. Alexi Ogando landed on the disabled list.

8. Ian Kinsler said his injury is not the result of his belly-flop slide, writes Evan Grant.

9. Colby Lewis could be about two weeks away from returning.

10. Logan Morrison is on track to start his rehab assignment.

11. Daniel Hudson is making progress.

12. Jose Reyes is making progress.
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Rays in a bind with David Price.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It was an all-around tough day for the Tampa Bay Rays, who saw Fernando Rodney blow up in the ninth inning and blow a lead to the Red Sox, this just a little while after they placed Cy Young Award winner David Price on the disabled list.

For an organization that maintains a disciplined, big-picture view of operations, the Price situation is now completely muddled. Manager Joe Maddon spoke about Price’s DL stint through a glass-half-full prism, about this being a relatively minor injury that would only cost the left-hander two or three starts. But then, Maddon would be the one guy in the lifeboat perpetually telling everybody else there is land just over the horizon; it’s part of what makes him a perfect fit as the manager for a team with a relatively minuscule payroll.

In a perfect world for the Rays, Price would have zipped through the American League in the way that he did in 2012, dominating hitters and contending for another Cy Young Award. In a perfect world for the Rays, he would have led them into the postseason, thrown well in October, enabling them to market him with his trade value at its highest.

But red flags started popping up around Price almost from the start of this season, with his velocity down a couple of ticks, from 95.5 mph to 92.8 mph, and his use of his fastball down significantly. There have been games in the past in which Price has dominated hitters throwing almost all fastballs, but this season, his fastball use has been down to 55 percent.

Now Price is on the disabled list with what the Rays are calling a strained triceps. Teams are never obligated to fully disclose every piece of medical information that develops with every player, and in the same way that “forearm” is often translated by rival executives to really mean “elbow,” there is speculation around the industry -- and that’s all it is, speculation -- that “triceps” could mean “shoulder.”

At the end of the 2007 season, the Minnesota Twins put left-hander Johan Santana on the trade market as one of the most accomplished pitchers in the past two decades. Santana had won two Cy Young Awards, led his league in strikeouts three times and in ERA twice. On August 19, 2007, Santana struck out 17 in a start against the Texas Rangers; 14 months from free agency, the left-hander was at the top of his profession.

But in the last weeks of the season, rival evaluators -- preparing for the possibility that Santana would be available for trade -- noted that he had all but stopped throwing his slider. For teams that were gauging whether to make an aggressive move and acquire the left-hander for a package of prospects and then commit tens of millions of dollars in an extension, this was an enormous red flag, a sign that some sort of arm issue had popped up.

Ultimately, the Red Sox stayed in the trade conversations -- but mostly to try to push the Yankees into giving up more; they never offered the type of package that the Twins wanted. One of their executives said in a private meeting that in the duration of Santana’s forthcoming contract, Jon Lester, who the Twins wanted, probably would win more games than Santana. Yankees ownership, still smarting from the ugly Joe Torre departure, cajoled the team’s baseball’s operations department to offer prospect Austin Jackson and Phil Hughes for Santana, but New York yanked that proposal off the table quickly.

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
The Twins' eventual haul for Santana was way less than it could have been.
In the end, the Twins wound up taking a deal with the Mets that netted far less than they would have expected for a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, because of all those concerns about his arm. The only chance that the Twins had of getting the deal they really wanted was to retain Santana for the start of 2008 and have him demonstrate over an extended period that he was healthy, but neither the pitcher nor the Twins were willing to take that chance.

Today, the Rays are in a similar situation. Price’s resume has had rival teams talking internally about the enormous package of prospects it would take to land the left-hander, but now they will want their concerns to be assuaged before they make a deal for him and offer the huge contract extension. They will want to see Price back on the mound, pitching at close to the same level he reached in 2012, before they make a move.

And the Rays are starting to run out of time for that to happen. If Price is back in two or three weeks and throws great in June and July, then yes, Tampa Bay will have options before the trade deadline. But if Price is healthy -- and that’ll be the question hovering around all of his starts for the rest of the season -- then he may still need time to build back up to what he was last year.

If he doesn’t get back to his 2012-type of performance at any point this season, then the Rays will have a really, really tough decision to make, as the Twins did in the offseason of 2007-2008: Do they retain Price at a high salary and hope he rebounds in his performance and rebuilds his trade value, or do they accept a diminished package of prospects for him this winter?

Tampa Bay is constantly swimming upstream against the financial currents, playing in a bad ballpark and a bad location and competing against baseball yachts in the Yankees and Red Sox. Now the Rays' most valuable asset may not be quite as valuable as they had hoped. They need him to pitch soon and to pitch well.

• Elsewhere, the same kind of thing happened last season with Matt Garza, who got hurt before the trade deadline, and now Garza is working his way back. He should be back in the rotation next week.

• Reid Ryan is taking over as president of the Astros. This is a sure sign that Houston owner Jim Crane is hearing the discontent of the community with his organization. Here’s something that Reid Ryan said earlier this spring, from David Barron.

• Speaking of the trade deadline: Ruben Amaro says the Phillies are buyers, baby. The fine print in what he said: until they’re not. Amaro was responding to something that Jimmy Rollins said.

• We had Chase Headley on the podcast Wednesday, and Thursday, Texas GM Jon Daniels talked about all that went into the evaluation of Yu Darvish and gave updated return estimates for the Rangers’ recovering pitchers.

• In the midst of the Rangers’ blowout of the Tigers and Justin Verlander Thursday night, Ian Kinsler had a really, really ugly slide, as noted in this Drew Sheppard gif.

• A lot of aces pitched Thursday to varying degrees of success. From ESPN Stats & Info:

Verlander tied a career high with eight earned runs in just 2 2/3 innings against the Rangers, his fourth career start of less than three innings pitched. He also had two bases-loaded walks in the third inning, giving him three in two starts. He had just two in his first 239 career starts. How he lost:

A. His fastball averaged a season-high 95.3 mph, but it wasn't effective (allowed four hits and got one strikeout on his fastball).
B. Threw just three strikes on 10 first-pitch fastballs (last time with such a low percentage of first-pitch fastballs for strikes was April 27, 2010 -- 4 out of 14).
C. Has just one strikeout and 10 hits allowed against his fastball in his past two starts.
D. A majority of Verlander's fastballs were out of the strike zone (49 percent), the third-consecutive start in which a majority of his fastballs were out of the strike zone.

Opponents had hit a somewhat ridiculous .423 off his fastball in May, a spike that is, in at least some respects, a bit lucky.

ELIAS: The Rangers beat Verlander and the Tigers 10–4 on Thursday night, scoring seven runs against Verlander in the third inning. It was the first time that Verlander allowed more than six runs in one inning in his major league career, but it was only the second-worst inning by a Tigers pitcher this season. Rick Porcello gave up nine runs and recorded only two outs in the first inning of his start at Anaheim on April 20.

Verlander vowed he would bounce back, as John Lowe writes.

• Also from Stats & Info: Adam Wainwright wasn't THAT bad, but he wasn't himself in a loss to the Mets. He threw just 58 percent first-pitch strikes, his lowest rate of the season. His strike rate, ground ball rate and his total of 18 called strikes were his second-lowest in a start this season. Darvish, who opposed Verlander for the Rangers, wasn't dominant, but he was a workhorse. He did tie season-highs with seven hits and four earned runs allowed, and tied his season-low with eight K's, but he went eight innings and threw an MLB career-high 130 pitches in the win.

Darvish bent but never broke, Ron Washington says.

• The guy who pitched like a true ace was Stephen Strasburg. He pitched into the eighth inning for the first time in his career and he got there in an unfamiliar way. He got 13 ground ball outs -- the most he's ever had in his career -- and got no strikeouts with his fastball. How Strasburg won:

A. Reached the eighth inning for the first time in his MLB career. Of the 10 pitches he threw in the eighth, nine were fastballs.
B. Threw 84 fastballs (51 for strikes), the most fastballs he’s ever thrown (previous high was 76 on July 20, 2012).
C. Started 21 of 31 hitters with a fastball (14 of 21 were strikes).
D. Threw 30 fastballs with runners on and didn't allow a hit, the first time this season he didn’t yield a hit against a fastball with runners on base.

He also held his velocity into the late innings. Strasburg returned to the win column, as Adam Kilgore writes.

• The Pirates just keep winning: They took three of four from the Brewers, with a big-time homer from Travis Snider, as Bill Brink writes. Check out Snider’s blast. A small adjustment has really helped Francisco Liriano. Along the way, Andrew McCutchen made a great catch.

• Andy Pettitte has a back injury. At some point, the Yankees can’t keep fighting their injury bug, John Harper writes.

Goldschmidt setting MVP pace.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When the Arizona Diamondbacks selected Paul Goldschmidt in the eighth round of the 2009 draft, they were probably not expecting a star. It was a draft that featured Stephen Strasburg as the first overall selection, as well as Mike Trout toward the end of the first round, but Goldschmidt was only the 11th first baseman selected by any team and the 13th player selected by the Diamondbacks.

Goldschmidt reached the majors quickly, but as much because of the poor performance of first-base placeholders Xavier Nady and Russell Branyan as his own development. Still, Goldschmidt hit an impressive 83 home runs in fewer than 1,200 minor league at-bats before his 2011 call-up, so the power potential, at the very least, was there. The causes for concern were his tendencies to chase bad pitches -- he struck out 161 times in his only full season in the minors -- and to try to pull everything, which made him especially vulnerable to same-handed (right-handed) pitchers.

In close to two full seasons, spread over three years, Goldschmidt has evolved into one of the best power hitters in the majors, and as a result he is setting an MVP-level pace so far this season.

Developing discipline

Evolution really is the appropriate word because so much of his early success has been the result of targeted improvements to his scouted weaknesses. In 177 plate appearances in 2011, Goldschmidt flashed his power with eight home runs, but he struck out 29.9 percent of the time. His out-of-zone swing rate of 27.8 percent reflected his continued inability to lay off pitches out of the strike zone, and, in fact, his out-of-zone swing rate increased slightly to 29.4 percent in 2012, his first full season with the Diamondbacks.

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Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joey Votto is the only first baseman with a lower out-of-zone swing rate than Paul Goldschmidt.

So far in 2013, Goldschmidt has been much more disciplined. He has cut his out-of-zone swing rate to 22.9 percent and has seen his strikeout rate fall in time to 23.0 percent. Among players with at least 100 plate appearances in 2013, Goldschmidt has the 31st-lowest out-of-zone swing rate, and only Joey Votto is better among primary first basemen.

That improved discipline has helped decrease the platoon splits he showed in 2012, when his OPS versus left-handed pitchers was more than .300 points higher than his OPS versus right-handed pitchers. Goldschmidt's overall increase in OPS from .850 in 2012 to 1.013 in 2013 is almost entirely attributable to his improved production against right-handed pitchers. This season, his OPS versus right-handed pitchers is 1.004, within .030 points of his mark against left-handers and .265 points better than last season.

The question is how much of Goldschmidt's early-season success against right-handers represents actual improvement rather than good fortune over a small sample size; Goldschmidt has only 119 plate appearances versus right-handers so far in 2013. His .438 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) against right-handers is unsustainably high, which is a reason to doubt his breakout success.

However, there are reasons to believe in the improvement, as well. First is a significant increase in his line-drive percentage. Last season, Goldschmidt hit line drives on 20 percent of his balls in play versus right-handers. This season, Goldschmidt is hitting line drives on 28 percent of his balls in play versus right-handers, which is the 24th-highest rate among batters with at least 50 balls in play against right-handers. Players who hit a lot of line drives can often sustain a higher-than average BABIP.

Second, Goldschmidt has not been pulling an excessive number of his ground balls and short liners. Of the 211 right-handed hitters who meet our minimum ball-in-play threshold, Goldschmidt is tied for 52nd in pull percentage over his past 120 grounders and short liners. His 83 percent pull rate is actually below our recommended baseline for defensive shifting against right-handed hitters, and so we do not expect teams could significantly reduce his effectiveness with their fielder positioning.

All-around player

Offense is not the only facet of his game that Goldschmidt has improved. In his 368 defensive innings in 2011, Goldschmidt cost the Diamondbacks an estimated three runs. However, Goldschmidt is not a prototypical lumbering first baseman. In fact, Goldschmidt stole 18 bases in 2012, the same number as Bryce Harper and Justin Upton.

Well, that athleticism is starting to show in his defensive numbers, too. Goldschmidt is actually tied with Votto for the lead at first base with five defensive runs saved. In addition to improved range, Goldschmidt is showing incredible sure-handedness. He has 41 good fielding plays (GFPs) against only one defensive misplay (DM), an unmatched pace -- Eric Hosmer and Anthony Rizzo are tied for second with 25 GFPs, and Brandon Moss has the second-most GFPs (17) of first basemen with only 1 DM. Specifically, Goldschmidt has already successfully fielded 22 difficult throws, more than half his total in all of 2012.

Goldschmidt's defensive breakout is one of the major reasons the Diamondbacks, as a team, have been far and away the best defense in baseball -- their 34 runs saved far exceeds the second-place Rangers, who have 22 runs saved. Couple that with his offensive production -- Goldschmidt is on pace for 40 home runs, 100 runs, 125 RBIs, 16 steals and an aforementioned 1.013 OPS -- and you have a season awfully similar to that of Albert Pujols 10 years ago.

Goldschmidt is older than Pujols was when he became the best hitter in baseball, so he cannot hope to match Pujols career-to-career, but that is no reason why Goldschmidt cannot win the MVP this season.

Rough weekend for top pitchers.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
For every major collegiate conference but the Pac-12 -- who don’t currently have a conference tournament -- it was the last regular season weekend of the year, and one of the last opportunities for players to show off their skillsets in front of scouts and front office members.
This weekend we saw a dominant effort from a likely top-10 pick, some good – and not-so-good – things from a mammoth of an outfielder, and the best left-handed prep bat in the class saving his best for the end of the year.


• While Braden Shipley’s overall numbers (2.81 ERA, 94 strikeouts in 99 innings) have been exceptional, the Nevada right-hander hadn’t been dominant in his last few outings, missing fewer bats and throwing an exorbitant amount of pitches, including a 130-pitch effort two weeks ago.

That wasn’t the case on Thursday. In a 2-1 extra-innings loss to Fresno State, Shipley was outstanding. He gave up just one hit in his seven innings of work, while walking one and striking out 10. He retired 14 straight at one point, and threw only 96 pitches, showing the efficiency he had early in the season.

“He was impressive,” said an NL East scout. “This was the guy we saw in March, the guy with a mid-90’s fastball and plus-plus change who attacked hitters and missed bats. When he’s firing on all cylinders, he’s as good as any pitcher not named Appel in this class.”

• Ryne Stanek continued his trend of following disappointing starts with solid efforts, pitching well against Auburn. The Razorback right-hander held Auburn scoreless in his 7 2/3 innings, and hit 96 mph with his last pitch of the afternoon. Stanek will likely go in the first dozen picks, and could go as early as pick No. 7 to Boston.

• Stanford right-hander Mark Appel had a mixed afternoon on Friday in his start against California; giving up nine hits and four earned runs in his seven innings, but walking only one and striking out 11 in a 9-8 loss.

“My one concern with (Appel) is the slider hasn’t been quite as good the last few weeks,” an AL scout said. “His fastball and change are good enough to make college hitters look foolish, but if he’s going to be an ace the slider has to be better than it has in May. And if you’re taking a guy first, you better hope he’s an ace.”

• There were fewer positives for Jonathan Gray in his start this weekend. Gray gave up nine hits and four earned runs in his six innings against Kansas State, walking one and striking out just three. While the Oklahoma right-hander hasn’t been as dominant of late, his stock hasn’t diminished significantly and probably won't fall past the Cubs at No. 2 overall.

• While Gray wasn’t great, it was a pitching masterpiece compared to how Ryan Eades and Bobby Wahl pitched in their matchup on Saturday.

Eades was only able to go four innings, giving up five runs on seven hits will walking three and striking out two as LSU beat Ole Miss 11-9. Wahl -- who at one time was considered a potential top-10 pick -- had even more trouble, failing to get out of the third inning and giving up six runs on six hits and two walks in the process.

“We’ve been off (Wahl) as a first-round guy for a while, but the Eades’ development is disappointing,” an NL East scout said. “He isn’t locating anything and the fastball isn’t good enough to overpower hitters in the SEC. At one point we thought he was a top-10 guy, now he’s not even a day one guy for us.”


• Of all the prospects I’ve talked to scouts and talent evaluators about, Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge is the one who elicits the widest range of opinions. And this weekend was a prime example of why so many are so high on him, and why there are serious question marks.

Judge struggled mightily on Thursday against Shipley and Nevada, going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts -- two of them looking versus Shipley. How did Judge respond to that performance? By going 3-for-4 on Friday with two long home runs. For the year, Judge has now hit 11 homers and his once woeful strikeout-to-walk ratio is now a respectable 45-to-31.

“He’s tough to get a handle on,” an NL crosschecker. “There’s so much raw power and when he connects the ball jumps off the bat, but is he going to connect often enough to play every day? I don’t know; there’s a lot of swing-and-miss in his game and he really struggled (against Shipley). With that being said, he has improved over the year, and the whole package might be too enticing to pass up.”

• North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran also had a roller coaster weekend, going 1-for-10 in his first two games against Virginia before getting hot on Saturday and going 4-for-5 and picking up his second triple of the season. It’s looking more and more like Moran is going to be a top-10 pick, with many believing that Cleveland is his ultimate destination at No. 5 overall.

• The high school season has ended for many, but the California playoffs are beginning to heat up, and no one is hotter than Serra High School (Gardena, Calif.) first baseman Dominic Smith. Smith went 2-for-4 in a victory against West Covina High School, and has now reached in 20 of his last 24 plate appearances.

“He’s really coming on and he’s doing it at the right time,” an NL scout said. “He’s done a much better job of keeping his weight back the last few weeks and I see a load of potential for average and power at the next level. He’s one of the only guys I’ve given four 60 grades (on the 20-80 scouting scale) and I’m not sure why he’s not getting more top-10 talk.”

• Notre Dame’s Eric Jagielo hasn’t received the attention of some of the other big name third baseman in this year’s class, but he’s been on scouts radar’s for quite some time.

Jagielo picked up six hits over the weekend, including his ninth homer of the year in a loss to Cincinnati. For the year, the Fighting Irish third baseman has put up a .390/.500/.643 line and has accumulated an impressive 26 extra-base hits.

“What impresses me is the polish,” an AL scout said. “He doesn’t give away outs, and he knows how to play the game. I don’t think he’s going to put up huge power numbers but I certainly see enough power to stay at third, and I think he’s good enough defensively to stay their long-term. There’s nothing sexy about him, but he gets the job done.”

Epic shortstop era comes into focus.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
We're at the start of a short but very powerful spike in the quality of shortstops in baseball right now, with several highly gifted shortstops debuting in the majors over the past 12 months and several impact prospects in the minors at that position, as well. That contrasts with this year's draft class, which is weakest in the middle infield and could produce just one every-day shortstop at the big league level.

The hottest name at shortstop right now is Jean Segura, Milwaukee's 23-year-old sophomore who came over in the Zack Greinke trade and is off to a torrid .359/.406/.588 start this year. The power is shocking; he's much more of a line-drive hitter who needs some help from the pitcher, leaving the ball up and over the plate, to drive it out. But the ability to make contact is real and might even improve from here, and although the .380 BABIP is unsustainable, he could very well be a .330-.340 BABIP guy in the long run. My main concern with Segura as a prospect -- I ranked him 44th in MLB heading into 2012 -- was health, as he has played more than 102 games in a season just once.

Didi Gregorius has been equally hot -- and equally fluky with a .413 BABIP -- although his long-term outlook isn't as good as Segura's. Gregorius is an outstanding defensive shortstop, with great hands and a plus arm, and he should be an every-day player for a long time on that basis alone. He also has never really hit at any level other than a 46-game stretch in the hitters' paradise of high Class A Bakersfield in 2011 and has below-average plate discipline and below-average power.

Neither of those players can match the defensive wizardry of Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons, who hit a bit over his abilities last year but whose glove and arm both grade out as 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Simmons was a shortstop and reliever at Western Oklahoma Junior College and was seen within the industry as a better prospect as a pitcher because he could sit at 98 mph and was a long way off with the bat. To everyone's surprise, he hit for average from the day he entered pro ball, scuttling any thoughts of putting him on the mound. Simmons has little power and doesn't walk much, but he does make a lot of hard contact, enough that in some years he'll hit close to .300 and keep his OBP respectable, and in others he'll hit an empty .260 or so but still be very valuable, worth more than a win above replacement just from his glove and arm each year.

You might even include Brandon Crawford here for his defensive prowess, although he's behind Gregorius and Simmons in that department and, April aside, offers no value with his bat. There's also the enigma that is Starlin Castro, just 23 years old with the ability to hit .300-plus with some pop, but moving backward in his approach at an age when he should be moving forward.

The next wave

On the farm, I had four shortstop prospects in my top 10 overall this year, including No. 1 overall prospect Jurickson Profar, who, barring a trade, likely will spend the first few years of his major league career playing somewhere other than shortstop for the Rangers -- probably second base -- thanks to the presence of Elvis Andrus.

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Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images/AP Photo
Francisco Lindor is looking like a future star at high Class A.
Profar would fit well into the discussion above for his defensive abilities, but I see offensive potential that Gregorius and Simmons lack, in on-base ability and eventually in average power. Profar isn't tearing up Triple-A, lessening any internal pressure on the Rangers to bring him up, but eventually it will be clear that they're better off with him in the lineup than they are with Mitch Moreland.

The breakout performance among these four prospects so far -- small sample size caveats apply, of course -- has been Francisco Lindor, the Puerto Rican-born switch-hitting 19-year-old who sports a .406 OBP through 36 games in high-A already this year. The Cleveland prospect, taken at No. 8 in 2011, is a plus defender and runner who makes a ton of contact, striking out just once in his past 57 plate appearances. He doesn't project to hit for much power, probably 10-15 HR at most, and isn't as advanced a hitter right-handed as he is left-handed, but he's also the age of a typical college freshman and is already on target to finish the year in Double-A.

Boston's Xander Bogaerts made a strong impression in spring training and has bounced back from a slow start (there's that small sample thing again) to post a line more in line with expectations, hitting .296/.382/.452, albeit with a low contact rate and just two home runs. He's also very young, 20 years old in Double-A, and could easily spend the whole year at the level

The last of the four shortstops in my top 10, Addison Russell, has started slowly after an aggressive promotion to high-A, where he missed some time in April with a back injury. Nearly half of Russell's plate appearances have ended in a walk or a strikeout so far, less than ideal, although he's one of just two prep players from last year's draft to start the year above low-A. (The other, Courtney Hawkins, struck out 45 times in 79 at bats before going on the DL.)

Russell's assignment to the Cal League was a surprise, but it came in part because he was so impressive this spring in big league camp, and I believe he'll fulfill my expectations for him as an impact bat who stays at shortstop and provides at least average defense there.

Pipeline drying up

This year's draft class offers an unfavorable omen that this run of good young shortstops might not last much longer. I have just one true shortstop in my top 50 draft prospects, Lakewood (Calif.) High School's J.P. Crawford, and he's a long-term project rather than a fast mover through the minors; I don't have a college shortstop who projects to stay at the position anywhere on my top 100.

Amateur shortstops are often there because they're the best athletes on their teams, but few project to stay at that position as they move up the pro ladder because they lack some essential skill. A good shortstop needs range (which comes from agility and footwork), smooth hands and arm strength. If a prospect lacks any of those things, he ends up at second or third base. He might have all three skills now but project to outgrow the position, losing the lateral agility required to play the spot, which is the best argument against Segura and Russell staying at short in the long run.

The recent re-emphasis on defense at positions in the middle of the field has raised the bar for players to stay at shortstop, but the flip side is that players who do reach the majors as every-day shortstops are showing up with more defensive ability than the guys who made it there a decade ago. It might not last for long, but we could see the best shortstop crop in the majors since the Jeter-Nomar-Rodriguez-Tejada era ended.

Top early-season turnarounds.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
While most teams have played around 25 percent of their 2013 schedule, the reality is that taking a player's stats at face value is still generally a mistake. Six weeks of baseball is not enough for the normal ups and downs to have evened out, and the leaderboards of mid-May will not resemble the numbers at the end of the season. At this point in the year, you are almost always better off looking at a player's track record than his 2013 performance.

However, there is an exception that proves the rule. There are some cases in which a player is showing a pretty dramatic change in skills, and that change should cause you to discount his past performance and put a little more faith in what he's doing right now. Cliff Lee in 2008 is perhaps the most extreme example of this effect, as he showed up to camp with more velocity, a new cut fastball and the ability to throw the ball wherever he wanted, which turned him from a back-end starter into a legitimate Cy Young contender.

There's no one having quite that dramatic of a conversion, but here are three players who have made a distinct shift that should give us some reason to think they might just keep this up for the remainder of the year.

Kyle Kendrick, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

Kendrick has been a big league pitcher since 2007, and over the previous six years, he had thrown more than 750 mediocre innings. Heading into the 2013 season, he had a career strikeout rate of 12 percent and an ERA Minus of 104, meaning that he had given up runs at a rate 4 percent higher than the league average. He was the quintessential pitch-to-contact swingman, capable of throwing the ball over the plate but not much more.

After a miserable 2008 season, Kendrick found himself in Triple-A in 2009, where he had the fortune of being teammates with journeyman reliever Justin Lehr. Lehr threw a changeup with a split-finger grip, and given that Kendrick was in need of a better off-speed pitch, Lehr taught Kendrick how to throw it. It didn't come immediately, but he's been steadily working it in as part of his repertoire ever since, throwing it 23 percent of the time this year. The chart below shows how left-handed hitters have fared against Kendrick for each major league season of his career (2009 excluded, as he spent most of it in Triple-A).

Kendrick versus lefties
Kyle Kendrick's career statistics against left-handed hitters (excluding his 2009 Triple-A season):

2007 54.1 .317 .374 .549 .394
2008 78.1 .327 .404 .541 .408
2010 85.0 .308 .367 .535 .389
2011 49.0 .232 .327 .436 .330
2012 78.2 .236 .318 .383 .308
2013 28.2 .225 .265 .373 .277

Kendrick has actually posted a higher strikeout percentage against left-handed hitters (19.7 percent) than against right-handed hitters (15.4 percent) this year, which would have been unheard of back when he was just a sinker/slider pitcher who belonged in the bullpen. The evolution of Kendrick's changeup has allowed him to get to the point where he can go after left-handed hitters, and he now has an out pitch he can throw against lineups stacked with hitters from the left side. His sinking fastball still gets right-handers to hit a ton of ground balls, but now that his changeup has progressed to the point where he can actually get left-handed hitters out, Kendrick looks like a solid rotation option for the Phillies.

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland Athletics

Last year, the Oakland A's were planning on having Scott Sizemore as their starting third baseman, but he tore his ACL in spring training and missed the entire season. The A's didn't have a lot of infield depth, so they turned to converted catcher Donaldson as part of the solution coming out of spring training.

He was, by any measure you want to use, absolutely awful.

From opening day to June 21 -- when he was mercifully optioned to the minors -- Donaldson came to the plate 100 times and hit .153/.160/.235 with a 26-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the kind of thing that just doesn't fly in the land of Moneyball.

Just as one walk in 100 plate appearances might suggest, Donaldson was a free-swinging hack. He swung at 51.4 percent of the pitches he was thrown, including 37 percent of the pitches that were out of the strike zone. Pitchers didn't need to throw Donaldson a strike, as he would simply get himself out without requiring any effort on their part.

He came back to the big leagues a different hitter, showing a more disciplined approach and posting a triple-slash line of .290/.356/.489 in 194 plate appearances after his August return. He still didn't walk a lot, but he wasn't chasing so many awful pitches and was forcing pitchers to throw him pitches in the strike zone.

This year, he's taken that selective approach to a whole new level. In the first six weeks of the season, Donaldson has swung at only 43.5 percent of the pitches he's been thrown and, more importantly, only 24.3 percent of the pitches he's seen out of the strike zone. As a result, Donaldson has already drawn 19 walks, and his 11 percent walk rate is above the league average. He already had decent contact skills, but laying off pitches out of the strike zone has allowed him to improve that as well, and now Donaldson has blossomed into one of the A's best hitters. Essentially, Donaldson made the changes that everyone in Anaheim is begging Josh Hamilton to make.

You don't often see a player revamp his approach at age 27, but Donaldson has done just that, and it's turned him into a legitimate major league third baseman.

Roberto Hernandez, SP, Tampa Bay Rays

The former Fausto Carmona's change in approach can be summed up in his strikeout statistics (see chart below).

Carmona was an extreme ground ball pitcher in Cleveland, using his "turbo sinker" to force hitters to put the ball in play, but his emphasis on throwing hittable fastballs at the bottom of the strike zone never really worked out the way he hoped. Now a member of the Rays, Tampa has convinced him to become a strikeout pitcher, relying much more heavily on his slider and changeup.

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ESPN Insider
Roberto Hernandez's career strikeouts-per-nine-innings statistics.

As Bradley Woodrum noted several weeks back, Hernandez had gone from throwing 13 percent changeups to left-handed hitters in 2008 to 36 percent in the first few weeks of 2013, but he also was throwing changeups to right-handed batters. For the first time in his life, Hernandez isn't simply pounding fastballs at the bottom of the strike zone, and it turns out that his off-speed stuff is good enough to get hitters to swing and miss.

With an ERA Plus of 113, the conversion hasn't turned him into an ace just yet, but the fact that Hernandez has nearly doubled his career strikeout rate without issuing more walks or allowing fewer ground balls spells good things for his future. Once his obscene 20.6 percent home run-to-fly ball ratio comes back toward normal levels, Hernandez is going to look like a pretty good pitcher, and not at all like the one who used to go by his old name.
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Quiet winter hasn't slowed Texas.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If there was a commonly perceived "loser" of the 2012-13 baseball offseason, other than perhaps the suddenly budget-conscious New York Yankees, it was almost certainly seen to be the Texas Rangers.

General manager Jon Daniels watched Mike Adams, Ryan Dempster, Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Koji Uehara all leave as free agents while failing to land either Zack Greinke or Justin Upton, two big-ticket names the team was connected to for months. The only real additions the Rangers made were one-year deals to past-their-prime veterans like Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski, all while dealing with the increasingly visible off-the-field distraction surrounding team icon Nolan Ryan's future with the club.

Championships aren't often won in December, but even when the games got rolling, Texas faced an additional concern. Opening Day starter Matt Harrison, who received a $55 million extension in January, dropped his first two starts before being lost to back surgery. He has since undergone a second procedure, and his return date remains uncertain.

After all that, where do the Rangers stand now? With the best record in baseball and the only team with more than a 1½-game lead in its division. In what was expected by many to be the most competitive division race in the game, Texas is a surprising 6½ games ahead of the Seattle Mariners, and they're doing it with a well-rounded team. They have the third-best wOBA and the fourth-stingiest FIP on the mound. They are, according to ESPN's Playoff Odds, the team with the best chances of reaching the postseason with a percentage of 88.2.

So much for a lousy winter, apparently.

Balanced offense

Although Texas didn't bring in many new faces, all the departures meant that only four of the 10 men penciled into manager Ron Washington's 2012 Opening Day lineup were there again when this season kicked off. Despite the turnover, the offense in particular really hasn't missed a beat.

This year's Rangers are getting contributions in some amount from nearly every part of the lineup, and that's not something that could be said about last year's group, which gave more than 1,100 plate appearances to players who didn't even manage 0.0 WAR (more than half of which were to Michael Young, who was one of the worst players in baseball last season). As we complete the first quarter of 2013, only struggling left fielder David Murphy and backup catcher Geovany Soto fit that description, and that's a big reason this club has yet to lose more than two consecutive games.

It's that kind of offensewide production that has allowed the Rangers to weather the losses of Hamilton and Napoli and slower-than-usual starts from core stars Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre. Beyond that, it certainly doesn't hurt that the team is getting star-level production from a few places that weren't quite providing it last season.

At second base, Ian Kinsler struggled through a down year in 2012, ending the season with a career-worst .327 wOBA and fueling rumors he might be asked to move to first base or the outfield to make room for top prospect Jurickson Profar. All Kinsler has done in response is put up a stellar line of .302/.369/.500, good for a .378 wOBA that currently makes him the most productive offensive second baseman in baseball.

Kinsler remains at second in part because the previously inconsistent Mitch Moreland has come into his own to establish himself as the team's regular first baseman. Moreland's nine homers are already more than halfway to his previous season high of 16, and his success isn't even due to the small-sample-size batted-ball luck that we often see at this point in the season -- his .311 BABIP is barely off the .307 mark he had last year. Perhaps as importantly, he's finally begun to show some amount of success on the road and against lefty pitching, problems that had plagued him for most of his career.

Moreland's secure hold on first base continues a domino effect that allows Berkman to take the majority of playing time at designated hitter, where his .377 wOBA is a massive improvement over the poor .297 mark Young provided last year. In right field, Nelson Cruz -- finally healthy, though that always seems to be a temporary condition -- already has 11 homers and a robust .356 wOBA.

Defense and Darvish

While we all like to focus on offense, run prevention is just as important in terms of winning games, and the Rangers have found improvement with the gloves as well. When we looked at the Rangers in this space in January, there was cause for optimism that no matter what losing Hamilton, Napoli and Young might do to the offense, subtracting the three poorly regarded defenders should help support the team's pitching.

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AP Photo/Jim Cowsert
Yu Darvish has been dominant this season.That's exactly what's happened. Less of Napoli and Young at first has allowed more time for the defensively solid Moreland; losing Hamilton in center field has opened up playing time for superior defenders Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin, who can add value even if they're not hitting. The 2012 Rangers were a decent fielding team, but the 2013 edition is a better one.

As you might expect on a team that's turning more balls into outs, a rotation that had depth concerns even before losing Harrison is performing better. As a group, last year's Texas rotation had a 4.30 ERA. That number is down to 3.56 this season, even though the Rangers have had to replace Harrison and the injured Colby Lewis with rookies Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch.

Of course, the way Yu Darvish is pitching, it might not matter if he had a defense behind him at all. No starting pitcher in baseball tops his 12.76 K/9 mark; in fact, no pitcher even comes within a full strikeout of that, with Max Scherzer trailing at 11.57. Darvish's ascension into a full-fledged ace has somewhat masked the rebound of Derek Holland, who has managed to limit the homers and walks that had hurt him in the past to put up a 2.36 FIP.

Can they keep this pace up in the face of more bad news? Starter Alexi Ogando, who had already been struggling with decreased velocity this season, went on the disabled list on Thursday with right biceps tendinitis. He'll be replaced by 25-year-old Josh Lindblom, the return from Philadelphia in the Young deal, who will make his starting debut after more than 100 games of major league experience in the bullpen.

That makes for a trio of inexperienced starters behind Darvish and Holland, but for once, good news is on the way. Lewis has been making rehab starts as he returns from elbow surgery and could be ready by June; he'll be followed by former Kansas City Royals star Joakim Soria in July and ex-closer Neftali Feliz later in the season, as each recuperates from Tommy John surgery. If Daniels decides that he needs to add a starter like David Price or bat like Giancarlo Stanton before the deadline, few teams can match the strength of a farm system that boasts talent like Profar and third baseman Mike Olt.

Although the Rangers have done more than erase the memories of a seemingly subpar winter, they need only to look back at 2012 to know that the only day when being in first place matters is the final day of the season. So far, they're doing a great job of making everyone who wrote them off in December look foolish.

Who's better: Miller or Harvey?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
"Who's Better?" is a side-by-side breakdown of two of baseball's young superstars. ESPN Insider and former general manager Jim Bowden breaks down rookie right-handers Shelby Miller and Matt Harvey and determines who's better.

Last year Mike Trout and Bryce Harper burst onto the major league scene, providing baseball two faces of the future. Both should be perennial MVP candidates. This year, two future Cy Young candidates have emerged: The New York Mets' Matt Harvey and the St. Louis Cardinals' Shelby Miller. They are two of the game's best young pitchers and future aces. So who gives his team the best chance to win over the long term? Who's better: Harvey or Miller?

In this exercise, we'll compare the two righties based on delivery, deception, raw stuff, command, control and intangibles to compare their abilities. We also used the 20-80 scouting scale that most of baseball uses to grade pitchers' abilities in each of those categories.

The difficult part in comparing these two pitchers is taking into account their differences in style and how they get hitters out. Harvey has an overpowering fastball while his slider is his best secondary pitch. Miller's fastball isn't quite as dominant, but he commands it a bit better and complements it with a nasty 12-to-6 curveball. Both pitchers are off to dominant starts and are already in the NL Cy Young Award conversation.

As a former general manager, I've seen my share of top-of-the-rotation starters and both Harvey and Miller fit the bill. Here is my breakdown and comparison of both players from a GM's perspective.

Matt Harvey
HT: 6-4
WT: 228
SALARY: $499,000W-L: 4-0
ERA: 1.44
SO/9: 9.9
WHIP: 0.72
Shelby Miller
HT: 6-3
WT: 220
SALARY: $490,000W-L: 5-2
ERA: 1.58
SO/9: 10.1
WHIP: 0.87
Harvey has a strong frame with a clean, simple and effortless delivery. He sets up on the first-base side of the rubber and has tremendous deception coming out of his hands and impressive follow through. He has a three-quarters delivery with a rhythmic leg kick, landing and follow through. He's a good athlete and fields his position well. If you're going to bet on a pitcher staying healthy based on delivery, Harvey would be a good bet.MILLER: VERY REPEATABLE
Miller has the tall, strong frame of a workhorse. He possesses a compact and consistent delivery and has above-average push off the mound because of incredible leg strength. He is a good athlete, with a textbook drop-and-drive delivery. His mechanics are smooth and repeatable with a consistent release point. His delivery allows him to paint the strike zone and live on the black on both sides of the plate.
Harvey can throw both his two- and four-seam fastballs on the black, on both sides of the plate. He can vary speeds, planes and life on his fastballs. His command and control have been the biggest difference-makers for him. Harvey maintains the velocity on his fastball throughout the game and can reach back for something extra when he needs it.MILLER: DOWN IN THE ZONE
Miller sits at 93 mph, a tick behind Harvey, but he pounds the lower half of the zone and induces a lot of ground balls. The pitch has boring life on both sides of the plate, and he's also not afraid to live inside. Miller is able to keep his velocity and command throughout the game thanks to an offseason conditioning program that improved his stamina.
The slider is Harvey's best breaking pitch, coming in at 88-90 mph with late downward devastating bite. The slider to his glove side gets consistent swings and misses. His curveball is a hard 12-to-6 breaker that he uses to mix it up and keep hitters off-balance. He also throws a hard cutter in the 88-90 mph range with very late action. His fastball/slider combination already is one of the best in the game.MILLER: 12-to-6 CURVEBALL
The curveball is the only breaking ball Miller throws, and it's the only one he needs. It's a 79-80 mph late-breaking wipeout pitch. He can throw it in any count and use it to set up hitters or put them away. His curveball has tight rotation and quick downward action.
Harvey's changeup is a bit too hard at 85-87 mph with late fade, and it will be more effective as he develops a bit more feel for it. However, it's a pitch that is definitely improving.MILLER: MORE DIFFERENTIAL
Miller's change arrives in the strike zone at 79-80 mph with a differential of approximately 15 mph from his fastball. This makes it a more effective pitch than Harvey's. The deception and fade on the change are solid, showing the same arm speed as he does with his fastball.
Harvey has the poise, composure and body language of a champion. He's a tremendous teammate and well-respected in the Mets' clubhouse. He gets it. When he's on the mound you are reminded of past power pitchers like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens, who each had their own style and swagger.MILLER: RAPID MATURATION
There were some questions about Miller's makeup in the minors last year, but he has put those to rest by maturing off the field at the same rate as on the field. His ability to adjust in all aspects of his game over the last 12 months has been impressive. He is aggressive and not afraid to challenge hitters.

Based on 20-80 scouting scale
HARVEY 75 75 55 70 50 70 65 75 No. 1 Starter
MILLER 70 70 65 -- 55 70 65 70 No. 1 Starter
There is no doubt both pitchers have the potential to be Cy Young Award candidates for years to come. As I mentioned earlier, the major difference between the two is style and approach. But as this exercise indicates, Harvey's edge here is razor thin. As former Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince might say: Today I'll take Harvey, but just by a gnat's eyelash.

The new face of the White Sox.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
CHICAGO -- The back of Paul Konerko’s baseball card is impressive and Adam Dunn might finish with 500 homers. Addison Reed is an excellent young closer and Jake Peavy is a battler. All that said, the other White Sox know that Chris Sale has really become the guy on the team, manager Robin Ventura mused before the game.

Sale is the biggest difference-maker on the White Sox, the new face of the franchise, with a body and delivery that reminds some evaluators of Randy Johnson -- and Sunday night, he had Big Unit-type stuff.

I have been fortunate enough to cover two of the 23 perfect games thrown in major league history -- David Wells in 1998 and David Cone in 1999 -- and I thought I was seeing another Sunday night. Sale, pitching in short sleeves on a cold night, had overpowering stuff in the early innings, his fastball crowding right-handed hitters at 95 mph and his slider making their knees buckle.

He needed just 46 pitches to get through the first 15 outs, and by the time he finished the sixth inning with just 65 pitches, I’m sure that everybody working on the "Sunday Night Baseball" crew was digging out all of the necessary archival information on perfect games: The video of past White Sox perfect games, from Mark Buehrle’s gem to Phil Humber last year, to the video of Dallas Braden’s perfect game on Mother’s Day.

By the sixth inning, Sale was mixing in his changeup, and the Angels’ hitters looked completely helpless, and off balance. They had to be ready to react to his fastball and just when they thought they were getting that pitch, he was pulling the parachute with his changeup, leaving them nothing to swing at. They were the easiest first six innings I’ve seen, and while his White Sox teammates did the same thing they’d done through the first five innings -- greeting Sale as he came into the dugout with high-fives -- Sale noticed that they had started to shy away from him, in keeping with baseball’s time-honored superstition. He was well aware of what might take place.

With nine outs to go, the most significant challenge ahead was clearly Mike Trout, especially at a time when Albert Pujols is swinging with almost no base -- his left heel is bothering him, and his right knee is hurting -- and Josh Hamilton is still searching for a clue. After the first couple of weeks of this season, Trout sat down with Pujols and looked at video from last year and determined that he was slightly more upright in his 2013 mechanics than he intended to be. So Trout got a little lower, determined to swing at better pitches, and has been hitting much better in recent weeks.

Alberto Callaspo led off the top of the seventh for the Angels and slashed a ground ball that appeared destined for center field, when shortstop Alexei Ramirez flashed to intercept the ball, gloved it, fired to first and got Callaspo by a half-step. Ramirez did a 360-degree whirl, finishing with a fist pump. All the White Sox knew it; they all felt it. Sale had only eight outs to go.

But Trout hit a grounder into almost the exact same spot, only with much more authority, and the ball bounded into center field. The bid for the perfect game was gone, and for Sale, it had become all about keeping Trout away from home plate and giving the White Sox a chance for a badly needed victory. Trout moved to second when Pujols grounded out, and then stole third.

Mike Campbell was Sale’s high school coach at Lakeland (Fla.) Senior High School, and when Sale was a junior, he and the left-hander had significant issues. Sale recalled that Campbell told him over and over that he needed to make better choices in his life; Campbell recalled, in a conversation Sunday morning, that Sale spent too much time with people he didn’t believe were good influences on him, and as Sale went into his final year in high school, Campbell wasn’t sure if Sale would last.

"I told my assistant coaches, ‘Just keep me away from him, because if I’m around him, I might have to get rid of him,'" said Campbell. "But I’ve never seen a good thoroughbred who didn’t buck."

That senior season, Campbell thought, Sale matured dramatically as a person and as a pitcher. “And one thing about him,” Campbell said. “He’s ultra-competitive.”

With Trout at third base and two outs in the top of the seventh, the game still scoreless, Mark Trumbo swung through a 1-2 pitch. Sale was in complete control.

Finally, Ramirez drove in two runs in the bottom of the seventh, in a three-run rally, and Sale finished up the Angels in the eighth and ninth innings. Trout had been the only player to reach base against him, and Sale had needed just 98 pitches.

After the game, Sale acknowledged that the thoughts of a possible no-hitter began leaking into his mind.

From ESPN Stats & Info, how Sale won:

A. He kept hitters off balance with changeup: Sale got 11 outs with his changeup. Angels hitters swung at 68 percent of changeups they saw and missed on 37 percent of those swings.

B. He went to just one 3-ball count. He averaged four 3-ball counts per start in his first seven starts this season.

• We are seeing a heck of a run of pitching, as detailed by ESPN Stats & Info:

Six times this season a pitcher has thrown nine scoreless innings while allowing two hits or fewer. Five of those performances happened this week. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time five pitchers each threw nine innings allowing two or fewer hits and no runs in a seven-day span occurred in July 1992, when Roger Clemens, Ben McDonald, Hipolito Pichardo, Kevin Appier and Scott Erickson each did it. This week's five pitchers were Matt Harvey, Jon Lester, Shelby Miller, Adam Wainwright and Sale.

• On the podcast the other day, Justin Havens of ESPN Research and I talked next-level numbers on Paul Konerko, Carlos Gomez and others. Konerko really struggled in the games here this weekend, looking overmatched Sunday night.

• Adam Dunn installed a significant adjustment with his swing in batting practice Sunday, moving his hands higher, as opposed to down by his chest. Dunn said the new mechanics feel more comfortable, and he expects to play today against the Minnesota Twins.

Around the league

• The Cubs’ seven-year, $41 million deal with Anthony Rizzo is reminiscent of the Rays’ first contract with Evan Longoria: Team-friendly, undoubtedly, if Rizzo continues to develop into a star, with two club option years at the back end for 2020 and 2021. But sometimes I think that with all of the crazy money thrown around in professional sports, we forget how much money $41 million is, and for Rizzo, who struggled terribly with the Padres in 2011 and was sent back down to the minor leagues, this is a life-changing sum of money. No matter what happens going forward, Rizzo should never have financial concerns again.

From ESPN Stats & Info, there is more on an adjustment Rizzo has made early this year:

After hitting .173 with 26 strikeouts in 81 at-bats in his first 21 games, there was talk of Rizzo potentially being demoted to Triple-A. But that talk is no more after Rizzo's past 16 games. Rizzo is 26-for-62 with three homers in that span and has struck out only eight times.

From a technical standpoint, the big difference in performance for Rizzo is in his performance against pitches on the outer half of the plate, off the outside corner. Since April 25, he is 18-for-34 against such pitches with a 36 percent line-drive rate. He was 8-for-54 with a 13 percent line-drive rate prior.

Early in the season, if he wasn't homering against that pitch, he was popping it up to left field or grounding it to the right side. Now he's hitting line drives against it.

• The good news for the Orioles is that they beat the Twins on Sunday, and Wei-Yin Chen threw really well. The bad news is that he has an oblique strain. The Orioles are hoping it’s just a cramp, as Roch Kubatko writes.

• Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon are pitching a whole lot early this season, as Rob Biertempfel writes.

• The Astros were swept by Texas, in what was a lesson in baseball, says Bo Porter.

Houston’s record: 10-28. At this pace, they’ll finish 43-119, which would be close to a record.

Houston’s run differential: minus-81. At this pace, they’ll finish with a run differential of minus-345, which would be close to a record.

The best umps in baseball.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
After last week's botched replay review in Cleveland, we've once again had to hear about how MLB needs more instant replay because the technology is there. I'm not necessarily against these kinds of changes, but a lot of people who are calling for them don't realize the negative effect technology has had on the game, both in the way it is umpired and managed.

What most people don't see is that these advancements have made these jobs harder than ever. However, there are a number of umps who do a fantastic job despite the changing circumstances. As someone with recent managerial experience, I want to explain the way technology has changed the game in ways fans don't get to see, and also give you my breakdown of the 10 best umpires in baseball.
Video room shenanigans
Back in the day, you used to hear stories about how Tony Gwynn would carry a VCR with him from city to city so he could study his at-bats between games. Now, teams have video rooms just steps from the dugout that allow batters to study their swings between trips to the plate. Sounds great, right? Not always.

Players aren't as studious as they might like you to believe, and they love to convene in the video room so they can see how the home plate ump is trying to screw the team over on that night. More often than not, when you see a bunch of guys on the bench barking at the umpire about balls and strikes it's because they've been in the video room and are convinced the ump is cheating their teammates on balls and strikes.

As a manager, this is a pain in the butt. The video room is supposed to be a tool for helping players refine their game. Instead, it has become a nuisance. I heard of one team that even closed its video room during games last season because it had become such a distraction. You want your players engaged in the game so they can learn and support their teammates, not checking to see if the ump might be squeezing you.

I always told my players that calls even out over the course of the season, and that you can't let that affect your focus. And when they are yelling at the umps all game, it will usually hurt the team more than it helps, and then the manager has to try to make nice.

Under the gun
Before these high-tech video rooms (and high-def replays in stadiums), umps were under far less scrutiny and could more easily control the game. For example, they would typically call guys out on a "phantom" tag as long as the ball beat the runner to the bag, and this was accepted practice. But in recent years umps stopped giving an out on the phantom tag, and if you go out to argue they say, "Sorry, I can't give you that call anymore because if I do I'm going to be all over the 11 o'clock SportsCenter."

Because of that increased scrutiny, umpires have seemed to become a bit more disgruntled and confrontational, and this is bad for the game. Deep down, I think all of them would like increased replay, but the problem is that we can't have replay where it matters most.

The most important plays of the game happen at home plate, but from check swings, to appeals to third, to plays at the plate, there are simply too many kinds of plays that happen for replay to be a realistic option.

I'm cool with replay on home runs, and I'd even be fine with replay on trapped catches and hits down the line, but the place where technology is most needed -- and can never happen -- is behind the plate.

The human eye is only so good, and umpires do an incredible job considering the circumstances. According to Baseball Prospectus there are 75 umps who have worked at least one game behind the plate this year, and of those 75 there are far more good umps than bad. Here are the 10 guys who I think do the best job, and they are all veteran umps. However, there are a few young guys who I think are promising, such as James Hoye, Dan Bellino, Todd Tichenor and Alan Porter.

The top 10
1. Jeff Nelson: He averages 0.00 smiles per game, but no one cares more and works harder than this guy. Solid all around and very consistent.

2. Jim Reynolds: Friendly, but professional with a terrific strike zone and very good on the bases.

3. Tim McClelland: He has ended up in the middle of a number of controversial calls in his carer, but he commands respect and deserves it. He still has one of the best strike zones in the game.

4. Ron Kulpa: He really cares and has a good common sense when handling stuff on the field.

5. Joe West: His "I'm here and I'm in charge attitude" makes him unpopular among players and managers, but you can't ignore how good he is. He's the guy you want to have behind the plate during a do-or-die game.

6. Jim Joyce: It's a shame that some people will remember him for the botched perfect game call in Detroit. All-around good umpire and human being.

7. Gerry Davis: The ultimate pro and great at handling situations on the field. He has a small but consistent strike zone.

8. John Hirschbeck: Well respected with great common sense on the field. Just solid all around and is an even better guy.

9. Laz Diaz: He really understands players and the game. Friendly but fair.

10. Wally Bell: Great personality and knows how to handle people. Some injuries have slowed him down a bit, but still very solid.

A few other guys who stand out to me are Mike Everitt, Mark Wegner and Mark Carlson.

Pitchers thriving in poor situations.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Recent seasons have seen many teams come to quickly regret signing big-name free agents to long-term deals. Carl Crawford, Albert Pujols, Jayson Werth, Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard have been recent major disappointments and have years left on their contracts. The risk for teams is even greater for free-agent pitchers, who have to contend with the unnatural task of throwing a baseball thousands of times per year. With the chances of injury high, teams rarely seem to get full return on their investment.

This season, though, there have been a few notable pitchers who have landed with new teams -- either via trades or after signing multiyear free-agent deals -- and have exceeded expectations. A handful of those pitchers have succeeded despite now being in a less favorable situation than they were with their previous teams. There is still time for regret, but so far, teams are thrilled that they signed the following three players.

1. Ryan Dempster (hitter-friendly home park)

Dempster is one of the more successful reliever-to-starter conversion stories. From 2008, when he first entered the Cubs' rotation, to 2011, he compiled a 3.69 ERA and threw 200 innings in all four seasons. When he started 2012 with a 2.25 ERA in 104 innings on a Cubs team committed to rebuilding, he became the most sought-after starting pitcher this side of Zack Greinke.

2012 Park Factors
*Rankings based on average runs per game

Team Rank Park Runs HRs Hits
3 Fenway Park (Red Sox) 1.206 1.088 1.173
4 Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (Rangers) 1.183 1.168 1.117
13 Wrigley Field (Cubs) 1.024 0.962 0.981
Many still had reservations, in great part because Dempster's peripheral statistics suggested that he was overachieving. For example, Dempster held batters to a .244 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) while with the Cubs in 2012. Pitcher BABIP tends to stabilize around .300 over time, subject to smaller fluctuations due to factors like team defense and frequency of hard contact. Dempster has a career .301 BABIP and had never bested a .280 BABIP in his four seasons as a starter. His detractors saw regression coming and didn't believe he was worth the premium his early-season ERA demanded.

After being sent to Texas at the trade deadline in 2012, it took one start to confirm those reservations for many, as Dempster was rocked for eight runs in 4 2/3 innings versus the Angels. He went on to allow a 5.09 ERA in 69 innings for the Rangers, as his BABIP regressed to .277 for the season. When he signed with the Red Sox for two years and $25 million, many expected more of the same. As with the Rangers, Dempster would pitch in an unfavorable home park in the American League, a far cry from the friendlier confines of Wrigley Field.

2012 Park Factors
*Rankings based on average runs per game

Team Rank Park Runs HRs Hits
3 Fenway Park (Red Sox) 1.206 1.088 1.173
4 Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (Rangers) 1.183 1.168 1.117
13 Wrigley Field (Cubs) 1.024 0.962 0.981
In spite of those expectations, Dempster has started 2013 for the Red Sox in similar fashion to 2012 for the Cubs. In seven starts, he has a 2.93 ERA, and while his .245 BABIP foreshadows a likely increase in his ERA, a difference in his approach that began in Texas could sustain his success.

For his career, Dempster has struck out 7.9 batters per nine innings, but last September and October with the Rangers, Dempster struck out 9.7 batters per nine. That trend has escalated in 2013 with the Red Sox, as Dempster has struck out 11.5 batters per nine.

One reason for his success seems to be an increasing reliance on his split-fingered fastball. He has nearly doubled his usage from 2010, when he threw the pitch 10.5 percent of the time, to 2013, when he has thrown it 17.2 percent of the time. Dempster is getting better results with the pitch, as well. From 2010 to 2012 on the Cubs, Dempster drew a 20.2 percent swinging strike rate on his split-finger. That increased to 22.5 percent with the Rangers last season and has ballooned to 30.9 percent so far with the Red Sox.

Dempster will likely see his BABIP numbers and ERA increase, while his 1.3 home runs per nine innings -- a rate he matched for Texas and would be a career high -- remains high because of his home park, but his improved strikeout rate can help him minimize the effects of a worse environment for pitchers.

2. Anibal Sanchez (poor infield defense)

Miguel Cabrera cost the Marlins 29 runs with his poor defense at third base from 2006 to 2007 and another three in 14 games for the Tigers in 2008 before they moved him to first base. When they signed Prince Fielder and decided to move Cabrera back to third in 2012, nearly four years since he last played the position (and did so poorly), it seemed like a potential disaster, but Cabrera surprised us all by playing decently. For the season, he cost the Tigers just four runs, the equivalent of his previous two-year average at the much-less-demanding first base. So far in 2013, the Tigers' infield defense is playing much closer to our 2012 forecast. Cabrera has already equaled his minus-4 runs saved total from the previous season in one-fifth as many games, and his fellow infielders aren't much better. Fielder, who had the second-best defensive season of his career in 2012, has matched Cabrera with minus-4 runs saved. Jhonny Peralta mans the only infield position that hasn't cost the Tigers a run, and he has averaged close to minus-3 runs saved in his six full seasons at shortstop.

Sanchez was a popular trade-deadline pitcher in 2012, much like Dempster, but he was no stranger to a lack of defensive help behind him. From 2010 to 2012, Sanchez's three healthy seasons in Florida, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Jorge Cantu and Greg Dobbs combined to cost the Marlins 88 runs at shortstop and third base alone.

[+] Enlarge
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Anibal Sanchez has suffered from poor infield defense.Sanchez may have been used to poor defense behind him, but that has not prevented him from making adjustments in Detroit. From 2010 to 2012, Sanchez allowed a bit more than 45 percent ground balls. So far in 2013, that ground ball rate has fallen to 42 percent, and like Dempster, Sanchez has seen a huge jump in his strikeout rate, from a career 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings to 11.4 this season.

For Sanchez, the difference has been less about a change in the usage of his pitches and more about a change in the results of those pitches. From 2010 to 2012, Sanchez induced swings on nearly a third of his pitches out of the strike zone and hitters made contact on those pitches 65 percent of the time. So far this season, Sanchez has seen only a slight dip in his out-of-zone swing rate but a much greater drop in contact rate on those pitches, which is down nearly 10 percent -- a big change for a pitcher with such a consistent recent track record.

Whatever the cause for the improvement, Sanchez has become an ace on a staff of aces. The Tigers lead baseball with 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings as a team. The Tigers and the Red Sox are the only teams in baseball striking out more than a batter per inning.

3. James Shields (less shifting)

More than any other team in baseball, the Rays shift their infield defense based on the batted-ball tendencies of the opposing hitters. From 2010 to 2012, the Rays shifted 936 times on balls in play and saved 31 runs doing so; only four other teams shifted even half as often over that span.

The Royals were not one of those four teams. They shifted 338 times over the same time period, a little more than one-third as often as the Rays, and only saved one run doing so. So far this season, they trail the Rays, 97 shifts to 59. The Royals decided to trade Wil Myers, considered by many to be the best hitter in the minors, for Shields because they saw Shields as the ace they had been unable to develop in their own system. However, conventional wisdom suggested Shields, whose 52 percent ground ball rate was the 21st highest of the 142 pitchers who threw 100 innings in 2012, would have trouble maintaining his previous levels of success on a team less willing to shift behind him.

So far this season, Shields has been the ace the Royals expected. In fact, his 2.52 ERA would be a new career best. Both his strikeout and walk rates are in line with his career levels, but Shields is seeing improved performance against left-handed hitters, and since left-handers tend to show more extreme pull tendencies, that has allowed him to overcome the decrease in shifting.

For his career, Shields has been a very similar pitcher versus lefties and righties, against whom he has 7.7 and 7.8 strikeouts per nine, respectively. With the Royals, Shields is striking out more lefties (9.5 per nine innings). Additionally, his overall ground ball rate is down 5 percent from last season to 47 percent. His .256 BABIP may still rise, but he has no need to worry about a dramatic decrease in his effectiveness on his new team.
post #11874 of 73000
Originally Posted by JumpmanFromDaBay View Post

Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

The Nats are entering a free fall.

I haven't watched y'all all season Til today. What happened?

cant score for ****......back to back shut outs if im not mistaken

post #11875 of 73000
Thread Starter 
Alex Sanabia Might Be In Trouble For Spitballing. Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Let me preface all of this by saying that it’s always possible that a quick video replay could be missing necessary context and misrepresenting what actually happened. There is some uncertainty when viewing events from afar, especially in a narrow timespan. It is possible that what you’re about to see isn’t what it looks like.

But, uhh, it sure looks like Alex Sanabia was caught on video spitting all over the baseball after allowing a home run to Domonic Brown tonight. As pointed out by one of our commenters, you can see the video here, and pay attention at around the 13 second mark.

Or, if you’d rather, just watch this helpful GIF, care of Jeff Sullivan.

If you’re curious, here’s the relevant portion of the MLB official rules:

8.02 The pitcher shall not—

(a) (1) While in the 18-foot circle surrounding the pitcher’s plate, touch the ball after touching his mouth or lips, or touch his mouth or lips while he is in contact with the pitcher’s plate. The pitcher must clearly wipe the fingers of his pitch- ing hand dry before touching the ball or the pitcher’s plate. EXCEPTION: Provided it is agreed to by both managers, the umpire prior to the start of a game played in cold weather, may permit the pitcher to blow on his hand.

PENALTY: For violation of this part of this rule the umpires shall immedi- ately remove the ball from play and issue a warning to the pitcher. Any sub- sequent violation shall be called a ball. However, if the pitch is made and a batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a hit batsman or otherwise, and no other runner is put out before advancing at least one base, the play shall pro- ceed without reference to the violation. Repeat offenders shall be subject to a fine by the League President.

(2) expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove;

(3) rub the ball on his glove, person or clothing;

(4) apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;

(5) deface the ball in any manner; or

(6) deliver a ball altered in a manner prescribed by Rule 8.02(a)(2) through (5) or what is called the “shine” ball, “spit” ball, “mud” ball or “emery” ball. The pitcher is allowed to rub the ball between his bare hands.

PENALTY: For violation of any part of Rules 8.02 (a)(2) through (6):

(a) The pitcher shall be ejected immediately from the game and shall be sus- pended automatically. In National Association Leagues, the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games.

(b) If a play follows the violation called by the umpire, the manager of the team at bat may advise the umpire-in-chief that he elects to accept the play. Such election shall be made immediately at the end of the play. However, if the batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batsman, or otherwise, and no other runner is put out before advancing at least one base, the play shall proceed without reference to the violation.

(c) Even though the team at bat elects to take the play, the violation shall be recognized and the penalties in subsection (a) will still be in effect.

(d) If the manager of the team at bat does not elect to accept the play, the umpire-in-chief shall call an automatic ball and, if there are any runners on base, a balk.

(e) The umpire shall be sole judge on whether any portion of this rule has been violated.

Rules 8.02(a)(2) through 8.02(a)(6) Comment: If a pitcher violates either Rule 8.02(a)(2) or Rule 8.02(a)(3) and, in the judgment of the umpire, the pitcher did not intend, by his act, to alter the characteristics of a pitched ball, then the umpire may, in his discretion, warn the pitcher in lieu of applying the penalty set forth for violations of Rules 8.02(a)(2) through 8.02(a)(6). If the pitcher per- sists in violating either of those Rules, however, the umpire should then apply the penalty.

Rule 8.02(a) Comment: If at any time the ball hits the rosin bag it is in play. In the case of rain or wet field, the umpire may instruct the pitcher to carry the rosin bag in his hip pocket. A pitcher may use the rosin bag for the purpose of applying rosin to his bare hand or hands. Neither the pitcher nor any other player shall dust the ball with the rosin bag; neither shall the pitcher nor any other player be permitted to apply rosin from the bag to his glove or dust any part of his uniform with the rosin bag.

(b) Have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance. For such infraction of this section (b) the penalty shall be immediate ejection from the game. In addi- tion, the pitcher shall be suspended automatically. In National Association Leagues, the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games.

(c) Intentionally delay the game by throwing the ball to players other than the catcher, when the batter is in position, except in an attempt to retire a runner.

PENALTY: If, after warning by the umpire, such delaying action is repeated, the pitcher shall be removed from the game.

(d) Intentionally Pitch at the Batter.

If, in the umpire’s judgment, such a violation occurs, the umpire may elect either to:

1.Expel the pitcher, or the manager and the pitcher, from the game, or
2.may warn the pitcher and the manager of both teams that another such pitch will result in the immediate expulsion of that pitcher (or a replacement) and the manager
If, in the umpire’s judgment, circumstances warrant, both teams may be officially “warned” prior to the game or at any time during the game.

(League Presidents may take additional action under authority provided in Rule 9.05)

Rule 8.02(d) Comment: Team personnel may not come onto the playing surface to argue or dispute a warning issued under Rule 8.02(d). If a manager, coach or player leaves the dugout or his position to dispute a warning, he should be warned to stop. If he continues, he is subject to ejection.

To pitch at a batter’s head is unsportsmanlike and highly dangerous. It should be—and is— condemned by everybody. Umpires should act without hesitation in enforcement of this rule.

And, because no one uses the word “expectorate” anymore, here’s the dictionary definition: To cough or spit out phlegm from the throat or lungs.

It sure looks like Alex Sanabia “expectorated” all over that baseball, doesn’t it? I don’t know how else you would possibly describe that action.

It’s worth noting that the Marlins won this game, and that Brown’s home run was the only run Sanabia allowed all night. Sanabia has been a replacement level pitcher this year, but tonight, he shut down the Phillies. I would think this is probably not the last you’ve heard of this story.

post #11876 of 73000
The big league Twins have been something of a surprise in how effective their pitching has been

I don't think that should've been too much a surprise. The rotation wasn't going to wow anybody seeing as they've stacked a bunch of #3 type starters, but they're a solid group of pros that can keep a team with an offense in games.
post #11877 of 73000
Only with benefit of 20-20 hindsight could we know exactly how different the world could be for the Angels, who traded Jean Segura (in the Zack Greinke deal) and Patrick Corbin (in the Dan Haren deal) and did not sign Matt Harvey after drafting him in 2007.

What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
post #11878 of 73000
post #11879 of 73000
Heads roll for those type of blunders.

Anti-Jon Daniels. Might seem like I have a man crush always mentioning him, but I truly respect his baseball mind and strategy.
post #11880 of 73000
Originally Posted by JumpmanFromDaBay View Post

I haven't watched y'all all season Til today. What happened?
Well, Zach Duke was starting last night so we pretty much surrendered before the game started. We have the worst team batting average, OBP, and I'm pretty sure slugging percentage in the league. Yes, lower than the damn Marlins. The pitching has been good, but not dominate like last year but I expected them to regress a little bit. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche are the only ones who can swing the bat right now, Harper is still clearly in a lot of pain out there from crashing into that wall at Dodger Stadium. We're paying Jayson Werth to not properly take care of his body and contribute nothing, Danny Espinosa is the worst player in the major leagues, and with Harper and Werth out our outfield has produced absolutely nothing. This team really sucks right now, and they missed their chance to stay in the heat of the race when the Braves went on their losing streak and now that the Braves are heating could get ugly. Mike Rizzo is an arrogant prick though and can't admit he's wrong so no moves will be made until it's too late mean.gif
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