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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 859

post #25741 of 73000
Sounds like the Rockies are preparing for life after Troy.
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 #25742 of 73000
They're use to finishing the season with him on the DL I don't see how this isn't any different than last year or the year before.
post #25743 of 73000
So the mets are definitely getting Tulo and gonna watch him fall apart like Johan right? Stamp it right now?
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BUNCH OF STUFF FOR SALE Including BC3 WC4 Oreo 6 Carmine 6 and many many more

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post #25744 of 73000
Originally Posted by Mr Marcus View Post

yessir.......good win...was looking like a potential L was headed our way but Storen was clutch 
Yep, filthy slide piece was working for him.

Soriano almost blew it again though...not as confident in him as I was earlier this year.
post #25745 of 73000
Thread Starter 
Best defensive tools in MLB.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There are so many ways to evaluate a young baseball player's skills, but scouts have the most tried-and-true method: breaking a player's specific skills into different "tools." These tools separate a player's baseball-relevant skills into different areas, such as throwing ability, hitting for power and running speed. Then there's a comments section included, in which a scout can call special attention to a certain facet of a player's game, such as a unique hitch a hitter has or a smooth throwing motion.
Essentially, it's all of a player's skills on one sheet of paper.

But the evaluating doesn't end once a player reaches the major leagues and becomes more of a known commodity. The grades remain and can even change. And some stand out even among the mass of talented players that is the major leagues. For the next three days, we will call attention to those special players.

We asked three MLB Insider talent evaluators -- Manny Acta, Jim Bowden and Christopher Crawford -- to lay out the best of the best, those who stand out among their peers. Today we look at defensive tools. Hitter tools will follow on Thursday, with pitcher tools on Friday.

Best outfield arm
1. Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
"Puig still makes mental mistakes -- overthrowing the cutoff man, throwing to the wrong base -- but in terms of pure, unadulterated arm strength, no one has more of it." -- Christopher Crawford

2. Yoenis Cespedes, Red Sox: "The action isn't the prettiest, but he has improved his accuracy and has a quick release." -- Crawford
3. Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox
4. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
5. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies

Honorable mentions: Alex Gordon, Gerardo Parra, Josh Reddick, Bryce Harper, Leonys Martin

Best infield arm
1. Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves
"Simmons routinely hit the mid-90s and touched 98 mph as a pitcher when he was in junior college, and that velocity has carried over to shortstop, allowing him to make the impossible look easy." -- Crawford

2. Manny Machado, Orioles: "Too bad we can't see this accurate cannon from shortstop." -- Manny Acta
3. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
4. Yunel Escobar, Rays
5. Adrian Beltre, Rangers

Honorable mentions: Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie

Best catcher arm
1. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
"In football, they have the term 'shutdown corner.' Well, Yadier is a shutdown catcher." -- Jim Bowden

2. Salvador Perez, Royals: "Has a cannon for an arm, a quick release and good feet." -- Crawford
3. Matt Wieters, Orioles
4. Russell Martin, Pirates
5. Yan Gomes, Indians

Honorable mentions: A.J. Ellis, Wilson Ramos, Christian Vazquez

Best outfield glove
1. Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers
"Impressive combination of instincts, speed and soft hands ... he's your prototypical center fielder." -- Acta

2. Juan Lagares, Mets
3. Alex Gordon, Royals: "Takes excellent routes and is as sure-handed as any outfielder in the game." -- Crawford
4. Jason Heyward, Braves: "Positions himself as well as any outfielder in baseball and seems to get to everything." -- Crawford
5. Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox

Honorable mentions: Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Jacoby Ellsbury, Nick Markakis.

Best infield glove
1. Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves
"In addition to his howitzer of an arm, Simmons is extremely quick with his jumps, giving him the ability to turn sure base hits into outs better than any shortstop in baseball." -- Crawford

2. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
3. Adrian Beltre, Rangers: "This veteran is arguably the best defensive third baseman of his era." -- Bowden
4. Alcides Escobar, Royals
5. Nolan Arenado, Rockies

Honorable mentions: Jose Reyes, Adeiny Hechavarria (Bowden: "The most underrated defensive shortstop in baseball."), Brandon Phillips, Dustin Pedroia, Josh Donaldson (Crawford: "Charges on the ball well and superbly covers that expansive foul territory in Oakland."), Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy, Zack Cozart

Best outfield range
1. Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers
"Has great instincts and quickness and moves well in all directions." -- Acta

2. Juan Lagares, Mets
3. Mike Trout, Angels
4. Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox
5. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

Honorable mentions: Billy Hamilton, Peter Bourjos

Best fielding pitchers
1. Mark Buehrle, Toronto Blue Jays
"Buehrle has been the standard in terms of defense at the position for years and still fields the position as well as anyone in baseball, with excellent reflexes and great positioning after his pitches." -- Crawford

2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
3. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays: "Played shortstop in high school and could probably play it adequately in the big leagues right now." -- Bowden
4. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
5. Henderson Alvarez, Marlins

Honorable mentions: Kyle Lohse, Zack Greinke, R.A. Dickey, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo

Best first baseman at scooping low throws
1. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
"Teixeira remains the best in the game at scooping balls in the dirt, using his quick reflexes and anticipation." -- Bowden

2. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers: "Has incredibly soft hands." -- Acta
3. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
4. Albert Pujols, Angels
5. Adam LaRoche, Nationals

Honorable mentions: Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto, Eric Hosmer, Mike Napoli

How the O's can win the AL East.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In taking two of three games from the Toronto Blue Jays last week, the Baltimore Orioles have begun to blow the doors off the AL East. Their win in the series opener against Toronto last Tuesday marked the first time since 1997 that the team held a five-game lead in the division. That's right: The O's haven't held a lead this big since before the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays were in existence. As such, there is a great deal of optimism surrounding the team and its chances.

But there's still plenty of time left. For the Orioles to keep the good times rolling and win the division without too much of a fight, they'll need to follow a five-step plan.

Here's how the Orioles can win the AL East:

1. Limit the starts by Miguel Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez
The Orioles finally did the obvious Sunday when they optioned Gonzalez back to the minors instead of Kevin Gausman. Gausman hasn't exactly been setting the world on fire -- his 101 FIP- -- over the past 30 days is exactly league average. But he's been much better than Gonzalez.

Over both the past month and the whole season, Gonzalez has the worst FIP- on a not-so-stellar pitching staff, so sending him down is the right move. Jimenez hasn't been much better -- the former Colorado Rockies ace has been frustratingly bad again this season.

The rotation has been turning things around recently (or at least regressing to the mean), partly due to having more Gausman and less Jimenez in the mix. Now that Gonzalez is gone, that trend could accelerate.

2. Play David Lough more
[+] EnlargeNelson Cruz
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Cruz has struggled over the last two months.

I don't know if you've heard, but Nelson Cruz is slumping. After smacking 21 homers and hitting .313/.382/.664 in his first 57 games, he's hit just .205/.274/.361 with nine homers over the last 57. Cruz's line for the season still reads a robust .260/.330/.513, but the O's don't need to be beholden to Cruz's first half. He was never going to keep up that pace, and while his extended slump is him essentially reverting back to form, the team should be turning to Lough more frequently while Cruz works through his slump -- especially since Lough has started hitting. In April and May, Lough posted just a 27 and 8 wRC+, respectively. As a result, he saw Cruz, Steve Pearce and Delmon Young take a big bite out of his playing time. Since then though, he's been getting back in his groove. The 28-year old has posted a 160 wRC+, albeit in limited playing time.

Lough's only started three times this month, while Cruz has started nine times. It's time to reverse that ratio, especially since Lough plays exemplary defense. Cruz's defensive outlook can be charitably described as adventurous.

3. Find a second baseman
Jonathan Schoop has played fairly well defensively, but the team needs some more thump from the spot. Cliff Pennington, Didi Gregorius and Josh Rutledge are just a few middle infielders who might be had this month. It's a good idea to call the Cincinnati Reds and inquire about Brandon Phillips, too. It stands to reason that the Reds could be sweating their payroll enough to be talked into dealing Phillips.

On the juicier side of things: Perhaps Javier Baez's big first week could embolden the Cubs to move Starlin Castro.

None of these guys is an offensive force, but anything is better than Schoop's 59 wRC+. Schoop ranks dead-last in wRC+ among second basemen with 300 PAs.

4. Take advantage of the soft spots in the schedule
The team has series this week with the Yankees and Indians. But following that, the Orioles are lined up for 20 games with the noncontending White Sox, Cubs, Rays, Twins and Red Sox.

The O's need to take care of business during this stretch, especially because they finish with 13 of 16 games against the Yankees and Blue Jays. Only a brief respite against the Red Sox at home will break things up. If the O's can take care of business leading up to that time, they may not have to sweat the last two weeks.

5. Keep riding the bullpen
Heading into Sunday's action, the Orioles' bullpen had allowed just seven runs in its last 44 innings pitched, good for a 1.41 ERA. They nearly matched that total in just four innings Sunday, but the point remains -- the O's have once again built a dynamite relief staff.

Orioles pitching by month
Month IP FIP- FIP- Rank
Mar/Apr 76 117 25
May 95.2 104 22
June 94 91 12
July 80.2 62 2
August 29.2 79 10
The starting rotation has been coming around only recently, but the bullpen has been steadily improving all season. For evidence, see the chart at the right.

With Andrew Miller now in the fold, Brian Matusz coming on in a big way since the calendar flipped to July and Zach Britton excelling in relief, the O's are going to be death on lefties down the stretch. And with Darren O'Day and Brad Brach being just as lethal against righties, Buck Showalter can and should play matchups all night long. It might make for some less-than-riveting baseball, but no one will remember as long as the Orioles make it to the promised land.

Of course, it would be nice if the O's could get a little help from their friends. Brian McCann's concussion couldn't have been timed better if you're an Orioles backer, as the O's and New York get a chance to renew their hostilities with three games this week.

In any event, the Orioles have played well enough and have enough talent on their squad that they don't need to hope factors outside their control fall into place. Baltimore has played some fantastic ball these past eight weeks. If the Orioles want to maintain their hold on the division, they'll need to keep it up for the next six.

Small change makes big impact for Wood.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
ATLANTA -- Dee Gordon is the model of improvement in major league baseball this year, evolving from a part-timer into an All-Star with a position change and a change in regimen. He explained in spring training that by eliminating hours of pickup basketball, he was finally able to gain weight he felt he needed.

This is the part of baseball for which no statistical analysis can account: A player’s ability to adapt, to make changes that can make a big difference.

Atlanta Braves pitcher Alex Wood -- who starts on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN) against Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals -- is another example of this. For him, throwing a fastball and a changeup came easily, but his curveball was always problematic and inconsistent. Sometimes it would spin sharply, sometimes it wouldn’t, and sometimes he could command the pitch and sometimes he couldn’t.

He tinkered with different grips, he explained Saturday, and during the offseason, he found something while playing catch with his former college teammate, Kyle Farmer, who is now a catcher in the Dodgers’ organization. Wood started using the tip of his left index finger as the primary lever, rather than the first knuckle, and gripped a different part of the baseball, using the seams for traction.

He had a better feel for the ball throwing it this way, and a better curveball, which was confirmed by a moment in spring training. With a two-strike count, Wood threw the curve to David Ortiz, who watched it spin right over the plate for Strike 3.

With his new curveball -- which he’s using about 50 percent more than he did last season -- Wood feels that he now has a third pitch for which hitters have to account, and cannot simply dismiss.

“Just being able to throw it whenever I need to throw it, for the most part, and for an out pitch against left-handers and right-handers has been a big improvement this year,” said Wood, who has a 2.96 ERA this season in 15 starts, with 88 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings.

Here are some other players who made small adjustments that have had yielded colossal results this season:

Tyson Ross, SP, San Diego Padres: Ross made a major change with his sinker just a few days before his 27th birthday. In the midst of an April bullpen session, Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley talked to Ross about altering his sinker slightly. Until then, Ross tended to throw his sinker so that it would dive out of the strike zone; it was a nasty pitch, for sure, but hitters could take it and it would be called a ball.

Balsley suggested that Ross raise his release point just a bit, so that his sinker traveled down through the strike zone. “I could tell the difference right away,” Ross recalled in a conversation last week. “If they took that, it was called a strike.”

With hitters now compelled to swing at his sinker, Ross has the highest ground ball rate among all pitchers in baseball, at 57.1 percent, and he’s lowered his ERA to 2.62. From 2013 to 2014, his rate of inducing missed swings has doubled, from 6.3 percent to 12.6 percent.

Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians: Kluber was a fourth-round pick in 2007, and was traded by the Padres to Cleveland as one piece in a three-team deal. In 12 starts in 2012 -- at age 26 -- he posted a 5.14 ERA. But Kluber is now among the most dominant pitchers in baseball, with 187 strikeouts and a 2.46 ERA in 25 starts.

Mickey Callaway -- who has done great work in his time as the Indians’ pitching coach -- explained in an email how Kluber got better: “Last year, he was still trying to figure out how to throw the ball over the plate with that great arsenal he has. We really stressed just pitching to his strengths, and he did a good job of that throughout the season. I feel last year was a huge stepping-stone as far as his command goes. He really learned where he could command each pitch, and figured out that he had multiple ways to put away hitters in the strike zone.

"This year, he has been attacking the hitters that he needs to with his strengths, along with being able to attack the hitters' weaknesses when it is required. He has really developed the ability to use information during his outings, and his unwavering demeanor allows him to do this with great consistency.”

Kluber shut down the Yankees on Saturday, striking out 10 in six scoreless innings. Kluber is 3-0 with a 0.29 ERA and 35 strikeouts in his past four starts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other pitchers in franchise history to post an ERA that low with as many strikeouts over a four-game span are Bob Feller (0.27, 35 strikeouts in July-August 1946) and Luis Tiant (0.00, 35 K's in April-May 1968).

Tyler Clippard, RP, Washington Nationals: Clippard is in his eighth season in the big leagues, and this year, he has markedly improved his ability to keep the ball in the park and in generating ground balls.

Clippard will always be a fastball-first pitcher, and he will pitch up in the strike zone and generate a predominance of fly balls, he explained. But since this past season, he developed something of a forkball, a pitch that tumbles downward with a knuckling action, and Clippard believes this has helped keep hitters from honing in on his fastball, and has allowed him to get the ball down in the zone.

This year, Clippard has allowed just two homers in 50 innings, with his rate of ground balls climbing from 28 percent to 37 percent.

Clippard pitched the 10th inning and got the win against the Braves in Washington’s marathon victory Saturday night, which came after a rain delay of nearly four hours.

Around the leagues

• On the most recent Baseball Tonight podcast: Padres president Mike Dee detailed the hiring of A.J. Preller; Jayson Stark discussed the commissioner intrigue; and Brendan Kennedy and Andy McCullough broke down the Jays and Royals, respectfully, as those teams fight for playoff spots.

• The Nationals’ Anthony Rendon is on track to post 114 runs, 72 extra-base hits and 92 RBIs in his first full year in the big leagues. This is the first year that manager Matt Williams has been around Rendon, and what has jumped out to Williams is Rendon’s “steady, consistent heart rate regardless of the situation.”

The right-handed hitting Rendon takes the ball to the opposite field regularly, which is part of the reason why Williams has left Rendon in the No. 2 spot and Denard Span in the leadoff spot, and why he intends to keep it that way.

• Span doesn’t hit for power, he is not flashy, and he doesn’t rate especially high in defensive metrics for his center field play. But he is batting .305 with a .359 on-base percentage, and he does not make mistakes defensively; he catches what he reaches, and throws well and to the right base. As Williams spoke about him Saturday, it was clear that part of why he appreciates Span is his consistency and his reliability.

When Bryce Harper returned from the disabled list, there was a lot of discussion about whether Span would be supplanted in center field. This was fueled in part by Harper, who said he thought the Nationals’ best outfield alignment would be Ryan Zimmerman -- healthy at that time -- in left field, Harper in center and Jayson Werth in right.

Span handled the questions that stemmed from that conversation well, Williams believes. There was a day recently when Span was not in the lineup, and he walked into Williams’s office and said, “I just want you to know I feel like I’m the starting center fielder.”

Williams appreciated how Span said it. “It’s important that he feels that way,” Williams said.

• The Orioles keep winning and Caleb Joseph -- the pride of Lipscomb University -- is killing it. From ESPN Stats & Information: Joseph hit a homer for the fifth consecutive game, which broke the record set by Jay Gibbons in 2001 for the longest streak by a rookie in franchise history. No rookie catcher in MLB history had ever previously homered in four straight games.

For the Orioles, the AL East is there for the taking, writes Peter Schmuck.

• Hanley Ramirez is hurting.

Longest Games This Season
Date Score Innings
Aug. 9 LAA 5, BOS 4 19
July 29 CHC 4, COL 3 16
July 18 LAA 3, SEA 2 16
June 24 WAS 4, MIL 2 16
Apr. 2 PIT 4, CHC 3 16
Source: ESPN Stats & Information
Albert Pujols has more than 500 career homers, but he’s going to remember the one he hit to beat the Red Sox -- in the 19th inning.

The game ended at 12:39 a.m. PT, Mike DiGiovanna writes.

For Pujols, this was his 11th career walk-off home run, his first with the Angels and first overall since June 5, 2011.

• Derek Jeter passed Honus Wagner on the all-time hit list. This is the last significant milestone that Jeter will achieve in his career, other than his final hit.

The Yankees lost, on a day when Paul O'Neill was honored. The Yankees could use an O’Neill type of player now, writes Anthony McCarron.

• The first pitch of an at-bat is a crossroad for some hitters, depending on whether it results in a ball or a strike. In 2014, that first pitch has made the greatest difference for these hitters:

Biggest Differences in OPS Following First-Pitch Strike or Ball
Player OPS after 0-1 OPS after 1-0 Difference
Seth Smith, San Diego Padres .520 1.153 .663
Brett Gardner, New York Yankees .493 1.067 .574
Kole Calhoun, Los Angeles Angels .522 1.104 .551
Torii Hunter, Detroit Tigers .502 1.013 .511
Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins .566 1.059 .493
Source: ESPN Stats & Information

Those with the smallest difference:

Smallest Differences in OPS Following First-Pitch Strike or Ball
Player OPS after 0-1 OPS after 1-0 Difference
Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox .552 .553 .001
Lucas Duda, New York Mets .800 .803 .003
Derek Jeter, New York Yankees .600 .604 .004
Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels .681 .686 .005
Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates .691 .698 .007
Source: ESPN Stats & Information

• The Chicago Cubs' waiver claim of Cole Hamels has been interpreted by rival officials as a strong sign that Chicago will be in the market for a frontline starting pitcher this winter, and will try to contend for the playoffs in 2015.

The Cubs didn’t come close to making a trade with the Phillies, but by claiming Hamels and blocking some other team from getting him, the Cubs kept another No. 1-type starter in play this winter. They kept another option in play for the offseason, when Jon Lester and Max Scherzer will be free agents.

Hamels pitched well on Saturday, but the Phillies lost.

• Pedro Alvarez worked out at first base as he looks for another way to get back in to the lineup, writes Bill Brink.

For Alvarez, the struggle with the yips is real, writes Travis Sawchik.

• The Dodgers, desperate for starting pitching, grabbed Kevin Correia of the Twins.

Dings and dents

1. Brian McCann landed on the disabled list.

2. The Blue Jays are puzzled by Brett Lawrie's oblique strains.

3. Tigers pitcher Drew VerHagen has a stress fracture in his back.

4. Adam Eaton was placed on the disabled list.

5. Within this Clark Spencer notebook, there is word that a couple of Marlins starters are on track to return.

6. Carlos Gonzalez is in the process of recovering, Patrick Saunders writes.

7. Andrew Cashner is making progress.

Saturday’s games

1. The Royals keep stalking the Tigers. They won again, with help from Alex Gordon, and gained another game in the standings.

The Royals have a bigger goal than a wild-card berth, writes Sam Mellinger.

2. Joe Nathan has been on a good run, but he had another blown save. The Tigers are making it hard on themselves.

3. Francisco Liriano threw well, but the Pirates lost.

4. The Jays rallied.

5. The Cubs had just a few strikeouts, Paul Sullivan notes.

6. Hector Noesi got some revenge.

7. Mike Fiers outdueled Zack Greinke.

8. Robbie Grossman helped the Astros.

9. Jake Odorizzi rebounded.

10. The Rockies continue to plummet toward the first pick in next year’s draft.

11. Oakland feasted on a young pitcher, Susan Slusser writes.

12. The Giants were shut out again.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Robbie Ray is a candidate for promotion.

2. The Reds’ Louisville shuttle is in operation again, writes Hal McCoy.

NL East

• Noah Syndergaard has struggled.

• The Mets can’t use a youth movement as an excuse to be cheap this winter, writes Ken Davidoff.

• Bryce Harper dragged his foot across the Braves’ logo.

• Brad Penny turned back the clock.

NL Central

• Billy Hamilton is learning that stealing bases takes more than speed, writes John Fay.

• Trevor Rosenthal has had a heavy workload.

• The Cubs aren’t sure what Jacob Turner will do for them.

NL West

• Trevor Cahill has found success with his changeup.

AL East

• The Red Sox have young arms in waiting, writes Nick Cafardo.

• Jackie Bradley Jr.'s defense continues to be outstanding.

• The outrage over the David Price trade seems over the top, writes Tom Jones.

• Curt Casali has gotten on-the-job training.

AL Central

• Trevor May had a tough major league debut, Phil Miller writes.

AL West

• Rangers prospect Joey Gallo is reaching historic levels.

• Nothing is easy anymore for the Rangers.


• Bill Madden writes about why some owners are trying to block the move to make Rob Manfred the next MLB commissioner.

Set aside, for a moment, any personality conflicts, and the important question of whether Manfred -- who is not a former owner -- has the leverage to steer this disparate group the way that Selig has over the past two decades. Can Jerry Reinsdorf, Arte Moreno or John Henry question whether the sport has thrived in the past 20 years of relative labor peace? Manfred has been the front man for MLB in the labor talks, and in that time, the owners’ profits have grown, and the franchise values have gone up dramatically.

Do they really want someone to push even harder and risk a labor war and all the gains that Major League Baseball has made? Really? Do they really want to walk to that ledge again, back to 1994-1995, when the Montreal Expos were mortally damaged by the strike and other teams were greatly wounded?

• Charlie Manuel was honored by the Phillies, and humbled.

• Ken Griffey Jr. pulled off goodness and greatness, writes Paul Daugherty.

• Earl Weaver got his start servicing parking meters.

• Lou Piniella stood tall at Safeco Field. Piniella gave a great speech and a pep talk, writes Jerry Brewer.

• The Braves had a really nice ceremony honoring Pete Van Wieren.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Inside the Hall of Fame.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On June 12, 1939, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened its doors for the first time in picturesque Cooperstown, New York. Seventy-five years later, as the museum celebrates its diamond anniversary, the definitive repository for baseball history is going strong. Close to 16 million visitors have made the pilgrimage to the baseball mecca since Babe Ruth and 10 others gave their induction speeches, christening the first sports Hall of Fame in America.

I am often asked how the museum continues to be successful, year in and year out. The simple answer is relevance. The museum is forever evolving. As America evolves, so does baseball. And as baseball evolves, so, too, does the Hall of Fame. After all, it remains our national pastime.

Football on 17 Sundays in the fall is incredibly popular. But baseball and its 162-game schedule remains an integral slice of American culture. Music, books, film, television, theater, poetry, nomenclature, and even the Oval Office borrow from baseball. As an everyday part of our lives, baseball has helped to shape, and in some cases define, American culture and values.

The Cooperstown museum contains 50,000 square feet of public galleries, theaters and activity spaces. It is truly a state-of-the art, living, breathing, experiential history museum, using baseball as a lens to demonstrate how the sport and America have grown up together since Abraham Lincoln was in office.

The modest three-story red brick building on Main Street houses three entities under one roof. There's a museum and library dedicated to documenting and presenting baseball history; an education hub, reaching schoolchildren in all 50 states, Canada and Latin America; and a Hall of Fame, a shrine to the game’s legends.

Our mission is straightforward: preserve history, honor excellence, connect generations. These six words have served to guide the venerable home to baseball since the get-go.

We preserve history by collecting relics from the game’s defining moments, chronicling our game as it unfolds on the diamond and in American culture. The museum collection contains 40,000 artifacts and the library archive has another 3 million pieces, collectively serving as baseball’s version of the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress rolled into one. Every single item has been donated to the non-profit museum. Hank Aaron and Tom Seaver are donating their baseball collections. Ichiro Suzuki, who is making a strong case for baseball immortality, has been to Cooperstown six times and has donated more artifacts than any current player.

From the baseball purportedly used by Abner Doubleday in 1839, to Ty Cobb’s spikes, to the bat that Roberto Clemente used for his 3,000th hit, to the caps Derek Jeter and Mike Trout wore in this year’s All-Star Game, baseball’s magnificent history is front and center.

MLB Hall of Fame
The newest class of the Hall of Fame gathers with many current members.

Generations are seamlessly connected. It’s not unusual to find a grandparent, parent and child meandering through the museum and chatting quietly. The youngster will see David Ortiz’s bat from the 2014 postseason and state: "Big Papi is the greatest." The father will respond: "But you never saw Wade Boggs play." And grandma will chime in: "But Teddy Ballgame was the best of them all." Three generations. A common language. Baseball.

Excellence is honored annually through induction. This year, managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre were enshrined, along with 300-game winners Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, and slugger Frank Thomas. With their inclusion, the Hall of Fame honor roll stands at 306. Umpires, executives and Negro League legends comprise the balance of those recognized with a bronze plaque.

For players, earning election to the Hall of Fame is no easy task: Only 1 percent of the 18,000 or so men to have worn a major league uniform since the late 19th century have been honored. There are plaques for 211 players. Managers? There are all of 22. That’s it.

For each of the 66 living Hall of Famers, returning for Hall of Fame weekend every summer has special meaning. They love going back to their home away from home. “Everything slows down in Cooperstown,” Andre Dawson said. “That’s what I love about being here.”

Hall of Fame weekend is a great family event. Many Hall of Fame members bring their wives, children, grandchildren and friends. The baseball community attends in full force. Dignitaries. Regular fans. Everyone seemingly wants to rub elbows with greatness, experience the innate beauty of Cooperstown and fully enjoy the aura of a time not forgotten.

As ****** Herzog so aptly stated during his induction speech in 2010: “Getting into Cooperstown is like going to heaven before you die.”

Brooks Robinson has fond memories of his 1983 induction. "I could not wait to meet the great Bill Dickey, because he grew up in Little Rock, just like I did. I had a paper route as a kid, and whenever I would get to Dickey’s house, I would air mail his paper with a little extra zip. Meeting him was a thrill, and I was surprised to learn that Bill Terry came back that year, just to meet me. Wow!"

Camaraderie matters a great deal. Robin Yount considers his Hall of Fame colleagues teammates now: “Coming to Cooperstown is like being back in the clubhouse again. It’s a great feeling.”

One would imagine that the egos would be sizable among the Hall of Famers, given the enormity of their career accomplishments. Not the case. Egos are kept in check, as a common thread among them is humility, with Cooperstown being the great equalizer. There’s no one bigger in the room. They are all big.

Tom Glavine and his family arrived in Cooperstown and walked into the Otesaga Resort Hotel, Hall of Fame weekend headquarters. “Hey, Dad! There’s Ozzie Smith over there. Look! Robin Yount! Check out all of these guys. This is awesome! What are they doing here?” Tom just smiles and tells his kids that he, too, is now one of them, hardly believing that is possible.

Glavine wasn’t sure what it would be like to meet Nolan Ryan and Bob Gibson. “Their personas on the mound were tough. I was a bit nervous. Both could not have been more welcoming.”

After Bruce Sutter was elected in 2006, I would check in with him periodically by telephone in the ensuing months. "Every time I look at the phone and see the 607 area code, I think you are calling to tell me you recounted and I am out,” he said. All I could do was smile and reassure him that his election was very real.

I always enjoy my conversations with Paul Molitor. This year we were talking about the passing of Tony Gwynn, which hit so many of us like a ton of bricks. I confessed that among my favorite stats from Tony’s career were his 297 three-hit games juxtaposed against his one three-strikeout game. To which Molitor responded: "Can you believe Tony could have gone 0-for-1,200 and still had a .300 career average?" (It is actually 0-for-1,182).

Rod Carew, he of seven batting titles, has an amazing six holes-in-one on the golf course. I asked him which was easier to achieve. “Batting title. No question,” he said with his trademark smile.

Hall of Fame weekend is very much about reminiscing. Take Carlton Fisk, with whom I had breakfast Saturday morning on the patio of the famed Leatherstocking Golf Course, which overlooks Otesgo Lake.

MLB Hall of Fame
A group of 300-game winners gets together.

With no prompting, Pudge turns to me and says: “I remember the first time I went to the mound to talk to a pitcher, and it was Gary Peters. He was a veteran with a ton of complete games, and getting hit hard that day. I figured I was supposed to take charge. So I strut out there thinking I will calm him down. Peters says: ‘What the f--- are you doing out here? Get off my mound!’ I was speechless. I walked back quietly and squatted behind the plate.” Four decades later, the memory is still fresh.

On Sunday at noon, the Hall of Fame members gather in the Otesaga to get ready to head to the induction site. The hotel lobby is always a veritable who’s who in baseball, but often, the guest list can rival the star power.

Tom Brokaw, a legend in his own right and the man who wrote the forward to the Hall of Fame’s 75th anniversary compendium, "The Hall," said: “As an American Legion shortstop who couldn’t get his girlfriend to a game, much less a scout, I was Walter Mitty all weekend,” referring to novelist James Thurber’s fictional mild-mannered character who lived a life of fantasy.

There’s no Starbucks in Cooperstown (we do have Stagecoach Coffee though, a fabulous local bistro), but its CEO and chairman, Howard Shultz, made the trip with his son, Jordan, as guests of La Russa. “You look across the room and see Sandy Koufax and Al Kaline. Meeting them was humbling.”

And the great Billy Crystal, whose passion for baseball is well-documented, adds: “It was like my baseball cards came to life. Shaking hands with Gaylord Perry and joking, ‘How come your hand is dry?’ and him saying, ' 'Cause I'm not pitching.' To chat with Ernie Banks, and see Koufax talking to Juan Marichal and watching all these greats love being with each other, is a beautiful thing to be a part of.”

As the clock moved closer to showtime, we made our way on to the buses, which would take us to the Clark Sports Center, home of the induction ceremony. I sat behind Maddux, in front of Glavine, and next to Kaline.

As Doug Harvey stepped on to the bus, Kaline whispered to no one in particular: “He’s God, you know.”

Meanwhile, the mild-mannered Maddux quipped: “This is the first time I’ve worn a tie since Bobby was mad at us for some reason once and made us wear ties on a flight.”

Giving a Hall of Fame acceptance speech is a daunting task, especially for those who make their living through their actions, rather than words. And veteran Hall of Fame members do their part in the months leading up to the ceremony to convince new electees not to speak too long.

Mike Schmidt and I were in the Hall of Fame plaque gallery Friday morning for a Golf Channel special being filmed with Johnny Bench, Glavine and him. As we stood by his plaque, I asked him what he was thinking about. “The speech. I am still consumed by how nervous I was.” His speech was delivered in 1995.

Yogi Berra was not able to attend this year. When we spoke on the phone, I asked him if he wanted me to relay any messages to Torre. "Tell him good luck. And keep it short."

This year’s induction class had an audience of 48,000 fans in front of them and 48 Hall of Fame members behind them. Maddux found the experience humbling. La Russa asked if it was possible to be "de-ducted." After the ceremony, Torre, who was anguished he had forgotten to mention the late Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner, in as meaningful a way as he would have liked, and who had passed Miller Huggins on the Yankees' all-time managerial wins list during his tenure in the South Bronx, received a text: “Thanks for not mentioning me. Miller." It was from Crystal.

"It gave me a laugh I really needed," the new Hall of Famer said.

With speeches delivered, it was time to gather for the team photo on the Otesaga’s back lawn. Glavine sees Seaver and smiles, relieved his speech is over. Said No. 41: "Not so fast. It’s not official until your plaque is hung in the gallery, Mr. Glavine." Seaver, by the way, always stops by the plaques of Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson when he visits Cooperstown. "Good to see you boys," he says, as he rubs their hats.

And each summer, as the Hall of Famers laugh and chat while waiting for their annual Sunday evening dinner to begin -- which is attended only by them, the commissioner and me -- Johnny Bench sits the rookies down, in rocking chairs, on the back veranda of the Otesaga, overlooking Otesgo Lake and the 18th green of Leatherstocking Golf Course.

He reminds them who they are, where they are, and just how special of a fraternity they have just joined. He encourages them to wear the Hall of Fame mantle well. And he tells them to enjoy the experience, because there’s nothing like it.

For Johnny, it’s another visit to the mound. And for the newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s the capstone to a new way of life -- that of a Hall of Famer.

News and notes

• Alex Wood is ready for primetime, striking out 12 in 7S innings against the Nationals in what was a crucial series for the reeling Braves.

In recent years, the Braves have had consistently great bullpens, finishing third among 30 teams in ERA in 2010, first in 2011, second in 2012 and first in 2013. This year, the Braves’ bullpen has its lowest ranking since 2008 -- they went into Sunday’s game 11th in ERA -- and manager Fredi Gonzalez’s choices in the late innings seemed to reflect some doubt about the bridge to Craig Kimbrel. Wood had 114 pitches after seven innings, with Jayson Werth due to lead off for Washington in the top of the eighth -- and just a couple of innings before, Gonzalez had elected to intentionally walk Werth with two outs and first base open.

In the eighth, Wood walked Werth, and Gonzalez stuck with him again, asking him to get Adam LaRoche (who had struggled all night against Wood’s breaking ball), and Wood got that out. Then Gonzalez called on David Carpenter, who got Ian Desmond to bounce into an inning-ending double play. Kimbrel closed out the Nationals in the ninth.

Gio Gonzalez had command issues, writes James Wagner.

• Before the game, Washington manager Matt Williams talked about how losses have been excruciating, sleep-robbing, and causing him to second-guess himself. Some managers like to have someone they can talk with to review decisions, and Williams indicated that he can reach out to Dusty Baker.

But a lot of the consulting Williams does is with his own coaches, day after day, as they run together -- maybe a group of three or four on a given day, running anywhere from three to five miles.

• Williams is known by players who have worked with him for being direct, a trait he said may have come from being the son of a cop -- his mom.

• Nineteen-inning games have become a thing, and for the Tigers, this one could not have come at a worse time, with the Royals are charging quickly.

The Tigers blew a 5-0 lead, as George Sipple writes.

Before the game, Detroit placed two pitchers on the disabled list. They are fatigued, writes Lynn Henning.

Colby Rasmus had an incredible day of defense.

From ESPN Stats & Info, on that never-ending game:

1. The Elias Sports Bureau notes it's the first time in MLB history that a game of 19-plus innings was played on consecutive days (Saturday's was Red Sox at Angels).
2. José Bautista had his second career walk-off hit (he was 0-7 in the game prior to the base hit).
3. Melky Cabrera had three hits and five walks; he is the first player to reach base safely eight times in one game since Hall of Famer Rod Carew did it with the Twins against the Brewers in 1972.
4. The Blue Jays' bullpen: 15T IP, no runs.
5. Longest game by time (6 hours, 37 minutes) and by innings in Blue Jays history.

The Royals, meanwhile, have won seven straight games, and are going crazy.

• In case you missed it, Clayton Kershaw is really, really good.

Looking ahead: Kershaw has a 1.78 ERA this season. The next-lowest ERA is the majors Félix Hernández with a 1.97. This is worth keeping an eye on because if Kershaw leads the majors in ERA this season, he will be the first pitcher to do so in four straight seasons. Greg Maddux and Lefty Grove are the only other pitchers to do so in three straight seasons.

The Brewers missed some chances to beat Kershaw, writes Tom Haudricourt.

• Yadier Molina’s cast was removed.

• And so it goes for the Mets: Jacob deGrom has been scratched because of shoulder trouble.

Dings and dents

1. Neil Walker believes he can avoid a trip to the disabled list. This is just one more problem for the Pirates.

2. Jayson Werth has inflammation in his AC joint.

3. Jenrry Mejia had hernia surgery, as Kristie Ackert writes.

4. Matt Garza is going to be on the disabled list for a while.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Phillies picked up Jerome Williams.

2. Joe Saunders could get the call in September.

3. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels addressed the question of whether Joey Gallo might be called up in September.

4. The Indians called up a couple of guys.

Sunday’s games

1. The Yankees’ offense was shut down again, as Dave Waldstein writes.

2. The Astros missed a chance for a sweep.

3. The Cardinals broke through.

4. Devin Mesoraco is really good with the bases loaded.

5. Austin Jackson helped the Mariners win, as Ashley Scoby writes.

NL Central

The Pirates’ lineup needs to shape up soon, writes Ron Cook.

A couple of Cubs can speak to what pressure can do to a prospect.

AL West

Erasmo Ramirez has done a nice job for the Mariners in a pinch.

AL Central

The Indians have broken out the small ball, writes Paul Hoynes.

AL East

Buck Showalter was ejected.

Yoenis Cespedes helped the Red Sox win.


• Red Sox owner John Henry believes Major League Baseball must adapt to the times. From Michael Silverman’s piece:
The notion of standing still at this juncture relates closely to Henry’s No. 1 concern about the game: its pace. While there are rules in place for how long pitchers are allowed to take between pitches and long batters are allowed to set themselves, umpires are not enforcing them. And players and pitchers, with the exception of Mark Buehrle, are doing little self-enforcing.

To Henry, the matter is not trivial, and he insists action must be taken to quicken the pace.

“Attention spans are shortening in regard to media. That has been the case for some time now,” he said. “Making fans wait between pitches isn’t a big issue at the ballpark, but on TV it’s very easy to switch to something else. There is too much waiting in baseball for 21st century television viewers.”

Asked what else could be done besides more rigid enforcement, he pointed to the game’s great conundrum.

“There are purists who think the lack of a clock is great thing,” he said. “But that relates to the fact that a game will go on until a winner is decided. Our internal clocks, our attention spans in (modern) America — have shortened markedly. We have to compete with other forms of entertainment.”

• Tony Perez’s legacy deserves to be bronzed, writes John Erardi.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Life as a player for the Oakland 'Mathletics'.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Baseball is a game of numbers, and we at the Oakland Athletics keep track of everything. From the number of hits in a given number of at-bats to the number of runs allowed to the number of stolen bases, there are numbers for evaluating every aspect of the game.

As far back as 1964, when Earnshaw Cook published the book "Percentage Baseball," baseball statisticians have been providing us ways to get as deep into those numbers as possible to determine just how valuable a player might be. In 1971, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) was formed in Cooperstown, New York, and lent both its acronym and advanced mathematical functions to analyze the game. Bill James, the pioneer of sabermetrics, defined them as a way to provide an objective view of baseball.

Sabermetrics finally let us enjoy baseball the way it was meant to be enjoyed: with a TI-89 graphing calculator.

Many of you are familiar with the movie "Moneyball," which chronicles the Athletics' use of sabermetrics to successfully assemble a winning team on a decidedly small-market budget. By thinking outside the box and favoring players' on-base percentages over their batting averages, those A's were able to build a productive lineup of affordable players en route to a 20-game win streak and a division title.

Since then, the use of sabermetrics has continued to change the way players are evaluated. Metrics such as OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) and wOBA (weighted on-base average) provide a much more comprehensive and accurate evaluation of a hitter's overall productivity than, say, batting average. Meanwhile, the wRC (weighted runs created) and wRAA (weighted runs above average) categories help quantify a player's total offensive value to his team in the form of runs created over the course of a season.

Just as metrics for hitting have advanced past on-base percentage, pitching metrics are going far beyond earned run average. WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) measures the number of baserunners a pitcher allows, on average, per inning. FIP (fielding independent pitching) and xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching) assess a pitcher's abilities based on results he can "control" -- K's, BBs, HBPs and HRs allowed -- and have proved to be very reliable predictors of future performance.

And it turns out WAR is good for something after all. The wins above replacement category quantifies a player's overall contributions to his team and quantifies how many wins a player is worth to his club, compared to a league-average stand-in.

Although these might be some of the more commonly used calculations in evaluating a player's value, they are just the tip of the iceberg.

The A's use of advanced statistics
The Athletics' front office has remained on the cutting edge in its use of sabermetrics to evaluate players. From the offseason right up until the July 31 trade deadline, the A's have signed several free agents and negotiated several trades -- and some of these trades and deals left even the most patrician baseball folks scratching their heads.

So exactly which metrics do the A's value most when assessing potential players? I think I've finally figured it out:

BDP (beard dependent pitching): While FIP eliminates defense and focuses on strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed, BDP assesses a pitcher's value in relation to the league average by isolating outings during which the pitcher has a beard.

WPA/3+C (win probability added with three-plus catchers in the lineup): Athletics manager Bob Melvin is a former catcher, so he values backstops and looks for ways to get as many into the lineup as he can. By playing Stephen Vogt in the outfield or at first base, either Derek Norris or John Jaso can get behind the dish while the other slides into the DH spot. It's worth noting that Josh Donaldson made his major league debut as a catcher and did not convert to third base until 2012, so there are instances when the A's have four players in their lineup who are capable of getting behind the plate.

[+] EnlargeOakland A's
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Derek Norris' healthy mullet has been a factor in many A's wins this season.
LOH-Wins (length of hair wins): This metric estimates how many wins a player adds to his team as the result of the length of his hair. For instance, you could look at the direct correlation between the length of Norris' mullet and the number of wins since its conception.

rfFSR (right field fan scouting report): The fan scouting report (FSR) is a metric used by sabermetrician Tom Tango that estimates a player's value based on fan observations and online voting. The rfFSR evaluates a player's value based on reports and polling of the fans in the right field bleacher section at Coliseum. Those are some of the best fans in the game, so it comes as no surprise that this metric is one of the most reliable when predicting future performance.

wOPS (weighted overhead press): This gem calculates how strong a player is to determine whether he can carry a team. In Oakland, no one player carries our team. We all have very similar wOPS numbers.


BABIP: That's batting average on balls in play, right? Wrong. It's baseball averages compared to Bip Roberts. According to, over 12 seasons, Bip Roberts held a .294 batting average and a .358 on-base percentage and had a 162-game average of 36 stolen bases per year. Roberts played his final season for the A's in 1998, but sabermetricians still use his stats when evaluating players.

HR/FB: That's home runs per fly ball, yes? Think again. It's home runs by a fullback. When you're a small-market team, sometimes you're forced to think outside the box. When you also share a stadium with an NFL team, it never hurts to see if any of their players can use their size and strength to drive the baseball out of the ballpark. No word yet on when Raiders fullback Marcel Reece will be given a chance to hit for A's scouts. And the jury is still out on whether this also can be applied to a wide receiver such as Jeff Samardzija.

Contact percentage: This metric is out of this world -- literally. This number indicates how often a player is able to successfully decode messages received from outer space (just like Jodie Foster's character in the 1997 film "Contact"). Although this is an interesting metric, it has nothing to do with baseball, so it's not a great indicator of future performance. But "Contact" is a great movie.

BB percentage: If you're guessing this particular sabermetric indicates a hitter's walk percentage, guess again. It's called "Baseball is Best." This metric helps indicate a player's intangibles because it shows just how much a player likes baseball. When a team is considering signing a player to a long-term contract, it's important to find out if baseball is the sport he likes to play the best.

Sabermetrics are becoming more popular as we continue to strive for a better understanding of the game. And as the game evolves, so will the metrics. Hmm, maybe someday there'll be a metric to quantify clubhouse chemistry (the JON/nY GoM.E.S. phenomenon?).

Critics will argue sabermetrics don't paint the whole picture. Some say a player still must pass the "eye test," and the only information a manager might need to make a decision is a past experience or a gut feeling.

Others argue there are intangibles that cannot be quantified. Or they say the formulas are becoming too complicated for people who didn't ace calculus and don't know the mathematical order of operations or how to use a graphing calculator. Sabermetrics might not tell the whole story, but the numbers never lie.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm about to be shoved into my locker.

And now we return to Buster's regularly scheduled news and notes …

• The Orioles have a number of infielders on their 40-man roster and they need the coverage these days, given the thumb injury to J.J. Hardy and what happened to Manny Machado on Monday night, when his knee seemed to collapse inward.

Machado reportedly walked without crutches after the game, and he spoke with reporters. From Peter Schmuck's column:
"[It's] just a little sore,'' Machado said. "A little sore … We'll just keep icing it, and hopefully it's nothing too bad. That's what we are praying for. We'll just wait and see. It's just a waiting process. Wait 'til tomorrow morning."

• One evaluator had Justin Verlander's fastball clocked between 88 and 90 mph at the outset of his start against the Pirates, and after a long first inning, he was replaced because of a sore shoulder, on a night when Detroit was knocked out of first place. From Tom Gage's story:
"Warming up, it didn't feel great," Verlander said. "Then it started loosening up. When I got on the mound, there were no sharp pains, but the ball wasn't coming out of my hand good at all.

"I was throwing 88 or 90, the worst stuff of my career. I told Brad I wanted to go back out there and would let him know if it got worse. But he said that was the end of my night.

"It's been lingering for a little while, but I didn't think I'd be risking anything more by going back out there."

Meanwhile, the Pirates feasted.

Verlander is owed $140 million over the next five seasons.

• While the Tigers were getting knocked around in Pittsburgh, the Royals were edging Oakland to take over first place in the AL Central. And the Royals -- perhaps sensing the vulnerability of the Tigers -- made a move for Josh Willingham. That's an indication of how quickly stuff changes, as Sam Mellinger writes.

• With Andrew McCutchen and Troy Tulowitzki inactive -- McCutchen was placed on the disabled list Monday -- Giancarlo Stanton is injecting himself right into the middle of the MVP voting. He has 31 homers now after mashing a couple against the Cardinals.

Check out this really, really long home run he hit. Plus he made a great catch.

From Elias Sports Bureau: Stanton became the 13th player with at least three seasons of 30-plus homers through his age-24 season. The only players with more than three such seasons through age 24 are Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Eddie Mathews and Jimmie Foxx.

• Felix Hernandez's changeup was working tremendously Monday. Robinson Cano and the offense put on a show.

From ESPN Stats & Information on how Felix won:

A. For the 16th consecutive start, Hernandez threw at least seven innings while allowing two runs or fewer. He has a 1.41 ERA during that stretch.
B. He generated 13 swings and misses. He has 20 starts with 10-plus swings and misses, which is the fourth most in the AL.
C. Hitters were 1-for-13 with four strikeouts in at-bats ending on his changeup; the only hit was Jose Bautista's fourth-inning homer.

And there's this from Elias:

Most consecutive starts of 7 IP and 2 runs or fewer (single season, since 1900)
Felix Hernandez 16 (2014)
Tom Seaver 13 (1971)
Mike Scott 12 (1986)
Chief Bender 12 (1907)

What a reward for Toronto after its 19-inning marathon win: They got to face Felix. The Jays looked tired, writes Bob Elliott.

• The Red Sox stand to benefit if Tom Werner were to become the next MLB commissioner, writes Dan Shaughnessy.

To repeat: I really wonder how he would want the job given all that it entails and all the criticism that comes with the post. You need someone who really loves to be in the arena, who can handle getting chastised on national television by congressmen or getting ripped constantly by critics. Whether you have disagreed or agreed with Bud Selig, no one can question his willingness to take a punch (and punch back, privately).

Those who covered the game in which Rosanne Barr screeched the national anthem in San Diego still tell stories of how they could not get to Werner for a comment that night. The MLB commissioner must be someone who wades into a situation like that, rather than shrinking.

• Alex Rios went to see a specialist. So he's likely no longer a trade option.

Dings and dents

1. Michael Pineda is ready to come back, writes Andrew Keh.

2. Masahiro Tanaka is still throwing pain-free.

3. Joe Mauer is back with the Twins.

4. Mike Morse is dealing with an ingrown toenail.

5. Tommy La Stella was dealing with a cramp Monday.

6. Dexter Fowler is getting better.

Monday's games

1. The Yankees got blasted in Baltimore. It's a one-sided affair between these two teams, writes Bob Klapisch.

2. Jon Niese got a win for the Mets.

3. Yovani Gallardo was able to bounce back.

4. For the Rockies, the losing continues.

5. Drew Smyly excelled for the Rays.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Giancarlo Stanton tops the wish list of the Boston Red Sox, writes John Tomase.

2. Oscar Taveras was moved to the eighth spot in the Cardinals lineup.

3. Carl Crawford started instead of Andre Ethier on Monday.

NL East

• The Nationals are feeling good despite losing a weekend series.

• Ryan Howard has found his batting stroke, writes Marc Narducci.

NL Central

• Pedro Alvarez is learning his new role.

• The Reds are reaching the must-win part of their schedule.

• Hal McCoy avoided injury when speaking with Reds Hall of Famers.

• Jake Arrieta doesn't want to be aced out, writes Mark Gonzales.

NL West

• A talented Padres prospect made his debut.

• Mark Trumbo has dropped some weight.

• Jake Peavy was saved by surgery, writes Henry Schulman.

• Adrian Gonzalez extended his RBI streak.

• New Padres GM A.J. Preller met with Bud Black.

AL East

• Jackie Bradley Jr. has been hitless for a really long time.

• Evan Longoria says health is not the reason for his struggles.

AL Central

• Zach Walters was able to get an autographed Derek Jeter jersey.

• A White Sox reliever is impressing his manager.

AL West

• The Angels are sticking with their model.

• Huston Street embodies his father's spirit, writes Robert Morales.


• A fan scattered his stepbrother's ashes at Rogers Centre during the seventh inning Friday.

• Jason Kendall has written a book, writes Susan Slusser.

• It'll be interesting to see if the MLBPA issues a statement regarding the anonymous guesstimates on market value of a player -- in this case outfielder Melky Cabrera -- as it did earlier this year after similar projections were done on Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales in this space. It'll be interesting to see whether MLB investigates the phone records and emails of the reporter involved.

My guess is that the answer is no, and that the first case was less about principle and alleged violations of the collective bargaining agreement than about placating a squeaky wheel.

And today will be better than yesterday.

The real reason pitchers get injured.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
I've been in professional baseball since 2006 and every year there seems to be a rash of injuries that plague pitchers. This inevitably leads to an eclectic mix of baseball people comprising a panel trying to explain the injury epidemic on local and national baseball television shows. Each time I catch one -- and there were several in 2014 due to a slew of spring training injuries -- I'm left shaking my head in frustration.

The entire segment is generally spent discussing quick fixes or "magic bullet" ideas. The panel runs through the usual rhetoric of limiting pitch counts, scaling back innings and fixing bad mechanics. It’s as if completely arbitrary pitch counts or simple mechanical fixes are going to save elbows everywhere. That's lunacy.

Understanding pitching injuries at the professional level and trying to limit them is an incredibly complex task. Small, simple fixes on the surface are not going to solve anything other than give plausible deniability to higher powers when they have to explain to the media why a pitching prospect got hurt. "We did what we could, we limited his innings and pitches,” they would say. “Sometimes these things just happen."

To better figure out this challenging situation, it would help to understand the baseball system as a whole in this country. Next, it would help to understand the systemic weaknesses of injury prevention at the professional level.

Baseball's pitcher development system

Let’s start with baseball’s developmental system in the United States. Once a young pitcher reaches high school, if he wants to play at any level beyond, he has to convince recruiters and scouts that he's good enough. It would actually be realistic to say he has to prove that he "will" be good enough. College coaches and professional scouts are gamblers. They are hedging their bets when they evaluate high school talent and are trying to predict which pitchers have the highest ceilings. They will take into account factors that include size, body type and athletic ability.

The biggest factor of all, though, is velocity. It's the easiest thing to evaluate and the lowest-risk bet when it comes to future success. Velocity plays at every level. To put it plainly: The hardest throwers get the most attention and the most opportunities to move a step closer to the majors.

Understandably, throwing hard becomes priority No. 1 for any young pitcher. Throw hard in high school to get to college, or throw really hard and go straight to the pros. The first 10 rounds of the draft, where most of the money is made, are littered with college pitchers who have one attribute in common: They throw cheese. So for at least seven years from the onset of high school, a pitcher is chasing velocity as the most important quality. Sure, pitching coaches will preach fastball command and secondary pitches as being the most important, but that gets contradicted time and again by the actions of recruiters and scouts.

For better or worse, this is the system baseball has created. Everything revolves around velocity for a young pitcher. In response to these environmental cues, pitching mechanics are now built to get every ounce of speed out of the body. To an extent, this is a good thing. It's creating more athletic motions with emphasis to young pitchers on using the entire body instead of just the arm. In some ways this can protect the arm, but it also leads to more fastballs thrown at an extreme effort level. While that’s bad enough, I think the biggest downside becomes the decreased attention on locating pitches.

And herein lies the rub.

Matt Harvey
Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Did Matt Harvey's injury occur as a result of having to change his mechanics to precisely locate his high-velocity stuff?
After spending their entire adolescence and young adulthood chasing the promised land of throwing faster than 90 mph on the radar gun (leaving command as an afterthought) and finally getting a chance to reach their dream of professional baseball, the game does a 180 degree turn on them. The first thing most pitchers hear in their inaugural spring training is to "slow down and be more in control" or "you have to locate your pitches to be successful.” Wait -- what? Yep.

Velocity may have gotten a pitcher to pro ball, but alone it will not get them to the big leagues. Now it's about actually getting hitters out.

Modifying mechanics

This sudden realization that locating pitches is paramount leads to a lot of young pitchers making mechanical changes. Their once-athletic motion built around throwing fastballs with some giddy-up morphs into whatever motion that allows them to throw the ball where they want. As a result, the built-in mechanisms of an athletic motion to protect the arm (for instance, take stress off the elbow and shoulder) slowly disappear. The shoulders begin to level out and the head has less movement and begins to take a more linear path down to the glove. Instead of the hips leading the head, it starts to become the other way around. While these little adjustments will lead to more consistent command down in the zone, they also hang the arm out to dry.

It is at this intersection of velocity and control where the highest risk for injury seems to occur. The pitchers who have the best of both worlds seem to be the ones breaking down. It's also no secret that these pitchers are the highest-paid and most successful, therefore creating more high-profile injuries. When promising phenoms like Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez and Stephen Strasburg go down with injuries, people want explanations. They talk about factors like pitch count and overuse, but I don't think that’s the root of the problem. It masks the underlying issues.

All three pitchers have always thrown hard, but it wasn't until they had to throw hard and locate at the highest level that they encountered injury issues. If they weren't forced to throw their 95 mph (and faster) heaters in today’s shrunken MLB strike zone (the smallest ever) where the high strike is all but extinct, I wonder if they would have broken down like they did.

This wasn't the case a couple of decades ago. Go watch a Greg Maddux- or Tom Glavine-pitched game in 1995 and you will see what I mean. The zones were wider and higher. Couple the current small zone with entire sabermetric lineups built around getting on base, and the pressure on a pitcher to locate is greater than ever before. Throwing as hard as those three do puts a lot of stress on the body. Trying to throw that hard to the bottom of the strike zone over and over again? Even more.

System weaknesses of injury prevention

So now you understand the transition pitchers have to make as they ascend through the ranks. The system doesn't lend itself to injury prevention. People can preach safe, efficient mechanics all they want, but they don't happen in a vacuum. At the end of the day, there is a hitter 60 feet away and getting him out is the only thing that matters -- no one ever got to the big leagues because they had the most efficient mechanics. This system isn't going to change anytime soon, so something else has to. That brings us to injury prevention at the professional level.

To be blunt, it’s flawed. Not the people, but the system. The pitching motion is a very complex and dynamic undertaking that recruits the entire body to throw a pitch. If anything in the kinetic chain of the pitching motion weakens or begins to break down, something somewhere else has to pick up the slack. Over time, the body part responsible for picking up the extra stress breaks down at a more rapid pace, usually leading to injury.

Greg Maddux
MLB pitching has dramatically changed since Greg Maddux starred with the Braves, says Buschmann.
In this sense, major pitching injuries are usually the result of a combination of smaller problems throughout the body that ultimately lead to, say, a UCL tear (and Tommy John surgery). When this is understood, it’s easy to see why surface fixes such as pitch counts and innings limits don't help prevent injuries, but rather delay the inevitable.

To combat this, it takes constant maintenance and sufficient recovery to make sure all the parts are in working order. Realistically, pitchers need help. The two people most equipped to help him do that are the athletic trainer and the strength coach. I think it's safe to say that these two people are the most important staff members. A good pitching coach is important, but he can’t impart his wisdom on a kid on the operating table. A pitcher has to stay healthy to develop. The funny thing is they both are typically the lowest-paid of all the staff members. That's borderline insane.

Solution starting points

If preventing injuries is a priority, then the athletic trainers and strength coaches need to be the top priority. They are the best-equipped to diagnose and manage small injuries before they turn into big ones. One at each minor league level to handle 25 to 30 players isn't enough. They are spread too thin and have nowhere nearly enough time to give every player the attention they need to stay healthy. If those positions were better paid, or if there were more of them on the staff, the quality of support and injury prevention would instantly rise. Pitchers would have more resources at their disposal to help combat the stress put on their arms due to the demands of today's game.

Staying healthy in modern-day baseball has become a daily venture. It takes initiative on the player's part to make sure everything is in order to be able to perform day in and day out. Simply having "pitcher" or "player" on a résumé doesn't qualify someone to come up with a strategy to prevent a pitcher from blowing out. It takes a concerted effort involving people with different backgrounds of knowledge to discuss an everyday ideology that concentrates on prevention and "pre-hab." If there are any "quick fixes" to be had, it would be a larger investment in the people tasked with keeping pitchers on the mound.

Pitchers can't do it alone. So the next time a panel is convened to discuss injuries for the viewing public, I hope someone has the wherewithal to include a certified athletic trainer or strength and conditioning specialist so we can begin to come up with real solutions instead of constantly peddling the same gimmicks.

I've always wondered what would happen if Nolan Ryan had to pitch today. I mean, don't get me wrong, he's a freak of nature with some of the best stuff ever seen. He would have had his success. I’m curious more in terms of arm health in regard to what I just discussed. One of the biggest merit badges he wore was his year-after-year ability to throw really, really hard. But then there is this: He walked a ton of people. He averaged 4.7 walks per nine innings. He also had a 2.04-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

In today's game, that’s not great. He was throwing hard, but not under the same stress to locate as pitchers are under today. Ryan was able to keep his athletic motion and throw as hard as he could every pitch. He could get away with high strikes because it perfectly set up his logic-defying curveball. He never had to make that adjustment I talked about earlier.

If Ryan had to throw in today’s environment with the smaller strike zones and emphasis on walks, would he be forced to make certain mechanical adjustments to throw more quality strikes down in the zone? Especially in this media age where every star pitcher's start is pored over and scrutinized? With his legendary competitive nature, I'm willing to bet he would have done whatever it took. It would have been interesting to see if these changes would have put different stress levels on his arm, potentially putting him at more risk for injury.

And now we return to Buster's regularly scheduled news and notes . . .

• The Giants paid tribute to the late comedian and actor Robin Williams. As Jim Caple wrote the other day, Williams was a big fan of baseball.

• Any prospective free agent should take notes from Jon Lester on how to handle an impending exit from a city. All year, he said great things publicly about the Red Sox and Boston, about his time there, and meanwhile, the gap between his market value and what the Red Sox are comfortable paying has grown.

But he just keeps on saying all the right things. Time will tell whether he actually returns. It’s worth remembering that Lester will be one of the two most prominent free agents -- the other is Max Scherzer -- and the union may exert some pressure on agents to have their clients take the largest offer.

Lester beat the Royals Tuesday, as Susan Slusser writes.

Lowest ERA versus Royals
**All-time stats
Jon Lester -- 1.84
Teddy Higuera -- 1.95
Roger Clemens -- 2.18
Jered Weaver -- 2.21
Chris Sale -- 2.36
**Min. 10 starts

• The Royals’ winning streak came to an end.

• The Mariners are streaking and moved into a tie for the wild-card lead.

• The Tigers are asking their fans for help. The team is saying that Justin Verlander has no major structural damage. There is a lot of wriggle room in that word "major."

• Detroit still has enough to win the AL Central, writes Bob Wojnowski.

• Chris Sale was outstanding in an outing against the Giants.

From ESPN Stats & Info: Sale struck out 12 batters in eight innings but got a no-decision in the White Sox' 3-2 win in 10 innings against San Francisco on Tuesday. On the bright side for Sale, no White Sox pitcher has more 10-plus strikeout games than Sale in the past 100 years.

Most Double-Digit Strikeout Games
Past 100 seasons
Chris Sale -- 16**
Juan Pizarro -- 15
Javier Vazquez -- 13
Alex Fernandez -- 12
**Includes Tuesday

• Michael Taylor had a great first start in the big leagues.

• The Indians and Diamondbacks had fun during a rain delay.

AL East

• For the Red Sox, the international market is a good place to shop.

• Joe Kelly already looks like a good deal.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Josh Willingham will DH most days.

2. Evan Grant writes about how the Rangers should handle Alex Rios’ contractual option. I agree with his assessment of Rios’ situation, although I’d guess a slightly lower number on his 2015 salary -- probably closer to $7 million to $8 million.

Dings and dents

Manny Machado
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Manny Machado suffered a knee injury earlier this week and has no set timetable for his return.
1. The Orioles haven’t really revealed anything about Manny Machado’s injury yet.

2. Jeremy Hefner’s case is a cautionary tale for Matt Harvey.

3. Jayson Werth is getting more tests on his shoulder. His car operates just fine.

4. George Springer has been shut down.

5. Edwin Encarnacion kick-started his rehab.

6. Gerrit Cole will make another start in Triple-A.

7. Brandon Phillips took batting practice, writes C. Trent Rosecrans.

8. Homer Bailey has an elbow thing.

9. Avisail Garcia could be back in less than a week, writes Daryl Van Schouwen.

10. Brett Anderson is having surgery Thursday.

11. Jed Lowrie has a hairline fracture in his finger.

Tuesday’s games

1. Antonio Bastardo had a really bad inning.

2. The Pirates swept the home half of a home-and-home set against the Tigers.

3. For the Cardinals: Groundhog Day.

4. The Braves just keep on losing.

5. Dan Haren was excellent again, as Dylan Hernandez writes.

6. The Phillies have shaken off their slump.

AL West

• Chris Carter has had a power surge, writes Jesus Ortiz.

• Sean Doolittle stays in the zone. He’s a pretty good writer, too.

• Brennan Boesch ditched his double-zero jersey.

AL Central

• Eduardo Escobar has been hunting doubles.

AL East

• R.A. Dickey makes constant adjustments with his knuckleball.

NL West

• The Diamondbacks are eyeing pitching in Japan.

NL Central

• Kris Bryant mashed another homer in the minors.

• Pedro Alvarez is close to making his debut at first base.

• Mike Fiers burns with confidence.

• Justin Masterson feels ready for his first start tonight after tinkering with his mechanics.

(The part about Masterson this year that has been confusing: By all accounts, a knee issue has affected his mechanics and prevented him from repeating his delivery, part of the reason why the Indians traded him. He wasn’t performing well, with his free agency looming, and there wasn’t necessarily promise that he would pitch better. So if his knee is still not healthy, can his delivery ever be consistent?)

NL East

• The Braves’ CEO isn’t concerned about declining attendance, writes David O’Brien. From his story:
Average home attendance is down by more than 2,000 from last season, and the Braves ranked 17th in the majors with an average of 29,160 before Tuesday.

“These things go in cycles,” Braves CEO Terry McGuirk said. “I’d certainly love to see the attendance a little higher. The team’s been a little spotty lately, and sometimes that’s the result, fewer people attending. But the old adage, I think always sticks: You’re never as bad as the losing streaks and never as good as the winning streaks. I think we’ll be fine.”

It’s the Braves’ first season as a sort of Inside-The-Perimeter lame duck, since announcing in November a planned move to Cobb County in 2017. Braves officials don’t believe the attendance decline isn’t the result of backlash from some fans over the pending move.

The second-place Braves had a 43-51 record since a promising 17-7 start to the season, and their offense has been disappointing and rather boring for most of the season.

• A former top pick of the Rays has been suspended again.

• The Royals have a superfan from South Korea.

• Commissioner Bud Selig says the Orioles’ MASN dispute won’t affect the team’s All-Star Game bid.

• The owners want a debate over the next commissioner, writes Bill Madden.

• Tom Werner is trying to block Rob Manfred’s bid to be the next commissioner. A failed vote Thursday could result in other candidates emerging.

• Bud Selig is leaving behind a complicated legacy, writes Bob Klapisch.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Stats versus strengths for Kershaw.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Almost exactly two hours before he takes the mound every fifth day, Clayton Kershaw lays out the precise game plan he intends to use for each hitter in the opposing starting lineup.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and I sit on each side of a training room table as Kersh runs through the batters. Honey and I always come to those meetings armed with information on the tendencies of our opponents: We not only look at what they have done against left-handed pitchers both recently and historically, but how they’ve approached at-bats against our ace specifically.

To fully prepare for his start, Kersh studies the scouting reports we print out prior to each series, and then he goes back and finds the two pitchers most similar to himself, such as Madison Bumgarner and Cole Hamels, and watches their starts versus the given opponent in their entirety. Although Honey and I have done the work and are prepared, Kersh leads the meeting. We try to help by offering up small tidbits on a particular hitter’s strengths and weaknesses, and by filling him in on any personal history that stands out. Kershaw’s tone is always serious. He keeps the conversation brisk. It’s now my job to remember his plan of attack and call pitches accordingly.

In the three years I have been humbled to catch Kersh, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and not offer up information that goes against his typical arsenal of pitches. Even though the stats may lead me in a different direction, we are both keenly aware that his strengths are what separate him from the rest. Except for when we forget.

Interleague play usually takes away the most valuable tool of setting any game plan: data on head-to-head matchups. In the recent Freeway Series with the Angels, Kersh and I both fell victim to this trap. Kershaw hadn’t faced the Angels since 2011, and had a limited history with the majority of the Halos. It’s no secret across baseball that Kersh loves to pound right-handed hitters inside. His combination of angle, deception and command make it extremely hard to square up an executed fastball on the inside corner.

The trouble is the Angels have a bunch of great hitters who feast on pitches on the inner half. So in our pregame meeting, we decided to scrap Kersh’s strength and try to work the outer half of the plate toward those hitters' statistical weaknesses. Three innings and three earned runs later, we both realized we compromised our typical game plan in favor of the numbers our computer spewed out regarding hitters' results versus left-handed pitchers who probably do not own two Cy Young Awards or pitch with the will and ferocity Kersh does.

Realizing the error of our ways, we went back to what Kersh does well, and he cruised the rest of the way. After giving up seven hits and striking out just one batter in his first three innings because of our dumb game plan, Kersh allowed no hits and struck out six in his final four frames. Lesson learned.

As a catcher who loves the cerebral side of this great game, I enjoy the patchwork process of preparing a series for each pitcher on his start date. Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus set the example in his two years as a catcher with the Dodgers for exactly what I need to do. To avoid information overload, Brad taught me to run through this checklist:

1. How aggressive is the hitter on the first pitch?
2. Does that change with runners in scoring position?
3. Where exactly does the hitter do his damage?
4. On what types of pitches?
5. In or away?
6. Ahead in the count only?
7. What are the hitter's two-strike chase zones on both fastballs and off-speed pitches?

[+] EnlargeZack Greinke
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
"He's a brilliant encyclopedia of information, and he's always looking for more research to gain an advantage," A.J. Ellis says of Zack Greinke.
Whereas we've learned that Kershaw needs to stick with his strengths and do what he does best regardless of the situation, this is a checklist that intrigues Zack Greinke. He’s a brilliant encyclopedia of information, and he’s always looking for more research to gain an advantage. He especially wants to know, and hopefully avoid, the specific areas where each hitter’s power is located. Zack is the most inquisitive student of the game I've ever met, and he breaks down video as well as anyone I've caught.

Zack studies the two-strike chase zone numbers intently. With the arsenal of pitches at his disposal combined with his ability to locate, he relentlessly attacks these zones with two strikes.

All of this information is vital to Honey and I as we try to determine a way to get major league hitters out. I mention Honey again because I must admit that I'm unable to memorize all of these figures as the game and series progress, so I rely on him to give me his notes mid-game. His help is invaluable.

But at the end of the day the question ultimately comes to this, as it did with Kersh versus the Angels: Am I going to rely on a set of numbers, or on my pitcher's strengths? Just because a hitter can do damage against a left-hander's slider in general doesn't mean I'm not calling Kersh's slider. If a hitter has great numbers against split-fingered fastballs, I am still going to work in Dan Haren's split. I've learned there has to be a marriage of stats and strengths. I try to find that balance every time I throw a sign down.

As the game progresses and relief pitchers trot in, the focus always seems to trend toward strengths. Most relievers don’t offer up a big variety of options in their repertoire, but they make it up for it with the velocity and movement of the pitches that they do throw. These last few crucial innings of a game usually turn into a battle of my best against your best. We don’t overthink it. Even if the best fastball hitter in the game is in the box with the game on the line. I’m still going to call for Kenley Jansen to throw his invisible fastball right by him. Those moments are what makes baseball so great.

The caveat in all of this is how fortunate I am to be on the receiving end of this incredible pitching staff. All of my starters have the ability to be creative and adapt from start to start. They can all locate multiple pitches, which affords me the ability to match up their strengths with the stats. Their strengths also change and can be adjusted as a particular game goes on. This speaks to the athleticism and pitch-making ability these starters have.

The relief corps is a collection of seasoned veterans who have each battled through every possible scenario. They each possess put-away weapons for all types of hitters. But when it comes down to it, and the bases are loaded with two out and it’s time to make a pitch, be assured the batting averages, slugging percentage and hard-hit stat rates are all pushed aside, as my teammate on the mound shuts out all the noise and sticks with his strength.

And now we return to Buster's regularly scheduled news and notes …

Even before it was determined that Troy Tulowitzki needs season-ending hip surgery, rival executives spoke with great concern about the number of games he has missed.

But now that he apparently won't play again this year, well, the injury numbers for Tulowitzki will get even uglier, and greatly complicate any possible trade, which already would have been complicated given all the money owed to him.

Games missed for Tulowitzki over the past seven seasons:

2014: 71
2013: 26
2012: 115
2011: 19
2010: 40
2009: 11
2008: 61

[+] EnlargeTroy Tulowitzki
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports
Troy Tulowitzki's 2014 campaign ends with him having a .340 average and 1.035 OPS in 91 games.
That's 343 games over the past seven seasons, an average of almost 50 a year, and Tulowitzki isn't even 30 yet (he turns 30 in October). Teams are generally very leery of players with hip issues, as Mike Napoli learned two winters ago when the Red Sox backed away from a tentative agreement after more was learned about his hip condition. While Napoli's hip really hasn't been a problem over the past two seasons and he'll eventually make close to what he signed for, this sort of problem is a major red flag that scares teams away, like a shoulder tear in an aging pitcher. Tulowitzki is owed $118 million for the next six seasons.

So yes, you can understand Tulowitzki's frustration over the Rockies' losing, and why he might welcome a trade. But unless he demonstrates he can stay on the field, Colorado would probably have to make a bad, one-sided deal in order to move him, which begs this question: What would be in it for the Rockies, other than to placate the player?

Tulowitzki's season-ending injury occurred despite diligent preparation, writes Patrick Saunders. From his story:
There has been a lot of speculation that the Rockies might entertain a trade for Tulowitzki during the offseason. That talk, obviously, will not take place now. Tulowitzki, considered the game's best two-way shortstop, will be due $118 million after this season on a deal that runs through 2020, with a club option for 2021.

Since becoming a rookie sensation in 2007 and helping lead the Rockies to the World Series, Tulo has battled leg injuries. His 2008 season was marred when he tore a tendon in his left quadriceps, forcing him to miss 46 games. He played just 47 games in 2012, sidelined by a left groin injury that led to season-ending surgery.

Given Tulo's injury history, he was given prescribed days off, and if he felt tightness in his groin, he would ease up on the basepaths or take a day or two off.

He was aware that the 2008 injury left him with a muscle imbalance in his upper left leg.

"I've told myself, 'If you're going to get hurt again, make sure you have covered all of your bases,'" Tulowitzki told The Denver Post last month. "That way you can sit in your chair, be on the DL, look at it and say: 'Hey look, I can't do anything more. This is all I had and I gave it everything I had.' I can firmly say that now."

Tulowitzki's daily routine involved hours of scripted workouts, endless stretching and rolling and a postgame plunge into an ice bath. At home, he often sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, where the rich oxygen atmosphere helped him recover.
Around the league

• MLB could pick its next commissioner today. Or maybe not.

The narratives about the candidates, as pitched by the backers, don't always square with reality. The strength of Tom Werner's candidacy, for example, is said to be his understanding of television. What's not mentioned is that the ratings of the Red Sox, Werner's team, have been in decline.

Ron Blum has more on the three finalists.

There could be a coup today, writes Bill Shaikin. The three candidates are said to have done well in their presentations.

• This has been a lost year for Twins prospect Byron Buxton, who reportedly suffered a concussion in a collision with another outfielder Wednesday. Mike Berardino has more here.

• The Mariners had a majestic homestand, writes Jayson Jenks.

Team ERA leaders since the All-Star break:

1. Tampa Bay, 2.14 ERA
2. Seattle, 2.19
3. San Diego, 2.60
4. Kansas City, 2.80
5. Angels, 2.94

• The Orioles are running away with the AL East, and Chris Tillman has been on an impressive run.

The Orioles are hopeful about a possible Manny Machado return.

• Twice on Wednesday, umpires were asked to review plays at the plate, and I think the plays were distinct: Tyler Flowers set up straddling the baseline, while Wilson Ramos set up in fair territory.

The call on Flowers helped the Giants, and White Sox manager Robin Ventura was really upset.

• Jason Vargas shut down Oakland on Wednesday. It was a big win for the Royals, who have responded to a challenge this week.

From ESPN Stats & Information on how Vargas won:

A. Threw 97 pitches over nine innings, becoming the first Royals pitcher to toss a complete game with fewer than 100 pitches since Luke Hochevar needed just 80 pitches to beat the Reds 4-1 on June 12, 2009.
B. Fastballs comprised 64 of his 97 pitches (66 percent), tied for his highest percentage this season.
C. However, when he got to two strikes, he kept the Athletics off balance, mixing in 11 changeups and a curve to account for nearly half of his 25 two-strike offerings.
D. He shut out the A's for the second time in his past three starts against them. In the start he didn't shut them out (Aug. 2), he pitched four perfect innings before allowing seven runs (four earned) in the fifth inning.
E. He retired the final 23 batters, the most consecutive batters retired in his career.
F. He allowed just four batters to reach three-ball counts, and none of the four reached base.

Some roster moves made by Kansas City are paying off, writes Sam Mellinger.

Meanwhile, Oakland's offense has been very hot or cold lately, writes Susan Slusser.

• Miguel Montero was really impressed with Trevor Bauer. Some former Diamondbacks hurt their former team Wednesday.

• The first homer hit by a recent Padres call-up was a long one.

Dings and dents

1. Yu Darvish was placed on the disabled list, and Evan Grant wonders if a six-man rotation might've kept him healthy. After beginning the season 11-4 with a 2.42 ERA through June, he has struggled, going just 2-5 with a 4.73 ERA since the start of July.

2. Hyun-Jin Ryu suffered a strain.

3. A Padres infielder will miss some time.

4. Homer Bailey is headed to the disabled list.

5. Kyle Lohse injured his ankle.

6. Jayson Werth got a cortisone shot.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Rays demoted Cole Figueroa.

2. Terry Collins is likely to return as Mets manager in 2015.

Wednesday's games

1. The Rays are just about as close in the wild-card race this morning as they were the day they traded David Price, following their most recent win.

From ESPN Stats & Info on how Chris Archer beat the Rangers:

A. Had a career-high 12 K's. Nine of those 12 K's ended on a pitch outside of the strike zone.
B. Batters chased on 35 percent of the pitches outside the strike zone, a season high.
C. The Rangers were 1-for-14 (with one walk) in two-strike counts.
D. Rangers were 1-for-11 with eight strikeouts on his sliders.

2. The Marlins were unable to finish off the Cardinals.

3. The Braves stopped the bleeding, writes David O'Brien.

4. Howie Kendrick got a big hit.

5. Toronto seems to have stopped hitting.

6. Victor Martinez feels that some of the criticism of the Tigers is unfair.

7. The Indians split a doubleheader.

8. Javier Baez's first home run at Wrigley Field was memorable, writes Mark Gonzales.

NL East

• B.J. Upton is on pace to break a record.

• Cole Hamels is weighing his future.

NL Central

• Justin Masterson was masterful Wednesday.

• The Cardinals need to power up their lineup in the offseason, writes Bernie Miklasz. Of course, about 29 other teams are probably thinking they need to do the same thing.

• Jeff Locke was cleared in a game-fixing scheme.

NL West

• A signee from Cuba has impressed the Giants. On the big club, Pablo Sandoval's defense is no longer fear-inducing.

AL East

• Colby Rasmus needs to play better, writes John Lott.

• Jackie Bradley Jr. has maintained his confidence.

• The Yankees have shifted into panic mode, writes John Harper.

AL Central

• Justin Verlander says the Tigers are still a great ballclub. Ian Kinsler spoke to the team after their latest loss.

AL West

• Leonys Martin is gaining an understanding.

• The Mariners are being helped by attrition.


• There is sad news about a long-time Astros coach and scout.

And today will be better than yesterday.
post #25746 of 73000
Originally Posted by Th3RealF0lkBlu3s View Post

Sounds like the Rockies are preparing for life after Troy.
Red Sox?
TEAM CHEESEHEADS ..... HoustonRockets
Jordy Nelson: Best WR in the game .................................. The Roc Boys in the building tonight
TEAM CHEESEHEADS ..... HoustonRockets
Jordy Nelson: Best WR in the game .................................. The Roc Boys in the building tonight
post #25747 of 73000
Thread Starter 
How Has Garrett Richards Limited That Hard Contact?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
So we know by now that Garrett Richards has blossomed into an ace. He always had it in him, at least based on his fastball velocity and movement, and in this particular season he’s helped to pick up a lot of the slack within an Angels rotation that carried a bunch of question marks. Richards is the premier arm on the staff, and a part of his breakout has had to do with his dramatic increase in strikeout rate. From last year to this year, Richards has increased his strikeouts by half, which, well, think about that.

The other part of his breakout has had to do with his limiting quality contact. Tony just wrote about this Wednesday, linking Richards with Felix Hernandez, and that’s saying something considering Felix is having one of the better seasons ever. Richards has started 24 baseball games, and he’s allowed just five home runs. He’s yielded a .256 slugging percentage that is actually lower than his opponents’ on-base percentage. You don’t need to dig too deep to understand that batters haven’t been hitting the ball hard against Garrett Richards through four and a half months. But, what’s going on here? How does a pitcher allow just a .063 ISO?

I can’t actually explain the very essence of Garrett Richards. I don’t know what it’s like to face him, and I don’t know what numbers are definitely signal, and what numbers are definitely noise. But, recently, with hitters, I’ve taken a look at guys who have and haven’t pulled the ball in the air more often. Pulled air balls tend to be more dangerous than non-pulled air balls, and it stands to reason we can apply the same kind of thinking to pitchers. And this is where Richards popped up, for me.

Baseball Savant gave me 175 pitchers who’ve thrown at least 1,000 pitches in 2014. I looked at their total fly balls and line drives against, and then I looked at how many of those were hit to the hitters’ pull sides. I split things in half, instead of thirds, for simplicity. On average, out of the sample, the pitchers allowed 49% of fly balls and line drives to be pulled. But Garrett Richards shows up at 36%. He shows up at a league-low 36%. Against Richards, batters have had a difficult time pulling the ball in the air.

He’s at 37% against right-handed hitters, and 34% against left-handed hitters. There’s no hint of a platoon split here, and before this season, Richards was at 55% against righties and 43% against lefties. This year he’s gotten more difficult to pull, which helps to explain the limited power allowed. It’s also an indication that hitters just haven’t been taking very comfortable swings in the box. So it’s direct evidence and indirect evidence of improvement and dominance, and here are a couple spray charts from Baseball Savant. First, righties:

And lefties:

StatCorner shows basically the same thing. Looking just at fly balls, Richards has allowed 27% of them to be pulled, against an average of 44%. Sometimes hitters want to go the other way, and some hitters specialize in hitting for power the other way, but overall, this is a lot more of a good thing than a bad thing for Richards to be pulling off.

How can you explain this? I can offer some simple potential explanations, which seem to suffice. Richards, this year, has improved his fastball command, and he’s refined his secondary stuff. Those can be almost empty statements, some of the time, but that’s also the same explanation given for Corey Kluber‘s emergence. Richards, also, is pitching to different areas, and this year he’s been more willing to come inside against righties with his sinker. As a hitter, you don’t know what to look for against Richards — he has a good breaking ball, and he also has two hard fastballs with similar velocities that move in different directions. So you can’t really sit on anything against Richards, making hitting all the more reactive.

And there’s that part where Richards is throwing extremely hard. Already blessed, this year Richards has kicked it up. His fastball has gained about two ticks, surpassing 97. His sinker is up a tick and a half, touching 97. His slider’s also at 88, and his curveball’s up to 80. Intuitively, it seems like there should be a close relationship between velocity and pulled balls allowed. In reality, things are more complicated than that, but this year Richards is giving hitters even less time to react, and they’re having to react to better and sharper pitches thrown all around the zone. When you put it that way it sounds impossible. And based on the numbers, it has been almost impossible.

Batters don’t struggle to pull the ball against Yordano Ventura, but Ventura doesn’t have Richards’ secondary stuff. Batters don’t struggle to pull the ball against Nathan Eovaldi, but Eovaldi doesn’t have Richards’ secondary stuff. I should note that batters also don’t struggle to pull the ball against Aroldis Chapman, but there they basically have to look fastball, or else they won’t have a chance. And that’s why Chapman’s slider and changeup are so lethal when he has his command.

I don’t know how sustainable this is for Richards in the future. It makes all the sense in the world to me, but I can’t believe people ever pull the ball against Chapman so I know there’s more going on than I understand. Maybe hitters will make adjustments, maybe Richards will change something, maybe the numbers will normalize for some other reason or reasons. But, a year ago, Richards wasn’t easy to pull the ball against, and this year he’s gotten even more dominant in terms of his contact neutralization. His pitches are sharper, his pitches are harder, and his pitches are better located and mixed up absent predictability. For years, when we watched Garrett Richards, we wondered why his results didn’t match the perception. They’re matching the perception. Richards now is exactly as impossible as he was supposed to be.

The Orioles and Accepting Random Variation.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Two years ago, the Baltimore Orioles gave a middle finger to the concept of regression to the mean. For six months, they won game after game by a single run, relying on a bullpen that posted the highest WPA in history to make the postseason despite the skepticism of sabermetric writers everywhere, including here on FanGraphs. The story of their season was essentially told in two numbers: 93-69 record, +7 run differential. To O’s fans, it was a fantastic season, but to writers like those found here, it was essentially a fluke.

The 2012 Orioles were a decent team that managed to distribute their runs in about the most effective manner possible, but there’s just no evidence to suggest that this is a repeatable skill over significant periods of time. And sure enough, after going 29-9 in one run contests in 2012, the 2013 Orioles went 20-31 in games decided by a lone run. For one year, the Orioles defied the odds, but as we’d expect, they couldn’t get that to carry over into the next season, and they won eight fewer games despite playing basically at the same level as the previous year.

But now, it’s 2014, and the Orioles are doing it again, though not quite to the same degree. Their 24-17 record in one run games isn’t quite so crazy, but they are outperforming what context-neutral models would suggest based on their overall performance to date. As Jeff noted, the Orioles are #2 in Clutch performance this year, winning five more games than their underlying statistics would have suggested. And once again, their bullpen leads the Majors in WPA, though it’s not quite the historical performance of two years ago.

And while Orioles fans may have been able to accept random variation as the explanation for 2012, the fact that they’re doing it again just two years later leads to suspicion that perhaps the Orioles — or maybe just Buck Showalter — have figured out how to game the system. A few comments I received yesterday, both in my chat here and on Twitter.

Comment From baltic fox
Re: bullpen talent. Maybe most guys can’t predict bullpen talent in advance, but Buck Showalter apparently can. Having a lot of contacts in baseball and lots of experience at evaluating players isn’t something that can be measured with metrics.

Comment From King Flops
Is there any amount of differentiation from predictive models that would make you question the models over simply reciting, “luck/coinflips/randomness” like a SABR doll whose string was just pulled

LossOfConsortium says
Std deviation is obviously going to occur, but when you’re to the point where the O’s have outperformed their projections 3 years in a row (significantly), don’t you maybe have to think there is a potential flaw? I love game stats, but maybe there are still some things about the game that numbers don’t solve. I understand that is Sacrilege here, but still. Perhaps a fantastic back end of the bullpen and #1 defense instill confidence in SPs who then outperform their projections? Who knows. But being so narrow minded to definitively find std deviation…?

If you are lucky for a long period of time doesn’t that mean it’s no longer luck. Doesn’t that mean there is talent or skill involved?

The sentiment expressed in those last two comments is not at all uncommon, and is actually a perfectly rational statement. At some point, when reality diverges from a model’s expectations for long enough, it is entirely correct to question whether the model works. So, let’s actually dive into the data, and look at whether the Orioles are actually evidence that run estimators are missing something.

While we only have the BaseRuns Standings page here on FanGraphs for 2014, David Appelman was kind enough to send me the data for all years back to 2002. To see how unusual this Orioles run is, I looked at every rolling three year window for every team in baseball from 2004 through 2014. This gives us a total of 330 data points, and should allow us to answer some questions about the relationship between a team’s three year BaseRuns numbers and their corresponding Win-Loss record.

With those 330 data points, I looked at the cumulative difference in winning percentage between a team’s actual record and their BaseRuns expected record. Between 2012, 2013, and 2014, the Orioles have beaten their BaseRuns expected record by a combined .129 winning percentage, or .043 per season. Over 162 games, that’s a difference of seven wins, and again, this is over three seasons. Of the 330 three-year windows we’re looking at, that ranks as the ninth largest difference, confirming what we already knew; what the Orioles are doing is unusual.

ShortName season WP bsrWP Difference 3 Year
Angels 2009 0.599 0.530 0.069 0.234
Angels 2010 0.494 0.445 0.049 0.222
Astros 2010 0.469 0.403 0.066 0.182
Angels 2008 0.617 0.513 0.104 0.162
Astros 2009 0.457 0.415 0.042 0.140
Angels 2011 0.531 0.515 0.016 0.134
Twins 2008 0.540 0.490 0.050 0.133
Twins 2010 0.580 0.530 0.050 0.130
Orioles 2014 0.576 0.532 0.044 0.129
Yankees 2014 0.517 0.479 0.038 0.126
As you’ll note from that table, there’s a lot of overlap, which makes sense, because one outlier season can be counted in multiple rolling time frames. For instance, the 2008 Angels — who beat their expected record by 108 points, easily the most of any team in the sample — are included in three of the top four data points in that table. The 2010 Astros were the ninth-highest single season overachiever, but that three-year window makes the list because it also includes the 2008 Astros in the rolling total, and the 2008 Astros had the fifth highest single season gap between actual record and expected record.

But this is just what Orioles fans are suggesting; there are examples of teams who have beaten BaseRuns not just once, but followed it up by doing it over several years. The Angels, in fact, beat their BaseRuns expected record five years in a row, averaging 60 points of winning percentage per season over those years. That’s 10 wins per year over what BaseRuns expected, for five consecutive seasons. Clearly, we have to acknowledge that it is possible to consistently win more games than the model suggests, at least over a five year stretch. It’s happened, and not all that long ago.

But here’s the thing; the existence of an outlier does not prove that a model is broken. In fact, the existence of the right amount of outliers is actually evidence that the model works really well. The question isn’t whether we can find outliers in the data; the question is whether there are more outliers than we’d expect given a normal distribution.

The normal distribution essentially states that, in a sample of data with a given mean, the results will be distributed around that mean in a way that isn’t biased one direction or the other. Most of the results will be closer towards the mean, with fewer and fewer examples as we get further away from that average, and roughly an equal proportion on both sides. The normal distribution is often called a bell curve, because, well, it takes the shape of a bell.

Statistically, the normal distribution has a rule that suggests that 68% of the results will fall within one standard deviation, 95% will fall within two standard deviations, and 99.7% will fall within three standard deviations. In order to see whether the presence of teams like the Angels, Astros, and Orioles prove that BaseRuns is missing something, we can measure just many standard deviations from the mean they have been over these three year windows, and what the overall distribution of all 330 data points is.

Let’s start with the chart of all 330 data points.

It’s not perfectly distributed, but that looks very close to a normal distribution. If you prefer to see it in a curve rather than a histogram, here’s the same data, just presented with the drawn line.

That’s a bell curve, with a very slight skew to the left, as more teams have underachieved than overachieved over the sample we’re looking at. If we had 3,300 data points instead of 330, it’s likely that skew would go away.

But, while the chart certainly makes it look like the data is distributed normally, do the numbers actually match up to the 68-95-99 rule? Well, here’s a table so you can see for yourself.

1 SD 2 SD 3 SD
67.9% 96.1% 99.4%
Remember the rule targets are 68.2%, 95.5%, and 99.7%. Yeah, I’d say it’s safe to call this a normal distribution. In other words, there are exactly as many outliers as we’d expect to find given this many data points. The existence of the Angels, Astros, and Orioles isn’t evidence that BaseRuns is broken; it’s evidence that the model follows the normal distribution, and the fact that there aren’t more examples like them suggests that the model works pretty darn well.

For the record, the Orioles 2012-2014 record is 2.02 standard deviations from the mean. In other words, we’d expect to find an example of a team performing this well over a three year rolling window one time with only 20 data points, and so we shouldn’t be too shocked that the Yankees have beaten their BaseRuns expected record by nearly an identical amount over the last three years. What the Orioles have done isn’t actually all that crazy, and it doesn’t come anywhere near the level of suggesting that they have figured out how to exploit a flaw in the model that can be sustained over the long term.

Now, again the presence of the normal distribution does not mean that BaseRuns is a perfect model. I’m not attempting to assert that the model is beyond reproach. What I will say, however, is that if we’re going to identify flaws in the model, we cannot use the existence of the 2012-2014 Orioles as evidence. It isn’t evidence of that.

And really, the evidence also pushes back against this being a Buck Showalter effect. After all, these aren’t Showalter’s first three years as an MLB manager. From 2003 to 2006, he managed the Texas Rangers; in three of those four years, the Rangers lost more games than expected, and his overall average winning percentage in Texas was 16 points lower than the BaseRuns model. In his first two years in Baltimore, the team outperformed, but just slightly so, average 12 points of winning percentage more than the expectation. Of the nine seasons managed by Buck Showalter in the years for which I have BaseRuns data, his average bump in winning percentage amounts to 1 point of winning percentage per year.

Really, if there’s a manager that could have staked a claim to figuring out the way to beat BaseRuns, it was Mike Scioscia. From 2002 to 2011, Scioscia’s Angels beat their BaseRuns expectated records by an average of 41 points per year, winning more games than expected in eight of those ten years. The 2007-2009 Angels were 3.7 standard deviations from the mean in terms of performance over expected record, nearly twice as far from the mean as the 2014 Orioles. After a full decade of beating expectations, certainly Scioscia should be the one guy we should expect to do it, right?

Well, the 2012 Angels won fewer games than BaseRuns expected, and so did the 2013 Angels, and so have the 2014 Angels. After beating the model for five straight years, Scioscia is now on a three year losing streak. This doesn’t erase what he’s done previously, but if we’re to explain how Scioscia figured out how to beat BaseRuns, we have to also explain why he forgot how to do it a couple of years ago, and hasn’t remembered since. And those Angels are the most extreme outlier. If they couldn’t keep doing this, there’s no reason to think anyone else can either. And, for the record, the Astros and Twins — the two other franchises who regularly beat their expected record during our sample — are also on similar losing streaks since the end of their runs.

I understand why Orioles fans are frustrated with being told that their team isn’t as good as their quality record for the second time in three years. We don’t like accepting randomness as an answer, and when someone tells us that regression is coming and then it doesn’t come as soon as they said it should, confirmation bias kicks in, allowing us to believe that the prediction was wrong all along. It is difficult for human beings to observe a repeated event over any real length of time and not find a cause for the results.

But this is why we should be skeptical of our abilities as observers rather than of models that actually work really well in a great majority of the cases. In a competition where the spread in talent level is not that large, randomness is going to play a significant role in the outcome. In Major League Baseball, a team can control, to a large degree, how many and what types of baserunners they create and allow, but there’s just not any evidence that converting those baserunners into runs at a higher than expected level is a real skill, or that distributing the runs a team scores or allows in an advantageous way is something that teams can control. As simple as it might sound, the best way to evaluate a team’s performance is by simply counting up the value of the individual plays and mostly ignoring the order in which they occur.

Sometimes, the ball will bounce your way more often than others, and the small spread in talent among teams means that context-specific performance can skew the standings by as many as 17 wins, though +/- 10 wins is more normal for an outlier within a given season. When we see a team that wins 10 more games than BaseRuns suggests, we shouldn’t conclude that BaseRuns is stupid and wrong; we should conclude that yep, that’s baseball.

And it’s part of what makes the game great. If there wasn’t any variance, and every team won exactly as many games as expected, the sport would be rather boring. We should celebrate the variance that exists, allowing surprising teams to rise up and reward their fans with exciting and unexpected wins. We just shouldn’t allow those exciting rare wins to make us think that the rules apply to everyone except for our favorite team. Embrace randomness, but embrace it for what it is, and don’t try to turn it into something it isn’t.

Clutch Baseball Teams aren’t Clutch Baseball Teams.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
You’re familiar with win/loss standings. I’m pretty comfortable with this assumption. You’re likely also growing familiar with BaseRuns win/loss standings. It’s something we’ve cited pretty often since we began to offer the data, and the idea behind BaseRuns is that it strips away sequencing. Actual standings show you performance plus variation. BaseRuns standings show you performance. It’s not quite that simple, but that’s the outline, so it’s interesting to compare how teams have done to how BaseRuns thinks teams have done.

Take the American League Central, right now. The Royals are leading! The Royals are leading the Tigers, by half of a game! Yet, BaseRuns preserves the Tigers’ winning percentage, but drops the Royals’ winning percentage from .542 to .480. BaseRuns doesn’t think the Royals are as good as the Tigers at all. So why are the Royals presently where they are? They’ve been clutch. Sequencing has been a strength of the Royals, and of course, sequencing can make an enormous difference if you under- or over-perform in high-leverage situations. The Royals have earned their current record by doing well when it’s mattered the most.

Clutch makes for a really good explanation for differences between winning percentage and BaseRuns winning percentage. Check out this graph of 2014 data, comparing that winning-percentage difference to overall team Clutch score.

This makes total sense — if a team isn’t performing to its BaseRuns numbers, presumably it’s because of performance bunching, or some better term. The five teams with the biggest positive winning-percentage differences have a combined Clutch score of +19. The five teams with the biggest negative winning-percentage differences have a combined Clutch score of -17. Clutch is basically why the Orioles have a massive division lead on the Rays; BaseRuns considers them the same, but the Rays have been lousy when it’s mattered, and the Orioles have been really good.

Fans can feel this stuff, too. Fans know when their teams have been clutch or unclutch, even if they’re unfamiliar with the statistics. And everybody understands the importance of doing well in stressful moments, because, say, a blown save can totally negate eight innings of excellent work. Fans of unclutch teams are going to develop trust issues, because they remember past instances of failing to come through. Fans of clutch teams are going to search for explanations of why their teams are so great. Usually, people will point to bullpens. Bullpens, of course, throw important innings, so they can make or break a lot of baseball.

Here’s the thing, though, and you probably already knew. You know all those studies about clutch performance in the majors? You know how they haven’t found much of anything? There aren’t clutch baseball teams. There are baseball teams that perform well in the clutch, but it’s not a skill; it’s just a thing that happens sometimes.

Following, you’re going to see a comparison between first-half team clutch score and second-half team clutch score, within the same seasons. I only looked at five years of data, between 2009 – 2013, but I didn’t see any need to go longer. The information here speaks for itself. How’s that relationship look, over the 150 team seasons?

There’s nothing. It’s not a completely flat line, and it’s not an R value of literally zero, but for all intents and purposes, this is randomness. You don’t even need the numbers to know it’s random — you can just eyeball the distributions. Clutch team for the first half? Great! Don’t count on that in the second half.

Of course, some clutch first-half teams have remained clutch second-half teams. Some unclutch first-half teams have remained unclutch second-half teams. But that’s what you’d expect from the sample. That’s how numbers work. The top ten most clutch first halves had a combined Clutch score of +52. Those same teams had a combined second-half Clutch score of +1. The top ten least clutch first halves had a combined Clutch score of -53. Those same teams had a combined second-half Clutch score of +6. It’s meaningless, but you’ll notice that’s even better than the most clutch teams in the first half. There’s absolutely zero predictive power at all.

Yeah, the 2012 Orioles were amazing. In the first half, they were at +5.6, and in the second half, they were at +5.2. But consider the 2012 Pirates. In the first half, they were at +5.3, and in the second half, they were at -4.1. The 2013 Orioles, in the first half, checked in at +5.3; the 2013 Orioles, in the second half, checked in at -2.4. On the other side, the least-clutch first half belonged to the 2009 Nationals, at -9.5. In the second half, they came in at +3.2. Last year’s Brewers turned it around. The year before, the Phillies turned it around. And so on. When you’re dealing with randomness, there’s some continuation and there’s some discontinuation, but that’s to be expected, because it’s randomness. Half the time, a team with a positive first-half rating will have a positive second-half rating, just because of basic mathematics. It’s not because the team has a special skill. It’s because a baseball season doesn’t achieve an infinite sample size.

This doesn’t mean that, say, the Royals don’t deserve to be in first. This doesn’t mean that the Orioles don’t deserve to have their big lead on the Rays. This doesn’t mean that clutch teams are about to collapse, or that unclutch teams are about to catch fire. That’s not the way regression works, and the season’s already three-quarters complete. All this means is that clutch teams aren’t clutch teams. It’s great to get a quality high-leverage performance, but it’s not something you can count on over and over, not when the performance exceeds the performance you’d already expect just from the players’ talent. Looking back, the Orioles have been a lot better than the Rays. Looking forward, one shouldn’t expect the Orioles to be a lot better than the Rays. You’re already well aware of the role and importance of randomness, but from time to time we all need to be reminded.

The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced last April by the present author, wherein that same ridiculous author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own heart to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above both (a) absent from all of three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists* and also (b) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing on the midseason prospect lists produced by those same notable sources or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

*In this case, those produced by Baseball America, ESPN’s Keith Law, and our own Marc Hulet.

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

Alex Claudio, LHP, Texas (Profile)
As of June 27th this year, the left-handed Claudio had made only two of his 17 appearances with High-A Myrtle Beach in a starting capacity. Since the 28th of that same month, however — so, about a month and a half — Claudio has recorded seven starts (in 10 overall appearances). Nor have any of them (i.e. those appearances) occurred with Myrtle Beach, but rather Double-A Frisco and, as of last Friday, Triple-A Round Rock. While the 22-year-old’s numbers during that interval (42.2 IP, 16.5% K, 2.4% BB) have been merely very good and not elite, always with Claudio it’s the manner in which he produces them — namely, by means of a fastball that sits at ca. 85 mph and a changeup that averages nearly 20 fewer mph than that.

Here’s an example of that changeup — at 68 mph, in this case — from Claudio’s most recent appearance:

And then, on the following pitch, what appears to be a slider for the strikeout against Reno’s Mike Freeman:

Dixon Machado, SS, Detroit (Profile)
Some brief inspection of the internet and also one actual, physical book reveals that it’s difficult to find a report on the 22-year-old Machado without also finding an attendant celebration of his skills as a shortstop. Baseball America’s most recent Prospect Handbook, for example, recognizes him both as Best Defensive Infielder and Best Infield Arm in the Detroit system. What the editors of that publication don’t do, however, is recognize Machado as one of that same organization’s top-30 prospects. The likely reason: concern regarding Machado’s offensive upside. As an above-average shortstop, however, Machado need only demonstrate some small sign of offensive promise to generate enthusiasm regarding his future. As of late, he’s begun doing that. Since the very arbitrary date of July 21, for example, Machado has produced this line in 70 plate appearances: 15.7% BB, 7.1% K, 2 HR, .375/.471/.536 (.380 BABIP). Over his last five games, the young Venezuelan has recorded five walks and zero strikeouts while also hitting one of those home runs.

This home run, specifically:
Michael Reed, OF, Milwaukee (Profile)
With his inclusion here this week, Reed now appears among the top-10 contestants on the largely arbitrary Fringe Five Scoreboard below. His performance over the last week serves as a reasonable microcosm for his season as a whole, insofar as he walked rather often (26.5%), struck out less often (20.6%), and demonstrated some promising element of power and/or speed — in this case, recording his fifth home run of the season.

Scott Schebler, OF, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Schebler made his debut among the Five two weeks ago after exhibiting signs that his plate discipline might be improving to such a degree as to allow his other gifts to reveal themselves more fully. It’s one of those other gifts — namely, his power — that Schebler has exhibited in recent days. Over his most recent two-game stretch with Double-A Chattanooga, Schebler has produced the following line: 7 PA, 1 BB, 0 K, 4 HR, 5 H. Nor has Schebler’s plate-discipline deteriorated, really: since that initial appearance among the Five, Schebler has produced walk and strikeout rates of 8.0% and 14.0%, respectively — i.e. a considerable improvement over his previously established levels.

Here’s largely unhelpful footage depicting one of Schebler’s recent home runs:

Blayne Weller, RHP, Arizona (Profile)
If one takes for granted that part of what can render a prospect “compelling” is his personal narrative, then Weller has a considerable advantage in this regard — insofar, that is, as he was signed by Arizona last summer after proving his competence in the independent Frontier League. That he sits at 94 mph with his fastball and features what appears to be an entirely serviceable curveball and also recently threw a no-hitter — these are other reasons why he’s compelling, too. The 24-year-old’s most recent start, during which he struck out a third of the 27 batters he faced, is indicative of that which makes him promising (box).

The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.

Austin Barnes, C/2B, Miami (Double-A Southern League)
Taylor Cole, RHP, Toronto (Double-A Eastern League)
Andrew Faulkner, LHP, Texas (Double-A Texas League)
Jake Thompson, RHP, Texas (Double-A Texas League)
Austin Voth, RHP, Washington (Double-A Eastern League)

Fringe Five Scoreboard
Here are the top-10 the players to have appeared among either the Fringe Five (FF) or Next Five (NF) so far this season. For mostly arbitrary reasons, players are assessed three points for each week they’ve appeared among the Fringe Five; a single point, for each week among the Next Five.
# Name Team POS FF NF PTS
1 Taylor Cole Blue Jays RHP 6 2 20
2 Thomas Shirley Astros LHP 6 1 19
3 Jace Peterson Padres SS 5 2 17
4 Jose Ramirez Indians 2B 5 1 16
5 Ben Lively Reds RHP 4 3 15
6 Billy Mckinney Cubs OF 3 5 14
7 Josh Hader Astros LHP 4 2 14
8 Michael Reed Brewers OF 4 2 14
9 Robert Kral Padres C 3 5 14
10 Seth Mejias-Brean Reds 3B 4 2 14

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There are six weeks left in the 2014 regular season, and if the season ended today, we'd have some fairly surprising playoff teams. The Brewers are in first place in the NL Central, the Orioles have a huge lead in the AL East, and the Mariners are tied with the Tigers for the second wild card spot. You probably didn't predict any of those outcomes, and I know I certainly didn't. This is part of what is great about baseball, and especially in the current age of parity, the playoff teams are no longer as predetermined as they once seemed.

Results like these often convince people that preseason forecasts are basically useless. As you've probably been told repeatedly by various announcers and baseball scribes, the game is played on the field, not on a spreadsheet. However, I thought it would be instructive to look back at the forecasted performance from the beginning of the season and see how well they managed to evaluate expected performance.

To do this, however, we're not going to compare the projected standings to the actual standings, because a team's record is essentially a function of two things: how many hits, walks and other positive events a team creates relative to how many they give up, and the timing of when those events occur. The first one is what projection systems specialize in forecasting, but they really have no way of knowing which teams will tend to bunch their hits together, or distribute their runs in such a way as to win a bunch of close contests.

The timing aspects of win-loss record is basically random, and since there's no real way to project it in advance, we don't really want to judge how well a projection did based on results that are influenced by randomness. Instead, we're better off looking at just the quantity and value of the types of baserunners a team achieved over and above what they gave up, and evaluate the preseason forecasts based on how well they match up with what a team's expected record would be without the timing effects that can skew runs and wins. After all, that is really what the forecasts are trying to measure.

At FanGraphs, we publish the seasonal data from a model called BaseRuns, which takes all of the events a team creates and allows and turns them into an expected runs scored and runs allowed total. Based on those numbers, we can come up with an expected winning percentage that doesn't factor the timing of events into the results. So that's what we'll use to measure the team forecasts.

Here are the top five teams that have outperformed their preseason expected winning percentages:

The overachievers
Team ExWin% BsrWin% Difference
Athletics 53.2% 62.0% 8.8%
Angels 53.0% 60.1% 7.1%
Orioles 48.2% 53.2% 5.0%
Mariners 51.4% 55.6% 4.2%
Astros 41.2% 45.3% 4.1%

The A's and Angels look like maybe the two best teams in baseball right now, so it might not be easy to remember that both teams looked like just solid contenders rather than juggernauts back at the start of the year. The Orioles are indeed surprise contenders, as they were forecast to finish last in the AL East but are playing like a real playoff team. It's worth noting, however, that the AL East is a great example of how the timing of events can change the outcome; the Rays actually have a slightly higher expected winning percentage than the Orioles, yet are 10 1/2 games behind them in the standings. Timing can matter an awful lot.

The Mariners and Astros round out the top five, and interestingly, meaning that four of the top five overachievers come from the American League West. What could be causing so many teams in one division to do better than expected? Well, let's go to the underachievers:

The underachievers
Team ExWin% BsrWin% Difference
Rangers 53.4% 37.7% -15.7%
Red Sox 54.5% 43.5% -11.0%
Diamondbacks 49.2% 42.9% -6.3%
Rockies 48.8% 45.4% -3.4%
Yankees 50.7% 48.0% -2.7%

Hello, Texas. The FanGraphs preseason forecasts had the Rangers as the sixth-best team in baseball; instead, they've easily been the worst, and it isn't even really close. The 2014 Rangers aren't just the biggest flop of the season; they're one of the biggest flops in recent history. While the A's, Angels and Mariners are all having strong seasons on their own merit, each has certainly benefited from the collapse of a team that was supposed to be a legitimate contender.

The Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Yankees are also in the underachiever groups, but only Boston's struggles come close to matching the Rangers' failure. In each of these cases, injuries played a significant role in the team's failure to live up to expectations, and injuries will likely never be something that a computer model -- or even human beings for that matter -- can predict with any success. If a team loses several of its best players for significant periods of time, the forecasts are going to be off, and there's not much anyone can do about that. It's just part of the game.

However, notice that even when we look at the Yankees, we're not really dealing with a huge variance from the preseason forecast. The difference between the Yankees' forecast winning percentage and their BaseRuns expected winning percentage amounts to five wins over the course of the year, and they're one of the teams that the projections missed on the most. In reality, for most of the teams in baseball, the preseason forecasts actually match up pretty well with their timing-independent results.

Seventeen of the 30 teams in MLB have an expected winning percentage within 2.5 percentage points of their preseason forecasts -- which amounts to plus or minus four wins over the course of a full season -- including some teams who might look like surprises or disappointments based on their current records. For instance, the current narrative is that the Detroit Tigers have fallen apart and it's time to panic in Detroit, but their BaseRuns expected winning percentage (54.8%) is almost an exact match for the forecasting system's preseason expectation (54.1%). Their recent tailspin has basically brought them back into line with what the projections thought they would do before the year began.

What about the Royals, who have capitalized on the Tigers' slump to take over the lead in the AL Central? Believe it or not, they're actually underachieving relative to preseason expectations once you strip the timing of events out of the picture. The preseason estimate had the Royals as the most average team in baseball, expecting them to win exactly half their games. To this point of the season, their expected winning percentage by BaseRuns is just 48.7%, and the fact that they've won 54.2% of their games so far is basically entirely attributable to their clutch performance so far. Just going by the total expected runs scored and allowed, the Royals have been even more mediocre than expected, but they've bunched their hits together in order to win more games than their overall line would suggest.

Overall, the season's results to date confirm that preseason forecasts are imperfect, and the divergent paths of the A's and Rangers are a reminder of how different seasons can go for teams that look similar in March. However, the data also shows that the forecasts do a pretty decent job overall, as one standard deviation -- a statistical measure of variance -- is just 4.8 percentage points. For most teams, the preseason forecasts are going to be an okay guide to what the season will bring. There are always going to be teams that play far better or worse than the numbers suggest, but outside of the AL West, things have actually been pretty normal.

Limiting Hard Contact: The AL’s Two Stars.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Much of modern sabermetric thought regarding pitcher evaluation has been based upon the theory that most types of contact are created somewhat equally. High and low BABIPs allowed are usually attributed to good and bad luck, and FIP, which is directly based upon BABIP, is oft cited as the go-to individual pitching statistic. Well, not all contact is created equal. This week, we’re going to use a fairly basic method of evaluating contact management ability, and look at the leading contact managers in both leagues. As it turns out, there’s a head-to-head battle for supremacy in both the AL and NL.
This upcoming weekend, I will be giving a presentation about the best contact managers of all time at the Saber Seminar in Boston. These hurlers were identified utilizing a fairly simple method. Simply strip away all of the strikeouts and walks from every ERA-qualifying starting pitcher’s record. Take the remaining results allowed, assign run values to all of them, and scale each pitcher’s performance on all balls in play to the league average. The resulting figure is the pitcher’s unadjusted contact score. In any given year, there may be a great deal of noise in an individual pitcher’s unadjusted contact score – team defense, ballpark, luck, etc., they’re all in there. Over a pitcher’s career, however, the good contact managers manage contact well, and the bad ones, well….don’t. I’ll leave the history for next weekend in Boston, however – for now, let’s focus on 2014, and today, upon the American League.

First of all, let’s take a quick peek at the leading contact managers in both leagues going back to the 2000 season. Bear in mind that the run-scoring environment has changed quite a bit since the turn of the century, but since these are relative numbers, they remain on the same scale.

2000 Pedro Martinez 62 Mike Hampton 68
2001 Joe Mays 68 Russ Ortiz 70
2002 Derek Lowe 56 Odalis Perez 72
2003 Barry Zito 62 Russ Ortiz 71
2004 Jake Westbrook 77 Al Leiter 68
2005 Barry Zito 76 Roger Clemens 59
2006 Chien-Ming Wang 73 Derek Lowe 76
2007 Roberto Hernandez 76 Chris Young 62
2008 Daisuke Matsuzaka 73 Derek Lowe 77
2009 Felix Hernandez 72 Chris Carpenter 66
2010 Clay Buchholz 66 Tim Hudson 69
2011 Jeremy Hellickson 71 Matt Cain 70
2012 Jered Weaver 70 Gio Gonzalez 70
2013 Justin Masterson 79 Jose Fernandez 63
All in all, pretty interesting lists. Basically, it’s a bunch of pitchers who outperform their FIPs. That right there tells you about the limitations of that statistic. Lots of extreme ground ball and popup generators are on the list – Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson and Russell Ortiz belong to the former group, Barry Zito, Jered Weaver and Chris Young represent the latter, among others. Inner circle great all-around pitchers like Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens are there……and so are Joe Mays and Odalis Perez. Yes, luck can certainly play a role in a single given season. Of course, there are more batted-ball oriented tools at our disposal now, enabling us to ferret out luck and other contextual factors with deeper analysis. For now, though, let’s focus simply on the unadjusted contact score number.

Thus far in 2014, two pitchers are running well ahead of their AL peers (through 8/9/2014) with regard to contact management. They are:

- Garrett Richards – .267 AVG-.355 SLG – 59 Unadjusted Contact Score
- Felix Hernandez – .272 AVG- .385 SLG – 65 Unadjusted Contact Score

These are both exceptional figures – Richards’ mark of 59 ties Clemens for the second best contact score of this century, while Felix’ mark would lead the AL in any single season since 2003.

For Richards, 2014 has been a major breakthrough. He had often outperformed his K rate, and therefore, his projected FIP, during his minor league career, but had been a somewhat pedestrian performer in his previous major league experience. An ongoing spike in his average fastball velocity – from 94.5 MPH in limited 2011 action up to 96.3 MPH, the highest among MLB ERA-qualifiers in 2014 – has keyed his ascent.

As for Felix, he has obviously long ranked among the very best starting pitchers in the game today. His status as a contact manager, however, has fluctuated throughout the years. He has a career unadjusted contact score of 93, better than league average but not nearly in the elite range, despite pitching his home games in spacious Safeco Field for his entire career. He did lead the AL with a 72 mark in 2009, but that was with the vaunted Franklin Gutierrez mega-defense behind him. Of course, his K and BB rates have been exceptional throughout his career, and those drove his success, as they do the majority of elite pitching talents. The re-emergence of his Changeup of Death this season has taken him to new heights, as it is both missing bats and inducing weak contact at career-best levels.

Now that we’ve identified these two aces as the premier AL contact managers based on the raw, unadjusted numbers, let’s hold them up against the scrutiny of context. Are these two guys legitimately elite contact managers, or have they had some help along the way? Let’s review their 2014 plate appearance outcome frequency and production by BIP type data for some clues. First, the frequency information:

FREQ – 2014
F.Hernandez % REL PCT
K 28.1% 138 87
BB 4.8% 62 6
POP 4.4% 58 3
FLY 22.7% 81 7
LD 18.0% 86 4
GB 54.9% 126 98
———— ———— ———– ———–
G.Richards % REL PCT
K 24.5% 121 80
BB 7.8% 101 75
POP 5.3% 69 4
FLY 24.4% 87 13
LD 20.7% 99 41
GB 49.6% 114 89
Felix’ frequency profile is the all-around gold standard. While Clayton Kershaw is better overall thanks to his outlandish K rate, this is as close to a technically perfect profile as can be. His K rate is near the top of the scale (87 percentile rank) and his BB rate near the bottom (6 percentile rank) – but we’re here to talk about contact management, not K and BB rates today. Such exceptional K and BB rates, however, do give a pitcher substantial margin for error with regard to contact management. Hernandez could be an average contact manager this season and potentially walk away with the Cy Young Award. His exceptional batted-ball profile in addition to his K/BB excellence elevates his season from great to potentially historic. His fly ball (7 percentile rank) and liner (4) rates are near the bottom of the scale, while his grounder rate (98) is at the top. It’s hard to do damage when you can’t elevate the baseball off of the ground. All of these batted-ball percentile ranks are career bests for Hernandez.

Like Hernandez, Richards has a significant, though not as extreme ground ball tendency (89 percentile rank). His fly ball (13) and line drive (41) percentile ranks are both solidly better than the MLB average, but again, aren’t as insane as Hernandez’. While Richards’ K rate (80 percentile rank) is quite high, so is his BB rate (75). Richards’ K/BB rates give him some margin for error with regard to contact management, but his exceptional though not-quite-as-elite-as-Felix batted-ball mix doesn’t really require it.

Now let’s take a look at the production by BIP type allowed by both pitchers, both before and after adjustment for context, to get a better feel for the batted-ball authority they have allowed:

PROD – 2014
FLY 0.227 0.485 52 73
LD 0.584 0.805 81 91
GB 0.217 0.243 82 65
ALL BIP 0.272 0.385 65 67
ALL PA 0.191 0.231 0.271 50 51 1.97 1.94 1.99
————- ———- ———- ———- ———- ———- ———– ———– ———–
FLY 0.228 0.435 46 66
LD 0.692 0.872 105 94
GB 0.150 0.150 36 65
ALL BIP 0.267 0.355 59 72
ALL PA 0.195 0.258 0.259 56 65 2.54 2.15 2.52
The actual production allowed by both pitchers on each BIP type is indicated in the AVG and SLG columns, and is converted to run values and compared to MLB average in the REL PRD column. That figure is then adjusted for context, such as home park, team defense, luck, etc., in the ADJ PRD column. In the three right-most columns, their actual ERAs, calculated component ERAs based on actual production allowed, and “tru” ERAs, which are adjusted for context, are all presented. For the purposes of this exercise, SH and SF are included as outs and HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation.

First of all, as noted in the frequency tables, neither pitcher allows many fly balls. In addition, neither allows much damage on the few fly balls they do allow, with Hernandez and Richards allowing unadjusted fly ball contact scores of 52 and 46, respectively. There are two ways to successfully limit damage on fly balls – to manage the vertical angle and the exit velocity off of the bat. Splitting the fly ball category into upper and lower groups equidistant in size from the popup and line drive borders yields starkly different results. The “higher” fly balls yield an .098 AVG-.234 SLG, while the “lower” ones yield a .380 AVG-.990 SLG. Roughly 35% of fly balls reside in the upper group, 65% in the lower. While neither Hernandez and Richards allows particularly “high” or “low” fly balls on average, both pitchers successfully limit the authority of fly balls in both groups.

Hitters are batting .031 AVG-.125 SLG (1 for 32, a homer) on high fly balls against Hernandez this season, and .323 AVG-.662 SLG on low fly balls. Hitters are 0 for 32 against Richards on high fly balls, and are batting .344 AVG-.656 SLG against him on low fly balls. Richards’ four-seam fastball is his best weak-fly generator, while Hernandez’ is his sinker. Both, particularly Hernandez, have the advantage of spacious home parks, but even after adjustment for context, their REL PRD – or adjusted contact score – on fly balls are exceptional – 73 for Hernandez, 66 for Richards. Both pitchers also allow less than MLB average line drive authority – 91 REL PRD for Hernandez, 94 for Richards.

Then there’s all of those ground balls, the key BIP group for both hurlers. Hernandez has allowed .217 AVG-.243 SLG on grounders this season, for an unadjusted grounder contact score of 82, while Richards has yielded an amazing .150 AVG-.150 SLG, for a miniscule unadjusted grounder contact score of 36. Again, let’s split grounders into “high” and “low” groups, with the high group equal in exit angle range to the two fly ball groups. “High” grounders are just under 60% of the whole, “low” ones the other 40%. Batters hit .331 AVG-.365 SLG on “high” grounders, and only .114 AVG-.120 SLG on “low” grounders.

Both pitchers have allowed a lower than MLB average percentage of “high” grounders – 48.5% for Hernandez, and 51.9% for Richards. Hernandez has yielded .307 AVG-.351 SLG on “high” grounders, Richards, just .247 AVG-.247 SLG. On “low” grounders, Hernandez yielded .132 AVG-.140 SLG, Richards, just .044 AVG-.044 SLG. Once you normalize both pitchers’ performance based on their hard/soft grounder rates, however, their REL PRD on grounders – their adjusted grounder contact scores – are exactly equal at 65 – there is some good fortune in Richards’ materially lesser actual grounder production allowed. Hernandez chiefly utilizes his changeup to generate “low” grounders, while Richards primarily uses his four-seamer and slider to do so. It must be noted that a 65 adjusted grounder contact score is basically off of the charts – these guys are the best at not only generating a high quantity of ground balls, but are also the best at generating the lowest, and weakest ground balls. Not only is not all contact created equal – not all ground ball contact is created equal, either.

Adjusted for context, Felix’ overall contact score creeps ahead of Richards’, by 67 to 72. Both pitchers’ overall resumes gets even better once the K’s and BB’s are added back – their “tru” ERAs of 1.99 and 2.52, respectively, can be laid right on top of their actual ERAs. Both hurlers dominate in multiple ways – while the good, old-fashioned dominance of missing bats should never be ignored, these two also deserve attention for the manner in which they suffocate contact. Such talents are real, and are often at the root of the differences between ERA and FIP.

Shin-Soo Choo’s Lost Season.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Let us, for a moment, imagine a wacky, nonsensical alternate reality MLB. In this alternate reality MLB, players do not agree upon a salary before the season begins. Rather, they are compensated for their yearly production. Let’s say that production is measured by WAR. The generally accepted market value of a win is approximately $6 million/WAR.

During Shin-Soo Choo‘s prime in Cleveland from 2008-10, he was a 5-win player. Last year, for Cincinnati, he was a 5-win player. At Choo’s best, and his most recent prior to signing a big free agent contract this offseason, he would have earned $30M per season for his production. That’s a high number! That’s a lot of production.

In this year’s wacky, nonsensical alternate reality MLB, Choo would still be waiting to earn his first dollar. By the end of the season, he’d be lucky to scrape together a few million. As of about a week ago, he would have actually owed the Texas Rangers organization a million or two.

Thankfully for Choo, he plays in the real world MLB, where he’s going to make $14 million this year. And he’ll make that much again next season and then significantly more than that for five more seasons. The Rangers signed Choo to a seven-year, $130 million contract in the offseason, expecting 4-win player for at least a couple more years. What they’ve gotten is exactly replacement level production. Choo’s WAR is currently 0.0.

Back in December, after Choo signed, Jeff Sullivan wrote about Choo’s platoon split. This has long been known about Choo. Over the course of his career, Choo has been Ryan Braun (148 wRC+) against right-handed pitchers and Gregor Blanco (92 wRC+) against left-handed pitchers. That is a pretty drastic difference. The Rangers knew Choo couldn’t hit lefties. The Rangers knew Choo couldn’t play the outfield very well. The Rangers knew Choo’s speed would soon begin to decline as he descended into his thirties. Yet the Rangers gave Choo $130 million on his ability to hit right-handed pitching as well as any player in baseball.

Shin-Soo Choo still isn’t hitting left-handed pitching. That hasn’t changed. Something else has. His wRC+ against righties is 102. Choo signed a mega contract based on his ability to do one thing extremely well and he hasn’t done that one thing all year. Therefore, he’s been essentially valueless all year.

This poses a lot of questions. Which make me want to find answers.

Choo’s batting average on balls in play this year is .309. That’s pretty normal, even a little high compared to the league average. But Choo has never been average when it comes to turning balls in play into hits. His career .346 BABIP over 4,000 plate appearances is one of the highest in MLB history. That makes his seemingly normal .309 BABIP actually become a noticeable outlier. Choo has been able to sustain such a high BABIP throughout the course of his career thanks to a combination of speed, a high line drive rate and a penchant for hitting to all fields. The line drive rate is down a tick from where it’s been the previous few seasons, but still at a respectable 20% that’s close to his career average. Choo’s speed score this year is a career low and below league average for the first time ever, but he’s also putting together his best baserunning season in five years, so go figure. That leaves one part of the equation:

Throughout his career, Choo has been one of the most prolific doubles hitters in the game. He’s accomplished this largely by going the other way. Last season, Choo hit 19 opposite field doubles. This season, Choo has just seven. And this comes after a move to the Ballpark in Arlington, which is more conducive to doubles in all parts of the park than his previous home in Cincinnati. But it’s not just the doubles. Choo’s home run power to the opposite field is notably absent in those spray charts and you can see his singles cluster shift drastically towards right field. Choo just appears to be losing his ability to hit to the opposite field. Which, combined with declining speed that won’t come back, makes Choo’s future as a .350 BABIP hitter seem bleak.

My first inclination for why Choo might be losing his opposite field stroke was plate coverage. I decided to look up his slugging percentage on pitches over the outer-third, inner-third and middle of the strike zone against right-handed pitching from last season compared to this season. I expected to find a drop in production on the outer-third. What I found was both different and perhaps more revealing:

SLG% vs. RHP
2013 2014
Outside .613 .559
Middle .803 .333
Inside .529 .435
The numbers are down across the board, yes, but it’s not outside pitches where Choo is struggling. It’s the ones right down the middle. In fact, Choo’s .250 slugging percentage on pitches right down the heart of the plate is only better than Zack Cozart‘s .214 and Nick Castellanos‘ .240. Cozart has never really hit and Castellanos is a rookie with holes in his swing. Choo is an established veteran with an impressive offensive track record.

Going hand-in-hand with Choo’s inability to hit pitches down the middle are his struggles against fastballs. Last year: .393 average, .338 isolated slugging percentage against heaters. This year: .256 average, .163 (!) ISO.

These are red flags for someone with Choo’s track record and consistency. A guy like Choo shouldn’t be struggling against the types of pitches he is struggling against. Fastballs and pitches right down the middle are the easiest pitches to hit and Choo suddenly can’t hit them. It’s one thing when a young guy is still trying to figure out how to repeat his mechanics. It’s another thing when you’re dealing with someone of Choo’s stature. The first thing that comes to mind when one tries to explains something like this is injury. Clearly, something is throwing off the mechanics that Choo has proven the ability to repeat for the previous six years. He didn’t just forget his swing. He could be playing through an injury. Or he could just be aging faster than expected and is involuntarily compensating for a deterioration in some part of his body, thus throwing off his swing. These are the type of risks you take when you sign guys on the wrong side of 30 to seven-year contracts.

It was already unlikely that Choo was going to live up to his seven-year, $130 million dollar contract. A replacement level season in his first year all but guarantees it. At this point, it would almost be better for Texas if Choo was trying to fight through an injury this season and not just slowly deteriorating. It was no secret that the Rangers took on one of the worst contracts in baseball this offseason when they acquired Prince Fielder and it doesn’t look any better one neck surgery later. If this version of Shin-Soo Choo is anything like what we can expect moving forward, the once-powerhouse Rangers could find themselves with two of the very worst contracts in baseball on the books through 2020, a best player going on 36 years of age and seemingly an entire pitching staff of rebuilt arms and knees. An unenviable position, to say the least.

The Braves Are Handing The NL East To The Nationals.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
At the close of business on July 20, the Braves and Nationals were exactly where they’d been for six of the previous seven days and for most of the season: tied. The two teams had been no further apart than 3.5 games all season long, continuing the two-headed competition that the NL East has been for the last several seasons since the Phillies stopped being competitive. (Your day will come, Mets and Marlins. Probably.)

At the time, our playoff odds still favored the Nationals to take the division simply because the projections considered them to be the better team, but it was easy to believe that the race was still a toss-up. After all, the Nationals were the big favorites in 2013, and they finished 10 games behind. They were the big favorites in 2014, and they weren’t doing all that much to back it up. I wondered last winter if we were overrating the Nationals coming into this year, and they certainly making it seem that way.

Just over three weeks later, the Nationals are holding a comfortable five-game lead in the NL East. Only one team in baseball has a higher likelihood of winning the division in our current playoff odds. The Nationals must have finally turned it on, right? Actually, no. They’re just 11-10 in the 21 games since. Ryan Zimmerman suffered another serious injury. Bryce Harper has been mediocre. Asdrubal Cabrera was their big trade deadline pickup. They haven’t suddenly woken up.

Instead, the Braves have gone on to drop 15 of their next 21. No team in baseball has won fewer games over that stretch. After losing all eight games on a west coast road trip, they’ve now lost three of their last four. They’re closer to the third-place Marlins than to the first-place Nationals. While the baseball world is busy watching what’s happening in Kansas City and Detroit, Atlanta is doing their best to hand this race to Washington.
* * *

The Braves, right now, are basically a .500 team at 60-59. Their run differential is -3 after losing to the Dodgers 4-2 on Tuesday night. Do you know about Base Runs? You should know about Base Runs, which basically attempts to strip away some of the noise that can appear in actual run totals — things like sequencing, for example — to give a context-neutral accounting of expected performance. Base Runs pegged the Braves at 58-60 heading into Tuesday’s game, two games under .500. Pythagenpat has them at being .500. In reality, they are one game over .500. What this all says is that this isn’t really a performance that’s out of the realm of expectations. They look like an average team, and they’re playing like an average team.

That holds true if we break this down into the individual components of baseball, too. The non-pitchers in the Braves offense rank No. 19 in wRC+, somewhat below average. Their pitching, depending how how you want to measure it, has been around the back end of the top 10 — WAR says No. 9, RA9-WAR says No. 10 — which essentially evens out the offense. On defense, DRS says No. 16. UZR says a bit higher than that. Put together, there’s a whole lot of average here.

The biggest problem, obviously, is the offense, because the solid enough pitching can only do so much to make up for it. They’re no longer on pace to set the major league record for strikeouts, but were we to take that Base Runs chart and sort it by lowest expected runs per game, the Braves show up at No. 25. The rest of these teams aren’t exactly charging into the playoffs; that the Mariners have a shot says a lot more about their near-historic run prevention.

2014 Base Runs
W L W% +/- Rdif RS/G RA/G
Braves 58 60 .490 +2 -10 3.79 3.88
Mariners 66 52 .556 -3 54 3.77 3.31
Reds 59 59 .498 +1 -2 3.77 3.79
Mets 55 64 .463 +2 -38 3.75 4.06
Giants 61 58 .515 +1 15 3.73 3.61
Padres 54 63 .463 +1 -34 3.22 3.51
There’s bright spots, obviously: the defense of Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons, the power of Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, and the general existence of Craig Kimbrel. But that production has all been required if only to make up for the anchors that have been Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton, Ryan Doumit, Ramiro Pena, Mike Minor and Luis Avilan. The bench, August Fagerstrom wrote a few days ago, is the second-worst in the NL. Again, average: combine hot water and cold water, and you end up with something lukewarm.

Of course, for most of the last month they’ve been considerably worse than average. In some ways, this is an expected correction. Remember how absurd the start of the season was for Atlanta, particularly the pitching staff performance after Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen were injured in the spring. Scrap heap pickup Aaron Harang gave up three runs in his first five starts. Qualifying offer refugee Ervin Santana allowed nine earned runs in his first six starts. That was never going to keep up, because it couldn’t possibly have kept up. Both have remained productive over the course of the season; obviously, neither has lived up to that standard. Since the team’s 17-7 start, they’ve gone 43-52. For months, they’ve been coasting on those banked wins.

But more than that, it’s just been particularly ugly of late. Over the last month, they are still the same 19th in non-pitcher wRC+, with a .245/.321/.358 line and particularly detrimental base running. This can’t even be blamed on Uggla, who played his last game with the team on July 8 and was replaced by rookie Tommy La Stella, who has been a considerable upgrade; the ranking is the same pre- and post-Uggla.. The entire offense over the last few weeks has basically been Heyward, J.Upton, and Freddie Freeman as Chris Johnson, Gattis and Simmons — before he missed most of a week with a sore ankle — have slumped terribly, and B.J. Upton has played even worse than he had been. (Not that Fredi Gonzalez has helped by allowing B.J. Upton to to hit first or second for 377 plate appearances, of course.)

The rotation, Minor aside, has still been performing, with Alex Wood in particular looking good. But the bullpen suddenly can’t stop walking people, and it’s led to some ugly sequences. On Monday, after the offense made Kevin Correia look like a reasonable major league pitcher, the bullpen and defense turned a 3-1 deficit into a 6-1 hole by putting up the following sequence: walk, strikeout, ground rule double, single, wild pitch, walk, throwing error, passed ball on strikeout, allowing runner to reach.

That’s one game, obviously, and just one sequence in that game. Surely you could find something similar for every single big league team this year. It’s just the kind of thing you don’t want to see from a team supposedly fighting for a division title. Considering how long it’s been since this team put a good stretch together, you wonder how much that amazing April influenced perception.

This is still a team with a good deal of talent, and Simmons should be back in the lineup in the next day or two. It can’t be as bad as it’s been, because they’re playing like the worst team in baseball, and they aren’t the worst team in baseball. The NL East race isn’t “over” yet, since the Nationals and Braves still have six more head-to-head games, Washington hasn’t played particularly well either and Atlanta can’t keep playing this badly for the rest of the season. It’s close, though. It sure seems close.
post #25748 of 73000

day game today for the bravos :smokin

post #25749 of 73000

damb that was quick :{

post #25750 of 73000
Thread Starter 
You get a rep just for that avy.
post #25751 of 73000
Thread Starter 
Good old Joe Nathan laugh.gif he walked the first two batters and the crowd booed when he finally got the save...
post #25752 of 73000
Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

You get a rep just for that avy.

u get one back sir 





did this pitcher for the dogers really come in the league with a fake visa :lol


say he pitched under a dif name for awhile 


 roberto hernandez the name he goes by now 

post #25753 of 73000
Thread Starter 
Yea, that's Fausto Carmona laugh.gif
post #25754 of 73000

^ yup artist formally known as Fausto Carmona

Instagram: @beardekevin    old NT username VIL8R (since 09)    Lakers   Dodgers   Arsenal   LA Kings   UCLA


Instagram: @beardekevin    old NT username VIL8R (since 09)    Lakers   Dodgers   Arsenal   LA Kings   UCLA

post #25755 of 73000





in other news harang stinking it up 44 pitches 4 runs 

post #25756 of 73000
Originally Posted by trueprada View Post

u get one back sir 

did this pitcher for the dogers really come in the league with a fake visa laugh.gif

say he pitched under a dif name for awhile 

 roberto hernandez the name he goes by now 

Also know as Wandy Rodriguez

post #25757 of 73000



im out of reps 

post #25758 of 73000

with how bad the Jays have been playing lately, I don't wanna see them in the postseason, rather see the Yankees make it over em so I Jeter has his last chance at winning another championship, would be a feel good story for him to win in his last season (i wished Tim Duncan retired after winning this year...maybe he is planning on doing it this upcoming season 8o)

post #25759 of 73000
Forget Jeter. He had his time. It's the King's turn.
post #25760 of 73000
Thread Starter 
Forget Jeter?



post #25761 of 73000

post #25762 of 73000

gordon doing bunt singles like this mlb 2k :{

post #25763 of 73000
Perfect timing to get the lead for the A's. Couldn't be down with that stellar royals bullpen
post #25764 of 73000

Dee Gordon joins Eric Young (1998) as only Dodgers players with 4 runs & 2 SB in a game since team moved to LA


son was cooking 

post #25765 of 73000
Royals are playing out of their minds eek.gif

Would love to see them in the playoffs. It's been way too long for them
post #25766 of 73000

Max Scherzer and Mike Fiers each had 14 K today...


1st time 2 pitchers had 14+ K on same day since May 25, 2001 (Kerry Wood, Hideo Nomo)

post #25767 of 73000
Just saw Joe Nathans solute to the fans last night after the game mean.gif I know he's human but he has to be better than that.
post #25768 of 73000
Originally Posted by TommyIceRocking View Post

with how bad the Jays have been playing lately, I don't wanna see them in the postseason, rather see the Yankees make it over em so I Jeter has his last chance at winning another championship, would be a feel good story for him to win in his last season (i wished Tim Duncan retired after winning this year...maybe he is planning on doing it this upcoming season nerd.gif )

There shouldn't be a second wild card. It's a joke.

Royals are a joke.
Jays were hot but aren't a good team.
indians are a joke.
Yankees are a joke. Have a below average pitching staff actually pitching well but their hundred million dollar offense can't score a run.
Mariners would put up a donut and manage to lose while Felix throws a 1 hit, 15K in 9 innings game.
post #25769 of 73000

Ervin Santana was telling Dee Gordon to try to steal third after he stole second. :lol:lol



post #25770 of 73000

watching this llws


pr team look like grown men :{




Pierce Jones: 7th player in last 45 Little League World Series to hit 3 HR in a game



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