God the Phillies are f***ing horrible. SMH.
Yes they are. I believe they lost the lead late - 6 inning and above - in all four games.
Yes they are. I believe they lost the lead late - 6 inning and above - in all four games.
Now that the 2012 MLB draft is in the books, let's look at the players most likely to help us fantasy owners.
When I first started this assignment, I went about projecting total performance, but was reminded quickly how dangerous that can be at this point. So I decided to look at individual categories, which of course led to me examining the standard fantasy categories. With that, here are the top projected category contributors from the 2012 MLB draft:
Batting average: Tyler Naquin, OF, Indians (15th overall pick). Naquin was seen as more of a late-first-round pick by many scouts; they saw him as a "tweener," lacking the speed to play center field and the power normally associated with a corner outfield spot. What nobody questions is his plus-plus hit tool. He's easily the college bat in this draft most likely to hit .300 consistently. Risk level: Moderate.
Home runs: Courtney Hawkins, OF, White Sox (13th overall pick). There are players in this draft with more raw power than Hawkins, but Hawkins is the most likely to tap into it. He has a classic right-field profile with the arm, the power and decent athleticism, and the moment he signs, he'll be the No. 1 prospect in the White Sox system, by a wide margin. As a high school pick, he'll take a while to develop, but he should be worth it. Risk level: High.
RBIs: Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (1st overall pick). The top pick in the draft might not accumulate the highest RBI totals of the group, but they could be the most valuable RBIs due to the scarcity at his position. A big, athletic shortstop with the potential for average power, if not better than that, Correa could be an 80-plus-RBI machine at a position in which run production is hard to find. Risk level: Moderate.
Stolen bases: D.J. Davis, OF, Blue Jays (17th overall pick). Davis is the fastest player from this year's draft, but what separates him from other speed demons in any draft is his baseball abilities. He can run, but he's also a very good center fielder, and he offers plenty of bat speed as well, making him less of a slap hitter and more of a line-drive type. Speed alone does not get a player drafted in the first round; they must have baseball ability as well. Davis has just that, with the potential to steal 50-plus bags annually if his bat develops as expected. Risk level: Moderately high.
Runs: Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (2nd overall pick). No player in the 2012 draft can match Buxton's all-around tools, but he is a bit difficult to project, as his development could go in so many directions. Every tool you look for is there, but will Buxton become a 30-homer/30-steal type or a 15-homer/50-steal type? Both are obvious star-level players, especially in center field. Regardless of what type of player he develops into, he's going to cross the plate a lot. Risk level: High.
Wins: Kevin Gausman, LHP, Orioles (4th overall pick). Make no mistake, when the Orioles selected Gausman ahead of the falling Mark Appel (mentioned below), they did it because Gausman was legitimately ahead on their draft board. His fastball and changeup are already plus pitches, but the difference between him ending up good or ending up great will depend on his ability to find a consistent breaking ball. Of the big three college arms (Gausman, Appel, Kyle Zimmer), Gausman is the most likely to get some help from his teammates when it comes to winning games. Risk level: Moderate.
Strikeouts: Mark Appel, RHP, Pirates (8th overall pick). Of the aforementioned three college pitchers, Appel has the most complete arsenal. His best pitch is a low-to-mid-90s fastball than can touch 98, but his hybrid breaking ball generates plenty of swings and misses, and his changeup is at least average. His low strikeout rate was a concern entering the spring, but with 127 strikeouts in 119 innings this spring, he's just beginning to harness his stuff. Risk level: Low.
ERA: Max Fried, LHP, Padres (7th overall pick). Fried was the first high school pitcher to be selected Monday, and much of it was about projection. Long-armed, skinny and with a smooth delivery, Fried has good stuff now and the potential for great stuff down the road. No home field keeps runs off the board more than San Diego's Petco Park. It makes bad pitchers look good, and good pitchers look great. Risk level: High.
Saves: Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays (22nd overall pick). While Stroman had an outstanding season as a starter at Duke, he's only 5-foot-9 and just doesn't have the frame to handle a consistent 200-plus-inning workload in the big leagues. Scouts remember his stint as a closer for Team USA last summer -- he was seemingly untouchable -- and that's going to be his future role as a professional thanks to mid-90s heat and a devastating slider. He could be in the big leagues by September, and picking up save opportunities not long after that. Risk level: Low.
WHIP: Andrew Heaney, LHP, Marlins (9th overall pick). While Heaney doesn't have the ceiling of the college arms picked ahead of him, he does have the higher floor. The most polished of the college pitchers in this year's draft, Heaney has three average-to-plus pitches, in his fastball, breaking ball and changeup, and he's an extreme strike-thrower who walked just 22 in 118 1/3 innings this spring. He should be the quickest of the college starters to reach the big leagues, and he has the stuff and pitchability to keep hitters off the basepaths. Risk level: Low.
Cole Hamels is positioned perfectly for free agency, because it appears there will be nobody else like him on the market in the fall, assuming he doesn't sign with the Phillies. (And as of Thursday evening, his contract talks with the Phillies remain dormant.) Zack Greinke might be the second-best starter available this fall, and there are some big-market teams that will likely pass on him altogether because of questions about how he would adapt.
But the fall market for outfielders looks to be much more flush, with many accomplished players poised to cash in on free agency at a time when a lot of executives are re-evaluating the proper risk on long-term contracts and trying to determine appropriate prices.
This might not be a good thing for free-agent outfielders.
Less than two years ago, Carl Crawford got a seven-year, $142 million deal from the Red Sox, and Jayson Werth landed a seven-year, $126 million contract with Washington. Many club officials now consider those signings to be wildly outpriced -- yet it was just two weeks ago that Adam Jones, still more than a year from free agency, got a six-year, $85.5 million deal from the Baltimore Orioles.
What does all this mean for outfielders about to reach free agency? "I think the market is still trying to decide," a GM said Thursday.
But the number of alternatives may ultimately work against all of them, in one way or another.
The outfield free agents-to-be:
Josh Hamilton: He'll be the most prominent name on the market, and nobody doubts his talent -- least of all the Rangers, who look at him as a game-changer. But what's the proper level of investment, given the risks suggested by his personal history? If Hamilton is going to be in line for a deal over $100 million, which teams, exactly, are going to compete with the Rangers?
The Yankees are now bumping up against their budget and already have other pressing needs -- most notably Robinson Cano's impending free agency in the fall of 2013 -- so it's highly unlikely they'd get involved. The Red Sox already are overstocked with big contracts. The Angels are loaded with outfielders. The Cubs are rebuilding from the ground up, so it might make little sense for them to throw out a huge deal to an over-30 outfielder when they're burdened by Alfonso Soriano's deal. The Mets have to deal with David Wright's situation first.
Baltimore could an interesting option, one GM mused. "But I don't think he's got a lot of places to go," in light of what his salary will be.
The big question about the Rangers' offer to him is going to be how many years will they guarantee. Two? Three? Four, with a lot of vesting options attached? We'll see.
Hamilton intends to use his free-agent dollars for philanthropic purposes, writes Randy Galloway.
Michael Bourn: He is having an excellent season, hitting .305 with a .357 on-base percentage, and he's on pace for a season of 210 hits, 117 runs and 43 stolen bases. And he's a center fielder.
Andre Ethier: Other Dodgers felt like he came to camp with a renewed sense of purpose, and it's showing: He's been mashing, hitting .305 with 48 RBIs, and is in line for a lot of top-10 MVP votes.
Melky Cabrera: He's a wild card, because of his explosive emergence as an elite outfielder the last two seasons. He had 201 hits for the Royals in 2011, and Kansas City, looking to free up center field for Lorenzo Cain, swapped him to San Francisco -- and Cabrera has generated more of the same, with a .403 on-base percentage and 25 extra-base hits among 87 hits. He left Thursday's game with a hamstring issue.
Shane Victorino: The Phillies' Gold Glove center fielder was offered a three-year deal in the offseason, and he's looking for five years. So far this year, he's hitting .249 with seven homers.
B.J. Upton: There has always been a sense among evaluators that Upton was capable of doing more than he's done. Still, he has hit 20-plus homers and stolen 30-plus bases and played an outstanding center field, and he's just 27 years old.
Carlos Quentin: Rival officials believe he could be the first prominent hitter dealt this summer, and he's been crushing the ball since being activated off the disabled list. But with the Padres' ownership in a state of flux, the team could look to slow-play this situation, and give the incoming owners -- whoever they turn out to be -- a chance to bid on him before he hits the market place. There are no ongoing talks, but some officials guesstimate that Quentin could be in line for a deal in the range of four years, $48 million; that could climb to Jason Bay territory (4/60) if Quentin stays on the field and keeps hitting.
Nick Swisher: He's hitting .250, with eight homers and 35 RBIs, but typically, he has been an on-base percentage machine. Swisher is 31 years old.
Torii Hunter: He's reached the age at which he's not going to get a huge deal, but he's in great shape and is a nice alternative on a short-term deal.
Angel Pagan: He's hitting .321 this season.
His command of his knuckler, an extraordinarily difficult pitch to master, is remarkable. Compare Dickey's strikeout-to-walk ratio this year to the best single-season K/BB rates of other knuckleball pitchers:
R.A. Dickey: 4.11
Phil Niekro 3.39
Joe Niekro 2.41
Wilbur Wood 3.39
Tim Wakefield 2.63
Charlie Hough 2.23
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Dickey shut down the Nationals:
A) Thirty-six of the 37 two-strike pitches Dickey threw were knuckleballs. Nationals hitters were 1-for-14 in two-strike at-bats.
B) Recorded 13 ground-ball outs (including two double plays), his most in a start this season.
C) Nationals hitters were 1-for-8 in at-bats ending with a pitch away, and 0-for-7 in at-bats ending with a pitch inside. All eight of Dickey's strikeouts came on pitches off of the middle of the plate.
Dickey's knuckleball has been far more effective this season than in 2011, and it's a significant reason he is one of the front-runners for the NL Cy Young a week into June.
Dickey struck out eight on Thursday, his fifth consecutive start with eight or more strikeouts. That's the longest such streak in the majors this season. It's the longest streak by a Mets pitcher since Pedro Martinez did it in six straight starts in 2006. David Cone holds the all-time record with 10 straight starts in 1992.
• The Royals signed their No. 1 pick, for below the slot recommendation. The Astros signed the No. 1 overall pick, for significantly below the slot recommendation of $7.2 million.
The Astros have crafted a smart, bold plan, writes Jerome Solomon.
• The Marlins are among the teams to bid on Jorge Soler, writes Juan Rodriguez.
• Derek Holland has some shoulder fatigue, so the Rangers pushed some dominoes: Alexi Ogando was moved into the rotation, and Tanner Scheppers was called up from the minors. Ogando figures he can throw about 60 pitches in his first outing.
1. The Twins' recent surge shouldn't affect their plans to be sellers, writes Jim Souhan.
2. Ken Williams needs to make moves, writes Joe Cowley.
3. The Jays' lineup shuffle is paying off.
1. Jason Bay's return was delayed by a bad stomach.
7. Grady Sizemore's rehab has slowed.
5: Consecutive starts with eight-plus strikeouts by R.A. Dickey, the longest streak in the majors this season.
14: Orioles hitters were 0-for-14 against Clay Buchholz with runners on base Thursday.
347: Distance of Giancarlo Stanton's home run, tied for the shortest in his career.
1946: The last year the Dodgers franchise swept a four-game series against in Philadelphia.
1. An error hurt the Yankees.
3. O-Dog got a big hit.
4. The Marlins got blown out, and were swept at home.
5. The Jays had their guts ripped out.
7. The Pirates rallied to win.
10. Clay Buchholz was outstanding in throwing a shutout at the Orioles, as Peter Abraham writes.
16. David Price shut down the Yankees. From ESPN Stats & Info, how he won:
A) Threw 23 curveballs out of 109 pitches (21.1 percent), his highest percentage in a start since June 11, 2011.
B) Threw 14 of the curveballs with two strikes, and Yankees hitters were 0-for-3 in at-bats ending with the pitch, all strikeouts.
C) Yankees hitters were 0-for-9 in two-strike at-bats overall, putting just one two-strike pitch in play, Price's final pitch of the game.
D) Yankees hitters were 0-for-7 with RISP against Price, including four strikeouts.
While Price may have only lasted five (effective) innings Thursday against the Yankees, he gave it his all while he was out there. Price registered an average fastball velocity of 96.7 mph, not only his highest of the season, but his highest in nearly two years. It continues a recent trend. This is his average fastball velocity over his last five starts:
June 1: 96.0
May 26: 95.8
May 20: 95.3
May 15: 94.9
Has the League Figured Yu Darvish Out?
During Yu Darvish‘s first eight starts, he faced eight different teams, making his first regular season start against each of them. His last four starts, however, have been repeat performances, as he’s faced the Mariners, Angels, Blue Jays, and Athletics for the second time. During those four starts, he’s been awful.
May 21st, @ SEA: 4 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 6 BB, 5 K
May 27th, vs TOR: 5 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 3 K
June 2nd, @LAA: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 7 K
June 7th, @Oak: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 BB, 4 K
You don’t need to know much about statistical analysis to know that 18 walks in 20 2/3 innings pitched is not good, and any pitcher issuing that many free passes probably isn’t going to be successful. But, is the recent failure to throw strikes related to opposing batters learning how to approach Darvish after getting an earlier look at him?
That appears to be a fairly popular theory at the moment, but let’s look and see whether the evidence supports the idea. Let’s start with the plate discipline stats, which seem like the most likely place where a change in batter approach would be the most noticeable.
In his first eight starts, 46% of the pitches Darvish threw were defined as being in the strike zone according to PITCHF/x. Opposing batters swung at 43.2% of these pitches and made contact on 74.4% pitches that they swung at. All of these marks were a bit below the league average, but not extremely far from what the norm.
So, what about in these last four starts? Darvish has actually thrown a higher rate of pitches that PITCHF/x thinks have been strikes (48.3%), but opposing batters have kept their bats on the shoulders more often. The swing rate against Darvish since May 21st is just 40.1%, with the decline coming both on pitches in and out of the zone. Three of the four teams swung the bat less often in their second match-up against Darvish than they did in their first.
SEA: 41.8% Swing% on 4/18, 39.6% on 5/21
TOR: 45.4% Swing% on 4/30, 42.4% on 5/27
LAA: 41.9% Swing% on 5/11, 44.1% on 6/2
OAK: 44.9% Swing% on 5/16, 34.6% on 6/7
Patience has never really been the Angels thing, and it’s probably not a coincidence that his start against Anaheim is also the only one of the last four where Darvish has actually performed decently. The A’s, Blue Jays, and Mariners were all content to let Darvish pitch himself into trouble, and he responded by doing just that.
However, we can’t ignore the fact that PITCHF/x thinks Darvish’s rate of throwing strikes has actually gone up lately. In fact, his starts against Settle and Toronto at the end of May are his only two starts all year where the system believes that more than half of his pitchers were in the strike zone, and yet, he issued nine walks and only had eight strikeouts in those two starts. What do we make of that?
Maybe the batters aren’t the only ones adjusting to Darvish’s reputation for poor command. Take a look at this strike zone plot from TexasLeaguers.com for those two games against the Mariners and Blue Jays:
There are 16 pitches within the boundaries of the strike zone as defined by PITCHF/x that were called balls and exactly one pitch that is outside the defined borders that was called a strike. The starters for the Mariners (Felix Hernandez) and Blue Jays (Kyle Drabek) combined to have seven pitches within the PITCHF/x strike zone called balls in those same games with those same umpires, and they got three pitches out of the zone as called strikes.
This isn’t to say that umpires are definitely squeezing Yu Darvish. PITCHF/x has a margin for error, and most of the pitches that were called balls are close enough to the edge that they could have legitimately been low or outside. And, of course, the umpires had nothing to do with Darvish’s disaster start yesterday, where nearly 40% of the pitches he threw were outside the strike zone. However, there is some evidence to suggest that Darvish hasn’t been getting some calls lately, and just as the league has picked up on his command problems and is swinging the bat less, it is also possible that umpires are less likely to give Darvish the benefit of the doubt on marginal pitches that could go either way.
As Patrick Kilgo noted in his presentation at the SABR convention last year, there is some evidence that umpires favor veteran players when it comes to calling balls and strikes, and better pitchers get more calls than others. It’s a widely held belief in the game that guys who are consistently around the zone get the benefit of the doubt on borderline calls, and Darvish is certainly not a guy who can paint the corners with consistency.
So, are big league hitters adjusting to Darvish? It does look like they’re trending towards swinging less often, which makes sense considering his command problems. However, they’re not the only ones who seem to be adjusting to Darvish, and he’s going to have to be aware of the fact that he’s probably a bit less likely to get calls on the corners until he establishes himself as a guy who can throw strikes with regularity.
The batter/pitcher match-up is a game of constant adjustment. If opposing batters are going to make Darvish throw strikes, he’ll need to adjust and be more aggressive in getting getting ahead in the count. The best way to get hitters to chase pitches out of the zone is to put them in defensive counts, and if they’re going to take a more passive approach at the plate against him, he has an opportunity to throw first pitch strikes and start hitters off 0-1 until they adjust.
Darvish has Major League stuff – and despite his recent struggles, his command doesn’t appear to be getting worse – but Major League hitters aren’t going to keep getting themselves out if he doesn’t start giving them a reason to. Whether it’s a mechanical adjustment or simply a decision to actually use the entire plate (right now, he just doesn’t throw inside against left-handers), Darvish is going to have to make some changes in order to counter the reputation that he garnered in his first two months in the big leagues. Good stuff and bad command is a better place to start from than vice versa, but if Darvish is going to become the guy he was billed as, he’s going to have to attack the strike zone in a way that he hasn’t so far.
The Mets’ First Base Situation.
The Mets have four first basemen in the field right now, or so the joke goes.
Well, David Wright has been a -10 fielder at third for three straight years, but he’s been scratch this year, and the eye test isn’t so harsh on him. Daniel Murphy, listed as a first baseman in our database, faked a decent second base in 2011, but has twice been felled by a perhaps avoidable accident on the turn of a double play. Now both the eye test and his numbers don’t speak well of his work in the middle infield.
But both of these guys will stay at their respective positions for the time being at least, and their long-term futures with the team are up in the air. It’s the two other first basemen on the team that may come into conflict soon. Once interleague play is complete, the Mets will be faced with a bit of a roster crunch with the way Ike Davis and Lucas Duda have been performing.
If you remove team competitiveness this year from the equation, the question is simple. Would Davis be best served by going down to work on his craft, or should he figure it out against major leaguers?
Scan across his line, and the problems become obvious. He’s striking out too much and he’s not showing even the power he did even in his rookie year, when his .176 isolated slugging percentage was modest but just enough for a first basemen with a good glove and some patience. And these problems aren’t BABIP-solvable. ZiPs projects a .229/.312/.407 line over the rest of the season with a .286 BABIP. He started the season with a .164/.237/.282 with a .207 BABIP.
Let’s focus on the strikeout rate first. He’s striking out in 28.9% of his at-bats this year after following up a 23% strikeout rookie effort with a short-sample 20.9% strikeout rate in 2011. Those numbers seem fairly diverse, but let’s instead list his contact rates for those three years, consecutively: 75.6%, 78%, 75%. The league average is about 80%, so he’s never been destined for a good strikeout rate.
On the other hand, Ike Davis’ contact rate wouldn’t be one of the worst 25 contact rates in baseball, and there are plenty of first baseman on the list in front of him. Another Davis, even — Chris Davis — has had contact issues, and his story may prove to be a template for the Mets’ front office. Chris Davis spent 2009 striking out 35.8% of the time after debuting with a 27.8% strikeout rate, and his team sent him down for 444 Triple-A plate appearances in 2010. In Triple-A, that Davis improved his contact rate, and the work carried over into the big leagues when he returned. His strikeout rate has been under 30% in the 500-plus PAs since. He hasn’t fixed it, but he’s been better than he was at his worst, and that’s something that Ike Davis would like to do.
Maybe Davis can go down to the minors and make some adjustments against easier competition. Take a look at his swing, and you might see the hitch that creates the movement that may be the problem — but Mets coach Dave Hudgens seems to think that Ike can make it work. If he doesn’t change the swing, just swinging against slower fastballs and less impressive breaking balls might make him look better, but it won’t make him actually be any better. Maybe some confidence is all he needs — but a little BABIP luck could give him that without a demotion.
The power? Not so simple. He’s pulling about the same (check his batted ball angle on the left, from baseballheatmaps.com — negative is the pull field) and hitting balls the same distance (see the batted ball distance on the right). His home run per fly ball rate (12.2%) is right at his career rate (12.9%). Maybe the problem is in his batted ball mix — he’s hitting too many ground balls right now (1.41 ground balls per fly ball this year, 1.12 career) — or maybe this all goes back to his contact issues.
The fact remains that there is still a long-term problem with the Mets’ roster construction, even if Ike Davis puts up something similar to his .248/.333/.422 career line going forward.
Lucas Duda has similar patience, power, and better contact rates — and his defense is pretty terrible both in person and in the numbers (-37.6 UZR/150 in 981 outfield innings so far). He’s destined for first base on the Mets or on another team. Playing him in the outfield has removed more than half of his modest value to date — he has 18.9 batting runs above average, and he’s cost his team 25.8 runs on defense. That’s how a player with a career .348 wOBA (21% better than league average) has yet to put up a full win above replacement in the big leagues.
Though Ike Davis has shown a better ‘best’ wOBA than Lucas Duda, his career number is .328 to Duda’s .348. If Duda is a -10 outfielder, he’ll be a -5 first baseman by the defensive spectrum, and that will bring their value closer together. If Davis plays to his upside (both offensively and defensively), he still has a higher ceiling than Duda. But obviously the downside is worse.
Something will have to give in New York. Keeping Duda in the outfield robs him of half his value, and keeping Davis in the major leagues right now might be robbing him of the chance to improve. Since the team is currently competitive, the guess here is that Davis will go down to Triple-A, Duda will move to first, and the overload of first basemen will be solved. For now.
It’s been a rough few weeks for the Rangers. They got thumped by both the Mariners (21- and Athletics (12-1) within the last week and are just 21-22 since an eight-game winning streak in the middle of April. Texas has already lost Neftali Feliz for an extended period of time due to an elbow sprain and today they lost another young hurler, southpaw Derek Holland with left shoulder fatigue according to Jeff Wilson of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The 25-year-old Holland had already been battling a stomach virus that reportedly cost him 10-15 pounds and apparently also some giddy-up on his fastball*. He allowed 18 runs in 19.1 innings across the four starts immediately prior to this shoulder issue, contributing to the team’s skid. Scott Feldman — 7.01 ERA and 5.48 FIP in five starts and five relief appearances — is already in the rotation for Feliz, and now Holland’s injury forces Alexi Ogando into the starting staff per Jeff Fletcher of Bay Bridge Baseball. Relief prospect Tanner Scheppers will come up to fill out the bullpen.
* The PITCHf/x data actually doesn’t help up much in confirming this. The classifications have Holland throwing a four-seamer in past years but a sinker this year. None of our velocity charts are able to show a drop on a start-by-start basis on one nice, clean plot.
Ogando pitched well as a starter last season but he’s thrown no more than two innings and 39 pitches in an appearance this season, so stamina — at least in the short-term — is a concern. In the long-term, the Rangers are hurting for quality starting pitching depth with Feliz and Holland out. Prospects Martin Perez (4.36 FIP) and Neil Ramirez (5.00) haven’t pitched all that well Triple-A and journeymen Zach Jackson (5.11 FIP) and Greg Reynolds (5.41 FIP) don’t inspire much confidence.
All of a sudden, Roy Oswalt has become an extremely importance piece of Texas’ pitching puzzle. He was expected to make four Triple-A tune-up starts before rejoining the rotation and has just one under his belt so far, though the veteran right-hander will get the ball again tonight. Oswalt is still at least two weeks away, which means Ogando will have to hold down the fort until then. That puts a lot of pressure on an admittedly stellar bullpen, one that will now rely a little more on left-hander Robbie Ross (3.26 FIP) for multi-inning work.
Despite this recent hiccup, the Rangers remain an excellent team if not the best in the game. Their starting rotation has been compromised due to injury and the top reinforcement is a 34-year-old with two degenerative discs in his back and zero AL innings to his credit. Feldman and Ogando opened the season as arguably the best sixth and seventh starters in baseball, but right now they’re the numbers four and five. Oswalt’s arrival is now more important than anticipated, especially if Feliz’s elbow problem and/or Holland’s shoulder issue start to linger.
CINCINNATI, Ohio -- Jim Leyland's Sunday began with his medical folks telling him that Brennan Boesch's ankle was too injured for him to start, and that Doug Fister -- who had felt good on Saturday after a bullpen session -- was sore and won't be able to return to the rotation Wednesday, as they had hoped.
Now Fister might not be able to come back until Saturday, but Leyland doesn't care about the maybes and might-be's and could-be's at a time when the Detroit Tigers are desperately trying to stop free-falling.
"I can't worry about injured players," Leyland explained before Sunday's game. "A lot of teams have injuries." When he gets reports that a pitcher is throwing on flat ground from 120 feet, or a player is at 80 percent, Leyland said, he really doesn't pay attention to it.
"Just tell me when he can play," he said.
The Tigers have been grinding through an early-season slump because even the healthy players haven't played well. There's been too much inconsistency, some unexpected struggles from some of their complementary hitters and the loss of Fister has really hurt.
Detroit had pulled out a nice win Saturday, but early on Sunday Night Baseball, the Tigers had another injury -- a massive blister that popped up on the finger of starter Drew Smyly. So yet again, Leyland and the Tigers were short-handed and behind. The Cincinnati Reds led 6-3. Another tough day for Detroit, it appeared.
But Homer Bailey was pulled in the seventh inning, and in the eighth the Tigers got a couple of guys on base. With six outs left in the game, Dusty Baker emerged from Cincinnati dugout and called for the most unhittable reliever in baseball, Aroldis Chapman. As the lefty jogged into the game (and by the way, Chapman is such a good athlete that Baker believes a race between center fielder Drew Stubbs and Chapman would be close), opposing hitters were 9-for-100 against him this season with 54 strikeouts.
The numbers for left-handed hitters against Chapman were even more acute: 22 strikeouts and three singles in 34 at-bats. The ailing Boesch, a left-handed hitter, was in the on-deck circle preparing to pinch hit when Chapman came into the game, and he looked at the Tigers dugout and smiled. Under normal circumstances, Leyland might've considered inserting a right-handed hitter, but he was so short-handed that Boesch had to stay in the game.
When Boesch pulled a single through the right side of the infield, the Tigers fans who had made the trek to Cincinnati roared. Two batters later, with the score 6-4, Austin Jackson came to bat with the bases loaded. "I wanted to see a pitch, to see if it was as fast as it looked," Jackson said later, smiling. "And it was."
But Jackson got on top of a pitch and mashed a two-run double down the right-field line. Chapman then bounced a wild pitch, and incredibly, improbably, the Tigers would win 7-6.
If Detroit goes on to make the playoffs, we will look back at this weekend as a turning point for the Tigers.
This is a step in the right direction, Jim Leyland said afterward.
Chapman returned to earth, writes Tom Groeschen.
So this morning, your standings show the Pittsburgh Pirates tied for the lead in the NL Central. Remember, the Pirates opened the season with easily the most difficult schedule in the majors -- but they slogged through that with a 14-18 record, and since then Pittsburgh is 18-9. The No. 1 team in ERA is the Washington Nationals, who lead the NL East. No. 2 is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lead the NL West. No. 3? The Pirates, who lead the NL Central.
• The legend of Billy Hamilton grows. The Reds' minor leaguer -- a second-round pick in 2009 -- has 70 stolen bases in 84 attempts for Single-A Bakersfield, and he's increased his on-base percentage this year from .340 to .401. Walt Jocketty, the Reds' general manager, has asked his player development folks about the nature of Hamilton's stolen bases, and he has been assured that this is not a case of a baserunner piling up numbers without discretion in empty moments. "He's running in the right situations," Jocketty said.
Chris Buckley, the Reds' amateur scouting director, wrote in an email that Cincinnati "first started scouting him in 11th grade. Our scouts raved about his speed and athleticism. He reminded me of a guy I grew up admiring and played with as a young guy -- Willie Wilson." Hamilton was a four-sport athlete, and the more he plays, Buckley wrote, the better he's gotten.
Hamilton is a shortstop, but the Reds have the smooth-fielding Zack Cozart in the big leagues and Didi Gregorius in Double-A, and at some point in the upcoming offseason, Cincinnati may decide to shift Hamilton to another position.
• Todd Frazier of the Reds seems a lot like Sean Casey: Loves playing baseball, always has a smile and is a positive force. In his 79th game in the big leagues Sunday night, he mashed an opposite-field homer -- and when the ball cleared the right field wall, a huge smile formed on his face. Nothing showy and certainly not an effort to show anybody up; it was just pure joy.
And you have to like the fact that the New Jersey native walks up to Sinatra music for each of his at-bats; Tyler Jett wrote about this last summer.
• Modern technology in Miami on Sunday was something like the Pony Express.
From ESPN Stats and Info
9: Consecutive road wins by the Angels this season, tied for the longest streak in MLB and two shy of their franchise record.
12: Wins by the Orioles in their last at-bat this season, the most in baseball.
16: Consecutive home games without a home run by the Giants, longest streak by the franchise since 1918.
66: Brett Lawrie homered on a 66-mph curveball, the slowest pitch anyone has homered on this season.
1. As agent Barry Praver has talked to teams about outfield prospect Jorge Soler, he has asked teams if they are looking for "Soler Power." And apparently they are ready to pay a lot for that alternative energy, because Praver said Sunday the bidding has been "aggressive." He asked teams to forward their final bids on Soler by Sunday night.
The New York Yankees are said to be in heavy in the bidding, and the Dodgers are viewed by some club officials as a sleeper because of their effort to re-establish themselves in the international market. The Chicago Cubs have been viewed as the favorite all along, with some executives predicting that the winning bid will fall somewhere in the range of $25 million to $35 million for the 19-year-old.
2. Bobby Valentine aimed a lot of words at the umpires after the Red Sox were swept.
From ESPN Stats and Info: A few months ago, we were talking about whether Pettitte would have anything left in the tank. Six starts into his return to the Bronx, he is posting one of the highest strikeout rates among AL starting pitchers.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how Jimenez pitched:
A) Jimenez didn't walk a batter for the first time since June 7 last season, snapping a streak of 32 straight starts with a walk, the sixth-longest active streak in baseball.
B) Jimenez's fastball averaged 93.9 mph, his fastest since his second start this season. He threw a season-high 72 percent of his fastballs for strikes.
C) Jimenez had three strikeouts on his splitter; he had only five all season entering Sunday.
The Giants went homerless again.
From Elias Sports Bureau: The Giants have not hit a home run in their past 16 home games. That is the longest homerless streak at home by a Giants team since the team moved to San Francisco in 1958, and the longest by the franchise since a 21-game streak in 1918 when they were the New York Giants. The last MLB team to have a streak of at least 16 home games without a HR was the 1990 Astros, who also had a 16-game streak. Looking ahead (next home game is Tuesday), the last MLB team with a homerless streak longer than 16 home games was the 1983 Indians, who had a 17-game streak.
12. The Jays closed out a really nice road trip.
13. The Dodgers just keep on winning.
15. The Mariners' bats were silent.
CINCINNATI -- Prince Fielder was on his way to the cage for batting practice Saturday afternoon, and he didn't pause when asked, hypothetically, whether he would participate in the Home Run Derby in Kansas City on July 9.
"Yeah, I'd do that," he said, smiling, before adding the usual qualifier that he needs to actually be invited, as part of the All-Star team.
For the sake of picking dream teams, we'll pick from all players, rather than only those who are likely to get selected to the midsummer classic.
1. Cano, New York Yankees
2. Fielder, Detroit Tigers: He showed during the All-Star Game last year what kind of lasers he is capable of hitting.
3. Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox: He hit another homer Saturday and is on pace to hit 52 home runs and drive in 124 runs. Dunn would be fun to watch in this kind of competition because his home runs are skyscrapers.
4. Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels: This spot would've gone to Josh Hamilton, but he has already said he won't participate, because he's worried about getting hurt, and as the most prominent prospective free-agent position player, you can't really blame him. So our fourth invite would go to Trumbo, who, like Dunn, is capable of moonshots.
1. Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins: Look, I don't know how you make sure you get him there (maybe offering a stake in a Kansas City steakhouse establishment). But it's got to happen, because he's the most dynamic long-ball hitter in the sport right now. A derby without Stanton now is like a dunk contest in the mid-80s without Michael Jordan.
3. Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves: Some guys aren't fit for this because they have to alter their swings for the Derby. Uggla is a living, breathing Home Run Derby; every swing he takes is a Home Run Derby swing.
4. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals: He leads the NL in homers, but it seems unlikely that he'd accept. Ryan Braun would be a great choice, and if he could find a batting practice pitcher who could consistently throw the ball into his happy zone -- inner half, thigh high -- you could see him getting on a Lance Berkman roll.
But this event seems designed for Bryce Harper and his intensity and his powerful swing. Major League Baseball needs to find a way to get Harper and Mike Trout to Kansas City, one way or another, and this would be a perfect ticket for Harper.
By the way: Harper has been killing left-handed pitching, Adam Kilgore writes.
When Votto bats and Zack Cozart is in the dugout, Cozart blocks out the pitcher and focuses on his teammate, as he stands at the plate, and he marvels at how calm Votto's actions are. "He makes everything look so easy," said Cozart.
Recently, Cozart recalled, Votto faced Henry Rodriguez of the Washington Nationals, a pitcher whose fastball can reach 100 mph. Typically, a hitter facing a pitcher who throws that hard will be more unstable in his actions, jerking his hands or his shoulders in order to get the bat started more quickly in response to the fastball.
Judging by Votto's body language, Cozart recalled, you would've thought he was facing an average pitcher with an average fastball. Everything in what Votto did -- planting his front foot, the movement of his hands -- was just the same.
Votto is like a musician who always joins in at precisely the right moment, no matter the tempo -- never too soon, never too late.
Said teammate Jay Bruce: "He's always on time."
Votto got on base three times on Saturday, with two walks and a double. He's got 72 hits and 48 walks and is on pace to reach base 335 times.
• Scott Rolen is hopeful of trying to play this week, and he says he feels good.
• When Aroldis Chapman is pitching to right-handed hitters, Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan likes to set up farther inside than he usually does, because it makes it less likely for him to have a pitch bust in on the thumb of his glove hand -- and he feels it gives him a better chance to reach for the pitch over the plate. But his approach, he said with a chuckle, sometimes leaves the umpires feeling as though their body parts are more exposed to Chapman's 100 mph fastball. Hanigan assures them that this actually helps their odds of staying out of the line of fire.
Hanigan believes that Chapman's unusual two-part delivery -- first he gathers himself, cocooning the ball, before exploding toward the plate -- makes him very deceptive and difficult to time, especially because hitters often see him only once or twice in a series.
• Danny Hultzen, the Mariners' first pick in the 2011 draft, is dominating in Double-A, posting a 1.28 ERA in his first 12 starts. But Seattle has no plans to bring him up anytime soon, despite some injuries at the big league level. The Mariners want him to continue his development in the minors.
• Before Saturday's game here, some Tigers players mentioned that they just needed to find a foothold to begin a turnaround. "We've got the right guy throwing," said one veteran pitcher, referring to Verlander.
From ESPN Stats and Information: Verlander extended his streak of consecutive starts of least six innings to 55 Saturday, even though he needed 113 pitches to get through the first five innings. He hadn't thrown that many pitches in the first five innings of a start since the last time he failed to make it through six. He finished with 127 pitches in six innings.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how Verlander pitched in his no-decision against the Reds:
A. The Reds fouled off 54 percent of their swings against Verlander (35 of 65), the highest percentage against Verlander by any team in more than two years.
B. With all the foul balls they hit, the Reds averaged 4.9 pitches per plate appearance against Verlander, the highest by any team against him this season.
C. Four hitters reached base against Verlander after an 0-2 count; only eight hitters had done that against Verlander all season entering Saturday.
D. The Reds had five plate appearances of at least eight pitches against Verlander, the most against him in the past four seasons.
E. Four of the five plate appearances of at least eight pitches came after Verlander got ahead 0-2. He had only three such plate appearances this season entering Saturday.
• Mike Trout went 3-for-5 on Saturday, building his case for Rookie of the Year day by day; he is even beginning to creep into the early MVP conversation.
From ESPN Stats and Info: Trout singled and came around to score three times in the Angels' 11-5 win against the Rockies on Saturday. Much of Trout's improved performance can be attributed to going up the middle and the other way for hits. Saturday, one of Trout's singles was up the middle, giving him 26 hits to center or right field this season. He had eight such hits a year ago.
3. Salvy Perez keeps making progress.
2. The Boston Red Sox need a starting pitcher, writes Nick Cafardo. It's interesting that a lot of executives privately believe that the Chicago Cubs and Red Sox wouldn't be able to complete a trade for Matt Garza because of the lingering anger about the Theo Epstein compensation issue. If it were left to just Epstein and Boston GM Ben Cherington to make a deal, I'd bet it could happen.
4. Frank Robinson is in line for a big job with MLB, alongside Joe Torre, writes Phil Rogers.
7. Bob Melvin is going with a closer-by-committee approach.
3: Home runs for Adam Jones in the 12th inning or later this season after his walk-off home run Saturday; no player in the past 40 seasons has had more such home runs in one season.
10: Consecutive wins for the Dodgers on Saturdays this season; they're 10-0 on the year.
14: Hits for the Dodgers, most by a team in a game after being no-hit since the Twins had 15 against the Tigers in 1998 after David Wells' perfect game against them.
1. The White Sox added to their lead in the AL Central.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how Chris Sale beat the Astros:
A. Sale threw a season-high 25 changeups, and he struck out a season-high three hitters with the pitch.
B. Sale's fastball and changeup had a velocity difference of 9.7 mph, his largest differential this season.
C. He went to a season-low two three-ball counts, walking none.
D. More than 61 percent of Sale's pitches were outside, his highest percentage of the season. Astros hitters were 2-for-19 with six strikeouts in at-bats ending with an outside pitch from Sale. Astros righties were 2-for-17 with five strikeouts against Sale's outside pitches.
2. Adam Jones did his thing again, hitting a walk-off homer.
4. The Phillies were sloppy, writes Matt Gelb.
5. The Yankees used power to take down the New York Mets. Along the way, Derek Jeter passed Ted Williams in one offensive category. By the end of the year, it's possible that Jeter will rank 12th all time in runs scored; he is 495 away from Rickey Henderson's record.
9. The Mariners struck out a lot the day after their no-hitter.
13. The Dodgers' season has a 1988 feel to it, with a whole bunch of role players kicking in. On Saturday, it was Jerry Hairston, who drove in five runs.
17. The Rangers made some errors and lost.
It took 23 batters for the Texas Rangers to get their first hit against Jarrod Parker five days ago, and that took a lot of pressure off Oakland manager Bob Melvin. Parker's pitch count was at 111 after eight innings, and Melvin would've had an awful quandary -- much like Mets manager Terry Collins did three days before, late in Johan Santana's no-hitter -- in trying to decide whether to let the rookie try to finish his gem.
Parker paused when he passed his manager after he was removed from the game. "Don't worry," he drolly told Melvin, "I wasn't going to get you fired."
Parker has so much poise that it's easy to forget that he's 23 years old, and that his near-no-hitter against the Rangers came in just his ninth start in the majors. Parker, who makes his 10th start Saturday against the Diamondbacks, has appeared completely underwhelmed.
Parker has a 2.40 ERA and has allowed just one homer in 48.2 innings, mixing his fastball with a changeup that was a weapon against the Rangers -- and in particular, against Josh Hamilton.
Parker went through an elbow reconstruction that cost him the 2010 season, and it was during that time that he refined his changeup. He had thrown more of what pitchers call a Vulcan-grip changeup, with the ball tucked in between his fingers. But Parker wanted a changeup that would be better disguised -- something that hitters wouldn't be able to see very well. So he began to throw changeups using the same grip that he threw his fastball, but with the ball deeper into his palm.
As he progressed in his elbow rehabilitation, Parker asked hitters on his team what they saw in his changeup, and they confirmed for him that they had an extremely difficult time distinguishing that offspeed pitch from his fastball, because the spin was identical.
It's because of this that Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki called for the changeup repeatedly against Hamilton. Three in a row, in fact, something rarely done, especially in an at-bat involving a hitter as dangerous as Hamilton. "Coming in, we had a game plan," Parker said in a conversation the other day, "and we said were weren't going to be afraid to throw the changeup, even three or four in a row."
Hamilton walked in his first plate appearance but struck out the second and third times that Parker faced him, each time with a changeup.
From Kenton Wong of ESPN Stats & Info, here's more on how Parker used this pitch: "Of the 15 pitches Hamilton saw from Parker, 10 were changeups, both the most changeups Parker has thrown to a hitter this season and the most Hamilton has seen in a game this year.
"Parker struck out Hamilton twice on changeups; the only other pitcher this season to do that is Justin Verlander. Parker induced seven swings-and-misses on his changeup, tied for his most in his short career. Hamilton missed on five of his six swings against the pitch; all other Rangers missed on two of their eight swings. Parker threw 20 of his 25 changeups out of the strike zone, his highest percentage this season. The Rangers chased 10 of those 20 changeups, including seven of 11 with two strikes. Parker recorded five outs on those seven two-strike changeups, including a double play."
Parker faces the pitcher he was traded for tonight, as Susan Slusser writes.
• The Mariners, victims of a perfect game earlier this season, generated a no-hitter at Safeco Field with six pitchers, writes Alex Pavolvic. From ESPN Stats & Info, how the Mariners staff kept the no-hitter alive:
• Kevin Millwood pounded the outer part of the plate with his fastball, throwing 41 of 57 away (72 percent). Millwood gained six outs, including two strikeouts in at-bats ending with a fastball away.
-- Only 16 percent of Millwood's pitches were off-speed, but his secondary pitches got him five outs (three strikeouts).
-- Charlie Furbush threw six sliders in 10 pitches, getting two of his three outs with that pitch.
-- Stephen Pryor threw almost all fastballs (14 of 15 pitches) with an average velocity of 94.8 mph. He gained his lone strikeout on a 96 mph fastball.
-- Brandon League worked his splitter down in the zone, getting two outs on six pitches with the splitter.
-- Tom Wilhelmsen worked his fastball inside to get three outs, averaging 96.4 mph with the heater.
-- Relievers threw 63 percent of their pitches for strikes, including 16 of their last 18.
-- The bullpen allowed only two balls to leave the infield: a line out and a fly out.
• One of the hottest teams in the majors: the Pirates, who had the worst early-season schedule in baseball and have now won 16 of their last 26.
• Reliever David Aardsma is throwing batting practice to hitters now and is feeling good. The Yankees expect that both he and Joba Chamberlain will be back to help the bullpen in the second half of the season.
1. Fredi Gonzalez may change the way he uses his bullpen.
4. The Orioles signed their third-round pick.
5. The Jays continued to sign their draft picks.
6. The Twins' negotiations with their No. 1 pick are underway, as Charley Walters writes.
1. Carl Crawford says he feels great as he starts his throwing program, and assuming that all goes well with his rehab, it's hard to imagine it will take him long to be back in the lineup, because he's been swinging a bat and running for a while.
By The Numbers, from ESPN Stats & Info
2: No-hitters thrown at Safeco Field this season and the number of no-hitters with Brian Runge behind the plate (also called Philip Humber's perfect game on April 21).
3: Consecutive HRs hit by Yankees off Santana.
13: Strikeouts by Stephen Strasburg against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
19-236: Bryce Harper's age on Friday (in years and days), making him the second-youngest visiting player to homer at Fenway Park.
3. The Braves pulled out a one-run game.
6. The Padres have given up a bunch of homers, writes Bill Center.
8. The Tiger were beaten by a bunt, writes John Lowe.
9. The Reds won a thriller.
12. The Brewers did a lot of mashing.
13. Strasburg generated a whole lot of ugly swings at Fenway Park.
14. The Phillies, challenged by their manager, posted nine runs.
16. The Red Sox were rocked by phenoms. From ESPN Stats & Info, how Strasburg dominated:
A) Strasburg kept the ball down, throwing 52 percent (63 of 119) at the knees or below. The righty got a season-high 38 strikes, including 14 swings-and-misses on pitches down.
B) Almost 60 percent of Strasburg's pitches were out of the zone (71 of 119), keeping the Red Sox off balance. They chased a season-high 25 pitches and went 0-for-12 with 10 strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch out of the zone.
C) The curveball was again working for Strasburg, who threw it 24 times Friday. The Red Sox went 0-for-6 with six strikeouts, and this season opponents are hitting .127 with 37 strikeouts against Strasburg's curveball.
While we're still several months away from the 2012 NL Cy Young vote, Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez have both done their parts to this point, ranking 1-2 in MLB in strikeout rate among starting pitchers. Rounding out the top five, in order, are Max Scherzer (27.4 percent), Zack Greinke (27.3) and Cliff Lee (27).
Strasburg became only the fourth pitcher to record 13 strikeouts as a visiting pitcher at Fenway Park in the wild-card era, joining Mike Mussina (who did it twice, as a Yankee in 2001 and in 2000 with the Orioles), Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens.
Much ink has been spilled on Stanford righty and Pirates first-round pick Mark Appel since the draft on Monday. Much of it has been centered around how Appel, a contender for the No. 1 overall pick, slipped to eighth overall and how the new collective bargaining agreement's draft values and Appel's perceived bonus demands might have impacted his slide.
The underreported story is that while Appel might have been the consensus top pitcher in the draft, each team's draft board differs greatly and more than a few teams had Appel fourth in a tightly-packed top group of arms including LSU righty Kevin Gausman (fourth overall to Baltimore), USF righty Kyle Zimmer (fifth overall to Kansas City) and California prep lefty Max Fried (seventh overall to San Diego).
I saw Appel's worst outing of the year Friday night, a 17-1 super regional loss at Florida State where he only lasted four innings, but it wasn't just a tough night