Five players poised to rebound.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If you're Mike Trout or Andrew McCutchen, 2012 probably will go down as one of your career highlights, a season that many will fondly remember decades from now.
For others, however, turning a page on the calendar can't come soon enough. Not every player having a down year will come back triumphantly with a better one, whether it's because of the effects of injury, age or a simple decline in baseball skills. And bounceback seasons aren't always predictable, either -- Adam Dunn's 2011 was so awful that many questioned if he'd ever be useful as a major leaguer again while players such as Edgardo Alfonzo or Carlos Baerga had people waiting years for a grand return to stardom that never happened.
So, which players are most likely to wipe away disappointing 2012 seasons? I've taken a stab at naming my favorite five players who are likely to bounce back. Also included are preliminary 2013 ZiPS projections for the players in question, though I sometimes disagree with my computer. I usually win those arguments because I pay the electric bill.
Tim Lincecum, RHP, San Francisco Giants
The Giants as a team should be rather happy with the 2012 season, as they are six games ahead with 20 to play and the clear favorite to win the NL West and avoid the uncertainty of a one-game wild-card round. Unlike previous seasons, San Francisco's passage to the playoffs has little to do with Lincecum, who is 8-14 with a 5.11 ERA this season. If you ranked all qualifying pitchers in baseball based on their ERA+, which is park-neutral ERA compared with league average, Lincecum comes in dead last, 93rd of 93.
Some might say that the silver lining is that Lincecum has been healthy, but on some level, needing Tommy John surgery would almost be a relief, as it would provide an answer to a puzzling season. Whatever the reason, Lincecum has been terrible, missing spots and with his formerly nasty stuff being surprisingly hittable. Some of the play-by-play statistics reveal scary splits, such as a Lincecum changeup being twice as likely to be hit for a line drive than it was last year.
Despite all this, I still think that Lincecum will once again be a solid pitcher in 2013. The season got off to a bad start, with Lincecum still tinkering with his repertoire as the season started and at times, you still see flashes of his old form. He's 6-4 with a 3.33 ERA since the All-Star break and as a whole, his peripherals for the year really aren't that bad; his FIP comes out as a mediocre but nowhere near disastrous 3.97.
Furthermore, his stuff remains good enough to strike out a batter an inning and no batter gives a pitcher a mercy whiff. Unless there's still an undiscovered injury lurking in his arm -- his pitching motion always leads me to expect that someday his arm will fly into the crowd -- I think he'll have a much better 2013. He's too talented to be the worst starter in baseball.
2013 ZiPS Projection: 15-11, 3.60 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 2.9 WAR
Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
BautistaA few years ago, Bautista's .241/.358/.527 line would look like an amazing year rather than a disappointing one. That was before his superhero-like transformation from Jose Bautista, mediocre role player, to "Joey Bats." Bautista was doing his best to erase an ugly .181/.320/.313 April from his stat line before something went wrong with his wrist in a July game against the Yankees. For a while, it looked like Bautista would return to the team, but in the end, with inflammation still bothering him and the Blue Jays out of the playoff picture, there was little reason not to go ahead with surgery repair his tendon sheath.
You never like to see a hitter have something go wrong in his wrist, but with his tendons otherwise intact and with physical therapy expected to be completed before 2012 is out, he has plenty of healing time and good odds to have his power back in 2013.
2013 ZiPS Projection: .271/.404/.581, 34 HR, 81 RBI, 5.3 WAR
Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves
Chipper Jones has been the Braves' biggest star, not surprising given he's probably one of the 10 best third basemen of all time, but McCann has been Atlanta's most dependable players in recent years -- a catcher who puts up the same ol' boring All-Star season, and who never goes on the disabled list. For a player with six All-Star appearances in his career, McCann has never earned a reputation quite to the level of his accomplishments.
At just 28, McCann has had easily his worst major league season, hitting .230/.300/.409 in 111 games. Not bad for a catcher, but pretty bad for McCann. While many have offered explanations for his down year, that dreaded nemesis of pitchers, BABIP, seems like the obvious reason for McCann's down year. His .228 BABIP is 64 points below his career .292 BABIP, and while BABIP isn't as volatile with hitters as it is with pitchers, there's no reason to believe he's a .228 BABIP hitter going forward. Don't believe me? The average pitcher typically has a BABIP in the .220-.230 range, and it would be quite odd that a five-time Silver Slugger Award winner on the sunny side of 30 can't hit balls harder to field than a group of hurlers.
McCann has had a heavy workload, so the Braves and any future team would be smart to rest him more, as he has hit worse over his career in the late parts of the season -- his August OPS of .780 and September OPS of .751 well off his career .828 number. Catching is tough on his body, but at age 28 and 944 career games behind the plate, McCann should still have quite a bit of awesome left before the tools of ignorance really start taking an irreversible physical toll.
2013 ZiPS Projection: .258/.340/.437, 21 HR, 75 RBI, 3.8 WAR
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
HosmerExpected to be one of the bright young stars of the 2012 Royals by most analysts (myself included), Hosmer instead has followed up a .293/.334/.465 with a rather mediocre .244/.315/.380 season. The best thing you can say about his 2012 is that his star hasn't dropped as far as Justin Smoak's, the player to whom Hosmer was compared and contrasted in the minors, given both were two of the most well-regarded first-base prospects at the time.
I don't usually give a lot of credit to the Royals, given that they seem to have a strange liking of fringe major leaguers such as Yuniesky Betancourt and an obnoxious unwillingness to let minor-league star Wil Myers send Jeff Francoeur to the unemployment line. But in this case, despite more downs than ups, the Royals haven't panicked with Hosmer, still giving him his at-bats, letting him work through his problems, rather than GM Dayton Moore finding the phone number for Mike Jacobs.
In this case, it will pay off. Hosmer will not disappoint again in 2013. He's only 22 and his contact numbers haven't dropped off this year despite his struggles.
2013 ZiPS Projection: .287/.348/.455, 21 HR, 76 RBI, 2.9 WAR
Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
LesterLester is another pitcher who, looking at his secondary statistics, is having a better season than you would think at first glance. His ERA dropoff from 2011 to 2012 (3.47 to 4.99) is rather alarming, but his FIP only went from 3.83 to 4.12, a considerably less frightening change in performance. He hasn't lost any velocity and, despite the decrease in strikeout rate, he's throwing just as many swinging strikes (8.9 percent) as he did last year (8.7 percent). And the Red Sox's bullpen hasn't done him any favors, either, allowing 5-of-11 of Lester's inherited runners to score after allowing only 4-of-32 to score over 2010-2011.
Lester has tried to compensate for his issues this season by nibbling a bit more. Despite his walk rate improving from 2011, he has thrown fewer pitchers in the strike zone than ever before, with only 40 percent of his pitches thrown in the zone. The 2012 Red Sox may be a train wreck, but Lester wasn't the engineer. Given that Lester has already beaten back cancer, I'm confident he can beat back an off year.
2013 ZiPS Projection: 14-9, 3.90 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 3.5 WAR
The Yankees' cloudy future.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The New York Yankees' weak second half has focused attention on the age of the offense, even though younger players such as Curtis Granderson have been just as responsible for the team's struggles. They still may win the American League East despite the soft finish, but their outlook beyond this season is cloudier than it has been for several years, maybe since the mid-1990s. Their salary commitments for 2013 are significant, and while the team is often assumed to have the capacity to handle an infinite payroll, moving any of their large contracts without paying most of the freight would be nearly impossible. Their rotation is a weakness now and in the future, and that lineup is indeed getting old.
But the Yankees' primary problem isn't specifically the team's cost, or even the major league roster's age, but the fact that the farm system is not ready to provide players who are going to help the team in regular roles, either as everyday position players or as rotation members, in 2013 -- or even 2014.
Their top prospect coming into 2012, left-hander Manny Banuelos, missed nearly the entire season with what the team called a bone bruise in his left elbow. Right-hander Dellin Betances, their fourth-best prospect coming into the year, was so wild in Triple-A that the team had to demote him, and at this point his only likely value to any major league team is in the bullpen. Catcher Austin Romine, ranked eighth in their system, at least appeared to be close to helping the major league club in 2012 but missed much of the year with a back injury.
The Yankees' system isn't barren, but their prospect depth is almost entirely at Class A, much of it starting the year at low-A Charleston and finishing at high-A Tampa. Right fielder (and former third baseman) Tyler Austin is probably the closest to major-league ready, an advanced hitter for his age who should grow into some more power; after spending April through August in A-ball, he's unlikely to see the majors before September of next year. Catcher Gary Sanchez has the highest upside of the group, but his defense behind the plate, while much improved over 2011, is still a work in progress. Centerfielder Mason Williams needs to improve his ability to work the count and get on base, although he's a very good defender and has the other tools to be a potential star. Sanchez, Williams, Slade Heathcott and their other prospects at and below single-A are all a good two years away from the majors, which also means their trade value is limited.
As a result, the Yankees will have to fill any significant holes on the major-league roster with players from outside the organization, either through free agency or by trading a large chunk of the prospect depth they do have. Their incumbent catcher and right fielder are free agents, and they probably need a caddy for their third baseman, who's still reasonably productive but can't be counted on for a full season. And that all assumes that Brett Gardner, whose injury this year probably cost the Yankees two wins, can return to form next year.
That inability to solve existing problems is far worse on the pitching side. Their lineup may be aging, but their biggest question mark of all for 2013 is in the rotation. At the moment, the Yankees' 2013 rotation would be comprised of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, David Phelps, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda, who should probably legally change his middle name to "If-Healthy." The first four members of that rotation have combined for just over 7 wins above replacement in 2012, per FanGraphs, half of it from Sabathia, who will fail to reach 30 starts in a season for the first time since 2005.
Nova has the best stuff of the starters besides CC and If-Healthy, but all of those three young starters have been homer-prone this year, partly a function of the home park but more a reflection of their flat four-seamers, a pitch that's easy to hit in the air if it catches a little too much of the plate because it doesn't sink, cut or tail like other varieties of fastball. The team has tried to get Hughes to work with a cutter, but the pitch isn't that effective and he still struggles to pitch side-to-side. Nova has the most potential to improve, and Hughes has some upside remaining as well, but a realistic outlook wouldn't peg either starter at more than 2 WAR next year. As a result, even a full, effective year from Sabathia wouldn't make that a championship-caliber rotation on paper, and, hypothetically, it could be the fourth-best in the division if the Yankees stand pat this offseason.
The path of least resistance would be to re-sign Hiroki Kuroda to another one-year deal; he'll be 38 but has performed at his usual level, throwing more breaking stuff to make up for a slight loss of velocity on his fastball. Even if they retain Kuroda, I'd still expect the Yankees to be significant players in the free-agent starting pitching market, probably leading with Ryan Dempster and/or Edwin Jackson. Signing two of those three, or trading for a comparable pitcher, would put the rotation in the top half of the league, pushing Phelps to a swing role and giving the team depth it didn't have coming into 2012 while (one would hope) ending Freddy Garcia's career in pinstripes.
They do have some areas of strength aside from the aging lineup core. Gardner's return gives them two major-league caliber center fielders, meaning they could even trade Granderson to try to fill other holes or add prospect depth for a future deal. Mariano Rivera's return strengthens the bullpen significantly, and the farm system is producing potential big-league relievers, with Mark Montgomery probably next out of the chute. They have the deepest pockets in baseball (although the Dodgers are entering that gated community), and can likely afford to add pitching from outside even as they have to pony up to re-sign Robinson Cano, who is eligible for free agency following the 2013 season.
But if those pockets aren't bottomless, and if the age of the roster turns out to be a bigger issue in 2013, they don't have the internal depth to patch those holes, and the large contracts they do currently have are extremely tough to move, making their margin for error this winter a lot smaller than it normally is.
Pirates facing wrong kind of challenge.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Pittsburgh Pirates understand that if any member of their organization uses a racial slur, or a word rooted in racial hate, then it's a serious issue that needs to be addressed. "If that ever happened," said one official, "then we'd have a major problem, and we would do something about it."
After Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips accused Pirates pitcher Jared Hughes of yelling an unacceptable racist word at him the other day, Pittsburgh officials looked into the matter extensively, even forensically, examining different angles of television replays of the incident. They spoke with players and staffers who were in the vicinity, from catcher Rod Barajas to manager Clint Hurdle to center fielder Andrew McCutchen.
The Pirates reached this conclusion: Hughes did not do what Phillips says he did. "Jared Hughes is a tremendous young man," said Pirates GM Neal Huntington. "Jared knows what he said. He knows he did not say what he's accused of saying.
"We know beyond a shadow of a doubt he didn't say what he's accused of saying."
Beyond the simple fact that the Pirates are certain that Hughes didn't yell the word "boy" at Phillips, they moved aggressively to defend the pitcher Wednesday because they know how a charge of racism can hang on a player's reputation.
Phillips and Hughes spoke by phone Tuesday and seemingly settled their differences, but the Pirates were greatly surprised when Phillips reiterated Wednesday that Hughes used the racially charged phrase, and said that Hughes acknowledged using it in their phone call. From Rob Biertempfel's story:
In an interview with NBC's "SportsTalk," Phillips told Erik Kuselias that Hughes "said what he said" after Phillips was hit by a pitch. Phillips said it was the first time he had heard a player make a racist comment on the field during a game.
When Kuselias pressed Phillips to confirm Hughes made an offensive remark, Phillips paused and said, "He did. That's what we talked about. If you want to know what he said, you should ask him." Phillips said he forgave Hughes during their phone conversation Tuesday.
Hughes said Wednesday he was surprised and frustrated by Phillips' comments to NBC.
"I did not say those things he is saying I said," Hughes said. "I did not make any comment with a racial undertone or connotation during our exchange on Monday night -- period. While I cannot repeat everything that I said because I did swear, it is obvious when reviewing the tape that I in no way, shape or form made any remark that was in any way connected to race. It is not how I was raised and not who I am as a person."
Nobody other than Phillips can speak for him, or what he believes he heard. But none of the television replays the Pirates viewed show the pitcher yelling the word "boy" at Phillips.
The replays do show Hughes aiming a 12-letter profanity at Phillips that is well within the bounds of professional sports.
There were others in the room when Hughes spoke with Phillips, including manager Clint Hurdle, and they offered a different version of Hughes' end of the conversation, saying that Hughes never acknowledged using the word.
The Pirates aren't trying to vilify Phillips. But they maintain, with 100 percent certainty, that Hughes did nothing wrong.
Meanwhile, the Pirates have pressing issues on the field: They have lost six straight.
Top five teams in need of a win today:
1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
• Another rookie lifted the Oakland Athletics, who have 12 straight road victories -- that's twelve -- and counting. The Angels had no answers, again, as Mike DiGiovanna writes.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how the amazing A.J. Griffin won
A) Angels hitters were 1-for-6 with three strikeouts against Griffin's curveball.
B) Four of the five outs on his curveball, including all three strikeouts, came after he threw a fastball on the previous pitch. Griffin's fastball averages 90 mph this season and his curveball averages 68. That 22 mph velocity differential is tied with Roy Oswalt for the largest in baseball this season among starting pitchers.
C) Griffin threw a season-high 64 percent fastballs Wednesday, and he recorded a season-high 14 outs with the pitch.
D) Griffin went to five three-ball counts but didn't walk a single batter.
From Elias Sports Bureau: Griffin is 6-0 with a 1.94 ERA in his first 11 big league starts. Since the major leagues began recording earned runs about 100 years ago, the only other pitcher who was undefeated in his first 11 big league appearances, all of which were starts, while maintaining an earned run average under 2.00, was Jered Weaver in 2006 (12 GS, 9-0, 1.95).
By the way: There is a lot of speculation about Mike Scioscia's standing if the Angels don't make the playoffs, and because he's under contract through 2018, there is an assumption that Arte Moreno's financial obligation to Scioscia could be a factor.
But keep in mind that if Scioscia is fired, he'll almost certainly find a job immediately and be under contract with another team, which would mitigate -- not eliminate -- the Angels' cost.
Three Texas Rangers starters got hurt in the Rangers' latest victory.
• The Baltimore Orioles continue to benefit from unlikely heroes, and on Wednesday, the heroes were Manny Machado and Nate McLouth, as Eduardo Encina writes.
The Rays had their guts ripped out, and now they're three games out in the division and wild-card race. The aggressiveness of a late-season call-up hurt them.
From Marc Topkin's game story:
But with the disappointment and frustration from the loss obvious in the clubhouse, the more telling Rays performance will be what happens over the remaining 20 games, starting with today's matinee series finale that suddenly looms extremely large.
"We've got to win (today)," centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "We felt like we had to win (Wednesday), but reality is we've got to win (today). We've got no choice. If we want to end up where we want to be, we have to win the game (today), and we have to win the series in New York."
Jason Hammel will have his MRI today.
The New York Yankees won, but Derek Jeter aggravated a bone bruise, writes David Waldstein. Andy Pettitte may come off the disabled list next Tuesday, in Toronto.
• The St. Louis Cardinals lost again, and Kyle Lohse was really unhappy about it. St. Louis doesn't have a lot of roster depth, writes Bernie Miklasz.
• Stephen Strasburg is going to be available down the stretch … as a pinch-hitter. The transition was seamless for the Nationals.
• The Philadelphia Phillies and the Milwaukee Brewers continued their rush toward the top of the wild-card standings: Jimmy Rollins was the hero for Philly, and Rickie Weeks was the hero for the Brewers.
The Phillies are finding out that the kids are all right, writes Bob Ford.
• Alfredo Aceves wouldn't give the ball to his manager, as mentioned within this Dan Duggan notebook.
Bobby Valentine says Kevin Youkilis' issues weren't his doing.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
10: Starts with 6+ IP and 2-or-fewer ER with a loss or no-decision by Kyle Lohse, tied for most this season.
16: Salvador Perez and Ryan Zimmerman extended their hitting streaks to 16 games, the longest current streaks in the majors.
94.9: Max Scherzer's average mph fastball from August-September, which ranks in the top three in MLB.
475: Career home runs by Albert Pujols, tying Stan Musial and Willie Stargell for 28th place all-time.
Dings and dents
1. Michael Morse has a bone bruise.
2. Ramon Hernandez needs surgery, writes Patrick Saunders.
3. The Astros' Jed Lowrie was back in the lineup, as Zachary Levine writes.
4. Mike Adams is dealing with a strained trap.
5. Zach Cozart says he's feeling a lot better, as Tom Groeschen writes.
6. Ryan Braun is playing through wrist pain.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Rod Barajas is willing to take less money to stay with the Pirates.
2. Jordan Pacheco will get a start at catcher Sunday.
3. Within this notebook, there is word that some Angels scouts have been fired.
AL East notes
• Ricky Romero continues to struggle.
AL Central notes
• Robin Ventura stands by his bullpen. The Chicago White Sox will face Justin Verlander tonight.
Max Scherzer came through, at a time when the Tigers are drawing a lot of scrutiny. Alex Avila had a crucial bunt.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Scherzer's fastball averaged 95.3 mph, his second highest in the last four seasons; he averaged 96.2 mph in his start last Friday. Scherzer's fastball velocity has been trending up all season.
Scherzer's fastball this season (average mph/miss percentage)
April-May: 93.8/23 percent
June-July: 94.4/22 percent
Aug.-Sept.: 94.9*/27 percent*
* Ranks top 3 in MLB
• The Kansas City Royals batted around, twice.
• Remember when the Cleveland Indians hovered around the top of the AL Central? After their latest loss, they are 25 games under .500.
• The Minnesota Twins played a sloppy game.
NL East notes
• John Lannan stepped into Stephen Strasburg's spot in the rotation and had a strong outing.
• The New York Mets didn't hit much, again.
• The Miami Marlins were fried.
• The Atlanta Braves were dominated in Milwaukee; they need to start playing better ASAP.
NL Central notes
• The Reds' magic number is down to eight after their latest sweep.
• Travis Wood was The Man for the Chicago Cubs.
• An Astro avoided serious injury.
NL West notes
• Tim Lincecum threw well again, and the San Francisco Giants are closing on the division title. The Giants played without Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Since joining the Giants, Marco Scutaro has seen an uptick in fastballs batting primarily in the two-hole in front of Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey. Thirteen of the 18 pitches (77 percent) he saw Wednesday were fastballs, and all three of his hits came against them. He's seeing 67 percent fastballs since he joined the Giants, which ranks among the highest in baseball since then. He saw just 60 percent fastballs with the Rockies.
Highest percentage of fastballs seen (since July 28)
Ben Revere: 70 percent
Derek Jeter: 69 percent
Jamey Carroll: 69 percent
Marco Scutaro: 67 percent
Scutaro vs. fastballs this season (with COL/with SF)
Percentage seen: 60 percent/67 percent
Slugging percentage: .377/.459
Extra-base hits: 15/11
• The Dodgers just keep losing, and when it was over, Adrian Gonzalez wasn't happy. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti is happy with the Big Trade, no matter what happens this season.
• Trevor Cahill recovered nicely.
• The San Diego Padres are making a late rush toward .500, and after their latest sweep, they're 21-7 at home since the All-Star break.
Chase Headley in his last 38 games: a .316 batting average, 15 homers, 50 RBIs.
How Phils, Brewers got back in the race.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Crazy Stuff bar was set very high last year, when the Boston lineup of stars collapsed and the Braves' bullpen crumbled. As Evan Longoria prepared for his season-ending at-bat last year, he looked at a photographer near the Rays' on-deck circle and said, "Watch this." What we saw was something we had never seen before.
But now that the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers are both back to within four games of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL wild-card race, with 23 days left in the regular season, their climb no longer qualifies as Crazy Stuff; their climb is very plausible.
During the next eight days, the Phillies play the Miami Marlins -- a team that some evaluators believe has stopped playing -- and then the Houston Astros and New York Mets. A lot of teams are starved for starting pitching this time of year, plugging and filling their rotation, and the Phillies are running out Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and a red-hot Kyle Kendrick. Closer Jonathan Papelbon has allowed two earned runs since July 21. Heck, the Phillies might be a wild-card leader, along with the Atlanta Braves, by the start of next week.
Rather than asking whether the Brewers have enough to get to the top, maybe the more appropriate question is: Have they been a good team all along, weighed down only by an absurdly poor bullpen? And now that John Axford has rediscovered his command, that problem is solved, and the Brewers are finding their level. In his past nine appearances, Axford has surrendered one hit and no earned runs, in support of what continues to be an absurdly good offense.
Before the trade deadline, Brewers manager Doug Melvin spoke about how well he feels the Brewers are set up with their position players, with Corey Hart settled in nicely at first base, with Aramis Ramirez having a very strong season and, of course, with Ryan Braun. Rickie Weeks has shown the toughness that others in the organization really admire, with the way he has battled out of a brutal slump. His OPS, month by month:
The only teams that have plated more runs this season than Milwaukee are the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees.
Milwaukee's remaining schedule:
Sept. 14-16: home vs. New York Mets
Sept. 18-20: at Pittsburgh Pirates
Sept. 21-24: at Washington Nationals
Sept. 25-27: at Cincinnati Reds
Sept. 28-30: home vs. Houston Astros
Oct. 1-3: home vs. San Diego Padres
A major question about the Brewers-Reds series -- which could be crucial -- is what kind of mode Cincinnati is in by then. The Reds' magic number for wrapping up the NL Central stands at 10, and they likely will clinch just before that series is played. Dusty Baker could use the last days of the regular season to prepare his team for the postseason by resting some of his everyday guys and his relievers; they just shut down reliever Aroldis Chapman. There won't be any need for the Reds to push.
Can the Brewers follow through with this surge? Can the Phillies? Of course they can, as we know from 1914 and 1951 and 1978 and 2007 and 2011.
Roy Halladay and the Phillies are back to .500, writes Ryan Lawrence. Marco Estrada had a really nice outing. Corey Hart is dealing with some pain that he'll probably have to play through.
• The Oakland Athletics have stopped losing: That victory Tuesday was their 11th consecutive on the road.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Dan Straily won with his slider:
A) Straily's slider was dominant. The Angels missed on 16 of their 22 swings (73 percent) and struck out seven times against the pitch, six of which were swinging.
B) Straily's 16 swings-and-misses on sliders are tied for the second most by any starter this season and the most by anyone against the Angels in the past four seasons.
C) Straily mixed up his pitch selection. He threw a career-high 44 sliders, 20 more than the last time he faced the Angels, last month.
D) He threw 14 sliders to lefties, three more than he had thrown to lefties in his first three starts combined.
E) Straily used his slider in the zone and as a chase pitch. He got three outs on sliders in the zone and six outs out of the zone.
F) Angels hitters chased 15 sliders out of the zone, missing on 14 of them. Predictably, Mike Trout was the only Angels hitter with a hit against Straily's slider.
Most swings-and-misses on sliders in single game this season
Francisco Liriano: 17 vs. Athletics
Dan Straily: 16 vs. Angels
Mat Latos: 16 vs. Rockies
Mat Latos: 16 vs. Brewers
The Oakland bullpen saved the day, writes Susan Slusser.
• Brandon McCarthy got to go home.
• David Price is ready to go.
• If the Toronto Blue Jays work out some sort of arrangement with the Boston Red Sox that paves the way for John Farrell to become Boston's next manager, there is a perception within some corners that Torey Lovullo would be the front-runner to replace Farrell in Toronto.
• Bobby Valentine is the best man for the Red Sox job, he says.
• John Lannan will take Stephen Strasburg's spot in the rotation on Wednesday.
By the numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
11: straight road wins for the Athletics, tied for their second longest streak since the franchise moved to Oakland in 1968.
16: losses for Ubaldo Jimenez, most in MLB this season.
30: straight saves for Joe Nathan, longest streak in MLB this season.
81: RBIs for Kyle Seager, who is the third second-year player in Mariners history with 80-plus RBIs in a season (1990 Ken Griffey Jr., 1985 Jim Presley).
1,044: career strikeouts for Jon Lester, passes Bruce Hurst for most all-time by a Red Sox left-handed pitcher.
Dings and dents
1. Michael Morse is having some tests on his wrist.
2. Joe Mauer was out with back spasms.
3. Anthony Rizzo hurt his shoulder.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Adam LaRoche wants to stay with the Nationals.
2. Kevin Gregg was cut and was disappointed.
3. Jed Lowrie could be back in the Houston lineup on Wednesday.
NL East notes
• Jordan Zimmermann got it done.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Giancarlo Stanton hit his 34th home run of the season. That is tied for the second most homers in a season in Marlins history. Gary Sheffield hit 42 home runs for the Marlins in 1996.
Most homers in single season in Marlins history
42: Gary Sheffield, 1996
34: Giancarlo Stanton, 2012
34: Giancarlo Stanton, 2011
34: Miguel Cabrera, 2007
• R.A. Dickey didn't get a lot of run support.
NL Central notes
• The Pirates played poorly and lost again.
From ESPN Stats & Info: The Pirates have yet to recover from their 19-inning game, going 5-15 and scoring 3.7 runs per game in their past 20 games. After its 19-inning game last season, Pittsburgh also went 5-15 in its next 20 games and finished the year under .500.
• Mike Leake was The Man for the Cincinnati Reds.
• The Astros generated a shutout, and they are moving toward 50 wins.
NL West notes
• The Giants' magic number is down to 15. Their bullpen has been contributing solid stuff, Henry Schulman writes.
• The Arizona Diamondbacks won, and Kirk Gibson says they're in the playoff race.
• The Los Angeles Dodgers couldn't generate any offense.
• You can't stop the Padres, you can only hope to contain them and Chase Headley.
AL East notes
• The Baltimore Orioles won, but it appears they lost ace Jason Hammel to a knee injury. Hammel will see an orthopedist on Wednesday, writes Dan Connolly.
• The Yankees lost in Boston and fell back into a tie for first place. The Yankees may be under pressure to execute a big-money signing, and New York's spending guarantees nothing, writes Joel Sherman.
• The Tampa Bay Rays lost ground in the wild-card race, Marc Topkin writes.
AL Central notes
• The Detroit Tigers got a badly needed victory, with Doug Fister stepping up.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Fister beat the White Sox:
A) Put hitters away: White Sox hitters were 0-for-12 with six strikeouts in at-bats ending with two strikes.
B) Three of Fister's strikeouts came on his fastball and three on his curveball; it's only the second time in 91 career starts that he had at least three strikeouts on both his fastball and curveball.
C) Fister threw 26 curveballs Tuesday, his most in six career starts against the White Sox and his fourth most this season. Hitters missed on seven of their 14 swings against the pitch Tuesday.
D) Fister threw 20 of his 26 curveballs (77 percent) Tuesday down in the zone, his highest percentage in his career (min. 20 curveballs thrown).
The Tigers loosened up, writes Drew Sharp. Avisail Garcia has been really impressive, writes Lynn Henning.
• Chicago's lead was trimmed, but there is some good news: Adam Dunn is close to coming back.
• The Kansas City Royals frolicked around the bases.
• The Minnesota Twins lost a lopsided game.
• Defensive mistakes wrecked the Cleveland Indians.
AL West notes
• The Rangers took care of business.
• The Angels' rally fell short, writes Mike DiGiovanna. Mike Scioscia has a tough decision with Mark Trumbo.
• Kyle Seager mashed his 18th homer, and the Seattle Mariners edged a little closer to .500.
10 youngsters 'winning' their auditions.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
For top prospects like Will Middlebrooks, Jurickson Profar and Wil Myers (and Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, before them), it’s only matter of time before they are given starting positions and become stars in their respective lineups.
Then there are those prospects who must earn their jobs at the major league level and take full advantage of opportunities they are given. In essence, they are auditioning for a job in 2013. And if they fail during the audition, they might never get another chance. And these auditions often only come about because of injuries or underperformance by star players. Those who seize the moment and take advantage of the opportunity can earn a starting spot for next year. Here is a list of 10 players (in alphabetical order) who are doing well in their late-season auditions and might have earned vital roles on their teams next year.
Rob Brantly, C
Brantly and right-hander Jacob Turner were acquired by the Marlins at the trade deadline in what could be Marlins president Larry Beinfest’s best deal. At the plate, the 23-year-old Brantly has easily held his own in his first 20 major league games, batting over .300. Behind the plate, however, he still has work to do against the running game as he’s thrown out only one runner in 12 attempts. But he does show above-average ability to call a game and frame pitches. He’s certainly doing enough to be the Marlins’ No. 1 catcher in 2013 and beyond.
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Donaldson was given the third-base job in spring training after Scott Sizemore went down with a knee injury. Donaldson lost the job after the Oakland Athletics acquired Brandon Inge. However, when Inge went down with an injury, Donaldson reclaimed the position Aug. 14 and hasn’t let go, belting six home runs and posting a .996 OPS since then.
Tyler Cloyd, RHP
The Philadelphia Phillies might have the best four-man rotation in the National League with Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick. However, another interesting story has been the surprise development of Cloyd, who has unexpectedly become the fifth man in their rotation. Cloyd was the Phillies’ 18th-round selection in the 2008 draft and wasn’t on the prospect radar entering the season. However, after leading the International League in ERA, he earned a promotion to the major leagues and has taken advantage of it. In three starts, he’s pitched 17 innings allowing just three walks while striking out 16. Cloyd has above-average command and deception. He is fearless on the mound and will pound the zone. However, he will have to be fine to have success because his stuff is just ordinary. He’s definitely shown enough to be in the conversation for the Phillies' fifth-starter spot in 2013.
Sam Deduno, RHP
Deduno is proving there is nothing wrong with a 29-year-old rookie and has certainly made the most of his opportunity. After 12 starts he’s 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA for one of the league’s worst teams. He’s athletic, unafraid and has enough stuff to strike out a hitter with a couple of different pitches. However, Deduno needs to reduce his walks, which will lower his WHIP, if he wants to have any sustained success in the major leagues. Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan told me Deduno should be in the mix for a spot in their 2013 rotation.
Adam Eaton, CF
Eaton is a baseball player, pure and simple. He won the Pioneer League batting title in 2010 after being drafted in the 19th round. In 2011, he hit a combined .318 with 10 home runs, finishing his season in Double-A. This year he started the year in Double-A and was promoted to Triple-A after just 11 games, where he hit .381 with 46 doubles and 7 home runs in 119 games. In his first seven games with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he’s gone 10-for-31 and is quickly becoming a long-term answer in the Diamondbacks’ outfield.
Anthony Gose, OF
Gose was called up July 17 and the Toronto Blue Jays tried to let him develop at the major league level, but he struggled to hit .200 and was sent back down in late August. Upon his Sept. 4 recall, however, he has taken advantage of his second chance and is hitting .389 in September with 4 stolen bases. Gose has shown good balance at the plate with improved plate coverage and discipline. He’s showing enough improvement at the plate along with his blazing speed and better routes to fly balls that he might be able to be in the 2013 Opening Day lineup. Because of his speed and defense he doesn't need to hit a ton to be a contributor.
Greg Holland, RHP
Holland has always had the arm, the biggest question with Holland was whether he could improve his control and command. With his 13 saves and 81 strikeouts in 59 innings pitched he’s proven the latter. He still has to reduce his walks. However, Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore told me this week there is no doubt in his mind that Holland can be their closer for the rest of this year and going forward.
Chris Parmelee, OF
I remember scouting Parmelee out of Chino Hills (Calif.) High School back in 2006 when the Twins made him the 20th overall pick in the draft. There was no doubt that he was a prospect who should hit, the only question was with how much power? Six years later, he still hasn’t lived up to his potential. However, he could be turning the corner. The Twins' front office is considering trading outfielder Denard Span for starting pitching this offseason, which would mean Ben Revere could be moved to his natural position of center field and Parmelee would take over in right field. Parmelee has the Twins’ typical impeccable makeup and if his bat develops, he could become a .280 hitter with 15-20 home run power at the major league level.
Erasmo Ramirez, RHP
Ramirez has a clean delivery with a fastball that sits 91 to 95 mph. His changeup has been his best secondary pitch as opposing hitters are batting just .125 against it. His breaking ball still needs refinement, and he must get more downward plane and command of his fastball in the strike zone. He is a grinder and competitive and has shown the ability to be a back-of-the-rotation-type workhorse. His 5-foot-11, 210-pound frame is durable. Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told me that he will definitely be watching Ramirez, visibility that Ramirez will take advantage of.
Josh Rutledge, 2B
Rutledge was the Rockies' third-round selection in the 2010 draft. Just two years later -- after hitting .320 across three minor league stops -- he has a shot to be the long-term second baseman for the Rockies. He got his opportunity at shortstop because of Troy Tulowitzki’s injury and took advantage of it by hitting .304/.320/.531 in 53 games. He has shown the ability to go to his right and left with an average arm and his six stolen bases in six attempts. He has certainly caught the eye of manager Jim Tracy, and Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd told me they are anxious to see him play some second base after Tulowitzki returns and also said he has been impressed that Rutledge has not been intimidated at all. With Tulowitzki, catcher Wilin Rosario and center fielder Dexter Fowler, the Rockies have a strong future up the middle.
Strasburg was slowing down.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Wednesday night's game in New York is the "not" heard 'round the world: The game Stephen Strasburg would have been pitching if the Washington Nationals hadn't shut him down ahead of schedule due to his problems with "mentally concentrating," which the Nationals blame on the level of media attention over the team's plans to shut him down.
The Nationals have a strong lead in the NL East, so they are unlikely to miss his performance in one game, or for the rest of the regular season, very much. The larger issue surrounding Strasburg is the impact of losing him for the postseason. When the Nationals instituted their plan for Strasburg at the beginning of the season, it made a lot of sense for a young team with slim hopes of making the playoffs to protect one of their most valuable (and most fragile) players from injury. With the Nationals heavily favored to make the playoffs, though, some Nationals fans are likely to be disappointed if their team's ace isn't available for a single game of the postseason.
Clearly, the Nationals know that Strasburg is a better pitcher than whomever they will replace him with in the playoff rotation, just as everyone else does. However, the public is at a disadvantage when discussing a pitcher's condition, since teams simply know more about how he's doing than fans and the media do. Teams have scouts, trainers, doctors and even the player himself to shed light on how the pitcher's body is reacting to his workload.
It's difficult for anyone not affiliated with a major league team to get that sort of feedback on a player. The next best thing we can do is look at the pitches themselves to see if we notice anything that we may be able to link back to the pitcher's workload.
A look at the PITCHf/x data reveals that Strasburg's four-seam fastball (his primary pitch) has been steadily declining in velocity over the course of the season. The graph below charts his fastball velocity in each start relative to his average fastball speed for the season:
Strasburg's fastball velocity was gradually declining over the course of the season.
The data is noisy, but there's a definite trend there: According to the best-fit line, Strasburg has lost nearly a mile per hour off his four-seam fastball since the beginning of the season. Knowing this by itself doesn't tell us much of anything, without knowing about how other pitchers fare over the course of the season. This second graph shows the velocity of all starting pitchers over the course of the season relative to average fastball velocity:
If anything, the typical starting pitcher gains a little velocity as the season progresses.
The effect we see here is much less pronounced, but most pitchers actually gain speed over the course of the season. This finding holds up if we restrict our observations to players with above-average fastballs (average speed greater than 93 mph), as well. It also holds up if we restrict ourselves just to Nationals home games, suggesting that what we see in Strasburg is unlikely to be some systemic problem with velocity measurements in the PITCHf/x system.
So we know there was an unusual velocity loss in Strasburg's case; what we don't know is what the cause of that was. It is possible that this was due to a deliberate choice on the part of Strasburg. He may have been trying to ease off in order to help him pitch through the season longer. Or he may have been changing something else that reduced velocity as a side effect, perhaps in exchange for better command or better movement.
But the drop in velocity could also have been a sign of fatigue. It might not have been arm fatigue; it could have been fatigue in his legs or lower core. Fatigue would not necessarily mean Strasburg was hurt, of course. But according to athletic trainer and Baseball Prospectus author Corey Dawkins, pitching through fatigue "at maximal effort" is the primary cause of pitching injuries. Fatigue could also have led to changes in delivery as Strasburg tried to compensate for its effects, which would have increased his risk of injury.
Now, we don't know that Strasburg was fatigued, but we do know that the Nationals would have much more information to determine that than we do. What we can say is that we see something that may indicate fatigue, and that asking Strasburg to continue to pitch through that fatigue could have meant risking a reinjury.
The Nationals are giving up some likelihood of short-term gain to safeguard Strasburg's long-term health, which is a bizarrely forward-looking act in an industry so often concerned with the short term first. But the Nationals are a young team, and youth has its advantages when it comes to building up a run of sustained success; young teams are more likely to perform well in the future than older teams. If the Nationals have evidence that Strasburg is fatigued, that would seem to indicate that their concerns are quite prudent.