Drew Fairservice: August 2009 Archives

giantrock.JPGWhen the Rockies and Giants take the field at AT&T Park today, it will be the seventh time in less than 10 days the two wild card front runners have locked horns. Each one a close game with three runs the greatest margin for victory. The seven game mini-series featured two separate Tiny Tim v. You-bald-O pitching match ups straight from the inside of my dream-addled skull. After taking 3 of 4 in Colorado, placing the Wild Card in an early depth grip, the Giants won the first two of the return series back in SF.

Not only would a Giants win today give the light-hitting G-men a 4-3 edge in this recent set of tilts, the Giants will pull right up alongside the Rockies in the footrace for the Wild Card lead. With only three tete-a-tete games remaining, both teams need every opportunity to gain the upper hand if they can.

Games and series like this speak to something discussed over my way recently, expanding the playoffs further. I'm against it, as series like these Giants/Rockies games are very much "the playoffs." The Giants took 2 of 3 from the Diamondbacks mid-week to stay within shouting distance of the Boulders, increasing the leverage of this weekends battle simultaneously. Every game between now and the middle of September when the meet again serves the very same purpose. It's great, and what Bud had in mind when he gifted us the Wild Card in exchange for his mortal soul.

On top of the playoff implications, these games are great to watch. Two evenly matched teams playing tight baseball games in the cutesy way that is NL ball at its best. A pitching and defense rich team powered by a lovable fat man facing a deep team full of fundamentalists. It's what baseball's all about. Why not let them just go head-to-head for the rest of the month? Give the Dodgers the bye they think they've earned while letting the Padres and Snakes battle for which team survives the ultimate contraction I've got planned. Everybody wins!!

kazmir.jpgWord of Scott Kazmir moving from the Rays to the Angels grew from rumored to suspected to official last night, with two young minor leaguers and a Player to Be Named Later. A strange move for a team in the heat of a playoff race, even stranger considering Scott Kazmir's perception around baseball.

Kazmir spent the last few years as the Rays oft-injured ace, serving as the Opening Day starter in 2006 & 2007. As the key piece in the trade often used as exhibit 1A in the ongoing case "The People versus the Mets Braintrust." Obviously trading away a valuable young (cheap) option for player like Victor Zambrano is regrettable, but one nagging question remains: what, exactly, does Scott Kazmir offer?

Of his 5 full major league season, Kazmir posted one good year. One full, good year. His 2007 season featured 13 wins, 239 strikeouts and over 200 innings pitched. 2007 represents the last time Kazmir made more than 30 starts, and the last season his stuff could still be considered "electric."

After pitching his heart out for a terrible Rays team, everything went south for Kazmir. He missed the start of the 2008 season with injury, only to return with something missing. Namely, the zip on his pitches. During the Rays dash to the World Series, each Kazmir start became a endless slough of high pitch counts and bases on balls.

A few injury shortened years, a contact growing more and more exorbitant for the Rays' blood, the allure of potential and suddenly Kazmir isn't the guy traded for Victor Zambrano, he IS Victor Zambrano. A quickly aging arm with control and injury troubles who a deep-pocketed contender hopes will string together a few strong starts down the stretch. The Rays hope they can turn the same trick while quietly sliding a minor league talent in for a former ace without noticing much drop-off.

Diet Cokes to Daylife for the image and Rays Index for the link

nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. John Smoltz is the subject today, who made his triumphant return to the National League Sunday. Smoltz struggled through 8 starts in Boston until the former Cy Young winner was jettisoned following a particularly stinky outing against the Yankee juggernaut. That must be it, right? Close the book on his illustrious career, the old guy's lost it. Not so fast, Smoltz is far from done! While his traditional numbers are Julian Tavarez-ugly, his peripheral numbers were strong, in fact many of his secondary stats bare a striking resemblance to the Jered Weaver as pointed out by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.

Seeing how all the other, smarter writers have already chimed in on Smoltz and his 'comeback', I'll use John Smoltz's last two outings to demonstrate the value of spin measurements in Pitch F/x. The lasers used to track the location, speed, and position of each pitch event can be used for so much more! In addition to tracking your websurfing habits and eyes whenever a group of comely young co-eds pass by, the Pitch f/x science wagon is able to detail the spin direction and angle of each pitch. How? I couldn't even begin to tell you. Why? It really makes differentiating between pitches a breeze! Check out John Smoltz's mean 4 pitch mix after the jump!

angrymonkey.jpgNo matter how hard the baseball world tries to ignore the California Angels, they demand our attention. No matter how badly they start the year, no matter how overwhelming a tragedy they face, the Angels just keep coming. We've reached the point where we should concede this team is benefiting from divine interventions, concede they're a pious force to be reckoned with. Let's join together for 50 Hail Marys, hand the Halos the pennant, and move on to breakfast.

The Angels continue to defy expectations, defy math, defy logic, and defy physics, biology, and philosophy too. The "how do the Angels do it" topic grew quite hot around the nerdier ends of the blogosphere this week, with predictably hilarious results. Angels die-hards dismiss the numerical mumbo-jumbo as just that, demanding the SABRnerds wake up and take a look around the real world. The nerd herd scramble and shuffle their pages, eventually pointing out the Angels aren't quite as lucky as it seems. Jeff Passan suggests the Angels owe a deep measure of their success to keeping a strong core intact, augmenting it with the odd free agent or trade. Me, I'm somewhere in the middle.

Watching the Angels play can be a maddening experience. When your team beats them, it seems logical and inevitable. When they beat your team, you scratch your head and shout at the incompetent fools wearing your colors. There is no third scenario here because no single human alive actually likes the Angels. It's science.

The Angels run and run, putting pressure on the defense, goading you into errors. This works wonders against bad defensive teams, but doesn't seem to work so well in the playoffs where the good teams tend to hang out. As a team they perform frighteningly well in the clutch, which if you believe to be a repeatable skill gives weight to Passan's continuity theory. A group of players who thrive in high leverage situations stay together to continue overachieving together. It warms the heart while defying the odds. Impressive.

So the Angels keep on winning, they keep on running (26 steals for Bobby Abreu! He must wear special issue lead shoes into the field) and now they're scoring at a tidy league-leading clip. So tidy is the Angels offence, they could field an entire starting lineup of regulars with batting averages above or slightly below the .300 mark. The pitching staff is pretty weak behind Lackey & Weaver so the Angels better keep scoring runs.

The defenders of the faith get mighty defensive over the club's lack of respect, demanding all non-believers bow and genuflect before the mighty Scioscia while turning up their noses at the thought of the Toronto Blue Jays being a "better" team (which, by third order wins and third order wins only, they are. Suck it, rally monkey.) They make a good case for the little guy if you conveniently look past the $113 million dollar payroll, keeping them in Hunters, Abreus, and Fuentii while big money busts like Gary Mathews and Justin Speier brood in the background.

In the end, the Angels win baseball games. All day long we could go back and forth debating whether the math checks out versus the vagaries of a game played by humans. If I were an Angels fans, I'd be much more concerned with the paucity of pitching than aspersions cast by the cognoscenti.

newstretcher.JPGMore weekend Creampuff madness! A light week for those light in the loafers. Nary a contused testicle among them. Loafers indeed. Back in the Mick's day, you couldn't swing a hooker on Quaaludes without knocking over at least three guys playing through testicular torsion. Pantywaists.

  • David Wright, Mets: Yikes. The Mets just might set Wright down for the rest of the year after taking a fastball to the helmet. Head injuries are scary, stay away dreamboat.

  • Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgesr: Double yikes. Neck braces aren't cool. Can't they move the mound farther back or something? Kuroda is progressing well after his concussion, showing few if any signs of post-concussion problems. I wouldn't fault Hiroki one bit if he quit baseball to spend 23 hours a day in his room.

  • Jason Kubel, Fransisco Liriano, Twins: Kubel banged a ball off his knee while Franky Liriano's arm is pooped from carrying the weight of Minnesotans hopes and dreams since Johan left. Liriano is on the DL to rest his weary appendage while Kubel should take a couple days to contemplate shaving. Vote no, go full Klosterman!

  • All the Reds, Reds: Dusty borkened them all. Hide yer Vottos!

  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rangers: The loss of the Rangers starting catcher paved the way for Ivan Rodriquez's triumphant return to Texas. Like Jesus, but with more steroids. Salty is out with recurring numbness in his right hand, likely caused from signing his mile-long name too many times. THAT'S A LOT OF LETTERS, AMIRITE?

  • Jorge Cantu, Marlins: Jorge is out with stiffness in his neck, caused by the generous helping of scorn we've sent his way over the past two seasons. Our scorn followed him into the pool and held Jorge's head under water for a really, really long time. He kicked and thrashed, straining his neck in the process. He weaseled away because he's so sassy and also greasy. Jorge is day-to-day.

  • DeWayne Wise, White Sox: Wise injured his shoulder the only way he knows how: saving something perfect. This time he dove in front of A.J. Piezynski's fist as the caustic catcher swung wildly at old people on the street. Wise didn't want to see A.J.'s perfect streak of 15 minutes without doing something obnoxious come to an end. "Not on my watch" Wise said while laying prone on the concrete. Pierzynski then stole his watch and walked away. Jerk.

nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. We've looked a hangers and sliders and the like, but today we're looking at the heat. No more messing around with the pesky off-speed stuff, today is the straight goods. Just how straight are those goods anyway?

The four seam fastball is a staple pitch of 99% of all big league pitchers. As it is generally straight, it is best if thrown hard. The harder the better. TV radar guns light up with juiced numbers showing your friendly neighbourhood fireballer hitting triple digits. That doesn't make it a better pitch, but it sure makes for some fun. Not all major league pitchers touch the century mark, but nearly all have to throw the fastball at one time or another.

After the jump you'll see "analysis" of two of baseball fastball darlings: Justin Verlander and Neftali Feliz with something of a control in Adam Wainwright. Wainwright's fastball ranks as one of least effective pitches in baseball though he's one of the best pitchers in the National League. Neftali Feliz has only been in the majors for a few weeks but he is making believers of anyone who watches. His fastball is consistently clocked above 100 to go with a devastating slider. Verlander pounded the Red Sox into submission in his last start, touching 100 on the tough-to-impress Pitch F/X gun in addition to the collected scouts and analysts. He threw his fastball nearly 65% of the time to great success, and you'll see why after the jump!

All in the Family

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A pretty cool news item came out of a seemingly innocent rehab start made by Tim Hudson this week. Teammates Adam LaRoche and Brian McCann, who through Spring Training, the World Baseball Classic, and the regular season likely take in 200+ games a year, sat in the front row of their teammate's start for AAA Gwinnett. It's admirable that they take care of each other and want to support their ailing friend.

While I'm not quite sure of this is the blogging equivalent, we at Walkoff Walk would be remiss were we not to give a shout out to our friend, commenter, twitter master, tumblrer, tipster, Heist-attender, and all around good guy Matt_T from Atlanta. Matt came home last night to find his home badly damaged in a fire.

I can't even image what that might feel like, but I know it wouldn't be good. All our thoughts are with our friend Matt (who's okay, we understand) and hopefully he can get back on his feet in no time. I'm sure we've all got some Braves merchandise, Mastadon tshirts, and Hold Steady records kicking around to help rebuild your collection. Chin chin, friend.

Turner Field image courtesy of Catalyst Space

basewars.jpgTry as I might, I can't shake the good-natured ignorance of exploding things that travel great distances. No, I'm not talking about the Mets current West Coast swing, I'm referencing the glorious Hit Tracker Online site and their Golden Sledgehammer list.

Some interesting names populate the list, currently topped by Nelson Cruz of the Rangers. Albert Pujols and his chuckle stick sit 4th in a virtual tie with the injured Torii Hunter and Toronto's Lyle Overbay. Lyle Overbay? The mild-mannered first baseman with the slick glove and splits so unsightly he's platooned? Overbay only has 12 dingers but his spray chart shows most are hit to centerfield.

The Golden Sledgehammer ranks sluggers based on the average standard distance of their home runs. What is standard distance, you ask? Allow the good people at Hit Tracker to inform and entertain:

The estimated distance in feet the home run would have traveled if it flew uninterrupted all the way down to field level, and if the home run had been hit with no wind, in 70 degree air at sea level. Standard distance factors out the influence of wind, temperature and altitude

For an avowed nerd like myself, this is cat nip. This is the US Weekly of baseball stat nerding. Considering all the revolutionary technology headed for the baseball world, this type of "reporting" will only improve. Just as the baseball world buzzedwithasmallB over Justin Verlander touching 100 on the real (not TV underlined) radar gun at Fenway this week, big massive home runs with crazy bat speeds gets the geek blood racing like only a flight of stairs can.

What will all this mean for the future? Will a long drive baseball tour sprout up, touring the county fairs of the nation with over-sized roid monkeys pounding dingers into corn fields two towns over? Hardly. Hit Tracker is just like all over modern baseball tool: a good and fair way to evaluate two events in context.

There is one other place you'll see many of these same names together: the bottom of the contact rate leaderboard. Aside from E.T. Pujols (86.3%) and Overbay (81.6%) these sluggers all contact fewer than 70% of the pitches they swing for (Overbay, with only 12 home runs, had better be putting the ball in play.) And that is quite all right.

We discussed strikeout bias a few weeks ago, nothing's changed since. If you'd like to employ Nelson Cruz or Mark Reynolds and ask them to be a doll and move the runner over, you be my guest. If it was me, I'd be sitting in the dugout furious trying to remember which sign means "hit it a mile."

liveglog.jpgRob really wanted to do a vacation liveglog, there are only so Guido Beach quotes one can take. Instead we'll tackle Albert Pujols engineering the Schaudenfraude Express right into Citifield!

How about some lineups?

Cardinals
  1. J. Lugo ss
  2. M. DeRosa 3b
  3. A. Pujols 1b
  4. M. Holliday lf
  5. R. Ludwick rf
  6. R. Ankiel cf
  7. Y. Molina c
  8. J. Thurston 2b
  9. K. Lohse p
Mets
  1. A. Pagan cf
  2. A. Cora 2b
  3. D. Wright 3b
  4. G. Sheffield lf
  5. D. Murphy 1b
  6. J. Francoeur rf
  7. B. Schneider c
  8. A. Berroa ss
  9. J. Niese p

Thoughts on the lineups? The Cards hit the pitcher ninth today, how avant garde. The Mets let Jeff Francoeur continue to hit. How novel. Frenchy has knocked three tater tots in the last few weeks, though he's hitting a sad little .204 over that stretch.

Today's starters are mighty Kyle Lohse and young Jon Niese. What's going to happen? Find out after the jump!

3strikesyrout.jpgLast night Evan Longoria struck out 4 times. Four! Terrible. Joe Morgan must be rolling over in his booth. How dare he selfishly hack away while his team is behind...what's that? Evan Longoria hit both the game-tying AND game-winning home runs last night? When asked about it post-game, Longoria offered a resounding "meh"

I guess when you hit homers, people don't remember that you struck out four times

This is well trod ground, but strikeouts are no longer such a big deal. Longoria laughed it off during a post game interview, but he speaks the truth. If you were to peruse the list of main strikeout offenders you'd find some of the best players in baseball. The top four Kmen in baseball combine for 102 home runs with an average OPS of .902. Would you like those fine fellows on your team? I assume you would. Keep looking down the list and you'll see some of the best all-around players in baseball. Justin Upton, Evan Longoria, Matt Kemp, David Wright, Jayson Werth all post big numbers in spite of their strikeout proclivity.

Mark Reynolds, owner of the single season strikeout record, leads the way again this season with 146. That's a lot, but he's also hit 7 home runs in his last 8 games. Add his 20 steals in this year and you have a valuable player with a gaudy stat line.

We must all be in this together. If the local slugger strikes out in a key situation, we will not boo. We will applaud his attempt to earn his check the right way, by socking some dingers! We can band together to support our Three True Outcome brothers in their time of need, the numerous times they walk back to the dugout with their head held low. Solidarity K!

nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. Last week we looked at the system and its ability to determine balls and strikes. This week we'll look at every batter's dream: the hanging slider.

We've all heard of the dreaded hanging slider. We've all seen a pitcher unleash a spinner at the exact wrong moment and we've all watched pitchers react the same way to it. Generally they respond by: a) Jerking their head around to follow the intense trajectory or b) hanging their head, knowing the ball's fate long before it lands. When a pitch uncorks a hanger, all of us watching on TV know it, the pitcher knows it, and the batter knows it too.

To hang a pitch isn't a death sentence in and of itself. A poorly executed pitch in a good location is escapable. A well-executed pitch in a poor location can go either way, the pitcher gets away with it or the batter makes a good swing at the right time. Sometimes a bad pitch in a bad spot is missed, often resulting in a series of desultory curse words and assorted bat punching.

The focus of this week's Kicking and Screaming is the man that threw one of the most famous hanging sliders of all time, Brad Lidge. The slider that Lidge served to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS is currently the subject of a popular HBO drama. Pujols hit it a mile in and Lidge needed two years to recover (so they say or I assume.) Last year Brad Lidge bounced back with a perfect year, saving every game presented to him and earning himself a World Series ring. 2009 hasn't been quite as smooth with Lidge spending time on the DL and struggling through much of the early season. Since returning from the injured list Lidge as pitched better, a few bad outings overshadowing some solid relief pitching. After the jump we'll look at his slider and why location matters just as much as tight spin and big break.

fat-cat.jpgThis past offseason I penned a piece here on Walkoff Walk highlighting some fine young left-handed pitchers figuring to feature prominently in some mid-level teams successes. It turned out to be slightly prophetic as nearly all the players are making significant strides and contributions. The future is certainly bright for this collection of arms.

The future is now for the Yankees and White Sox and their match up this afternoon highlights a pair of southpaws who are much richer, plumper, and more successful than their lithe counterparts. Mark Buehrle and CC Sabathia are scheduled to do battle in the middle of America, each representing a high payroll contender in prime playoff position.

Mark Buehrle, fresh off 15 innings of untouchable brilliance, will take the hill for the second place Pale Hose. Buehrle is having another fine season, notching 11 wins while putting up the same consistent peripherals he always does. A FIP around 4, tones of ground balls, few strikeouts and fewer walks. His career numbers against the Yankees are quite poor though he is yet to face the Bronx Bombers this season.

The Sox are only 1.5 games behind the division leading Tigers with their focus squarely on this season. Having just traded two of their lithe lefties Aaron Poreda and Clayton Richard to the Padres for reluctant American Leaguer Jake Peavy

Big giant pinstripe enthusiast CC Sabathia is putting together a comparable season to Buehrle though with a different brand of fanfair. The differences between this year and last likely serve as a clear warning to Jake Peavy: the AL is different. Though Sabathia is an experienced American Leaguer, his numbers are markedly different from 2008 to 2009. He's dropped nearly 2 full strikeouts per nine innings with a slight uptick in his walk rate. To his credit, his numbers at the homer-happy Yankee Stadium show he's not only surviving, he's doing quite well, thank you very much. A vet of the AL Central wars, Sabathia dominates at U.S. Cellular; posting a 7-1 record with a microscopic 1.04 WHIP.

The other big difference between these two husky lefties and their lithe counterparts: price. Each man is scheduled to earn $14 million bucks this season, with Sabathia leaping to 23 per next year. League minimum earning bonus babies are good business and good fun, but sometimes you need to send a big, fat, rich guy to do your dirty work. Consider me excited.

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Saturday night was a special night for the Oakland A's and their dozens of fans. The A's retired local hero and recently minted Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson's number 24 in front of a sell out crowd, only their fourth of the season. While it wasn't the (fun-spongingly) humble and earnest number Rickey delivered in Cooperstown (full text and video links here) it did include some excellent self-deprecating humour.

First Rickey extended a gracious thank you to the great fans of Oakland for agreeing to lay down their arms 3 hours a night and enjoy one of the most exciting players of all time:

Most of all ... thanks to you, the fans. This is not just my day. This is you, the fans' day. ... You have shouted out, 'Run, Rickey. Run.' I need your help. Say it one more time.

After the crowd quickly and loudly indulged one final "Run Rickey, Run" chant, Ricky Henderson put on his comedy cap and took a few good natured jabs at his own persona:

"Rickey has tears in his eyes. Rickey has love in his heart for you," Henderson said. "Rickey is so very, very, very humbled."

Amazing. Many former teammates including Bob Welch, Dave Stewart, and Jesse Barfield, a former Blue Jays player and Yankee teammate of Rickey's hilariously wearing two jerseys at once in a lame attempt to remind fans why he was on the field, were all on hand to acknowledge the former A's great.

And great he was. I don't think anyone needs to be reminded of Rickey's greatness, but for posterity's sake I will note that Rickey's career on base percentage is over .400, his career OPS is more than .800, he stole a million bases and ended up with a .386 career wOBA. Career numbers made even more impressive if you're able to ignore the three years too many he hung around at the end while remembering he sustained these numbers over 20+ seasons.

So congrats to you Rickey Henderson, congratulations on making the transition from universally loathed me-first weirdo to transcendent baseball talent and good-natured eccentric. Here's hoping you're on hand in Cooperstown when a very similar player finally gets his call.

Image courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle.

newstretcher.JPGOne day late but these Dudes are getting Creampuffed all the same. If you plan on taking two long weeks away from baseball, you don't let the weekend stop you.

  • Erik Bedard, Mariners: We should just face facts and change this feature to "What's Up, Creampuff: Dudes That Got Hurt in Addition to Erik Bedard." Bedard came back off the list, made one aborted start, and jumped back onto the list. His shoulder is the culprit but the real casualty is his flagging trade value. Free agency may just fray his labrum even further.

  • Nate Schierhotlz, Giants: Another week, another wall banger on the Creampuff list. Schierholtz crashed into a chainlink outfield fence, bruising his hip causing internal bleeding! That must just be a fancy way of saying bad bruise, but I think he should retire anyway. Ruptured spleens can only be around the corner.

  • Ian Kinsler, Rangers: The studly second sacker is day-to-day with strained hamstrings suffered earlier this week. Based on the Ranger's financial strife, I think he may have strained his purse strings! AMIRITE?

  • Jeff Suppan, Brewers: The Year of the Oblique strikes again! This time the Brewers Opening Day starter feels the wrath of side pain. The Brewers are on the periphery of the Wild Card and NL Central races so losing Suppan can only help their case.

  • Brett Gardner, Yankees: The Yankees are one of the oldest and slowest teams in baseball, so being known as "the fastest Yankee" is akin to being "the most trusted Mets beat writer" or "assistant to the head meter-reader in Phenom Phenh. With Brett Gardner out with a broken thumb, the position is up for grabs! I predict a 3 heat run off between Hideki Matsui and Yogi Berra, the winner gets to keep the other's mountainous porn collection.

  • Scott Rolen, Reds: Raped in the cab of a dump truck by a Wallaby.

  • LaTroy Hawkins, Astros: SHINGLES. Hawkins isn't the only Astropuff but he's certainly the only one with shingles. No wonder Roy Halladay vetoed a trade to the state of Texas; it's the pitcher illness epicenter of the United States. Nobody wants to see their ace go down with Typhoid.