2013 NL Central: Underwhelming

It’s a brand new season and I couldn’t be more excited.

Disclaimer: My household is “mixed”. I was raised a Cubs’ fan (although I would describe myself as a baseball fan first and Cubs’ fan second) and my wife is a (born-again) Cardinals’ fan.  After seeing an ad in SI for new Directv subscribers getting MLB Extra Innings included for free this season, well… Goodbye, Comcast. (We’re also saving $70 a month in cable bills, which ain’t too shabby.)

That being said, I’m no longer beholden to just being able to watch games that are local to the Chicago market and with the offerings here, that’s quite a relief.

While I did watch the Cubs’ Opening Day win against the Pirates, the last 3 nights have afforded me the chance to watch Matt Moore and the Rays shut down the Tribe, a couple of Cardinals games against the Giants, Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers befuddle the Bucs, and a late one last night catching up on the Brewers’ 11-inning loss to the D-Backs.

One thing I was really thinking about after having watched some of these other teams is the presence of real “shut-down” guys like Moore and Kershaw. These are pitchers that you can pretty well depend on to put an end to a losing streak. Night in, night out, there’re a solid bet to give you 7 innings and 2 runs or fewer allowed.

Then I got to thinking about the NL Central and asked myself “Who are the guys here that are like that? Is there anybody?”

I had trouble coming up with anyone.

You read the sections in SI’s Baseball Preview Issue where “A Rival Scout” sizes up the team and you routinely see things about some guy that’s the #2 or 3 pitcher on some team’s staff “would be the ace on 10 teams in the league”.

I think that’s a disservice to the term “ace”.

More than anything, I think that it’s a statement on how shoddy the pitching staffs are on some teams around the league. It might be more accurate to say “This guy would be the Opening Day pitcher for 10 teams around the league”, but if he were on a competitive team he’d be a #2 or 3.

That being said, here’s some thoughts on NL Central teams after one week of play…

Cincinnati Reds (4-2, 1 Game Ahead, Offense: 2nd, Defense: 6th)

It’s early, but things are pretty much shaping up as expected so far in the division. The Reds and Cardinals were expected by most to be the contenders, the Brewers in the middle of the pack, and the Pirates and Cubs battling for last place.

The Reds are the one team I haven’t yet had a chance to check out this season, but I plan to tune in to every game of their series that starts up today against the Redbirds.

St. Louis Cardinals (3-3, 1 Game Back, Offense: 4th, Defense: 8th)

Not sure what to make of this team just yet. First off, I got tired of looking at the Cards’ every off-season and thinking “this looks like a .500 team – at BEST” and then watching them rattle off another division title, so I’m just picking them to win the division every year for the rest of my life, regardless of how they look.

I know they’ve got some real promising youngsters who are either on the team already (like some of their pitchers) or will be soon. I can only imagine Oscar Tavares is just a Carlos Beltran injury away from getting called up.

I’m sure when the dust settles, they’ll be right up there at the top again, but I’m very curious to see how they pair up against Cincy this week.

That 9-run inning against the Giants yesterday was certainly a positive thing, though.

If Pete Kozma bats .300 all year, then maybe there’s some sort of Faustian bargain going on here… Keep an eye on that.

Chicago Cubs (2-4, 2 Games Back, Offense: 14th, Defense: 7th)

The Cubs took 2 of 3 against the Pirates to start the season and then laid a turd while getting swept by the Braves, mercifully losing “closer” Carlos Marmol in the process.

Jeff Samardzija is probably the only reason I would tune in to watch this team right now, although if I were a scout, I’d certainly tune in to watch and see if Scott Feldman or Carlos Villanueva will carry any trade value.  Ditto for Matt Garza if/when he comes back.

Anthony Rizzo’s swing looks a little out of control right now, but when he connects he’s gonna’ clobber it.

Samardzija looked awful in the first inning of Opening Day – unable to get ahead in the count and working out of jams, but he escaped, turned it around and had a solid day for himself, which is encouraging.

One thing I thought went unappreciated on Opening Day was Starlin Castro’s defense at short. He had 3 or 4 plays where he had to range into the whole to get to the ball and he came up with nice, steady, smooth, controlled, (more adjectives) throws over to first to get the batter. No panic there.

Pittsburgh Pirates (1-5, 3 Games Back, Offense: 15th, Defense: 2nd)

If I were a Pirates’ fan, I think Pedro Alvarez would drive me nuts.

He looks more like a fullback than a ball player. I know he can drive the ball out of the park on any given swing, but he’s off to another fabulous 2-for-22 start and his splits against southpaws are just horrendous.

A lifetime triple-slash line of 206/277/348 against LHP versus 246/320/450 against RHP. The latter is nothing to write home about, but the former is enough for me think I’d leave this guy on the bench when a lefty is starting.

Come to think of it, my patience in using him against righties would also be wearing thin right about now.

On the plus side, through 2 starts A.J. Burnett has looked pretty awesome. 19 K in 11 IP and 2 losses to show for it thanks to match-ups against Smardzija and Kershaw.  Sell high, Pirates!

Milwaukee Brewers (1-5, 3 Games Back, Offense: 8th, Defense: 13th)

Yovani Gallardo fits my notes above about an “ace” versus a “#1″. He’s the latter.

I watched him against Arizona on Sunday and thought “This is their stud?”

He had a few moments where he was solid, but overall I’m just not seeing the kind of dominant, “puts guys away” stuff that I’d like to see from my #1 pitcher.

Maybe he turns it around…

Brewers’ broadcasters went on and on about Logan Schafer’s terrific outfield play, but every time I saw a fly ball hit his way in left field I saw a guy who took a bad approach to the ball.

He looked utterly spastic and reminded me a bit of what a newborn horse looks like trying to walk for the first time.

Granted he had a nice throw to the plate on a double play fly out, but… I’m not impressed.

He also looked pretty lost at the plate in the handful of ABs I got to catch.  Maybe it was just a bad night.

They get the chance to right the ship and end a 5-game losing streak with a series against the Cubs to start out the week here.

Their week ended by being forced to use Kyle Lohse as a pinch-hitter against Heath Bell and I’m sure the team is eager to erase that memory as soon as possible.

On the Sophomore Jinx

From Tom Verducci’s column “Washington’s Monument” in this week’s Sports Illustrated:

“Of the 32 pitchers and 47 position players who received Rookie of the Year Award votes from 2007 to ’11, 59 had a worse ERA or OPS in their follow-up act – a 74% attrition rate.”

But so what? In order to receive ROY votes, you need to have had a phenomenal, better-than-ordinary season.

Do you know what usually happens after a great player has a great season?

They regress!  Sometimes a little.  Sometimes a lot.  When you’ve had good enough numbers to receive a 1st place vote for the ROY Award, it’s likely that you just had a season in which you put up really great numbers.  Really great numbers are also really difficult to repeat year in, year out.

To be honest, while looking at the sentence in Verducci’s column that seemed to state support of the sophomore jinx, I was left thinking “74% attrition rate? That’s all? I would’ve guessed higher.”

Never mind that OPS and ERA are not the greatest barometers for success. Let’s stick with Verducci’s stats and see what happened with MVP and Cy Young vote-getters from the same time period.

I’m considering all non-pitchers who received 1st place MVP votes and all pitchers who received 1st place Cy Young votes from 2007 to ’11 and then seeing if they dropped off in OPS or ERA the following year.

A couple of notes:

1. I’m excluding Brandon Webb from the ERA tally the year following his 1st place votes for Cy Young because he made just one appearance the following season.  We’ll leave his 13.50 ERA out of this.

2. In the case of a couple pitchers who were traded between leagues (Sabathia, Lee), I am including their complete stats for the season, not just their NL (or AL) numbers.

For the more Sabermetrically inclined, I’ve also included WARb.

+ denotes that a player improved in this category the following year
– denotes that a player declined in this category the following year
* denotes that I am disqualifying the rate statistic due to lack of 125 PA or 50 IP in the following season

2011 AL Jacoby Ellsbury 928 682 - 8.0 0.8 -
2011 AL Jose Bautista 1056 886 - 7.7 3.2 -
2011 AL Curtis Granderson 916 811 - 5.3 2.7 -
2011 AL Miguel Cabrera 1033 999 - 7.3 6.9 -
2011 AL Michael Young 854 682 - 2.1 -2.4 -
2011 NL Ryan Braun 994 987 - 7.7 6.8 -
2011 NL Matt Kemp 986 906 - 7.8 2.3 -
2011 NL Prince Fielder 981 940 - 4.3 4.4 +
2011 NL Justin Upton 898 785 - 5.7 2.1 -
2010 AL Josh Hamilton 1044 882 - 8.4 3.5 -
2010 AL Miguel Cabrera 1042 1033 - 6.1 7.3 +
2010 AL Jose Bautista 995 1056 + 6.6 7.7 +
2010 NL Joey Votto 1024 947 - 6.7 6.2 -
2010 NL Albert Pujols 1011 906 - 7.3 5.1 -
2009 AL Joe Mauer 1031 871 - 7.6 5.5 -
2009 AL Miguel Cabrera 942 1042 + 4.7 6.6 +
2009 NL Albert Pujols 1101 1011 - 9.4 7.3 -
2008 AL Dustin Pedroia 869 819 - 6.8 5.5 -
2008 AL Justin Morneau 873 878 + 3.9 3.2 -
2008 AL Kevin Youkilis 958 961 + 6.0 6.3 +
2008 AL Joe Mauer 864 1031 + 5.3 7.6 +
2008 NL Albert Pujols 1114 1101 - 9.0 9.4 +
2008 NL Ryan Howard 881 931 + 1.5 3.5 +
2007 AL Alex Rodriguez 1067 965 - 9.2 6.5 -
2007 AL Magglio Ordonez 1029 869 - 6.9 1.8 -
2007 NL Jimmy Rollins 875 786 - 6.0 5.3 -
2007 NL Matt Holliday 1012 947 - 5.8 5.6 -
2007 NL Prince Fielder 1013 879 - 3.4 1.3 -
2011 AL Justin Verlander 2.40 2.64 - 8.3 7.6 -
2011 NL Clayton Kershaw 2.28 2.53 - 6.3 6.2 -
2011 NL Roy Halladay 2.35 4.49 - 8.5 0.7 -
2011 NL Ian Kennedy 2.88 4.02 - 4.7 2.1 -
2010 AL Felix Hernandez 2.27 3.47 - 6.8 3.4 -
2010 AL David Price 2.72 3.49 + 4.4 2.4 -
2010 AL CC Sabathia 3.18 3.00 + 4.4 7.0 +
2010 NL Roy Halladay 2.44 2.35 + 8.3 8.5 +
2009 AL Zach Greinke 2.16 4.17 - 10.1 3.2 -
2009 AL Felix Hernandez 2.49 2.27 + 5.6 6.8 +
2009 AL Justin Verlander 3.45 3.37 + 5.2 4.1 -
2009 NL Tim Lincecum 2.48 3.43 - 7.1 3.0 -
2009 NL Chris Carpenter 2.24 3.22 - 6.3 2.7 -
2009 NL Adam Wainwright 2.63 2.42 + 6.0 5.9 -
2008 AL Cliff Lee 2.54 3.22 + 6.5 4.1 -
2008 AL Roy Halladay 2.78 2.79 - 5.9 6.6 +
2008 NL Tim Lincecum 2.62 2.48 + 7.6 7.1 -
2008 NL Brandon Webb 3.30 **** 5.4 -0.2 -
2008 NL Johan Santana 2.53 3.13 - 6.9 3.1 -
2008 NL CC Sabathia 2.70 3.37 - 6.4 5.9 -
2007 AL CC Sabathia 3.21 2.70 + 6.0 6.4 +
2007 AL Josh Beckett 3.27 4.03 - 6.2 3.1 -
2007 AL John Lackey 3.01 3.75 - 6.0 3.3 -
2007 NL Jake Peavy 2.54 2.85 - 5.9 3.8 -

Well will you look at that!  All this time we’ve been concerned with the sophomore jinx when what we should have been concerned with was the more general “Year After Being Considered for a Major Award Jinx!”

Okay, not really…

To summarize:

* Hitters who did not receive 1st place votes the year after receiving 1st place votes for MVP – 23 of 28, 82% attrition rate
* Hitters whose OPS tailed off the year following 1st place votes for MVP – 22 of 28, 79% attrition rate
* Hitters whose WAR tailed off the year following 1st place votes for MVP – 20 of 28, 71% attrition rate

* Pitchers who did not receive 1st place votes the year after receiving 1st place votes for Cy Young – 20 of 24, 83% attrition rate
* Pitchers whose ERA tailed off the year following 1st place votes for Cy Young – 14 of 23, 61% attrition rate
* Pitchers whose WAR tailed off the year following 1st place votes for Cy Young – 19 of 24, 79% attrition rate

Do you know why players who receive Rookie of the Year Award votes have numbers that drop off the following season?

For the exact same reason that players who received 1st place MVP and Cy Young Award votes have numbers that drop off the following season.

The answer?  Because players who receive those votes have put up phenomenal numbers that season and phenomenal numbers are – by their nature – incredibly difficult to improve upon.

While I haven’t done it, I’m fairly certain that you could also see similar attrition rates among guys who were the HR leaders each season and guys who won MVP Awards in the NBA

I’ll even bet that the attrition rate of folks who had previously set a world record in the 100 meter dash is fairly high.

Exceptional performances are exceptional because they are rare and extremely difficult to achieve, let alone improve upon from one season to the next.

This is not evidence of a jinx of any sort. There is no sophomore jinx. There is no “year after” curse associated with awards. It’s all to be expected.

It’s hard to improve upon what was already amazing.

Hall of Fame 2013 Shutout

I favor a “Small Hall”, so from that standpoint I’m not entirely disappointed to see nobody added to the Hall of Fame this year.

But the idea that some holier-than-thou blowhard believes we  should be punishing players who were the best of the “Steroid Era” seems somewhat ridiculous to me.

“If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’,” goes the saying.

Any half-assed student of baseball history knows that cheating in baseball is as old as the game itself. The Hall is already littered with player who cheated. It is full of players who were less than morally upright.

We should punish a player who used steroids (or allegedly used) but it’s okay that there are players in the Hall who used amphetamines, doctored balls, or never had to compete in the post-integration era?

On that latter point, I feel like we’ve already accepted that, yes, it was obviously reprehensible to keep blacks out of baseball.  Guys like Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, Wagner, and Lajoie, while great players, never had to play against that portion of the baseball-playing American population.  But we look over it and say that they were the best players in an era in which no blacks were allowed to play professional baseball.

Why can’t we also agree that guys like Bonds were the best to play in an era in which their was rampant steroid use?

The argument that we should ignore guys like Bonds because their offensive numbers were inflated during the era is patently ridiculous.

We already adjust for historical era when we consider the feats of other players.  There have been prior eras of increased offensive production and others of decreased offensive production and we take those things into account already.  An ERA of 2.25 is quite different if a pitcher threw in the 2003 National League (4.6 runs scored per game) versus 1963 (3.8 runs per game).  Voters should be smart enough to take that into account and I don’t see why this is any different.  You don’t need a degree in advanced mathematics to know that a guy who popped 40 HR a season during the steroid era is not the same as a guy who hit 40 a season during the 1960s.  But maybe you could answer for yourself what the equivalent is – is 60 HR a season during the late ’90s equivalent to 40 a season during the late ’60s?

To go along with that, it’s not as though we don’t have pitchers from the era who we don’t consider to have been pretty lights out in an offensive era.  Pedro, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Clemens, Randy Johnson.  It was an offensive era, of course.  The numbers don’t lie – runs per game were up.  But there were also plenty of star pitchers.

By the way, this is not to argue that there was no juicing.  Of course there was.  But one should also keep in mind how many new stadiums went up during that era and how many of those new parks had smaller dimensions than those that preceded them.  Fences were brought in.  Foul territories were shrunk in order to bring fans closer to the field, a la relics like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.  These impact scoring.  I haven’t seen a good chart showing all new stadiums that went up in the 90s and comparing them to fields that came before, but that might be an interesting thing to see.  Maybe I’ll get to that…

Also, Jonah Keri nailed it when he wrote that we need to overhaul the system.  It’s a good read and worth checking out.  The idea that there are people out there who are voting for this who look at nothing more than the Triple Crown numbers (AVG/HR/RBI for batters; W/ERA/K for pitchers) is a little upsetting to me. It’s 2013.  You should be voting on the overall skills of a ballplayer, not on the numbers that are used for traditional 4×4 Rotisserie leagues.

Cards / Nationals – Game 5 Strategic Brainfart

Wanted to bring up a point from last night’s Cards / Nationals game that I didn’t recall hearing either Bob Brenly or the constantly befuddled Dick Stockton call attention to on the TBS broadcast.

First off, I think we can all agree that at some point Nationals’ closer Drew Storen decided he was going to devote more of his attention towards the ump than towards the Cardinal batters.

During David Freese’s at bat in the top of the 9th, Storen thought he had gotten him on a checked swing and then on a pitch off the plate.

In both cases, the ump appeared to have gotten the call right.

Never mind that.

What struck me as unfortunate for the Nats and their fans is that there was no reason to not get into the bottom of the 9th with the score tied 7-7.

With the score still knotted up, the Cardinals had two out, men on 2nd & 3rd and Pete Kozma at the plate.

We know that at this point the only player left on the bench was backup catcher Tony Cruz, who was definitely coming into the game in the bottom of the inning because starting catcher Yadier Molina had been lifted in favor of pinch-runner Adron Chambers.

Due up after Kozma was Cardinals closer Jason Motte, who had already thrown the bottom of the 8th.

Now…  I know Motte was originally a position player before he became a relief pitcher.

But that’s because he couldn’t hit.

And he was also 0-0 in 0 plate appearances in 2012.

Not to say that he doesn’t take some batting practice during the season, but I’m pretty sure the sound decision here would have been to intentionally walk Kozma with 1st base open and force the Cardinals’ hand.

This would have forced manager Mike Matheny into doing one of two things.  With the bases loaded, two outs, and a tie score in the top of the 9th, Matheny could have either:

  • Left Motte to bat (most likely to make a 3rd out) so that he could still use him in the bottom of the inning.  If Motte could hold the Nats down in the 9th, the good news is that St. Louis would have had the top of the order due up in the 10th inning.
  • Used Cruz to pinch-hit and go for the win right then and there.  The bad news there is that Motte was already the Cards’ 5th relief pitcher of the game, which would have forced them to go to their back end bullpen guys down the stretch.

Either way seems like a better option for the Nats than taking your chances with Kozma.  Either you force the Cards to play for extra innings and you get a chance to win it in the bottom of the 9th -or- you force the Cards to remove the last effective relief pitcher that they have available to them, boosting your chances of winning in the bottom of the 9th and giving you an advantage over extra innings.

I didn’t used to like Davey Johnson, but after reading a piece in SI on him this week and seeing what he had to go through with his daughter…  well that’s a horrible thing to have to go through.  And finally getting to know about him a bit, I kinda’ like the guy now.

But I think that was a blunder on his part last night.

There is no guarantee that the Cards wouldn’t have still gotten ahead in the 9th.  There’s no guarantee that if the score remained tied headed into the bottom of the inning that the Nats would’ve won.

I’m just saying that sure seemed like an ideal situation to use strategy that would’ve enabled your team to live to fight another day inning.

Defending the Elderly

This is more the sort of thing that appears in the comments section of an article, but here comes the part where I lose all the respect of those who enjoy advanced statistics.

Let me preface by saying that I, myself, enjoy sabermetric stats.  I get them.  I’ve read books on them.  I subscribe to analytic web sites.  I have gone to conferences.  And I get the negativity that surrounds some stats.  RBI and W-L record, for starters.

But I also sometimes wonder if the people who shun those statistics have ever actually played baseball or if they just watch a lot of it.

That sounds condescending, I know.  I’m not saying that played anything resembling professional baseball.  I played a little college ball at a school that doesn’t have a real college team.  (Full disclosure there.  We don’t want another Skip Bayless incident.)  I played in a league for a few years in my late 20s/early 30s that was described as a “semi-pro” level of play.  Teams were allowed to have a couple guys on their roster who had professional experience.  Again, not MLB.

I was a (bad) pitcher.  But I just have to say that those experiences really shaped me and, rational or not, I cannot completely ignore stats like W-L record and RBI.

Look, obviously those statistics are shaped by the team around you.  I understand the problems.  A guy who’s a middling pitcher could go 8-12 for a bad team but 14-6 for a great team.  A guy who’s a middling hitter could have 50 RBI but if you put some great OBP guys in front of him he might be more like a 75 RBI guy.  Those stats can lie to you.

But all stats lie.

There is something to being able to rack up wins even if you don’t have your best stuff.  I don’t know how to define it, but when you hear old ballplayers talk about it, I think you have to give them some credit.  Some days you know runs are going to be hard to come by and you’re going to have to try and pick up that 2-1 win.  Other days you know it’s going to be a slugfest and you feel blessed to give up 5 ER in 6 IP of work.  You keep your team in the game.

There’s that adage about “pitching to the score” and I think there’s something to it.  Everyday you hear a manager go apeshit because his team is up by 4 runs and yet a guy is trying to put batters away with breaking stuff on a full count instead of just going after them.

I just read this article, for example.  I think the author got it wrong, however.  He says that there’s no evidence that Verlander “pitches to the score” by looking at his pitch selection in full count situations.  He notes that his choice of fastball is 83% in full count situations but only goes up to 94% when his team is up by 4 runs or more.

A couple problems there.  First off, it might be better to point out the difference is 94% FB selection when up by 4 or more runs versus 81% when NOT up by 4 or more.

But the author might note, hey, that’s only a 16% increase.

Okay, let’s flip it.  He’s using something other than a fastball in only 6% of his pitches as opposed to 19%.

So, in other words, in a full count situation, Verlander is 317% more likely to use a non-fastball when involved in a close game than when he’s pitching with a lead of 4 or more runs.

All of a sudden, it starts to look to me like he’s pitching to the score.

Am I abusing the numbers?  Maybe.

Baseball Prospectus took on the topic a few years back.  But I’m not sure I agree with their premise.

If a pitcher really “pitches to the score” – thus allowing fewer runs in close games than in games in which he is granted a large lead – his won-loss record should be better than the record projected for the average pitcher with that pitcher’s runs allowed and run support totals. That pitcher’s career should show a pattern of him winning more games than we would expect. And, of course, the opposite should be true for a pitcher who allows more runs in close games than in blowouts.

I’d think a better way to study whether or not pitchers really pitch to the score is to look at their W-L % based on runs of support they are receiving.  You’d have to first look at the league average winning % based on runs scored.  (Example: a team that scores 0 runs wins 0% of their games, a team that scores 1 or 2 runs wins 10% of their games, etc…)  Compare those rates to the overall league winning percentage, which is of course 50%.  So we might be able to break that down and say something like scoring 1 or 2 runs adjusts your chance of winning by 20%.  (These numbers aren’t real, just hypothetical…)

Now move over to pitchers.  Take a pitcher who is 18-8, for example, posting a 69.2 winning percentage.  Look at games in which his team scored 1 or 2 runs and see what his winning percentage was in those games.  Given our hypothetical numbers above, we’d expect his winning percentage in those games to be 14%.  If his actual winning percentage is significantly higher than 14%, I think we can say that that pitcher does “pitch to the score”.

My larger point, if I have one, is that some of these statistics have stuck around for a while because there is something to them.  I don’t know that I can just say “look, we’ve been tracking win-loss records for pitchers for 142 years, but they’re totally meaningless and should be completely discarded.”

I just think there’s far too many in the sabermetric crowd who don’t appreciate what goes into a pitcher picking up the win.

Conversely, of course, there are some who don’t appreciate (or even get) the sabermetric stats.  I went to the 1st annual SABR Analytics Conference this past March and somebody in the crowd was bad-mouthing OPS.  “Why should I believe that OPS is a better statistic for measuring a better’s performance than batting average?  OPS is just Batting Average multiplied by 2, so what’s the difference?!!”  He was very angry at the panelist, whose name I have forgotten.

First off, I can’t believe people get so damned worked up over statistic.

But secondly, the fact that he thought OPS = BAVG * 2 was pretty telling.

Whether it’s OPS or a pitcher’s W-L record, if you don’t understand what goes into a statistic, how can you understand it’s value?

Braves (19-13) @ CARDINALS (20-11)
7:15 PM CT

ATL Minor 2-2 5.97  0.4 3.65
STL Garcia 2-2 3.76  0.8 4.22

Why You Might Watch This: Possible playoff preview.  The Braves just lost 2 of 3 to the Cubs, though, so maybe it’s too soon to say so.

Nationals (19-12) @ REDS (16-14)
6:10 PM CT

WAS Gonzalez 3-1 1.72  1.5 2.96
CIN Leake 0-4 5.97 0.0 4.83

Why You Might Watch This: The Nats are playing well and the Reds appear to waking up.  But this pitching match-up doesn’t look promising.

ASTROS (14-17) @ PIRATES (14-17)
6:05 PM CT

HOU Norris 2-1 4.58 0.2 3.80
PIT McDonald 2-1 2.70 0.7 3.81

Why You Might Watch This: James McDonald has been throwing the ball well of late.

  • Jed Lowrie is 5th in WAR (Fangraphs’ version) among all qualifying SS.  The Chronicle gives him some love.  BTW, the NL Central has the #1, 5, 6, and 7 SS on that list of 24.

CUBS (13-18) @ BREWERS (13-18)
7:10 PM CT

CHI Garza 2-1 2.67  0.8 2.90
MIL Wolf 2-3 6.68  0.0 4.68

Why You Might Watch This: Because it’s a big battle for last place!

Cueto, Greinke duel lived up to the hype

Johnny CuetoI’m still in baseball heaven after getting to listen to 8 shutout innings yesterday between the Brewers and Reds.

The Greinke/Cueto match-up lived up to my exceedingly high expectations.

Cueto went 7 shutout innings and Greinke went 8, allowing only 2 hits and fanning 11.  Greinke struck out the side in the top of the 8th before being lifted for a pinch-hitter when he was due to lead off the bottom of the inning.

The scoreless tie broke in the top of the 9th with Cincinnati scoring a pair of runs off of John Axford after Ax had already retired Heisey and Cozart on strikeouts.  Stubbs, Votto, and Phillips followed up with a trio of hits, leading to a pair of runs for the Reds.

The Brewers made it interesting in the bottom of the inning, with Braun homering off of Sean Marshall and then loading the bases (again, after two out and nobody on) only to run out of gas when Travis Ishikawa pinch-hit and flew out to left.

Most folks probably prefer the 8-7 ballgames, but I’ll take a scoreless tie through 8 innings any day of the week.

And yet I’ve never been able to get into soccer…

Nationals (18-12) @ PIRATES (14-16)
6:05 PM CT

WAS Strasburg 2-0 1.66 1.2 2.75
PIT Correia 1-2 3.38 0.1 4.40

Why You Might Watch This: 






NL Central surviving just fine without Pujols, Fielder

It’s trite, but one of those great things about sports is that you can (and should) always expect the unexpected.

Major firepower left the NL Central this year, with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder heading off to the American League.

The immediate thought is “well, the NL Central just got a lot less interesting.”  But if you’ve watched sports for any semblance of time, paid attention at all, you had to know that somebody was going to step out from the shadows.

Case(s) in point…

5 of the top 7 batting averages in the National League are from the Central division.

Among the 5 NL batters with 8 or more home runs, 4 are from the Central.  (Cubs’ 1B Bryan LaHair – a minor league veteran who is holding down the position until super-prospect Anthony Rizzo is ready to take over – has more HR than any 1B in the entire MLB.  More than Pujols and Fielder combined.)

The top 3 ERA are all from the Central.  Ryan Dempster (1.02), Johnny Cueto (1.31), and Lance Lynn (1.40).

Every team seems to have at least a few players that I think might be worth dishing out a few bucks to watch.  Even the lowly Cubs have Dempster, LaHair, Starlin Castro (see more below), and Jeff Samardzija, who is starting to look pretty damned good.  The Astros, expected to win maybe 40% of their games this season, have seen great things from Jose Altuve (again, see more below), Jed Lowrie and Wandy Rodriguez.  The Cardinals’ staff has stepped up with Lynn, Jake Westbrook, and Kyle Lohse all impressing, not to mention the bats of Jon Jay, David Freese, and Carlos Beltran.  (Lots of talent there in St. Louis.)  Aroldis Chapman and the Reds.  Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez on the Bucs.  Ryan Braun and the Brewers.

Expect the unexpected.  Even without Pujols and Fielder, there’s some great baseball to be found in the NL Central.

REDS (15-14) @ BREWERS (13-17)
12:10 PM CT

CIN Cueto 4-0 1.31 0.9 3.89
MIL Greinke 3-1 4.11 1.2 3.04

Why You Might Watch This: Hard to believe I’m putting two teams with such middling records as my featured game today, but this is an undeniably interesting pitching match-up.

CARDINALS (19-11) @ Diamondbacks (14-17)
8:40 PM CT

STL Lohse 4-1 2.11  0.6 4.01
ARI Miley 3-0 2.33  0.6 3.74

Why You Might Watch This: Just too many interesting players to watch on the Cardinals right now.

Nationals (18-11) @ PIRATES (13-16)
6:05 PM CT

WAS Detwiler 3-1 1.59 0.5 3.73
PIT Bedard 2-4 2.65  1.0 3.45

Why You Might Watch This: The Nationals are the bigger reason to watch this one. Fun team.

  • Clint Hurdle on slump-busting Pirates.  (No mention of bedding large women.)
  • Jose Tabata has been hitting better of late.  Find out how!

Braves (19-12) @ CUBS (12-18)
1:20 PM CT

ATL Hudson 1-0 6.55 0.2 3.28
CHI Maholm 3-2 5.13  -0.1 4.17

Why You Might Watch This: Because it’s baseball.

Marlins (15-15) @ ASTROS (14-16)
7:05 PM CT

MIA Johnson 0-3 6.61  0.9 3.67
HOU Harrell 2-2 4.76  0.3 4.68

Why You Might Watch This: Because you enjoy rooting against the Marlins and their ill-advised off-season spending spree.  Also, check out Josh Johnson.  6.61 ERA but he has a WAR of 0.9 so far?  How the —-?!  He is currently serving up a rather insane .439 BABIP against.  I know there are those in the sabermetric community who suggest that BABIP is something you have little (if any) control over.  But I’ve always been pretty sure that if I were an MLB pitcher, my BABIP against would be way higher than the league average.  I’ve never really completely bought into that.  If you ask me, Johnson is hurt and there’s a reason he’s getting hit as hard as he is.  Take that 0.9 WAR away, please.  (Note to gamblers: this seems like a good time to bank on Johnson throwing a 3-hit shutout tonight…)

Brewers injuries piling up

With the recent losses of SS Alex Gonzalez (ACL, season) and CF Carlos Gomez (hamstring, 15-day DL), the Milwaukee Brewers are now missing 4 players from their Opening Day 25.  Gonzalez and Gomez join LHP Chris Narveson and 1B Mat Gamel (ACL).

Can Milwaukee recover?

What I’m reading around Ye Ole Interweb is that many Brewers fans are hoping that 2B Rickie Weeks and 3B Aramis Ramirez will turn around and be the big contributors that everyone expected.  Let’s take a quick look at a few things here.  I’m going to use that ole sabermetric standby, WAR (Wins Above Replacement) as defined by FanGraphs to take a look at things.  For the anti-sabermetric crowd, I’ll have a post soon that might make you happy…

Weeks is currently at -0.2.  At age 30, I don’t expect that will continue.  He will post better numbers than .174/.308/.321.  But the 6.5 that he posted in 2010 is a clear outlier when measured against his career numbers.  He fell off to 3.7 in 2011 (still a very nice number), but most projections have him as something around a 2.5-3.0 player.

Aramis turns 34 next month.  With a 0.1 WAR thus far, he is far under-performing against an expected 2.5 or so.

For the other 2 infielders who are gone for the season, Gonzalez will finish the season with a 0.4 and was projected for somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0.  Gamel finished with a nice and even 0.0 WAR for the season and was projected for just over 1.0.

Adjusting for where we are at in the season (Milwaukee has played 29 games thus far), assuming players regress back towards their pre-season projections for the rest of the way, these are the projected WAR for Weeks and Ramirez the rest of the way…

Weeks: 2.3
Ramirez:  2.1

Add those to their WAR thus far, gives us the following season totals…

Weeks: 2.1
Ramirez: 2.2

Take that away from  projected totals gives us roughly the following…

Weeks: down ~0.7 WAR from expected
Ramirez: down ~0.3 WAR from expected

Gonzalez was on pace to about a 1.8 WAR – right around what was expected from him.  But if the replacements at 1B and SS perform as 0.0 WAR Replacement Level Players, this looks like the Milwaukee infield should finish down a combined 3.4 WAR.

For a team that was projected my most to be in a 3-way hunt with Cincinnati and St. Louis for the NL Central crown, this is a potentially huge hurdle to get over.  I’m not liking the odds here…

Marmol blows another one, losing closer job?

Gordo at the Sun-Times says Cubs manager Dale Sveum may have finally had enough

Randy Wells is cool with his demotion. No, wait, he’s totally not.

Depending on who you believe, Randy Wells is either “not happy” about his demotion, or is taking it “in stride“.

Note that these two articles have the same content.

Ah, the power of a headline.  Thanks Sun-Times Editors.


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