Category: Previews

Liriano Guides Bucs to Opening Day Win

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Yesterday

Pirates 4, Cardinals 1 – Francisco Liriano was the story for the Bucs, striking out 10 Redbirds in his Opening Day start. Liriano also put Pittsburgh on the board with an RBI single. Liriano ran into some trouble, loading the bases with a 2-0 lead and 2 outs in the top of the 6th inning, but ex-Cardinal David Freese – a stop-gap, perhaps, until Jung Ho Kang is ready to play again – played a short hop nicely down at third to start an inning-ending 5-4 fielder’s choice. Matt Adams came up as the potential tying runner in the top of the 9th, but flew out to center. Tommy Pham went down with an oblique injury for the Cards early on in the contest.


PIRATES 4, CARDINALS 1

Today
San Francisco (0-0) @ Milwaukee (0-0) – Wily Peralta gets the Opening Day nod for the rebuilding Brew Crew, fresh off a 5-10, 4.72 season. Not the kind of numbers you’d expect for a #1, but there’s not a whole lot of other options out there for them. He’s up against Madison Bumgarner with the first pitch coming at 1:10 CT in Wisconsin.

Philadelphia (0-0) @ Cincinnati (0-0) – Raul Iglesias is getting some hype coming into the 2016 as a guy that could be a breakout star for the Reds. We’ll be spending the 2016 season waiting for Cincy to trade in their assets to build for the future, what with three other teams clearly the class of the division. Then again, we wrote that at the start of 2015 as well and they never really jumped on board. Not sure what management is thinking there, but it’s not reality. Game starts at 3:10 CT.

Chicago (0-0) @ Los Angeles (0-0) – The season of hype is upon us as the Cubs start off on the West Coast against Mike Trout and 24 other guys not named Mike Trout. First pitch is 9:05 CT. Jake Arrieta is fresh off of throwing about 90 more innings in a professional season than he ever has before. The wear and tear showed in the playoffs. Yes, he shut out the Pirates in the Wild Card game, but if you watched the game then you know he didn’t have his A game. Plenty of hard-hit balls that ended up being hit right at people. There was a bit of luck involved in that win. The Halos have Garrett Richards on the mound and I’ve seen his name show up in a half-dozen places as a pre-season pick for AL Cy Young. Should be a good watch.

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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

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
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

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
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

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
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

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
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

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
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: 


CARDINALS

BREWERS

CUBS

ASTROS

REDS

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

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
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

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
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

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
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

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
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

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
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…)

The Samardzija Verdict

I’m in a bit of a fog this morning after having stayed up late to watch the Jered Weaver no-hitter.  MLB Network host (and occasional groper) Harold Reynolds showed quite a bit of prescience when he commented on a 5th inning slicing ball off the bat of Chris Parmelee that went foul by less than a foot, “that’s when you know it might be your night.”

But this is a blog focused on the NL Central, and that’s where we’ll turn back now.

I entered the season with a huge dose of doubt about Jeff Samardzija’s future as a Chicago Cub.

In fact, I’ve pretty much assumed that by the time the team returns to respectability (2014, maybe), that the only player on their current roster that will still be with them is shortstop Starlin Castro.  And even that I’d consider a maybe.  For the record, I suspect he may have a future as a second baseman instead.  But that’s a topic for another day.

However, having watched a bit of Samardzija’s start last night, what I was most amazed by was how well he still commanded his stuff late in the game.

To close out the 7th, he struck out Scott Rolen on a 91 mph slider.  (He picked up all three strikes on sliders during the at bat.)

His last batter faced, on pitches 92-95, he threw four straight 96 mph four-seamers.

I’m not saying I’m completely convinced that he might be for real, but I have to tip my cap to a guy who is still dialing it up in the mid-to-upper 90s when he’s closing in on 100 pitches.  That’s the kind of stuff you see guys like Justin Verlander pull off.

I’m not saying Samardzija has a Cy Young in his future.  All I’m saying is that right now he’s throwing like a guy who can be a really solid #2.  Will he continue to develop and be the kind of arm that the Cubs should keep around for when they’re finally decent?  That’s the question.

There are a few things I’m concerned about with the 27-year old.  Of course there is!  I’m always concerned!

For one, the increased workload as a starting pitcher.  Thus far, Samardzija has faced 132 batters (31.2 innings pitched) and is on pace for 764 BF (183 IP).  Last season he had 380 BF (88 IP) and was usually hovering around the 600 BF (~140 IP) mark between 2007 and 2010.  It’s a bit of a jump up and it will be interesting to see how the Cubs handle him as their lost season continues.  Do you shut him down in August or September just for the sake of saving him up a bit?  Make sure you give him plenty of time between starts?  (This most recent start came on 8 days of rest, for example.)

Second, as evidenced by the pitch selection in that 7th inning showdown against Rolen, is his pitch selection.  Samardzija is throwing sliders on 21.4% of all pitches, according to PITCHf/x.  That number has been rising since 2009.

2009: 5.8%
2010: 13.7%
2011: 17.7%
2012: 21.4%

Sliders make me a little nervous.  I took a look at all pitchers who played “full” seasons (i.e. 162 IP or more) and who PITCHf/x identified as having thrown 20% sliders or greater during the 2010 season.  Fangraphs identified 17 such players.

Out of those 17, how many repeated being healthy enough in 2011 to throw 162 IP or more?

Okay, actually 10 of them.  And a couple of them didn’t achieve that mark only because, frankly, they’re not very good pitchers.

I’m going to retract this concern and temper my anti-slider theories.

For now…


PIRATES (10-14) @ CARDINALS (16-8)
12:45 PM CT

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
PIT Bedard 1-4 2.48  0.7 3.98
STL Westbrook 3-1 1.30 0.7 3.29

Why You Might Watch This: Jake Westbrook is one of those Cardinal arms that’s helped them get over Wainwright’s tough April.  Whatever changes he made have been working.

  • Carlos Beltran busted out of a little slump in a large way last night.  It was the kind of night expected from the guy whom many (myself included) felt was probably the best off-season free agent signing in the MLB.

CUBS (9-15) @ REDS (11-12)
11:35 AM CT

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
CHI Dempster 0-1 1.33 0.6 3.10
CIN Bailey 1-2 3.60 0.2 4.46

Why You Might Watch This: Ryan Dempster returns to the rotation after a quad injury pushed him to the DL.


BREWERS

PIRATES

Warning Signs in Wainwright’s win

As predicted here yesterday afternoon, Adam Wainwright was able to pick up his first win since 2010, going 7 innings and facing 26 batters, both season highs for his 5 starts.  Of course, this was against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were averaging just 2.64 runs scored per game coming into the contest.

What might continue to be a little disconcerting is that Wainwright is still allowing a crazy high number of home runs per fly ball allowed.

Granted, the 30-year old still had 11 balls hit on the ground versus 4 balls hit into the outfield.

But the four balls hit into the outfield went thusly:

  • Top 1st – Alex Presley: deep fly out to CF (sinker)
  • Top 3rd – Rod Barajas: double on a deep fly to CF (cutter)
  • Top 3rd – Jose Tabata: home run to LF (curveball)
  • Top 7th – Pedro Alvarez: home run to LF (cutter)

The prevailing wisdom is that ground ball pitchers allow more hits, but fewer extra-base hits than fly ball pitchers.  So we know that fly balls tend to yield extra-base hits.  But through 5 starts – small(ish) sample size, I know – Wainwright is allowing a staggering HR/FB rate of 33 1/3%.

Between 2008 and 2010, his rate hovered a bit over 8% and the current 2012 league average is 10.5%.

Looking at the PITCHf/x data, Wainwright’s Pitch Value/100 for hit cutter is sitting at -4.18, his curveball -0.62 and his sinker -0.41.  The only pitch he has thrown for a positive value in 2012 is his changeup, which he is also throwing more often this season – 10.1%, up from about 8% between 2007 and ’10.

It might be that he hasn’t found his feel for his “bread & butter” pitches yet.  He’s been going (roughly) 45% sinker, 20% cutter, 20% curve, 10% change.  When the 3 pitches you throw most often are getting hammered, that’s a bad sign.

If Wainwright can find those pitches again, he can be successful again.  But, despite the win last night, he’s not there yet.


PIRATES (10-13) @ CARDINALS (15-8)
7:15 PM CT

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
PIT Burnett 1-1 1.38  0.5 2.87
STL Lynn 4-0 1.33  0.5 2.96

Why You Might Watch This: A.J. Burnett has surprised me with some strong starts since making his way back to the team, but Lance Lynn has been phenomenal.  Could be a fun game.


CUBS (8-15) @ REDS (11-11)
6:10 PM CT

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
CHI Samardzija 2-1 4.12 0.8 3.21
CIN Arroyo 1-0 2.70 0.6 4.16

Why You Might Watch This: The Reds are trying to get over .500 for the first time since April 8th.  This will mark Bronson Arroyo’s 24th career start against the Cubs.


BREWERS (11-13) @ Padres (8-17)
5:35 PM CT

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
MIL Gallardo 1-2 6.08 0.2 3.75
SD Suppan 0-0 N/A 0.0 N/A

Why You Might Watch This: SIERA suggest Yo should have fared better than a 6.08 ERA thus far.  The Brewers hope that’s true, because right now they can’t seem to get over the hump.


Mets (13-11) @ ASTROS (10-14)
1:05 PM CT

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
NYM Schwinden 0-0 11.25 -0.2 5.54
HOU Rodriguez 2-2 1.72  1.0 3.81

Why You Might Watch This: Neither team has a particularly thrilling record, and yet each might be called something of a surprise team, outplaying their low expectations.

Good Morning! for May 1st

The Adam Wainwright Rehab Watch continues tonight with his 5th start of the season.

By Bill James’ self-admittedly somewhat-semi-useful “Game Score” (50 is average), Wainright’s appearances have gone 54, 14, 41, 62.

It’s a good opportunity for him, coming off a pretty nice start against the Cubs last week and now facing a Pittsburgh team that is dead last in runs scored with 2.64 per game.  I’ll be looking for folks to start uttering “Wainwright is back!” after tonight’s game, but that might be misleading given the opponent.


PIRATES (10-12) @ CARDINALS (14-8)
7:15 PM CT

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
PIT Morton 1-1 2.65  0.3 2.83
STL Wainwright 0-3 7.32  0.0 2.90

Why You Might Watch This: 


CUBS (8-15) @ REDS (11-11)
6:10 PM CT

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
CHI Samardzija 2-1 4.12 0.8 3.21
CIN Arroyo 1-0 2.70 0.6 4.16

Why You Might Watch This: 


BREWERS (11-12) @ Padres (7-17)
9:05 PM CT

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
MIL Marcum 1-1 4.12  0.3 3.64
SD Volquez 0-2 3.60 0.3 4.08

Why You Might Watch This: 


Mets (13-10) @ ASTROS (9-14)
7:05 PM CT

 W-L  ERA  WAR  SIERA
NYM Niese 2-0 2.81 0.5 3.21
HOU Happ 1-1 4.70  0.1 3.56

Why You Might Watch This: