Tagged: Anthony Rizzo

Top Three Winners Again

Kris Bryant hit another walk-off for the Cubs in a 2-1 win yesterday.

Kris Bryant hit another walk-off for the Cubs in a 2-1 win yesterday.

Well, this is starting to become quite routine, isn’t it?

I guess it shouldn’t surprise us, given that the top 3 in the division make up 3 of the top 4 teams in all of Major League Baseball, but still. Sometimes it seems ridiculous, but yet again we have The Big Three all coming out winners yesterday.

You start to wonder if the only time these teams lose is when they play each other.

Tell you what, let’s just throw the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs into the playoffs by themselves.

They can each play a 3-game home series against each other, making up a 12-game schedule. Whoever finishes with the best record advances to the World Series. We cool with that?

Sorry, I realize there’s no definite way any of these three teams even makes the National League Championship Series, let alone wins it.

The playoffs are such a crap-shoot. This is why you’ll hear folks who are a bit longer in the tooth complain about the de-valuing of the 162-game regular season that comes about by introducing more teams into the postseason.

Also, the fact that I just used the phrase “long in the tooth” should tell you something about my own age and feelings on the matter.

But I digress.

What I’m really trying to say is that it would be immeasurably fun to watch these three teams go at it, head-to-head, in the playoffs.

What we may very well end up with instead is one of them being eliminated immediately in a best-of-1 Wild Card game. And then the two survivors could get swept in a best-of-5 National League Divisional Series because, hey, it’s three games. That’s a small sample size. Even the 1927 New York Yankees had a pair of 3-game losing streaks. It happens.

I just don’t want this season to end, that’s all.

RESULTS!

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The Cardinals scored 3 in the 7th to snap a 2-2 tie, ending the Arizona Diamondbacks winning streak with a 5-3 victory.

Tommy Pham inside-outed a single through the right side with men on the corners to put the Cards ahead. Yadier Molina brought two more home with a base hit into right and the Cards didn’t look back.

Trevor Rosenthal picked up his 39th save while Lance Lynn improved to 10-8 on the season.

Lynn got some help on defense, turning 4 double plays to help limit the damage that could have been done by Arizona.

Injured first baseman Matt Adams (remember him?) is possible to return from the disabled list next week. He wasn’t exactly tearing it up when he was healthy (.243/.281/.375), so it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals handle his return, particularly when rosters are going to be expanding to 40-man soon anyhow. Then there’s still Matt Holiday, Randal Grichuk, Jordan Walden, Jon Jay

Highlights

* * * * * * * * *

Jon Lester pitched brilliantly for 8.2 innings, only to be undone by his inability to field a ground ball as the Cleveland Indians tied up the Cubs 1-1 in the top of the 9th.

No matter.

Kris Bryant stepped up and hit the walk-off to right with two out in the bottom of the 9th. It was the highly-touted rookie’s 20th long ball of the season.

Also, props to Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo who seems to make a highlight-reel fielding play every week. Yesterday afternoon, with a man on 1st, he sprinted in on a bunt in front of the plate down the first base line. Seeing the ball was going to roll foul, he slid along the line, stopping it from rolling foul so that he could scoop it up in fair territory and start a 3-6-4 double play. Amazing.

At the plate, Rizzo also had an RBI triple.

The Cubs also got some pretty slick fielding up the middle on other double plays, with Starlin Castro getting a start at short.

Chicago put right fielder Jorge Soler on the DL.  He’s expected back before the playoffs start, should the Cubs get there.  Soler has hit .265 with 7 HR and 42 RBI, striking out 111 times in 378 plate appearances.  It’s been a disappointing season, though he’s shown signs at times of snapping out of it.

It’s go time for the Cubs now, with a chance to really put some distance between themselves and the San Francisco Giants – they start a 3-game series in ‘Frisco this evening.

Highlights

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The Pirates beat the Miami Marlins 5-2 with J.A. Happ putting up another strong outing since coming over at the trade deadline.

Happ (W 6-7) went 6 shutout innings, allowing 4 hits and a walk while striking out 6.

Gregory Polanco had a four-hit game, including a pair of doubles.

Mark Melancon notched his 40th save with a perfect 9th.

Things got a bit tense with Miami pitchers coming up and in on Pirate batters no fewer than 6 times. An ejection was eventually made with no apparent retaliation on the part of Pittsburgh’s pitchers. Just win, I guess.

It’s hard to know where to start when looking at the Pirates recent trends. They’ve won 6 of 7, 10 of 12, 14 of 18… Anyway you look at it over the past month or so, they’ve been hot.

Injured starting pitcher A.J. Burnett was scheduled to throw off a mound in a bullpen session yesterday in hopes of returning to the rotation.

Highlights

* * * * * * * * *

The Cincinnati Reds snapped a 9-game losing streak and are back in a virtual tie with the idle Milwaukee Brewers for last place in the division.

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Some Leaderboard trends for you today.

Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli is up there now for the division batting title. Not so much that he’s been suddenly hitting the tar out of the ball. More that he’s playing so regularly that he now qualifies for the batting title. He has 382 plate appearances, exactly one more than he currently needs to qualify.

Pirates outfielder Starling Marte is on a 9-game hitting streak during which he’s hitting .375 with 6 extra-base hits.

And in his last 7 games, Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen has had five 2-hit games. He’s batting .357 over that time frame with 3 extra-base hits.

Those guys have been hot enough to push Rizzo, Cardinals outfielder Jason Heyward and Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips down in the leader board, but all three have actually hit well over the past week.

In his last two starts (small sample size alert!), Cardinals starting pitcher Carlos Martinez has a 5.56 ERA, allowing 14 hits in 11.1 innings of work. Martinez is at 148.2 innings this season, quite a bit more than last year’s mark of 112. Could he be starting to fray at the edges a bit? Something to keep an eye on during this stretch run, for sure.

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Division Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 79 45 W2
Pittsburgh Pirates 75 48 3.5 W3
Chicago Cubs 72 51 6.5 W5
Milwaukee Brewers 53 72 26.5 L2
Cincinnati Reds 52 71 26.5 W1

Wild Card Standings

W L GB
Pittsburgh Pirates 75 48 +3.0
Chicago Cubs 72 51
San Francisco Giants 66 58 6.5
Washington Nationals 62 61 10.0
Arizona Diamondbacks 62 62 10.5

* * * * * * * * *

Schedule

67-56 Dodgers Wood (8-8, 3.79)
52-71 REDS Lamb (0-1, 6.35)
6:10 PM CT
53-72 BREWERS Peralta (4-7, 4.48)
58-66 Indians Tomlin (1-1, 2.03)
6:10 PM CT
75-48 PIRATES Morton (8-4, 4.06)
50-75 Marlins Hand (3-3, 4.46)
6:10 PM CT
79-45 CARDINALS Garcia (5-4, 1.79)
62-62 Diamondbacks Ray (3-9, 3.38)
9:10 PM CT
72-51 CUBS Arrieta (15-6, 2.30)
66-58 Giants Cain (2-3, 5.66)
9:15 PM CT

* * * * * * * * *

NL Central Leaders

AVG
Joey Votto (CIN) .309
Francisco Cervelli (PIT) .303
Andrew McCutchen (PIT) .297
Starling Marte (PIT) .292
Anthony Rizzo (CHC) .291
ERA
Jake Arrieta (CHC) 2.30
Gerrit Cole (PIT) 2.49
Johnny Cueto (CIN) 2.62
Michael Wacha (STL) 2.80
Carlos Martinez (STL) 2.85

Pirates, Cubs Move Up In Wild Card

Charlie Morton led the Pirates to a shutout of the Giants.

Charlie Morton led the Pirates to a shutout of the Giants.

The Pittsburgh Pirates shut out the outside-looking-in San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs were dominant winners over the Atlanta Braves, giving both teams a bit more room in the National League Wild Card race.

Starting with Pittsburgh, Charlie Morton went 6.2 innings in a 4-0 win over the Giants, improving to 8-4 on the season.

Neil Walker hit his 13th homer of the season and had a pair of hits. Also joining in with multi-hit games were Starling Marte and Jung-Ho Kang.

It was the Bucs’ 7th win in their last 8 games as they moved within 4.5 games of the idle St. Louis Cardinals. That’s the closest Pittsburgh has been since July 29th.

It also gave them a full 8-game lead over the Giants in the Wild Card race. They remain 4 ahead of the Cubs.

Tonight will be tough for the Pirates as they have Jeff Locke going up against Madison Bumgarner (14-6, 2.98) who, besides being a good hitter, is also a decent pitcher.

Both 3B Josh Harrison (thumb) and SS Jordy Mercer (knee) are expected to return from the DL this weekend, with the team having survived thrived while missing the left side of their infield over the last five weeks.

Kang has excelled and 3B Aramis Ramirez looks rejuvenated since coming back to where his career started, so manager Clint Hurdle will have some tough decisions to make.

Highlights

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Jake Arrieta won his 15th game of the year with 6 shutout innings, striking out 7 as the Cubs pounded the Braves, 7-1.

Anthony Rizzo hit his 24th homer and Addison Russell his 8th as the Cubs scored 4 in the 3rd and came out to a 7-0 lead after 5 innings of play. That tends to hold up when Arrieta is on the bump.

In breaking their 3-game skid, Chicago moved 4 ahead of the Giants for the 2nd Wild Card spot.

The Cubs get a tough draw later this afternoon against Shelby Miller (5-9, 2.43) and the Braves.

Highlights

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The Cincinnati Reds lost their 6th straight and are now just a half game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers at the bottom of the division.

Or a half game away from tying them up for a higher draft pick, if you’re a “glass half full” kind of person.

* * * * * * * * *

Fangraphs has a Q&A with Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson. Check it out.

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If you want to know why the NL Central is the most entertaining division in baseball, Anthony Witrado at Bleacher Report has an article explaining that. Go enjoy it.

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Division Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 77 43 W1
Pittsburgh Pirates 72 47 4.5 W3
Chicago Cubs 68 51 8.5 W1
Cincinnati Reds 51 68 25.5 L6
Milwaukee Brewers 52 70 26.0 W1

Wild Card Standings

W L GB
Pittsburgh Pirates 72 47 +4.0
Chicago Cubs 68 51
San Francisco Giants 65 56 4.0
Washington Nationals 60 60 8.5

* * * * * * * * *

Schedule

53-68 Braves Miller (5-9, 2.43)
68-51 CUBS Hendricks (6-5, 3.97)
3:05 PM CT
52-70 BREWERS Nelson (9-9, 3.61)
60-60 Nationals Gonzalez (9-5, 3.86)
6:05 PM CT
65-56 Giants Bumgarner (14-6, 2.98)
72-47 PIRATES Locke (6-7, 4.31)
6:05 PM CT
59-61 Diamondbacks De La Rosa (10-5, 4.40)
51-68 REDS Holmberg (1-2, 5.95)
6:10 PM CT
77-43 CARDINALS Lackey (10-7, 2.87)
59-62 Padres Cashner (4-12, 4.20)
9:10 PM CT

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NL Central Leaders

WAR (fielders)
Anthony Rizzo (CHC) 5.7
Joey Votto (CIN) 5.2
Jason Heyward (STL) 4.0
Starling Marte (PIT) 3.9
Andrew McCutchen (PIT) 3.8
WAR (pitchers)
Jake Arrieta (CHC) 4.9
John Lackey (STL) 3.3
Michael Wacha (STL) 3.3
Gerrit Cole (PIT) 3.2
Johnny Cueto (CIN) 3.1

Pirates Avoid Sweep

Lance Lynn had what you might call a rough night

Lance Lynn had what you might call a rough night

The Pittsburgh Pirates were able to come out ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday night, avoiding a 3-game sweep to move back within 6 games.

The Bucs put 7 runs on the board in the top of the 1st en route to a 10-5 win.

Cardinals starter Lance Lynn didn’t make it out of the 1st inning, allowing 7 runs on 6 hits and no walks, retiring 2 batters. Thankfully, only 3 runs were earned, due to a throwing error by Matt Carpenter.

Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez led the offensive charge with three hits a piece, including Pedro’s 17th tater of the season.

It was the Bucs’ first win in St. Louis this season, where they are now 1-5.

Highlights

* * * * * * * * *

The Chicago Cubs won for the 13th time in their last 14 games, pounding the Milwaukee Brewers 9-2 to complete their second sweep of their neighbors to the north in the past two weeks.

Rookie Kyle Schwarber was back to mashing, going 3-for-4 with a pair of home runs (8). Anthony Rizzo poked his 22nd, Chris Denorfia his 2nd and Dexter Fowler his 12th.

Fowler has been playing well of late, and reached base four times yesterday, scoring 3 runs.

It wasn’t all good news for the Cubs, as Jon Lester tried to pick a runner off for the first time since April and once again threw it away for an error – his third of the year. Lester allowed 5 stolen bases in the game and is worst in the league in that category.

He struck out 10 in 7 innings of work, improving to 8-8 on the year.

The Cubs now head into the dreaded “Crosstown Classic” that brings out the absolute worst in Chicago baseball fans. In my experience, it involves fans of the White Sox openly berating anybody who is minding their own business and wearing Cubs gear and, on the flip side, has Cubs fans talking about the number of teeth that most White Sox fans have.

If you don’t live in a market with multiple baseball teams, consider yourself lucky.

Highlights

* * * * * * * * *

Division Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 73 40 W2
Pittsburgh Pirates 65 46 7.0 L2
Chicago Cubs 64 48 8.5 W6
Cincinnati Reds 50 62 22.5 W1
Milwaukee Brewers 48 67 26.0 L2

Wild Card Standings

W L GB
Pittsburgh Pirates 65 46 +1.5
Chicago Cubs 64 48
San Francisco Giants 60 53 4.5
Washington Nationals 58 55 6.5

* * * * * * * * *

Schedule

65-48 CUBS Hendricks (6-5, 3.73)
54-58 White Sox Samardzija (8-7, 4.62)
3:10 PM CT
66-46 PIRATES Happ (4-7, 4.78)
63-53 Mets Colon (10-11, 4.76)
6:15 PM CT
46-69 Phillies Morgan (3-3, 4.06)
48-68 BREWERS Peralta (2-7, 4.48)
7:10 PM CT
46-68 Marlins Koehler (8-9, 3.75)
73-41 CARDINALS Garcia (4-4, 1.77)
7:15 PM CT
51-62 REDS Lamb (NR)
64-51 Dodgers Wood (7-7, 3.72)
9:10 PM CT

* * * * * * * * *

NL Central Leaders

WAR (fielders)
Anthony Rizzo (CHC) 5.4
Joey Votto (CIN) 4.8
Andrew McCutchen (PIT) 4.0
Jason Heyward (STL) 3.8
Jung Ho Kang (PIT) 3.6
WAR (pitchers)
Jake Arrieta (CHC) 4.6
Carlos Martinez (STL) 3.3
Gerrit Cole (PIT) 3.3
Johnny Cueto (CIN) 3.1
John Lackey (STL) 3.1

Bad Day for Bucs

This is what Yadi looks like after breaking a tie score with an RBI triple.

This is what Yadi looks like after breaking a tie score with an RBI triple.

There was quite a list of things that didn’t go well for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night.

First off, they lost to the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals for a second straight day, pushing them 7 games back in the division.

Secondly, outfielder Starling Marte left the game with a hand injury after being plunked for the 3rd time in his last 4 games. He’s hitting .285 with 13 HR and 22 SB this season.

Third, the Chicago Cubs won for the 12th time in their last 13 games to close to within a game and a half of them for the top Wild Card spot.

Pedro Alvarez‘s brick glove at first base cost the Pirates two runs early on.

In the bottom of the 3rd, with the game still scoreless, the Cards had the bases loaded and one out. Jason Heyward hit a bouncer up the middle that looked to be an inning-ending 4-3 double play, but Neil Walker‘s throw to 1st was in the dirt and not only couldn’t Alvarez scoop it, but he also let the ball bounce well enough away from him to allow two Cardinal runners to score.

This play, by the way, came after one in which Alvarez failed to get back to first base in time to cover the bag on a ground ball.

Yadier Molina‘s RBI triple in the 6th inning snapped a 2-2 tie and held up to be the game-winner in a 4-2 St. Louis victory.  Molina’s low liner into center field got past a diving Gregory Polanco, giving the Pirates’ their second questionable defensive play of the night.

Meanwhile, Michael Wacha (W 14-4) struck out 7 Pirates in 6 innings of work, somehow scattering 12 base runners to allow just a pair of runs.

Andrew McCutchen homered (18th) and tripled (3rd) in the Pittsburgh loss.

This is the largest lead St. Louis has had in the division since July 25th. With another win today, it would be their largest lead since June 30th.

Highlights

* * * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, in Chicago, close Hector Rondon again tried to play “Houdini” by putting men at 2nd & 3rd with nobody out and a 1-run lead in the 9th. After striking out the next two batters, however, he bounced a pitch in the dirt that catcher Miguel Montero couldn’t handle, allowing it to get away and giving the Milwaukee Brewers a run to make it a 2-2 tie.

Miggy atoned in the 10th, with a solo home run (11th).

Kris Bryant poked his 16th homer of the year for the Cubs and first baseman Anthony Rizzo made an unbelievable play on a foul ball, jumping up onto the tarp and then stepping out into the crowd to make a catch and retire the much-despised Ryan Braun.

Braun had a nice day at the plate, actually, going 3-for-4 with his 20th homer of the year.

It was the Cubs’ 6th straight win and 12th in their last 13. Amazingly, they’ve only made up 3 games on the Cardinals during this stretch.

Highlights

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Fielding metrics are a tricky thing and (at this point, anyhow) largely subjective and prone to stringers.

I just want to throw that caveat out there before pointing out some numbers about the Cubs’ shortstop situation.

Much has been made of Addison Russell being the more “natural” or “gifted” shortstop and Starlin Castro being more of a hack.

Well, this is an admittedly small sample size for Russell, but take a look at the numbers so far at short.

Castro: 103 games, 4.43 range factor per 9 innings, .962 fielding percentage
Russell: 14 games, 3.07 range factor per 9 innings, .917 fielding percentage

The subjective data from Baseball Info Solutions has Russell as the better fielder, with a +3 in defensive runs saved already, compared to -7 for Castro.

So the numbers say one thing but the eyes say another.

* * * * * * * * *

In his last 28 games, Cincinnati Reds‘ first baseman Joey Votto has a .563 OBP. He’s also hit .382 with 8 doubles and 5 home runs.

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Division Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 73 40 W2
Pittsburgh Pirates 65 46 7.0 L2
Chicago Cubs 64 48 8.5 W6
Cincinnati Reds 50 62 22.5 W1
Milwaukee Brewers 48 67 26.0 L2

Wild Card Standings

W L GB
Pittsburgh Pirates 65 46 +1.5
Chicago Cubs 64 48
San Francisco Giants 60 53 4.5
Washington Nationals 58 55 6.5

* * * * * * * * *

Schedule

48-67 BREWERS Cravy (0-3, 5.40)
64-48 CUBS Lester (7-8, 3.227)
1:20 PM CT
65-46 PIRATES Liriano (7-6, 3.13)
73-40 CARDINALS Lynn (9-6, 2.76)
6:15 PM CT
50-62 REDS Sampson (1-1, 3.00)
64-50 Dodgers Latos (4-8, 4.67)
9:10 PM CT

* * * * * * * * *

NL Central Leaders

On-Base Percentage
Joey Votto (CIN) .434
Anthony Rizzo (CHC) .405
Andrew McCutchen (PIT) .395
Jung-Ho Hang (PIT) .371
Matt Carpenter (STL) .367
WHIP
Johnny Cueto (CIN) 0.93
Jake Arrieta (CHC) 0.99
Jason Hammel (CHC) 1.04
Francisco Liriano (PIT) 1.11
Dan Haren (CHC) 1.12

Martinez, Cardinals Strike Pirates; Cubs Win Again

Carlos Martinez fanned 8 Pirates last night

Carlos Martinez fanned 8 Pirates last night

The St. Louis Cardinals took game 1 of their 3-game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates, coming off as 4-3 winners at home.

The Bucs took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 5th only to have the Cards peck away – two walks, an RBI single, a ground out that moved runners up, a sac fly, an RBI single.

Small-ball.

Carlos Martinez struck out 8 men in as many innings of work, improving to 12-4 with a 2.62 ERA for the Redbirds.

Trevor Rosenthal struck out the side in the 9th for his 34th save.

All’s well in the Cardinals’ world, where they now lead Pittsburgh by 6 games in the Central.

They go at it again tonight, with Gerrit Cole (14-5, 2.39) squaring off against Michael Wacha (13-4, 2.92). Great match-up.

Game Highlights

* * * * * * * * *

Though not competing for the division anytime soon, the Chicago Cubs won for the 11th time in their last 12 contests, beating the Milwaukee Brewers 6-3 in relatively easy fashion.

Anthony Rizzo had a pair of hits, including his 29th double, driving in a pair of runs.

Jorge Soler had two RBI as well.

Starlin Castro continued to ride the bench, but did come in to the game as defensive replacement – at second base. He made a nice catch in foul ground in the 9th inning.

Game Highlights

* * * * * * * * *

Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs.com takes a look at Jung-Ho Kang. Read it over there.

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Division Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 72 40 W1
Pittsburgh Pirates 65 45 6.0 L1
Chicago Cubs 63 48 8.5 W5
Cincinnati Reds 49 62 22.5 L3
Milwaukee Brewers 48 66 25.0 L1

Wild Card Standings

W L GB
Pittsburgh Pirates 65 45 +2.5
Chicago Cubs 63 48
San Francisco Giants 60 52 3.5
Washington Nationals 58 54 5.5

* * * * * * * * *

Schedule

49-62 REDS Iglesias (2-4, 4.73)
54-60 Padres Shields (8-4, 3.75)
2:40 PM CT
48-66 BREWERS Garza (6-12, 4.95)
63-48 CUBS Hammel (6-5, 3.17)
7:05 PM CT
65-45 PIRATES Cole (14-5, 2.39)
72-40 CARDINALS Wacha (13-3, 2.92)
7:15 PM CT

* * * * * * * * *

NL Central Leaders

Home Runs
Todd Frazier (CIN) 28
Anthony Rizzo (CHC) 21
Ryan Braun (MIL) 19
Marlon Byrd (CIN) 19
Joey Votto (CIN) 19
Strikeouts
Jake Arrieta (CHC) 158
Francisco Liriano (PIT) 144
Gerrit Cole (PIT) 143
Jon Lester (CHC) 139
Carlos Martinez (STL) 139

All-Star Game Results

Andrew McCutchen hit a line drive over the left field wall for a solo homer in last night's All-Star Game.

Andrew McCutchen hit a line drive over the left field wall for a solo homer in last night’s All-Star Game.

The American League was a 6-3 winner over the National League in the All-Star Game.

Here are the lines for players from the NL Central:

Chicago Cubs
Kris Bryant: 0-for-1, BB
Anthony Rizzo: 0-for-2

Cincinnati Reds
Aroldis Chapman: 1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 3 SO
Todd Frazier: 0-for-3

Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun: 1-for-1, 3B, R
Francisco Rodriguez: 1 IP, 2 ER, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 SO

Pittsburgh Pirates
Gerrit Cole: 1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 SO
Andrew McCutchen: 1-for-3, HR, R, RBI, SO
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 2 SO

St. Louis Cardinals
Yadier Molina: 1-for-1
Jhonny Peralta: 1-for-1, RBI, BB

Your highlights were McCutchen with a solo homer in the 6th inning and Chapman striking out the side in the 9th. The American League bench’s reaction to Chapman’s 103 mph fastball was pretty great.

Back to business on Thursday!

Home Run Derby Dumbness

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo will be in tonight's Home Run Derby.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo will be in tonight’s Home Run Derby.

Go grab 10 quarters, a piece of paper and a pen.

I’ll wait.

Back?

Okay, now I want you to take the first quarter and flip it 100 times.

Write down how many times Coin #1 came up heads and how many times it came up tails.

Great.

Now, set that quarter aside and repeat the process for Coins #2 through 10.

There’s a good chance that one or more of those quarters had results that were not an even 50/50 split.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those quarters had either heads or tails coming up 55 times. Heck, maybe even 60. Or more!

Now I want you to take that quarter that appears to be coming up heads or tails more often.

Hold it up in the air. Examine it. Look at it. Talk to it. Praise it.

I’m about to ask you to flip it another 100 times, because clearly this quarter is gifted and we’d like to see it showcased.

But before you do that, let me ask you this question – what are you expecting the quarter to do in the second half of this experiment?

Do you expect it to continue it’s run of a high frequency of heads (or tails)? Or do you expect it to be about an even 50/50 split because, hell, that’s how flipping coins works?

The reason I ask is because every year we get the same level of dumbness surrounding the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby.

People get up in arms about how participating in the Home Run Derby somehow ruins sluggers for the second half of the season.

It’s nonsense for the same reason as my quarter example above.

Batters who take part in the Home Run Derby are, naturally, going to be the guys who are among the league leaders in Home Runs headed into the All-Star Break.

What does it take to lead the league in Home Runs? Well, some combination of an actual innate ability to hit for power, yes. But also some degree of luck – a random element that gives you a higher rate of success in driving the ball out of the ballpark than you normally might.

That nudge is enough to get you among the league’s leaders and, most likely, nominated for the Home Run Derby.

What happens after the Home Run Derby isn’t that a batter’s swing is “ruined” from having participated in the contest.

What happens is that the batter was playing a bit above his actual abilities for the first 3 months of the season and, in the 2nd half, played closer to their actual abilities.

In the quarter example above, we may have had a quarter that came up heads 60% of the time in the 1st half of the experiment. In the 2nd half, it’s probably going to come up heads on 50% of our tosses. It’s not that the quarter was ruined by being selected to participate in anything before the 2nd half of the experiment. It’s just that, it’s a quarter, and it has a certain level of expectation for how often it will come up heads or tails. 50%.

Participants in the Home Run Derby are no different.

I went into Baseball Reference and grabbed some of the league’s top Home Run hitters in the first half of the season from 2012 through 2014.

For 2012, I grabbed the 21 players who had 17 or more HR. For 2013, the cut-off was 21 players who had 18 or more. And for 2014, it was 22 who had 17 or more. (I originally grabbed the Top 25, but then it turned out that because of tie-breakers I had to include either more or less and I sided with less because this sample size of 64 players is enough to prove a point.)

For each of those 64 players, I calculated their Home Run Rate for the First Half of the season. Home Run Rate was defined as Home Runs divided by At Bats. (I wanted to exclude walks, because what are the chances of driving a ball out of the park when the bat is on your shoulder?)

I did the same for the Second Half of their seasons.

My sample size was reduced because of players who just didn’t have many At Bats in the Second Half due to an injury and therefore would have made this experiment less worthwhile. Troy Tulowitzki’s sample size of 5 at bats in the Second Half of 2014, for example? Not very reliable.

I decided that 100 At Bats in the Second Half was a nice enough sample size and made that my final cut-off.

So the final tally was a sample of 58 players.

If what I’m saying is wrong, then you’d expect a player’s Home Run Rate to remain more or less constant. How they hit in the First Half should be completely consistent with their Second Half.

But if what I’m saying is right, and a player tends to lead the league in the First Half because of some element of “good luck” that leads to them playing above their true level, then you’d expect their Second Half rate to be lower. (By the way, I expected this to be true in well over half of my 64 player sample.)

If players who were among the First Half leaders in Home Runs tend to have higher Home Run Rates in the Second Half, then I’m just completely wrong about everything and I need to re-consider everything in my life.

So what happened to these guys?

Out of the 58 players examined, 76% saw their Home Run Rate decrease in the Second Half.

Well, that’s fine about my theory of strong First Halves not being something you should rely on to predict a strong Second Half. (Unless you’re prediction is just the rate should go down if it was exceptionally strong in the First Half, in which case, yes, I agree with you.)

But this still doesn’t tackle the whole “Home Run Derby Effect”, right?

Out of my sample of 58 players, 12 of them were participants in the Home Run Derby.

So was there any difference in the frequency of regression among that group of 12 Home Run Derby participants versus the 46 who were not participants?

Out of the 12 Home Run Derby participants, 83% saw their Home Run Rate decrease in the Second Half.

Is 83% significantly different than 76%? I’m inclined to say no. 12 is a small(ish) sample size. If only one of those 12 switched over, we’d be at 75% instead of 83%, so things can change pretty quickly there.

An interesting thing that perhaps illustrates the point. If we take this list 58 players and sort them by First Half Home Run Rate, the top 14 on the list had a downward trend in the Second Half 100% of the time. The bottom 14 on the list? They only had a downward trend 71% of the time.

Of the sample of 58, the average player had a Second Half Home Run Rate that was 79% of their First Half Home Run Rate. The average player included had a First Half Home Run Rate of 6.5% compared to 5.0% in the Second Half.

So if you are worried about your favorite player being included in the Home Run Derby and messing up his swing, check yourself.

From the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs‘ third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo as well as the Cincinnati Reds‘ third baseman Todd Frazier.

While it’s true that all three will probably see their Home Run Rates decrease in the Second Half of the season, it has nothing to do with the Home Run Derby and everything to do with the fact that, up to this point, they’ve been playing a little bit above their true abilities. And that’s part of why they were invited to participate in the first place.

Cheers.