Sunday, May 31, 2015

Trailing 30 - May 31

Here is an explanation of this weekly feature, listing the best and worst of past 30 days, made possible by FanGraph's Leaders application. Comment for the week: This is one of those dates when the stats for the trailing 30 days equals the past month. So let's guess the winners of the May awards: Jason Kipnis or Prince Fielder for AL player of the month (I'd vote for Kipnis, Fielder will probably win), Bryce Harper the obvious NL pick, maybe Corey Kluber for AL pitcher of the month, Max Scherzer for NL pitcher. 

   American League              National League
   Team W-L                     Team W-L      
1. Minnesota        18-7     1. San Francisco    21-8       
2. Texas           18-11     2. Washington       18-8        
3. Cleveland       16-12     3. St. Louis       17-11         
   Houston         16-12     4. Los Angeles     16-11   
5. Kansas City     14-11     5. Atl, Pit        14-13        

   Worst Team W-L               Worst Team W-L
1. Oakland         10-19     1. Miami           10-18      
2. Boston          10-18     2. Cincinnati      10-16       
3. Toronto         12-16        Colorado        10-16      
4. Bal, Det, NY, TB 13-15    4. Milwaukee       11-17
                                Philadelphia    11-17

   Batting Average              Batting Average     
1. Kipnis, Cle      .430     1. Harper, Was      .369        
2. Fielder, Tex     .381     2. Cervelli, Pit    .356      
3. Colabello, Tor   .374     3. Goldschmidt, Ari .350           
4. Cruz, Sea        .350     4. Gordon, Mia      .345          
5. Hunter, Min      .337     5. Crawford, SF     .343       

   Lowest Batting Average       Lowest Batting Average  
1. Drew, NY         .143     1. Maldonado, Mil   .148          
2. Valbuena, Hou    .170     2. Kemp, SD         .174       
3. Kiermaier, TB    .172     3. Herrera, Phi     .189
4. Pillar, Tor      .184     4. Stanton, Mia     .192           
5. Miller, Sea      .190     5. Coghlan, Chi     .192      

   On Base Percentage           On Base Percentage  
1. Kipnis, Cle      .515     1. Harper, Was      .495           
2. Fielder, Tex     .431     2. Goldschmidt, Ari .449          
3. Colabello, Tor   .424     3. Cervelli, Pit    .440         
4. LaRoche, Chi     .421     4. McCutchen, Pit   .421          
5. Cabrera, Det     .419     5. Rizzo, Chi       .412      
   Slugging Percentage          Slugging Percentage   
1. Kipnis, Cle      .702     1. Harper, Was      .905        
2. Fielder, Tex     .669     2. Goldschmidt, Ari .720     
3. Donaldson, Tor   .636     3. Belt, SF         .642       
4. Gattis, Hou      .634     4. Frazier, Cin     .639       
5. Cruz, Sea        .612     5. Rizzo, Chi       .630        
   Home Runs                    Home Runs
1. Donaldson, Tor      9     1. Harper, Was        13
   Fielder, Tex        9     2. Goldschmidt, Ari    9        
   Gattis, Hou         9        Stanton, Mia        9
4. 3 with              8     4. 5 with              8
   Runs                         Runs    
1. Kipnis, Cle        29     1. Harper, Was        23        
2. Donaldson, Tor     24     2. Belt, SF           22     
3. DeShields, Tex     21     3. 4 with             21
   Dozier, Min        21                             
5. Choo, Tex          20                             

   RBI                          RBI      
1. Fielder, Tex       28     1. Harper, Was        28        
2. Hunter, Min        23     2. Braun, Mil         27      
3. 4 with             22     3. Stanton, Mia       23       
                                J Upton, SF        23
                             5. 3 with             22
   Stolen Bases                 Stolen Bases             
1. DeShields, Tex      9     1. Gordon, Mia        12            
2. Burns, Oak          7     2. J Upton, SD         9     
3. 5 with              6     3. Blackmon, Col       8   
                             4. Hamilton, Cin       7
                                Pollock, Ari        7
   Saves                        Saves
1. Perkins, Min       12     1. Storen, Was        11
2. Boxberger, TB       9     2. Casilla, SF         9
   Britton, Bal        9     3. Melancon, Pit       8
   Gregerson, Hou      9     4. Grilli, Atl         7
5. 4 with              7     5. 4 with              6

   ERA                          ERA
1. Gibson, Min      1.36     1. Miller, Atl      0.95
2. Young, KC        1.45     2. Greinke, LA      1.05
3. Gray, Oak        1.67     3. Vogelsong, SF    1.14
4. Karns, TB        1.88     4. Anderson, Ari    1.39
5. Paxton, Sea      1.99     5. Harang, Phi      1.62

   Worst ERA                    Worst ERA
1. Guthrie, KC      7.46     1. Leake, Cin       6.75
2. Dickey, Tor      6.27     2. Williams, Phi    6.53
3. Sanchez, Det     5.97     3. Colon, NY        6.52
4. Greene, Det      5.83     4. Kennedy, SD      6.40
5. Walker, Sea      5.74     5. Lohse, Mil       5.79

   WHIP                         WHIP
1. Ramirez, TB      0.81     1. Miller, Atl      0.68
2. Sale, Chi        0.86     2. Greinke, LA      0.82
3. Young, KC        0.94     3. Hammel, Chi      0.83
4. Hernandez, Sea   0.97     4. deGrom, NY       0.87
5. Shoemaker, LA    0.99     5. Scherzer, Was    0.91

   Strikeouts                   Strikeouts
1. Kluber, Cle        60     1. Scherzer, Was      56      
2. Sale, Chi          46     2. Shields, SD        47
3. Archer, TB         45     3. Liriano, Pit       45
4. Carrasco, Cle      43     4. Hamels, Phi        44
5. Gray, Oak          41     5, Arrieta, Chi       42

Friday, May 29, 2015

Next Up: The San Diego Padres

Sorry, a day late. But honestly, are you awake for these west coast games that don't start until 10 PM Eastern time? I had a job for which I traveled a lot, and trips to the west coast could be brutal. Sometimes I boarded a plane in the east around 6 AM (work backwards to figure out when I had to wake up), land on the west coast at 1:30 PM or so Pacific time, go to a couple meetings, and then have a dinner that didn't start until about 7 PM Pacific, by which time I'd been awake (other than any sleep time on the plane) for like 19 straight hours or so.

The Pirates faced something similar. They had an afternoon game at PNC Park on Wednesday followed by a night game in San Diego on Thursday. Granted, they flew on a charter flight (I almost always had to change planes somewhere) and they stay at really nice hotels. Still, let's think about the games in terms of the Eastern time zone. It was a 12:35 PM start on Wednesday, so let's assume the players had to get to the ballpark by about 9:00 AM. That means they probably got their wake-up call no later than 7:00 or 7:30. The game took 2:38, so they shower, change, get on the bus and let's say the plane is wheels up at 4:30 PM. There aren't any direct flights from Pittsburgh to San Diego, but a direct to Los Angeles takes 5:13. So let's assume the Pirates' charter, barring any air traffic control delays, is on the ground in San Diego by 9:30-10:00 PM. (Flight times for domestic carriers are always inflated, so that delays don't mess with the airline's on-time performance.) That has them in their rooms, bags unpacked, by 10:00-10:30. (The airport in San Diego is very conveniently located, near downtown.) But that's only 7:00-7:30 PM Pacific, and they haven't had a real meal, so they grab dinner, and even if it's room service, they're not in bed until midnight or so our time. The game Thursday started at 7:05 PM, so the players probably started arriving at Petco Park, I don't know, 1:00 or 2:00? But hang on--they landed Wednesday on East Coast time. How many of them woke up at 5:00 AM Thursday (8:00 AM Eastern), with the first pitch over 14 hours away? I listened to the radio broadcast of the game Wednesday, and radio commentator Steve Blass remarked that the first day of a West Coast trip always felt two days long. I don't have time to dig it up right now, but I'm pretty sure that teams traveling east-to-west with games on consecutive days have a lower-than-expected won-lost record in the first game in the Pacific time zone. Which, of course, the Pirates didn't, winning 11-5. 

Anyway, there are three more games with the Padres, followed by three in San Francisco, so let's look more closely at San Diego. 

How Are They Doing Lately? The Padres led the offseason in headlines, as new general manager A.J. Preller overhauled the club. He traded for an entirely new outfield (Justin Upton from the Braves, Wil Myers from the Rays, and Matt Kemp from the Dodgers), a new catcher (Derek Norris from the A's), a new third baseman (Will Middlebrooks from the Red Sox), and a new closer (Craig Kimbrel from the Braves) and signed the third-best starting pitcher on the free agent market, James Shields (to a reasonable-by-contemporary-standards four year, $75 million deal with a club option to make it five years and $89 million). They were seen as a strong candidate for the postseason, with some picking them to topple the Dodgers atop the division. I envisioned a wild-card entry.

It hasn't worked out that way, at least not yet. They're currently 23-26, in third place, 6.5 games behind the Dodgers and 6.0 behind the Giants. They trail the Giants, Mets, Cubs, Pirates, and Braves in the wild card standings. Over the past 30 days they're 12-15, tied with the Brewers and the Mets for the fifth-worst record in the league.

What's Going Right? Not a whole lot of late. The bullpen's been okay, with a seventh-best-in-the-league 3.60 ERA over the past 30 days, and they're one of only three teams with only one blown save over that period. But they're tied for the seventh-fewest saves and the fifth-fewest holds because they haven't been handed leads.

What's Going Wrong? They've gotten inconsistent starting pitching (4.68 ERA, third-highest in the league) and their offense has the third-lowest batting average (.233), second-lowest on-base percentage (.293), and second-lowest slugging percentage (.340). Bad starting pitching and no offense isn't a formula for success. The Padres' defense is awful; depending on the methodology, either the Padres or the Phillies are the worst-fielding team in the league, and it's not close. 

Who's Hot? While Kimbrel's had a tough go of it of late, the team's other three top relievers by innings pitched over the past 30 days, Brandon Mauer, Kevin Quackenbush, and Dale Thayer, have combined for a 2.11 ERA over 38.1 innings. Shields has a 4-0 record over the past 30 days, but that's because the offense has given him a lot of run support, as his ERA over the stretch is 4.60. By contrast, the offense has scored for starters Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, who are a combined 2-6 over the past 30 days despite ERAs of 3.23 and 3.19, respectively. On offense, Upton (.320/.398/.540 slash line over the past 30 days) has lived up to the hype, and Myers (.300/.404/.500) has been good too. Unfortunately, Myers is on the disabled list, though his understudy, Will Venable (.323/.405/.431) has performed well. 

Who's Not? Over the past 30 days, Kimbrel has a 7.45 ERA, but that shrinks to 3.24 without two terrible outings against Houston (three runs in a third of an inning) and Arizona (two runs in an inning). That 3.24 ERA is still a far cry from his career total of 1.43 entering the season, but he's struck out 16 over the past 9.2 innings, so he hasn't fallen off a cliff. After Shields, Cashner, and Ross, the rotation's been a mess, with a combined 6.48 ERA. Kemp's been terrible (.181/.216/.219 slash line over the past 30 days), shortstop Alexi Amarista has been worse (.169/.236/.200), and the replacement for injured first baseman Yonder Alonso, Yangervis Solarte, is hitting .232/.276/.303 over the past 30 days.

What's the Outlook? The Padres have, on paper, three strong starting pitchers, a dominant closer, a star-studded outfield and...well, the weather in San Diego's great and the ballpark's really nice. It's hard to imagine Kemp staying this awful, and Myers and Alonso should provide a boost when they return. The team could still snatch a wild-card spot. 

In the series, the Pirates face Shields and Ross, two of San Diego's best pitchers, over the next two games, so it'd surprise me if their seven-game winning streak gets to ten by the time they leave San Diego. Still, if they can take two of the next three, they'd be 27-23, a .540 winning percentage that's comparable to the .543 won-lost they compiled last season. But then they head up the coast for three against the red-hot Giants, who, along with the Nationals, are the only team in the majors to have won 20 games over the past 30 days. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Next Up: The Miami Marlins

I was at a college reunion over the weekend so I didn't do a preview of the Pirates' series against the Mets. I would've said some of the same things I'd said about the Twins: team's been a pleasant surprise to date but appears to be overachieving. What I wouldn't have said was that the series would turn out to be a shellacking: Pirates outscoring the Mets 21-4, beating Thor and The Dark Knight along the way. As a result, the team's offense looks less inept: tied for the fourth-worst park-adjusted OPS, fourth-worst on base percentage with the bases empty, below-average offensive performance at three positions (first base, shortstop, and right field). Hey, those are all improvements! The two most disappointing players in April are having a May resurgence. Josh Harrison's slash line has improved from .213/.250/.363 in April to .312/.333/.455, while Andrew McCutchen's gone from .194/.302/.333 in April to .321/.411/.580 in May. The Pirates will attempt to keep it going, hosting three games against a Miami Marlins team that appears to be in disarray, before starting a West Coast swing on Thursday.

How Are They Doing Lately? The Marlins' 12-16 record over the past 30 days is the fifth-worst in the National League. Over the past two weeks, they're 3-10, the worst record in the league. A week ago today, they fired their manager, Mike Redmond, and replaced him with their then-general manager, Dan Jennings. Jennings' managerial experience consisted of...well, he coached at a high school in Alabama in the 1980s. Seriously. Redmond was fired following after a 1-7 run, culminating in the loss of three straight to the Braves. Under Jennings, the Marlins extended the losing streak to eight straight before taking two over the weekend from Baltimore.

What's Going Right? Over the past 30 days, Marlins starting pitchers have a 3.83 ERA, sixth best in the league. They're helped by a home park that suppresses offense, but still, for a team that's had arguably its two best starters (Jose Fernandez and Henderson Alvarez) on the disabled list for all but four starts this year, that's not bad. The relievers have a 3.50 ERA over the past 30 days, sixth best in the league, but that's misleading.

What's Going Wrong? Disregard that reliever ERA: The Marlins have four saves and six blown saves over the past 30 days. By the measure Win Probability Added, which calculates the odds that a team will win a game at any point, the Marlins relievers have been, by far, the worst in the league. On offense, the team has been sixth in batting average over the past 30 days but tenth in on base percentage and thirteenth in slugging percentage, indicating that they've gotten a bunch of singles but little else; they're eleventh in walks, fourteenth in doubles, and tied for twelfth in homers. 

Who's Hot? The Marlins offense consists largely of second baseman and leadoff hitter Dee Gordon and rightfielder and No. 3 hitter Giancarlo Stanton. Over the past 30 days, Gordon's batting .380 with nine stolen bases (both first in the league) while Stanton has eight homers (tied for sixth) and had driven in 26 runs (fourth). Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, 41, is defying time with a .314 batting average over the past 30 days. The team's best starting pitcher has been Dan Haren, who threatened to retire during the offseason when the California native was traded away from the Dodgers in the deal that brought Gordon to Miami. He's 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA over the past 30 days. Fellow starters David Phelps (1-1, 3.07 ERA) and Tom Koehler (2-1, 2.41) have been solid as well. None of the three get a lot of strikeouts, which suggests they might struggle to keep up their recent performance. Reliever A.J. Ramos, who became the team's closer on May 12, has two saves and a 0.71 ERA over the past 30 days, and setup man Sam Dyson has a 1.93 ERA over 14 innings.

Who's Not? Third baseman Martin Prado exemplifies the problem with the Marlins' offense. He's batting .267 over the past 30 days, above the league average of .255. But he's walked only four times and he's had only five extra-base hits to go with 26 singles, so his on base percentage of .309 compares to a league average of .317 and his .345 slugging percentage compares to a league average of .400. As I said, the Marlins get a bunch of singles and little else. Two players who were expected to be significant contributors to the offense have been awful: Left fielder Christian Yelich has a .189/.283/.264 slash line over the last 30 days, and first baseman Michael Morse has been worse: .203/.239/.234 with no homers. The Marlins starters after Haren, Phelps, and Koehler have been bad, and demoted closer Steve Cishek has two saves, three blown saves, and 6.08 ERA over the past 30 days. 

What's the Outlook? The Marlins were viewed by some as a playoff contender this year. (Not I.) Instead, they're last in the National League East, and their 18-27 record gives them the third-worst winning percentage in baseball. The main hope is the return of Fernandez from Tommy John surgery sometime over the summer. The Pirates will face one of the Marlins' best starters, Phelps, tonight, countering with Charlie Morton's first start following offseason hip surgery. The struggling Jeff Locke (6.67 ERA, fourth-worst in the NL over the past 30 days) and the not-struggling Gerrit Cole (1.95, sixth-best) start the next two nights. The Marlins haven't announced their starters. If the Pirates can take the series 2-1, they'll return to .500. A sweep would put them two games over .500 for the first time since April.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Trailing 30 - May 24

Here is an explanation of this weekly feature, listing the best and worst of past 30 days, made possible by FanGraph's Leaders application. Comment for the week: Notice how the fifth-worst team in the American League has played .500 ball over the past 30 days. Does that mean the AL is beating the NL in interleague play yet again? Yes it does: The AL is 37-29 so far this year in interleague play, winning 56% of games played between the leagues. Over 162 games, that's equivalent to winning 91.

   American League              National League
   Team W-L                     Team W-L      
1. Houston          20-9     1. Washington       18-9       
2. Minnesota        18-9        San Francisco    18-9        
3. Kansas City     16-10     3. Los Angeles     17-10         
4. Tampa Bay       16-12     4. Chicago         16-11   
5. Los Angeles     15-12     5. St. Louis       17-12        

   Worst Team W-L               Worst Team W-L
1. Oakland          7-21     1. Colorado         7-18      
2. Toronto         10-19     2. San Diego       10-17       
3. Boston          11-16     3. Cincinnati      10-16      
4. New York        13-14     4. New York        11-17
5. Baltimore       12-12     5. Miami           12-16

   Batting Average              Batting Average     
1. Kipnis, Cle      .400     1. Gordon, Mia      .398        
2. Cruz, Sea        .366     2. Belt, SF         .370      
3. Paredes, Bal     .353     3. Harper, Was      .367           
4. Ellsbury, NY     .353     4. Escobar, Was     .351          
5. Garcia, Chi      .352     5. Crawford, SF     .348       

   Lowest Batting Average       Lowest Batting Average  
1. Drew, NY         .176     1. Maldonado, Mil   .167          
2. Carter, Hou      .191     2. Polanco, Pit     .184       
3. Pillar, Tor      .194     3. Realmuto, Mia    .185
4. Davis, Bal       .195     4. Coghlan, Chi     .188           
5. Souza, TB        .198     5. Rollins, LA      .194      

   On Base Percentage           On Base Percentage  
1. Kipnis, Cle      .485     1. Harper, Was      .491           
2. Cabrera, Det     .451     2. Goldschmidt, Ari .440          
3. Cruz, Sea        .434     3. Gordon, Mia      .436         
4. Ellsbury, NY     .433     4. Belt, SF         .431          
5. Brantley, Cle    .431     5. Rizzo, Chi       .430      
   Slugging Percentage          Slugging Percentage   
1. Cruz, Sea        .703     1. Harper, Was      .867        
2. Kipnis, Cle      .635     2. Rizzo, Chi       .673     
3. Cabrera, Det     .622     3. Braun, Mil       .656       
4. Martin, Tor      .609     4. Belt, SF         .652       
5. Teixeira, NY     .598     5. Howard, Phi      .650        
   Home Runs                    Home Runs
1. Cruz, Sea           9     1. Harper, Was        12
2. Cabrera, Det        8     2. Braun, Mil         10        
   Teixeira, NY        8        Pederson, LA       10
   Trout, LA           8     4. Howard, Phi         9
5. 4 with              7     5. 4 with              8
   Runs                         Runs    
1. Kipnis, Cle        28     1. Harper, Was        27        
2. Dozier, Min        23     2. Simmons, Atl       24     
3. Hosmer, KC         21     3. Braun, Mil         22
   Trout, LA          21        Fowler, Chi        22
5. 2 with             20     5. 2 with             20

   RBI                          RBI      
1. Morales, KC        26     1. Harper, Was        31        
2. Moss, Cle          25     2. Braun, Mil         30      
3. Gattis, Hou        24     3. Stanton, Mia       26       
   Reddick, Oak       24     4. Rizzo, Chi         24
5. 3 with             22     5. 2 with             22
   Stolen Bases                 Stolen Bases             
1. Deshields, Tex     10     1. Gordon, Mia        10            
   Ellsbury, NY       10     2. Hamilton, Cin       8     
3. Altuve, Hou         9        Pollock, Ari        8   
4. Davis, Det          8        J Upton, SD         8
5. Gardner, NY         7     5. 2 with              7
   Saves                        Saves
1. Perkins, Min       13     1. Storen, Was         9
2. Boxberger, TB       9     2. Papelbon, Phi       8
   Street, LA          9     3. Casilla, SF         7
4. 4 with              8        Melancon, Pit       7
                                Rosenthal, SL       7

   ERA                          ERA
1. Young, KC        0.33     1. Burnett, Pit     1.10
2. Paxton, Sea      1.63     2. Greinke, LA      1.31
3. Gibson, Min      1.64     3. Miller, Atl      1.43
4. Gray, Oak        1.93     4. Hammel, Chi      1.50
5. Keuchel, Hou     2.01     5. Bumgarner, SF    1.60

   Worst ERA                    Worst ERA
1. Greene, Det      6.82     1. Stults, Atl      7.39
2. Dickey, Tor      6.58     2. Marquis, Cin     6.75
3. Shoemaker, LA    6.21     3. Colon, NY        6.67
4. Sabathia, NY     6.15     4. Locke, Pit       6.67
5. Kelly, Bos       5.76     5. Kennedy, SD      6.55

   WHIP                         WHIP
1. Young, KC        0.80     1. Hammel, Chi      0.75
2. Hernandez, Sea   0.96     2. Miller, Atl      0.80
3. Weaver, LA       0.96     3. de la Rosa, Ari  0.90
4. Keuchel, Hou     0.96     4. Scherzer, Was    0.92
5. Chen, Bal        1.00     5. Greinke, LA      0.94

   Strikeouts                   Strikeouts
1. Kluber, Cle        52     1. Shields, SD        46      
2. Salazar, Cle       50     2. Hamels, Phi        44
   Archer, TB         40     3. Arrieta, Chi       43
   Carrasco, Cle      40        Cole, Pit          43
   Hernandez, Sea     40        Scherzer, Was      43

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Of Opponents and Kryptonite

Last night, the Pirates played the Minnesota Twins. The teams do not have a long history with one another, as their rivalry is a function of the recent phenomenon of interleague play. In 1997, the Pirates were 1-2 against the Twins. In 1998, they were 2-1. They were 1-2 again in 1999, 2-1 in 2000, and 1-2 in 2001. That was the end of annual series between the clubs. Since then, the Twins swept three games in 2006 and took two of three in 2009. The Pirates were 2-1 in 2012, the last time the two teams played.

So in 24 games spread over 18 seasons, the Pirates were 10-14 against the Twins entering play last night. They've scored 109 runs (4.5 per game) with a .762 OPS and given up 112 runs (4.7 per game) with a 4.22 ERA. 

But last night wasn't just the Pirates playing the Twins, it was Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano facing the first major league team for which he played. He was signed by the San Francisco Giants in 2000 but traded to the Twins after the 2003 season. After six games in Minnesota in 2005, Liriano, then 22, was a sensation as a rookie in 2006. He was named to the All-Star team and at the end of July was 12-2 with a 1.96 ERA and 137 strikeouts in 115 innings. That year Twins pitcher Johan Santana won his second Cy Young Award, but at the end of July, he was just the second-best lefty starter on the club (12-5, 3.11 ERA, 160 strikeouts in 156.1 innings).

Then Liriano missed a start with elbow soreness. He lasted four innings, allowing ten hits and four runs, in a start against Detroit on August 7, then went on the disabled list with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his throwing elbow. Even if you don't know the Francisco Liriano story, you can probably guess where this is going. He returned for one start, against Oakland in September. left after two innings, his UCL torn, and had Tommy John surgery. 

Liriano was never the same as a Twin. From 2008 to 2012, he started 110 games, compiling a 37-47 record with a 4.69 ERA. His ERA was 42nd among 48 American League pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched during that stretch. He was traded to the White Sox at the trade deadline in 2012, became a free agent, and became, in 2013, Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage's latest reclamation project.

Liriano entered play last night with a 2.96 ERA, the 15th best in the league. He had a 1-3 record, but that was a product of lousy run support, as the Bucs had scored just 2.3 runs per 27 outs with Liriano on the mound, the seventh-lowest support in the league.

And he got lit up yesterday. Two innings, five hits (including two homers), two walks, one hit batter, a wild pitch, seven runs, all earned. His ERA went from 2.96 to 4.05 over the course of two innings.

So, is Liriano's first team, the Twins, his Kryptonite*? Does he prove Tom Wolfe's point, that you can't go home anymore**?

Hardly. Small sample size caveats and all that, Liriano faced his former teammates twice after getting traded to Chicago in 2012, and he performed well: 2.77 ERA over 13 innings, during which he allowed just 11 baserunners (five hits, six walks), striking out 17. Among the nine opponents that year against whom he had at least seven innings pitched, he had easily his best ERA and best WHIP against Minnesota. 

So the problem last night was clearly not that he was pressing, seeking some sort of revenge or something against the club that traded him away. The time for that was in 2012, and he dominated his former club.

But this got me thinking: How have the Pirates pitchers fared against their first team? Given the club's propensity for home-grown talent,t he list if short:

  • Starter A.J. Burnett: Started with the Marlins, against whom he's 2-2 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.459 WHIP (career averages: 3.99, 1.319) in six starts 
  • Starter Vance Worley: Started with the Phillies, against whom he's 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 2.250 WHIP (career averages: 3.78, 1.400) in one start
  • Reliever Mark Melancon: Started with the Yankees, against whom he has one save, a 4.32 ERA and 0.720 WHIP (career averages: 2.95, 1.112) in six games
And that's it. Every other Pirates pitcher is either home-grown (Cole, Hughes, LaFramboise, Locke, Sadler, Watson), or has never faced his original team (Bastardo [Phillies], Carminero [Marlins], Liz [Orioles], Scahill [Rockies]). 

So tonight, Pirates starter Jeff Locke has no reason to be particularly good or bad against the Twins, as he's spent his entire career with Pittsburgh and has never faced Minnesota. On the other hand, Twins starter Mike Pelfrey, in six appearances against Pittsburgh, has a 3-2 record but a 4.78 ERA and 1.407 WHIP, about in line with his career averages of 4.51 and 1.480, respectively. No Kryptonite-based advantage here.

*The term Kryptonite is commonly misused. It's come to mean a person's weakness, e.g. New York Post, last Nov. 1: "Cold weather is [Peyton] Manning's Kryptonite...exemplified by his 8-11 career record and thoroughly mediocre 82.1 rating in games played in temperatures below 40." True, the otherwise indestructible Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite, but what makes it different from Peyton Manning's aversion to cold weather is that Kryptonite was formed from exploded pieces of Superman's home planet, Krypton. So the analogy here, to Liriano's original team, is more apt that most that you'll see.

**OK, technically, Liriano's home is the Dominican Republic, not Minnesota, and I imagine he's welcome there.

Monday, May 18, 2015

38, Not Special

The Pirates are now 38 games into their 2015 season. Their record is 18-20. They're tied with the Cincinnati Reds for third in the division, 7.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals and 3.5 behind the Chicago Cubs. They were above .500, 17-16, the morning of May 13, half a game behind the Cubs, but then they lost two in a row to a pretty bad Phillies team and two straight to the Cubs. The problems about which I've written persist:
  • They are 13th in the 15-team National League in both on base percentage (.300) and slugging percentage (.366). They're third to last in scoring at 3.8 runs per game because they don't get batters on (.282 on base percentage with the bases empty, 13th in the league). They're nothing special with runners in scoring position (.263 batting average, eighth in the league), but it's the inability to get runners on base in the first place that stands out.
  • Measured by park-adjusted OPS, the Pirates are below average at catcher, first base, shortstop, third base, and right field. 
  • I'm not ready to say that Andrew McCutchen is fixed. Yes, Pirates center fielders are above average this year, but that's partly because in three games filling in for McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are a combined 7-for-10 with a 1.727 OPS. Yes, McCutchen has a .279/.366/.443 slash line in May after a wretched .194/.302/.333 April, but this is Andrew McCutchen we're talking about here; he hit .318/.406/.505 in his career in May going into the season. As I pointed out a week and a half agoJeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote a great breakdown of McCutchen's season, and he noted that McCutchen isn't shifting his weight from his right to left leg during his swing as much as in the past (presumably because of left knee problems), and as a result, he's not hitting with power to left field. That's still pretty much the case. Below, courtesy of Brooks Baseball, is McCutchen's spray chart from May 2014 and May 2015. As you can see, he's still not getting base hits to left field. (The circles are mine.)

  • They've been saved by their pitching. Their 3.16 starters' ERA is tied with the Mets for best in the league, and the 3.14 relievers' ERA is sixth. The rotation after A.J. Burnett (prediction: at age 38, he's not going to maintain a 1.38 ERA), Gerrit Cole, and Francisco Liriano has been shaky, and closer Mark Melancon has allowed at least one baserunner in eleven of his 16 one-inning relief appearances, or 69%, compared to a league average of 58%. Overall, though, the pitching's carried the team.
  • But the defense has been a disappointment. By one advanced fielding metric (derived from scouts watching every fielding play by every team), Defensive Runs Saved, the Pirates are tenth in the league this year after finishing second in 2013 and fourth last year.
So, all told, it's been a story of weak offense, a lack of performance from the team's superstar, and a strong pitching staff stymied somewhat by a lackluster defense. The result has been the club's 18-20 record after 38 games. In Pittsburgh's long history, this has happened 16 times before. Some of the teams that started 18-20 were bad: the 2008 Pirates were 18-20 after 38 games en route to a 67-95 season, and the 1998 and 2000 clubs, also 18-20 at the start of the season, were only two games better. But the 1979 Pirates started 18-20 as well, and they were world champions. If I were clever, I'd insert a Sister Sledge joke here.

Next Up: The Minnesota Twins

How Are They Doing Lately? Over the past 30 days, the Twins are 17-11, the third best record in the American League. Picked by many (including me) to be the worst team in their division, and very possibly the league, they're second to the 21-7 Astros as the most surprising team in the league over the past month.

What's Going Right? Their starting pitchers, wretched last year (a cover-your-eyes 5.06 ERA), are seventh in the league in ERA, 3.88, over the past month. After a slow start offensively, the Twins have scored the second-most runs in the league over the past 30 days. They're first in batting average (.275), fifth in on base percentage (.329), and ninth in slugging percentage (.410).

What's Going Wrong? When you see a team with the Twins' batting numbers, you can conclude that they get a lot of singles but not much else. Over the past 30 days, they offense is twelfth in the league with a 7% walk rate and they've hit the fourth-fewest homers. They've scored a lot of runs because of a league-leading .336 batting average on balls in play that's almost certainly unsustainable.

When I wrote my rant about the Twins in February, I complained that their strategy of seeking pitchers who induce contact rather than pitchers who get strikeouts is out of sync with contemporary baseball. They're last in the league, by far, in strikeout percentage (14% of batters faced; the league average is nearly 20%).

The bullpen ERA over the past 30 days is 4.14, fourth worst in the American League. 

Who's Hot? Second baseman Brian Dozier (.276/.376/.524 slash line), third baseman Trevor Plouffe (.295/.374/.453) and right fielder Torii Hunter (.294/.342/.529, six home runs) have been the offensive stars over the past 30 days. Starters Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey have combined for a 2.42 ERA over eleven starts, though with a strikeout rate so low (7.6% of batters faced) that it seems unsustainable. Closer Glenn Perkins is 11-for-11 in save attempts with a 1.42 ERA over the past month.

Who's Not? Nobody on offense really stinks of late, though the Twins have gotten a lack of sock from the traditional power positions of DH (primarily Kennys Vargas, two home runs) and first base (primarily Joe Mauer, none). Over the past 30 days, Perkins, Ryan Pressly, and Blaine Boyer have combined for a 1.22 ERA over 37 innings. The rest of the bullpen has a 6.30 ERA over 50 innings. 

What's the Outlook? You could probably tell from the tone of this that I don't expect the Twins to remain this good. The two-game series with the Twins at PNC Park starting tomorrow could be an opportunity for the Pirates to recover from their recent 1-4 run as they prepare to host another surprisingly good team, the Mets, over the weekend.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Trailing 30 - May 17

(Computer's back from the shop. I'm back to blogging.)

For those of you new to this site, this is something I've been doing for a while. As you probably know, Major League Baseball names a Player, Pitcher and Rookie of the month each month of the season. But the month ending, for example, May 31, is pretty arbitrary. Additionally, once the first month of the year's over, it's not easy for fans to know how a team's doing recently. For example, at last year's All-Star Break, the Angels were 57-37, a game and a half behind the Athletics in the American League West. But they were 21-7 over the prior thirty days, the best record in the majors. That turned out to be foreshadowing, as the Angels went 41-27 the rest of the way and finished with the best record in the majors. So rather than wait for the end of May, June, July, August, and September, I'm going to let you know, every Sunday, who's hot and who's not in the majors over the past month. Here are the top (and bottom) performers over the past 30 days, made possible through FanGraphs and its fabulous Leaders application. Comment for the week: The figures for Bryce Harper are actually correct.

   American League              National League
   Team W-L                     Team W-L      
1. Houston          20-9     1. St. Louis        19-9       
2. New York        19-10     2. Los Angeles     17-10        
3. Minnesota       18-10     3. Washington      17-11         
4. Kansas City     16-12     4. San Francisco   16-10   
5. Los Angeles     15-12     5. Chicago         16-12        

   Worst Team W-L               Worst Team W-L
1. Oakland          8-20     1. Colorado         6-18      
2. Baltimore       10-15     2. Arizona         10-15       
3. Texas           11-16     3. Milwaukee       11-17      
   Cleveland       11-16     4. Atlanta         11-16
5. Boston, Toronto 12-16     5. Philadelphia    12-16

   Batting Average              Batting Average     
1. Kipnis, Cle      .368     1. Gordon, Mia      .448        
2. Brantley, Cle    .365     2. Rizzo, Chi       .375      
3. Cruz, Sea        .364     3. Belt, SF         .365           
4. Vogt, Oak        .351     4. Harper, Was      .363          
5. Hosmer, KC       .349     5. Hechavarria, Mia .356       

   Lowest Batting Average       Lowest Batting Average  
1. Napoli, Bos      .183     1. Utley, Phi       .134          
2. Carter, Hou      .189     2. Bruce, Cin       .157       
3. Drew, NY         .195     3. Mercer, Pit      .159
4. Valbuena, Hou    .198     4. Coghlan, Chi     .160           
5. Santana, Cle     .200     5. McGehee, SF      .182      

   On Base Percentage           On Base Percentage  
1. Vogt, Oak        .451     1. Harper, Was      .512           
2. Brantley, Cle    .446     2. Rizzo, Chi       .480          
3. Kipnis, Cle      .438     3. Gordon, Mia      .473         
4. Hosmer, KC       .434     4. Holliday, SL     .445          
5. Reddick, Oak     .430     5. Goldschmidt, Ari .444      
   Slugging Percentage          Slugging Percentage   
1. Vogt, Oak        .730     1. Harper, Was      .802         
2. Martin, Tor      .693     2. Rizzo, Chi       .673     
3. Cruz, Sea        .673     3. Goldschmidt, Ari .652       
4. Hosmer, KC       .632     4. Carpenter, SL    .639       
5. Paredes, Bal     .621     5. Marte, Pit       .608        
   Home Runs                    Home Runs
1. Cruz, Sea           9     1. Harper, Was        11
   Trout, LA           9     2. Stanton, Mia       10        
3. 5 with              8     3. Frazier, Cin        9
                                Pederson, LA        9
                             5. 2 with              8
   Runs                         Runs    
1. Donaldson, Tor     22     1. Harper, Was        26        
   Dozier, Min        22     2. Simmons, Atl       24     
   Kipnis, Cle        22     3. 4 with             21
4. Ellsbury, NY       21     
   Trout, LA          21        

   RBI                          RBI      
1. Reddick, Oak       26     1. Harper, Was        30        
2. Vogt, Oak          24     2. Stanton, Mia       27      
   Morales, KC        24     3. Bryant, Chi        24       
4. Teixeira, NY       23     4. Gonzalez, LA       23
5. Moss, Cle          22        Marte, Pit         23
   Stolen Bases                 Stolen Bases             
1. Ellsbury, NY       12     1. Hamilton, Cin       9            
2. Altuve, Hou        10        Polanco, NY         9     
   Gardner, NY        10     3. Rizzo, Chi          8   
4. Springer, Hou       8     4. Fowler, Chi         7
5. Marisnick, Hou      7        J Upton, SD         7
   Saves                        Saves
1. Miller, NY         11     1. Familia, NY         9
   Perkins, Min       11        Rosenthal, SL       9
3. Street, LA          9     3. Melancon, Pit       8
4. 3 with              8        Storen, Was         8
                             5. 3 with              7

   ERA                          ERA
1. Gibson, Min      1.64     1. Burnett, Pit     1.36
2. Chen, Bal        1.95     2. Phelps, Mia      1.75
3. Gray, Oak        1.99     3. Greinke, LA      1.79
4. Keuchel, Hou     2.06     4. Miller, Atl      1.80
5. Wilson, LA       2.10     5. Scherzer, Was    2.09

   Worst ERA                    Worst ERA
1. Dickey, Tor      6.93     1. Kendrick, Col    8.36
2. Ventura, KC      6.59     2. Garza, Mil       6.17
3. Kelly, Bos       6.48     3. Locke, Pit       5.82
4. Greene, Det      6.39     4. Hellickson, Ari  5.67
5. Hutchison, Tor   5.91     5. Hudson, SF       5.63

   WHIP                         WHIP
1. Hernandez, Sea   0.91     1. Scherzer, Was    0.88
2. Keuchel, Hou     0.92     2. Miller, Atl      0.89
3. Gibson, Min      0.97     3. Hammel, Chi      0.94
4. Weaver, LA       1.02     4. Greinke, LA      0.94
5. Wilson, LA       1.02     5. Anderson, Ari    0.95

   Strikeouts                   Strikeouts
1. Salazar, Cle       52     1. Kershaw, LA        52      
2. Kluber, Cle        47     2. Scherzer, Was      50
3. Gray, Oak          46     3. Shields, SD        49
4. Hernandez, Sea     44     4. Cueto, Cin         42
5. Buchholz, Bos      42        Ross, SD           42