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April 12, 2008
Saturday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Brewers (6-4) at Mets (5-4), 1:10 ET
The Mets won the opener of the series yesterday 4-2, as journeyman right-hander Nelson Figueroa held the Brewers to two hits in six innings, and the bullpen was perfect over the final three. Third baseman Ryan Braun took an 0-for-4 collar, and has now failed to draw a walk in 44 plate appearances this season. Plate discipline was the one thing missing from Braun's sublime rookie campaign last year, as he worked just 29 walks in 492 PA. Sixteen of those walks came in the 128 PA he had against lefties, meaning that in regards to plate discipline, as with every other category, Braun is significantly more effective against left-handers. That trend has continued this season--if you take away Braun's 11 PA against lefties, he is hitting .212/.212/.424 in 33 PA. It should be highly entertaining to watch Braun and another young lefty-masher for the Brewers, right fielder Corey Hart, get their crack at hitting against the game's best left-hander this afternoon. Braun is an outstanding young hitter, and a potential MVP candidate this season, but until he learns some more patience, especially against righties, and keeps himself from swinging at those sliders down and off the plate, he won't be able to fully reach his considerable offensive potential.
Matchup: Yankees (6-5) at Red Sox (5-6), 3:55 ET, FOX
That game wasn't the only time Mussina has come painfully close to recording a perfect game, either. While with the Orioles in 1997, he was perfect into the ninth in a start against Cleveland, but gave up a one-out single to Sandy Alomar Jr. The next year, he went into the eighth against Detroit before surrendering his first baserunner, with Frank Catalanotto reaching on a two-out double.
Those games were all in Mussina's heyday, and the 39-year-old likely no longer has the kind of stuff that would allow him to ask for one last dance with perfection, especially not at Fenway, where he has given up 20 runs in 20 innings over the past three seasons, with a WHIP of 2.05. Mussina doesn't have the velocity he used to, and his K/9 slipped to 5.39 last season, his worst campaign in the majors. Mussina still has his excellent command of the strike zone, however--his UBB/9 IP rate last season, despite his struggles, was still under 2, as it is for his career--which is what's keeping him afloat at this stage.
Mussina's numbers of late at Fenway Park are mirrored in the numbers of David Ortiz against the right-hander. Mussina owned Ortiz over a large part of the designated hitter's career, as Ortiz was 2-for-29 against him, with no extra-base hits, three walks, and 14 strikeouts through the 2004 season. Ortiz, in fact, has called Mussina the toughest pitcher that he has ever faced. From 2005-2007, however, Ortiz turned that completely around, going 12-for-25 against Mussina with three home runs. It will be interesting to see if Ortiz can get his season going against Mussina this afternoon, as the slugger who has finished in the top five of the AL MVP voting each of the past five seasons enters today with averages of .077/.250/.154 in 48 plate appearances.
Matchup: Rockies (4-6) at Diamondbacks (8-2), 12:55 MST, FOX
The Diamondbacks seem to be harboring a grudge with regards to last season's sweep in the NLCS at the hands of the Rockies, as Arizona has taken all four of its games against Colorado so far, outscoring the struggling Rockies by 28-7. Yesterday's win was highlighted by another blast from Justin Upton, his fourth of the season, three of which have come against Colorado. The absurdly talented Upton was cited by Dayn Perry yesterday as one of the chief reasons the Diamondbacks could outperform their PECOTA-projected total of 87 wins. Upton, just 20 years old, was the youngest player in the majors last year, and he is the youngest again this season. The next youngest, Yankees starter Philip Hughes, was born 14 months before Upton.
Upton and the D'Backs, however, were shut down by Rockies lefty Franklin Morales last Sunday, as Morales pitched six two-hit shutout innings in his first outing of the year, although Arizona came from behind against the Rockies bullpen to win. Morales, who had a 3.43 RA in 39.3 innings over eight starts for Colorado last season, ranks No. 13 overall, and No. 6 in the National League, on the Baseball Prospectus 2008 Top 100 Prospects list. According to Kevin Goldstein, Morales is "the best pure arm the Rockies have ever had in their system." Morales, however, will face a challenge in duplicating his initial success against Arizona, as the D'Backs are a heavily right-handed lineup--shortstop Stephen Drew is the only regular who bats exclusively from the left side--that boasts several players whose greatest offensive skill is crushing lefties. Eric Byrnes is already an esteemed member of the Eduardo Perez All-Stars thanks to his career OPS split when facing lefties/righties of 865/743, and Conor Jackson is on his way to joining him, with an 886/769 dichotomy through his first three plus seasons. Chris Young (830/742) and Chris Snyder (804/661) also hit significantly better against southpaws, and PECOTA projects Morales to have a greater-than-average platoon split on the mound this season by OPS against.
Matchup: Cubs (6-4) at Phillies (5-6), 7:05 ET
Speaking of walks, both of today's starting pitchers took major steps forward with their command last season, which allowed them both to enjoy the best years of their major league careers so far. For Hamels, of course, his career only spans two seasons, but still, dropping his UBB/9 IP rate from 3.0 in his rookie season to 1.9 last year was certainly a nifty trick. Walks had long been an issue for Lilly (3.5 UBB/9 IP entering 2007), but last year he posted a 2.3 UBB/9 IP rate in a career-high 207 innings. Part of that drop might have had to do with Lilly's change in scenery--in signing as a free agent with Chicago after three seasons in Toronto, he moved from the AL to the NL, which lately is a pretty good move for a pitcher. Not only that, but Lilly also went from facing the murderous AL East lineups of Boston and New York--offenses which ranked first and third in the majors in walks in 2006, respectively--to facing the weaker and less patient offenses in the NL Central (Pittsburgh was last in the NL in walks in 2007, while St. Louis and Milwaukee ranked 13-14, and Houston and Cincinnati 5-6). The Phillies, however, led the NL in walks last year, and posted an 834 OPS against lefties.
Matchup: Marlins (7-3) at Astros (3-8), 6:05 CT
While the team's pitching has been dreadful, the offense has been the second best in baseball this season by team OPS, behind only Arizona. The Marlins hit six home runs in yesterday's 10-6 beating of the Astros, two of which came off the bat of right fielder Jeremy Hermida, who was making his third start of the season after opening the year on the DL. The 24-year-old lefty-swinging Hermida has found it nearly impossible to stay healthy so far in his young career, although he did manage to play in 72 games after the All-Star break last season, and hit a robust .340/.401/.555 in 285 PA. PECOTA projected Hermida to hit .283/.378/.483 this season in 532 PA, with a 26 percent breakout rate. Hermida's teammate Mike Jacobs, who has also had trouble staying healthy, is tied for the major league lead with five homers at the start of his breakout-potential age-27 season. If 2008 is finally the year that both Jacobs and Hermida stay in the lineup for full seasons, then the Marlins could put quite a few more runs on the board than people expected them to.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.