May 7, 2008
Wednesday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Indians (15-17) at Yankees (17-17), 7:05 p.m. ET
Wang has succeeded so far with a ground-ball rate of 54 percent, which, though still high, would be the lowest mark of his career. This dip may be related to the fact that Wang is throwing more sliders this year. In fact, a look at Wang's ground-ball percentage compared with pitch selection over the course of his career reveals an interesting trend:
Year IP GB% %SINKER* %SLIDER* K/9 2005 116.1 65.3 77.9 12.9 3.6 2006 218.0 63.8 75.5 14.7 3.1 2007 199.1 58.4 76.4 16.2 4.7 2008 45.0 54.0 74.8 20.6 6.4*Data courtesy Baseball Info Solutions and FanGraphs
Wang has consistently thrown more sliders and a few less sinkers since his rookie season, which seems to be related to the lowering of his ground-ball percentage and the rise in his strikeout rate, as the sinker induces few swings-and-misses, while the slider is Wang's out pitch. Fewer groundballs this season have also led to a lower BABIP (.272) and hit rate (7.6 H/9) than he's had the past two years, which makes sense because grounders are more likely to turn into hits than fly balls are. All in all, it appears that Wang's increased balance between slider and sinker is a definite positive, as he has traded some groundballs for some strikeouts, while still so far maintaining his ability to keep the ball in the park (one homer allowed).
Matchup: Giants (14-19) at Pirates (13-19), 7:05 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh ripped a Giants left-hander last night, and will look to do the same tonight when Zito takes the hill after a nine-day break from mound duty. The veteran lefty was the third pitcher since 1956 to begin the season with six losses in March/April, along with Dave Stewart in 1984 and Mike Maroth in 2003, and will resume his quest tonight to avoid becoming the first 20-game loser since Maroth. Zito will be opposed by fellow southpaw Dumatrait, who is making his second start since taking the spot of the now-retired Matt Morris. Dumatrait doesn't promise to be that much of an improvement over Morris: he lasted just four innings in his first start, and dating back to last season has completed the fifth inning in only one of seven career starts. Dumatrait and the rest of the Bucs pitchers have allowed more runs than any other major league staff this season, so this series against the toothless Giants represents a stoppable force vs. movable object type of battle.
Matchup: Twins (16-15) at White Sox (14-16), 7:11 p.m. CT
Hernandez's strong work has helped Minnesota quietly move into first place in the AL Central, that despite an offense that ranks next-to-last in the circuit in runs. The Twins' ascension is mainly because every other team in the division has struggled significantly, none more so lately than the White Sox. Chicago had lost six in a row with just nine runs scored in that stretch before last night's win, prompting an Ozzie Guillen blowup and a shuffle of the batting order, with Carlos Quentin moving from seventh to second, Orlando Cabrera from second to leadoff, and Nick Swisher from leadoff to sixth. Elevating the emerging Quentin in the lineup makes sense, but replacing Swisher and his .341 OBP with Cabrera and his .293 mark doesn't seem like an inspired decision. Swisher was drawing walks out of the leadoff spot--he ranks second in the AL with 24, good for the highest rate of his career--but not doing much else, with a .196 BA and .304 SLG. It's possible that Swisher was taking his responsibility as a leadoff hitter too seriously, and was letting hittable pitches go by in his effort to work the count--he has seen a career-high and AL-leading 4.27 P/PA. Guillen might feel that hitting lower in the order will take that pressure off Swisher and get him to focus more on driving the ball.
Thanks to Jason Paré for database research.
Matchup: Cardinals (22-12) at Rockies (12-21), 6:35 p.m. MT
Albert Pujols has reached base via hit or walk in all 34 games this season, and sports a .503 OBP, which would be the highest non-Bonds single-season mark since 1957, when both Ted Williams (.526) and Mickey Mantle (.512) had monster years. Pujols has drawn 34 walks already, putting him on pace for 162, which would tie the St. Louis franchise record set by Mark McGwire in his 70-homer 1998 season. The Rockies have had no such virtuoso performances, and rank 10th in the NL in runs scored. Colorado has never finished lower than fifth in the league in runs. The Rockies' issues on offense stem from the middle infield--Colorado has gotten a sub-600 OPS from second base and shortstop, having been left scrambling to cover for Troy Tulowitzki's injury and Jayson Nix's failed trial. The good news is that catcher Chris Iannetta finally seems poised to deliver on his offensive potential. Iannetta is hitting .362 through 47 at-bats, and nine of his 17 hits have gone for extra bases. He has started three straight games over slumping veteran Yorvit Torrealba, and capitalized with five hits in the past two. Despite his major league struggles the last two years, PECOTA projected Iannetta for a very healthy .048 MLVr (as compared to -.114 for Torrealba), so the second-year man seizing the job would be a boon for Colorado's production.
Matchup: Rangers (14-20) at Mariners (14-20), 7:10 p.m. PT
There isn't much that the 27-year-old Hamilton hasn't done in his brief time in the major leagues--he ranked sixth among NL center fielders in Dan Fox's total defense metric in his rookie 2007 season, thanks largely to a fantastic throwing arm--but he has yet to prove he can hit lefties. Last season, Hamilton put up an unsightly .222/.296/.292 line in 81 PA against southpaws. So far this year he's 9-for-31 against them, and will get another shot at showing he's improved tonight against one of the game's premier lefties. Bedard is not as tough on left-handed batters as might be expected given his dominance--last year, lefties actually had a higher OPS (696 in 153 PA) than righties (594 in 580) against him, and over the course of his career Bedard has allowed lefties to get on base at a far better clip than righties (.340 OBP vs. .314).
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.