May 23, 2008
Friday's Games to Watch
Today's Full Slate of Games
Matchup: Royals (21-26) at Blue Jays (24-25), 7:07 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Zack Greinke (62 IP, 2.32 RA, 1.16 WHIP, 43 K) vs. Roy Halladay (72 IP, 3.63 RA, 1.04 WHIP, 57 K)
Pythagorean Record: Kansas City, 20-27 (177 RS, 211 RA); Toronto, 24-25 (185 RS, 191 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Kansas City, #22; Toronto, #15
Prospectus: The pitching matchup of the day features the Royals' 24-year old aspiring ace going up against the Jays' veteran workhorse. Greinke has been successful from Opening Day on, but there was some concern about his sustaining that performance over the long run thanks to his initially poor strikeout rates. Over his first five starts, Greinke punched out just 4.8 hitters per nine, a step backwards from the 7.8 K/9 he posted last year. Since May began, he's found his groove, at least in the strike zone, striking out 8.3 hitters per nine and giving up just 1.7 BB/9 this month. The problem is that his homers have jumped considerably, with at least one allowed per start over his last four. Pitching in Toronto tonight won't help things on the homer front, given the Rogers Centre's tendency to reward fly-ball hitters.
Halladay spent the last few years turning into a groundball-first, strikeout-second pitcher. His strikeout rates fell towards the league average, with 5.4 and 5.6 K/9 the past two years while he posted G/F ratios of 2.6 and 1.8. This year we're seeing the best of both Halladays, as he's bumped his strikeout rate back up to the highest rate we've seen from him since 2003 (7.1 in '08, 6.9 in '03) while also further increasing the rate at which he induces groundballs (60 percent). Halladay could not have picked a better season for this, with the Blue Jays ranking second in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, converting 72.3 percent of batted balls into outs. Halladay and Shaun Marcum seem to be the only two benefiting from this-Marcum has allowed an unsustainably low .173 BABIP with the help of the defense-with the rest of the rotation flirting with league-average production.
Matchup: Brewers (22-25) at Nationals (20-28), 7:35 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Jeff Suppan (52 2/3 IP, 5.29 RA, 1.59 WHIP, 22 K) vs. Odalis Perez (56 IP, 4.50 RA, 1.54 WHIP, 41 K)
Pythagorean Record: Milwaukee, 21-26 (208 RS, 232 RA); Washington, 19-29 (183 RS, 231 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Milwaukee, 23#; Washington, #29
Prospectus: The Brewers were supposed to contend with the Cubs in the NL Central this year, but instead they're having trouble staying around .500. The offense isn't bad, but it isn't good either: a .251 EqA puts them below average, and 4.4 runs scored per game isn't going to cut it when your pitching staff gives up just shy of five per outing. A lot of the negative attention has gone to Eric Gagne and his -0.612 WXRL, worst on the club and 14th worst in the majors. It also isn't helping the Brewers that only a single WXRL separates their best reliever, Solomon Torres (0.606), from their worst performer, Gagne. The bullpen is allowing opponents to hit .259/.367/.390 and ranks 25th in the majors as a club in WXRL. Whereas the bullpen has trouble keeping hitters off of the basepaths, the starters allow the bases to be cleared too often, with opponents posting a .185 ISO. The loss of Yovani Gallardo for the year may spell doom for the Brewers, as all of their starters without the surname Sheets have, to put it kindly, struggled.
With the pitching staff in disarray, the lineup is going to need to pick up the pace; hitting .246/.320/.401 is nowhere near enough of an attack to redeem these pitchers. Especially disappointing is how much the highly-touted infield has struggled. Prince Fielder isn't hitting for his usual power (.171 ISO), Rickie Weeks and Bill Hall can't get any of their batted balls to land for hits, and J.J. Hardy (.250/.331/.329) can't seem to get enough hits or mash for power. The defense is around the average as well, converting 69.7 of batted balls into outs, which isn't doing their pitchers many favors.
Matchup: Diamondbacks (28-19) at Braves (26-21), 7:30 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Doug Davis (9 2/3 IP, 4.64 RA, 1.86 WHIP, 11 K) vs. Jo-Jo Reyes (19 2/3 IP, 4.57 RA, 1.78 WHIP, 17 K)
Pythagorean Record: Arizona, 28-19 (241 RS, 192 RA); Atlanta, 29-18 (232 RS, 172 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Arizona, #2; Atlanta, #4
Prospectus: This is Davis' first start since April 8, when he threw six innings, struck out seven, walked a pair and limited the Dodgers to two runs; that was the last for Davis before he headed into surgery to combat thyroid cancer two days later. The surgery was successful, and now Davis finds himself back on the mound just a little over a month later, ready to face one of the best lineups in the National League. It has been a good week for stories like this, with fellow cancer survivor Jon Lester's no-hitter deservedly dominating the news wire the day after it happened. We can only hope Davis has the same kind of fortune and health in his future that Lester has managed since his treatment.
On the analysis side of things, Reyes has a decent enough ERA, but his peripherals are a little more problematic. The lefty was not eligible for Kevin Goldstein's Top 11 Prospects for the Braves, but Kevin did rank him as the tenth best talent under the age of 25 in the organization, so there's hope for improvement. He's improved his strikeout and walk rates dramatically from last year's time in the majors, and sample-size issues aside, it's encouraging, especially given his dominating performance at Triple-A the first few weeks of the season (23 IP, 1.17 ERA, 9.8 K/9, no homers allowed). The problem has been with the rate at which he's giving up hits: opponents are hitting .335 against him with a .412 BABIP. Atlanta has the fifth best defense in the majors via Defensive Efficiency.
Matchup: Phillies (27-22) at Astros (27-22), 7:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Adam Eaton (48 1/3 IP, 5.59 RA, 1.55 WHIP, 27 K) vs. Brandon Backe (55 IP, 4.91 RA,1.58 WHIP, 42 K)
Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 27-22 (239 RS, 213 RA); Houston, 25-24 (239 RS, 228 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #14; Houston, #12
Prospectus: Philadelphia is tied for the fourth-most runs in the majors (alongside tonight's opponent) on the strength of a .267 Team EqA and team line of .261/.335/.447. Their +26 run differential is seventh best in the majors and fourth best in the NL; despite the offensive fireworks, thanks to a rotation that essentially consists of Cole Hamels, the gap isn't wider. While the bullpen has put on an excellent performance, holding opponents to a .231/.318/.329 line while ranking second in the NL in WXRL, Phillies starters have allowed opponents to bash them to the tune of .283/.343/.463, the equivalent of turning every hitter into Nick Markakis. Oddly enough, given that Philly is home to one of the most offense-oriented parks in the majors, these problems have come mostly on the road, where starting pitchers are giving up a .307/.374/.517 showing; that's pretty close to turning every hitter into David Wright, which is not an ideal situation for any team. Those numbers include Hamels' starts, who has held the 286 batters he's faced to a .202/.261/.328 line. The fact that the Phils have only used 12 pitchers on their roster through almost two months of baseball is neat, but for the sake of the team's performance they might want to think about jumping that number up to replace the dregs in the rotation sooner rather than later if they want to keep up in the NL East.
Matchup: Mets (22-23) at Rockies (18-29), 7:05 p.m. MT
Probable Starters: Oliver Perez (48 2/3 IP, 5.17 RA, 1.42 WHIP, 41 K) vs. Greg Reynolds (11 2/3 IP, 3.09 RA, 1.11 WHIP, 3 K)
Pythagorean Record: New York, 23-23 (213 RS, 211 RA); Colorado, 19-28 (198 RS, 238 RA)
Hit List Rankings: New York, #11; Colorado, #26
Prospectus: Reynolds makes his third start of the season tonight, looking to make himself a bright spot on an otherwise disappointing Rockies season. Reynolds is striking out just 2.3 hitters per nine while walking 3.1. This is a problem for a pitcher from Colorado, as you need to put the ball on the ground or by the hitter as often as possible to survive. The 6'7" right-hander was drafted second overall in the 2006 draft, and is potentially a good fit for Colorado due to his ground-ball tendencies in the minors. Kevin Goldstein ranked Reynolds as the third best prospect in the Rockies organization this winter, a four-star prospect. However, his strikeout rates are going to be something to watch, as Goldstein noted, "…he didn't miss many bats [at Double-A], and scouts failed to identify that one plus-plus go-to offering." He struck out even fewer hitters per nine during his 33 1/3 inning stop at Colorado Springs, with just 4.3 per nine. Given the nature of Coors Field, a lack of strikeouts would be a serious issue for the young Stanford product. He has solid stuff, but he isn't overpowering, and he needs to use his height to his advantage to induce grounders. He has to pan out for the Rockies to avoid any further regret over the 2006 draft-the Rox picked Reynolds ahead of Evan Longoria, which isn't something most Rockies fans probably want to think about.