Happy Labor Day! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume on Tuesday, September 2.
July 3, 2008
Thursday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Brewers (46-38) at Diamondbacks (42-43), 12:40 p.m. MST
Parra's main issue this year has been a lack of consistency. He was beat around in his first few starts, with a 5.79 ERA, 5.5 BB/9, and 1.1 HR/9, but since then has managed to stay in games longer (six innings per start in his last nine starts, against 4 2/3 per start his first seven) and has given up fewer walks, though 4.3 per nine is still too high given his strikeout rates. He's still struggling on occasion (three homers and 10 hits against Houston on 6/11; six walks versus one strikeout on 6/22) but the overall results are an improvement. He has the upside of a No. 2 starter, and he's briefly flashed that ability at times in 2008, sticking around his weighted mean PECOTA forecast.
Matchup: Phillies (46-39) at Braves (40-45), 7:00 p.m. ET
When you strike out (and walk) as often as Howard does, you will occasionally have campaigns where your average craters and your production suffers a bit. Adam Dunn, a player more similar to Ryan Howard than most, had this happen to him in 2003 when he hit .215/.354/.465 with 126 strikeouts-that's a strikeout 33.1 percent of the time. Carlos Pena is going through a spell of that this year as well, hitting .223/.335/.415 with strikeouts in 33.2 percent of his PA. A lot of things could change for Howard in the second half of the season if more of his balls in play start landing for hits like they are supposed to, so it's a bit early to think that his bat speed has slipped. His "disappointing" power output still has him crushing fly balls for homers 28.4 percent of the time, and he still has plenty of power to the opposite field, with seven homers there and 10 to center this season. Opposing pitchers have been busting him inside this year though, as he's hit the ball on the ground more often, and to his pull side. He's hitting .208 on pitches high and inside, and .153 on pitches low and in; pitchers going there with their offerings are most likely part of the reason he's hit 40.3 percent of his balls in play to the right side of the infield, a spot where he's hitting just .145 on the season. This is something he'll have to adjust to, or else he'll have to deal with losing his pull power; the results of that problem are seen in his season line.
Matchup: Cubs (51-34) at Giants (37-48), 4:05 p.m. PT
If there's one reason the Giants may be able to avoid losing 100 games this year, it's their rotation. We're a few games past the halfway point of the season, and Lincecum's accounted for 4.0 SNLVAR, third in the majors, but just one full win above replacement ahead of teammate Jonathan Sanchez. Between the two of them the Giants have seven wins above replacement in the bank, which makes it easy to see why they have been able to avoid the "historically awful" label pushed on them by many analysts during spring training. Let's not forget that they also have Matt Cain (2.2 SNLVAR) in there, and that Barry Zito, while pitching poorly overall, is essentially back to being at replacement level now (-0.1 SNLVAR) rather than well below it. The offense may not score many runs-just 4.0 per game-but with the rotation keeping them in games deep, they have been able to keep their run differential closer than expected.
Matchup: Athletics (45-39) at White Sox (49-35), 7:11 p.m. CT
Matchup: Tigers (42-42) at Mariners (33-51), 7:10 p.m. PT
Month IP ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Mar/Apr 36.0 6.50 5.0 4.5 1.3 May 39.0 3.92 5.5 3.0 0.7 June 33.0 2.73 9.3 3.8 0.6
In May he allowed fewer walks and homers, though his strikeout rate didn't jump all that much. He's remembered how to put hitters away during his last five starts though, putting up a dominating 9.3 punchouts per nine. Verlander seems to have finally fixed his mechanical issues from earlier in the year-he was pitching with his front side flying open, which reduces command and control and can make it easier on a hitter to pick up on incoming pitches-as his velocity is back as well; whereas he started the year with an average fastball velocity in the low 90s and worked his way up to an average of 92.9 mph by May 25, we now see Verlander approaching 94 mph, at 93.6 average velocity. He's obviously been firing higher than that, or else the average would not be climbing, and that increase in velocity has helped him sit hitters down on his own once again.
Verlander's timing for a revival couldn't be better, with Jeremy Bonderman out for the duration and the Tigers trying to put some space between themselves and a .500 record. He opens up a series against the worst team in the American League tonight, giving us a chance to see his lively fastball and fixed mechanics in action while attempting to get his team over .500 for good.