July 10, 2008
Thursday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Rockies (39-53) at Brewers (50-41), 1:05 p.m. CT
Not only did Fielder hit more homers per fly ball last year, but he hit more fly balls, helping him to finish the year at the half-century mark in bombs. He also had no trouble going the other way with a pitch and taking it deep-he had seven homers hit to left and left-center last year-but Fielder has yet to clear the stands to the opposite field this season. Considering he also had seven to the opposite field in 2006, one has to think that pitchers are adjusting to Fielder by taking away his opposite-field power and busting him inside. Fielder chases a ton of pitches inside, and he doesn't hit very well there either, favoring the middle and outer parts of the zone. The .120 batting average on grounders to the right side of the infield-a category that makes up 29 percent of his balls in play this year-is a testament to how much more he struggles with the inside part of the plate, despite being a hitter with tremendous pull power. Fielder will need to adjust to the league and stop chasing pitches that he can't turn on, forcing pitchers to go back outside to him, where he's more dangerous. Given that he's just 24 years old, there's plenty of time to work out the kinks and put up more seasons like 2007.
Thanks to Hit Tracker for the home run data.
Matchup: Mariners (36-55) at Athletics (49-42), 12:35 p.m. PT
Like Zink, improvement came when he began to control the pitch more effectively: he walked just 1.5 per nine in 49 2/3 innings at Triple-A this year, and is at 3.7 per nine for the M's this year. That's still a few too many, but it's pretty close to his career rate, and he has the benefit of dropping his HR/9 substantially as well. Whereas Dickey's given up 1.4 per nine for his career, he's down to 0.8 this year, roughly 14 fewer homers allowed over 200 innings. He's not a ground-ball pitcher by any means, but he's managed to keep the ball down there more often than not, with a 1.6 G/F and 49 percent of balls in play as grounders. It helps that he complements his 73 mph knuckler with a fastball that averages 84.5 mph, using the latter pitch 26.7 percent of the time; it's guaranteed to look a lot faster coming in when it follows that knuckleball. Dickey's season looks similar to his 90th percentile PECOTA forecast, so it's going to be interesting to see if his success will continue with more innings.
Matchup: Rays (55-35) at Indians (37-53), 7:05 p.m. ET
The team obviously needs more bats if they want to compete over the next few years. Adding Matt LaPorta is a start, but he's just one guy. Casey Blake has picked things up, and if not for his poor start would have more than 13.9 VORP on the season, but he's also 34 years old and not about to get any better. Grady Sizemore is one of the best players in the league, and leads the team with 39.8 VORP, but he's also the leadoff hitter and the sole player making consistent contributions on offense. Despite a .299 OBP, Jhonny Peralta's achieving the second-highest VORP on the team, which should convince anyone that the Indians need to make some personnel changes on the field. They have seven players with a negative VORP and at least 30 PA, including two nearly everyday players in Asdrubal Cabrera and Franklin Gutierrez. With the entire roster struggling, it's nearly impossible to make additional trades that might inject talented youth into the organization without giving up more pitching. Casey Blake may be the only one from the offensive side, as his positional versatility and bat could be attractive to some teams on the bubble.
Matchup: Orioles (44-45) at Blue Jays (44-47), 7:07 p.m. ET
Jones is at 3.8 pitches per plate appearance, but that figure is sort of deceiving. It's not a particularly high mark, which makes sense when you consider that he's walking in around five percent of his plate appearances, but he's not taking the right pitches either. He swings 53 percent of the time, but only at 71 percent of pitches in the zone. When he does swing in the zone, he makes contact 83 percent of the time, though his overall contact is lower thanks to making contact about half the time on potential balls. This data suggests his patience is somewhat forced, and that his pitch recognition and discipline need work. He's going to have to change this problem to bring back his natural power at the major league level; given we're talking about a 22-year-old that both PECOTA and scouts adore, there's plenty of time to fix the situation. It's up to the O's and Jones to identify and tackle the problem though, not the analysts who think he can be better than this.
Matchup: Marlins (47-44) at Dodgers (45-46), 7:10 p.m. PT
As per Pythagoras, the Marlins are playing over their heads, so they are going to need Johnson to succeed like he has in the past if they want to keep up with the Phillies and Mets; the Brewers' acquisition of Sabathia, and the Cubs' pick-up of Rich Harden makes playing for the Wild Card that much more difficult in the National League. The Mets and Phillies both need to acquire outside help if they want to improve their rotations, and Johnson has the ability to outpitch most of their possible acquisitions now that those two top-tier options are off the market-that is, if he's legitimately healthy and able to stick around for the rest of the season.