July 18, 2008
Friday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Athletics (51-44) at Yankees (50-45), 7:05 p.m. ET
Oakland's offense has run well behind its starting staff all season, but the Athletics do have to be pleased with what they have received from rookie Carlos Gonzalez. Now splitting time between center and right field, the 22-year-old outfielder was the key piece of the Dan Haren trade last offseason, and has already hit 17 doubles in his first 39 major league games. Gonzalez reached 17 doubles in fewer plate appearances to start his career-147-than any player in the last 50 years, beating out Jorge Cantu, who got to the mark in 152 as a Tampa Bay rookie in 2004. (Another notable name on the list is Ben Francisco, Cleveland's rookie outfielder, who ranks fourth at 165 PA.) That doubles power is certainly encouraging, especially since it can often transform into home-run power as a player enters his prime, but Gonzalez now has to work on his plate discipline: he walked four times against 37 strikeouts in the first half. It will be intriguing to see whether the Athletics' emphasis on developing a keen batting eye and taking walks will change Gonzalez's free-swinging approach as he matures in Oakland.
Thanks to Jason Paré for database research.
Matchup: Phillies (52-44) at Marlins (50-45), 7:10 p.m. ET
Moyer's youthful opponent is working on a streak of seven consecutive quality starts, tied for the third longest in the National League this season. The 25-year-old Nolasco is having a breakout campaign in his third season since coming over to the Marlins from the Cubs in the December 2005 deal for Juan Pierre. That trade also netted Florida right-hander Sergio Mitre (out for the year after Tommy John surgery) and lefty Renyel Pinto, who has proven to be an extremely solid reliever. The Pierre trade therefore brought the Marlins their respective leader in both SNLVAR and WXRL this season, which makes it one of the bigger fleecings of the decade.
Matchup: Blue Jays (47-48) at Rays (55-39), 7:10 p.m. ET
Before looking ahead to the playoffs, however, the Rays will first have to prevent their seven-game pre-break losing streak from carrying over to the second half. They will look to end the slide against a Toronto team that won five of its six games heading into the break, capped by a gem from Burnett, who turned in eight shutout innings against the Yankees before getting touched for a solo shot by Jason Giambi in the ninth frame of Toronto's 4-1 win. Burnett has been maddeningly inconsistent this season-last Sunday's start followed two outings in which he allowed eight and seven runs, which in turn came after a two-start stretch in which he gave up just a single tally in 15 innings. Of pitchers qualifying for the ERA title, Burnett has the fourth-highest per-start variation in SNLVAR, as measured by Flake. That certainly hasn't helped his trade value, which took a further hit when the team rumored to be the one most interested in his services, Philadelphia, decided to instead acquire Oakland's Joe Blanton.
Matchup: Dodgers (46-49) at Diamondbacks (47-48), 6:40 p.m. CT
The Dodgers could clearly use a return even to last year's inferior form by center fielder Andruw Jones in order to help take back the West from Arizona. How bad was Jones' first half? If you answered "historically bad," you've won an autographed Tony Pena Jr. bat shard. Jones currently has more than twice as many strikeouts as hits (59 to 27). in the last 50 years, there have been just six other players to do the same in a season of at least 180 plate appearances:
Year Player Team PA H K OPS+* 1991 Rob Deer DET 539 80 175 92 1964 Dave Nicholson CHA 351 60 126 96 2001 Mark McGwire SLN 364 56 118 105 1962 Dave Nicholson BAL 202 30 76 80 1985 Rob Deer SFN 187 30 71 88 2007 Jason LaRue KCA 195 25 66 33 2004 David Ross LAN 190 28 62 44 1968 Ray Oyler DET 247 29 59 20 2008 Andruw Jones LAN 189 27 59 35 *Data from Baseball-Reference.com
That doesn't tell the full story, however. Not only has Jones whiffed more than twice as often as he's reached on a hit, but he's also been hitting for less power than usual, as 2/3 of his 27 safeties have been singles. That has led to a slugging percentage of .248, and just 41 total bases. If you divide strikeouts by total bases, Jones comes up with the third-highest ratio (minimum 180 plate appearances) in the last 50 years, at 1.44. The only players with a worse ratio of K/TB are two obscure shortstops from the late '60s: Darrel Chaney, who struck out 75 times while collecting 49 total bases in his rookie season for the '69 Reds, and Oyler, who whiffed 59 times versus 40 total bases for the '68 Tigers. Oyler apparently boasted his own fan club, but Jones hasn't won over many fans in his new hometown, as the Chavez Ravine crowd has taken to booing him at every opportunity, despite the strains of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" which accompany his trips to the plate. Even laid-back Angelenos, it turns out, don't appreciate being told not to "worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be alright," when they can clearly see that there is a great deal to be concerned about.
Matchup: Red Sox (57-40) at Angels (57-38), 7:05 p.m. ET
The question for Los Angeles as it enters the second half is whether or not the team can keep outstripping its Pythagorean record to the degree it has to this point. It sounds simple, but perhaps the single most important thing a manager can do to help win close contests is to give the highest-leverage innings at the end of games to the team's best relief pitchers. Mike Scioscia has done just that-Francisco Rodriguez leads the team in leverage, old rubber-armed warhorse Scot Shields ranks second, and rookie Jose Arredondo is third. That trio has been worth seven wins above replacement level, bumping the Angels to fourth in the majors in WXRL despite their overall bullpen performance ranking just 16th by ARP. No other bullpen threesome has added more wins than the Angels' trinity. Arredondo entered the majors on May 14 after a strong start to the season at Triple-A Salt Lake, and almost immediately was promoted by Scioscia to a late-inning role: he entered the game in the seventh inning or later in 19 of his 21 first-half appearances. The rookie has thrived with that pressure, and proven to be extremely difficult to hit, with just 12 safeties allowed in 24 innings. Arredondo has already undergone two transitions in his career-first from shortstop to pitcher, and then from starter to reliever-but he appears to have now found his calling as the inimitable Frankie's flame-throwing sidekick.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.