What has to go wrong for Justin Verlander to have a bad day at work?
The stage was set for an epic duel in Arlington last Thursday, pitting perennial CY Young contender Justin Verlander against 2013's frontrunner for the hardware, Yu Darvish of the Rangers. The matchup was a slam-dunk selection for the Game of the Week on this week's episode of TINSTAAPP, and the hype was such that it took thoughtful consideration before co-host/BP colleague Paul Sporer reluctantly chose the “under” when I set the line at 23 strikeouts for the two starters combined.
To say that the game fell short of expectation is a massive understatement. Darvish threw 130 pitches in a game in which he surrendered four runs over the first four frames yet was in no danger of losing. Verlander saw to it that Darvish would get his seventh win of the season, surrendering eight earned runs before he could escape the third inning. The third frame of Thursday's game was the worst of Verlander's career—the Rangers plated seven runners, including two via bases-loaded walks, and the outing ended mercifully after Geovany Soto knocked a 97-mph fastball into the left-field stands for an 8-3 Ranger lead.
Last night, the Orioles won thanks to the contributions of unexpected players. Tonight, Jay Bruce will try to slow down Matt Harvey.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Saddled with a six-game losing streak, during which their closer, Jim Johnson, had blown as many saves as he did over all of last season, the Orioles badly needed a jolt last night. Baltimore’s playoff odds had plummeted by 17.3 percentage points over its skid, which dropped the Orioles’ record to 23-21 and left them five games behind the first-place Yankees.
So, on Tuesday night, Buck Showalter’s team did what it did down the stretch in 2012, when a 48-29 surge after the All-Star break brought the American League wild card to Baltimore. It got significant contributions from unexpected players—players that Dan Duquette and his staff unearthed from the scrap heap in the preceding months.
Have any center fielders distinguished themselves as worthy of first-round selection?
One of the areas of strength in this draft class is high school center fielders; there’s a strong case for as many as seven or eight being selected in the first two rounds. The collegiate ranks are drastically thinner; the only two potential first-rounders are likely to end up elsewhere on the diamond. Because the prep ranks are so deep, there is excellent potential for a strong scouting department to identify good value in the third or fourth round.
Indians righty Justin Masterson has improved considerably against left-handed hitters this season, and the strides he has made with his slider are at the root of his success.
Nick Swisher is one of my favorite players in baseball to watch play the game because I appreciate how he works a count and genuinely seems to enjoy playing the game. My favorite part about his game actually comes off the field, because he is comedic gold when you get him talking on a topic he is excited about. Take his recent assessment of teammate Justin Masterson.
Swisher was asked by Bud Shaw of the Cleveland Plain Dealer to describe teammate Justin Masterson in three words, and in the most Swisher response ever, he replied, “Power sinker, bro.” Swisher expanded his bro-view of the hurler by adding, “What’s really impressive is the number of strikeouts he’s had. Look at any great team and it starts with that number-one guy.”
Carlos Ruiz was placed on the disabled list on Monday with a Grade 2 hamstring strain, and he's expected to be out three to four weeks. While he is on the DL, Kratz will handle the starting catcher duties with Humberto Quintero serving as his backup. The 33-year-old backstop didn't do much with Ruiz serving a 25-game suspension to open the season, but he did hit three homers in just 92 plate appearances. He hits the ball in the air regularly (34.8 percent outfield fly-ball rate), and that will help his home-run power play up. He's not a catcher that should be rostered in most mixed leagues, even those in which teams start two catchers, but his steady playing time for the next month or so coupled with enough power to reach the seats a few times is reason enough to own him in larger NL-only formats.
Why it pays to look at the weather forecast before starting a flyball pitcher at Wrigley Field.
One of the first axioms I learned when I wandered into the world of sports betting was to heed Wrigley Field’s winds. Wrigley’s proximity to Lake Michigan gave it a reputation for dramatically affecting fly balls, which would inflate or deflate the game over/under on runs. If the wind was blowing out, fly balls were expected to sail out as home runs, and the total would be unusually high. A low total typically meant that winds were blowing toward home plate, suppressing fly balls.
Vegas already knew this, which unfortunately added an additional dimension to handicapping Cubs home games. Amazingly though, this advice was extremely exploitable in fantasy baseball. An “@ChC” note next to my pitcher meant a trip to Baseball Weather Analyzer or Daily Baseball Data (two sweet resources) to examine Wrigley Field’s conditions that day. Flyball pitchers sat on blow-out days and started on blow-in days.
The pitches pitchers don't throw for strikes, to try to get strikes.
There’s a story about Gene Bearden in Veeck as in Wreckthat I’ve written about before. As a 27-year-old rookie in 1948, the knuckleballing Bearden posted a 2.43 ERA in 37 games and 29 starts for the Indians, winning 20 games and finishing second to Alvin Dark in Rookie of the Year voting. But he couldn’t sustain his success. In Bearden’s sophomore season, Casey Stengel, who had managed Bearden during his successful 1947 PCL campaign with the Oakland Oaks, was hired to manage the Yankees. Stengel, the story goes, knew that Bearden’s knuckleball “usually dipped below the strike zone after it broke, which meant that [he] was totally dependent upon getting the batter to swing.” So he instructed his hitters not to swing at the knuckler until there were two strikes, forcing Bearden to elevate it or throw his unremarkable fastball or curve. The scouting report spread around the rest of the league, Bearden became more hittable, and his walk rate rose. Working primarily out of the bullpen, he posted a 90 ERA+ from 1949 on and was out of the majors after 1953.
It’s an interesting story, and the stats mostly support it. Bearden was probably due for some regression, Stengel’s advance scouting aside—his BABIP in 1948 was some 40 points below the AL average (low even for a knuckleballer), he walked more batters than he struck out, and he allowed only nine home runs in 229 1/3 innings. But in 1949, his walk rate rose by more than two batters per nine, and he allowed 11 runs in nine IP against the Yankees, posting a lower strikeout-to-walk ratio (0.17) against them than he did against any other team. (Admittedly, Bearden struggled against the Yankees in 1948, too. The Yankees were good.)
With less than a month until draft day, which players are making names for themselves in the corner outfield market?
This year’s draft class offers an interesting blend of talent at the outfield corners, particularly at the prep ranks, where we find a dynamic cross-section of thumpers, pure hit tools, and a little of everything in between. At the collegiate ranks, some of the top talents include current infielders and center fielders that project better to a corner at the next level, with perhaps the best current corner outfielder in the class representing one of the biggest displays of helium over the past 12 months.