A meaningful Royals-Twins matchup, the Blue Jays are on a tear, and more, plus what to watch for tonight.
The Monday Takeaway
The Royals entered Monday just a game back of the Twins after dropping two of three to the Rangers over the weekend. As the Minnesota and Kansas City last played each other in late April when the Twins were 6–9 and the Royals were 11–4, this was likely the most important Twins-Royals game in twelve years.
The Royals got on the board early with former Twin Kendrys Morales' two-run home run. A year after being god-awful for the Twins and the Mariners, with minus-0.9 WARP, Morales has been surprisingly excellent for the Royals, turning in a .297 TAv and 1.2 WARP. His resurgence doesn't appear to be a BABIP-fueled surge, as his mark is a bit high at .325 but not overwhelmingly so. He's limited the amount of soft contact this year to about 12 percent of his batted balls—much lower than last year's 17 percent—and his line-drive rate has returned to levels seen in some of his more successful years in Anaheim. Although he's not hitting an insane number of homers relative to his pre-2014 norms, his fly-ball rate is the highest it's been since his 34–home run season in 2009.
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Results in the first week of the season can be volatile, especially on the mound, where many pitchers are still getting themselves into game shape. It is common to see velocities that are lower than peak, a higher frequency of mistimed deliveries, and strict pitch-count limitations as teams ease their aces into the new season.
This opening week was gratifying for those fantasy managers who invested in top-tier pitching on draft day, with a plethora of shutdown performances coming from the top-ranked players on the mound. The near-perfection of Yu Darvish was expertly covered by the Baseball Prospectus team earlier this week, and though his stat line was certainly aided by his facing the American League's weakest lineup, the performance was a positive indicator that Darvish's late-season success of 2012 will carry over into this season.
A look at how agencies may share in the responsibility of PED use.
It probably goes without saying, but when a player tests positive for performance-enhancing drugs, it impacts his career. Not only does the player get suspended 50 games without pay for a first-time offense, it ripples forward into how that player’s performance is perceived in the future. If the player is marketable, it can go further by impacting things such as sponsorships. This is, of course, by design. The idea is that if the penalties are high enough, it acts as a deterrent. It's essentially a case of "if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime."
What hasn’t been discussed is the impact on the player representatives and how they fit into the mix. For most fans, the assumption has been that a violation of the league and union’s Joint Drug Agreement (JDA) is predominantly a reflection of the player himself with little thought as to how others come into play.
Is there anything to the notion that teams need an ace to compete in October, or is it just another in a long line of flawed theories about post-season success?
As October approaches, several contending teams find themselves without ironclad aces at the top of their rotations. The Rangers will go into Game One with Yu Darvish, who’s riding a string of several strong starts but has struggled at times during his debut season. The A’s may have to enter October with an all-rookie rotation lacking both Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. The Orioles’ rotation is fronted by Wei-Yin Chen, who’s been barely better than league average. The Cardinals are hoping the reckoning for Kyle Lohse doesn't come until 2013. Should the Dodgers claim a wild card, their hopes of advancing to the NLDS might depend on Josh Beckett. And even Yankees ace CC Sabathia has looked uncharacteristically shaky in the second half.
Meanwhile, a few other playoff locks and hopefuls can count on handing the ball to a starter who’s been consistently successful all season. The White Sox (Chris Sale and Jake Peavy), the Nationals (Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann), the Tigers (Justin Verlander), the Reds (Johnny Cueto), and even teams on the periphery of the race like the Angels (Jered Weaver) and Rays (David Price) can rest secure in the knowledge that their top starter would match up well with any opponent in a play-in game or at the start of a series.
Checking in on five prominent starters who've seen noticeable changes in their mechanical timing this season.
There is no overstating the importance of timing. It can be the difference between meeting your future spouse and just missing the taxi cab, or it can separate a well-executed strike from a mistake pitch that is deposited into the bleachers. Timing is the most critical variable in the pitching equation, particularly as it pertains to the sequencing of events within the kinetic chain. Gameday performance is heavily influenced by a pitcher's ability to harness his timing and sequencing, factors that determine the command, velocity, and movement on his pitches.
Of all the grades on the mechanics report card, the score for repetition is not only the most difficult to evaluate—since hundredths of a second can separate the haves from the have-nots—but it is also the most volatile element during the season. Case in point, a number of pitchers that were covered by Raising Aces in the spring have since experienced large changes to their timing patterns, adjustments that could alter their individual outlooks for performance down the stretch.
Finding an ace for a staff is exceedingly difficult, but there are some prospects who could emerge to fill that label.
So how does the industry define an ace? Is in on a performance level? A scouting level? Some combination or both, or something more esoteric? “I think every team has an ace,” said one American League Scouting Director. “There is someone on the staff who is a leader both on and off the field, but I don't think ace necessarily equates to No. 1 starter.”
How did a historically brilliant starting staff get no further than fourth place?
Since 1901, the major leagues have sported 2166 single team seasons, 2182 if you count the Federal League. In that time, the top 15 or so pitchers each season are generally thought of as aces, with adjusted ERA (ERA+, or ERA normalized for parks and leagues, with 100 being average) serving as the easy guide to an ace. After adding a few thresholds--22 GS/130 IP (to weed out some super-relievers from the '70s and a few rookie sensations called up in July), no fewer than nine wins, and a WHIP under 1.4 to help weed out flukes and pitchers who don't go deep enough into ballgames to get regular decisions--I got down to 1478 of these ace-level seasons, which seemed about right. It's not a perfect way of identifying aces, but since an ace is as much about perception as it is the performance, ERA+ with some qualifiers serves as a decent enough proxy. There are worse methods.
By this standard, some teams have multiple aces in a year. Forty-nine clubs had three aces (or ace-level performers, if you prefer), and five others had at least four. Here are those five, with their ERA+ listed next to their names: