A brutal eight-game losing streak has taken the Atlanta Braves from first to worst in the NL East.
The Weekend Takeaway
It’s not all that hard to go from first to last in nine days this early in the season. To do so as resoundingly as the Braves have, though, takes a special kind of awfulness.
At the end of play on May 20, Fredi Gonzalez’s team was 26-16 and enjoyed a 1 ½-game lead in the National League East. At the close of shop last night, the Braves had slipped to 26-24 and sat in a last-place tie with the Phillies, four games behind the first-place Nationals.
Wondering what happened to the Ubaldo Jimenez the Indians thought they were acquiring? Look no further than his disintegrating mechanics.
Ubaldo Jimenez is a fascinating example of how a pitcher performance can turn sour due to the influence of mechanics.
Ben Lindbergh recently noted the precipitous drop in Ubaldo's fastball velocity, which has lost four full ticks since his 2010 breakout, averaging just under 93 mph so far this season. Never known for his control, the right-handed Jimenez has reached new heights with the free pass in 2012, handing out 6.3 walks per nine innings compared to a career rate of four walks per nine. His ground-ball percentage has also suffered a decline, dropping 10 percentage points from two years ago to contribute to a homer rate that is almost double his career average. All of his stats are trending in the wrong directions, with a career-low K rate and an AL-high 25 walks allowed over six starts.
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Albert Pujols may be struggling, but there are major-league regulars doing even worse.
Albert Pujols you know about. The $240 million man has yet to get untracked for the Angels and ended the month of April hitting a paltry .217/.265/.304 without a homer. He's hardly the only hitter who has begun 2012 in a funk, though. In fact, 41 other hitters came into Tuesday with True Averages lower than or equal to that of Pujols' .225 in at least 65 plate appearances, i.e., enough to qualify for the batting title. Sure, those are small samples sizes, but we're 14 percent of the way through the season, with one page of the calendar wadded up into a ball, so it's not like we can't at least gawk at the outliers. What follows is a look at a half-dozen AL hitters—none of them as good as Pujols to begin with, admittedly—who are struggling to an even greater degree than the Angels slugger, and where they and their teams might go from here.
Stick around long enough in the business of covering baseball and you're bound to hear accusations of bias, particularly when you bring a little extra vitriol to an analysis of somebody else's favorite team. Let's face it: Even the homeliest of franchises is somebody's favorite team, and the homelier they are, the higher the chance that its fan base gets a wee bit sensitive when folks come a-piling on. After getting under a few more skins than usual, I started this project a few weeks ago as a way of making light of the grudges, great and small, that I bear against every team—including the ones for whom I cheer when I'm kicking back on the couch or at the ballpark. Welcome back to the Hate List, where I've got something against your team.
What are some of the big questions surrounding the AL and NL Central?
Continuing what I started with the two East divisions on Friday, I've identified one nagging question I have about each team coming out of spring training, one loose thread that I can't resist tugging upon as the season nears. Today, it's the two Central divisions.
Pinpointing the positions with the worst projections on this season's likely contending clubs.
Every year, several teams finish out of the playoffs by a handful of games, close enough to taste October but just as ineligible for post-season play as the lowliest of last-place finishers. Last season, the Red Sox and Braves were both eliminated on the season’s final day after watching what had seemed to be safe leads evaporate. Since a one-game swing for either team would have meant a much different outcome, it was tempting to look back and wonder where in the lineup they could have eked out an extra victory.
As Jay Jaffenoted in January, right field proved to be a particular weak point for both teams. Braves right fielder Jason Heyward slumped to a .254 True Average (TAv) in an injury-plagued sophomore season, and his replacements—primarily Eric Hinske, Joe Mather, and Jose Constanza—hit only .252/.294/.346 in his absence. In Boston, J.D. Drew added a 60-day DL stint for a left shoulder impingement to his lengthy injury history and hit just .222/.315/.302 when active. His replacements—mainly Josh Reddick, Darnell McDonald, and Mike Cameron—made Heyward’s look good, mustering only a .234/.282/.377 line. As a result, Braves right fielders accumulated 0.6 WARP, and Red Sox right fielders checked in at 1.3 WARP. It’s reasonable to wonder whether both teams would have made the playoffs with even average (roughly 2.0 WARP) production in right.
A.J. Burnett finds out just what it means to be a pirate, a couple players go under the knife, and various other injuries around spring training.
A.J. Burnett, PIT (Eye)
Bunting practice is usually not dangerous; occasionally a batter might injure a finger but, only rarely does something more serious happen. On Wednesday, Burnett fell into this latter category. In the video of the incident in question, the ball deflects off of Burnett’s bat and strikes him at the corner of his eye and the eye socket. He is helped by assistant athletic trainer Ben Potenziano and walks off the field with a towel to his face. After flying back to Pittsburgh for more tests, Burnett was diagnosed with an orbital bone fracture and will undergo surgery on Friday. Bones heal at a fairly predictable pace; players usually return between four and eight weeks. Burnett will have to take it easy, but assuming there is no serious trauma to the eye itself, he should be able to start getting into baseball shape before that magic number is reached. Still, Burnett will almost certainly start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan Howard, PHI (Achilles surgery)
After Howard saw Dr. Myerson, additional information came to light. He had a small procedure to clean out stitch and surrounding tissue; the stitch was an internal one but the integrity of the Achilles repair is not compromised. This is the key: if the repair was significantly compromised, Howard may not have been able to make it back this year. Fortunately, this was not the case. During the procedure, Dr. Myerson consulted with infectious disease specialists, which revealed that Howard had an infection and the first baseman was placed on antibiotics. With news that the tendon is not compromised, the biggest issue is keeping the wound clean and not infected. Recovery from Achilles surgeries are so long and have so many ups and downs that there is no true timetable on Howard’s, but this could be seen as a relatively minor blip in the process.