Matchup: Red Sox (43-28) at Reds (33-37), 1:15 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Josh Beckett (79 IP,4.33 RA, 1.13 WHIP, 83 K) vs. Homer Bailey (10, 9.00, 1.90, 3)
Pythagorean Record: Boston, 41-30 (362 RS, 301 RA); Cincinnati, 32-38 (314 RS, 343 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Boston, #2; Cincinnati, #23
Prospectus: Baseball is a funny game sometimes, and that has shown up in the Reds’ shortstop situation this season. The Reds historically have had some success with finding solid shortstops-since 1951, the majority of playing time there has been logged by four players: Roy McMillan, Leo Cardenas, Dave Concepcion, and Barry Larkin. But since Larkin’s retirement, finding a replacement to keep that string going has been difficult. From 2005-2007, the Reds had six different shortstops log at least 25 Adjusted Games worth of playing time at the position in a season. In 2008 alone, the Reds have had three shortstops appear in at least 22 games thanks to injuries.
Alex Gonzalez was supposed to be the Opening Day shortstop, but he has yet to play a game in 2008 thanks to injury. Jeff Keppinger took over the shortstop position and posted a .324/.373/.446 line, good for a well above-average .284 EqA, but then he went down with his own kneecap injury in mid-May. The Reds then turned to second baseman/outfielder Jerry Hairston Jr., who hit .336/.382/.480 over 142 plate appearances until he was also felled by injury. So, scratch three shortstops, and now the Reds are playing Paul Janish, a player that PECOTA forecasted a .238 EqA for before the season. Janish has failed to live up to even that over his 57 PA, with just a .171 EqA to show for his time at the plate.
Matchup: Marlins (36-32) at Rays (40-28), 1:40 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Ricky Nolasco (72 IP, 5.13 RA, 1.43 WHIP, 43 K) vs. Edwin Jackson (77 2/3, 4.06, 1.48, 53)
Pythagorean Record: Florida, 33-35 (328 RS, 336 RA); Tampa Bay, 37-31 (310 RS, 279 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Florida, #13; Tampa Bay, #5
Prospectus: After a successful 2006 season as a rookie in which he threw 140 innings with a 4.82 ERA and a solid 99 strikeouts against 41 walks, Ricky Nolasco spent almost all of 2007 in the minor leagues after hurting his elbow, pitching poorly in Triple-A and in the majors over 36 2/3 combined innings. He seems to be back in form now if you glance over his line quickly, but a deeper look tells you that there may be issues on the horizon for him. He’s not punching out very many hitters, with just 5.4 K/9, and his walk rate has risen slightly from that of 2006; Nolasco is now walking 2.9 hitters per nine.
Though Nolasco’s actual ERA is a decent enough 4.63, his QERA tells a different story at 5.33. Throw in his issues with home runs, and you start to see that Nolasco’s far from the production he should have. QERA isn’t a fan for a few reasons. First, Nolasco doesn’t miss many bats, and he doesn’t put the ball on the ground often. His G/F ratio of 0.8 is well below the league average around 1.1-1.2, and he gives up a lot of homers on his fly balls, 12.3 percent this year. Nolasco is a pitcher who needs to allow walks at a very low rate thanks to his tendency to allow the long ball, and that hasn’t been happening this year. He has been saved by the Florida defense and Lady Luck, as his BABIP is just .286 despite a 20.7 percent liner rate that gives us an expected BABIP of .327. When that number starts to float towards expectations, we’ll see Nolasco’s problems show up in his ERA.
Matchup: Twins (34-35) at Brewers (35-33), 1:05 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Scott Baker (45 IP, 3.60 RA, 1.13 WHIP, 33 K) vs. Seth McClung (42, 4.07, 1.33, 34)
Pythagorean Record: Minnesota, 32-37 (323 RS, 351 RA); Milwaukee, 33-35 (304 RS,
Hit List Rankings: Minnesota, #26; Brewers, #14
Prospectus: Given the offensive talent on the Brewers and their forecasted PECOTA performance this season, it’s a surprise to see their lineup adding to the team’s problems and keeping them around .500 on the season. This squad was projected to score 832 runs, but as of now, they are on pace for far fewer than that, only 724. That’s 4.5 runs per game instead of 5.1, a huge difference, especially with injuries and ineffectiveness in the rotation has brought them to this moment, where McClung is starting for the fifth time this season.
McClung owns a 5.87 lifetime ERA over 305 major league innings, and PECOTA did not expect much better from him this year. His forecasted ERA was 4.59, but that was also primarily as a reliever; bump that up 25 percent for a move to the rotation, and you’ve got a starter working much closer to the six runs per nine range. To be fair, McClung hasn’t been that bad during his time with the Brewers this year, striking out 7.3 hitters per nine while keeping his homers at a respectable 1.1 per nine. The 4.3 walks per nine are ugly though, but when his .269 BABIP regresses towards the league average, they will be even more of a problem for him. Chances are good that McClung and what is essentially a two-pitch arsenal according to Fangraphs pitch data are not going to find much success as a starter over the long run; Brewers fans need to hope the planets never align in a fashion that forces McClung to hit double-digits in starts, because things will get worse before they get better.
Matchup: Royals (27-42) at Diamondbacks (37-32), 1:10 p.m. MT
Probable Starters: Gil Meche (82 1/3, 5.25 RA, 1.43 WHIP, 63 K) vs. Micah Owings (76 1/3 IP, 5.19, 1.34, 66)
Pythagorean Record: Kansas City, 28-41 (265 RS, 328 RA); Arizona, 38-31 (327 RS, 296 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Kansas City, #28; Arizona, #8
Prospectus: The Diamondbacks initially looked as if they would lead the universe in offense this season, but they’ve struggled to plate runs at times. Their team line is down to .249/.330/.424 for the season, after the team started the year with a .268/.345/.468 run. The D’backs have hit a collective .236/.319/.393 since May 1, which is bad for anyone, but unacceptable for a team that plays half of their games in one of the liveliest parks in the major leagues. Most of the issue has come on the road, where the team has “hit” .218/.302/.387 for the season, against their home line of .281/.358/.461. There are plenty of places to point fingers for the D’backs sub-par performance as of late, most notably the leadoff spot, where Arizona hitters have combined to hit a paltry .218/.299/.362. The sixth spot, which should either be providing some pop or some runners, has put together a meager .236/.306/.412 line. With the top two spots in the lineup combining for an OBP of .312, it’s no wonder the D’backs have struggled at the plate.
The club’s two best hitters during this lull have been Orlando Hudson (.322/.400/.517) and Chris Snyder (.275/.330/.549), while Chris B. Young (.235/.292/.412), Justin Upton (.188/.367/.342) and Eric Byrnes (.154/.195/.282) have dragged down whatever offense the other bats are mustering. Upton and Young should both improve given their talent and age, but it’s going to be difficult for Young, a fly-ball hitter who strikes out 26 of the time, to raise his BABIP and his batting average enough to improve his OBP superficially. Upton has it even worse with the strikeouts, as he’s now punching out nearly 37 percent of the time. When you see he’s also walking in over 15 percent of his plate appearances you find he’s putting the ball in play less than half of the time he’s at bat. When you have his eye and potential power supply, that isn’t a huge deal, but keeping his batting average at a level where his OBP and SLG can hit superstar figures is going to be impossible if he’s whiffing close to 40 percent of the time. The D’backs offense won’t improve until these two young, potentially future stars sort out their issues, and given the nature of their recent performances, it’s tough to say just when that will happen.
Matchup: Braves (34-35) at Angels (41-28), 5:05 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Jorge Campillo (46 IP, 2.93 RA, 1.02 WHIP, 38 K) vs. Joe Saunders (86 2/3, 3.63, 1.15, 43)
Pythagorean Record:Atlanta, 39-30 (321 RS, 280 RA); Los Angeles, 34-35 (290 RS, 291 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Atlanta, #9; Los Angeles, #11
Prospectus: The Angels 41-28 record might seem to be a bit of a mystery, given that their run differential is minus-one. There’s nothing spectacular about most of the team, with their fielding around the league average ranked 16th, and the lineup ranked at 26th in Team EqA with a .249 showing. The rotation has been solid yet unspectacular, ranked 10th in SNLVAR, but the bullpen has allowed the Angels to win. They currently sit third in team WXRL in the majors, but first in the American League; this has helped them go 13-8 (.619) in one-run games, the second best winning percentage in the AL in that category besides Baltimore’s 15-9 (.624) showing. Knocking off a few of those one-run victories would move them closer to the .500 record their expected Win-Loss shows, but if there’s one way to outplay a run differential, having a fantastic bullpen to hold close leads is the way to do it.
The Angels will need their bullpen at its best against a Braves lineup that’s scoring 4.7 runs per game. Campillo has been outstanding in the rotation, which won’t help things for the Angels. Campillo has held opponents to a .244/.274/.389 line, and the Angels, who have an Isolated Patience of just .062 and an Isolated Power of .130 should have a difficult time against a pitcher whose game plan involves keeping walks down and keeping the ball on the ground.