Stats & Info: Chicago Cubs

After strong year, Lester rewarded by Cubs

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
9:43
AM ET

Steve Bisig/USA TodayJon Lester’s 1.80 ERA from June 12 on was the best in the American League.
Jon Lester, regarded as one of the two biggest catches in this year's free agent pool, agreed to a six-year, $155 million contract with the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night. The deal reportedly could be worth $170 million in light of a vesting option for a seventh year.

Excelled in 2014
Lester is coming off the best season of his career. He posted career bests in ERA (2.46), WHIP (1.10) and K/BB ratio (4.6). He had a 3.52 ERA in his first 13 starts and then closed the season with a 1.80 ERA in his last 19 starts. The 1.80 ERA was second-best in the majors from June 12 on, trailing Clayton Kershaw's 1.32.

Lester continued in 2014 a trend that began in 2012. That year, he posted a 4.82 ERA in more than 200 innings pitched. He improved in 2013 – to a 3.75 ERA – before he re-established himself as an ace in 2014 with a 2.46 ERA.

What was behind this renaissance?

Improved strikeout and walk rates: Lester has steadily improved his strikeout rate over the last three years – from 19 percent to 20 percent to 25 percent in 2014 – and reduced his walk rate – from 8.0 percent in 2012 to 5.4 percent last season.

Fewer home runs: In 2012, he allowed 25 home runs (3.2 percent of the batters he faced). In 2014, that was down to 16 (1.9 percent).

Better versus right-handed hitters: Since 2012, Lester has lowered his batting average allowed against right-handed hitters by 48 points and lowered his OPS allowed by nearly 170 points.

Let’s examine that last point more closely. Lester used to be unsuccessful throwing his fastball inside to righties. Not anymore. He has increased the frequency with which he’s throwing inside to righties, and he’s having more success when he does.

Right-handed batters hit .251 against his fastball on the inner half in 2014, a far cry from 2012 (.315) and 2013 (.297).

The contract
Lester and fellow free agent Max Scherzer were widely regarded as capable of threatening the record for largest contract issued to a free agent pitcher. The $155 million deal Lester agreed to is the largest contract issued by the Cubs and trails only the contract of CC Sabathia for the largest total value of a contract issued to a free agent pitcher. Lester's average salary in the reported deal is $25.8 million, which would be the biggest given to a free agent pitcher on a multiyear deal in history.

The Cubs' 73-89 record in 2014 represented another sub-.500 season, but it was a 12-win improvement from two 2012. Armed with well-regarded prospects, with Lester heading the pitching rotation and with Joe Maddon as manager, Cubs fans appear to have reason for hope.

Oakland's Fourth of July Fireworks

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
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The Oakland A’s pulled off a stunning trade Friday night reportedly acquiring pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs for a package including shortstop Addison Russell, the third-ranked prospect in baseball at the beginning of the season, according to ESPN’s Keith Law.

That gives the Athletics, already owners of the best record in baseball and lowest ERA in the American League, arguably the most formidable rotation in the game, featuring five of the top 34 qualifiers for the ERA title.

Support for Samardzija

Samardzija lost seven of nine decisions for the Cubs this season despite having an ERA of 2.83 that ranks him 10th in the NL among qualifiers. That’s mainly because the Cubs were giving him just 2.41 runs of support on offense, which ranked 49 of those same 50 qualifiers in the Senior Circuit.

Offensive firepower shouldn’t be as much of a problem in the East Bay as it was on the North Side. In fact, the A’s have the highest-scoring offense in baseball, averaging 5.0 runs per contest, a full run more than the 21st-ranked Cubs

Don’t Forget about Hammel

Jason Hammel’s ninth major league season has been his best by far. The former Ray, Rockie, Oriole (and now Cub) has career-bests in ERA (2.98), K/9 (8.6), WHIP (1.02) and Opp BA (.222).

He returns to the AL where he has a career ERA of 5.00 in five seasons, but has always pitched well in Oakland. He’s 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five games (two starts) in his new home stadium.

Could be a Cubs Coup

With the acquisition of Russell, Chicago now has six of the top 71 position prospects according to Law’s preseason ranks. Russell was Oakland’s only prospect ranked in the top 100.

Young Cubs bounce back in 2014

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
1:17
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AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Anthony Rizzo (left) and Starlin Castro (right) are proving their 2013 numbers are a thing of the past.
Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and the Chicago Cubs will go for a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox on "Wednesday Night Baseball" at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Castro and Rizzo have turned things around after a rough 2013 season. Let’s analyze what went wrong last year and what is going right this year.

Castro

The 24-year-old Cubs shortstop had a triple-slash line (BA/OBP/SLUG) of .297/.336/.425 through 1,912 plate appearances entering 2013. Castro followed that up with a .235/.284/.347 line in 2013. The .284 on-base percentage ranked fourth-worst among 140 qualified batters.

Castro still is not taking many walks (5.8 percent of plate appearances in 2014, 5.1 percent career average), but he has returned to his hitting ways.

The 2014 batting average is at .286 for Castro entering play Wednesday, including a .324 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Castro’s career BABIP in nearly 3,000 plate appearances is .323 (career-low .290 in 2013), suggesting his 2014 resurgence may not be a fluke.

While the batting average is back on track, the power is something new for the young shortstop.

Castro entered this season with a home run percentage (HR/PA) of 1.5 percent, good for 346th out of 454 qualified batters from 2010-2013. The MLB average during that time was 2.8 percent.

Castro surpassed his 2013 home run total when he hit his 11th of 2014 off a Charlie Morton curveball June 20. Castro has a home run in 3.4 percent of his plate appearances this season.

One thing to keep an eye on in the second half of the season is whether or not Castro can keep up his huge spike in home runs per fly ball. Those numbers rose steadily during Castro’s first few seasons, but he has more than doubled his previous best through 82 games in 2014.

Rizzo

The 2013 season was Rizzo’s first as a full-time starter. In 690 plate appearances, he logged a triple-slash line of .233/.323/.419 with 23 home runs. Rizzo’s batting average of .233 ranked 132nd among 140 qualified batters.

Rizzo really struggled against same-handed pitchers. He hit .189 against lefties in 2013, the fourth-worst mark among qualified batters. Rizzo’s BABIP against lefties (.207) was worse than every qualified batter except Andrelton Simmons (.197).

Rizzo has been a completely different hitter against lefties this season, making better contact while showing more patience. Rizzo missed on 26 percent of his swings against lefties entering 2014, but he has cut that down to 20 percent this season.

The higher contact and home run percentages have Rizzo on pace for a career-high in home runs. Rizzo’s 17 home runs trail only Jose Abreu and Edwin Encarnacion among first basemen.

Like Castro, Rizzo’s home run-to-fly ball percentage has taken a huge leap from last season to this season (12.9 percent to 20.5 percent). Unlike Castro, Rizzo has shown the ability to hit for average with solid power numbers in the past. In 2012, he hit .285 with home runs on more than 17 percent of his fly balls in 368 plate appearances.

Samardzija goes a different route for 1st win

May, 26, 2014
May 26
9:33
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Finally. It took 11 tries for Jeff Samardzijato be credited with a victory this season, and he got one after the Chicago Cubs picked up a road win in San Francisco on Monday.

The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Samardzija’s 1.46 ERA entering the day was the lowest for any pitcher without a win through his first 10 starts of the season in major league history.

Samardzija got the win on a day in which he matched a season high by allowing three earned runs. His season ERA jumped to 1.68, one one-hundredth of a point behind Adam Wainwright for the best in the major leagues.

How he won
Samardzija had his best day of the season strikeout-wise, whiffing 10 Giants hitters. He won on the strength of a slider that he threw 32 times, 24 for strikes, with the pitch netting him six strikeouts. He’d only struck out eight hitters with his slider all season entering the day.

Giants batters missed 12 of their 20 swings against the pitch. The dozen missed swings are the most for Samardzija with that pitch in any start in his career.

What’s been better
Samardzija is succeeding for a couple of reasons beyond a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, comparable to the 3.2 rate he had two seasons ago.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind with regard to season-long sustainability:

For one, Samardzija has allowed only three home runs in 75 innings after yielding 25 in 213 innings last season (his fly-ball rate is nearly identical to last season’s 30 percent rate, as is his 20 percent line-drive rate). Samardzija had his streak of four straight starts without allowing a home run snapped Monday.

For another, the defense behind him has fared much better when Samardzija gets a ground ball. Over the previous three seasons, 26 percent of hitters who hit a ground ball reached base against him. This season, that number has dipped to 19 percent.

Over a full season, such a differential would translate to 20 fewer hitters reaching base, just on ground balls, should the Cubs defense play that well behind him.

Looking ahead
Samardzija’s next start should come against the Brewers this weekend, and his recent history against them mirrors his issues this season.

The Cubs have lost Samardzija’s past five starts against the Brewers, despite his ERA in those outings being 3.00. Chicago has only scored 11 runs in those five games.

Looking ahead, the month of June has historically been a bit of a bugaboo for Samardzija, who has had an ERA of 4.00 or worse in that month in each of the past three seasons. Two years ago, Samardzija was 0-4 with a 10.41 ERA in June. He bounced back to post a 2.58 ERA in his final 13 starts that season.

Top stats to know: Cubs at Cardinals

May, 12, 2014
May 12
11:38
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The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals start a three-game series at Busch Stadium tonight (8 ET on ESPN), the third series between the NL Central rivals this season.

Here are some of the key storylines we'll be following tonight on Monday Night Baseball.

Cardinals aren't clutch
Coming off a World Series appearance and 97-win season, most people expected the Cardinals to contend for the NL pennant. Yet as we approach the quarter-pole of the season they are 19-19 and five games back of the Milwaukee Brewers in the division.

Their bats have really struggled early on, ranking 11th in the NL in both runs and OPS entering Monday's game.

Last season they led the league in runs and had the second-best OPS in the NL.

Much of last year's offensive success was fueled by a .330 batting average with runners in scoring position, a number that no other team in the last 40 years had ever matched. Regression has hit the Cardinals hard this season, as their .233 batting average with RISP ranks 19th in the majors in 2014.

Rizzo beats the shift
Anthony Rizzo last season had strong power numbers which included 23 homers and 40 doubles, becoming the youngest Cubs player ever with at least 20 home runs and 40 doubles in a season.

However, his batting average was just .233, brought down by a .258 batting average on balls in play that was the ninth-lowest in the majors last year.

That low BABIP could partly be explained by his inability to beat the shift. He hit just .143 on grounders and short liners against the shift last season, the fifth-lowest mark among players that saw at least 80 shifts in 2013.

This year he's still seeing a high number of shifts but he's done a much better job of beating them.

Rizzo is hitting .270 on short liners and grounders against shifts this year and already has as many hits on those plays as he did all of last season. He's raised his overall batting average to .285, including .303 on balls in play.

A closer look shows that Rizzo is hitting the ball up the middle more often this year, with nearly 37 percent of his balls put into play going to center compared to 27 percent last year.

Rizzo has made this transformation without sacrificing any power. He is on pace to hit more than 30 homers this season and his slugging percentage and isolated power numbers would both be career-highs.

Not an easy road for Wood
Travis Wood struggled his last time out against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, continuing a trend of poor road starts for the lefty.

Wood has lost his last four games away from Wrigley, with a 9.92 ERA in that span. He has more walks (10) than strikeouts (9) over those four outings and has failed to complete six innings in any of those games.

Facing the Cardinals might not help stop that streak. Wood's 4.90 ERA vs the Redbirds is his fourth-highest against any NL team, and he's won just one of five starts at Busch Stadium in his career.

Top stats to know: Cubs at White Sox

May, 7, 2014
May 7
12:44
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The Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs continue their annual Crosstown Cup Series with a two-game set at U.S. Cellular Field starting Wednesday (8 ET on ESPN).

Last year the Cubs won all four games between the clubs, but this year the White Sox are halfway to completing the sweep of their North Side rivals.

Cuban sensation
Jose Abreu has been nothing short of incredible in his first month-plus in the majors.
    • Abreu and fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig are the only players to win both the Player of the Month and the Rookie of the Month in their debut months in the majors.

    • Abreu’s 10 homers and 32 RBI were both the most in each category for a rookie before May 1 in MLB history.

    • He was the first rookie to lead the majors in both home runs and RBI in the season’s opening month since Kent Hrbek in 1982.
Abreu’s success can largely be attributed to his ability to crush pitches on the outer half of the plate.

No player in the majors this season has hit more homers or has a higher isolated slugging on pitches in this location than Abreu.

Abreu has been susceptible to chasing pitches out of the strike zone, but he’s still been able to do damage on those pitches when he makes contact.

His three homers on pitches out of the zone are tied for the most in baseball and only two players have more hits on out-of-zone pitches than Abreu this season.

Wood has been good
Travis Wood may not be the first name you think of when making a list of elite left-handed starters in baseball, but he does own the sixth-best ERA among southpaws since the start of last season. Only Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Cliff Lee, Chris Sale and Hyun-Jin Ryu have bested him in that span.

Wood has improved his performance against left-handed batters in each season since becoming a full-time starter in 2012, holding them to .524 OPS this season, which ranks 10th among NL starters.

Since the Phillies lefties were 5 for 17 against him in his first start this season, he's held same-sided batters to a .160 average and .360 OPS over his last five games.

Danks falling behind
John Danks started the season strong with four straight quality starts and a 2.84 ERA through April 21. Yet he's struggled over his last two outings, allowing 12 runs in 10⅔ innings with as many strikeouts as walks (7) in those games.

Batters have really hit him hard over his last two starts, with 31 percent of at-bats ending in a well-hit ball, nearly quadruple the rate he allowed in his first four starts (8.6%).

He’s also gotten into a lot of trouble by falling behind in the count frequently. His first-pitch strike percentage has dropped from 60 percent in his first four outings to 46 percent in his last two turns and he hasn’t been able to recover. Opponents are hitting .360 with a 1.267 OPS after the count reaches 1-0 in his last two starts.

Top stats to know: Cardinals at Cubs

May, 4, 2014
May 4
2:15
PM ET
One of baseball’s best rivalries will get special treatment at 8 p.m. ET today (ESPN/Watch ESPN), with "Sunday Night Baseball" broadcasting the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs live from the Wrigley Field bleachers.

Here are some of the statistical storylines our broadcast crew will be looking at.

Jason Hammel’s surprising success
Jason Hammel’s 4-1 record, 2.08 ERA and league-leading 0.69 WHIP is one of the biggest early surprises of the 2014 season.

What have been the keys to Hammel’s success?

Hammel has thrown a much higher percentage of pitches at the bottom of the strike zone than he has in the past.

His rate of pitches in the lower-third of the strike zone or below in five starts this season is 46 percent, up from 35 percent from 2009 to 2013.

While Hammel has done a much better job neutralizing left-handers than he has in the past, he has been downright dominant against right-handed batters.

Righties are hitting .098 against him entering the day, the lowest opponents batting average for any ERA-title qualifier (two points better than Jose Fernandez entering the day). They’re 1-for-40 against him in two-strike counts.

Stats to Watch: Lance Lynn
Lance Lynn has had a lot of success for the Cardinals the past three seasons and he can thank his team’s offense in part for that. The Cardinals average 5.4 runs per game in Lynn’s starts over the past three seasons, the third-highest rate in the majors.

The thing to be wary of when Lynn struggles is the big inning. He has allowed three or more runs in an inning 27 times over the past three seasons. Only Jordan Lyles has yielded more big innings (29).

Lynn has always had more trouble with left-handed batters than right-handed batters. From 2012 to the present, he has allowed righties to hit .240 with a .637 OPS and lefties to hit .267 with an .808 OPS. That gap has been only more pronounced this season, with lefties hitting .291/.371/.509 in 62 plate appearances in 2014.

The struggles of the Cardinals' outfield
Without Carlos Beltran, the Cardinals outfield has not been able to replicate its past success.

Cardinals outfielders rank 14th in the NL in batting average and slugging percentage, and 13th in on-base percentage.

The difference from last season to this season is stark and can be seen in the chart on the right.

Starlin Castro’s turnaround
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has gotten off to a good start this season, hitting .313 with four home runs in his first 112 at-bats.

One reason for that is that Castro has been much more effective handling pitches on the inner half of the plate from right-handers this season. Pitchers have been attacking him there more often than they did last season, and he appears to be adjusting.

He’s hitting .370 with three homers in at-bats that end against righties that end with a pitch on the inner-half. Last season, he hit .264 with five homers on those pitches.
The St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs will close the first half of the 2013 baseball season by meeting on Sunday Night Baseball at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

The game will feature a matchup of All-Star starting pitchers. Here are a few of the topics our broadcast crew will be focusing on tonight.

1--The Cardinals entered Sunday tied for the best record in the NL and could have the league’s best record at the break for the first time since 2005. The last team to win the World Series that had the NL’s best record at the All-Star Break was the 1995 Braves.

The Cardinals have had the NL’s best record at the break six other times in the last 50 years. In five of those seasons, they went to the World Series.

2-- Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright has a 9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season. The top eight pitchers in the majors in that stat made the All-Star team this season. Wainwright’s strikeout-to-walk rate is even better when considering only right-handed batters. He’s whiffed 57 of them and walked only three.

3--Cubs starter Travis Wood enters the day as the NL leader in quality starts with 17. He enters the day with an 0.97 WHIP. He has a chance to be the first Cubs pitcher with a WHIP of 1-or-better at the All-Star Break since Greg Maddux in 1992.

One notable weakness for the Cardinals: They are 8-12 in games started by left-handers this season.

Wainwright is 6-foot-7, the tallest starting pitcher in the NL. Wood is 5-for-11, tied for the fourth-shortest starter in the NL.

4--The Cardinals are hitting .334 with runners in scoring position this season, 68 points better than any other National League team. The last NL team to hit .300 with RISP over a full season was the 2000 Rockies.

The Cardinals have the top two hitters in the league in batting average with runners in scoring position-- Alen Craig (.477) and Carlos Beltran and three others in the top eight-- Matt Carpenter (.383, sixth-best), Yadier Molina (.378, seventh-best) and Matt Holliday (.368, eighth-best).

Cardinals one through five hitters in the batting order are hitting .399 with runners in scoring position in 2013.

5-- The Cubs are 15-27 vs the NL Central this season, but are 27-23 against teams outside the division. They are also a major-league worst 11-20 in one-run games and have the fewest comeback wins (13) and most losses in which they blew a lead (26) in the league .

Since 2010, the Cubs have the third-worst winning percentage in baseball, trailing only the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.

Shelby Miller hard to hit up in the zone

June, 17, 2013
6/17/13
1:20
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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesShelby Miller's 2.21 ERA is the lowest this season among all rookie qualifiers.
(The St. Louis Cardinals host the Chicago Cubs, Monday at 7 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN.)

Ten rookies on the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff have combined to throw 221.2 innings this season, and are 17-8 with a 3.17 ERA. That’s one reason the Cardinals’ 3.29 team ERA is second this season only to the Atlanta Braves (3.23).

The Cardinals' crop of rookie arms has been led by Shelby Miller, who ranks sixth in the National League with 91 strikeouts. He has struck out 29 percent of batters faced, which is the highest rate in the National League this season.

He has been most successful when he climbs the ladder with the fastball. More than 40 percent of his strikeouts (39 of 91) have come on high fastballs. When Miller throws his fastball up in the zone, opponents are hitting .079 (6-for-76) and have missed on 36 percent of swings (league average is .232). When his fastball is down or in the middle of the strike zone, opponents hit .270 with a miss rate of 15 percent.

The last time Miller took the mound for the Cardinals, he allowed four earned runs – the first time in 14 career starts that he allowed more than three earned runs.

Wood Channeling His Inner Greg Maddux
Opposing Miller will be Travis Wood, who has a 2.65 ERA and has made a quality start in 12 of 13 appearances this season.

If Wood has a quality start on Monday, he’ll be the first Cubs pitcher since Greg Maddux in 1988 with 13 quality starts within the team’s first 68 games.

What’s fueling his hot start? He’s dominated left-handed hitters. Lefties are hitting .155 against Wood, that’s the fourth lowest opponent batting average this season.

He’s also done a much better job this season of keeping the ball in the ballpark. In 2012, he allowed 25 home runs, and gave up 1.44 home runs per nine innings pitched. This season, he’s allowed six home runs, and 0.64 per nine innings.

Wood has also benefited this season from the lowest opponent batting average on balls in play (BABIP) among all qualifiers at .218 (league average is .295). The low average is not because he's generating weaker contact. According to Inside Edge, which tracks well-hit balls, Wood has allowed hard contact on 16 percent of at-bats, a rate not significantly lower than the 16.5 percent league average.

Wood has recorded 21 outs on what were deemed hard hit fly balls or line drives. That's the fifth-highest total this season. Opponents have hit .524 against Wood when generating a hard hit fly ball or line drive. That sounds like a nice clip, but it's actually the lowest rate among qualifiers and well below the league average of .712. Going forward, Wood shouldn't expect to convert outs that efficiently on hard-hit balls.

Zimmerman, Davis lead DMV power surge

May, 30, 2013
5/30/13
1:42
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ESPN Stats & InformationChris Davis homered twice and Ryan Zimmerman homered three times on Wednesday.
Something was in the air at Camden Yards on Wednesday as the DMV's (D.C./Maryland/Virginia) two MLB teams matched up. Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals and Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles combined for five home runs.

Ryan Zimmerman
Zimmerman
Zimmerman, the first Nationals player with three homers in a game since Adam Dunn in 2010, had never faced Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman before hitting all three home runs against him. All three came off fastballs. Since 2009, Zimmerman has 59 home runs off fastballs, which ranks 11th in the National League during that span.

Two of Zimmerman’s three homers came on pitches well up in the zone. Since 2011, he's been a much better power hitter on pitches on the upper half. During that span, he has hit a home run on a pitch on the upper half twoce as often as he has on the lower half.

Zimmerman’s first homer (429 feet) was his longest of the season, his longest since a 437-footer on September 10 of last season against the Mets.

After hitting two home runs against the Nationals, Davis now has 19 homers this season, the most for an Orioles player through the team’s first 53 games of a season since Brady Anderson (20) in 1996.

Davis’s first homer came off a slider. Since 2012, he has 15 home runs off sliders, the most in MLB. That’s his most homers off any pitch other than a fastball during that span.

Chris Davis
Davis
It doesn’t pay dividends to try to pitch away from Davis either. His second homer came on a pitch over the outer half. Since 2012, he ranks third in MLB in home run percentage (7.3%) and slugging percentage (.569) on those pitches.

Both of Davis’s homers came with two strikes. He has 22 home runs with two strikes over the last two seasons; no one has more.

Navarro accomplishes rare feat
Dioner Navarro
Navarro
Dioner Navarro homered three times for the Chicago Cubs against the Chicago White Sox. Navarro became the second catcher in MLB history to homer from each side of the plate in a three home run-game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Victor Martinez did it in 2004 against the Mariners as a member of the Indians.

Navarro is the third catcher in MLB history to go 3-for-3 with three homers and six RBI, joining Benito Santiago (for the Phillies in 1996) and Roy Campanella (for the Dodgers in 1950).

Notable moves: Pierzynski, Jackson, Vargas

December, 23, 2012
12/23/12
11:20
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Throughout the offseason, we'll feature regular in-depth reviews of MLB moves. This week's piece looks at A.J. Pierzynski, Edwin Jackson, and Jason Vargas.

Rangers agree to terms with Pierzynski
The Rangers will hope to replace some of the power they lost from the departure of Josh Hamilton and (likely) Mike Napoli with free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, whose 27 home runs at age 35 were nine more than his previous career-high of 18, set in 2005.

Pierzynski took a much different approach against pitches in the strike zone in 2012 than he had the previous few seasons and one of the payoffs was a significant increase in power.

In 2010 and 2011, when Pierzynski made contact with a pitch in the zone, he hit it in the air a little more than half the time. In 2012, he hit more than two-thirds of those pitches in the air.

Pierzynski was able to punish pitchers' mistakes in a big way. He had a .939 slugging percentage and seven home runs against pitches thrown to the middle-third of the strike zone, both height-wise and width-wise.

That was better than double his .454/two-homer output of the previous two seasons.

Pierzynski’s increased focus on driving ball had both positive and negative results. His home-run total was 10 more than his 2010 and 2011 totals combined. But his strikeout tally (78) was also higher than his combined 2010/2011 total (72).

Are the positive results from this change in approach repeatable?

The good news for Pierzynski is that he’s staying in a homer-friendly environment. Our Hittrackeronline.com ballpark overlays show that every one of the 18 homers he hit at home last season would have also left Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

However, history is not kind to 36-year-old (and older) catchers. The only ones to hit at least 20 homers in a season are Carlton Fisk, Jorge Posada and Mike Piazza.

One other nugget on Pierzynski: He'll remind Rangers fans of Hamilton in one respect-- they both like to swing at pitches out of the strike zone, as noted in the chart above.
-- Mark Simon

Cubs sign Edwin Jackson
After posting a sub-3.00 ERA in his first 14 starts last year, Edwin Jackson struggled the remainder of the 2012 season with a 5.24 ERA and 15 homers allowed in his final 19 games (including the playoffs).

But that didn't deter the Cubs from giving him a four-year deal.

What was the cause of Jackson's struggles?

His slide began in a loss to the Rockies on June 28 when he surrendered eight runs in three innings. Before that start, he had allowed four-runs-or-more in only two outings. Including June 28 through the rest of the season, he allowed at least four runs eight times.

Over the last three-plus months he did not have the same success locating his fastball at the letters or above that he had in his first 14 starts of the season.

Beginning with that June 28 start, he threw 235 high fastballs, resulting in more total bases allowed (29) than outs (25).

During the first three months, opponents hit .226 in at-bats ending in those pitches. This included a four-start stretch in May during which he allowed just two singles and got 23 outs via the 81 fastballs he threw up in the zone.

Despite the issues with his heater over the final few months, Jackson’s slider remained nearly unhittable the entire season. During the regular season, he had the highest slider miss rate (49 percent) of any qualifying pitcher and his 109 strikeouts via his slider were the most in the NL.

Angels trade for Jason Vargas
Over the past three seasons, Jason Vargas has quietly developed into a reliable starter.

Vargas has shown improvements in each of the past three years. Each season has seen an increase in innings pitched, up to a career high 217 1/3 last year.

What has been the key to Vargas' success?

Vargas owns an effective changeup to neutralize righty hitters. No lefty relied more on his changeup against righties last season than Vargas. And he used it to great effect, holding righties to a .174 average in at-bats ending with the change, the lowest among all lefty starters in 2012.

His strikeout rate increased from 14 percent of batters faced in 2010 to 16 percent last season. A career-best 1.18 WHIP last year was driven by the increased strikeouts as well as a career-low walk rate.
--Will Cohen
It was a busy day as the trade deadline brought a lot of change for a few teams looking to make a playoff push. Here is a look at the major-league impact of Tuesday’s trades. All stats are entering Tuesday.

RYAN DEMPSTER
The Texas Rangers acquire P Ryan Dempster from the Chicago Cubs for minor-league 3B Christian Villanueva and minor-league P Kyle Hendricks.

Dempster has limited experience against the AL West. He's faced the Oakland Athletics once, Seattle Mariners twice, but never taken the mound against the Los Angeles Angels.

While Dempster might not be the flashy add that Cliff Lee or Zack Greinke might have been, he immediately becomes the team's best starter by Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP.

One concern is that over the last two seasons, Dempster has been good in August (6-3, 3.34 ERA), but not so good in September and October (3-7, 4.79 ERA).

HUNTER PENCE
The San Francisco Giants acquire Hunter Pence from the Philadelphia Phillies for OF Nate Schierholtz, minor-league C Tommy Joseph and minor-league P Seth Rosin.

The Giants hope to give their outfield a power boost by getting Pence. San Fran outfielders have produced just 26 homers (T-26th in ML) while Pence has 17 himself this season.

He will also be a much-needed power-hitting right-handed bat since Pence is slugging .447 and with an isolated power of .176 while Giants righties are .386 and .119 respectively.

SHANE VICTORINO
The Los Angeles Dodgers acquire Victorino from the Phillies for P Josh Lindblom, minor-league P Ethan Martin and a player to be named later or cash.

Victorino will play left field, a position the Dodgers have struggled to get production from (.259 BA ranks 11th in the NL). They’ve also matched a National League high by starting eight players in left field this season.

Over the past five seasons, only seven MLB outfielders have been worth more Wins Above Replacement than Victorino.

JONATHAN BROXTON
The Cincinnati Reds acquire P Jonathan Broxton from the Kansas City Royals for minor-league P Donnie Joseph and minor-league P J.C. Sulbaran.

The Reds get Broxton, but they already have arguably the best bullpen in the majors. Their team ERA (2.66), wins (20) and K/9 IP (10.2) all rank first among MLB bullpens this season.

Other trades Tuesday:
Pittsburgh Pirates acquire 1B Gaby Sanchez and minor-league P Kyle Kaminska from Miami Marlins for minor-league OF Gorkys Hernandez and 2013 Competitive Balance Lottery pick.
St. Louis Cardinals acquire P Edward Mujica from Marlins for minor-league 3B Zack Cox.
Boston Red Sox acquire P Craig Breslow from Arizona Diamondbacks for P Matt Albers and OF Scott Podsednik.
• Pirates acquire P Chad Qualls from New York Yankees for IF Casey McGehee.
Cleveland Indians acquire minor-league 1B Lars Anderson from Red Sox for minor-league P Steven Wright.

Josh Johnson netted seven whiffs with his breaking pitches on Monday.
Marlins starter Josh Johnson may have only lasted six innings due to a cut on his hand, but this was the vintage version of Johnson that beat the Braves on Monday.

Johnson struck out nine and walked none in his six innings of one-hit ball, the first pitcher to do the one-hit, nine-whiff, no-walk combination in no more than six innings since Jordan Zimmermann for the Washington Nationals two seasons ago.
Josh Johnson
Johnson
Johnson had his best breaking ball in this start. Braves hitters missed on 12 of their 18 swings against his breaking pitches.

But this was nothing new. Johnson struck out seven Braves with the combination of his curve and slider, the third straight start against the Braves in which he’s done that.

The key to the success of that pitch was its location. Of Johnson’s 36 breaking balls, our pitch-performance tracking tool noted 31 as being in the lower-third of the strike zone or below. The image atop this story shows the location of Johnson's breaking pitches that notched strikeouts.

Johnson had allowed at least one hit with the breaking ball in each of his last six starts, and yielded a homer with it in each of his previous two.

Some in the stat community feel that Johnson will improve in the second half of the season because his combination of strikeouts, walks and home runs is indicative of a pitcher with a lower ERA.

Entering the Monday start, Johnson’s FIP (an abbreviation for Fielding Independent Pitching, an ERA estimate based on that combination of numbers) was 3.13, far below his season-ERA of 4.35 entering Monday.

In fact, the 1.23 differential was the fourth-highest among pitchers who are currently qualified for the ERA title. The three higher are Jake Arrieta, Tim Lincecum, and Jon Lester.

Johnson also entered with the highest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of any National League pitcher (.345), but Marlins defenders were able to turn nine of the 10 balls hit against him into outs.

The Other One-Hit Wonder
Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija was fantastic in his eight innings of one-hit ball in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday.

He became the first Cubs starter to allow one hit in eight innings or fewer against the Pirates since Moe Drabowsky (who became better known for his baseball heroics in the 1966 World Series) in 1958.

Samardzija threw 72 percent of his pitches for strikes, which was just shy of a season-high. He also did not allow an opponent to hit a line drive for the first time all season.

Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Night
Mike Napoli homered again for the Texas Rangers in their rout of the Boston Red Sox. The homer gave Napoli a home run in four straight games against the Red Sox.

That’s actually the second time he’s had a streak of four straight games with a home run against the Red Sox.

Only two other players have had such streaks against that franchise—Hall-of-Famers Harmon Killebrew (four) and Lou Gehrig (two).
The St. Louis Cardinals shut out the Chicago Cubs, doing so in historic fashion. The final score was 12-0, with all 12 runs coming in the bottom of the seventh inning.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the shutout matches the largest in major-league history in which a team scored all its runs in one inning. The Cleveland Indians scored 12 runs in the fourth inning of a 12-0 win over the New York Yankees on July 2, 1943.

The 12 runs tied the Cardinals' franchise record for runs in an inning set in 1926 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Also according to Elias, the Cardinals are the first team in major-league history to score 12 runs in an inning to break a scoreless tie in the seventh inning or later.

Here are more notable numbers from the Cardinals' seventh inning:

0 Home Runs
Cardinals are the first team since the 2003 Kansas City Royals to score at least 12 runs in an inning without a home run.

2 Players With Two Hits
Allen Craig and Skip Schumaker both had two hits in the inning. Craig came in as a pinch-hitter had two doubles. Schumaker had a double and a triple. According to Elias, the last time a team had two players with two extra-base hits in one inning was on October 4, 2009 when Johnny Damon and Alex Rodriguez did it for the New York Yankees against the Tampa Bay Rays.

3 Consecutive Doubles
With two outs, David Freese, Jon Jay and Craig hit back-to-back-to-back doubles -- all off of Manny Corpas.

4 Outs
The Cardinals were given an extra out when Carlos Beltran struck out for what should have been the final out of the inning. However, Beltran reached first when Rafael Dolis' pitch got away from catcher Geovany Soto.

7 Doubles
Craig (2), Beltran, Freese, Jay, Schumaker and Matt Holliday. That ties the major-league record for doubles in an inning. St. Louis shares the record with the Boston Bees, who had seven first-inning doubles against the Cardinals on Aug. 25, 1936.

8 Extra-Base Hits
St. Louis is the fourth team in major-league with eight extra-base hits in an inning, that also ties a major-league record. The Cardinals are the first team to do it in the seventh inning of a game since the 1883 Chicago White Stockings did it against the Detroit Wolverines.

For the game, the Cardinals finished with nine doubles and 10 extra-base hits. Compare that to the Washington Nationals, who did not have an extra-base hit in either game of their doubleheader on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves.

Better fastball has Dempster tossing zeroes

July, 14, 2012
7/14/12
5:43
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Jerry Lai/US PresswireRyan Dempster extended his scoreless streak to 33 innings Saturday, passing R.A. Dickey for the longest streak in the majors this season.
Ryan Dempster tossed six shutout innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks to run his scoreless streak to 33 innings, the longest in the majors this season.

According to Elias, Dempster is the fifth pitcher in the last 100 years to win five straight starts in the same season without allowing a run.

Also from Elias, Dempster is the first Chicago Cubs starting pitcher to top 30 straight scoreless innings since Ken Holtzman in 1969. Like Dempster, Holtzman’s streak was 33 innings. The last longer streak for a Cubs starter was in 1938, when Bill Lee had streaks of 37 and 35 innings.

The season has turned around for the Cubs right-hander since the calendar flipped from May to June. In the first two months of the season, the Cubs went 2-7 in Dempster’s starts. During his scoreless-inning streak, the Cubs are 5-0 when he is on the mound.

The change in results has less to do with Dempster and more to do with the rest of the team. In the first two months, Dempster posted a 2.90 ERA but the Cubs only scored 2.9 runs per game. In the last five games, they have supported him with 6.4 runs per game.

During his scoreless streak, Dempster has given up a similar number of hits with the bases empty, but has really been tough to hit from the stretch. He has allowed just four hits in 46 at-bats with runners on base and just one hit in 28 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

He has improved his results with the fastball by relying on the pitch less frequently. In his last five starts, Dempster has thrown the fastball 49 percent of the time. During his first nine starts, he used the pitch 53 percent of the time.

Dempster has been able to keep the ball off the middle of the plate in his recent starts. Vertically, he has dropped the percentage of pitches over the middle third from 32 to 27 while increasing his number of high fastballs.

He is also throwing more inside fastballs, as that rate has jumped from 20 percent to 28 percent with an offsetting decrease of pitches over the middle third.

The change in results has been dramatic. Opponents hit .278 against his fastball in the first nine games but have hit just .154 against it since then. He has reduced the line-drive rate against the pitch from 27 percent to 11 percent while upping the groundball percent from 34 to 51.

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