Stats & Info: MLB

Cabrera digs in, at least on Monday

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
It took Miguel Cabrera five swings of the bat to better his home-run production for the entire month of August.

Cabrera got back on track with two home runs in a Tigers’ rout of the Indians and their ace starter, Corey Kluber.
In doing so, he passed Larry Walker and moved into a tie with Harold Baines for 61st all time with 384 home runs.

Perhaps more importantly, he snapped a career-long 27-game homerless drought and re-established the inner half of the plate as his domain.

Cabrera’s dominance is largely due to his ability to overpower balls pitched to that area. From 2011 to 2013, he hit 78 home runs against inner-half pitches. Only one other player was within 20 of his total, Mark Trumbo with 69.

But this season had been a different story. Cabrera had only one home run against an inner-half pitch in his last 78 games combined and 10 against them all season, less than half the total of major-league leader Josh Donaldson, who has 21.

Cabrera’s slugging percentage against inner-half pitches is .537. In each of the previous four seasons, he’s slugged .660 or better against them.

Cabrera’s issues actually got to the point where recently he’d become very gettable inside.

In three games against the White Sox over the weekend, Caberera saw 14 inner-half pitches, which resulted in him making eight outs, including four strikeouts.

Monday would be a different story. The Indians tried to come inside twice on Cabrera. Both pitches found the seats.



Top 10 stats to know: Phillies no-hitter

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
The Philadelphia Phillies completed a combined no-hitter Monday. Here are the top 10 stats to know on the performance.

1. The Phillies completed the 11th combined no-hitter in MLB history, first since the Mariners used six pitchers to no-hit the Dodgers in June of 2012. It is the first combined no-hitter in Phillies franchise history, which dates back to 1883.

2. There have now been two combined no-hitters thrown in the past three seasons. None were thrown from 2004 to 2011. In fact, only one combined no-hitter happened in the major leagues from the 14-season span of 1998 to 2011.

3. This is the fourth no-hitter in MLB this season, succeeding no-hit efforts by Josh Beckett, Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum earlier this season. There were only three no-hitters thrown last season.

4. Beckett no-hit the Phillies on May 25. The Phillies are the fourth team in the past five seasons to get no-hit and throw a no-hitter in the same season.

5. It was the third no-hitter in the history of Turner Field. Ubaldo Jimenez hurled a no-no in 2010 and Randy Johnson threw perfect game there in 2004.

6. The Phillies' staff deserves credit for keeping the Braves off of their toes. Phillies pitchers did not allow a hard-hit ball the entire game. Starter Cole Hamels was particularly special, recording 12 swings-and-misses with his fastball, his most in a start in the past two seasons. Hamels quietly has a 2.00 ERA since May 11, second best in the majors behind Clayton Kershaw.

7. Phillies pitchers combined for 12 strikeouts and five walks. It's the first no-hitter with that many strikeouts and that many walks since Sept. 28, 1974, when Nolan Ryan threw a 15-strikeout, 8-walk no-hitter against the Twins.

8. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz was also behind the plate for both Roy Halladay no-hitters in 2010. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ruiz’s three no-hitters caught (regular season and playoffs) is tied for second most all-time. Ruiz trails only Jason Varitek, who caught four no-hitters in his time with the Red Sox.

9. Lost in the shadow of a brilliant pitching performance was the offense of Ben Revere, who drove in five runs. Revere’s five RBI are tied for third most by a player for a team that threw a no-hitter in the game, according to Elias. Hunter Pence accomplished the same feat last season behind Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter.

10. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Jason Heyward is the first player in the modern era to have three stolen bases in a game in which his team was no-hit. The only other player to have multiple steals in such a game was Frank Chance for the 1903 Cubs (two steals) also against the Phillies!

August 2014: the month in home runs

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1

ESPN Stats & InfoTwo Cubs rookies, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, made an immediate impact in August.
Stats & Info tracks every home run hit throughout the season in terms of distance, height, speed, etc. Here are our best nuggets from the home runs in August.

Longest Home Run of the Month: Giancarlo Stanton
Giancarlo Stanton hit a 470-foot home run on August 11th off Shelby Miller, the longest home run hit during the month. The 470-foot shot was the second longest home run ever hit at Marlins Park, bested only by Stanton’s own 484-footer hit on April 4th earlier this year. Stanton has owned Marlins Park in its short 3-year history, accounting for five of its six longest homers.

Masher of the Month: Chris Carter
The Houston Astros’ Chris Carter dominated the month of August with 12 home runs, four more than any other player. Despite hitting plenty of homers, Carter has not been hitting them very far. His 12 homers in August had an average true distance of just 389.1 feet, below the 395.2 MLB average this season. He benefited from the small confines of Minute Maid Park in August, where his eight homers averaged just 381.1 feet.

Breakout Performance of the Month: Cubs Prospects
Cubs prospect Javier Báez burst on to the major league scene earlier this month, smashing three home runs in his first three career ballgames. Báez showed power to all fields as he became just the second player since 1900 to hit three home runs in his first three major league games.

Cubs teammate Jorge Soler duplicated Báez’s feat just 22 days later when he smashed his second and third career homers in his third major league game on August 29th against the Cardinals. Soler’s three homers averaged 427 feet, and all traveled at least 420 feet.

Noteworthy Homer of the Month: Mike Napoli
On August 26th, Mike Napoli hit a home run at Rogers Centre that was calculated at 451 feet, his longest of the season. It was Napoli's fourth career home run of at least 450 feet at the Rogers Centre (all in the last two seasons) and the most by any visiting player since ESPN began tracking home runs in 2006. In fact, four of Napoli's six longest career home runs have been hit in Toronto.

Cheap shot of the Month: David Ortiz
On August 16th, David Ortiz hit a high fly ball 318 feet down the right field line at Fenway Park that just barely wrapped around Pesky’s Pole for a home run. It was the second of two home runs Ortiz would hit that evening, but what made that second one interesting was its distance, or lack thereof. The 318 footer marked the shortest home run of the 2014 season, and the second-shortest Ortiz has hit since ESPN began tracking homers in 2006.

Top stats to know: Price vs Kluber

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1

AP Photo/Mark DuncanCorey Kluber ranks third in the AL in strikeouts this season.
The Detroit Tigers visit the Cleveland Indians on ESPN at 4 ET in a matchup of two of the American League’s best starters this season. Corey Kluber is having a career year on the mound while David Price has been an ace all season aside from his last start.

Kluber may not yet be a household name, but he’s been every bit as good as Price this season. His ERA is nearly a run better than Price, while he’s maintained the same strikeout rate and thrown one more quality start. Each hurler ranks among the top three in the American League in terms of strikeouts as well.

Career year for Kluber

Kluber has really taken a significant leap this season. His numbers are up across the board. With 13 wins, Kluber has matched his win total from his first two seasons as a starter combined. From 2012-13, Kluber’s 4.24 ERA is over a run-and-a-half higher than his 2.52 ERA this season, which ranks fourth in the AL.

According to Wins Above Replacement, only two pitchers in baseball have been more valuable than Kluber (5.8) this season: Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez. By comparison, Price ranks 28th with a 3.2 WAR. Kluber gets hitters to expand the strike zone often. In fact, his 33.6 chase percentage is third-best in the American League behind Hernandez and Phil Hughes.

The difference maker for Kluber this season has been his curveball, which he’s taken to an entirely new level. Kluber leads the majors with 101 strikeouts via curveball this season. He’s throwing the curve a career-high 16 percent of the time, with opposing batters hitting just .083 against it. Opposing batters are chasing his curveball 45 percent of the time.

Bounce-back start for Price?

Price is coming off of what may very well be the worst start of his career. The Yankees recorded nine straight hits off him in the third inning last Wednesday. It marked his most career hits (9) and runs allowed (8) in a single inning. Price never got out an out in the third inning, the second-shortest start of career.

But he's still dominant in the big picture. Price has the fifth-most strikeouts over the last five seasons. Two of the players ahead of him on the list are currently his teammates (Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander).

Price’s control is a great strength. He has walked only 3.6 percent of the hitters he’s faced this year, on pace to be a career best and good for fourth-best in the majors. Price has a career-high 224 strikeouts this season, his third career 200-strikeout season.

Since coming over from the Rays at the trade deadline, Price has thrown his changeup at a career-high pace for good reason. Opposing hitters are batting 140 points lower against his changeup since Price joined the Tigers. No wonder why he’s throwing it once every five pitches.

Kernels: One-hit wonders

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
Our weekly look at the interesting and unusual in MLB couldn't help but notice the "hits" column.

• Although there hasn't been a no-hitter since Tim Lincecum's on June 25, this week kept us on watch. Since Monday we've seen more than a dozen no-hit bids get into the fifth inning-- including Saturday's game between the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers where both pitchers did it. Four of those bids persisted into the seventh inning, and two into the eighth.

One of the two was Tuesday's gem by Madison Bumgarner, who retired 21 straight Colorado Rockies before Justin Morneau doubled to start the eighth. That would be Colorado's only baserunner as Bumgarner fanned 13 and walked zero. It was the third game in Rockies history where their only hit was a double; the last was against Tom Glavine and the Mets on May 23, 2004 (the double was by Kit Pellow).

Lincecum issued one walk in his no-hitter, and Ryan Vogelsong faced just 28 batters in a complete game August 1.

• That makes the Giants just the second team in the live-ball era to have three 28-batter, nine-inning complete games in the same season; Joel Piñeiro and Chris Carpenter teamed up for the Cardinals in 2009.

•  Speaking of one double, the New York Yankees were held to that in Saturday's loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. The last time the Yankees were one- (or no-) hit at all was on September 4, 2009, also by the Jays, and a double (by Ramiro Peña) was also the one hit. The last such game where they struck out 12 times was on June 11, 2003, when they were on the wrong end of the Astros' six-pitcher no-hitter.

All's fair in love and the American League East, however. The Boston Red Sox also got one-hit on Saturday by the Tampa Bay Rays, the blemish being Will Middlebrooks' fourth-inning single. It's the third time Boston's been one-hit this season, their most since 1992.

Middlebrooks entered the game after Dustin Pedroia was involved in a collision. Nine days earlier, Middlebrooks had the lone hit in another one-hitter, against the Angels, and also off the bench.

That makes the Red Sox the first team in at least 100 years to have a bench player provide their only hit twice. (Brandon Inge had Pittsburgh's only hit twice last season, but he started one of the games.)

Saturday was just the second time the AL East rivals had both been one-hit on the same day. The other was May 25, 1989, when Chuck Finley of the Angels shut out Boston, and Todd Burns and two A's relievers blanked the Yankees (whose lone hit was by Rickey Henderson).

•  Jorge Soler had one big hit this week also. On Wednesday the Chicago Cubs' highly-touted 21-year-old sent the fourth pitch he saw in the majors over the wall in Cincinnati and became the first Cubs batter since Starlin Castro (2010) to homer in his first plate appearance. He's the fifth Cuban-born player to homer in his first game in the bigs. The others are Rays minor-leaguer Eddy Rodriguez (who played two games with the Padres in 2012), Kendrys Morales (2006), A's legend Bert Campaneris (1964), and Phillies outfielder Tony Gonzalez (1960).

Two games later, Soler hit two more homers, one of only two players this season to have a multi-homer outing within his first three MLB games. The other is his teammate, 22-year-old Javier Baez (August 7). Baez also had one homer in his debut; together they made the Cubs the first team ever to have two players, each 22 or younger, homer in their major-league debuts in the same season.

•  From one-hit wonders to the team that's never had a no-hitter, we couldn't end without mentioning the San Diego Padres.

Rene Rivera on Wednesday, Yasmani Grandal on Friday, and Alexi Amarista on Saturday all hit extra-inning singles around an off-day on Thursday. It was the Padres' first streak of three walk-off wins since doing four straight from April 13-16, 1986, and the first time they've ever had three straight in extra innings. Their weekend opponent, the Dodgers, hadn't lost consecutive extra-inning games via walk-off since August 2003. Of the Padres' 10 walk-offs this year, seven have been in extras, one shy of their team record set in 2006.



Holliday clutch even when numbers down

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday's performance may have declined a bit this season, but you can still count on him for a high second-half RBI output.

A day after driving in five runs in a win over the Chicago Cubs, Holliday had four RBIs (including the game winner) in a rally from a five-run deficit that put the Cardinals into a first-place tie with the fading Milwaukee Brewers.

Holliday now has 33 RBIs in 39 games for the Cardinals since the All-Star break. This matches Holliday’s history. Holliday has 528 RBIs in 875 career games prior to the Break (a pace of 98 RBIs pace over 162 games). After the break, he has totaled 509 RBIs in 686 games (a pace of 120 RBIs per 162 games).

Holliday has found his swing in the past six weeks as his power numbers have increased dramatically in the second half. You can see the full breakdown in the chart to the right.

Much of the improvement is due to better performance against left-handed pitching. Holliday did not have a homer against a lefty prior to the break, but has five since the break. He started the Cardinals rally on Sunday with a fourth-inning homer against Cubs southpaw Travis Wood, then had an RBI double against Wood in the fifth inning to cut the lead to 5-4.
Matt Holliday

Holliday’s game-winning hit came against righty Carlos Villanueva in the eighth inning. That gave Holliday the major league lead in go-ahead hits this season with 27, one more than White Sox slugger Jose Abreu.

For all of Holliday’s issues earlier this season, he has been very successful in RBI situations. He’s hitting .338 with runners in scoring position in 2014, which ranks seventh in the National League.

Holliday became the first Cardinals player to drive in at least four runs in consecutive games since he did it in 2012. He joined Hall-of-Famers Jim Bottomley and Stan Musial as the only players to do this multiple times for the team.

Holliday also joined Oswaldo Arcia of the Minnesota Twins as the only players to have consecutive games with at least four RBIs this season.


Matchup to watch: Gomes & Perez excel

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals don’t often find themselves under the "Sunday Night Baseball" spotlight. One of the other common bonds between these teams is how important the catchers are to their respective success this season.

Indians catcher Yan Gomes and Royals backstop Salvador Perez are two of the key players to watch tonight. Here’s a primer on the topics likely to come up on the game telecast:

The best in the league
With Joe Mauer having moved to first base, Brian McCann struggling for much of the season and Matt Wieters injured, there has been a lack of success from catchers with notable names. Gomes and Perez are in their second season of significant success.

Gomes and Perez rank 1-2 in the American League in wins above replacement, with Gomes a hair better (4.0 to 3.7). They rank tied for third and tied for fifth, respectively, in that stat among all catchers, with Jonathan Lucroy (5.3) and Russell Martin (4.6) in the top two spots.

Gomes has already almost matched his 2013 total of 4.2 WAR (done in only 88 games). Perez is on pace to match or exceed his 4.3 WAR from last season.

What to know about Gomes
Gomes has swung a really good bat lately. He is hitting .333 with a .901 OPS, four home runs and 14 RBIs in his last 22 games.

That’s upped his season OPS to .800, making him one of three catchers with an .800 OPS this season, along with Lucroy and Buster Posey.

Gomes thrives against pitches in the lower half of the strike zone. His .346 batting average against pitches to that area ranks fourth among batting-title qualifiers, trailing only Victor Martinez, Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen. Also of significance with the Royals starting southpaw Danny Duffy tonight, Gomes has the ninth-best batting average in the majors against left-handed pitching (.351).

Additionally, he is the lone defensive standout on a team that ranks last in the major leagues in defensive runs saved. Catcher is the only position at which the Indians have a positive value in that statistic.

Gomes is a slightly above average catcher in 2014. He has four defensive runs saved this season, due mostly to his ranking in the top 10 in caught-stealing rate (31 percent).

What to know about Perez
The Royals have put Perez to frequent use behind the plate this season and for good reason. They are 68-49 when he starts at catcher, 6-12 when someone else starts.

Perez is valuable on two fronts. Though his on-base percentage is only .299, he is an important offensive player, one who ranks tied for second on the team in home runs and is third among their regulars with a .713 OPS.

He ranks as one of the game’s most eager hitters. His 41 percent chase rate (how often he swings at pitches out of the strike zone) ranks second in the majors, behind Pablo Sandoval’s 43 percent. Perez does this because he’s good at it. His .247 batting average against pitches out of the zone is ninth best in the major leagues.

But where Perez really earns his accolades is on the defensive side. He leads the majors with 10 defensive runs saved this season. Those have been notched on the strength of his ability to deter baserunners (caught 19 of 63 but also has five pickoffs) and his handling of the pitching staff. The Royals have a 3.23 ERA with Perez behind the plate this season and a 5.64 ERA when their other players catch.


Petit's hook key to record success

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
The San Francisco Giants might have found the X factor when it comes to their postseason hopes in starting pitcher Yusmeiro Petit. Petit not only set a major league record for consecutive batters retired and pitched the Giants to a win over the Colorado Rockies on Thursday.

Petit also won in his first start since July 22 with a dominant performance. In his past seven appearances, dating back to July 26, he’s pitched 18 1/3 innings and allowed one run and four hits.

Record setter
Petit set the single-season mark by retiring 46 consecutive hitters, breaking Mark Buehrle's mark of 45, set in 2009.

Petit's streak ended with the next batter when pitcher Jordan Lyles doubled.

Petit had earlier broken the National League record, which was also held by a Giants pitcher of modest renown, Jim Barr, who retired 41 straight during the 1972 season.

Petit’s streak might have been a bit under the radar considering the results of the games in which he pitched. His past six appearances prior to Thursday were all Giants losses.

Petit is familiar with long runs of perfection. On Sept. 6, 2013, he pitched a one-hitter against the Arizona Diamondbacks, with a perfect-game bid that stretched into the ninth inning.

How he won
Petit finished with a season-high 15 swings-and-misses in his six innings of one-run, nine-strikeout work.

He was in total command despite a fastball that averaged only 89 mph. Petit’s key pitch was his 76 to 79 mph curveball, which he threw 19 times and netted 10 outs, including six strikeouts.

Opponents are 2-for-35 in at-bats ending with a Petit curveball dating back to July 2. They’ve missed on 34 of 66 swings against it.

In good company
Petit ranks sixth in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings among the 150 pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched this season. The five pitchers ahead of him are Yu Darvish, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.

His 29 percent miss rate ranks fifth in the majors. Kershaw and Felix Hernandez rank sixth and seventh.

Quirky coincidence
Rockies catcher Jackson Williams, who just made his major league debut Wednesday, was the record-tying 45th "victim" of Petit's streak.

Williams came to Colorado as a minor league free agent from the Giants last offseason. During the 2012 and 2013 seasons, he caught Petit's starts 24 times when both were in Triple-A Fresno.

Williams also got his first major league hit off Petit in the fifth inning.


Andrelton Simmons still amazing on D

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
Cue up the Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel comparisons one more time for Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

Simmons made one of the best defensive plays by an infielder this season, throwing out Travis d’Arnaud at first base from deep in the shortstop-third base hole, with the tying run at third base and two outs in the eighth inning, and the Braves clinging to a one-run lead over the New York Mets.

The Braves would hang on for a one-run win, and though Craig Kimbrel was credited with the save, it was Simmons who was the game’s true closer.

Simmons doesn’t have the eye-popping stats he had at shortstop a year ago, but the Gold Glove is still highly likely to be his. He entered Wednesday tied with Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart for the major-league lead with 21 Defensive Runs Saved at the position in 2014.

The play Simmons made is the kind on which he excels unlike anyone else.

Baseball Info Solutions has a plus-minus system in which it looks at balls hit to different areas of the field and rates how much above or below average a player is against those balls.

Simmons is 24 plays better than average against balls hit in the area defined as the shortstop-third base hole (he finished last season a hair above that, at 27 plays above average). By comparison, Cozart is tied with Alexi Amarista for second-best among the 10 shortstops with the most Defensive Runs Saved this season. They rate only seven plays better than average on balls hit to that area.

We mentioned Simmons’ two-year run at the position. In that span, he has 62 Defensive Runs Saved. Next-most is 58 by Mets centerfielder Juan Lagares.

Simmons wasn’t the only great defender to make a key contribution in this game.

Braves rightfielder Jason Heyward led off the game with a home run for the fourth time this season and the second time against Mets starter Zack Wheeler, who had his streak of six straight winning decisions snapped.

Heyward will likely do what Simmons did last season: lead the majors in Defensive Runs Saved. His 33 are three more than Lagares currently has this season.


Top stats to know: Yankees at Tigers

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
ESPN Stats & InformationMiguel Cabrera is not as good against the inner-half fastball as he was in 2013.
The Detroit Tigers host the New York Yankees in the second game of their three-game series on “Wednesday Night Baseball” (7 ET, ESPN/WatchESPN). The Tigers took the first game of the series Tuesday as Rick Porcello earned his 15th win of the season, tied for the most in Major League Baseball.

Price changing pace

David Price will make his fifth start for the Tigers since being acquired from the Rays on July 31, and so far, his changeup has keyed his success in the Motor City (see chart).

Hitters have combined to bat .089 (4-for-45) against Price with just one extra-base hit in at-bats ending in a changeup since the trade. That’s the lowest opponent batting average against changeups by any pitcher since Aug. 1 (min. 20 batters faced).

It’s been quite a turnaround for Price as opponents hit .300 (36-for-120) against his changeup in 23 starts with Tampa Bay this season.

Cabrera’s power outage

Miguel Cabrera is on pace to hit .300 or better for the sixth straight season, but he’s not doing it with the power he has in years past. Consider the following:

• Cabrera hasn’t homered since Aug. 2 and ranks sixth on his team in slugging since hitting that home run (.350).

• Since the All-Star break, Cabrera has just 10 extra-base hits -- 3 HRs and 7 doubles -- which works out to an extra-base hit every 17 plate appearances. Cabrera recorded an extra-base hit every nine plate appearances in 2013.

• Cabrera has four homers and is slugging .525 with runners in scoring position this season. Last season, Cabrera hit 18 homers and slugged .782 in the same situations.

The biggest reason for the decline has been Cabrera’s inconsistency against pitches on the inner half of the plate, particularly fastballs. Cabrera is slugging .589 against fastballs on the inner half this season with six home runs. In 2013, Cabrera slugged .788 with 18 home runs on such pitches, both of which led the majors.

Another rookie start for Yankees

Rookie right-hander Shane Greene gets the ball for New York on Wednesday, and it would mark the 53rd start this season by a Yankees rookie.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s easily the most in baseball. Perhaps amazingly, the Bombers are 33-19 in games started by rookies this season (.635). Meanwhile, the Yankees are just 35-43 in all other games in 2014 (.449).

In Greene’s only career appearance against the Tigers, the righty earned the win after throwing eight shutout innings with five strikeouts on Aug. 7 at Yankee Stadium. Greene will be on the road Wednesday, but the righty has been even better away from the Bronx, going 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA in four road starts this season.

Alex Gordon for MVP?

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
The Kansas City Royals have an MVP candidate, albeit one without the super-flashy numbers. And now he has a signature hit, the kind that make differences in close races for division titles, like the one the Royals are locked in right now.
Alex Gordon
Alex Gordon's walk-off home run gave the Royals a 2-1 come-from-behind win over the Minnesota Twins and kept their AL Central lead at 1½ games.

What makes Gordon a viable candidate alongside the Mike Trout’s of the world?

How he has hit
Gordon has respectable offensive numbers: a .283 batting average, .810 OPS and 16 home runs. Eight of those long balls have come against left-handed pitching (including Tuesday’s against Glenn Perkins), matching the most he has had against lefties in a single season.

As the Royals have surged, so too has Gordon. He has a .314/.368/.545 slashline in 33 games since July 22. His slugging percentage and OPS in that span ranked sixth-best in the American League at the game’s conclusion. The Royals are 25-8 in that span, easily the best record in baseball.

How he fields
It is on the defensive side where Gordon separates himself. His 22 defensive runs saved are the most any American League player at any position. Those come from a combination of his throwing arm and his ability to turn batted balls into outs.

With regards to the former, Gordon only has four outfield assists, after totaling 27 the previous two seasons, but there’s a reason for that. No one runs on him.

Only 19 percent of baserunners have taken an extra base on Gordon (in other words, gone first to third or second to home on a single, or first to home on a double). That’s half the rate of the average left fielder and accounts for more than one-third of Gordon’s defensive runs saved total.

In terms of the latter, this is an area in which Gordon has made significant improvements to his game. He has 12 defensive runs saved due to his range after totaling 13 the previous two seasons. It helps to have two fantastic defenders alternating in center field in Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain, who have combined for 27 defensive runs saved of their own.

The whole package
Some may scoff at the notion that Gordon ranks fourth among position players in the American League with 5.5 wins above replacement.

But the legitimacy of his value is that an outfielder who combines Gordon’s skills is hard to find.

He’s one of only two players in the sport with at least an .800 OPS and 20 defensive runs saved this season, along with Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson. Only two players hit that combo last season- Carlos Gomez and Shane Victorino.

And though it’s a small sample, it’s worth noting that when Gordon doesn’t start this season, the Royals have struggled, with one win in six games.


Tillman stepping up into ace role

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
Yes, the Baltimore Orioles hit five home runs in their win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night.

But also noteworthy was the continued run of terrific pitching by Orioles starter Chris Tillman.
Chris Tillman
Tillman allowed one unearned run in seven innings, lowering his ERA in five August starts to 1.26. He ranks second in the majors for the month in both ERA and WHIP (0.65) and could move up to the top spot if the Orioles beat up on Rays starter Alex Cobb (1.04 ERA in August) on Tuesday.

As the Orioles move closer to an AL East title, Tillman looks to be moving closer to being known as a bona-fide ace.

How he’s winning
Tillman is a pitcher who tends to live up in (and above) the strike zone. In this five-start run, he has netted 66 outs and yielded only 11 hits and walks on pitches in that area.

That ratio changes to 34-to-1 if we change our parameter to the upper-third of the zone and above.

The biggest improvement that Tillman has made within this month-long stint is in his walk rate, as noted in the chart on the right. Tillman's first-pitch strike rate, which was 57 percent the first four months of the season, is 64 percent in August. He threw a first-pitch strike to 18 of 25 hitters on Monday.

Tillman also has gotten a fair amount of cooperation from his defense. He has allowed only 17 percent of opposing hitters who put the ball in play (in other words, not hit homers) to reach base.

That may stem from the fact that opponents are not hitting the ball hard against him.

A video-tracking service, which rates each batted ball as hard, medium or soft-hit and provides that data to teams and media, has Tillman with a hard-hit rate of 9 percent this month, fifth-lowest among starting pitchers (the average pitcher allows hard-hit contact in 15 to 16 percent of his at-bats).

Tillman did allow a hard-hit ball to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, one that center fielder Adam Jones made a homer-robbing catch on and subsequently turned into a double play.

Jones has seven home-run robberies over the past six seasons. Only Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez has more in that stretch, with 11.

The quirk
One odd nugget when it comes to Tillman’s performance us looking at his home-road splits.

Tillman is 4-5 at home, but with a 2.54 ERA. His ERA is considerably higher on the road (4.34), but his record is much better (7-0).

There’s still time for his record to catch up to his performance. Four of his next five starts should come at Camden Yards.

How does Tillman stack up against other playoff-contending No. 1 pitchers?

His 3.41 ERA this season would rank fourth-best among starting pitchers on the Tigers and third-best on the Athletics, and it’s fair to say he’s not in the same class as the likes of David Price, Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and Sonny Gray.

But he stacks up well alongside pitchers such as James Shields of the Royals and Jered Weaver of the Angels.

The one thing that those two have which Tillman doesn’t is postseason experience. Shields and Weaver have a combined 10 postseason starts. Tillman should get his first chance at October glory in about five weeks.

Kernels: Capitol Gains

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesThe Nationals won via walk-off five times this week.
Congress always takes an extra-long recess in August because Washington gets really hot in the summer. Our weekly look at the interesting and unusual in Major League Baseball concurs: Washington has been pretty hot in August.

After walk-off wins last weekend against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Washington Nationals ran that streak to three with Adam LaRoche's 11th-inning homer on Monday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. That gave the franchise just its second streak of three straight walk-offs, the other being July 26-28, 1988, against the Cubs and Cardinals (Mike Fitzgerald had two of those, one a pinch-hit grand slam). It was the team's first set of back-to-back walk-offs in the 11th or later since June 2009.

They weren't done. The Nats walked off twice more to close the Arizona series, with both game-ending hits by Anthony Rendon. In the process they became the first team with four walk-offs in five days since the Kansas City Royals did it from April 10-13, 2000 (Johnny Damon, Brian Johnson, Rey Sanchez, Carlos Beltran); and the first team with five in six days since the Houston Astros won five straight via walk-off from July 19-23, 1986.

Thursday's game was the franchise's first 1-0 win via walk-off since June 2011, and the first time they had won a game without an RBI since August 27, 1995. It was also the last in a 10-game win streak, tying the longest in the majors this year (Royals in June) and the longest in franchise history (last done in 2005).

"(R, Minnesota)"

No, not Republicans... runs. The Minnesota Twins piled up an MLB-season-high 20 in Friday's thumping of the Detroit Tigers. It was the team's highest run total since May 2009, and just the second time any team had scored 20 runs outdoors in Minneapolis. The Twins won a 20-11 slugfest with Oakland on April 27, 1980, at Metropolitan Stadium.

Five players scored three runs on Friday, the first time that's happened since the Cleveland Indians did it on April 18, 2009 (that's the game where they had a 14-run inning against the Yankees). The 20-6 game also came on the seventh anniversary of the Rangers' famous 30-3 win over the Orioles. (We predict a 10-9 game on August 22, 2021.)

Eduardo Escobar had five hits including a homer and a triple, the first player in the majors to do that this season, and just the second ever for Minnesota. Tim Teufel had two homers and a triple against Toronto on September 16, 1983. At the same time, Escobar committed two errors in the field, becoming (via Elias) the first player with five hits and two errors since Angel Berroa did it for the Royals in 2003.

Second baseman Andrew Romine pitched the ninth inning for Detroit, joining Danny Worth as Tigers position players to pitch this season. The last time the Tigers had two position players throw in the same year was in 1918. Player-manager Ty Cobb frequently put himself on the mound in the final game of the season if it didn't mean anything, and in that particular finale, left fielder Donny Veach relieved him.

Romine, for his part, gave up three runs including longballs by Oswaldo Arcia and Trevor Plouffe. He's the first position player to give up two homers in a game since outfielder Dane Iorg of the Padres did it in an 18-1 loss against the Giants on June 23, 1986.

The Twins added 12 more in the day game of Saturday's doubleheader, their first time scoring 12+ in consecutive games since September 13, 2008, when they swept a doubleheader in Baltimore. The 32 combined runs in two games were three shy of the franchise record. The Tigers then won 13-4 on Sunday, their most runs scored in Minnesota since July 4, 1999 (won 15-5). The 73 total runs were the most in any four-game series in over two years.

"(d, New York)"

The New York Mets have cornered the market on small "D"s over the last couple years, with Travis d'Arnaud, Jacob deGrom, and Matt den Dekker all on the 25-man roster at some point this season. That already made the Mets the first team with three "lowercase" players on the roster at once, but thanks to callups, injuries, and deGrom being a pitcher who only plays every five days, the three had never appeared in a game together. That changed Saturday when all of them started against the Dodgers, the first trio of lowercase players ever to appear in the same boxscore.

Top Stats to Know: Angels at Athletics

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24

AP Photo/Ben MargotScott Kazmir is having a career year.

The Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland Athletics finish off their three-game series on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN) in a dead heat for the AL West crown.

On Saturday, the Athletics beat the Angels to tie them atop the AL West. Here are the top stats to know as these teams battle for the division lead.

AL West race tightens up

On June 21, the Angels were six games behind the Athletics, marking their largest deficit of the season. Since then, Los Angeles has gone 36-19, the best record in the American League in that span (the Nationals have also gone 36-19).

Oakland is just 29-24 in that span. However, the Athletics have dominated the head-to-head matchup this season, winning eight of their 11 meetings, including all five at home.

Sunday night's starters
Angels starter Jered Weaver has the third-most wins (126) and third-most strikeouts (1,362) in franchise history. Only Chuck Finley and Nolan Ryan have more. Weaver has a 3.70 ERA this season, on pace to be his worst since 2009. There’s been a significant dip in his average fastball velocity, down to 86.1 mph from 88.7 in 2009.

Only three qualified pitchers this season have a lower average fastball velocity (minimum 400 fastballs).

Athletics starter Scott Kazmir is having the best season of his career. His ERA (2.73), strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.6) and opponent OPS (.608) are all career highs, as are his 14 wins. He’s really taken a step forward in his performance against right-handed hitters.

Kazmir has allowed a .618 OPS to right-handed batters this season, on pace to be the best of his career. The only qualified lefties who have allowed a lower OPS to righties this year are Clayton Kershaw (.556), Chris Sale (.604) and David Price (.617).

Trout struggling
All-Star Mike Trout has had a rough second half of the season thus far. Since the All-Star break, Trout’s batting average is down 81 points, his on-base percentage is down 96 points, and his slugging percentage is down 177 points. Part of the reason could be pitchers are starting to throw him more pitches up in the zone; 43.9 percent of the pitches Trout has seen in the second half have been in the upper half of the zone or higher. In the first half, only 38.7 percent of his pitches were in that location.

Doolittle lights out
Athletics closer Sean Doolittle is having an excellent season. Doolittle has a 16.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio, on pace to rank third in any season by a pitcher with at least 50 innings. No pitcher with a minimum of 50 innings throws strikes at a higher rate than Doolittle (75 percent).

After Sunday night, seven games remain between the Angels and Athletics. The Angels have four of those games at home, but are just 3-3 at home against the Athletics so far this season.

Richards tough to replace for Angels

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22

AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyThe Angels were 19-7 (.731) in games Garrett Richards started this season.
Los Angeles Angels pitcher Garrett Richards is expected to miss 6-9 months after an MRI exam Thursday revealed a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. He sustained the injury while running to cover first base in Wednesday’s start against the Boston Red Sox.

With Richards done for the year, let’s review his breakout season and his importance to the Angels.

Breakout season
Richards entered the season 9-9 with a 4.37 ERA in 29 career starts (167 innings), but the 26-year-old figured things out this year. Richards will finish the year 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA over 168 2/3 innings. In 1 2/3 more innings this year, he gave up 32 fewer runs as a starter than the previous three years.

He has become one of the best starters in the American League, ranking first in opponent slugging percentage (.261), second in opponent batting average (.201), eighth in ERA (.261), 10th in strikeout rate (24.2 percent) and sixth in ground-ball rate (51.3 percent).

Richards’ opponent slugging percentage is the fourth lowest in a season in Angels history and the lowest since Nolan Ryan in 1977. It’s also the third lowest by any pitcher in the last 20 seasons. The only two lower? Pedro Martinez (.259) in 2000 and Greg Maddux (.258) in 1995, both of whom went on to win Cy Young awards those years.

So just how did Richards put it together this season? His plus stuff finally started missing bats. From 2011 to '13, Richards’ strikeout rate was only 15.2 percent as a starter. That ranked 168th out of 230 pitchers who started at least 20 games over that span. This season, he has increased his strikeout rate to 24.2 percent, which ranks 16th out of 95 qualified starters. In fact, only one starter in baseball has increased his strikeout rate more than Richards from last season to this season (Brandon McCarthy 8.0 percentage points; Richards 7.9).

Importance to Angels
The Angels are 19-7 (.731) when Richards starts this season and 57-43 (.570) when anyone else does. According to Elias, the Angels' .731 win percentage with Richards on the mound is the best for any starter in the American League this season (minimum 15 starts).

Richards has been worth 4.4 Wins Above Replacement this season. Entering Thursday, all other Angels starters had been worth 3.3 WAR combined. The loss of Richards could have an effect on the Angels' bullpen as well. No bullpen has thrown more innings since the All-Star break than the Angels (122).

Replacing Richards
While it’s unclear who will take Richards’ spot in the rotation the rest of the season, the Angels will surely look for their other starters to step up, as Matt Shoemaker did Thursday night against the Red Sox.

Shoemaker no-hit the Red Sox through 6 2/3 innings and finished with 7 2/3 scoreless innings along with nine strikeouts. Since giving up a career-high eight runs against the Kansas City Royals on June 27, Shoemaker is 5-2 with a 2.51 ERA in seven starts.