Stats & Info: Seattle Mariners
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesSeattle’s new $240 million investment should have no trouble at Safeco Field.
However, away from Yankee Stadium, rather than hitting a large number of short fly balls to right field for outs in other parks, Cano's adjustment has been to take aim at center field and left field.
And, in the past five seasons, it has translated to opposite-field home runs with much more frequency on the road than at home.
It’s clear Cano has an ability to change his approach based on the park he plays in, and evidence suggests he isn't simply a product of his home park.
Quite simply, whatever park he’s in, it’s clear he has power to all fields. And, although he might lose some home runs to right field in Seattle, there’s opportunity for more success in left-center with a shorter distance at Safeco Field compared with in Yankee Stadium.
Expect Cano’s general approach at Safeco Field to be to left-center and, naturally, between right-center and right field -- an adjustment he has shown an ability to make.
So, Mariners fans, take a sigh of relief -- Cano should adjust to his new confines quite well.
The Mariners have not won more than 75 games in any of the last four seasons but seem determined to try to change that with an approach that will center around this deal and this player.
Cano’s contract is tied for the third-largest ever given to a free agent in terms of total value, trailing only the two deals signed by Alex Rodriguez (for $275 million with the Yankees and $252 million with the Rangers).
It far surpasses any deal given to a second baseman, free agent or otherwise. In terms of average value, Cano will be making $24 million, or $9 million more than the second baseman with the next largest contract (Ian Kinsler, $15 million per year through 2017).
It is also considerably more than the Mariners have ever given a free agent, surpassing the previous mark of $64 million for Adrian Beltre in the 2004-05 offseason.
In fact, in the last eight offseasons, the Mariners have signed free agents to contracts worth approximately $239 million, or about a million dollars less than the amount for which Cano signed.
This is only the third time that a player left the Yankees to sign a free agent contract worth at least $50 million. The other two were Denny Neagle bolting for a five-year, $51 million deal with the Colorado Rockies in the 2000-2001 offseason and Nick Swisher leaving for a four-year, $56 million deal with the Cleveland Indians last offseason.
What Cano brings
Cano has arguably been baseball’s most valuable position player over the last five seasons, totaling a major-league best 34.2 Wins Above Replacement in that span. He finished in the top six of the AL MVP voting in each of the last four seasons.
Cano has three seasons of at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. Only two second basemen have had more- Jeff Kent (6) and Rogers Hornsby (4).
He’s also one of 19 players to record at least 600 extra-base hits in the first nine seasons of his career. The other active players to do that are Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera and Matt Holliday.
The Mariners have been looking for a hitter to get the team back to its winning ways and boost their attendance. From 2001 to 2003, they won a major-league best 302 games and led the majors averaging more than 42,000 fans per game. From 2010 to 2013, they’ve averaged slightly more than 23,000 fans per game, which rates 26th among the 30 teams.
The Mariners still have holes to fill within their lineup. Their left-handed hitters ranked in the top three in the AL last season in slugging percentage and OPS. Their right-handed hitters ranked last in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Safeco Field has been a reasonably friendly park, statistically speaking, for left-handed hitters, though that hasn't necessarily been so for Cano. Cano has four home runs in 152 at-bats there (all against Mariners pitching).
Wainwright's early exit
The ace of St. Louis Cardinals allowed a career-high nine earned runs over just two innings. Wainwright allowed all nine runs before he recorded four outs. The shortest start in Wainwright’s career also produced a rare instance in Cardinals history.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Wainwright is just the fourth Cardinals starter in the past 100 seasons to allow nine earned runs before recording four outs. Jason Marquis (2006), Jason Simontacchi (2002) and Bob Gibson (1967) are the others.
Wainwright struggled to put hitters away on Wednesday, as opponents batted .500 against him with two strikes. That’s the highest average he has allowed with two strikes in a single start all season and it’s tied for the second-highest average he has allowed with two strikes in any start over the past five seasons.
Rangers dominate King Felix
Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez also allowed a career high in earned runs, giving up eight over three innings Wednesday afternoon. Hernandez became just the eighth starter in Mariners history to allow eight earned runs in three or fewer innings pitched at home, and the first in five years.
The Texas Rangers have given Hernandez fits all season, as he is 0-4 with a 7.57 ERA against them compared to going 12-4 with a 2.19 ERA against all other opponents. The Rangers are batting more than .140 points higher against Hernandez than all others this season.
King Felix has allowed 10 or more hits in a start four times this season. Three of those instances have come against Texas.
Kuroda trending downward
Hiroki Kuroda, the de-facto ace of the New York Yankees this season, allowed seven runs for the second consecutive start. Prior to his past two starts, Kuroda had allowed seven runs just five times in his entire career.
Kuroda appears to have hit a wall after having a stellar month of July. After leading the MLB with a 0.55 ERA in July, his ERA ballooned to 5.12 in August. He lost four games in August, his most in a single month as a Yankee, a far cry from going undefeated in five July starts.
The fastball did not fool the Blue Jays on Wednesday, as they batted .538 when putting Kuroda’s fastball in play, the second-highest average he has allowed in a single game this season. Opponents hit .333 off Kuroda’s fastball in August, much higher than the .280 they batted off his fastball for the season entering this month.
After totaling 1,278 hits in Japan before coming to the majors, he reached the 4,000-hit mark on Wednesday night. Pete Rose and Ty Cobb are the only players in major-league history with 4,000 career hits.
Ichiro is one of the best hitters of this era.
Since entering the majors in 2001, Ichiro has nearly 400 hits more than any other player. He’s one of four players in history with at least 150 hits in each of his first 12 seasons, along with Paul Waner (1926-39), Richie Ashburn (1948-60) and Albert Pujols (2001-12). Ichiro has a chance to reach 150 hits for a 13th straight season this year.
Ichiro set the single-season mark for most hits in a season back in 2004 with 262. That surpassed the previous record, established back in 1920 by George Sisler.
Ichiro has recorded 10 seasons of at least 200 hits in his career, tied for the most in baseball history with Pete Rose. All 10 of Suzuki’s 200-hit seasons came with the Mariners.
His hit total through 13 seasons is the most for anyone in major-league history within any 13-season span.
He entered this season, his age-39 season, needing 394 hits to reach 3,000. Should he get to 3,000, he’d be only the ninth player since 1990 with at least 394 hits from his age-39 season on.
Ichiro has the fifth-most wins above replacement since entering the league in 2001. Only Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran have more.
Hit number 2,722 in his major-league career was a milestone in one other respect. It allowed him to pass Yankees great Lou Gehrig on the all-time hit list.
The Tampa Bay Rays led the way for the AL East last month. Strong pitching outings by David Price and Matt Moore helped propel the Rays to a 21-5 month.
However, according to our player ratings, those were not the big players for the AL East. Baseball's home run leader, Chris Davis, continues to lead the division in the batter player ratings at third overall (http://espn.go.com/mlb/playerratings/_/type/batting).
The Oakland Athletics have been the stabilizing factor in the AL West since last season. Sitting fifth in the power rankings (http://espn.go.com/mlb/powerrankings) and holding one of the best records in baseball, the A’s are led by Josh Donaldson and Bartolo Colón ranking in the top 30 of the player rankings (http://espn.go.com/mlb/playerratings/_/type/pitching). And Bartolo Colón isn’t the only pitcher from the AL West dominating this season.
Yu Darvish holds the American League’s lowest opponent batting average and one of the best WHIPs in baseball. Darvish along with teammates Joe Nathan and Derek Holland have helped the AL West on the pitching side, but Mike Trout has provided the biggest boost from the offensive end for the AL West. Behind only Miguel Cabrera in batting average, Trout is arguably the second best hitter in the AL, doing his best to help a hurting Los Angeles Angels team.
The Seattle Mariners had their best month of the season, but sub-.500 months from the other three teams hurt. As a whole, the AL West had an ERA half a run higher than any of the other divisions.
With the Houston Astros holding steady at the bottom of the power rankings and the standings, it's not likely the AL West to overcome the AL East. However, improvement from the Angels or Rangers and continued winning from the Mariners could see the AL West start to chip away at the deficit.
For an explanation of the rankings system, click here.
WILL DAVIS CONTINUE TO CRUSH?
Chris Davis has had a career year –- and the season isn’t even 100 games old yet. Davis begins his unofficial second half with 37 home runs, 93 RBI and a .315 batting average.
Who else has hit those thresholds in their team’s first 96 games? The list is short -- only Babe Ruth (1921 and 1928) and Jimmie Foxx (1932).
He is on pace to hit 62 home runs, which would break the American League record of 61 by Roger Maris in 1961. And with 64 extra-base hits so far he could threaten Babe Ruth’s record of 119 in 1921.
CAN CABRERA TRIPLE HIS PLEASURE AGAIN?
Davis isn’t the only player tearing things up in the AL. Miguel Cabrera is first in the league with a .365 average and 95 RBI and trails only Davis with 30 home runs.
Entering this season, the only player to finish in the top five in each Triple Crown category a year after winning the Triple Crown was Frank Robinson in 1967. Only four players have led the league in any triple-crown category while defending the Triple Crown, and none have led more than one the following year.
WHAT OTHER SINGLE-SEASON MARKS ARE WITHIN REACH?
• Manny Machado has 39 doubles at the break, the most since Edgar Martinez had 42 in 1996. On his current pace, he’ll threaten Earl Webb’s record of 67 two-baggers in 1931. No player has hit 60 doubles in a season since 1936.
• Raul Ibanez has discovered the fountain of youth. Ibanez has hit 24 home runs this season and only needs six more to pass the 29 that Ted Williams hit in 1960 for the most by a player aged 41 or over.
• Clayton Kershaw entered the break with a 1.98 ERA. The last pitcher to post an ERA below 2.00 for a full season was Roger Clemens in 2005. The only Dodgers pitcher to do so since the club moved to Los Angeles was Sandy Koufax, who did so three times.
• So far this season, 19.75 percent of plate appearances have ended in a strikeout. That’s the most ever before the All-Star break, and just a fraction below last year’s full-season record of 19.78 percent.
• Derek Jeter is 10th on the all-time hit list with 3,305 career hits, but should surpass Eddie Collins (3,313) and Paul Molitor (3,319) to move into eighth place before the season ends.
Jeter could also move into the Top 10 all-time in runs scored. He has touched home 1,869 times in his career, 19 behind Lou Gehrig for 10th all-time and 29 behind teammate Alex Rodriguez for ninth.
• His power hasn’t been as prodigious since joining the Los Angeles Angels, but Albert Pujols is still climbing up the all-time home run list. He needs 10 home runs in the second half to become the 26th player in major-league history with 500 home runs.
Overshadowed in his own rotation by Felix Hernandez, it is Iwakuma that has the American League’s best ERA at 2.60 and leads all qualified starters with a 0.88 WHIP. These numbers were enough to get him selected to the All-Star Game in just his second season since coming over from Japan.
Splitting the difference
A big reason for Iwakuma’s success is his control over a devastating splitter. This season opponents are hitting .183 against the pitch -– the fifth lowest among starters who have thrown at least 100 splitters.
In 131 at-bats ending in an Iwakuma splitter, hitters have struck out 47 times and hit a ground ball 61 times. That means just 23 of 131 (18 percent) of hitters were able to elevate the pitch.
ESPN Stats & Information
Iwakuma has kept the majority of his splitters down in the strike zone or below it. The pitch has been most effective when he is able to start it at the bottom of the strike zone and allow the pitch’s break to take it out of the zone by the time it crosses the plate.
This season hitters have combined to go 3-for-55 (.055) against Iwakuma splitters that have ended up below the strike zone.
One of the best displays of Iwakuma’s splitter came back in May against the Oakland Athletics in which he allowed one run in seven innings. He finished off 11 at-bats with a splitter, six of which came via strikeout -– all swinging.
ESPN Stats & Information
What forces hitters to bite on Iwakuma’s splitter is the fact that he’s nearly always around the plate. Over 55 percent of his pitches have been in the strike zone this season, the fourth-best rate in baseball among qualified starters.
This has helped Iwakuma induce the third-highest swing rate in the big leagues at 51 percent, behind only Cole Hamels and Jordan Zimmermann.
Iwakuma has a respectable 3.43 ERA and .240 opponent’s batting average on the road, but he has been nearly unhittable at Safeco Park. The righty has 1.84 ERA at home and has allowed opponent’s to hit .169.
Iwakuma has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched in each of his nine starts in Seattle this season. He’ll look to continue that success tonight against a Red Sox team that leads the majors in runs scored.
Theme of the Week: Grand-Slam Barrage
It was a grand (slam) week for notable tidbits on grand slams and we're not just talking about Matt Holliday's on Sunday Night Baseball.
• John Mayberry cranked a walk-off slam to give the Phillies a win over the Marlins Tuesday, the first walk-off slam for the Phillies since Kim Batiste hit one against the Mets on August 13, 1993.
Mayberry-- who did not start the game-- also homered in the bottom of the 10th to re-tie the game after Miami took the lead in the top half. No player in the majors had hit two extra-inning homers in the same game since Baltimore's Mike Young did so against the Angels on May 28, 1987. And Elias confirms he was just the sixth player ever to do that.
Mayberry also didn't start the game. Since RBI became official in 1920, no player had ever come off the bench to record 5+ RBI, with all of them coming in extra innings.
• A grand slam was just one of the many oddities in Wednesday's White Sox-Mariners game. The teams played not just nine or ten, but thirteen scoreless innings. The White Sox piled up five hits and two walks in the innings and scored five runs, their most in any extra inning since May 17, 1996.
The Mariners answered with four straight singles to make it 5-1 and load the bases for Kyle Seager, whose grand slam tied the game.
Seager's slam was the latest by inning in Mariners history, and the latest in a game since David Eckstein hit a walk-off in the 14th inningfor the Angels on April 28, 2002. According to Elias, Seager's was the first game-tying grand slam in major-league history.
With a cap-tip to Retrosheet, the five runs were the most ever traded by two teams in an extra inning (i.e., so the game continued). And it was also the first time a game had gone scoreless through at least nine innings and then both teams scored five or more.
Addison Reed won, despite allowing five runs in extra innings. Only one other pitcher in the Live-Ball era entered a game in extras, allowed five or more runs, and still won. And that happened just two seasons ago: Micah Owings for the 2011 Diamondbacks.
• Thursday's grand slam belonged to newly-called-up Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig. It came in his fourth game in the majors, making him the first Dodger in the Live Ball Era to hit a slam within his first four career games..
But it wasn't even Puig's first homer of his career. It was his third. In his second career game two days earlier, Puig went deep twice and drove in five runs as Los Angeles beat San Diego 9-7. That performance made him the first player with a multi-homer game, and five or more RBI, so early in his career, in over 60 years.
Dino Restelli of the Pirates had a pair of two-run shots and an RBI single-- all off Warren Spahn, no less-- as Pittsburgh came from behind to beat the Boston Braves 8-7 on June 15, 1949.
Puig went deep again on Friday (a solo shot this time), giving him four home runs in his first five major-league games. According to Elias, only one other player since 1900 has been that prolific: Mike Jacobs, who did it in his first four games (one as a pinch hitter) when he debuted with the Mets in August 2005.
• Josh Donaldson of the Athletics extended our grand-slam parade on Friday by hitting Oakland's first one of the year and accounting for all four runs in their 4-3 victory over the White Sox.
He's the first player this season to hit a grand slam in a game in which his team only scored four runs total. And no Oakland player had done it in a win since July 15, 1990, when Felix Jose hit a first-inning slam off the Brewers' Chris Bosio. Despite not having another hit the rest of the game, those runs held up for a 4-1 victory.
Holliday's grand slam Sunday night was only the third in extra innings by a Cardinals player in the last 30 seasons. The others: by Tommy Herr and Albert Pujols, both came against the Mets.
The Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox were both scoreless through the first 13 innings, then the White Sox erupted for five runs in the top of the 14th inning and the Mariners somehow matched them with five runs in the bottom of the inning.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first game in major-league history in which each team scored five-or-more runs in a game that was scoreless through nine innings.
Kyle Seager tied the game for the Mariners in the 14th with a dramatic two-out grand slam. Elias also tells us that Seager is the first player in major-league history with a game-tying slam in extra innings.
How unlikely was Seager’s slam? He had zero homers in 17 career bases-loaded at-bats and zero homers in 23 career extra-inning at-bats entering this game.
The pitch was an 85 MPH slider at the knees that Seager drove into the right-center field seats. Prior to that at-bat, Seager was 1-for-19 on sliders in the lower third of the zone or below this season.
Alejandro De Aza was the hero for the White Sox in the 16th inning when he hit a line drive up the middle that scored Gordon Beckham from second base. It was his first career go-ahead hit in extra innings.
De Aza’s game-winning hit was less surprising than Seager’s game-tying slam. It came on a 1-2 changeup from Hector Noesi, continuing a recent trend of two-strike success for the lefty. Since May 30, De Aza is 9-for-23 (.391) in two-strike counts; prior to that date, he was hitting .173 with two strikes.
In the end, the teams combined for 12 extra-inning runs, tying the AL record for most runs scored by both teams in extras. It had been done four times previously, according to Elias, and most recently in a 16-4 game between the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers on July 3, 1983 that went 15 innings.
Although the Mariners have played several games that were longer than 16 innings, there had never been a home game in Mariners history that lasted as long as this five-hour and 42-minute marathon in terms of elapsed time.
Despite the loss, at least the fans in Seattle can say they got their money’s worth for this game.
And although it’s only one month into the season, the AL West is looking up at the five other divisions in the first edition of the 2013 rankings.
Each month during the season, ESPN Stats & Information will look at how the divisions stack up against each other to determine which one is the best … and the worst.
The formula used is made up of four variables that measure team and divisional strength: ESPN.com power rankings, non-divisional win percentage, strength of schedule and individual player rankings.
Based on the four variables, each team receives a score from 4 to 120 (1-30 for each variable). The total score of each team in a division is added together then divided by five, which is the number of teams in a division.
And right now, the American League East is first the rankings thanks to hot starts by the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles. The perceived demise of the AL East has not yet been realized; four of its five teams rank in the top 16 of the most recent ESPN.com power rankings.
The AL East ranks first in all four categories measured by the divisional rankings, including the player rater.
The division has the top-ranked hitter in Baltimore’s Chris Davis, and the second-ranked pitcher in Boston’s Clay Buchholz.
The NL West is second, 12.4 points behind the AL East. The Colorado Rockies are off to a hot start with their bats. They scored 141 runs in April, the most of any National League team. As a result, the Rockies have five batters ranked in the top 30 of ESPN’s batting player rater, by far the most of any team.
As for the AL West, the addition of the Houston Astros and the early season struggles of Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners have the division in last place in the divisional rankings. In April, the AL West went a combined 18-30 (.375 win percentage) in games outside of the division, by far the lowest win percentage of any division.
Since the season is still young, expect the ratings to drastically change in the next month. Look for inter-divisional matchups between the Braves and Reds, Yankees and Rockies, and Tigers and Rangers to impact the May rankings.
But there were some other statistically amazing things to happen in baseball in the last seven days. Here's a run-through.
Whiff City: Tigers, Mariners go Strikeout-Wild
The 14-inning Tigers-Mariners game not only featured five strikeouts by Prince Fielder, it had 35 others as well. Elias reports that it became just the third game since 1900 with 40 or more strikeouts, and the shortest of those games by inning (the others were 15 and 20).
Seventeen of the 18 starters whiffed at least once, setting a new season high (it happened three times last year).
Starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Felix Hernandez each went eight innings and struck out 12, the first pair of starters to do that since Mike Mussina and Pedro Martinez dueled on May 24, 2001.
And it was the first time neither one got a decision since Mark Langston (10 innings 12 strikeouts) and Randy Johnson (15 strikeouts in nine innings) met on September 16, 1992.
The 21 strikeouts by Mariners pitching also tied their franchise record, last achieved in another Randy Johnson start on Opening Day 1996. And eventually the 82 strikeouts in the series, per Elias, was the most by any teams in the modern era in a three-game set.
Getting back to Fielder, he became the first Tiger in the live-ball era with back-to-back four-strikeout games, and the first AL player to do so since Jay Buhner in 1990.
Saturday was historic for bad starting pitching
The Tigers really should shuffle next year's rotation so that Rick Porcello isn't pitching on the third Saturday in April. He allowed nine runs-- all earned-- while getting just two outs and throwing 47 pitches to 11 batters.
No pitcher had given up nine runs and 10 hits while getting a maximum of 3 outs since... Rick Porcello did it on the third Saturday of April last season! That was the first game of a doubleheader with Texas.
Not to be outdone, Phil Humber gave up eight runs while recording just one out as the Indians batted around in the 1st inning in Houston Saturday night. Humber wasn't even the first Astros starter to leave after one out this week.
Erik Bedard allowed six earned runs and retired just one batter on Monday. The Astros hadn't had two starters record no more than one out in the same SEASON since 2004, and had never had it happen within five days of each other.
The last pitching staff to pull off that dubious feat was the 2000 Rockies, courtesy of Pedro Astacio and Julian Tavarez. And that gets an asterisk because Astacio left the game after being hit with a line drive to lead off the game.
The last team to have two starters allow six or more earned runs while recording a max of one out, within a six-day span, was the 1979 Cubs (Lynn McGlothen and Dennis Lamp).
The capper on this: It was the first time in baseball’s modern era that two starting pitchers allowed at least eight runs with less than one inning pitched.
Feat of the Week: Quasi-cycles
Rockies leftfielder Carlos Gonzalez hit for the cycle on Tuesday. Sort of. Colorado played a doubleheader with the Mets because of snow the day before.In the day game against the Mets, Gonzalez tripled and homered. In the night game he had a double and two singles.
He's the first player to get the homer and triple in one game of a doubleheader and the double and single in the other game, since Stephen Drew of the Diamondbacks in 2006.
Also cycle-worthy: The Brewers first five batters on Friday went error-single-homer-double-triple. So the Brewers, as a team, had already hit for the cycle before making a single out.
They were the first team to pull that off since the final weekend of 2006. The Royals' first four hitters (Joey Gathright, Esteban Germán, David DeJesus, and Mike Sweeney) went double-single-triple-homer to lead off a 9-6 win over Detroit.
Scorecard Watch: An unusual double play
Last week, we had a triple play that was unique to baseball scoring-wise. Saturday we had something that sounds more rare than it was-- an unassisted double play turned by Rays centerfielder Desmond Jennings.
Elias tells us that it’s the first “8U” in baseball since Mike Cameron had one in 2003.
Mike PhilbrickAdam Dunn has been prolific on the first day of the season.
Mets are best
The New York Mets enter Monday 33-18 all-time on Opening Day. Their .647 winning percentage on Opening Day is the best in major-league history.
The Mets have won six of their last seven Opening Day games. Jonathon Niese, who was born on the day the Mets won their last World Series (October 27, 1986) will make his first career Opening Day start against the San Diego Padres.
The Seattle Mariners-Oakland Athletics matchup on Monday night pits a pair of teams with significantly different Opening Day history of late.
The Mariner have won six straight Opening Day games, usually marked by a good start from Felix Hernandez. He has a 1.63 ERA in five previous openers.
The Athletics have lost eight straight Opening Day games. Brett Anderson will be the Athletics eighth different Opening Day starter in as many seasons.
Home sweet home
The New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox rivalry will renew Monday in the Bronx, a place that has been most friendly to the Yankees on Opening Day.
The Yankees have won the last 11 Opening Day Games they’ve played at home. Their last such loss was in 1982 to the Chicago White Sox.
The Red Sox have won six of the last eight Opening Day games against the Yankees.
Adam Dunn enters Monday’s matchup with the Royals tied with Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr. for the all-time record with eight career Opening Day home runs.
Dunn may have had problems with his batting average in recent years, but he’s thrived in his last eight Opening Day games, going 11-for-29.
He’s 1-for-10 with five strikeouts and no home runs against Monday’s starter, James Shields.
The Cincinnati Reds used to play baseball’s first game every season, but that tradition has gone by the boards.
They might start a new tradition on Monday when they host the first interleague opening game, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
This game will mark the first for new Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton with the team and the first against the team with whom he played his first major-league game.
Also of note: Jered Weaver will make his fifth career Opening Day start, tying the Angels record set by Mike Witt.
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesVerlander has led all starting pitchers in most statistical categories the past four seasons.
• Starts (135)
• Wins (78)
• WHIP (1.08)
• Strikeouts (977)
• WAR (26.0, highest among pitchers)
Those are just some of the reasons the Detroit Tigers rewarded Verlander with the richest contract for a pitcher. His $180 million deal is the largest for a pitcher in terms of total value -- $5 million more than what the Seattle Mariners' Felix Hernandez signed for earlier this offseason.
The $180 million deal over seven years averages out to $25.7 million per season. The only pitcher in major-league history who had a higher average annual salary was Roger Clemens, but that's only because his $28 million "average" was the result of a one-year contract he signed with the New York Yankees in 2007.
Including the postseason, Verlander is the only pitcher since the start of 2009 who has thrown more than 1,000 innings (1,002⅓), and his 16,225 pitches are more than 1,000 more than the next closest pitcher, CC Sabathia.
Also since 2009, Verlander has hit 100 MPH on the radar gun 170 times (including 73 in the seventh inning or later). All other starting pitchers in the past four seasons have combined to throw just 109 pitches that have registered 100 MPH.
Verlander's Game Score since 2009 is 61.4, the highest in baseball. Game Score is a metric created by Bill James that measures the quality of a start. Every pitcher begins with a score of 50, and points are added for getting outs (with a bonus for strikeouts), and subtracted for baserunners and runs allowed. The typical major-league average is 49-51.
So while Verlander has the largest contract by a pitcher in major-league history, it's still not even the largest contract on his own team. When the Tigers signed Prince Fielder before last season, they gave him a deal nine-year deal worth $214 million.
Getty Images/Otto Greule Jr.Felix Hernandez's fan club won't have to worry about his going anywhere.
The average annual value of Hernandez’s new contract is also the largest ever given to a pitcher on a multi-year deal. Roger Clemens is the only pitcher with a higher average annual value -- he made $28 million on a prorated one-year contract in 2007.
This is the largest contract ever issued by the Mariners.
The franchise hasn’t been successful in quite a while. Only three teams -- the Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays -- have gone longer without a playoff appearance than the Mariners, who haven’t been to the postseason since 2001.
Fantastic 4-Year Stretch
Hernandez ranks among baseball's best pitchers over the last four seasons.
He leads the league in innings pitched since fully establishing himself as a frontline arm in 2009.
He’s been the sixth-most productive pitcher since the start of 2009 using Wins Above Replacement, including a high of 6.8 in 2010, the year he won the AL Cy Young Award.
He also ranks among the leaders in several other categories, as noted in the chart on the right.
More impressively, Hernandez has thrown more regular-season innings through his age-26 season than any active pitcher in baseball -- a whopping 15 percent more than the next-closest, CC Sabathia, did through that same season.
Using WAR, he ranks among the best in recent history. Among right-handed starting pitchers to begin their career in 1960 or later, Hernandez’s 31.5 WAR through his age-26 season ranks seventh, just ahead of Pedro Martinez.
Reason for Concern?
Hernandez hasn’t been quite as dominant as he was during his Cy Young season in 2010 – the difference between his fastball and changeup is not what it once was, and it’s causing a diminished effectiveness for both pitches.
His fastball velocity has dropped for three consecutive seasons, falling by more than one mile per hour in 2012. But his changeup velocity has remained relatively constant, meaning the difference in velocity between the two pitches has fallen each season since 2009.
This past season, the two pitches averaged a difference of just 3.3 MPH and his average fastball was the lowest of his career. As a result, he allowed more home runs against his changeup (four) this season than he did in the previous three seasons combined.
Brad Mills/USA TodayMike Morse's new home may not be the best fit for his swing.
Michael Morse Traded to Seattle Mariners
Morse is going to a Seattle team that sorely lacked right-handed power, ranking second-to-last in the AL in slugging percentage by righties. How much will Morse, who saw his slugging percentage drop by 80 points from 2011 to 2012, be able to help the Mariners?
One concern going forward is the decline in his pull-side power. After hitting 15 homers to left field in 2011, Morse last year managed just three left-field home runs and his slugging to left field was cut in half.
This decline in pull power was not a product of bad luck. Last season more than 80 percent of the balls he hit to the left side of the park were grounders and he hit just seven flyballs to left field.
The silver lining in this lack of pull power was an increase in opposite field power. His isolated power rose more than 200 points when hitting to right field and he led all right-handers last year in opposite-field slugging percentage and homers.
This increase in opposite-field power was no fluke. He also led all righties in opposite-field flyball distance and the percentage of at-bats ending in a hard-hit ball to right field.
Last year at Safeco Field not a single home run was hit to right field by a right-handed batter. This offseason the Mariners moved the fences in at Safeco. However, the right-field dimensions changed just four feet, compared to 12 feet in left field.
If Morse can't regain his pull-side power stroke in 2013, his impact on the power-starved Mariners might be minimal.
-- Katie Sharp
Oakland Athletics acquire catcher John Jaso
Three things to know about what the Athletics are getting with the acquisition of catcher John Jaso in the three-way deal that netted the Mariners Morse.
1. This is significant help in an area of need for the Athletics. Oakland catchers had a .204/.262/.325 slashline last season, ranking worst in the American League in all three stats.
Jaso will significantly boost that on-base percentage in particular. He had the eighth-best on-base percentage in the majors last season (.394) among those with at least 300 plate appearances.
2. That said, Jaso’s stats favor his usage against right-handed pitching only. His .164 career batting average against left-handers is the lowest of any active position player with at least as many plate appearances as Jaso has against lefties.
Jaso had a very good season against right-handed pitching last year, hitting .302 with 10 home runs.
That coincided with much improved performance against pitches in the lower-half of the strike zone or below, as the chart on the right shows.
Jaso’s .419 on-base percentage against righties last season trailed only Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, Joe Mauer, and Robinson Cano.
3. You may be giving up a little bit defensively. Jaso has -7 Defensive Runs Saved in his career, hurt by a 20 percent caught stealing rate that is well below the major league average of 27 percent.
But staff aces don’t object to throwing to him.
In two seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, Jaso had a 3.09 ERA in 189 1/3 innings handling David Price (who had a 3.14 ERA with other catchers). Then last season with the Mariners, he caught Felix Hernandez 12 times. Hernandez posted a 2.50 ERA with Jaso (including a perfect game and a 1-0 shutout against the New York Yankees.) and a 3.42 ERA with others.
-- Mark Simon