Stats & Info: The Closer

The Closer: Forever Young…with RISP

July, 18, 2010
Delmon Young of the Minnesota Twins is SCORCHING this season, entering Sunday 3rd in the majors, and 1st in the AL in batting average with RISP. And if that weren't clutch enough, after Sunday's heroics, Young is now 7-13 with RISP in the 9th inning or later this season, including a HR. The Chicago White Sox had the wrong approach when Young came to the plate in the 9th inning Sunday.

Pittsburgh Pirates starter Paul Maholm also had himself a great day on Sunday, throwing his second career shutout and fourth career complete game. Amazingly, Maholm had just one strikeout, making it the first such outing in the majors this season and only the third since the start of 2008. In fact, only one pitcher has thrown a shutout with zero strikeouts since the start of this decade; Scott Erickson of the Baltimore Orioles shut out the Kansas City Royals on April 28, 2002 and didn't strike out a batter.

The Twins weren't the only team to win in walk-off fashion on Sunday, but the St. Louis Cardinals had a much more unlikely hero in their 9th-inning comeback. Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre celebrated his 70th birthday on Sunday, and thought he had a win until the other birthday boy, Allen Craig, got involved. Craig, who turned 26 on Sunday, entered the game with TWO career hits, and matched that total in the eight and ninth innings ALONE, including the game-tying hit in the 9th inning. Take a look at how the birthday boys match up.

Lastly, since we've reached the end of All-Star week, it seems that the American League has more issues than just losing the game. The American League used six starting pitchers in its 3-1 loss to the National League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game.

David Price - The Tampa Bay Rays lost his next start, 9-5, Sunday to the Yankees (5 IP, 7 ER)

Andy Pettitte - The New York Yankees won his next start, 9-5, Sunday over the Rays (2.1 IP, 3 ER). However, he strained his groin and is likely headed to the disabled list.

Cliff Lee - The Texas Rangers lost his next start, 3-2 (11 innings), Saturday to the Red Sox (9 IP, 2 ER).

Justin Verlander - The Detroit Tigers lost his next start, 4-3, Saturday to the Indians (6 IP, 3 ER).

Jon Lester - The Boston Red Sox lost his next start, 4-2, Sunday to the Rangers (8 IP, 3 ER).

Phil Hughes - Hasn't pitched since ASG. He took the loss in the Game (0.1 IP, 2 ER).

Though the pitchers had varying degrees of success, the teams went 1-4 and the only win saw that hurler pitch ineffectively and get injured.

The Closer: Back on track

July, 9, 2010
He allowed 17 runs in his previous three starts prior to Thursday, but Ubaldo Jimenez regained some of that early season magic against the Cardinals. In this edition of The Closer, we'll show you how Jimenez was able to win his 15th game heading into the All-Star break.

How Ubaldo Jimenez bounced back against the Cardinals:

- Kept hitters off balance: Jimenez didn't get ahead as often as usual, throwing only 29 pitches when he was ahead in the count, as opposed to his average of 37 coming in. When he did, however, the Cardinals were baffled, going 0 for 14 when Jimenez was ahead. The Rockies ace used all five of his pitches when ahead, including his fastball just 38 percent of the time. Coming in, he threw his fastball 49 percent when ahead.

- Improved fastball command: Before Thursday's start, Jimenez said his mechanics are to blame for his recent struggles. "I am flying open with my right shoulder, so I haven't had the same command of my fastball," he told the Denver Post. Against the Cardinals, he was able to keep his fastball down with improved results.

Jimenez sets mark for best winning percentage at the break

Ubaldo Jimenez should go into the All-Star break with a 15–1 record as a result of his win over St. Louis on Thursday. Jimenez’s .938 winning percentage at the break will be the highest ever by a pitcher with 15 or more decisions before the All-Star Game, breaking the mark set by the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Don Newcombe in 1955 (14–1, .933).

The Closer: HR heaven

July, 8, 2010
On Wednesday, MLB players combined to hit 47 home runs. That is the highest single-day total this season. Five batters had multi-HR games: Matt Holliday, Martin Prado, Buster Posey, Casey Kotchman and Adam Dunn (who hit three). Dunn had been in a 12-game homerless drought prior to Wednesday's outburst. We break down a change in Dunn's approach this season in this edition of The Closer:

Hitter of the Night

Adam Dunn, WSH: 3-4, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R

Dunn is the second player this season (Edwin Encarnacion) to homer on three different types of pitches in a game, as he homered off Jon Garland's changeup in the first inning, Garland's fastball in the third inning and Joe Thatcher's slider in the eighth inning. The homers off Garland reflected a trend this season for Dunn, who has been more aggressive in his approach. Dunn's swing percentage on the first two pitches he sees is up from 29.0 last year to 32.1 pct this season, and he's seen strong results.

On a homer-heavy day, there were starters who had success:

Why Tim Lincecum won:

- Lincecum's average fastball velocity was 93.3 MPH, his highest in a start this season. Lincecum started 20 hitters off with fastballs (71.4 pct of AB).
- The Giants righty threw his changeup 23 times on Wednesday, getting Brewers hitters to miss on eight of their 12 swings - the best miss pct (66.7) in a start this season for Lincecum's changeup.
- He especially turned to his changeup with two strikes: He threw 17 pitches with two strikes, eight of which were changeups. Lincecum managed six strikeouts with his change, all swinging. Overall with two strikes, Brewers hitters put just one ball in play, a groundout.

Why David Price won:

- Threw 99 fastballs out of 111 pitches (89.1 pct), a season high. Entering Wednesday, Price had thrown 70.3 pct fastballs on the season. The Red Sox missed on 19 of their 60 swings against Price's fastball (31.7 pct). For the season, the Red Sox miss pct vs fastballs is 13.1.
- Through six innings, Price had thrown 83 of 87 fastballs. In his final two innings, eight of Price's 24 pitches were offspeed. Price started 27 of the first 29 hitters he faced with a first-pitch fastball.
- Price threw five of his 12 offspeed pitches with two strikes. He also threw five of his 12 offspeed pitches to Marco Scutaro. Scutaro is a .300 hitter this season against fastballs from LHP; .241 against offspeed pitches from LHP.
- Price's strike pct of 74.8 was a season high, and he threw just one pitch all night out of a three-ball count.
- With runners in scoring position, Price threw 14 pitches; only one was an offspeed pitch.

Why Josh Johnson won:
- Challenged hitters in the strike zone. Johnson threw 75 of his 117 pitches in the strike zone (64.1 pct- a season high). As a result, Johnson's chase pct (4.8 pct) was almost half of his previous season low in a start (9.4 pct).
- Johnson threw 46 of his 76 fastballs in the strike zone, and Dodgers hitters showed patience, chasing only one of 30 fastballs out of the zone. However, they also only went 2-15 (.133) on fastballs in the strike zone. The MLB average on fastballs in the zone is .302.
- Worked efficiently. Johnson retired all eight leadoff men he faced, and 22 of his 31 batters faced saw four pitches or less.

The Closer: don't mess with the Johan

July, 7, 2010
Johan Santana has often struggled with run support in his Mets career, so Tuesday he took matters into his own hands. Santana capped off a 12-pitch at-bat in the 3rd inning by hitting his first career home run. Santana then went on to throw a shutout becoming the first pitcher since Mike Hampton in 2005 to allow three-or-fewer hits in a shutout and hit a home run in the same game. We break down how Santana got it done on the mound in this edition of The Closer.

Why Johan Santana shut out the Reds:
- Threw 82 percent (28/34) first-pitch strikes, his highest since June 9, 2009 (a span of 31 starts); went to just two 2-0 counts
- Hitters went 0-13 off his fastball, the first time since allowing an 0-11 on August 19, 2007 (a span of 83 starts) that he didn't allow a hit off his fastball
- Threw changeup for a season-high 83 percent (24-29) strikes, including 10 chases in 15 changeups out of the strike zone (season-high 67 percent; MLB avg is 31); hitters went 1-13
- Retired an MLB season high-tying eight batters on the first pitch

Johan Santana had his changeup working tonight. He threw it for strikes, got hitters to swing at pitches in and out of the strike zone, and retired 12 batters with the changeup for the second time this season. Here's a next-level look at some season highs Santana set or tied with his changeup Tuesday.

The Closer: Strasburg takes on Mets

July, 3, 2010
Stephen Strasburg makes his sixth career start Saturday against the Mets. He’s equipped with a high 90’s fastball and a changeup that often differs by 10 MPH or more. The Mets will need to lay off these pitches when they are outside the strike zone. Mets hitters rank second in the majors in chasing fastballs and fourth in chasing changeups, but are middle-of-the-pack in chasing curveballs.

Nearly a third (31.25 pct) of Strasburg's strikeouts have come with his changeup. Among pitchers who have thrown at least 20 changeups in two-strike situations, he is tied with the Cubs' Ryan Dempster for first in put-away rate at 50 pct.

Among hitters in the same position (two strikes and have faced at least 20 changeups), David Wright is the 14th worst in the majors (among 231 qualifying batters), so if Strasburg gets Wright to two strikes Saturday, look for the changeup.

How Padres starter Mat Latos shut down the Astros:
- The Astros were 0-8 with five strikeouts against Latos' offspeed pitches, missing on seven of their 12 swings against those pitches.
- Latos induced a season-high 14 ground balls, with his 70.0 GB pct also a season high.
- Despite going to three-ball counts on six hitters, Latos managed not to walk a hitter. Four of Latos's seven strikeouts came on full counts.
- Astros left-handed hitters (Berkman, Bourn, Castro) were 0-9 with four strikeouts against Latos. Collectively, they missed on seven of 16 swings against Latos.

How Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia held down the Brewers:
- Fooled the Brewers: Despite getting just six swings-and-misses all game, Garcia managed seven strikeouts. Five of those strikeouts were looking.
- Brewers hitters did not manage a single hit against his offspeed pitches, going 0-11 with five strikeouts, five groundouts, and a pop up.
- After the count reached two strikes, Brewers hitters were 0-11.

How Twins starter Scott Baker outpitched David Price to beat the Rays:
- Command: Baker fell behind 2-0 to just one hitter, and reached a three-ball count only once.
- Baker's slider was devastating with two strikes. Despite throwing just eight two-strike sliders, he registered five strikeouts with the pitch. All five strikeouts were swinging, with four of those on pitches out of the strike zone. Overall, the Rays missed on seven of their 12 swings against Baker's slider.
- Baker kept the ball down, with six of his strikeouts coming on pitches low in the strike zone or below it. Five of those were with his slider.

The Closer: June to remember

July, 1, 2010
He was 0-3 with a 4.79 ERA in May, but Felix Hernandez turned it around in June winning four of five starts including Wednesday at the Yankees. Hernandez threw the second complete game against the Bronx Bombers in as many days following Cliff Lee's effort on Tuesday. In this edition of The Closer, we'll show you why Hernandez dominated in the Bronx and why Josh Hamilton also had a June to remember.

Why Felix Hernandez shut out the Yankees:

- Induced a season high-tying 17 swinging strikes for the second time in three starts

- With 18 swings against offspeed pitches, hitters missed 12 (67 percent; MLB avg is 30) and put just two in play (both outs) while striking out a season-high nine times out of Hernandez's 11 total

- Hitters have chased 50 percent of offspeed pitches out of the strike zone over his last four starts (MLB avg: 31)

*Felix Hernandez was nearly unhittable with his offspeed stuff in June:

Hernandez and Lee conquer the Bronx

Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee had complete game wins on consecutive days at Yankee Stadium. Hernandez and Lee are only the third pair of teammates to toss complete game wins against the Yankees in the Bronx on back-to-back days since 1985. Roger Clemens and Al Nipper did it for the Red Sox in 1987 as did Mark Langston and Jim Abbott for the Angels in 1991.

Josh blooms in June

Josh Hamilton finished the month of June with a .454 batting average and 31 runs batted in. Since 1938, only two other players had that high a batting average and that many RBI in a calendar month, and they both did it in 2000: Colorado’s Todd Helton in August (.476/32) and Houston’s Richard Hidalgo in September (.476/31).

* Three things Josh Hamilton improved on over his monster June: 1) He's hit lefties much better than in previous months 2) He's improved against off-speed pitches - and hit off-speed with power (2 HR off non-fastballs in April/May; 3 HR off non-FB in June) and 3) Hamilton has had no trouble with pitches on the outer third of the plate, which was not the case in April/May:

The Closer: triple your pleasure

June, 30, 2010
Here's a line in a boxscore you don't see every day. Tuesday Denard Span of the Twins went 4-for-4, with 3 3B, BB, 5 RBI as Minnesota beats the Tigers 11-4. Span's three triples tie the modern MLB record last accomplished by Rafael Furcal in 2002. Span now has 7 triples to lead the American League. We take a look at Span's success this season in this edition of The Closer.

Span's patient eye paid off, as all four of his hits came on pitches that were in the strike zone - albeit in very different sectors. His triples came over the 3, 7 and 8 on your phone. The single was middle/away (over the 6).

Denard has been improving his "down and in" batting recently (that's the 7), jumping from an average of .225 last year to .333 this year. He also misses with only 6.9% of his swings in that area, versus 18% last season.

As for the opposite corner (the 3), that's really taken off this season. Span already has eight hits including two triples in that zone - after having only three singles all of last year. His batting average has rocketed from .143 to .320. Denard is chasing less than 5% of bad balls up and away, and missing with less than 7% of his swings.

Overall, Denard boasts the sixth-highest contact percentage in the majors this season, missing on only 7.9% of his total swings. His chase percentage of 16.9 is also one of the lowest in the American League (sixth among players with 300 or more PA this season).

The Closer: Baserunning fundamentals

June, 27, 2010
You often hear talk about "five-tool players" in baseball. We had plenty of hitting for average on Sunday (Jose Guillen and Josh Hamilton both extended their hit streaks to 21 games). We had some power-- more than 70 extra-base hits and two dozen home runs (including the longest one by distance this season). Fielding and throwing didn't give us too many issues.

Baserunning, on the other hand...

No matter which game you watched, there was bound to be at least one of those "head-scratcher" plays. The ones where you look at your TV and say, "what was he thinking?" At the risk of Monday-morning, er, Sunday-night quarterbacking, we present a sampling of the unnecessary, and sometimes obscure, outs that were run into on the basepaths Sunday.

Tampa: Justin Upton on third. Chris Young grounds back to the pitcher. Upton gets run back and tagged out. Young thinks the defense isn't paying attention and tries to take second, where he's also tagged out.

Tampa: Pinch runner Carl Crawford doubled off first when Sean Rodriguez lines one to third base.

Chicago: Gordon Beckham strikes out, but his backswing gets in the way of Geovany Soto as he tries to nail a stealing Alexei Ramirez. Ramirez gets called out for the interference of his teammate.

Cincinnati: Corky Miller thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double.

Anaheim: Jason Giambi thrown out at third trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt.

New York: Jeff Francoeur thrown out trying to tag and take third on a ball to shallow right.

Oakland: Jose Tabata's ground ball hits runner Pedro Alvarez between first and second. Oh, by the way, it's the final out of a one-run game.

(Bonus question: If you're keeping score, how do you write THAT down?)

Florida: Jorge Cantu is called for interference while trying to break up a double play at second base. The batter, Dan Uggla, is called out as a result.

Milwaukee: Rickie Weeks thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double.

Baltimore: Miguel Tejada thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double.

Baltimore: In the bottom of the eighth in a tie game, Julio Lugo legs out a double and then immediately gets himself picked off second.

(Bonus answer: Infield single for the batter. The putout is awarded to the closest fielder, in this case the first baseman.)

** The trunk with the Mets' bats in it finally arrived back at Citi Field. Six consecutive Mets batters went double, homer, homer, triple, single, single, during the fifth inning on Sunday. That's 15 total bases in a single inning. The Mets hadn't had 15 total bases in a GAME since last Tuesday.

** The aforementioned triple was off the bat of Jason Bay, marking his 1,000th career hit. The last time a player had a triple for his 1,000th career hit was almost exactly three years ago, when then-Oriole Aubrey Huff did it on June 29, 2007.

** The Pirates committed four errors and managed to lose Sunday's game to Oakland without allowing an earned run. Even for them, that's impressive. They haven't done that since June 29, 2002, when the Tigers scored on a missed catch at home plate and a passed ball to beat them 2-1.

** One afterthought on the Oakland/Pittsburgh series: On Saturday, the two teams donned "throwback" uniforms from the 1970s. (They say styles have a 30-year cycle, so watch for neon green to make a comeback soon.) But you have to forgive those two teams for wanting to "turn back the clock". During the '70s they combined for five world championships, including four straight from 1971-74. Since then, they have ONE (Oakland's in '89).

** Jamie Moyer didn't quite pitch IN the '70s, but at the rate he's going, he might well pitch INTO his 70s. Moyer became the all-time leader in home runs allowed on Sunday when Vernon Wells took him deep in the third inning.

Bonus question #2: Those 42 parks include ALL of the current 30 stadiums except two. We'll spot you Target Field because it just opened. What's the other current park where Moyer has yet to surrender a dinger? ** After being no-hit by Edwin Jackson on Friday, the Rays put together a two-hit attack against Arizona on Sunday. They did at least score a run this time. Ironically, the last team that was held to two or fewer hits twice in a series was these same Diamondbacks. That was in late May against the Giants.

** Combined with their amazing five-hit performance on Saturday, the Rays ended up with seven base hits over the entire three-game series. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the last team to finish with seven or fewer hits in a three-game series was the 1965 New York Mets. They were one-hit by the Milwaukee Braves on both September 10 and 11 before "exploding" for five hits (and a 1-0 victory!) in the series finale on the 12th.

Bonus answer #2: Busch Stadium in St Louis. Moyer surrendered three long balls in the PRIOR Busch Stadium (which closed in 2005), but has made only two visits to the current building.

The Closer: Pedroia and pitching

June, 25, 2010
Dustin Pedroia had himself quite a night, setting career highs with 3 HR and 15 total bases, and becoming the second Red Sox 2B with 3 HR in one game. Not surprisingly, three of his hits -- 2 HR and a double -- came against fastballs. Pedroia entered the game hitting .313 and slugging .544 against the heater with all nine of his homers. He was hitting just .224 and slugging only .318 against offspeed pitches but went 2-2 on Thursday with another HR. His offspeed HR came against a slider -- his first against that pitch since August 16th of last season -- and it came in extra innings on the only slider he saw.

Pedroia's three home runs traveled a combined 1,154 feet. His first HR of the game went 396 feet, accounting for the longest homer of his career. His third HR of the game, which proved to be the game-winner, traveled 373 feet thanks to 42 feet of "atmosphere assistance" (wind, temperature and altitude). Only Coors Field and Minute Maid Park's friendly confines would have yielded a home run on that hit. The MLB average distance on home runs since 2006 is 398 feet, so he's never once hit an average-length home run.

Despite what happened in Colorado, there were several starting pitchers who turned in great outings on Thursday. These four guys pitched into the eighth inning and recorded eight or more strikeouts, and not surprisingly, three of their teams won.

Why Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow beat the Cardinals:
- Battled. Morrow had 2-0, 2-1 or 3-ball counts to 12 batters and retired 10 of them (83 pct; MLB avg: 54 pct).
- Control. Morrow only went to 3-ball counts on three of his 29 batters faced (10 pct; MLB avg: 19 pct).
- Slider and curve. The Cards combined to go 1-9 against Morrow's top two pitches. For the season, opposing hitters are 19-103 (.184) against the slider and curve combined.
NOTES: Fifth straight quality start. Threw his most pitches and most strikes of season (112, 71)

Why Mariners starter Felix Hernandez controlled the Cubs:
- Used the whole plate. If the hitting zone is divided into nine sections (low & away, low & in, etc.), Felix was an equal-opportunity hurler with his 117 pitches. He threw at least 10 pitches in EIGHT of the nine zones (he threw only seven "middle/up" but hitters were 0-4). His most common spot was "middle/down" - 20 pitches and the Cubs were 0-5.
- The slider. The Cubs were 0-3 against the pitch, lowering hitters' season average to .176 vs. Felix's slider.
- Weak contact. Inside Edge determines if a ball is "well-hit." The MLB well-hit average this season is .267. Only five balls in 31 at-bats (.161) against Hernandez were deemed to be well-hit.

Why Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo shut out the Twins:- 80 pct strikes when behind in the count (most in a start since April 24, 2009) meant he wasn't behind for long
- Good idea as hitters went 1-for-18 (.056) when he was ahead in the count (.168 entering Thursday)
- 66.4 pct fastballs, his most in a start since August 14, 2009
- 65.6 pct fastballs with 2 strikes (51.3 pct entering Thursday)
- Got 9 K with his fastball (most in his career)

Why Phillies starter Joe Blanton beat the Indians:- Strike pct of 75.0, his most in any appearance in his entire career
- Fastball averaged 90.8 MPH, nearly 2 MPH more than his season average entering Thursday
- Set up offspeed stuff: 11 misses with non-fastballs (12 in last 3 starts combined)
- Chase pct of 41.2, miss pct of 45.8 vs offspeed stuff (32.1 and 26.2, respectively, entering Thursday)
- Overall chase pct of 41.0 and overall miss pct of 25.5 (both highs for a single start this season)
- 14 swings-and-misses (had 15 in last 3 starts combined)

The Closer: Grab some pine

June, 19, 2010
Stephen Strasburg - much hyped prior to throwing a pitch in the big leagues - has gotten off to quite a start this season. Strasburg rang up 10 more strikeouts Friday in a no-decision, giving him a total of 32 since he was called up. It's the most strikeouts ANY pitcher has had in his first 3 games dating back to 1900. The old record was 29 by J.R. Richard. We break down how the phenom is getting it done in this edition of The Closer.

Strasburg regained his control after issuing five walks last Sunday as he went to a 3-ball count to just two hitters. The main difference in Strasburg’s approach was the increased use of his changeup, especially with two strikes. Strasburg struck out 6 batters with his changeup Friday after getting just a total of 3 with the pitch in his first two starts.

Nine of Strasburg's 10 strikeouts came on offspeed pitches. This was the fifth start this season in which a pitcher had double digit K's with at least 60% on the changeup and at least 90% on off-speed pitches. The others to accomplish the feat were Ricky Romero, James Shields, Tim Lincecum and Dallas Braden.

Since Stephen Strasburg made his MLB debut on June 8, the Nationals starting pitchers are 3-5. Strasburg has 2 of the wins. His numbers dwarf what the rest of the starters have done in that span. The rookie is 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA and 22 strikeouts. The rest of the Nationals rotation has a 1-5 record with a 7.92 ERA and just 14 strikeouts total.

The Closer: Rocky Mountain Cy

June, 18, 2010
Despite winning his 13th game in 14 starts, Ubaldo Jiménez did not have a particularly stellar outing Thursday. In this edition of The Closer, we'll show you why Jiménez should NOT have won against the Twins.

- Overall strike percentage of 57.3 (63 of 110), his second-lowest of the season.

- Couldn't work the outside: Only 40% of pitches were considered "away", and he left 28.2% of pitches over the middle of the plate horizontally. That's his highest in 18 starts (including postseason).

- Delmon Young's single in the second was the first hit off Jiménez' slider in six games.

- Seven hits allowed on fastballs (most of the season); Twins put 55% of their swings in play and whiffed only ONCE against Ubaldo's heater.

- Had eight 3-1 counts, and was behind 14 of the 29 batters he faced at some point during the at-bat.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ubaldo Jiménez joins a short list of pitchers in the live ball era to win 13 of his first 14 starts. The last to do so was Roger Clemens in 1986 when he went on to win BOTH the AL Cy Young and AL MVP awards.

The Closer: Moyer magic

June, 17, 2010
He's won 265 games, but Jamie Moyer's win against the Yankees Wednesday was a little more meaningful. Moyer at 47 years, 210 days old became the oldest pitcher to beat the Yankees passing Phil Niekro. In this edition of The Closer, we'll show you how Moyer got the job done in the Bronx and how Tim Lincecum has bounced back to win his last two starts after going winless in his previous four starts.

How Jamie Moyer beat the Yankees:

- Struck out four Yankees with his fastball (yes, his fastball). That's the second most strikeouts with his fastball all season.

- Also tied for the second most chases with the fastball this season (6)

- Got the 1st batter out all eight innings he pitched

How Tim Lincecum beat the Orioles:

- Tightened up with runners on: Lincecum allowed 12 baserunners, tying a season-high, but was able to overcome some tough spots by throwing more strikes and missing more bats.

Lincecum fans 10 for first time in last eight starts:

Tim Lincecum struck out 10 batters in six innings in his win over the Orioles. It was the 23rd double-digit strikeout game for Lincecum in his four seasons in the majors but his first since May 4, when he fanned 13 versus the Marlins. The seven starts Lincecum made in the interim was his longest stretch without a 10-K game in two years, since a seven-start span in May/June 2008.

The Closer: Yankees rock the Doc

June, 16, 2010
In a battle of aces, the Yankees and CC Sabathia get the better of Roy Halladay and the Phillies in a World Series rematch. Sabathia allows three runs on five hits to improve to 4-0 at Yankee Stadium this season. Roy Halladay entered Tuesday's game having given up three home runs TOTAL on the season, all to right-handed hitters. Tuesday the Yankees hit three home runs, all from the left side (Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira). Tuesday was the ninth time in Roy Halladay's career that he allowed three or more home runs in a game - four of those have come against the Yankees, including the last three. We break down how CC Sabathia held on to the lead the Yankees gave him in this edition of The Closer.

How CC Sabathia beat the Phillies:

- Tough to hit: according to the Inside Edge trackers, Sabathia only allowed one well-hit ball all night, his lowest total in any start this season
- 30.8 miss percentage, his second highest percentage in any start this season
- Mixed speeds well: opposing hitters were 0-6 against off-speed pitches (.193 entering Tuesday)
- Owned righties: RHB were 2-for-19 on Tuesday (.105; .233 entering Tuesday)

How Josh Johnson dominated the Rangers while getting a no decision:

- Got hitters to go fishing: 38.3 percent chase percentage, his second highest percentage in a start over the past two seasons
- Allowed no walks for only the second time this season
- Allowed no extra base hits for only the third time this season
- Kept the ball down: 63.2 percent groundball percentage, his second highest percentage in a start this season

How Max Scherzer mowed down the Nationals:

- Attacked the strike zone: 63 of Scherzer's 112 pitches were in the strike zone, his highest total this season. Five of his nine strikeouts were in the strike zone and four were called.
- Kept hitters off balance: According to Inside Edge, Scherzer threw 19 changeups to go along with his mid-90s fastball. The Nationals swung at 10 of them, missed on five and struck out on four - all swinging. Scherzer now has nine strikeouts on his change over his previous two starts. He had only 12 over his previous 10 starts.

The Closer: A learning experience

June, 13, 2010
Saturday was a day for going beyond the basics on the back of the baseball card. So much happened in the 15 games yesterday that it was hard to limit our favorite notes to the eight we selected. But we felt like we learned a lot. This was our best note:

1) Derek Jeter is THE BEST in the majors when it comes to leading off a game. His home run to lead off Saturday’s game was his 24th as a Yankee, but that only tells a small part of the story. Jeter’s career batting average when leading off games is .350.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there’s no regular leadoff hitter in the divisional era (since 1969) who is even remotely close to that. (Juan Pierre ranks second at .317). For those who say on-base percentage is most important, Jeter checks in at .398. What else did we see?

2) Diamondbacks starter. Dan Haren can hit. He now has more extra-base hits (6) than strikeouts (5) this season. Haren only misses on 12 percent of his swings at the plate. His opposing hitters missed on 37 percent of their swings against him on Saturday, and have missed on 27 percent of swings against him this season.

3) Yankees starter Javier Vazquez is looking a lot better lately. He’s been pinpoint at locating his fastball away and it’s been a major trigger to some of the success he’s had.

4)The Mets have found a starting pitcher who could best be described as “watchable.” Why would we say that about Hisanori Takahashi? He went seven full innings without running a 2-0 count on any hitter, and allowed only one run in beating the Orioles.

5) Rockies starter Jason Hammel is dealing. He’s 3-0 with a sub-1.00 ERA in his last four starts, thanks in part to a funky slider and an ability to get hitters to chase pitches out of the strike zone.

6) The newest member of Red Sox nation, Daniel Nava, is a GREAT story. He became the fourth player in major league history to hit a grand slam in his first at-bat (three have done it since 2005…but only one did it from 1876 to 2004). Nava hit a first-pitch grand slam and a second-pitch double. He'll fit in well in Boston. If you look at only 0-0 and 0-1 pitches (the two Nava hit on Saturday), the Red Sox batting average of .377 is the best in the majors.

7) Brooks Conrad knows how to win games. He had a squeeze bunt in the ninth inning to win Saturday’s game for the Braves against the Twins. He’s now won a game this year via suicide squeeze AND grand slam. Via Elias, in the last 10 years, the only other player with game-winning RBIs on a bunt and a grand slam, both in the last inning, in the same season was David Eckstein, who did it both in 2002 for the Angels and 2005 for the Cardinals.

8)Lastly, pitchers be warned: If you throw Rays first baseman Carlos Pena a slider, you do so at your own peril. Pena homered for the sixth straight game, a streak in which he has seven home runs. Four of those home runs have come against sliders. Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco paid the price for throwing him one on Saturday.

The Closer: Blowout Sale

June, 10, 2010
If you like close baseball games, Wednesday would have been a great night to catch a movie - especially if you're a fan of the American League.

Of the night's seven AL games, six were decided by more than two runs and a whopping four were decided by at least nine runs.

Here's a look at some of the pitching performances that helped lead to some wide margins:

Why Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy deserved to win:

- Kept the ball away. Braves hitters were 1-9 (.111) on pitches on the outside third of the plate, including 0-7 on fastballs away.

- Had a solid fastball overall. Braves hitters were 2-13 (.154) against the Kennedy heat, chasing 27.0 pct of fastballs out of the zone (22.8 MLB avg fastball chase pct).

- Threw a nasty changeup. Atlanta batters were 0-8 on Kennedy's changeup, and missed five of their 13 swings (38.5 pct; MLB average miss pct on changeups is 30.1).

Why Angels starter Joe Saunders won:

- Changeup was deadly. Saunders held the Athletics to 1-11 (.091) with a single on his changeup, including 0-8 on changeups down in the zone.

- Threw hard inside. Oakland batters were 1-7 (.143) on inside fastballs against Saunders, including 1-6 (.167) inside to right-handed hitters.

- Finished off Oakland hitters effectively. The Athletics were 0-7 in two-strike counts, chasing 42.9 pct of pitches outside the zone with two strikes (MLB average 35.8 chase pct with two strikes).

Why Yankees starter CC Sabathia won:

- Threw his slider well. On a night when Baltimore hit .462 (6-13) on his fastball, Sabathia was effective with his slider, holding the Orioles to 1-7 (.143) with four strikeouts.

- Induced swings. Sabathia got Baltimore hitters to chase 33.9 pct of pitches out of the zone (Sabathia's 2010 chase pct - 27.4). Baltimore hitters chased 43.5 pct of non-fastballs (MLB avg 28.6 pct). Orioles hitters also missed on 30.2 pct of their swings, well above Sabathia's 21.1 average miss pct.

- Controlled the count. Sabathia threw one of his first two pitches for strikes 91 pct of the time Wednesday, better than the 85 pct MLB average.

Why Indians starter Justin Masterson got his first shutout:

- Kept the ball on the ground. Masterson induced 17 groundball outs, a career best. Overall, Boston hitters were 1-11 (.091) on pitches down in the zone.

- Got hitters to chase. The Red Sox chased 27.1 pct of pitches out of the zone against Masterson Wednesday, their sixth-highest percentage in a game this season. However, the 27.1 chase pct was actually below Masterson's season average (28.9).

- Mixed in a dominant slider. Masterson held Boston batters to 0-9 on his 18 sliders Wednesday, including 0-5 away vs. righties and 0-3 inside vs. lefties. This season, batters are 9-48 (.188) on Masterson's slider.

Why Rays starter David Price won:

- Pounded inside. Price held Blue Jays hitters to 0-5 on inside pitches, the fifth start this season he hasn't allowed a hit on an inside pitch.

- Threw high and hard. Price held Toronto batters to 0-5 on pitches up in the zone, with an average velocity of 94.4 MPH on high pitches (92.6 average velocity Wednesday).

- Controlled the count. Price only went to one 3-ball count Wednesday, and his 67 first-pitch strike pct was well above the 58 pct MLB average.

And here's one note from the hitters:

Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena hit his 128th home run as a member of the Rays on Wednesday, tying him with Aubrey Huff for the Tampa Bay franchise record. However, Pena’s home run, which traveled 333 feet down the line in left field at Tropicana Field, would not have been a home run in any other major league ballpark.