The Closer: A learning experience

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.

Best OBP When Leading Off Game

Since 1969 (Minimum 500 PA)

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.

Javier Vazquez on fastballs away

2010 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.

Jason Hammel with two strikes

2010 Season

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.

Carlos Pena

During 6 Game HR Streak

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.