Stats & Info: Alfonso Soriano

Soriano unstoppable; Ryan a stopper

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
12:32
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One recent acquisition is crushing opponents with his swing. Another is coming to town tomorrow to thwart opponents with his glove.

The New York Yankees playoff hopes are still modestly reasonable after they sliced a game off their deficit by rallying to beat the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night.

Alfonso Soriano was the star of this game. He's been a tremendous acquisition for the Yankees. Another in Brendan Ryan may be on the way.
Two are better than one
Alfonso Soriano was the star of the win once again, hitting two more home runs.

This was Soriano’s 37th career multi-homer game, matching the career total for a number of former greats—Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Mike Piazza. It was his seventh multi-homer game of the season. No one else in the majors has more than four multi-homer games.

So what’s the difference?
Soriano isn’t that different as a Yankee than he was as a Cub in a couple of respects. His batting average is .253, one point less than it was with the Cubs, and his strikeout rate with the Yankees is slightly higher than it was with the Cubs. But the ball is carrying a little better off the bat in places like Yankee Stadium (where he has nine of his 15 homers) and Camden Yards.

Soriano averaged a homer for every 10 balls he hit in the air with the Cubs. He’s averaging two homers for every 10 balls in the air since joining the Yankees. In other words, those balls are leaving the park twice as frequently.

Soriano’s 15 home runs rank second on the team, despite the fact that he’s only played 43 games since joining the Yankees.

Soriano has 47 RBI in 43 games with the Yankees. He has a chance to be the first Yankee to average better than an RBI per game in a season in which he played at least 50 games since Joe DiMaggio (who in fairness had 155 RBI in 153 games) did so in 1948.

And in other news …
The trade for Ryan is a move that provides the team a huge upgrade at shortstop in one respect.

Ryan has a major-league leading 92 Defensive Runs Saved over the last five seasons, twice as many as any other shortstop in the major leagues in that span.

Yankees shortstops have combined for -26 (that’s negative-26) Defensive Runs Saved this season, the most in the majors.

Ryan, who will not be postseason-eligible, figures to be a late-game defensive replacement for Eduardo Nunez and possibly Derek Jeter. He only has been credited with three Defensive Runs Saved this season (his total was as high as seven a month ago), but he looks pretty impressive when compared with Nunez’s -27 in 2013 and Jeter’s -38 since the start of the 2011 season .

Putting the Ryan-Nunez comparison another way: Ryan has a Revised Zone Rating of about 75 percent, meaning he gets outs on about 75 percent of the balls on which shortstops most often get outs. Nunez’s Revised Zone Rating (a stat tracked on Fangraphs.com) is only 60 percent.

Soriano leads August's HR highlights

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
3:26
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Illustration by Trevor Ebaugh

With August in the books, here's a look at the month's most notable performers when it came to homer hitting, with a quick peek ahead to the top September homer-hitting storyline.

Soriano was most prolific
Alfonso Soriano tied Miguel Cabrera with an MLB-high 11 home runs in August. He has 12 home runs since being traded to the Yankees on July 26, including 8 at Yankee Stadium.

Soriano has taken advantage of the dimensions at Yankee Stadium, hitting three home runs to the opposite field, after hitting no opposite field home runs at Wrigley Field in his previous five seasons.

As you can see in the image above, Soriano's average homer distance is considerably shorter at Yankee Stadium than it was in the more spacious and more windy Wrigley Field.

Pence goes longer than anyone
Hunter Pence’s 476-foot home run at Coors Field on Aug. 27 was the longest home run in the majors this season. It was a career-long for Pence and the longest by a Giant in the eight-year history of ESPN Home Run Tracker.

It surpassed a pair of 475-foot homers, by Anthony Rizzo and Mark Trumbo.

This season, no one hits homers harder or longer then Pence. He has the highest average home run distance (422.6 feet) in the majors, the fastest average speed off the bat (108 mph).

Pence hit two of the four longest home runs in August, including a 459-foot blast at Marlins Park on Aug. 18. He is tied for the major-league lead this season with three home runs of at least 450 feet.

Previewing the AL home-run chase
Entering September, Miguel Cabrera trails Chris Davis by four home runs for the AL home run lead. Cabrera stands a strong chance to capture consecutive AL Triple Crowns if he can catch Davis.

Entering last September, Cabrera trailed Adam Dunn by five home runs and proceeded to hit 11 the rest of the season, finishing with a major-league-high 44. In the previous three September/October’s, Cabrera averaged six homers. But Davis kept pace with Cabrera at the end of last season, hitting 10 in the final month.

Davis has an average home run distance of 405.4 feet in 2013, more than a foot longer than Cabrera’s average distance of 403.7 feet. Davis’ average distance in August was 416.7 feet, his longest in any month this season.

Davis’ average was aided by a career-long 466-foot blast on Aug. 10, the longest homer between the two players this season. Cabrera’s season-long is 453 feet, done twice, including one in his 3-home run game May 19 against the Texas Rangers.

For more home-run info, including data on every homer hit in 2013, visit hittrackeronline.com

5 stats to know: Yankees at Red Sox

August, 18, 2013
8/18/13
2:36
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Getty Images
CC Sabathia’s Yankees are one of two teams that Ryan Dempster has never beaten.

With a win, the Boston Red Sox can clinch their fourth straight series against their archrivals as they host the New York Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball (8 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN).

Here are five stats to know going into tonight’s action at Fenway Park.

1. The Yankees are having their worst offensive season since 1990, but the recent addition of Alfonso Soriano and the return of Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson have helped. New York has averaged 5.2 runs per game with all three on the roster, nearly a run and a half better than they averaged in the first 110 games of the season.


2. CC Sabathia is having the worst season of his 13-year MLB career. He is posting career highs in ERA, home runs and hits per nine innings. His fastball is down 1.4 mph from last season and more than 3 mph from his first year with the Yankees in 2009.

3. Ryan Dempster is 0-5 with a 6.98 ERA in seven career starts against the Yankees. That’s his second-highest ERA against any opponent (he has a 7.62 ERA against the Los Angeles Angels), and the Yankees and Detroit Tigers are the only teams he hasn’t won a game against.

What should he focus on against the Yanks?

When Dempster needs an out, he goes to his Vulcan changeup, which acts like a splitter. This season, opponents are hitting .137 and striking out 35 percent of the time against the pitch.

4. The Red Sox have seen more pitches than any other team this season, nearly 1,000 more than the second-most. Six of the Red Sox starters are in the top 50 in the American League in pitches per plate appearance, and Boston has forced more starting pitchers out before the sixth inning than any team in the majors.

Based on their most common starting lineup, the Red Sox see nearly two more pitches each time through the order than the average American League team – 36.5 to 34.7.

5. Soriano has filled a major void in the Yankees’ lineup. Before his arrival, Yankees’ right-handed hitters hadn’t hit a home run in 26 games. In the 20 games since then, they’ve hit 14, with Soriano accounting for eight.

Odds and Ends

• Ichiro Suzuki is closing in on 4,000 professional hits. He is third among active MLB players with 2,717 hits and had 1,278 hits during his career in Japan.

• Mariano Rivera has blown three straight save opportunities for the first time in his career. According to Elias, since Rivera became the Yankees’ closer in 1997, 33 different pitchers have had at least one streak of three or more blown saves in the ninth inning or later in the same season.

• David Ortiz has 24 home runs this season. It’s his 11th 20-homer season since joining the Red Sox, tied for second most in franchise history behind Ted Williams. His next home run will give him nine 25-homer seasons.

Soriano's slam powers Yankees

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
3:24
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AP Photo/Kathy Willens
New York Yankees Alfonso Soriano watches his first-inning, grand slam off Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Jered Weaver. Soriano finished with two home runs and a career-high seven RBI in the game.

Alfonso Soriano has been red hot over the last two games going 6-for-9 with four home runs and 13 RBI during that stretch.

His RBI total is the most by a New York Yankees player over a two-game span since 1936 when Tony Lazzeri had 15, an MLB record.
Soriano blasted two home runs Wednesday, marking his fifth multi-home run game of the season, a career best.

He also became the fifth Yankee to be perfect at the plate with two homers and seven RBI in a single game. The others? Jason Giambi, Danny Tartabull, Joe DiMaggio (twice) and Lou Gehrig (twice).

A lot of Soriano’s success has come against fastballs. He’s seen 12 heaters in the strike zone, swung at 10 and only missed one. Of his 10 swings, five went for hits including three home runs.

DODGERS DO IT AGAIN
The Los Angeles Dodgers extended their winning streak to eight straight games with a dramatic 12th-inning come-from-behind victory over the New York Mets. Andre Ethier tied the game in the ninth inning with a two-run home run, his ninth go-ahead/game-tying HR in the ninth inning or later in the last five seasons, third behind Miguel Cabrera (12) and Jay Bruce (10) in that span.

Adrian Gonzalez played hero with his seventh career walk-off hit (second as a Dodger) as he drove in Yasiel Puig who reached on a double off a deflected groundball to center field.

It’s the Dodgers longest winning streak since a nine-game run from May 9-18, 2010.

DIAMONDBACKS WALK OVER ORIOLES
The Arizona Diamondbacks have had a flare for dramatics lately, too. They’ve recorded three straight walk-off wins for the third time in franchise history (1999, 2007).

Their 10 walk-off wins are the most in the National League this season and their 12 extra-inning wins is a franchise record.

Aaron Hill was the hero Wednesday as he tied the game in ninth inning with an RBI single and later won the game in 14th inning.

If you flash back to Tuesday night, Paul Goldschmidt had a game-tying hit in the ninth and a walk-off hit in extras. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us it's the first time in baseball's expansion era (since 1961) that teammates have accomplished this in consecutive days.

Peavy headlines quiet trade deadline

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
9:18
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The MLB trade deadline passed quietly, with only four deals made Wednesday, tied for the fewest on July 31 in the last 10 seasons.

Over the previous five seasons, there has been an average of eight trades made each year on July 31. Last year on July 31, there were 10 trades that included 28 total players.
Who fits best statistically for deals made surrounding this season’s trade deadline?

Jake Peavy
By acquiring Peavy, the Boston Red Sox have made it clear that starting pitching is their point of emphasis. The Red Sox rotation ranks third in the American League with a 3.77 ERA this season, a far cry from the 5.19 they posted in 2012.

Peavy looks not only to bolster a strong pitching staff in Boston but could perhaps become its ace. Since the 2012 season, his 6.3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is higher than any other starter currently on the team.

Alfonso Soriano
While we detailed what Soriano brings to the New York Yankees in an earlier post, it is worth briefly revisiting his impact on the Yankees lineup. He has already provided a spark with a home run and walk-off hit this past Sunday. No right-handed outfielder had homered for the Yankees since Vernon Wells on May 12.

Soriano brings right-handed power to a lineup that is currently tied for last in the major leagues with 26 home runs by righties.

Ian Kennedy
Ian Kennedy, who was traded to the San Diego Padres, hasn’t been the same pitcher since finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2011. He posted a 2.88 ERA that season but has a 4.47 ERA since, including 5.23 this season (88th out of 92 qualified starters in MLB)

One of Kennedy’s issues has been, as a fly ball pitcher, he’s prone to giving up the long ball. He’s allowing 1.31 home runs per 9 innings this season, which ranks 75th among qualified starters.

The move from Chase Field to PETCO Park should help keep those fly balls in the yard. PETCO is tied for the fourth-friendliest pitcher’s park this season, according to FanGraphs. Arizona’s Chase Field, by comparison, is tied for the third-friendliest hitter’s park.

The Padres are hoping Kennedy will be as successful pitching for them at PETCO as he has been as a visitor in the past. He’s 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA in six career starts at the park, his second lowest ERA of any park in which he’s made at least three starts.

Jeter and Soriano end Yankees drought

July, 28, 2013
7/28/13
10:07
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Linda Cataffo/Getty ImagesAlfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter both homered for the Yankees on Sunday.
The New York Yankees’ power outage is officially over.

Alfonso Soriano arrived via trade, Derek Jeter returned from the disabled list, and now the Yankees can forget about the recent issues that plagued them at the plate.

Jeter homered in his first at-bat since being activated from the DL to snap the Yankees’ streak of nine straight games without a home run, which was their longest streak since 1984.

It also snapped the Yankees’ streak of 28 straight games without a home run by a right-handed batter. Their last homer by a right-handed batter before Jeter’s long ball was by Jayson Nix on June 25.

Additionally, Jeter’s homer was only the third by a Yankees shortstop all season. Nix has the other two.

In Soriano’s third game with the Yankees, he hit his first home run as a Yankee since 2003. After lacking power from right-handed batters, they all of a sudden had two right-handed homers in the same game for the first time since May 15.

But Soriano wasn’t finished. With the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, Soriano’s game-winning single was his 13th career walk-off hit and fourth walk-off hit as a Yankee. His last walk-off hit as a Yankee (June 2003) also came against the Rays (then known as the Devil Rays).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Soriano is the first Yankee with at least four hits, including a walk-off hit, since Johnny Damon (6-for-6, walk-off single in ninth inning) on June 7, 2008, against the Royals.

Soriano should upgrade Yankees offense

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
12:59
AM ET



The New York Yankees acquired Alfonso Soriano from the Chicago Cubs, Friday morning.

The trade comes nearly a decade after they traded him to the Texas Rangers as part of the Alex Rodriguez deal.

Let's look at a few statistical angles related to the deal:

Yankees offense struggling

Soriano has been putting up solid numbers relatively quietly in Chicago since 2007, and he can upgrade the Yankees' struggling offense.

A year after ranking second in the American League with five runs per game, New York has plummeted to 13th at 3.9 runs per game. The Yankees led the AL in home runs and slugging percentage in 2012. This season, they’re last in slugging and on pace to hit 105 fewer home runs than last season.

Soriano should help those stats. His 17 home runs this season are five more than any Yankee except Robinson Cano.

Even Soriano's mediocre .254 batting average can improve the Yankees, who are hitting .243, their worst team batting average since 1990.

The Yankees haven't had a home run from a right-handed batter in any of their last 26 games, their longest such streak since 1971 (according to the Elias Sports Bureau). Overall, the Yankees have not homered in their last seven games, their longest streak without a home run since 1990 (also seven games).

Soriano won't help defensively

His defense is a separate issue, although he may be a designated hitter in New York. Since 2009, Soriano's minus-43 defensive runs saved rank third-worst among all outfielders and second-worst among left fielders. This season, Soriano has minus-1 defensive runs saved, while Yankees left fielders are at plus-7, tied for fifth-best in baseball.

Soriano chasing milestones

Soriano hit leadoff for the Yankees in 2002 and 2003, and although he seems unlikely to supplant Brett Gardner there in New York, Soriano does rank second in MLB history with 54 career leadoff home runs (Rickey Henderson has 81). His 21 leadoff home runs with the Yankees are third in team history behind Derek Jeter (29) and Henderson (24).

Soriano is also chasing the career double of 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases, needing 11 homers and 20 steals to get there. If he reaches both milestones, he would be the fourth player in baseball history to do so, along with Barry Bonds, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez.

Who won the 2004 trade?

Another odd angle to Soriano's return to New York is that he could play with Rodriguez, whom he was traded for in February 2004. Since then, Rodriguez only has 11 more home runs than Soriano (302 to 291), though Soriano does have 288 more plate appearances and an OPS 100 points lower (.825 vs .925).

But that difference has come at a significant cost to the Yankees. Including this season, Soriano has been paid $136 million since 2004, less than half of Rodriguez's $275 million in salary over the past decade.

5 stats to know: Yankees at Rangers

July, 22, 2013
7/22/13
1:19
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Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsYu Darvish, who makes his return from the DL, struck out an MLB-leading 157 batters prior to the All-Star break, the most since Curt Schilling (186) and Randy Johnson (171) in 2002.
The New York Yankees and Texas Rangers will meet Monday night in the first game of a four-game series in Texas at 7 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN.

Here are five stats our broadcast crew will likely be talking about during Monday night’s game.

1. The American League’s strikeout leader, Yu Darvish, makes his return from the DL after missing just one start.

He’ll hope to get back on track after failing to complete seven innings in each of his past four starts, a stretch over which he’s posted a 4.50 ERA.

Darvish throws a variety of pitches, but his approach against righties and lefties is completely different. He’s mainly a fastball-slider pitcher against righties while lefties can only guess what could be coming.

2. Alex Rodriguez was expected to make his season debut tonight, but instead will remain out of action due to a grade 1 quad strain. This season, Yankees third basemen have combined to hit .220 with only four home runs and 27 RBI, ranking them next-to-last in the majors in each category. In fact, David Adams (now playing in Triple A) was the last New York third baseman to hit a home run, but that came all the way back on May 22.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Yankees have not had fewer than 10 home runs in a season from the third base position since 1996 (six) and they haven’t had fewer than 50 RBI from that position since 1991 (39).

3. Ichiro Suzuki is 7-for-14 in his career against Darvish, with his .500 batting average being the highest of any batter against him (min. 10 at-bats).

Ichiro is two hits shy of becoming the third active player with 2,700 hits, joining teammates Derek Jeter and Rodriguez.

4. The Yankees trail the division-leading Boston Red Sox by seven games entering tonight. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, New York won a league or division title when trailing by seven or more games at any point after the All-Star break only once. That was in 1978 when the team trailed the Red Sox by 14 games and came back to win the AL East.

5. New York has taken the season series from the Rangers in seven of the last nine seasons (tied 4-4 in 2010, lost 4-3 in 2008).

After dropping two of three in the Bronx earlier this year, the Yankees will have to win three of the four games this week to take the season series.

Quick Hitters
• Since rejoining the Yankees rotation, Ivan Nova is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his last two starts, completing eight innings in both appearances (the first time in his career he’s gone at least eight innings in consecutive appearances).

• Robinson Cano is hitting .415 with a .519 OBP over a Yankees season-high 12-game hit streak. He’s also driven in 12 runs in that span, including two in each of the last two games.

• Mariano Rivera has 38 career saves against the Rangers, the most against them by any pitcher, a dozen more than Rollie Fingers, who ranks second.

• The Rangers began the season 19-8 at home, but have gone 8-14 since. Fourteen of the team’s first 17 games post-All-Star break are at home. They haven’t started this stretch in a positive manner as the Baltimore Orioles just completed a weekend sweep.

• Adrian Beltre has hit eight home runs this month, tied with Alfonso Soriano for the most in the majors in July.

Yanks, Sabathia try to reverse trend vs Rays

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
1:49
PM ET

AP Photo/Brian BlancoCC Sabathia has struggled against the Rays since joining the Yankees, going 3-8 in 18 starts.
Tropicana Field has not been a very welcoming host to the New York Yankees and CC Sabathia, but tonight New York has a chance to start reversing that trend when they take on the Tampa Bay Rays (7 ET, ESPN and WatchESPN) in the first game of a three-game set.

New York went 2-7 at Tampa Bay last season and is 9-18 over the last three years at Tropicana Field. From 2007-09, the Yankees won 15 of the 27 games played in Florida against the Rays.

Pitching Matchup
CC Sabathia will take the mound tonight looking to reverse his fortune against the Rays on the road. The Yankees are just 6-12 in Sabathia’s last 18 starts against Tampa Bay, and just 1-7 in his eight starts at Tropicana Field since he joined the team in 2009!

Sabathia has gotten off to a good start this season, going 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Sabathia has never won more than three games in April in his previous 12 career seasons. He won three in April for the Cleveland Indians in 2007 and three of the Yankees in both 2010 and 2012. For all other months combined, he’s won at least four games 20 times.

Opposing Sabathia will be Matt Moore, who is 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA in three starts this season. His fastball has been great this season (he averages 92 MPH on that pitch), but his offspeed pitches have been even better.

However, he’ll have to be careful throwing changeups to Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells, who are hitting .556 (ninth) and .500 (11th) against changeups, respectively, this season.

Offensive Comparison
So far in the early going, these two teams could not be further apart in terms of offensive production. Despite missing Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees offense keeps humming, and hitting home runs. New York ranks in the top five in baseball in slugging percentage (.467, 2nd), batting average (.273, 3rd), and OBP (.339, 5th).

With all the power the Yankees are missing – nine of their top 10 home run hitters from last season are not on the roster – power was expected to be at a premium. However, they have already hit 27 home runs so far this season, good for third-best in the majors.

As for the Rays, they are at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to offense this season. Part of it is due to an incredibly low batting average on balls in play (.260, last in the majors).

Stat of the Game
Evan Longoria is 14-for-39 (.359) with three doubles and five home runs against Sabathia. That is Longoria’s most home runs against any pitcher and only Alfonso Soriano (six) has hit more home runs against Sabathia than Longoria (Jermaine Dye has also hit five home runs against Sabathia).

Sliders key on Monday Night Baseball

May, 13, 2012
5/13/12
10:36
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Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireRyan Dempster brings a 1.02 ERA to St. Louis on "Monday Night Baseball," where he's looking to pick up his first win of the season.
The major league leader in ERA takes the hill Monday when Ryan Dempster and the Chicago Cubs visit the St. Louis Cardinals (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

Dempster has allowed just four earned runs in five starts -- a 1.02 ERA -- but is 0-1. The Cubs have lost all of Dempster's starts, scoring a total of eight runs in the five games.

According to The Elias Sports Bureau, no pitcher in major league history has had an ERA as low as Dempster through five starts without a win.

He’s using his slider more often this season while decreasing the use of his fastball and splitter. That slider has been one of the best in baseball. Hitters are just 5-for-56 against Dempster’s slider this season, a paltry .094 batting average. (Last year through five starts, he allowed 11 hits against the slide piece.) Only one pitcher in baseball -- Matt Cain -- has a lower batting average against his slider (min. 50 PA ending with a slider).

Dempster’s opponent, Jake Westbrook, is off to a fine start of his own. He’s 4-2 with a 1.76 ERA and has pitched into the seventh inning in all six of his starts. Only Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay have pitched into the seventh inning more often this season.

Westbrook has improved his slider by keeping it out of the middle of the strike zone. Last season, more than 21 percent of his sliders were in the middle-third of the strike zone and just 52 percent were away. This season, fewer than 13 percent of his sliders are in the middle and more than 62 percent are away from hitters. As the chart to the right shows, hitters are swinging at the pitch less but are missing it nearly twice as often.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
• Skip Schumaker is hitting .417 (20-for-48) against Dempster, the second-highest batting average by any hitter with 40 plate appearances against him.

• Rafael Furcal is hitting .154 (6-for-39) against Dempster, the lowest batting average by any player with 40 plate appearances against him.

• Alfonso Soriano is hitting .120 (3-for-25) against Westbrook, the third-lowest batting average by any player with 25 plate appearances against him.

• David DeJesus is 7-for-26 against Westbrook, just a .269 batting average, but he’s the only Cub who’s homered off the Cardinals righty. Plus, only two players have faced Westbrook more often without a strikeout.

RIVALRY REVISITED
These two teams first met in 1892, when the Chicago Colts beat the St. Louis Browns 14-10 on Opening Day. The Cubs lead the all-time series 1,169-1,107. Since the start of the 2002 season, the series is tied 86-86.

Offspeed pitches have Pujols off base

April, 25, 2012
4/25/12
11:56
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ESPN Stats & InformationAlbert Pujols has yet to hit a home run for the Los Angeles Angels, and most of his trouble this season has been with offspeed pitches.
Albert Pujols continues to struggle since joining the Los Angeles Angels, going 0-for-3 on Wednesday as the Angels lost 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Pujols has not recorded a hit in his last 19 at-bats. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the longest hitless streak of his major-league career. He failed to get a hit in 18 consecutive at-bats from August to September in 2010. It is only the fourth time in his career that Pujols has gone more than 15 straight at-bats without a hit.

Dating to last season, he has failed to hit a home run in his last 24 regular-season games, the second-longest streak in his career. Pujols had 26 straight games without a home run last season.

The home run drought to start the season has reached 72 at-bats. Pujols hit 37 homers last year for the St. Louis Cardinals. Elias reports that his season-opening drought is the second-longest to begin a season by a player who hit at least 35 home runs for a different team the previous season. After hitting 46 home runs for the Washington Nationals in 2006, Alfonso Soriano didn’t hit a homer until his 75th at-bat for the Chicago Cubs in 2007.

The problem for Pujols this season has been offspeed pitches. After hitting .302 with 12 home runs against such pitches last season, he is just 3-for-31 with no extra-base hits so far this year. His batting average against offspeed pitches was ninth in the majors last year; so far this year, he’s barely in the top 200.

He has been struggling to hold off on slow pitches outside the strike zone. After chasing only 28 percent of offspeed pitches outside the strike zone last year, he has swung on 31 of 62 such pitches so far this year. Two of his three hits against offspeed pitches this season are on pitches outside the strike zone … on those inside the zone, he is just 1-for-19.

Around the Diamond
• Clay Buchholz allowed five earned runs in 5⅓ innings against the Minnesota Twins. He’s the only Boston Red Sox pitcher in the Live Ball Era to allow at least five earned runs in each of his first four appearances in a season.

• Robbie Ross picked up another win in relief for the Texas Rangers. Ross is the first pitcher in major-league history to record four wins in the first six appearances of his career as a relief pitcher.

• David Wright hit a two-run homer in sixth inning to move past Darryl Strawberry for the most RBI in New York Mets history. Strawberry had 733 for the club, and Wright now has 735.

• Jordan Zimmermann allowed a run in the fifth inning for the Nationals, snapping a franchise-record 26-inning scoreless streak for Nationals starting pitchers.

• Pablo Sandoval extended his hitting streak to 18 games. That ties the Giants franchise record for longest hit streak to start a season. Johnny Rucker hit safely in 18 straight games to start the 1945 season.

Ryan Feldman contributed to this post

Ramirez, Madson primed to be overpaid

November, 10, 2011
11/10/11
3:34
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While this offseason’s free agency class is headlined by the likes of Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes, there are a number of secondary options who stand to receive lucrative contracts in their own right. Two of them – third baseman Aramis Ramirez and reliever Ryan Madson – are likely to be a bit overvalued by suitors, but for entirely different reasons.

Aramis Ramirez
Aramis Ramirez
Ramirez
While Ramirez rebounded from a replacement level 2010 campaign to post a .306/.361/.510 line with 26 home runs and 93 RBI, there were indicators across-the-board that point towards a potentially quick decline for Ramirez, a concern relevant to any team interested in signing him.

Ramirez is becoming increasingly less patient as the years go by, both in the form of chasing pitches outside of the strike zone and in generating walks. In 2010 and 2011, Ramirez has posted walk rates of 6.7 and 6.9 percent, respectively, representing a clear decline from his 11.2 percent mark in 2008 and 8.2 in 2009. Perhaps more telling, the rate at which Ramirez is swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone is rapidly increasing since 2008.

In addition to the steady increase, Ramirez’s 2011 mark was the 5th-worst in the NL in 2011, behind only Alfonso Soriano, Alex Gonzalez, Yuniesky Betancourt and Michael Morse. Coupled with the decline in his plate discipline is the idea that he is not long for third base defensively. After posting a +11 mark at the hot corner according to Defensive Runs Saved in 2008, Ramirez has been below-average in each season since – and there’s a pattern; Ramirez graded out at -4 in 2009, -10 in 2010 and -12 in 2011. The 2011 mark ranked 2nd-to-last among NL third basemen.

Ryan Madson
Madson
Madson
This offseason, Madson is one of the most coveted free agent relievers in baseball. That was to be expected, fresh off his first full season as the Philadelphia Phillies closer, complete with 32 saves and a 2.37 ERA in 60 2/3 innings. Whether or not the reported lucrative deal with the Phillies materializes, someone will pay Madson. The reason he stands to make $40 million or more this offseason has little to do with a significant jump in his skills, however, and more to do with the fact he now has the official ‘closer’ label.

In 2010, Madson posted five saves. In 2011, he registered 32. That would seem to indicate a noticeable jump in value or performance from Madson. In reality, he was nearly identical, with some actual decline in key spots.

The difference was largely in an unsustainable home run rate – Madson allowed home runs on 0.9 percent of plate appearances, which was the 16th-best mark out of the 339 pitchers who registered at least 200 plate appearances this season. Had Madson entered the market after 2010 – when he demonstrated much the same skill set he did in 2011 – he would likely not have been offered anything approaching $40 million.

Whether or not offering a reliever that sort of money is a wise proposition is a different question entirely. In the history of the game, six relievers have received contracts of three or more years at an average annual value of at least $9 million – B.J. Ryan, Billy Wagner, Francisco Cordero, Mariano Rivera, Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano. It would be fair to say that only Rivera returned the sort of performance expected.

Rafael Soriano: signed after 2010 season; posted highest ERA (min 30 IP) since 2002 and missed much of the season due to injury.

Francisco Rodriguez: signed after 2008; 62 saves in final year with Los Angeles Angels, never saved more than 35 with New York Mets. Suspended in 2010, traded in 2011 to avoid vesting option.

Mariano Rivera: signed after 2007; posted ERA below 2.00 in each season of contract.

Francisco Cordero: signed after 2007; strikeout rate dropped from 10.0 to 7.8 to 7.3 to 5.4 over life of deal. Posted an Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) below 4.00 once during contract (2008).

Billy Wagner: signed after 2005; innings pitched and saves both declined each season he was with Mets.

B.J. Ryan: signed after 2005; Just 155 1/3 innings pitched in 5 seasons; missed majority of three different seasons (2007, 2009, 2010).

Clearly, the Phillies, or any other team, may give pause to signing Madson, or any other reliever, to such a lucrative contract given the history of performance for those who have received such a contract in the past.

Matt Kemp zeroes in on Triple Crown

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
3:49
PM ET

Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
Not only is Matt Kemp on the verge of winning the first Triple Crown since 1967, but he has a chance to become only the fifth 40-40 member (home runs and stolen bases) in baseball history.

Los Angeles Dodgers centerfielder Matt Kemp has thrust himself into the Triple Crown race by his recent hot hitting, batting .600 (15-for-25) with four doubles, three HR and eight RBI over his last six games. Kemp is trying to become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski (.326 BA, 44 HR, 121 RBI) won it as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 1967. If he does win it, Kemp would be the first Triple Crown winner from a National League team since Joe Medwick of the 1937 St. Louis Cardinals.

To win the Triple Crown, a player must lead his league in batting average, home runs, and RBI. Kemp leads the NL in RBI (118) and is closing in on the lead in batting average (.326, four points behind Ryan Braun) and home runs (36, one behind Albert Pujols).

How rare is it for a player to be this close, this late in the season, to the Triple Crown? Since Yastrzemski won it in 1967, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kemp is the only player to date to be within five points of the league leader in batting average (or leading), within one HR of the league leader (or leading), and within one RBI of the league leader (or leading), in the last 15 days of the season, let alone the last week of the season.

In addition to the Triple Crown, with four more home runs, Kemp will become the fifth 40-40 player (home runs and stolen bases) in MLB history. The other four are Jose Canseco (1988 Oakland Athletics), Barry Bonds (1996 San Francisco Giants), Alex Rodriguez (1998 Seattle Mariners) and Alfonso Soriano (2006 Washington Nationals).

One reason Kemp is in the race for the Triple Crown has been his ability to handle pitches up in the zone, especially since the beginning of August. Pitchers were able to limit Kemp’s effectiveness early in the season by attacking up in the zone. However, since the beginning of August, Kemp has improved his eye on pitches up in the zone, walking more and striking out less. He’s getting better pitches to hit too, as he’s been chasing less (but swinging more), and has added 120 points to his average while doubling his home run percentage.

What are the chances for Kemp to become the 12th Triple Crown winner since 1920 (the previous 11 Triple Crown winners were by nine players, Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby won it twice)? The Dodgers end the season with three games at the San Diego Padres and three at the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Since 2009, of the six potential starting pitchers Kemp will face to end the season (Wade LeBlanc, Aaron Harang, Cory Luebke, Daniel Hudson, Wade Miley and Joe Saunders), he’s had the most success against Saunders - .364 BA (8-for-22), three home runs, one double, three walks and two strikeouts.

Although he’s had success against Saunders, since 2009 Kemp is one-for-seven (a single) against Saunders in pitches up in the zone. However, you need to remember that Kemp has clearly made an adjustment late in the season against those types of pitches.
How the St. Louis Cardinals handle two former Tampa Bay Rays will be one storyline worth watching as the Cardinals and Chicago Cubs play on Wednesday at Wrigley Field (8 ET on ESPN).

Carlos Pena -- who signed a one-year, $10 million contract in December -- is hitting just .213, but is showing signs of life. In his past six games, he's 8-for-19 (.421) with three home runs. And on Wednesday, he'll face Jake Westbrook, a pitcher he's had success against in his career.

Pena is 10-for-32 with five doubles and four home runs against Westbrook, but he's also struck out 10 times.

While Westbrook has struck out Pena once every 3.2 at-bats, he has not had similar strikeout success against the free-swinging Alfonso Soriano. Although he's just 3-for-21 (.143) against Westbrook, Soriano has struck out only twice. That means Soriano's batting average on balls in play against Westbrook is just .158 (3-for-19). A typical batting average on balls in play usually is around .295 to .300.

Opposing Westbrook will be Matt Garza, who's winless at Wrigley Field this season (0-2 in four starts) despite a 3.25 ERA. Garza has struck out 58 batters in his seven starts this season, and he's allowed only one home run. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two other National League pitchers in the past 25 years had at least that many strikeouts while giving up no more than one home run in their first seven starts of a season: David Cone in 1992 with the Mets and Tim Lincecum in 2009 with the San Francisco Giants.

Garza, who came to Chicago in January in trade and is 1-4 overall, has not fared well against No. 4 and 5 hitters in his seven starts. He's allowed 18 hits in 43 at-bats (.419 BA), although the four-five hitters have yet to hit a home run off him.

And it would be somewhat of a surprise if the Cardinals' No. 4 hitter, Matt Holliday, took Garza deep. Holliday has three extra-base hits and just one home run -- which came in 2006 -- in 91 at-bats at Wrigley Field.

Lance Berkman, who hits behind Holliday, will be playing in his 162nd career game against the Cubs -- the equivalent of a full season. He's a .249 hitter against them with 30 HRs, 88 RBIs and 147 strikeouts. However, Berkman does have eight home runs on the road this season, after hitting just four in 57 road games in 2010.

As for Albert Pujols, who hits in front of Holliday, he's coming off his first four-hit game of the season on Tuesday. And although he hasn't hit a home run since April 23, Pujols has hit 47 home runs against the Cubs (25 at Wrigley), the most he's hit against any team.

Pujols, however, has had some struggles early this season.

He's accounted for almost 25 percent of the double plays that St. Louis has hit into this season. The Cardinals have hit into a major league-leading 45 double plays, including 11 by Pujols. (Only Torii Hunter has hit into more, with 12.)

He's also drawing fewer walks per at-bats (one every 9.8 plate appearances) compared to recent seasons, and is hitting just .238 on outside pitches. In 2009 and 2010, he hit .320 on those pitches.

-- Jon Kramer and Mark Simon contributed to this report.
ESPN's Home Run Tracker analyzes video of each home run hit this season. Each month, the tracker will detail the best and worst home runs, as well as some other interesting statistics pertaining to the long ball. Below are the notable home runs in the months of March and April.

Wall-Scraper: Shortest True Distance
March/April Winner: Sam Fuld, Tampa Bay Rays
Fuld’s 323-foot home run off of Daisuke Matsuzaka on April 11 took just 3.32 seconds to leave the yard. Fortunately for Fuld, his blast came while playing at Fenway Park, the only park that particular batted ball would have been a home run in. Believe it or not, Shane Victorino’s inside-the-park home run April 24 hit of Wade LeBlanc traveled 346 feet.

Moonshot: Highest Apex (Apex: maximum vertical height ball reaches)
March/April Winner: Luke Scott, Baltimore Orioles
Although they drop jaws for their height, “moonshot” home runs tend to produce true distances that are far from astonishing. Such is the case for Scott’s fifth-inning home run off Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin on April 16. It traveled just 339 feet, but was hit 148 feet in the air. Scott’s home run took 6.39 seconds to clear the fence, nearly 1.5 seconds longer than the league average (4.85 seconds).

Line Drive: Lowest Apex
March/April Winner: Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Bautista’s home run off Tampa Bay’s David Price on April 23 had an apex of just 46 feet. In 3.56 seconds, Bautista’s shot traveled 383 feet.

Fast-ball: Fastest Speed Off Bat
March/April Winner: Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks
There are many things that can’t travel 116.7 mph, including a large number of automobiles. But that was the speed that ball traveled off Upton’s second-inning homer on April 12 off the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter.

Player Power Surge: Most Combined Distance by One Player
March/April Winner: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Braun tallied 4,089 feet of total home run distance for the months of March and April, squeaking past Alfonso Soriano by 70 feet. Both Braun and Soriano hit 10 home runs in March and April. Five of Braun’s 10 home runs traveled more than 420 feet, including a pair that went 444 and 445 feet.

Server of the Month: Most Combined Distance Allowed by One Pitcher
March/April Winner: Armando Galarraga, Arizona Diamondbacks
The “Imperfect Game” winner has been far from perfect this season. In 28 innings in the month of April, Galarraga allowed 11 home runs (currently on pace to allow 71) that have traveled 4,400 feet.

Wackiest: Most Improbable
March/April Winner: Miguel Olivo, Seattle Mariners
Give an assist to Detroit Tigers outfielder Ryan Raburn on this one. Olivo’s second-inning shot off Phil Coke was about 10 feet short of being a home run, but Raburn’s glove deflected the ball over the fence at spacious Comerica Park. With an apex of just 45 feet, Olivo’s “home run” should win the award for Line Drive of the Month. But, because it required some assistance from Raburn, wackiest is more apropos.

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