Stats & Info: Brandon Morrow

Top stats to know: Blue Jays

February, 25, 2013

USA TODAY SportsThe Blue Jays have plenty of new faces-- among them Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle
With Baseball Tonight visiting Toronto Blue Jays spring training camp today, here’s a look at notable “Stats to Know” about the team that was among baseball’s busiest this offseason.

Postseason Drought
The Blue Jays have not been to the postseason since 1993. The only AL team with a longer playoff drought is the Royals, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 1985. The Blue Jays also don’t have a 90-win season since that championship year. Every other team in the AL East has at least two since then.

New Starters Mean WAR
The Blue Jays starting rotation will likely feature three new pitchers-- R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle.

The three have combined for 47 Wins Above Replacement over the last four seasons. Each of the three ranks in the top 17 among pitchers. Johnson rates the highest-- seventh-best, with 19.1 Wins Above Replacement.

Reyes Kickstarts Lineup
Likely leadoff hitter Jose Reyes will look to fill a significant hole for the Blue Jays. Toronto’s leadoff hitters had a .294 on-base percentage and .650 OPS last season, each of which ranked fifth-worst in the majors.

Shifty Infield
The Blue Jays were among the most frequent users of defensive shifts in 2012. Baseball Info Solutions credited them with 12 Defensive Runs Saved due to shift usage last season, the highest such total in the majors.

One of the most integral players in their defense is third baseman Brett Lawrie, who led major league third basemen last season with 20 Defensive Runs Saved.

Edwin Loves the Outer-Half
Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout season with 42 home runs in 2012. Encarnacion had 27 home runs against pitches that were on the outer-half of the plate (or off the plate), a rate of one for every 55 pitches seen.

From 2009 to 2011, Encarnacion had 26 homers on outer-half pitches, a rate of one for every 108 pitches seen.

A Lethal Power/Speed Combo
The Blue Jays have a chance to finish in the top of the league in both power and speed. Toronto owns three prolific base stealers in Rajai Davis, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio who rank 3rd, 6th and 13th respectively in stolen bases the last 3 seasons.

The team also features two of the most prominent power hitters in baseball as measured by Isolated Power. Jose Bautista (.286) and Edwin Encarnacion (.277) ranked 4th and 5th in the MLB by that metric last season (min. 350 PA), the only pair of teammates in the top 10.

Morrow's Continued Progress
While his ‘breakout’ season was cut short due to injury, it looked like Brandon Morrow took a significant step forward in 2012. He also seemed to make a key adjustment – pitching down in the zone rather than up in the zone, decreasing his strikeouts but increasing his effectiveness.
Not only was 2010 the Year of the No-Hitter (six including the postseason), but it also was the Year of the Near No-Hitter. Five other potential no-nos were broken up in the ninth inning, the highest number since 1990.

On Friday night, Florida Marlins pitcher Anibal Sanchez recorded the first near no-hitter of the 2011 campaign, losing his bid after Colorado Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler led off the ninth inning with a single.

How did Sanchez shut down the Rockies? He was dominant with several pitches.

Sanchez's fastball averaged 92.1 mph, only the eighth time since the 2009 season he averaged 92 or faster in a start. He recorded eight misses on 26 swings on his fastball (30.8 percent), the third-highest miss percentage on his fastball in the past three seasons.

While the heater was superb, Sanchez also used his off-speed pitches to get hitters out, especially with two strikes. Sanchez retired 13 Rockies hitters with off-speed pitches, despite throwing just 17 off-speed pitches with two strikes the entire game. He recorded 12 outs on his slider, including nine with two strikes -- the most in a start since September 2009.

The Marlins have three of the five longest no-hit bids so far this season. Sanchez’s is the longest of the season, and Josh Johnson has taken one into the eighth inning and another into the seventh.

The Marlins are tied with the Red Sox and Yankees for the most no-hitters since 1993 (Marlins’ inaugural season) with four. Al Leiter, Kevin Brown, A.J. Burnett and Sanchez have tossed the Florida no-hitters.

Had Sanchez finished off the no-hitter Friday, the 27-year-old would have become the sixth-youngest pitcher at the time of his second no-hitter (Johnny Vander Meer is the youngest at 23 years, 225 days).
Tim Lincecum

In the Giants first postseason appearance since 2003 they had an ace up their sleeve in the form of Tim Lincecum. He used 119 pitches to toss a two-hit, 14 K shutout and give the Giants a 1-0 lead over the Braves in the National League Division Series.

What else did he do?
•Became the second pitcher in MLB history to strike out at least 10 and allow two hits or fewer in a shutout in a postseason debut. The other was Ed Walsh of the 1906 White Sox.

•The 14 strikeouts are tied for third-most in a postseason shutout, trailing only Bob Gibson and Roger Clemens (17).

•Tied the record for strikeouts in a postseason debut, which was previously done three times (last by Mike Scott of the 1986 Astros).

•Became the third pitcher to throw a 1-0 shutout with 10 or more strikeouts, joining Mike Scott and Dave McNally (1969 Orioles).

•Became the first pitcher to throw a 1-0 shutout in his postseason debut since Mike Scott.

•Set the Giants single-game postseason record with 14 K, beating the previous mark of 10 (done four times).

How was he able to dominate?
Lincecum had good command of his fastball as the Braves were only one-for-12 against the pitch. The lone hit (Omar Infante's double to lead off the game) came on a fastball up-and-away. That's the corner where Lincecum is most vulnerable (.293 opp BA).

The Braves' eagerness to chase meant Lincecum could go out of the zone and still get strikes. Only 44 percent of his pitches were in the zone, second-lowest in a start since the All-Star break, yet Lincecum got 24 strikes on bad balls (17 swings-and-misses, three fouls, two called and two in play). Eleven of his strikeouts came on balls out of the strike zone.

Lincecum forced 31 swings and misses, which is easily a career high and the most for ANY pitcher in ANY game this season. The Braves missed 56.4 percent of their 55 swings.

Lincecum never faced more than four batters in an inning, and the Braves were 0-8 with runners on base and their chase percentage jumped to 44 pct with runners on.

Lastly, an interesting fact about the second inning: Lincecum struck out the side on nine swings and misses. There were some called balls mixed in, so it's not nine pitches, but every strike in that inning was a whiff.

First pitch: 2010's worst oh-fers

September, 3, 2010
Today’s Trivia: It was 20 years ago today that Bobby Thigpen broke the single-season saves record by picking up number 47 (he finished with 57). Who held the record before Thigpen?

SPANQuick Hits: The Minnesota Twins had 15 hits on Thursday (all singles, by the way), but Denard Span went 0-for-6. It’s not the first time Span has watched a hit parade from the sidewalk. On May 22, the Twins had 13 hits, but Span went 0-for-7. Then on August 4, he was hitless in six at-bats despite 10 hits for the Twins. Span is the only player in the majors with three games of no hits in at least six at-bats this season. In that spirit, let’s take a look at the most improbable oh-fers this season.

• The Oakland Athletics Chris Carter had a forgettable 0-for-19 start to his career before being sent down in August. Now on the minor-league disabled list, that oh-fer might stick. It’s not all bad news though. The last AL player to finish a season hitless in 19 or more at-bats was David Ortiz in 1999. A September call-up, Big Papi went 0-for-20 for the Twins, striking out 12 times.

• Carter’s 0-for-August was the worst in that month since Jason LaRue went 0-for-24 in 2007. According to STATS LLC, the worst oh-fer in any month over the last 35 years belongs to Mark Smith. In 1998 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Smith went 0-for-27 in April and didn’t collect his first hit until May 19.

UPTONB.J. Upton is hitless in 12 at-bats with the bases loaded. Over the last 30 years, the worst oh-fer with the bases loaded was Jose Cruz Jr. (0-15) in 2003.

Mark Kotsay is 0-for-24 against left-handed pitchers this season. This from a player who hit .336 against lefties in 2004 with Oakland. Over the last 35 years, only one position player had a bigger oh-fer against lefties. In 2000, John Mabry was 0-for-25 while splitting the season between Seattle and San Diego.

Mark Reynolds leads the majors with 55 starts in which he didn’t pick up a hit. However, the strikeout king will avoid another mark of infamy. Over the last 90 years, the most oh-fer starts belongs to Bob Meacham, who was hitless in 84 starts for the Yankees in 1985 (though he did have a pair of four-hit games).

• In 13 appearances, Cleveland Indians reliever Justin Germano has yet to allow a hit to the first batter that he’s faced (though he did walk one). In 2005, the first batter facing the Mets Juan Padilla went 0-for-22.

Today’s Leaderboard: Josh Hamilton has 51 games with two or more hits this season, third in the majors behind Ichiro Suzuki and Martin Prado. However, Hamilton’s 24 three-plus hit games are six more than any other player. Interestingly, Ichiro only has 12 three-hit games. His career-low is 17.

LONEYKey Matchups: James Loney is hitting just .207 with a .605 OPS since the All-Star break. That includes a .192 average against lefties and a .195 average at home. All that spells trouble for Loney with Barry Zito coming to town. In 26 career plate appearances against the San Francisco Giants lefty, Loney has just 2 hits and no walks. That’s a batting average of .077, his lowest against anyone he’s faced at least 20 times.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Brandon Morrow has a chance at history on Friday. In his four previous starts against the New York Yankees, Morrow has 36 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings, a rate of 13.3 K per 9. Elias says that the highest single-season rate against the Yankees (min. 20 IP) is 12.6 by Pedro Martinez in 2001. Curtis Granderson has been Morrow’s primary victim with seven strikeouts in nine at-bats this season.

Trivia Answer: Dave Righetti’s 46 saves in 1986 broke Bruce Sutter’s mark set two seasons before. Thigpen’s record stood for 18 years before Francisco Rodriguez picked up 62 saves in 2008.

1st Pitch: Pedroia’s presence to propel Sox?

August, 17, 2010
The Boston Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia, who turns 27 Tuesday, is expected to be activated from the disabled list and play for the first time since June 25. On that date, Boston was three games back of the Yankees and tied with the Rays for the wild-card lead. Since then, Boston is 23-21 while Tampa Bay has the best record in baseball at 29-16. The Sox were averaging 5.5 runs per game before Pedroia was injured. Without him in the lineup, they have been averaging 4.5 runs.

Today’s Trivia: In a matchup of the National League Wild-Card leaders, the Philadelphia Phillies host the San Francisco Giants in a three-game series. The Phillies are one of the seven teams that have never been the NL Wild Card representative. Can you name the other six?

• Tigers at Yankees: Only one batter has struck out more against Justin Verlander than the Yankees' Nick Swisher - who has whiffed 14 times. The only player to fan more against Verlander is teammate Jhonny Peralta, who has 20 strikeouts.

• Giants at Phillies: Raul Ibanez knows how to end a hit streak in style, or lack thereof. Since the last game of his 18-game hit streak, Ibanez is 0-18 with four strikeouts. And it’s not likely to get better tonight against Barry Zito. Ibanez has an OPS of .486 against Zito in 47 at-bats. That’s Ibanez’s worst against any pitcher he’s faced at least 40 times.

• Angels at Red Sox, White Sox at Twins: Good luck to the right-handed batters in the Angels and Twins lineups. The American League’s two toughest pitchers against right-handed hitters – Boston’s Clay Buchholz and Chicago’s John Danks -- toe the rubber. Buchholz is allowing a .523 OPS to righties and Danks is close behind with a .529.

• Rangers at Rays: Since throwing a no-hitter on July 26, the Rays Matt Garza is winless in three starts (0-2, 3.05 ERA).

• Blue Jays at Athletics: Toronto's Brandon Morrow makes his first start since coming within one out of a no-hitter on Saturday against the Rays. As for the A's, they have been no-hit through at least six innings in each of their last two games.

• Ichiro Suzuki has hits against 629 different major league pitchers, but the one he enjoys seeing most is Kevin Millwood, who is scheduled to start for Baltimore on Tuesday. Ichiro has 30 hits off Millwood, the most against any pitcher he's faced. The only active player who Millwood has surrendered more hits to than Suzuki is Vladimir Guerrero (33).

• Arizona's Daniel Hudson (starting Tuesday against the Reds) will try to win his fourth straight start since joining the Diamondbacks. With a victory, Hudson would join Philadelphia's Roy Halladay as the only pitchers this season to get a victory in each of their first four starts with a new team.

• The Mets' Johan Santana brings a 16⅓-inning scoreless streak to the mound tonight against the Astros. Santana has won each of his last two starts, going at least seven innings in each game without allowing a run. No Mets pitcher has ever had three consecutive starts like that. Santana has made seven starts this season with no runs allowed in seven innings or more, tying Halladay for the league lead. The last Mets pitcher with more scoreless starts of seven or more innings in one season was Dwight Gooden, who had 11 in 1985.

• With a win tonight at Tampa Bay, the Rangers' Tommy Hunter will join Ubaldo Jimenez and Phil Hughes as the third pitcher this season to win 10 of his first 11 decisions.

Trivia Answer: The six teams other than the Phillies that have never been the NL Wild Card representative are: Braves, Reds, Padres, Diamondbacks, Nationals and Pirates.
Another weekend day game between AL East foes at Rogers Centre, some more history for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Brandon Morrow struck out 17 Tampa Bay Rays and was just one ground ball away from one of the more dominating no-hitters in MLB history on Sunday. Alas, Evan Longoria's grounder bounched off of Aaron Hill's diving attempt at it and Morrow was forced to strike out Dan Johnson to secure the 1-0 win.

Morrow joins an elite club of Blue Jays pitchers to lose a no-hitter when they were just one out away. Roy Halladay gave up a hit to Bobby Higginson of the Detroit Tigers back in 1998 when he was one out away. But Morrow has nothing on Dave Stieb, who lost three no-hitters in a two-season span between 1988 and 1989, including two in back-to-back starts.

The only Blue Jays no-hitter ever thrown was by Stieb on September 2, 1990 at the Indians.

Maybe we should have seen an effort like this coming from Morrow. On September 5, 2008, Morrow threw 7.2 hitless innings against the New York Yankees in his first MLB start. It was broken up by a Wilson Betemit double that actually scored a run. Morrow is now the ONLY pitcher to take a no-hitter through five innings three times this season.

The Tampa Bay Rays seem to have no-hitters on their brain as they narrowly escape becoming the first team in MLB history to be no-hit three times in a season. In fact, of the last six no-hitters across the bigs, the Rays have been involved in four of them (one by Matt Garza while three have come against them).

Instead of wallowing in what might have been, we should celebrate what Morrow did achieve. 17 strikeouts is one shy of the club record that Roger Clemens set against the Royals back in 1998. The list of pitchers with a one-hit shutout along with 17 Ks in the live-ball era (since 1920) is just three names deep. Curt Schilling in 2002 with the Diamondbacks, Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game back in 1998 and now Morrow.

Some other crazy facts:

•Home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg was also behind the dish for Anibal Sanchez and Ubaldo Jimenez's no-nos. The last umpire to have home plate for two no-hitters in a season was Drew Coble in 1990.

•On July 26 (two weeks ago tomorrow), Morrow turned 26 years old. Check out the ages of the pitchers who threw the five no-hitters this season: Ubaldo Jimenez (26), Dallas Braden (26), Roy Halladay (33), Edwin Jackson (26) and Garza (26). From July 30, 1973 until the end of last season, there were just five total no-hitters thrown by a pitcher who was exactly 26 years of age.

•According to Bill James' metric "Game Score," which is a one-number summary of how good a pitcher's single-game performance is, Brandon Morrow's 17-strikeout, 2-walk, one-hitter got a score of 100. That is tied for the 4th-best single-game pitching performance since 1920. It was the highest by any pitcher in a single game since Randy Johnson scored 100 in his perfect game back in 2004.

1st Pitch: The importance of 599 and 59

August, 2, 2010
Today’s Trivia: Alex Rodriguez struck out as a pinch-hitter in Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, leaving him stuck on 599 home runs for another game. The strikeout dropped A-Rod to 0-10 as a pinch-hitter in his career. Only two active major leaguers have worse career numbers as a pinch hitter. Who are they?

(Hint: one was an All-Star last season for a team that currently leads its division. The other has a career BA of .224 and is a former teammate of Rodriguez’s with the Yankees.)

Quick Hits on the number 59 in baseball after golfer Stuart Appelby carded a 59 to win the Greenbrier Classic (thanks to researcher Paul Carr for several items)...

Only one team has exactly 59 games left this season: the San Diego Padres, who are 61-42 through 103 games. Every other team has fewer games left, some as few as 55.

Your MLB leader in games pitched this season is the oft-used Pedro Feliciano, who has appeared in 59.

Hall-of-Famer Satchel Paige pitched his final major-league game at age 59. He started for the Kansas City Athletics on September 25, 1965 and allowed just one hit in three shutout innings.

The active MLB player who has hit the most doubles in a season is Todd Helton, who hit 59 in 2000. Helton finished eight shy of the record 67 doubles by Earl Webb in 1931.

Only one player has ever hit exactly 59 home runs in a season. That was Babe Ruth, who broke his own single-season record in 1921 when he hit 59 homers, a record that stood for six years until Ruth broke it again.

No current MLB pitcher has exactly 59 career wins. One player has 58, but he might not get his 59th for a while. Oliver Perez is that player, and he’s 0-4 this season and hasn’t won since August of last season.

Today’s Leaderboard: After an intentional walk to the batter in front of him, Jason Kubel blew open a scoreless game in the sixth with a bases-loaded double against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday. Kubel had to feel comfortable at the plate in that situation – he’s among the league leaders in bases-loaded plate appearances this season.

Would you believe that two Minneosta Twins are on this list and neither are typical No. 4 batter Justin Morneau or No. 5 batter Michael Cuddyer?

Key Matchups: Here’s the daily A-Rod vs Opposing Starter update: Rodriguez is 4-15 (.267 BA) in his career against Brandon Morrow. He does have one career HR against Morrow, however, it came at a stadium that isn’t in use anymore. Rodriguez hit it in 2007 at old Yankee Stadium.

The first name Bobby Cox should write when he makes his lineup tonight against Johan Santana is Matt Diaz. Diaz is 14-26 (.538 BA) with a HR in his career against Santana. That’s the highest BA by any active player who has come to the plate at least 20 times against Santana (and there are 101 such players).

It’s probably for two reasons – the young Houston Astros roster and the fact that he has pitched his whole career in the AL until tonight – but Jake Westbrook has only faced one current Astro before. And he might want to stay away from that one tonight when he debuts for the Cardinals. Carlos Lee is batting .400 (12-30) and slugging .600 against Westbrook in his career. (Note: Westbrook has faced Geoff Blum before, but Blum is on the DL for the Astros)

Trivia Answer: Wil Nieves (A-Rod’s former teammate) is 0-16 in his career and Texas Rangers 2009 All-Star Nelson Cruz is 0-14.

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)

"Superior Start" unveiled

May, 30, 2010
Avid TMI readers may recall that during spring training, we took our first foray into trying to retool the quality start metric (if you don’t recall, click this link).

With the Rangers and Twins dueling on Sunday Night Baseball at 8 eastern this evening, and lots of talk over the last two seasons about Nolan Ryan’s efforts to fix the Rangers starting pitching staff, we thought it would be an appropriate time to take a look at some results, of which Ryan would figure to be most proud.

The results of our initial study (done via regression analysis) told us that the two elements of a pitching line that best predicted whether a team won or lost were the starters innings pitched and the number of earned runs allowed.

Using the data from the regression, we were able to figure out the team’s chance of winning for any possible innings/earned runs combination by a starting pitcher. And finally, we defined our “Superior Start” statistic as any outing where the starter gave his team at least a 75 percent chance of winning the game.

Now that we’ve passed the quarter pole in the baseball season, let's take a look at some leaderboards.

Ubaldo Jimenez and Roy Halladay top our list for pitchers with the most “Superior Starts” with seven such outings. Jimenez has completely baffled hitters this season. His league and park adjusted ERA+ this season is 515, over 150 points better than second-place Jaime Garcia. According to our friends at AccuScore, Jimenez actually has a 26 percent chance of winning 25+ games, a feat which has not been accomplished since Bob Welch in 1990. Halladay, fresh off of his perfect game, has kept the all-of-a-sudden offensively challenged Phillies afloat in his first season in Philadelphia.

And with a hat tip to Tom Tango, we now bring you our "Inferior Start" metric. These are the pitchers who have the most starts this season with an innings/earned runs combination that gives the team less than a 25 percent chance of winning that game.

As you can see, Charlie Morton tops (or bottoms?) this list of inferiority. All six of Morton's Inferior Starts have actually had a team win probability less than 19 percent, well below our 25 percent threshold.

Interestingly, our Inferior Starts leader Charlie Morton has a 1-9 record, which is the inverse of our Superior Starts leader Ubaldo Jimenez, who is 9-1.

As for tonight’s starters, Scott Baker enters with a pair of Superior Starts for the Twins, one fewer than team leader Francisco Liriano, and one more than his opposing moundsman, Rangers starter, Derek Holland. Baker also has a pair of Inferior Starts, though none have come in the month of May.

We will be updating this leader board periodically throughout the season. Hopefully this sheds a little more light on who is a quality starter, and who is a superior one. We think we can come up with something for which both the math and Nolan Ryan agree.

Alok Pattani and Mark Simon also contributed to this project.

Who owns the best "putaway pitch"?

May, 26, 2010
Following Joe Nathan’s injury this past March, Mark Simon introduced a stat which he labeled “putaway rate.” He defined it as “the percentage of two-strike plate appearances that ended in strikeouts.”

Taking his idea a step further, we set out to determine who has the best “putaway pitch.” It’s the same concept, but narrows down the stat to a specific pitch. For example, if a pitcher threw 100 two-strike fastballs and recorded 25 strikeouts on those pitches, his “putaway rate” would be 25 percent.

We applied this measurement to fastballs, curves, sliders and changeups, using data for this season from Inside Edge. Since each pitcher uses his pitches at varying rates, we considered the top 100 pitchers who had thrown the most two-strike fastballs and the top 50 for the three off-speed pitches. While there’s certainly some amount of subjectivity in that cutoff, it essentially gives us a list of the players who actually use that particular pitch as a “putaway pitch.”

So here are the top “putaway pitches” through May 24
1. Yovani Gallardo – Putaway Rate: 25.0 pct
Gallardo’s fastball is somewhat of a mystery. His speed (92.6) is only slightly above average for two-strike fastballs. His chase percentage (19.4 percent) is well below the league average of 31.7 percent. And his strike percentage (64.9) is also below the average of 66.7. Yet, he has thrown 148 two-strike fastballs, 37 of which have resulted in strikeouts.

2. Brandon Morrow – 22.6 pct
It’s been a rough season for Morrow, but the 25-year-old is currently tied for the league lead, averaging 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings. His two-strike fastball, which averages 94.6 mph, has induced whiffs on 26.8 pct of the pitches swung at – a rate which trails only Ryan Dempster’s 27.0 pct.

3. Josh Johnson – 20.6 pct
When Johnson works his way into a two-strike count, he prefers pure heat to finish the job. 40 of his 63 strikeouts this season have been recorded via the fastball, which averages 94.7 mph.

Best of the rest: Cole Hamels (20.4), Ryan Dempster (20.2), Dan Haren (19.9) and Ubaldo Jimenez (19.7)

1. Tommy Hanson – 39.5 pct
Based on our criteria, Hanson’s curveball rates as the best strikeout pitch in the game this season. Of hitters who have offered at his two-strike curve, less than half have made contact (47.8 pct).

2. Clay Hensley – 33.3 pct
Hensley is one of three relievers who makes our list. His curve, which comes in at just 72.0 mph (league average: 76.8) has been used to record 19 of his 32 strikeouts this season.

3. Ricky Romero – 31.0 pct
Romero isn’t afraid to throw his curve across the plate (55.2 strike pct) because it’s nearly unhittable. Hitters have missed 50.0 pct of their swings against his two-strike curve.

Best of the rest: Jason Bulger (28.3 pct), Gavin Floyd (28.0 pct), Gio Gonzalez (27.8 pct) and Ricky Nolasco (25.5 pct)

1. Brandon Morrow – 34.6 pct
Morrow makes his second appearance on the list, this time with his slider. He’s used his slider to record 28 of 59 strikeouts this season. He throws it for a strike 79.0 pct of the time, and induces a swing and miss 40.0 pct of the time (5th best rate in the majors).

2. Matt Garza – 33.8 pct
Garza boasts one of the league’s fastest sliders, which averages 86.3 mph in two-strike counts. He’s recorded 36 of his 54 strikeouts this season with his slider.

3. Luke Gregerson – 33.8 pct
The key to Gregerson’s slider is his ability to get hitters to chase it out of the zone. He’s induced swings on a league-high 67.5 pct of the sliders he’s thrown out of the strike zone on two-strike counts. He’s used his slider to record an astounding 24 of his 26 strikeouts this season (92.3 pct).

Best of the rest: Carlos Marmol (32.7), Francisco Liriano (31.6 pct), Edwin Jackson (30.4 pct) and Justin Masterson (27.9 pct)

1. Leo Nunez – 36.4 pct
Nunez, whose fastball clocks in at 93.5 mph, takes a full seven mph off on his change (86.5 mph). While changeup is a fairly uncommon “putaway pitch” it’s Nunez’s go-to selection. He’s recorded 16 of his 20 strikeouts with the changeup.

2. Ricky Romero – 36.0 pct
Ricky Romero joins his teammate Brandon Morrow as the only two pitchers to appear in the top three with two different pitches. Hitters have whiffed on a league-high 50.9 pct of their swings on his two-strike changeups.

3. Cole Hamels – 34.2 pct
Hamels may have the most deadly putaway pitch combo, as his changeup rates 3rd and his fastball 4th. His success likely comes from a drastic 10 mph difference between the pitches – 91.3 mph on fastballs, 81.6 mph on changeups.

Best of the rest: John Ely (33.3), James Shields (32.7), Jorge De La Rosa (31.4) and Francisco Rodriguez (30.8)

Curious where someone's pitch ranks? Post a comment and we'll try to track down an answer for you.

1st Pitch: Hitters struggling with 2 strikes

May, 24, 2010
Quick Hits: Chris Coghlan went 0-6 with three strikeouts and was the Marlins only starter who failed to collect a hit on Sunday. In five of his at-bats he found himself in a two-strike count, a situation where he has struggled all season, batting just .125 (MLB avg: .181) and striking out 36.5 percent of the time. Here’s a look at a few others who struggle in two-strike counts.

* Ian Stewart has a .081 OBP in two-strike counts, worst in the majors.

* Rod Barajas chases a league-high 64.3 percent of pitches outside the strike zone in two-strike counts.

* Kyle Blanks has struck out 44 times in 74 two-strike counts, a league-high 59.5 percent.

* Mark Teixeira is batting .094 against fastballs in two-strike counts.

* Mark Reynolds is batting .055 against non-fastballs in two-strike counts.

* Tim Lincecum has been in a two-strike count 10 times this season and has struck out all 10 times.

Today’s Trivia: In Sunday’s game Trevor Hoffman recorded a hold while his teammate picked up the save for the first time since September 12, 1993. Who closed the game for the Padres on that date?

Today’s Leaderboard: On the flip side, here are the pitchers who have excelled in two-strike counts this season. Brandon Morrow leads the way, having recorded a strikeout in 59 of his 106 two-strike counts.

Key Matchups: John Danks is just 2-5 with a 4.89 ERA in his career against the Indians. One reason for his struggles as of late is Shin-Soo Choo. In his career against Danks, Choo is batting .462 (6-13) with a home run.

Carlos Pena’s season-long slump likely won’t come to a halt tonight against the Red Sox. In his career against Clay Buchholz, Pena is batting just .091 (1-11) with three strikeouts.

Trivia Answer: Gene Harris, the Padres’ closer in 1993, picked up the save. Hoffman took over as their full-time closer the following season.

The Closer: Morrow, Fister with no-hit bids

April, 20, 2010
A couple of pitchers, who are not exactly household names, took no-hitters into the 6th inning and later... we break down why they found success Monday.

Why Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow won:

- Threw 71.1 pct strikes, up from 59.1 pct in his first two starts.

- Had a great fastball, especially compared to his first two starts this season. Hitters missed 23.3 percent of Morrow's fastballs Monday after missing on just 10.6 percent in his first 2 starts. That resulted in 6 K Monday on fastballs as opposed to just 2 K on fastballs in his 1st 2 starts.

- Took no-hitter into 6th inning.

Why Mariners starter Doug Fister won:

- 72 pct first-pitch strikes (18 of 25 hitters, MLB average is 58 pct).

- 64 pct of 0-1 counts became 0-2 counts (MLB average is 47 pct).

- Chase pct of 31.0 (11.7 in his first two starts).

- Miss pct of 12.5 (8.3 and 10.2 in his first two starts).

- Took no-hitter into 7th inning.

Why Cardinals starter Brad Penny won:

- Mixed it up: Threw just 56.6 pct fastballs, down from 69.1 pct in his first two starts.

- Good idea: Opponents went 6-16, 3 2B vs his fastball, but just 2-12, all singles, vs offspeed stuff (allowed six hits vs fastballs in first two starts combined).

Hitter of the Night:

Jose Bautista, TOR: 2-4, 2 HR, BB, 5 RBI

Toronto's Jose Bautista hit his second and third HR of the season Monday against the Royals. Ten of the eleven pitches he saw were fastballs, and with good reason; Bautista entered the game hitting just .107 against fastballs through 13 games. Monday Bautista hit both HR against the fastball.