Stats & Info: Brandon Phillips

Inside the box score: Reds vs. Pirates

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
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Monday’s matchup between the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates was a wild, evenly played contest with a host of dramatic moments befitting a playoff-worthy game, so let’s give it a playoff-worthy breakdown.

McCutchen is clutch
Andrew McCutchen had three hits and two walks and hit a game-tying homer in the eighth inning against Reds reliever Manny Parra. It marked the first time that McCutchen hit a game-tying home run that late in a game.

Walker is too
Neil Walker had his second straight three-hit game. His walk-off hit was the second of his career, both of which have come this season. The other was a home run on Opening Day.

Walker’s hit was just out of the reach of Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. Phillips has ranked in the top 10 among second basemen in Defensive Runs Saved in five of the last six seasons.

Inside the at-bat: Davis’ grand slam
Eduardo Perez pointed out on Baseball Tonight that one of Ike Davis’ flaws has been timing, and he noted that on Davis’ grand slam his timing seemed to be better. Davis started his swing earlier, allowing him to turn on an inside fastball from Mike Leake and hit it over the fence.

Davis has two hits on inside pitches (those on the inner-third of the plate or off the inside corner) in three games with the Pirates. In 2012 and 2013, he hit .161 in at-bats that ended with pitches to that area.
Ike Davis
Davis
The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Davis became the third player in major-league history to hit two grand slams against a team in a season with the home runs coming for two different teams (in this case the New York Mets and Pirates).

The other two are Ray Boone (grandfather of ESPN’s Aaron Boone, who pointed out that his grandfather’s nickname was Ike) and Mike Piazza.

How they got him out: Joey Votto
Reds first baseman Joey Votto was 0-for-5 in the loss. Votto saw 21 pitches in the game, 16 of which were on the outer third of the plate or off the outside corner.

All five of Votto’s outs came against those pitches. Votto has missed outside pitches at a rate that is nearly twice as often as he has missed other pitches thrown to him this season (26 percent versus 14 percent).

Votto’s .348 batting average against the Pirates entering the day was the highest among active players.

Pedroia, Phillips differentiate with glove, bat

June, 11, 2013
6/11/13
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It took 14 innings for the Boston Red Sox to outlast the Tampa Bay Rays, something that would not have happened without the defense of Dustin Pedroia.

Pedroia made two huge plays, a catch on a pop up and a snag of a bunt hit attempt in key spots for the Red Sox to preserve the tie game.

Pedroia picked up another Web Gem from Baseball Tonight, giving him five this season. That’s second-most among second basemen behind Brandon Phillips, who had seven.

Phillips had quite the day as well.

Let’s review the pivotal moments for each on Monday night.

Pedroia’s Plays
Pedroia entered Monday with eight Defensive Runs Saved (for an explanation of the stat, click here), the most in the majors among second basemen.

Pedroia’s 37 Defensive Runs Saved dating back to the start of the 2011 season also rank most among second basemen. In fact, only three players have more than that at any position in that span—Mariner shortstop Brendan Ryan (50), Royals leftfielder Alex Gordon (47) and Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie with 39.

What makes Pedroia so good is that he maximizes great plays while minimizing his mistakes.

Baseball Info Solutions does video-tracking, crediting fielders for more than 30 categories of Good Fielding Plays (think Web-Gem nominees) and penalizing them for more than 50 categories of Defensive Misplays & Errors.

Pedroia’s ratio of Good Plays to Misplays & Errors is 40 to 6 (he’s yet to make an error this season). By comparison, three of the game’s best defensive second basemen- Barney, Phillips, and Robinson Cano, all have ratios of around 3-to-1. In other words: about half of Pedroia’s ratio.

Pedroia’s defensive value is integral to what he brings to the game. And he’s recognized for it. Entering Monday Pedroia was worth 3.7 Wins Above Replacement this season, edging out Miguel Cabrera for the highest among position players in the American League.

Phillips’ power
Phillips had a day on the offensive end that was just as good, if not better as Pedroia’s on the defensive end.

Phillips drove in all six of the Reds runs in their win over the Chicago Cubs, four by way of his fifth career grand slam.

The day put Phillips in pretty good company. He’s the first Reds player to account for all of his team’s runs with at least six RBI since Johnny Bench did so in a 6-2 win over the Braves on September 12, 1974.

Phillips has been been extremely productive with the bases loaded this season, going 5-for-7 with a walk and a sacrifice fly. He’s hitting .435 (27-for-62 with runners in scoring position.

The grand slam came on a curveball from Scott Feldman and one of the keys to Phillips success is making pitchers pay for those pitches. He’s 13-for-21 with four doubles and the grand slam in at-bats that end with a curve or slider with runners in scoring position.

This is also part of a run of being consistently clutch. In each of the previous two seasons, Phillips hit better than .300 with runners in scoring position.

There’s a good chance he’ll do that again. Consider this: If Phillips went 0-for-his-next-27 with runners in scoring position, his batting average in such situations this season would still be above .300.
Five stats you’ll likely hear quite a bit more about on the matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds on "Sunday Night Baseball" at 8 ET (ESPN/WatchESPN).


1. The Cardinals enter the day with the best record in baseball (40-22) and are 21-10 on the road. The biggest key to the Cardinals' success is timely hitting.

The team is hitting .339 with runners in scoring position. The last NL team to hit at least .300 in those situations over a full season was the 2000 Rockies (.309).

No other NL team is even hitting .300.

The team has five of the NL's top 15 in hitting with runners in scoring position, including major league leader Carlos Beltran (22-for-47, .468).

2. The pitching matchup pits Lance Lynn against Bronson Arroyo. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Lynn is one of three pitchers in the past 20 seasons to win at least eight of his first nine decisions in back-to-back years, joining Curt Schilling and Kevin Brown.

Arroyo has a rough recent history against the Cardinals (1-7 in his last 11 starts) but has been great at home this season (5-1 with a 2.64 ERA). His 48 wins at Great American Ball Park are 11 more than any other pitcher.

3. The Cardinals have a couple of hot hitters. One of them is David Freese, who enters the game with the longest current hitting streak in the majors at 18 games. Should Freese get a hit tonight, he'd have the longest hitting streak by a Cardinals third baseman since Terry Pendleton hit in 19 straight games in 1987.

The last Cardinals third baseman with a 20-game hitting streak was Joe Torre, who hit in 22 straight games en route to the NL MVP in 1971.

Notable for Freese is that he's been able to get hits against pitches out of the strike zone (you can see the two red squares near the right-hand batter's box in our interactive heat map above).

Freese has seven hits on pitches out of the zone during the streak. He had only two all season prior to that.

4. The other red-hot Cardinals hitter is Matt Carpenter, whose hitting streak is currently 17 games. Carpenter has been a huge boost to the leadoff spot since taking it over on May 2. Prior to that, Cardinals leadoff hitters were batting .211 with a .295 on-base percentage. Since then, those numbers are a major league best .361 and .456.

Carpenter is among the NL's most disciplined hitters. His swing rate of 39 percent ranked second-lowest in the NL entering Sunday. His rate of missing swings was just 10 percent, ranking eighth in the league.

5. The Reds' lineup is keyed by Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo, who rank 1-2 in the NL in on-base percentage this season.

But one hitter who has been particularly valuable this year is cleanup batter Brandon Phillips.

Phillips is hitting .429 with runners in scoring position (fourth in the NL) and an NL-best .328 with two strikes. Phillips is on pace for the first 100-RBI season of his career.

For more notes, stats and trends on the game, follow along with the "Sunday Night Baseball" Gamecast, which can be found on the Scoreboard page.

With new deals, Kinsler outpaces Phillips

April, 10, 2012
4/10/12
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AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Despite signing similar contract extensions, Ian Kinsler has out produced Brandon Phillips in every season since 2007 by Wins Above Replacement.
Two of the premier second basemen in baseball have signed contract extensions over the last 24 hours. Late Monday, the Texas Rangers and Ian Kinsler agreed to a multiyear extension. Then, Tuesday afternoon, the long-rumored extension between the Cincinnati Reds and Brandon Phillips came to fruition.

Given that both play the same position, are of similar ages and signed deals of both similar value and similar length, a comparison seems natural.

Kinsler’s contract is a five-year, $75 million deal with a sixth-year option. Phillips’ is a six-year, $72.5 million deal. However, both teams functionally have their second basemen under control for at least six years, given that Kinsler’s extension does not kick in until 2013, whereas Phillips’ begins this season.

Even though the two players will be compensated in similar fashion over the next five or six seasons, the quality of their play leading up to the extensions has been of much different quality. While Kinsler may get overshadowed on a star-studded team and Phillips may garner attention for his Twitter and fielding antics, Kinsler is the far superior player.

Kinsler has out produced Phillips in every season since 2007 by WAR. In fact, Kinsler (23.2 WAR) outranks the likes of Robinson Cano (22.6 WAR) and Dan Uggla (13.4 WAR) in terms of production since 2007.

Very few second basemen retain this sort of high-level value deep into their 30’s. Kinsler will be locked up for both his age-34 and 35 seasons (as well as 36 if the option is picked up), while Phillips will be under contract in his age 34-to-36 seasons, also. The number of second basemen since 1900 who have contributed seasons of 3+ WAR at age-34 or older is exclusive and limited to some of the greatest players to play the position in MLB history.

Among second basemen, only Eddie Collins (1921-26), Jeff Kent (2002-07), Charlie Gehringer (1937-40), Lou Whitaker (1991-93) and Joe Morgan (1980-83) have at least three straight seasons of 3+ WAR since 1900. No one else has done it more than twice (Willie Randolph and Eddie Stanky have done it twice). A 3-WAR season already assumes some skill degradation for Kinsler and would actually constitute an improvement for Phillips over the last few seasons. Yet they will be paid as if 3+ WAR is almost assumed.
Albert Pujols
Pujols
Brandon Phillips hit a walk-off home run to give the Cincinnati Reds a 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday but Albert Pujols and Chris Heisey stole the show with their home run magic.

Pujols had a home run taken away by Heisey to end the top of the first inning, but came back to homer in the eighth inning. He’s the first player this season to have a home run robbed by the opposition and then homer later in the game.

Heisey, after his defensive gem ended the top half of the first, led off the bottom half with a home run, his third leadoff homer of the season. He homered again in the fifth inning, becoming the first player this season to rob a home run and hit two of his own in the same game.

It’s the third straight homer he’s hit off Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook and the second consecutive one that led off the game. According to Elias, the last pitcher to allow a leadoff home run in each of consecutive starts within one season, with the same batter hitting each of those homers, was Steve Trachsel in May 2000 to Rickey Henderson.

Phillips’ home run was the difference maker in the game, his second career walk-off homer and first since 2003 when he was with the Cleveland Indians. It’s the Cardinals’ eighth walk-off loss of the season, tied for third-most in the league.

Jeff Karstens
Karstens
The National League Central had more big performances outside of this game.

Jeff Karstens threw a five-hit shutout to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 4-0 win over the Houston Astros, the second shutout of his career and first since 2008. He threw just 83 pitches, tied for the fourth-fewest in a nine-inning shutout since 2000.

Elias tells us that Karstens is averaging 14.01 pitches per inning this season, the second-lowest average among pitchers with at least 75 innings pitched; only James Shields (13.96) is more efficient.

Karstens is 5-0 with a 1.26 ERA in his past eight starts. It's the 15th straight start that he’s allowed three earned runs or fewer -- the only time he allowed more than three was his first start of the season.

The win puts the Pirates in first place in the NL Central at 48-43, the latest into a season they’ve been in first since July 17, 1997. It's the Pirates' sixth shutout of the season which matches their total from all of last season.

First half defensive All-Stars

July, 13, 2011
7/13/11
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Getty Images/Gregory ShamusAsdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Gomez show off the skills that made them Defensive All-Stars.

With the All-Star break almost over, and as we await the resumption of baseball on Thursday, let’s take a break from the typical chatter of second-half storylines, and shift our focus to the players on the field and the defensive All-Stars of the first half.

Baseball Info Solutions is a company specializing in determining the best (and worst) defensive players in more than 100 different metrics, from barehanded plays to home run robberies.

Using their data, here’s our take on the players in the first half that have been good enough to be called a Defensive All-Star. (Note: ranks are for the player at his position, unless otherwise noted)

Pitcher: Anibal Sanchez, Marlins
Most Barehanded Plays For Outs (5)
Sanchez is averaging more than a strikeout per inning, but he gets on this list because of his defense while on the mound.

Catcher: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Most Catcher Blocks (401)
Yadier is known for a strong arm, having thrown out over 40 percent of baserunners during his career. This season he also leads everyone in catcher blocks, defined as plays when runners are on base or if the pitch was the third strike.

First Base: Carlos Pena, Cubs
Most Difficult Throws Handled (32)
Pena can likely thank Starlin Castro for this award, as the shortstop already has 18 errors this season. Handling difficult throws applies to throws in the dirt or throws wide of the bag.


Second Base: Brandon Phillips, Reds
Most Double Plays Turned Despite An Aggressive Slide (6)
Brandon Phillips has wowed many fans with his defensive Web gems, he’s also one of the best at turning double plays.

Third Base: Aramis Ramirez, Cubs
Most Barehanded Plays For Outs (10)
Ramirez has not only been one of the Cubs best offensive players, hitting .298 with 15 home runs and a team leading 51 RBI, but he’s also been a star on the diamond, converting 10 barehanded plays into outs.

Shortstop: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
Most Web Gems (11) and Web Gems Points in MLB (41)
Asdrubal Cabrera has been a familiar face on Baseball Tonight, as a four-time Web Gem champ. Between two behind the back flips, a bare-hander on a short hop, and a diving stop and throw in a defensive shift, Cabrera has done it all defensively this season.

Left Field: Sam Fuld, Rays
Most Web Gems Either 1st or 2nd in MLB (9)
Despite being second in both Web Gems and Web Gem points, Fuld has more Web Gems rated as first- or second-best than any other player.

Center Field: Carlos Gomez, Brewers
Tied for Most Home Run Robberies in MLB (2)
Taking away a home run might be the most exciting play in baseball, and Gomez has done it twice, once with the bases empty and once with Carlos Beltran on first base, saving three potential runs.

Right Field: Nick Swisher, Yankees

Most Times Holding Players to a Single Among OF (6)
Swisher has recently begun to heat up at the plate, with seven homers and a .986 OPS since June 1, but his strong arm in the outfield has been an asset for the Yankees all season.

For more defensive stars, check out Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems Mid-Year Special (11:30 ET, ESPN2).
Brandon Phillips
Phillips
Brandon Phillips helped the Cincinnati Reds to their first playoff appearance in 15 years last season, and has them in the thick of the NL Central race this season. He’s having his best season since 2007 when he finished 22nd in the NL MVP voting.

His .281 batting average is his highest in four years and his .339 on-base percentage would be a career high. His power numbers are down though -- his .386 slugging percentage and .105 ISO are his lowest since his first full season in 2003.

His increase in batting average can be attributed in part to his BABIP, which has gone up in each of the past three seasons -- from .277 in 2008 to .295 this season. He’s striking out at easily the lowest rate of his career (9.5 AB per K, strikeouts in 9.4 percent of his PAs) even though his chase percentage (28.1) is as high as it’s ever been. His infield flyball percentage of 3.8 is also the lowest of his career, and has decreased in each of the past four seasons.

Phillips’ power “outage” can be explained with his Fangraphs batted-ball profile. His flyball percentage is the lowest of his career and his line drive percentage is the highest it’s been since his 30-HR outburst in 2007. Of the flyballs he does hit, only 6.3 percent leave the ballpark. That number has decreased in each of the past four seasons and is just 60 percent of what it was last year -- and it would be the lowest since his first full season in the majors.

One of the best second baseman in baseball, he’s won two of the past three NL Gold Glove awards at his position and offensively, he ranks in the top ten in several important categories.

After his first taste of postseason action, and as he approaches his 30th birthday, Phillips is improving parts of his game each season and is a stabilizing force in the middle of the diamond and the Reds’ lineup.

-- John Fisher and John McTigue contributed
Today’s Trivia: The Boston Red Sox last started 0-5 in 1996. Which starting pitcher got the win to break that losing streak?

Quick Hits: Let’s dive into the two remaining undefeated teams.

Texas Rangers – 6-0 - Best start since 1996 (7-0)
• Timely hitting has been key. The Rangers are batting .320 with RISP and just .235 otherwise.
• Of their 30 hits with no one on base, 10 have been home runs.
• The Rangers lead the majors with 32 extra-base hits, while their 23 singles are tied for the fourth fewest.
• In the first three innings, Texas is hitting .217 (though six of 15 hits are home runs). From the fourth inning on, the Rangers are hitting .320.
• In three-ball counts, opponents are batting .114 with a .373 OBP. Last season, they hit .248 with a .573 OBP.
• The 1-2 hitters in opposing batting orders are a combined 8-fo-47 (.170).
• Over the past two seasons, Rangers starting pitchers have a 2.21 ERA before April 15.

Cincinnati Reds – 5-0 – Best start since 1990 (9-0)
• The Reds’ bullpen has a 1.29 ERA and has held opposing hitters to a .189 BA.
• Eight of the 17 runs allowed this season have come in the first inning, and the Reds have trailed going into the second inning in three of five games. After the first, Reds pitchers have a 2.03 ERA.
• The top three hitters in the order – Drew Stubbs, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto – are hitting a combined .406.
• Catchers Ryan Hanigan and Ramon Hernandez have combined for a .476 BA and 1.405 OPS.
• The Reds lead the league with a.339 BA. Take out the pitchers, and the Reds are hitting .349 as a team thus far.
• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, today’s Houston Astros-Reds game will be the first between a 5-0 or better team and a 0-5 or worse team since 2003. It happened three times that season.

This Date in Baseball History
1977 - The expansion Toronto Blue Jays began their major league odyssey with a 9-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox at Toronto's Exhibition Stadium. Al Woods, pinch hitting for Steve Bowling in the fifth inning, became the 11th pinch hitter with a home run in his first at-bat.

1979 - Ken Forsch of the Houston Astros pitched a no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves to duplicate the no-hitter tossed by his brother Bob of the St. Louis Cardinals against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 16, 1978. They are the first brothers to pitch no-hitters.
Jamie Moyer
Moyer

1984 – The Detroit Tigers’ Jack Morris pitched a no-hitter against the White Sox despite giving up six walks. It was the first Tigers no-hitter since Jim Bunning's in 1958.

Trivia Answer: Making his first start with the Red Sox, Jamie Moyer picked up the win to put an end to Boston’s 0-5 start in 1996. Moyer, now an ESPN analyst, held the Kansas City Royals to one run and four hits in 7⅓ innings.

Gold Glove for Pujols, CarGo but not Utley

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
5:06
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The National League Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were announced Wednesday; three players from the Cincinnati Reds, and two apiece from the St. Louis Cardinals and Colorado Rockies were rewarded, along with centerfielders Shane Victorino of the Philadelphia Phillies and Michael Bourn of the Houston Astros.

Troy Tulowitzki
Tulowitzki

Bronson Arroyo won his first Gold Glove by tying for the lead among National League pitchers with six defensive runs saved. Troy Tulowitzki, another first-timer, was second among qualified NL shortstops with, according to Baseball Info Solutions, 16 defensive runs saved.

Scott Rolen made the second fewest errors and had the second best fielding percentage among NL third basemen en route to his eighth career award. And Yadier Molina won his third by leading NL catchers in assists (15 more than runner-up Brian McCann) and caught stealing percentage -- a whopping 48.5.

The biggest question in the National League comes in the outfield, where Victorino and Bourn are joined by Carlos Gonzalez. The first two won their third and second awards, respectively, in deserving fashion. Victorino tied for the NL lead with 11 outfield assists and tied for fifth among NL outfielders with 11 defensive runs saved. Bourn tied for second in that category with 16.

Carlos Gonzalez
Gonzalez

Gonzalez did have five Web Gems and 17 Web Gem points, but he finished 23rd among qualified NL outfielders with -2 defensive runs saved. Another defensive metric from Fangraphs.com, Ultimate Zone Rating (per 150 defensive games played) had him 20th at -3.8 (behind teammate Dexter Fowler among others). In fact, we can’t find a stat that justifies his selection.

Baseball Info Solutions charts good plays and misplays by category. Gonzalez did not rank among the leaders in any significant good play defensive category by their measures. He did rate tied for first among outfielders in their category “Wasted Throw after Hit or Error” with five instances in which a Gonzalez throw led to another baserunner advancing on the play.

Reds rightfielder Jay Bruce made his case for a Gold Glove, leading all NL outfielders in defensive runs saved (17) and finishing second in UZR/150.

Brandon Phillips won the award at second base with the second fewest errors while leading all major league second basemen in Web Gems. But 27 NL second basemen had more defensive runs saved than Phillips did, including Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.
Chase Utley
Utley
Many believe Utley is long overdue for a Gold Glove, as he’s led NL second basemen in defensive runs saved in each of the past three seasons, including in 2008 when he nearly doubled the player who finished second. He was second in 2007, and third in 2006 and 2005 as well. And this season, Utley led NL second basemen in Plus/Minus, as well as Total Zone Runs as a 2B, Range Factor per 9 innings as a 2B and Range Factor per game as a 2B. The latter three came courtesy of Baseball Reference.

Notably, all four infield winners, including first baseman Albert Pujols, led the National League in Web Gems at their position. Tulowitzki was the overall Web Gem champion.

All rankings in defensive runs saved and UZR/150 are among qualified National League players at that position, and are taken from Fangraphs.
The Philadelphia Phillies rally from a 4-0 deficit with seven unanswered runs and take a commanding 2-0 lead over the Cincinnati Reds in the best-of-five NLDS matchup. This is the fourth time the Phillies have taken a 2-0 lead in a postseason series and in each of the previous years (1980 and 2008) they have gone on to win the World Series.

Philadelphia took advantage of several miscues by the Reds, who became the first team in major-league history to make at least four errors and hit at least three batters in a postseason game. The four Reds errors tied a Division Series record, and the three Reds hit batsmen tied a postseason record.

How unlikely was the Phillies win?

• The Reds had won six straight Game 2s on the road dating back to 1961, which was the longest all-time road win streak in Game 2s

• The Phillies had lost four straight Game 2s dating back to 2008, two games shy of the NL record

• The Phillies are the sixth team to win a postseason game despite throwing two wild pitches and committing two errors. The last team to do it...the Phillies in Game 4 of the 2009 NLDS.

Here's what else you Need To Know:

Brandon Phillips is the second Reds player to lead off a postseason game with a home run, joining Pete Rose who did it in the 1972 World Series.

• This is the sixth time that a Reds second baseman hit a postseason homer - Joe Morgan has three of the longballs, while Phillips, Mariano Duncan and Bret Boone now have the others.

Jay Bruce, at the age of 23, is the second-youngest Red to homer in a postseason game, trailing only a 22-year-old Johnny Bench who homered in both the 1970 NLCS and World Series.

• Bruce, who committed the game-turning error in the seventh inning that gave the Phillies the lead for good, was tied for the major league lead in Defensive Runs Saved among right fielders. (Defensive Runs Saved is a metric that combines multiple aspects of an outfielder's defensive ability: to turn batted balls into outs, throw baserunners out and rob home runs.)

Roy Oswalt got a no-decision and is now unbeaten in eight starts to start his postseason career, the fourth-longest streak all-time.

• Oswalt also allowed the first leadoff home run by a Phillies pitcher in a postseason game when Phillips took him deep in the first inning.

Chase Utley is the first Phillies player to make two errors in a postseason game.

Brad Lidge converted his 11th straight postseason save, the second-longest streak all-time behind Mariano Rivera's 23 straight saves converted from 1998 to 2001.

• The winning pitcher was Jose Contreras and the losing pitcher was Aroldis Chapman, both of whom hail from Cuba. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time the winning and losing pitchers of a postseason game were both from Cuba.

Real gems: Phillips, 'Tulo' and Longoria

September, 3, 2010
9/03/10
9:30
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Getty Images
Brandon Phillips, Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria have not only made differences in the pennant race, they’re atop the major league leaders in Web Gems.

It’s September and there’s a pennant race of a different nature taking place on a baseball field near you.

That would be the battle among individual players for the Web Gem pennants, like the one that Mariners shortstop Jack Wilson had hanging in his locker earlier this season after winning top honors among shortstops for 2009.

This year, there are three players who rate head-and-shoulders above the rest when it comes to our Web Gem scoring system, and each of them is involved in the real pennant race as well -- Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.

For those unfamiliar, fans can vote for each night’s best gem on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page on ESPN.com. Scoring is tabulated based on the voting finish from each day. A player and his team receive five points for a No. 1 voted Gem, four points for a No. 2, all the way down to one point for the No. 5 rated Gem. The results have been tabulated all season on the Web Gem Scoreboard.

At the end of the season, Baseball Tonight crowns individual position champions and an overall champ. Last year’s overall champ, Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, has not been able to duplicate his run to the title and will likely be passing the crown on to another honoree.

This year, in addition to its Web Gem tabulations, ESPN Stats and Info has access to defensive analysis provided by Baseball Info Solutions, a company that has authored two books on the subject, both titled The Fielding Bible.

That company has a group of "video scouts," trained observers who track "scouting data," compiling performance in terms of Good Fielding Plays (GFPs).

A GFP is essentially what we’d think of in Baseball Tonight terms as a "Web Gem Nominee." It’s one in which a fielder turns a would-be hit into an out, turns a double play quickly, robs a hitter of a home run, or makes some other sort of positive defensive contribution, above and beyond what would be expected from someone at his position.

Those numbers have also been tabulated all season, and it’s interesting to compare the top-rated players in terms of Web Gems and GFPs.

There are only two positions at which baseball fans and the folks at Baseball Info Solutions agree: With Phillips at second base, and Carl Crawford in left field.

If you’re not satisfied with the current pennant races, good battles abound for both Web Gem and GFP supremacy, such as:

• Center Field, where Franklin Gutierrez snatched the Web Gem lead Thursday with a No. 1 Gem for his third home run robbery of the season (he and Ichiro Suzuki have the most in the majors). He’s one point ahead of Dexter Fowler and two points ahead of Marlon Byrd. Byrd, for his part, is dead even in Good Fielding Plays among centerfielders with Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates.

• First Base, with Mark Teixeira and his three No. 1 Web Gems leading Albert Pujols. In GFP scoring, it’s Pujols who has a slight lead on Daric Barton of the Athletics. Teixeira is fourth by their scoring, trailing Joey Votto as well.

• Pitcher, where Mark Buehrle set the standard for Web Gem excellence on Opening Day. He’s the only pitcher in baseball with a No. 1 Web Gem and a No. 2 Gem, giving him a lead at that spot. Trevor Cahill of the Athletics not only is a viable Cy Young contender, but he leads Livan Hernandez and Bronson Arroyo for the GFP lead, with eight overall.

The battles for the overall championship both could extend into the final days of the season. Phillips has the overall Web Gem points lead, on the strength of a dozen total gems, but Tulowitzki is just one point behind, and Longoria is two back. The Good Fielding Play title may go to the best player in baseball, Albert Pujols, who is currently clinging to a slight edge on Mets third baseman, David Wright. Much like the real pennant races, it’s something that bears watching these last few weeks.

Strasburg faces toughest challenge

July, 21, 2010
7/21/10
4:31
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The ninth day of “Strasmus” – a.k.a. Stephen Strasburg’s ninth career start - has finally arrived, with the flame-throwing phenom set to take the mound tonight in the Queen City. This will be the toughest matchup of his young career, as the Reds feature the league’s best offense, leading the Senior Circuit in batting average, runs, slugging and OPS.

The twenty-first century version of the Big Red Machine – with an OPS of .779 that is ranked third in the majors - will be the first team that Strasburg has faced that has an OPS over .750 and is ranked in the top 10 in baseball. Prior to tonight, the best offensive team he had pitched against was the Braves on June 28, who entered that game with an OPS of .743 that ranked 11th in the majors.

While Strasburg has certainly put up some impressive numbers since his debut, like any other player, he is not without certain weaknesses. Here’s a look at situations where Strasburg becomes a rather ordinary major-league hurler, and how a couple Reds players are primed to become his personal kryptonite this evening.

Ed Wolfstein/ Icon SMI
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips is the best hitter in baseball against 95+ MPH fastballs in 2010



Strasburg is arguably one of the most dominant pitchers when he gets to a two-strike count. He’s holding batters to a .298 OPS in those situations – the best among MLB starters (minimum 50 PA) - and has struck out an incredible 61.3 percent of the batters he’s faced with two strikes, which is also the best in the majors and nearly double the league average rate of 37.5 percent.

However, he’s rather ordinary when opposing batters are able to put the ball in play before reaching two strikes. Before two strikes, he is holding batters to an OPS of .883, which is only slightly better than the MLB average of .927. One Reds player that could really hurt Strasburg here is Joey Votto, with an OPS of 1.313 before two strikes that is the third-highest in the league (minimum 100 PA).


Strasburg has also been nearly untouchable with the bases empty, as batters have managed only a batting average of .168 in those situations, the best among MLB starters (minimum 75 PA). Yet when a runner reaches first base, he becomes surprisingly vulnerable. Opposing batters have a .355 batting average against him in those situations, well above the major-league average mark of .274. Votto once again looks to be the man to exploit this weakness, as he is hitting a robust .394 with a runner on first base only, the fourth-highest in the National League (minimum 50 PA).


Strasburg’s reputation as one of the hardest throwers in the majors is supported by the fact that he has already thrown 60 fastballs with a speed of at least 99 mph – a number that is surpassed only by Ubaldo Jimenez, among MLB starters, who has tossed 83 99-mph fastballs. (But remember that Strasburg has thrown just 751 total pitches while Jimenez has thrown 2,044 pitches this season.)

However, his high heat has been somewhat hittable, as batters have posted a .237 average against him in at-bats ending on fastballs of at least 95 mph, which is only slightly lower than the major-league average of .247 on these pitches.

The Reds player to watch for in this situation is Brandon Phillips, who is hitting .650 (13-20) vs. fastballs of 95-plus mph, the highest batting average against these pitches in the majors (min. 15 PA)!

Be sure to tune into Wednesday Night Baseball at 7 ET to see if Votto, Phillips and the rest of the team can bring their Red Kryptonite to the plate and give Strasburg his toughest challenge yet as a major-league pitcher.

The Closer: Pair of Aces

June, 11, 2010
6/11/10
3:27
AM ET
Why Roy Halladay deserved better against the Marlins:

-The Marlins finished 0-10 against Halladay's off-speed pitches. A season-low 30.0 percent of these were in the strike zone, according to Inside Edge. However, 65 percent of them went for strikes thanks to a chase percentage of 42.0. 6 of Halladay's 8 strikeouts came on his off-speed pitches, which tied a season-high. 5 of them came on pitches out of the strike zone.

-Halladay threw a season-high 67 pitches in the outer third of the strike zone. The Marlins swung at 31 of them and missed on an incredible 14! The 14 swing-and-misses were the most Halladay has induced in that area in the last 4 seasons.


Why Josh Johnson dominated against the Phillies:



-Johnson threw a season-high 15 sliders in the middle third (vertically) of the strike zone, leading to a season-high strike percentage of 77.1 on the pitch. It didn't matter, however, as the Phillies were 0-6 against the pitch in that location and 0-10 for the game, including 3 of Johnson's 5 strikeouts.

-Johnson was lights out when he got ahead in the count. The Phillies finished 0-12 when Johnson was ahead. 7 of the 12 outs came off his slider.


Hitter of the Night

Brandon Phillips (CIN): 4-5, 2 R, 2 RBI, 3B

The Reds second baseman got his average above .300 (.301) for the 1st time all season after his big game Thursday. The Giants decided to attack Phillips with the fastball (18 of the 20 pitches he saw were heaters) and the plan didn't work. Phillips collected all 4 hits off the fastball and was 0-1 against a changeup.

The "fastball-only" approach is a unique one against Phillips. For the season, 58.5 percent of the pitches he sees are fastballs - nowhere close to the 90.0 percent he faced Thursday.

The 4 hits came on 4 different locations in the zone: down/away (triple), down/in, middle/in and middle/up.


Hit Tracker

Thursday's longest home run was hit by Texas' Josh Hamilton. The outfielder belted a 450-foot blast off Seattle's Ryan Rowland-Smith in the 1st inning of the Rangers' 12-3 win.

One2Watch4: Angels IF Erick Aybar

March, 24, 2010
3/24/10
3:15
PM ET
Erick Aybar is on the move...

After hitting primarily in the second and ninth spot in the order last season, Aybar is slated to replace Chone Figgins at the top of the lineup – which makes him One2Watch4 in 2010. So what can Halos fans expect from Aybar in the leadoff spot this season?

One key part of Aybar’s offensive toolbox is his ability to lay down bunts. Last season he led all major league players with 18 bunt hits.

Aybar’s overall speed and baserunning smarts will also be an asset once he reaches base from the leadoff spot. According to baseball-reference.com, Aybar advanced an extra base (more than one base on a single and more than two bases on a double) 62% of the time when possible, which ranked fourth among players with at least 550 plate appearances last season.However, there are several areas of Aybar’s approach at the plate that do not fit the typical high-walk, patient, disciplined profile of a leadoff guy:

" Aybar walked in just 5.4 percent of his plate appearances, the 17th-worse mark in the majors. The guy he’s replacing – Figgins – walked in 17.9 percent of his plate appearances, the 17th-BEST mark in the majors.

" Aybar saw just 3.47 pitches per plate appearance, the 16th-lowest rate in the majors. Not surprisingly, Figgins was one of the most patient hitters in the league, with 4.21 pitches seen per plate appearance, the 11th-BEST rate in MLB.

" Aybar swung at 36.3 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, the 5th-highest rate in the majors.

" Finally, Aybar’s first-pitch strike percentage of 65.3 percent was the highest in the majors last season.

Yet, don’t give up hope, all you SoCal halo fans out there. While Aybar chases a lot of pitches and often finds himself behind in the count, he’s proven to be resilient in those situations:

" Aybar makes contact on a whopping 79.7 percent of those pitches chased out of the zone, which ranks eighth in MLB.

" Aybar had a batting average of .314 after 0-1 counts, the 5th-best mark in the majors in those situations.

If Aybar can continue to use his speed to get on base and advance on the basepaths, while also improving his discipline and patience at the plate, he’ll be One2Watch4 as the Angels' new and exciting leadoff batter in 2010.

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