Stats & Info: Brett Gardner

Kernels of wisdom: MLB week in review

August, 12, 2013
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The Blue Jays' Brett Lawrie went single-double-triple in Monday's 3-1 win over Seattle, becoming the first Toronto hitter this season to even have a triple and a double in one game. Had he also homered, Lawrie would have recorded the Jays' first cycle since Jeff Frye on August 17, 2001.

In Tuesday's game, the Astros didn't need to steal any bases (although they did have two). The Red Sox-- specifically catcher Ryan Lavarnway-- were giving away bases.

Handling knuckleballer Steven Wright's first career start, Lavarnway was charged with four passed balls in the first inning alone, tying the major league record for one inning. It's happened twice before in the modern era, and also with knuckleballers: On August 22, 1987, the Rangers' Geno Petralli committed four while catching Charlie Hough; and on September 10, 1954, the Giants' Ray Katt did it while trying to catch Hoyt Wilhelm.


AP Photo/ElsaMatt Harvey threw his 1st career shutout on Wednesday against the Rockies.


Matt Harvey, on the other hand, threw his first career shutout (and first complete game) on Wednesday, holding the Rockies to four singles as the Mets won 5-0. He also went through a start without walking a single batter, the eighth time this season he’s done that. Only Bartolo Colon and Hisashi Iwakuma (with 10 each) have more walk-less starts this season, of any length.

Harvey also threw nine scoreless innings with zero walks against the White Sox on May 7, but got neither a decision nor a complete game because the Mets didn't score either and the game went to extras. Clayton Kershaw and Chris Archer are the only other pitchers with multiple such games this season.

He's the first Mets pitcher to have multiple starts of 8+ scoreless, walk-less innings since Jason Isringhausen in 1995; and the first with a pair of NINE-inning games since Craig Swan in 1979.

Thursday's limited slate brought us a matchup between Detroit and Cleveland at Progressive Field. Although the outcome wasn't in much doubt when the Tigers took an 8-0 lead after 3 innings, the notable part of the boxscore was that both cleanup hitters (Prince Fielder and Asdrubal Cabrera) had two doubles and two runs driven in.

Strangely, it's only the second game in the past 20 years where BOTH cleanup hitters have had at least two doubles and two RBI. The other occurred when Fielder "teamed up" with the Rangers' Adrian Beltre to do it on May 19.

On Friday the Tigers had their 12-game winning streak (which matched their longest since 1934) on the line against the Yankees and Mariano Rivera. The Tigers, however, countered with Miguel Cabrera, who launched his 34th home run of the year - but first in the ninth inning or later - to tie the game.

It was only the second homer Rivera allowed to the Tigers in a save situation. Bobby Higginson hit the other way back on July 6, 1999.

In Sunday's finale between the Tigers and Yankees, the visitors from Motown trailed by two runs after eight innings. Enter Rivera. Enter Cabrera.

Same result as Friday as Cabrera hit his 36th home run of the season. By doing so, he became the first player ever to homer off Rivera in consecutive at-bats, and one of just five players to have multiple homers against Rivera.

Later that inning, Victor Martinez hit a solo homer to tie the game, handing Rivera his third consecutive blown save. Something he had never done in his career to that point.

Rivera was still officially the pitcher of record when Brett Gardner hit his first career walk-off home run in the bottom of the inning. This was the 18th time Rivera has won a game after blowing a save, and the first since August 13, 2007.

Tigers finally get to Rivera but can't get win

August, 10, 2013
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The Detroit Tigers didn’t go down without a fight, but their 12-game winning streak eventually ended on Friday night with a loss to the New York Yankees.

The Tigers' bid for their longest winning streak since a 14-gamer in 1934 concluded on Brett Gardner’s walk-off hit in the 10th inning.

Below is a look at some of the statistical highlights from the game, one that snapped the Yankees’ four-game losing streak and handed the Tigers their 10th extra-inning loss. Only the Chicago White Sox have more such defeats.

The home run

Miguel Cabrera stunned Mariano Rivera with a game-tying home run with two out and two strikes in the ninth inning. It came just after Rivera made a nifty play on a Torii Hunter comebacker and after first baseman Lyle Overbay failed to catch Cabrera’s foul popup near the Yankees dugout.

It was the first hit for Cabrera in six at-bats (combining regular season and postseason) against Rivera, who has blown consecutive save chances within a three-day span for the first time since doing so against the Red Sox in 2005.

The Elias Sports Bureau noted it was only the fourth time that Rivera gave up a go-ahead or game-tying home run when he was one strike from a save or win and the first time it happened at Yankee Stadium.

The only previous time that Rivera gave up a game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium was against Mo Vaughn of the Angels in 2000.

Rivera had not blown a save chance against the Tigers since 1999. The blown save snapped a streak of 23 consecutive save conversions for him against them. In fact, it was only the second time in 57 regular season and postseason appearances that Rivera had given up multiple runs to the Tigers. The other was that game in 1999.

It marked the second time that Cabrera hit a game-tying homer with his team down to its final strike. He did so previously against the Kansas City Royals in 2010.

Cabrera's home run was calculated at 427 feet, the longest of 14 home runs Rivera has allowed at home over the eight seasons for which we have homer distance data.

It was the second-longest home run allowed by Rivera this season (Evan Longoria -- 432 feet on April 23 at Tropicana Field).

Gardner’s game winner


Gardner’s hit marked the fourth time in his career that he won a game with a walk-off hit, all of which have come in extra innings.

The hit came on a pitch that was off the outside corner of the plate. It was Gardner’s first hit against a pitch located outside the Pitch F/X strike zone since July 24.

Gardner’s 27 swings against pitches thrown out of the strike zone prior to the hit resulted in either misses, foul balls or outs.

Had the Yankees won 3-1 …


Had Rivera gotten the save, the story of the day would have been the fine pitching of Ivan Nova.

Nova allowed one run and scattered eight hits in seven innings, featuring a curveball that netted him six strikeouts. Nova has 23 strikeouts in his lpast three starts, with 21 coming against his hook.

Nova has a 1.60 ERA in six starts since July 5, sixth best in the AL in that span.

Top stats to know: New York Yankees

March, 6, 2013
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Brad Penner/US PresswireNo one has meant more to the Yankees the past few years than second baseman Robinson Cano.
Power might be at a premium for the New York Yankees, especially at the start of 2013.

In the last two seasons, Curtis Granderson hit a total of 84 home runs (41 in 2011, 43 in 2012), the only player in MLB since the start of 2011 who hit at least 80 home runs. But Granderson -- who is out until the first week of May with a fractured right forearm -- is one of several Yankees power hitters who are hurt or no longer on the team.

Of the five Yankees last season who hit more than 20 home runs, two of them are gone (Russell Martin, Nick Swisher), and two others (Granderson, Mark Teixeira) are currently hurt. (Robinson Cano, who hit 33 HR last season, is healthy.) No team last season relied more on hitting home runs than the Yankees (see chart).

Teixeira, who is out two weeks with a wrist injury, has seen his production decline each season with the Yankees.

In 2008 with the Braves and Angels, Teixeria’s OPS was .962; however, it has decreased each season with the Yankees from .948 in 2009 to a career-low .807 in 2012.

Cano Continues To Get Better
What the Yankees do have is Cano, who demonstrated more plate discipline last season and lost nothing off his contact rate or power. Cano’s OBP, slugging percentage, home runs and walk rate all increased from 2011 to 2012, and his chase percent decreased. (Chase percent is the frequency of swings at pitches outside the strike zone.)

In the three seasons since the Yankees' last World Series title, Cano has taken over the mantle as New York’s most important position player. From 2010-12, Cano’s Wins Above Replacement is 21.2. Granderson is a distant second at 12.1.

As excited as Yankee fans are to see the return of closer Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner’s return to the everyday lineup is one that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially on defense. Gardner is +59 in Defensive Runs Saved since the start of 2010. That’s the most among outfielders and eight more than Michael Bourn, despite the fact that Gardner has played 1,341 fewer innings than Bourn over that span.

On the bases, Gardner stole a career-high 49 bases in 2011. In 2012, Ichiro Suzuki led the team with just 14.

As for Jeter, he starts the season 10th on the all-time hits list with 3,304 but should move up the list quickly early in the season. He's 10 hits shy of Eddie Collins for ninth and 15 back of Paul Molitor for eighth all time.

Molina, Ellsbury golden with the glove

November, 1, 2011
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US Presswire
The strong defensive efforts made by Matt Kemp and Jacoby Ellsbury won them Gold Gloves in 2011.
On Tuesday night, ESPN and Rawlings announced the Gold Glove Award winners for 2011. There were 18 players selected for Gold Gloves and nine of them were first-time winners. Here's a closer look at some notable selections this year:

National League
• St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove. The last National League catcher to win four straight Gold Glove was Charles Johnson, from 1995 to 1998.

Video review by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS), a company that charts every pitch of every game, showed that Molina led the majors in blocks of pitches that were in the dirt with 657.

• The Los Angeles Dodgers outfield duo of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier each won Gold Gloves, with Kemp netting his second and Ethier his first. They’re the first pair of outfield teammates to win Gold Glove Awards in the National League since Andruw Jones and Jeff Francoeur for the 2007 Braves. It’s also the first time Dodgers outfielders have won Gold Gloves in the same season.

• Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco became the second player to win Gold Gloves at multiple positions, joining Darin Erstad, who won as both an outfielder and first baseman. Polanco also won twice previously as a second baseman.

Polanco, in his second season at third base for the Phillies, saw his errors increase from five in 2010 to eight in 2011. However, a closer look at his defensive skills using advanced metrics shows that he actually made big strides in his defensive play this year.

Polanco finished second to San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval in defensive runs saved, a stat devised by sabermetricians Bill James and John Dewan that measures a third baseman’s ability to turn batted balls into outs and defend bunts.

Polanco really improved in turning grounders into outs. Specifically he was much better on balls hit into the areas where third basemen most frequently field balls and balls hit down the third-base line. According to the plus-minus system from BIS, Polanco went from saving five total bases on balls hit to those spots in 2010 to saving 23 bases this year.

American League
• Boston Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury became the first Red Sox outfielder to win a Gold Glove Award since Ellis Burks in 1990. Like Polanco, Ellsbury made a significant statistical jump in his defensive performance from 2009 (his last healthy season) to 2011.

In 2009, he finished near the bottom among center fielders in defensive runs saved, which for outfielders measures their effectiveness at turning batted balls into outs and the value of his throwing arm as a baserunner deterrent. Ellsbury’s defense cost the Red Sox nine runs in 2009, but saved them six runs in 2011, tied for sixth-best in the American League.

• One of the more intriguing selections was in left field where Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon became the first Royals outfielder to win a Gold Glove Award since Jermaine Dye in 2000.

Gordon won on the strength of his major league-best 20 outfield assists, a Royals record and eight more than any other left fielder. However, Gordon’s win deprived New York Yankees leftfielder Brett Gardner of his first Gold Glove Award.

Gardner tied for the major-league lead in defensive runs saved, saving the Yankees 22 runs with his defense. Video review by scouts at BIS also showed Gardner leading all left fielders in “Good Fielding Plays,” which are similar to Web Gem nominees.
The story of the season has been Red Sox domination. It's the difference in the AL East race. With the Yankees traveling to Fenway Park to take on the Red Sox, it's time to break down how the season series has gone so far.

Here are some highlights about the head-to-head series:

• The Yankees will be trying to snap a seven-game losing streak in the series. That’s tied for the third-longest losing streak for the Yankees in the rivalry, behind only a nine-game streak from 2008-09 and a 17-game streak from 1911-12.

• The Yankee starters have struggled, with a 8.18 ERA in the nine games. The losers in the eight losses were mostly the pitchers upon whom they usually rely: Bartolo Colon (twice), CC Sabathia (3 times), Freddy Garcia (twice), A.J. Burnett (once).

• Sabathia is 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA vs the Red Sox this year (he’s 15-2 vs everyone else). In 2010, he was 1-0 with a 3.96 ERA, and in 2009, he was 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA.

• However, the Red Sox pitchers have held them to a .208 batting average with runners in scoring position. In three of the games, they failed to get a hit with runners in scoring position (0-3 on April 10, 0-10 on May 14, 0-7 on June 9), and in another game they got just one hit (1-7 on May 13).

• The Red Sox shut down the Yankee lefties (and when their switch-hitters hit lefty). Red Sox pitchers held Yankees left-handed batters to a .207 BA.

• Yankees were shut out twice in nine games; they have been shut out just three times otherwise.

Notable Yankees mediocrity:

Nick Swisher .188, 8 K
Brett Gardner .167, double and triple
Mark Teixeira .121 (4-33), 11 K, 0 XBH

Notable Red Sox standouts:

Dustin Pedroia: .500 (15-30), 4 doubles, 8 walks
Jacoby Ellsbury .371, 3 SB, 4 doubles
David Ortiz .324, 3 HR, 4 doubles, 9 RBI

• We should note that Pedroia was the AL Player of the Month for July. He led the Majors with 46 hits, the most hits for a Red Sox player during July of any season since 1939, when 3 future Hall of Famers each collected more: Bobby Doerr (52), Ted Williams (48) and Jimmie Foxx (47) (Elias). Pedroia also led Major Leaguers in total bases (81), tied for first in runs (27) and extra-base hits (18), and posted the second-best AVG in the ML at .411 (112 AB).

Derek Jeter: Return to Form?

• Derek Jeter has picked it up after getting his 3,000th hit on July 9. Jeter has four career five-hit games and two of them have come within the last four weeks. His numbers since July 10 are more in line with his career numbers.

The Setup Men: David Robertson and Daniel Bard

• David Robertson has better numbers vs opposite-handed batters (LHB) than same-handed batters (RHB) this year. His .169 BA vs LHB is fourth-best among AL RHP (min. 75 batters faced), while his 43 K vs LHB are the most among RHP relievers.

• He has yet to allow a run on the road in 20 appearances (21 1/3 IP).

• He has yet to allow a HR in 42 1/3 IP (most IP of any AL reliever who hasn’t allowed a HR yet this season).

• Opponents are 1-12 (.083) with 10 K with the bases loaded.

• Daniel Bard has been more effective vs righties this season. His .117 opponent BA vs RHB is the lowest among AL pitchers (min. 75 batters faced).

• Prior to allowing three runs in his last outing on August 1, Bard had made 25 straight scoreless appearances (since May 27), spanning 26 1/3 IP. During the streak, opponents hit .125 vs him, and RHB were 3-40 (.075).

• It was the most consecutive scoreless outings in Red Sox history. It was the longest streak of scoreless IP in a single season by a Red Sox pitcher since Bob Stanley had a 27-inning streak in 1980.

• Yankees are 1-14 (.071) against him this season.

• His opponent BA w/RISP of .133 is fifth-best in AL (min. 50 batters faced).

• He’s pitched on zero days rest 18 times, tied for the most in the AL.

Floyd looks to stay hot against Yankees

August, 3, 2011
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A.J. Burnett faces Gavin Floyd when the New York Yankees visit the Chicago White Sox. Here are five things to watch on Wednesday Night Baseball (ESPN, 8 ET):

• Gavin Floyd has pitched well over his past three starts -- especially compared to his previous six -- and his biggest improvement has been getting ahead of hitters.

He’s thrown 76 percent first-pitch strikes since the All-Star Break compared to 66 percent in his previous six starts. He’s also had success by throwing his changeup more often, in place of his slider.

• A.J. Burnett will try to avoid losing his 10th game for the second time in three seasons with the Yankees -- he lost 10 games just twice in eight seasons before joining the Yanks (in seasons with at least 10 starts).

Burnett has been fighting a disturbing career trend as his average fastball velocity has decreased for four consecutive seasons -- from 95.1 MPH in 2007 to 92.6 MPH this season. Not surprisingly, he’s using it less this season (58 percent of his pitches) than he has in any other season in his career.

Due to the decreased velocity, his changeup isn’t nearly as effective even though he’s throwing it at the highest rate of his career (10 percent of his pitches). And it just hasn’t been any good.

• Adam Dunn, who signed a four-year, $56 million contract with the White Sox in the offseason, is having by far the worst season of his career. Among qualified hitters he’s last in the majors this season in batting average, batting average against lefties, strikeout percentage and Wins Above Replacement.

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that if this holds up, Dunn’s OPS this season when compared to his career mark would be the largest difference in major league history (among players with 6,000 career plate appearances).

Brett Gardner
Gardner
• With Derek Jeter starting slowly and spending time on the DL, there’s been debate about who should lead off for the Yankees. It’ll be interesting to see who hits there tonight. Brett Gardner is the popular choice because of his speed and it appears that the team performs better with him at the top of the lineup -- but HE hits better when he’s anywhere else in the order.

The Yanks score 5.6 runs per game and hit .270 when Gardner leads off but score just 5.1 runs per game and hit .260 with him lower in the order. Gardner’s batting average and on-base percentage are both 100 points higher when he bats anywhere from 2-9 than when he hits first.

• If the White Sox fall behind, this game will be over. Chicago has 16 comeback wins this season, tied for third-fewest in the majors. The Yankees only have 18 comeback losses, tied for third-fewest in baseball.

Along the same lines, don’t expect much late-inning drama. Both teams have just three walk-off wins this season, only the Rockies have fewer. As for walk-off losses, the Yankees have three and the White Sox have five -- only the Red Sox (one) have fewer than New York.
Today’s Trivia: On Monday, the Los Angeles Angels' Jered Weaver looks to become the first American League pitcher since Zack Greinke in 2009 to win each of his first six starts. Who was the last American League pitcher to lose each of his first six starts in a season?

Jered Weaver
Weaver
Weaver is off to one of the hottest starts in the American League, but there are several others who are not:

• The New York Yankees' Brett Gardner is hitting .140, which ranks last among 187 qualifying hitters. He’s 0-for-21 with 10 strikeouts on at-bats ending in an off-speed pitch.

• Gardner’s teammate Nick Swisher is 4-for-43 (.093) against right-handed pitches, a year after hitting a career-best .285 with 25 home runs against them.

• As a member of the Washington Nationals last season, Adam Dunn hit .314 with 24 home runs on at-bats ending in a fastball. In his first season in the American League, Dunn’s hitting .067 with two hits in 30 at-bats.

• The Chicago White Sox's Alex Rios is hitless in his last 20 at-bats, and has seen his batting average drop to .160. Last season, on pitches down the middle, Rios hit .392. This season? 1-for-12 (.083).

• The Angels Vernon Wells is 1-for-29 (.034) with two strikes in the count.

• Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury already has struck out looking 11 times this season, tied for the most in the majors.

• The Oakland Athletics' Daric Barton is 0-for-19 this season on pitches located up in the strike zone or above the strike zone. Last season, he hit .315 (34-108) on those pitches.

• With a 29.4 swing percent, Cleveland Indians catcher Carlos Santana has been swinging at fewer pitches than anyone else in the league. (He was at 38.7 last season.) But the bigger discrepancy is his swing percent at pitches in the strike zone. Last season it was 61.9. In 2011, it’s just 47.2, fifth lowest in the majors.

Sunday was Derek Jeter’s first four-hit game before the month of May since April 9, 2001, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Jeter now has 36 four-hit games in his career, tied for third among Yankees in the Live Ball era (since 1920). Lou Gehrig has the most with 53 followed by Earle Combs’ 37.

Staying with the Yankees, A.J. Burnett is 8-0 in the month of April as a member of the Yankees, and 18-24 after April. The Yankees will be facing Phil Humber tonight at Yankee Stadium. Opponents are hitting just .061 (2-33) against Humber’s off-speed pitches this season.

Trivia Answer: In 2007, Jered’s brother Jeff Weaver was 0-6 after six starts for the Seattle Mariners.
Cliff Lee turned in a performance for the ages on Monday, holding the Yankees to just two hits over eight innings while striking out 13 to give the Rangers a 2-1 series lead in the American League Championship Series. While the 8-0 victory was a team affair, the superlatives regarding Lee’s performance are many. Here are our five favorites:

1 -- Lee lowered his postseason ERA to 1.26, the third-lowest mark for anyone with at least five postseason starts, behind only Sandy Koufax and Christy Mathewson.

2 -- His 13 strikeouts tied his career-high and marked the third-most vs the Yankees in a postseason game.

3 -- He now has six consecutive starts of seven innings and a win, one behind the all-time record (Bob Gibson).

4 -- Lee now has three straight postseason starts with at least 10 strikeouts, tying the all-time record.

5 -- Lee’s five career 10+ strikeout games in the postseason is tied for the all-time record with Randy Johnson and Bob Gibson.

On the other side of the fence, the performance was an all-time low for the Yankees:

The three baserunners for the Yankees is the fewest they've ever had in a postseason game. They had four baserunners in Game 2 of the 2001 World Series and in Game 4 of the 1958 World Series.

The two hits recorded by the Yankees ties the fewest in their postseason history. It happened twice before - the 2001 ALDS Game 3 vs Oakland Athletics and the 1958 World Series, Game 4, vs the Milwaukee Braves.

The 8-0 shutout loss marks the worst shutout loss for the Yankees in their postseason history.

The Rangers have outscored the Yankees 20-8 in this series, including 14-2 before the seventh inning. The Rangers have led 25 innings while the Yankees have led only two.

The Yankees 1-through-6 hitters were 0-20 with 10 strikeouts in Game 3.

How Cliff Lee dominated the Yankees:
Lee relied on his cutter yet again, continuing the trend from Game 5 of the ALDS against the Rays. Lee threw 41 cutters in Game 5 and 37 on Monday against the Yankees, the most he's thrown in any two starts this year.

The Yankees have struggled against Lee's cutter all season. Before Jorge Posada's single broke up Lee's no-hit bid in the fifth, Yankee hitters were 0-for-27 this season against Lee's cutter. They finished with two hits (Posada, Gardner singles), making them 2-for-30 this year, including eight strikeouts.

Relying more on his cutter of late has helped Lee miss more bats. The Yankees swung-and-missed on 17 of their 57 swings (29.8 pct) on Monday, Lee's highest miss percentage in a start this season. He also recorded 17 swings-and-misses in Game 5 against the Rays. Nine of Lee's 13 strikeouts were swinging, tying a career-best.

Lee didn't pound the strike zone as well as usual -- an impossible standard he's set -- instead relying on Yankee hitters to expand their strike zone and chase. He threw just 62 of his 122 pitches in the strike zone (50.8 pct), his second lowest percentage in a start this year and well below his regular season average of 60.6 pct, which led all starters. He recorded eight outs on pitches out of the strike zone, second most in a start this year. All of those eight outs came with two strikes, and seven came via the strikeout.

Lee also mixed in more changeups than usual to keep the Yankees off balance. With hitters likely looking for the lefty to pitch off his fastball, Lee threw 10 of his 15 changeups in early in the count (first three pitches). The 15 changeups were the third most for Lee this season. Yankee hitters put just one of their nine swings against the pitch in play (A-Rod groundout).

Stats & Info ALDS Preview: Yankees-Twins

October, 5, 2010
10/05/10
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Al Bello/Getty Images
The Yankees have been a significantly better team with Brett Gardner in the lineup in 2010 than without him.

A capsule stat-based preview of the Yankees-Twins ALDS matchup.

Top things to know
When the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees get together for the 2010 ALDS, it will pit familiar postseason foes against each other. Unfortunately for the Twins, the recent history has been heavily in favor of the Yankees.

The last three times these squads met in the postseason, the Yankees have won: 3-0 in 2009; 3-1 in 2004; and 3-1 in 2003. In fact, since taking Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS, the Twins have lost nine straight postseason games overall. In those nine postseason games, the Twins have been outscored 52-28.

Both teams are dealing with critical issues entering the postseason, too. The Yankees starting pitching aside from Sabathia has been a mess over the last month. Phil Hughes (2-2, 4.67 ERA), A.J. Burnett (1-3, 5.60), Andy Pettitte (0-1, 6.75) and Javier Vazquez (0-1, 8.84) all struggled from the start of September to the end of the regular season. With reports that Burnett will not be part of the rotation, the focus turns to Pettitte –- who made just three starts after his return from injury -- and Hughes, who looked like a much different pitcher in the second half after going 10-1 through his first 13 starts.

On the flip side, the Twins will not have Justin Morneau for the duration of the postseason. Morneau was in the thick of the AL MVP hunt prior to going down on July 7 with a concussion. Morneau was so productive during his 81 games that he actually led the team in Wins Above Replacement, at 5.6 WAR, despite missing half the season.

Deciding factor
The Twins pitching staff and the Yankees lineup will be a clash of styles. While this is perhaps not surprising, the Yankees were once again one of the most patient teams in baseball, ranking first in on-base percentage (.350), second in walk rate (10.4 pct) and fourth in pitches-per-plate appearance (3.91). The team is filled with players who will work the count and take walks, enabling them to put together one of the highest-scoring offenses in baseball year-in, year-out.

However, on the flip side, the Twins pitching staff pounds the strike zone and does not issue walks. The team posted the lowest walk rate in baseball in 2010 (2.37) and threw the highest number of pitches in the zone (48.8 percent). Likewise, the team ranked second in baseball in fewest pitches thrown per batter faced (3.70).

The battle between the Twins stingy pitching staff and the Yankees patient lineup will determine the series.

Most interesting matchups
The focus will undoubtedly be on the best hitter for the Twins, Joe Mauer, and the best starter for the Yankees, CC Sabathia. With the Yankees rotation having more questions than answers entering the postseason, Sabathia will once again be relied upon heavily to not only win his starts, but to soak up innings. Without Morneau, Mauer’s offensive production will continue to be vital.

The fact this is a lefty-lefty matchup adds intrigue. Mauer was substantially worse against left-handed pitchers this season, to the tune of a 93-point drop in batting average (.365 to .272), a 100-point drop in on-base percentage (.442 to .342) and a 167-point drop in slugging percentage (.536 to .369). Meanwhile, Sabathia was equally dominant against lefties and righties (.678 to .649 OPS), but the noteworthy point is that of the 20 home runs that Sabathia allowed during the regular season, only four came against left-handed batters.

Over their careers, Mauer has posted a meager .217/.280/.261 line against Sabathia, with five hits (one extra base hit) and nine strikeouts in 23 at-bats.

Statistical secrets
While Robinson Cano is a legitimate MVP candidate in the American League thanks to strong defense and elite offensive production at an up-the-middle position, Brett Gardner is the Yankees’ unsung hero. Gardner embodies what makes the Yankees so difficult to pitch to, according to Baseball Prospectus. Gardner’s 4.61 pitches-per-plate-appearance mark for 2010 is the highest mark in the database going back to 1988. Whose record did he surpass? Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson’s 4.54 mark in 1994.

Gardner also ranked second on the Yankees offense in Wins Above Replacement at 5.4 -– ahead of such stars as Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter – and fourth on the team in Win Probability Added.

SIG's Picks
Albert Larcada of ESPN Stats and Info did statistical analysis of the last 10 postseasons, looking for the factors that most separate winning and losing teams. He found three -- power hitting, front-end starting pitching, and the ability to turn batted balls into outs. Using his findings, he was able to make a projection. He gives the Yankees a 53.5 percent chance to win the series.

Rays sweep reeling Rangers

August, 18, 2010
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The good news is the Texas Rangers have a comfortable lead in the American League West (eight games over the Athletics and Angels). However, after getting swept by the Tampa Bay Rays, Texas clearly has some work to do with the postseason on the horizon.

• Against the division-leading Twins, Yankees and Rays (New York and Tampa Bay are tied atop the AL East), the Rangers are a combined 3-11.

• The Rays were the fifth team to sweep the Rangers this season, and the fourth from the AL East. (The Boston Red Sox are the only team in that division that hasn’t swept Texas.)

• How much do the Rangers miss second baseman Ian Kinsler? They were 59-41 before he went on the disabled list with a groin injury. In the 19 games the Rangers have played without Kinsler, they're just 8-11.

• Except for the month of June when they went 21-6, the Rangers have been a .500 club (46-46), including 6-9 in August.

NOTABLES FROM WEDNESDAY:
• The New York Yankees are 7-1 this season when Brett Gardner is the lead-off hitter, outscoring their opponents 42-19. Gardner is 12-for-31 (.387 BA) with eight runs scored and three walks in those games. He's also started six of those eight games by getting on base in the 1st inning (Jeremy Bonderman hit Gardner with a pitch in the first inning on Wednesday). The Yankees have scored in the first inning in five of those eight games, totaling 11 runs.

• Holding onto a 3-2 lead against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Milwaukee Brewers' Trevor Hoffman was brought in with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Hoffman proceeded to strike out Brendan Ryan on three pitches. According to Baseball-Reference.com, batters are now 0-8 against Hoffman in situations where he’s pitching in a game with a 1-run lead and the bases loaded in the 9th inning or later.

• Despite blowing a three-run lead in the top of the ninth inning, the A’s came back in the bottom of the inning to win 5-4. Oakland is now 51-0 this season when leading after eight innings. Only the Yankees have more wins without a loss (64-0) when leading after eight.

• The Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera has now hit at least 30 home runs in six of his first eight seasons. The only players who have had more 30-HR seasons in their first eight years in the bigs: Albert Pujols (8), Eddie Mathews (7) and Ralph Kiner (7).

• The Red Sox's Jonathan Papelbon became the first pitcher (since saves became an official stat in 1969) to record at least 30 saves in each of his first five full seasons. Papelbon also struck out the side in the ninth, just the third time in his career he's had a three-out save and struck out all three batters he faced.

• The Minnesota Twins' Francisco Liriano had pitched 78⅓ innings at Target Field this season without allowing a home run before the Chicago White Sox's Andruw Jones hit a three-run shot in the second inning. And while Liriano gave up his first HR at home, Joe Mauer went deep at Target Field for the first time this season (49 games).

• The Philadelphia Phillies' Jimmy Rollins was the first player since Nomar Garciaparra in 1997 to have a triple, home run and two stolen bases in a game. Also in that game, Jayson Werth had been hitless in his last 35 at-bats with two outs and runners in scoring position before his seventh-inning double scored Raul Ibanez from third.

• The Atlanta Braves are tied for the major league lead with 10 walk-off wins, and rookie Jason Heyward has accounted for three of them following his RBI single in the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals.

1st Pitch: Diving into 1st-pitch trends

July, 6, 2010
7/06/10
1:23
PM ET
Quick Hits: The importance of a first-pitch strike can be summed up rather simply. After a 1-0 count, the league average is .275 with a .827 OPS. But after a count goes to 0-1, those numbers plummet to .229 BA and .619 OPS. Let’s take a look at some notable trends on the first pitch:
  • Among starting pitchers, only Carlos Silva (70.0) throws a higher percentage of first-pitch strikes than Cliff Lee (69.0). So it should be little surprise that batters come out swinging. Opponents swing at 39.2 percent of Lee’s first pitches. The last starter with a higher rate? Johan Santana’s 39.7 in 2005.
  • Somehow Scott Downs has put together a solid season in the Toronto bullpen despite a 45.0 first-pitch strike percentage. After a 1-0 count, opponents are hitting just .217 against Downs.
  • James Shields has given up 34 hits on the first pitch, and is on pace to allow the most for the second straight year. Opponents are hitting .540 against him on the first pitch (league average is .339).
  • Shields has also allowed seven first-pitch home runs. The entire Yankees’ pitching staff has allowed just four.
  • Chris Carpenter has hit four batters with the first pitch. That is more than seven teams have all season.
  • As a team, no one swings at the first pitch more than the Blue Jays (33.2 percent) or less than the Red Sox (19.1). Not surprisingly, the Blue Jays have the fourth-worst batting average on the first pitch (.310), while the Red Sox are fourth-best (.371).
  • Of Geovany Soto’s eight home runs, five came on the first pitch. He has the highest first-pitch OPS (2.115) of any player with at least 20 plate appearances ending on the first pitch.
  • Pablo Sandoval has grounded into nine double plays on the first pitch this season. That’s more than six teams and almost twice as many as the Mets (5).
  • Brett Gardner has only swung at the first pitch 18 times all season and has the second lowest percentage of swings in the majors behind Franklin Gutierrez. Gardner has made those swings count, having gone 5-for-8 on the first pitch.
Today’s Trivia: Orel Hershiser retired 10 years ago today. Who is the winningest Dodgers pitcher since July 6, 2000?

Today’s Leaderboard: Given that no one swings at a higher percentage of first pitches, it should be no surprise that Vladimir Guerrero leads the majors with 22 RBI on the first pitch. Delmon Young is next with 21. In his career, Guerrero has 382 RBI coming on the first pitch. That’s 78 more than the next active player (Manny Ramirez).

Key Matchups: Zack Greinke is a perfect 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA in his career against the Mariners. Consider that the second, fourth and fifth hitters in the Mariners lineup are a combined 3-for-51 (.059), and it’s easy to see why. Chone Figgins is 0-for-16 against Greinke and hasn’t even walked. Meanwhile, Jose Lopez (1-for-17) and Franklin Gutierrez (2-for-18) have not fared much better.

Vernon Wells’ overall numbers (19 HR, .872 OPS) may have warranted his All-Star selection, but much of that is courtesy of an electric April. Over his last 25 games, Wells is hitting just .191 with a .651 OPS. Could Tuesday be the start of a turnaround? Wells is 8-for-20 with four home runs in his career against Carl Pavano. No other player has more than three long balls against the Twins hurler. Wells is hitting .600 with three home runs in his last 10 at-bats against Pavano.

Trivia Answer: Since the day of Orel Hershiser’s retirement, Derek Lowe’s 54 wins are the most in a Dodger uniform. Chad Billingsley could tie that total in his next start. Only the Pirates have fewer wins from their wins leader over that span. For comparison, Hershiser won 135 games over 13 seasons with the Dodgers.

1st Pitch: Pitches are piling up

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
12:30
PM ET
Quick Hits: With the epic Nicolas Mahut-John Isner tennis match shattering all sorts of records at Wimbledon, let’s take a look at which MLB players are working hard this season (numbers via STATS LLC).
  • Mahut and Isner combined for 1,894 strokes in Wednesday’s portion of the fifth set. That’s more than the total number of pitches thrown by a pitcher this season. Dan Haren leads the majors with 1,761 pitches thrown this season, 81 more than the next pitcher (Chris Carpenter).
  • Ubaldo Jimenez leads the majors with 110.5 pitches per outing. Since 2006, the only pitcher that has topped that number is Justin Verlander, who averaged 112.5 last season.
  • Wade Davis is averaging 18.2 pitches per inning, which would be the highest for a qualifying pitcher since Ian Snell’s 18.3 in 2008.
  • Jered Weaver is averaging 4.3 pitches per batter faced, which is just shy of Clayton Kershaw’s average from last season and the third highest rate over the last 10 years for a qualifying starter.
  • No one has seen more pitches than Dustin Pedroia, in part because only Martin Prado and Rickie Weeks have more plate appearances. Pedroia has faced 1,449 pitches. That puts him on pace to see 3,215 pitches this season. Since 1988, no batter has faced more than Bobby Abreu’s 3,159 in 2005.
  • Even though he swings less often than the average player, Pedroia also leads the majors in swings with 616. He’s on pace for 1,367 swings, just shy of Ryan Howard’s 2009 league-leading total of 1,385.
  • Brett Gardner leads the majors with 4.53 pitches per plate appearance. That would be the highest average since Rickey Henderson’s 4.55 in 1997.
Today’s Trivia: When was the last time two starting pitchers threw at least 13 innings in the same game? Who were the pitchers?

Today’s Leaderboard: Having issued more walks than any other team, it’s no surprise that the Brewers are throwing a lot of pitches. They average more pitches per game (158.0) and per inning (17.7) than any other team. The Rangers throw more pitches per plate appearance (4.0) than any other team. Contrast that with the Twins, who throw the fewest in all three categories.

Key Matchups: Manny Ramirez has traditionally fared better against lefty pitchers, but that has not been the case against Scott Kazmir. Ramirez is just 7-for-44 (.159) with 14 strikeouts against the Angels’ southpaw. That’s Manny’s lowest batting average against any of the 54 pitchers that he’s faced at least 30 times.

Alex Rios is 0-for-10 in his career against Derek Lowe. The only pitcher he has faced more without a hit is Mariano Rivera (0-for-13). Meanwhile, Lowe has actually faced three hitters more times without allowing a hit. It’s a pretty impressive group: Barry Bonds (0-for-11), Mark Teixeira (0-for-12) and Jason Bay (0-for-15).

Trivia Answer: On August 27, 1976, both Catfish Hunter and Frank Tanana tossed 13 scoreless innings before finally giving way to the bullpens. The Yankees wound up scoring five runs in the 15th to beat the Angels. No one has had an outing of 12 innings or more since Charlie Hough in 1986.

1st Pitch: A different player at home

June, 16, 2010
6/16/10
2:09
PM ET
Quick Hits: With Todd Helton and Joe Mauer in opposing dugouts this week, it has highlighted the fact that neither slugger has hit a home run at home this season. Some other intriguing home/road notes:
  • Denard Span is hitting .378 at home and .172 on the road. That .206 discrepancy is the largest in baseball.
  • On the other hand, Ryan Braun is hitting .370 on the road, but just .216 at home, the largest discrepancy in the other direction.
  • Chris Young has hit 10 of his 12 home runs at home. Paul Konerko is next, having hit seven more homers at home.
  • Nine of Justin Morneau’s 11 home runs have come on the road, while David Wright has hit eight more homers on the road than at home. Meanwhile, all seven of Ian Stewart’s homers are away from Coors.
  • Of Ryan Sweeney’s 28 RBI, 23 have come at home.
  • At .391, Martin Prado is on track for the highest home batting average since teammate Chipper Jones hit .399 at home in 2008.
  • Over the last 55 years, only two Yankees have posted a higher home batting average than Brett Gardner’s .385: Paul O’Neill (.409 in 1994) and Mickey Mantle (.387 in 1957).
  • Casey Kotchman’s .175 batting average at home would be the fifth worst among qualifying players over the last 50 years.
  • Jason Heyward has 17 more walks on the road than at home, the biggest difference in the majors.
Today’s Trivia: If Alex Rodriguez returns to the lineup against Jamie Moyer on Wednesday, it will mark the second time that a player with 500 career home runs has faced a pitcher who has allowed 500 long balls. The only other instance occurred in 1966. Who were the players involved?

Today’s Leaderboard: The best hitters at home this season? A pair of players that could find themselves playing elsewhere in a couple months. Who knows if Paul Konerko will still be calling U.S. Cellular Field home after the trade deadline, but for now Konerko is crushing the ball at home. His 1.201 OPS at home is the best in baseball, and is on track to be the best since Barry Bonds in 2004. Second on the list is Kelly Johnson’s 1.133 OPS.

Key Matchups: David Ortiz faced Rodrigo Lopez each year from 2003 to 2006 as AL East foes. In 50 plate appearances, he’s hitting .326 with a .932 OPS. That includes a memorable two triple game in 2004, the only in Ortiz’s career. However, one thing has eluded Ortiz against Lopez: A home run. Ortiz is homerless in 50 plate appearances, the most he’s faced any pitcher without going deep. Even stranger? Despite that .932 OPS, Ortiz only has one RBI against Lopez.

Alex Rodriguez is expected back in the Yankees’ lineup on Wednesday, and he’ll face Jamie Moyer in a matchup that dates back to 1996. They’ve faced each other 59 times in total, and A-Rod is a .389 hitter against Moyer with a 1.218 OPS. This will be the first meeting since 2005, but in his last nine at-bats against Moyer, Rodriguez is 7-9 with four home runs.

Trivia Answer: When Willie Mays stepped in against Robin Roberts on August 6, 1966, he had 529 home runs to his credit. In his previous start, Roberts became the first pitcher to allow 500 career home runs when Hank Aaron took him deep. It was Aaron’s 429th career home run.

One2Watch4: New York Yankees OF Brett Gardner

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
12:55
PM ET
Brett Gardner became a Yankee worth watching in just his sixth game in pinstripes when he hit a game-winning single to beat the Boston Red Sox 5-4 on July 6, 2008. Gardner was the third New York Yankee rookie in the last 30 years with a walk-off hit vs Boston, joining Yankees legends Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly.

Brett Gardner

While Gardner won the hearts of Yankee fans with his bat, he's made the biggest impact on the team with his legs.

Just how fast is Brett Gardner? Bill James developed a metric called Speed Score, which factors in frequencies and percentages of stolen bases and attempts, triples, and runs scored. In 2009, Gardner had the highest Speed Score among players with at least 250 PA.

Brett Gardner

Not surprisingly, Gardner has been able to use that speed to his advantage when he’s at the plate. According to Fangraphs.com, 16 percent of Gardner’s groundballs last season were infield hits, which tied him with Ichiro Suzuki for the highest infield hit percentage in the majors (min. 250 PA).

Brett Gardner

However, while Gardner has clearly mastered the art of the infield hit, the same cannot be said about his ability to bunt, as he laid down just one successful bunt in 11 bunt attempts. To fix this, Gardner spent a lot of time in the offseason working on his bunting skills: "That's the good thing about hitting off a (pitching) machine," Gardner told the New York Daily News. "You can bunt 50 or 100 balls in 15 or 20 minutes. No time. I've been bunting a lot, working on that more and trying to bring that back into my game.”

For a guy as fast as Gardner is, he also doesn’t appear to have taken full advantage of his speed on the basepaths. According to baseball-reference.com, he took an extra base only 42% of the time – barely above the league average of 39% - and scored from second base on a single just four of 15 times (26.7%), which ranked ninth-worst among the 177 AL players with at least 15 such chances last year.

You’d expect better from a guy who reportedly circled the bases in 14 seconds when he hit an inside-the-park-home run on May 15, and was named by Baseball America as the fastest baserunner in the Yankees organization in 2006, 2007 and 2008. That kind of excitement, (seen in the nifty catch he made in Wednesday’s exhibition opener), makes him One2Watch4 in 2010.

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