Stats & Info: Eric Gagne

Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw was able to hone in on the changes needed to go from good to dominant
The Dodgers may not have had the best of seasons in 2011, but their ace, Clayton Kershaw, had a season that evoked the names of some of the best pitchers in Dodgers history.

Kershaw is the Dodgers first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award since reliever Eric Gagne in 2003 and the first Dodgers starter to win it since Orel Hershiser in 1988.

Kershaw finished with 21 wins, 248 strikeouts, and a 2.28 ERA. The last pitcher to hit or better all three of those benchmarks in a season was Pedro Martinez for the 1999 Red Sox.
The only two other National League pitchers to reach these plateaus in the last 40 years are Steve Carlton (1972 Phillies) and Dwight Gooden (1985 Mets). The last Dodgers pitcher to do so was Hall-of-Famer Sandy Koufax in 1966.

Kershaw was the first Dodgers pitcher to lead the National League in wins since Brad Penny and Derek Lowe in 2006, the first to be best in ERA since Kevin Brown in 2000, and the first to top the leader board in strikeouts since Hideo Nomo in 1995.

Kershaw was 12-3 with a 1.93 ERA in 18 starts this season against teams that finished the year with winning records. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the only other pitcher with more than eight such wins this season was Ian Kennedy (9-2, 2.97 ERA in 14 starts).

Elias also notes that Kershaw closed the season with a flourish. His 1.31 ERA after the All-Star Break is the best of any pitcher in Dodgers history.

He and Justin Verlander each won the Pitching Triple Crown, the first time that had been done in both leagues in the same season since Hall-of-Famers Dazzy Vance (Dodgers) and Walter Johnson (Senators) won in 1924.

What made Kershaw better than he’d been in previous seasons?

Considering that the difference in Kershaw’s batting average on balls in play from 2010 to 2011 was minimal (.279 in 2010; .274 in 2011), what most made Kershaw dominant was his strikeout increase (from 212 to 248) and walk decrease (from 81 to 54).

That came from Kershaw changing the mix of pitches with which he got outs in 2011.

In 2009 and 2010, Kershaw was a pitcher who got 70 percent of his outs with his fastball. Last season, he evolved into someone who used his heater to get outs just over half of the time.

The big jump for Kershaw was in the increased use of his slider as his dominant out pitch (something we noted in August). It got one-third of his outs in 2011, a rate that was basically double what it got in 2010.

That was even more pronounced with two strikes, as Kershaw went from throwing breaking pitches 35 percent of the time in 2010 to doing so in 60 percent of his two-strike counts last season.

Kershaw’s high rate of success with his slider was evident in this stat: He struck out 138 hitters with his slider, the most strikeouts with that pitch in the majors.

The image below illustrates Kershaw’s change in approach. The image on the left shows the location of Kershaw’s strikeout pitches to right-handed hitters in 2010. The image on the right shows a much different look for 2011.

The red shading accounts for an area in which Kershaw whiffed 62 hitters last season, nearly double the number the number he had in that location in 2010.

Where Clayton Kershaw got strikeouts most often in 2010 (left) and 2011 (right)
Click here to create your own Kershaw heat maps and custom images

Roy Halladay
Today’s Trivia: The St. Louis Cardinals' Adam Wainwright (18-10, 2.38 ERA), who pitches tonight, and the Philadelphia Phillies' Roy Halladay (18-10, 2.44 ERA) have a good chance at 20 wins and an ERA below 2.50. Can you name the last National League pitcher with both of those qualifications who did not win the Cy Young?

On Monday, we took a peek at the American League Cy Young contenders. Today it’s the National League’s turn.

• There are currently four NL pitchers with an ERA below 2.50. The last time that happened was 1998. In three of the previous four seasons, there wasn’t one.

• It would not be unrealistic for Halladay to reach all of the following milestones: 20 wins, 250 innings, 200 strikeouts and an ERA below 2.50. Since 1975, only seven pitchers have done that. All won the Cy Young.

• Though wins and losses are certainly not great indicators of a pitcher’s effectiveness, the fact remains that they are key components in the minds of many voters. So too are losses. Consider that of the last 32 Cy Young winners in both leagues, only Pat Hentgen in 1996 had 10 or more losses.
Adam Wainwright
• Wainwright and Halladay both have 18 wins and an ERA under 2.50. Both also have double-digit losses. So how does 18-6 with a 2.30 ERA sound? Well, that’s what Josh Johnson could be if the Florida Marlins bullpen hadn’t blown seven of his wins this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the most in the majors.

• Both Wainwright and Halladay should probably have 20 wins already. Each has only two no-decisions, but all four of them should have been wins. Wainwright has a 0.62 ERA in his two no-decisions, while Halladay’s is 1.17. Amazingly, Johan Santana has a 2.10 ERA in nine no-decisions.

• At 18-6, the Colorado Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez leads the NL in winning percentage (.750), though he is just 3-5 since the All-Star break. However, the last four pitchers with at least 18 wins and six or fewer losses have won the Cy Young. The last to miss out was Mark Prior is 2003, a year in which closer Eric Gagne won the award.

• Will the stretch run eliminate the Cardinals’ candidates? Over the last month, Chris Carpenter has a 3.96 ERA, while Wainwright checks in at 4.50. Similarly, Jimenez is just 1-3 with a 3.51 ERA despite Colorado’s surge. Meanwhile, Halladay is 4-2 with a 2.89 ERA.

• In 2008, Tim Lincecum had the lowest opponent OPS in the majors. He did so again last year. Both seasons brought home the Cy Young. So who is it in 2010? Mat Latos’ .561 opponent OPS ties Lincecum’s 2009 number for the lowest by a qualifying starter since Roger Clemens (.544) in 2005. Clemens finished third that year with Chris Carpenter winning.

• Carpenter leads the NL with 24 quality starts, but five pitchers are just one behind. However, if you make the qualifications seven innings and two earned runs of fewer, a clearer picture emerges. Halladay has 18 such starts, while no other pitcher has 16.

Key Matchups: The Colorado Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez has nine career hits against the San Diego Padres' Jon Garland, three more than he has against any other pitcher. In fact, six of those nine hits are doubles. That means he has as many doubles off of Garland as he has hits off any other pitcher. He doesn’t have more than two doubles off any other pitcher. In his last eight at-bats against Garland, “CarGo” has four doubles and a single.

Facing a must-win series against the Minnesota Twins, the Chicago White Sox send John Danks to the mound. Though he leads the team with 13 wins, the White Sox are just 2-6 in his last eight starts. The lefty will have to contend with Michael Cuddyer on Tuesday. He’s hit .467 against Danks with five home runs in 45 at-bats. That’s two more home runs than he has against any other pitcher. However, all five came last season, as Danks has kept him in the park in all 15 at-bats this season.

Trivia Answer: The last five NL pitchers with at least 20 wins and an ERA below 2.50 have won the Cy Young. The last to come up short was David Cone in 1988, despite a 20-3 record and 2.22 ERA. Of course, the man he lost out to, Orel Hershiser, also had those marks with a 23-8 record and 2.26 ERA.

1st Pitch: Trends coming out of the 'pen

June, 21, 2010
Quick Hits: When Luke Gregerson walked Matt Wieters on Sunday, it snapped a streak of 118 batters faced without issuing a walk. The Padres’ reliever still sports the best BB per 9 IP among relievers this season. Let’s take a look at some other interesting numbers coming out of the bullpen:
  • Pedro Feliciano has already appeared in 40 games. With 19 games to go before the All-Star break, he’s on track to break Mike Stanton’s Mets record of 49 appearances before the break. Over the last 30 years, Salomon Torres’ 53 pre-break appearances for the 2006 Pirates are the most for any reliever.
  • Opponents are hitting just .104 against Jose Valverde. Over the last 50 years, the lowest opponent batting average for a pitcher with at least 50 innings was .133 against Eric Gagne in 2003.
  • The Astros’ Wilton Lopez has not allowed any of 19 inherited runners to score, nor have any of the 14 runners inherited by Joe Thatcher scored. According to STATS LLC, the best inherited runners scored percentage over the last 30 years belongs to Robb Nen, who allowed only one of 28 to score in 1994.
  • Mike Adams and Gregerson are tied for the MLB lead with 17 holds. Thus, both teammates are on pace for almost 40 holds, breaking the record of 36 shared by Tom Gordon (’04 Yankees) and Scott Linebrink (’06 Padres), according to STATS LLC.
  • The Padres’ 2.52 bullpen ERA is on pace to be the lowest since the 2003 Dodgers (2.46).
  • The bullpens for the Braves and Tigers are both 16-6. That .727 win pct would be the best since the 1998 Yankees bullpen went 28-9 (.757).
  • The Diamondbacks’ 7.14 bullpen ERA is on track to be the highest over the last 50 years –- and it’s not even close. The 2007 Rays had a 6.16 bullpen ERA. Opponents are hitting .304 against Arizona’s bullpen, which would be the highest since opponents hit .315 against the Tigers pen in 1953.
Today’s Trivia: The Yankees and Diamondbacks meet on Monday for the 10th time since Arizona took Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Only three Diamondbacks who appeared in a game in that World Series are still active somewhere in the majors. Can you name them?

Today’s Leaderboard: According to STATS LLC, the Padres have allowed only 15.4 percent of inherited runners to score, on pace to be the lowest over the last 35 years. Meanwhile, the Angels have allowed 48.2 percent of inherited runners to score. That would be the second highest in the last 30 years, behind only the 2003 Royals (48.7).

Key Matchups: Derek Jeter is a .448 career hitter against Rodrigo Lopez, whom he faced extensively as AL East foes from 2002 to 2006. That’s his fourth highest average against a pitcher he has faced at least 30 times. His four home runs and 11 RBI are both the second most he has against any pitcher, with five HR and 13 RBI against Sidney Ponson leading the way.

Jason Kendall has an 11-game hitting streak against Livan Hernandez dating back to 1998. A .353 career hitter against Hernandez in 26 plate appearances, the two first squared off in 1997, the only game in which Kendall didn’t get a hit.

Trivia Answer: Craig Counsell, Miguel Batista and Rod Barajas are the only active major leaguers who appeared in the 2001 World Series for Arizona.

Marmol on record-setting pace

May, 11, 2010
Most of the talk on the North Side so far this season has centered around the Cubs slow start. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez have stolen headlines with poor starts, the middle relief has been inconsistent at best and Chicago is five games under .500 and already looking way up at the St. Louis Cardinals. But in looking deeper one will find a fantastic start that has been overlooked.

Carlos Marmol entered this spring as the Cubs full-time closer for the first time in his career, not having to compete with the likes of Kerry Wood or Kevin Gregg for the job. So far this season Marmol has not disappointed. He has struck out 30 batters in 14 and 2/3 innings. 30 batters! That is a remarkable 18.41 K per 9 IP or more than two per every inning pitched. To put that in perspective, if you take all pitchers to throw at least 50 innings in a season, the record for K’s per 9 IP is 14.98 by Eric Gagne in 2003. That was the season in which Gagne saved 55 games and won the NL Cy Young award. Marmol’s current pace blows that mark out of the water.

Marmol has allowed just one earned run for the entire season and is holding opponents to a batting average of just .173. So what has Marmol done differently this season to put up such numbers? Well for one, his slider has been unhittable. This season batters have swung and missed at his slider 51.5 percent of the time, best in all of baseball. That is up from 34.5 a season ago. Players are chasing his slider out of the zone at 37.1 percent, up from 26.5 from a season ago. And opponents have a well-hit average of just .076 against the slider.

But not to be forgotten is the improvement Marmol has shown when using the fastball and with getting ahead of batters. Last year Marmol got a swing and miss on just 21.1 percent of his fastballs, but this season that is all the way up to 35.9. This season Marmol has thrown a first-pitch strike to 59 percent of the batters he faces, up from 50 percent a season ago.

All told, Carlos Marmol is primed and ready for a breakout season as the Cubs closer, if the Cubs could only get him save opportunities. Because, for all these impressive numbers, Marmol still has only four saves for the season.