Stats & Info: Gio Gonzalez

Kernels: First half leftovers

July, 20, 2014
7/20/14
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To bring you our weekly looks at baseball's interesting and unusual stats, we comb through every boxscore and usually research much more than can fit in this space. With four days off this week, we decided to give a second chance to some previous Kernels that didn't quite make the cut when they first happened.

April 2: Gio Gonzalez hit his third career homer, giving him one in each of the past three seasons. His homers remain the last three by Washington Nationals pitchers, and he's halfway to the franchise record of Steve Renko (1969-75).

Livan Hernandez homered in three straight seasons, but two were when the team was in Montreal. Similarly, Pedro Ramos homered in 1959 and 1960 for the Senators, but their move meant his homer in 1961 was for Minnesota. The last pitcher to homer in three straight seasons, all in a "Washington" uniform, is Walter Johnson from 1925-27.

April 24: Boston Red Sox first baseman Mike Carp pitched the ninth inning of a blowout against the New York Yankees. He didn't allow a hit, mainly because less than one-third of his pitches were in the strike zone. Instead he walked five batters, but thanks to a double play, escaped the inning with only one run.

He became the first Sox "reliever" to issue five walks in the same inning since Dean Stone did it on July 14, 1957. He's the first pitcher for any team to work only one inning, start-to-finish, walk five, and give up just one run, since at least 1921.

May 4: Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians threw another gem, working eight innings with one run, 13 strikeouts... and a no-decision. John Axford allowed three runs in the ninth and the Indians lost.

That made Kluber the first Cleveland pitcher to go eight-plus, strike out 13, allow no more than one run, and not get a win since Sam McDowell hurled an 11-inning complete game against Oakland on June 13, 1968. He lost 1-0 on a Sal Bando RBI double.

May 5: Yankees reliever Shawn Kelley walked four batters, scoring a run, before getting ejected arguing balls and strikes. Matt Thornton came in, faced one batter, and issued a bases-loaded walk. Preston Claiborne issued another before ending the inning. With all the runs charged to Kelley, he became the first Yankee reliever to allow three earned runs on zero hits since Ryne Duren did it in August 1960.

Yankee pitchers hadn't issued six walks in an inning since 1990. Only once before had the Angels drawn six walks in an inning: July 4, 1979, in a 10-run frame against the Oakland Athletics.

May 26: Clay Buchholz issued eight walks and recorded just nine outs against the Atlanta Braves. The Red Sox later got him off the hook, making Buchholz the team's first pitcher in 90 years to walk eight-plus in three innings and not lose the game.

"Lefty" O'Doul did it against Cleveland on July 7, 1923. After starter Curt Fullerton allowed eight runs, Lefty was summoned to pitch innings 4-6. He allowed (really!) 11 hits and eight walks... and sixteen of those runners scored. The Indians won 27-3, and thanks to several errors, 13 of Lefty's runs were unearned! His line of 16 R (3 ER) is still the most lopsided earned/unearned tally ever.

June 10: The Baltimore Orioles managed just two hits, with them coming from number-nine hitter Ryan Flaherty and a pinch hitter. Their first eight starters all went 0-for-the-game. Excluding the obvious situation of completely getting no-hit, it's the first time that's happened to the Orioles since September 30, 1988, against Toronto, when pinch hitter Jim Traber recorded their only hit with two outs in the ninth. Yes, that's the second of Dave Stieb's famous back-to-back lost no-hitters.

July 4: Christian Colon, Brian Roberts, and Andrew McCutchen all collected a triple and two doubles (Roberts had three) in their respective games. We touched on two of them here. But the last time three players did it on the same day? September 14, 1935! Rookie Ival Goodman of the Reds-- who led the NL in triples that season-- joined future Hall of Famers Earl Averill (Indians) and Freddie Lindstrom (Cubs) with that line.

July 11: Dan Johnson's line for the Toronto Blue Jays: 0-for-0, four walks, three runs scored. Four players this year have played an entire game with no at-bats, but Johnson was the first Jay ever to score three times in a game where he had zero at-bats.

For extra fun, it was Johnson's first game of the year; he had spent the season in triple-A until Edwin Encarnacion went on the disabled list.

Several dozen players have left their first game of a year due to injuries or substitutions, but Johnson is the first non-pitcher whose season debut was a complete-game 0-for-0 since April 17, 1934. Catcher Paul Richards drew three walks and hit one sacrifice for the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds.

Top stats to know: Nationals at Brewers

June, 23, 2014
6/23/14
4:39
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Tonight's matchup (8 ET on ESPN2 and WatchESPN) features a pair of first-place teams that rank tied for second (Nationals) and fourth (Brewers) in run differential in the National League this season.

LHP Gio Gonzalez at RHP Matt Garza
Matt Garza
Garza
Gio Gonzalez
Gonzalez

Gonzalez has struggled this season, posting a 4.62 ERA thus far. His ERA has jumped in consecutive seasons after his 2.89 ERA mark in 2012, when he finished third in Cy Young voting. He's looking to earn his first win since April 18.

His biggest issues have come versus lefties; they're hitting .316 with a .913 OPS against him this year after he held them to a .217/.613 line over the previous two seasons.

On the other hand, Garza is on a roll, having thrown five straight quality starts, tied for the third-longest streak of his career. With one more quality start, he'll match his total from all of last season (11).

Garza's dominance has waned in recent years -- both his strikeout rate and percentage of opponent swings whiffed on have declined for three consecutive seasons. In 2011, his strikeout rate ranked 12th among qualifiers; this season it's down to 69th.

Ian Desmond's Power
Desmond leads the Nationals with 14 HRs this season -- only Troy Tulowitzki (18) has hit more among shortstops. Desmond's 59 HRs since 2012 are four more than any other shortstop.

He also has five more RBIs than any shortstop in that span, but his production has come at a cost: His 347 strikeouts (23 percent of plate appearances) are by far the most of any player at his position.

Carlos Gomez Continues to Improve
In terms of Wins Above Replacement, no player in the National League has been more valuable than Carlos Gomez since the start of last season. Gomez has produced a 12.0 WAR in that time, half a win more than Andrew McCutchen.

Gomez has become increasingly aggressive on the first pitch, and to great effect. He’s gone from hitting .234 with a .383 slugging percentage on the first pitch (while swinging 39 percent of the time) back in 2009, to hitting .441 and slugging .763 with on a 55 percent swing rate on those pitches this year.

Ryan Braun Decline
Ryan Braun
Braun

Through his first 58 games this season, Braun is batting just .278 with a .815 OPS, both on pace to be career lows.

He simply isn't punishing pitches in the strike zone with anywhere near the authority he did in 2011 and 2012. He is slugging .595 on pitches in the zone over the last two seasons with a 5.3 home run percentage. He slugged .722 on pitches in the strike zone with a 8.4 percent home run rate in 2011 and 2012.

Shifting Perspectives
The Brewers have shifted their defense on 342 balls in play this season, fifth most in the majors. They are on pace to shift 720 balls in play, 182 more times than they did last season.

The Nationals are on the opposite side of the shifting spectrum. They have shifted on only 84 balls in play this season, the second-lowest total in baseball.

NL Cy: Can make case for any of the three

November, 14, 2012
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The NL Cy Young race is intriguing as the three finalists are very different in pitching style, but very similar in statistical accomplishments.

The case could be made for any of the three-- Clayton Kershaw, R.A. Dickey, or Gio Gonzalez. Let’s look closely at the advantages for each.

The case for Clayton Kershaw
The Los Angeles Dodgers lefty’s win total wasn’t as gaudy as either of his competitors, but he fared better in other traditional and advanced statistical measures.

Kershaw led the NL in both ERA and WHIP. One neat thing about Kershaw’s WHIP is that his defense helped in thwarting those who did reach.

Of the baserunners he allowed, 14 were wiped out either by caught stealing or pickoff, well more than Dickey and Gonzalez.

Kershaw also led the NL in highest average Bill James Game Score. That stat rates a pitcher’s start (usually on a scale of 0 to 100), based on innings, runs, hits, strikeouts and walks.

How did Kershaw thrive? Largely on the strength of his breaking ball. His 156 strikeouts on breaking pitches were 17 more than any other pitcher.

Lastly, Kershaw led the NL in Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement, a stat intended to show how tough it would be to replace that pitcher.

No one rated more irreplaceable than Kershaw.

The case for R.A Dickey
The New York Mets knuckleballer outdid his fellow finalists primarily in the area of accumulated totals.

Dickey led the NL in both complete games and shutouts, and led the majors in quality starts (those of at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer allowed).

He also won the NL strikeout crown by one whiff over Kershaw. That came about largely because of the improvement in his knuckler location. Dickey got misses on 29 percent of his swings against pitches in the upper half of the strike zone, up from a 17 percent rate in 2011.


Dickey’s biggest advantages over his competitors are his win-loss record (a .769 winning percentage) and that he demonstrated great control with a non-traditional pitch.

He averaged 4.3 strikeouts per walk, a considerably better rate than those of Kershaw and Gonzalez.

The case for Gio Gonzalez
The Washington Nationals lefty made a great transition from the AL to the NL.

Gonzalez led the NL with 21 wins, and though some may say that doesn’t measure pitching performance well, he has other numbers to back up his efforts.

They include the highest strikeout rate in the NL and the lowest opponents’ OPS.

Gonzalez thrived largely because of his ability to get opposite-handed hitters out. Righties hit just .199 against him, the second-lowest opponents' batting average in the majors.

Gonzalez’s ability to strike hitters out at a high rate and keep opposing hitters from hitting the ball out of the ballpark led to him also leading the NL in Fielding Independent Pitching.

That stat is an ERA estimator based partly on those two abilities that are key to any pitcher's success.

Wainwright's curve nearly unhittable

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
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AP PhotoAdam Wainwright (left) had a nearly unhittable curveball in Game 1, striking out 9 of 11 batters on that pitch that ended the at-bat. Gio Gonzalez (right) walked a season-high 7 Cardinals batters.
The St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals play Game 5 of their NLDS Friday (8:37 p.m. ET on ESPN Radio).

The Cardinals have won five straight winner-take-all postseason games, with their last loss coming against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 NLDS.

The Nationals are 1-1 in winner-take-all games, but both of those were played in 1981, when the franchise was in Montreal.

St. Louis and Washington will run Adam Wainwright and Gio Gonzalez out to the mound for tonight’s clincher. Let’s take a look at this matchup.

Wainwright’s key: Curveball
Wainwright’s curveball was nearly unhittable in Game 1 against the Nationals as they went 1-for-11 with nine strikeouts. In three starts against the Nationals this season, Wainwright has struck out 14 hitters in 22 at-bats with the curveball.

Gonzalez’s key: Throwing strikes
Gonzalez had one of his wilder starts of the season in Game 1, walking a season-high seven Cardinals while also throwing his second-lowest percentage of strikes.

For Gonzalez to be successful, he’ll need to throw strikes, specifically on the first pitch, as well as avoid the base on balls.

Did you know?
Gonzalez set a postseason franchise-record with seven walks in Game 1, which also tied for the second-most all-time in a Division Series game.

He’s the sixth pitcher in baseball history to walk seven batters in five or fewer innings in a postseason game. The other five are Ryan Dempster (2008), Paul Abbott (2001), Mike Hampton (1997), Mike Cuellar (1974) and Rex Barney (1947). Of these five, only Hampton and Barney had subsequent postseason starts, but not in the same postseason.

How Washington became National treasure

September, 20, 2012
9/20/12
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Rob Carr/Getty ImagesBryce Harper can look ahead to postseason baseball.

The United States has had 13 presidents since a baseball team from Washington, D.C., made the postseason. This year’s Nationals franchise is the first since the Senators did Franklin Roosevelt proud by winning the American League pennant in 1933.

Let’s take a quick look back at how and why the Nationals got to this point.

How they won
The Nationals have won all season, posting a winning record in every month.

They beat bad teams (going 27-6 against the Mets, Cubs and Astros) and good teams (going 13-4 against the Reds, Giants and Cardinals).

They’ve won largely on the strength of their pitching. They have the best ERA and the fourth-most strikeouts in the majors.

Four Nationals starters have won in double figures, and the rotation leads the majors in wins, ERA and opponents’ batting average.

The Harper impact
Bryce Harper might not have had quite the season Mike Trout has had in the AL, but he contributed in multiple ways for the team.

Harper has 19 home runs and 50 RBIs, and is only the second player to hit both benchmarks in the same season in his “age-19-or-younger” season (age defined by age on June 30 of that season). Tony Conigliaro of the 1964 Red Sox is the other.

The Nationals went 27-6 in games in which Harper drove in at least one run this season.

Unlikely standout
Thursday’s winner, Ross Detwiler, has won 10 games, has made 25 starts and figures to be a key for the Nationals in the postseason with Stephen Strasburg out of the starting rotation.

Detwiler has won partly on the strength of his work against lefties. Lefties are hitting only .161 against him in his 25 starts, the lowest opponents’ batting average for a pitcher in his starts this season.

Did you know?
Nationals manager Davey Johnson joined Billy Martin as the only managers to take four different teams to the postseason. Johnson also got there with the Mets, Reds and Orioles, winning a World Series with the 1986 Mets.

Magic moments
Wins to remember for Nationals fans came with the arm, the bat and the glove.

April 17 -- Gio Gonzalez sets the tone for a spectacular season with his second straight start of seven innings, zero runs and two hits allowed in a 1-0 win over the Astros. It was Gonzalez’s first win with the Nationals. His second would come in his next start, in which he allowed no runs and two hits again, this time in six innings.

Stat of the Day: Gonzalez was the first pitcher in Nationals history to record three straight starts of at least six innings, allowing two hits or fewer. Four other pitchers have had such a streak since the Nationals became a franchise in 1969 -- Nolan Ryan (1981 Astros), Al Leiter (1996 Marlins), Randy Johnson (1997 Mariners) and Damian Moss (2002 Braves).

June 5 -- Harper notched his first career walk-off hit as the Nationals rallied in the eighth, 10th and 12th innings to beat the Mets, a win that kept the team in first place.

Elias Stat of the Day: Ian Desmond drove in the tying runs for the Nationals in the eighth, 10th and 12th innings. Desmond was the first player with three tying/go-ahead RBI events in the eighth inning or later of a game since the Reds’ Art Shamsky had three against the Pirates on Aug. 12, 1966.

Aug. 7 -- Roger Bernadina made an incredible catch up against the fence in Houston for the final out of the game, preserving a 3-2 12-inning win against the Houston Astros.

Stat of the Day: Bernadina’s catch was the night’s No. 1 Web Gem on "Baseball Tonight." The Nationals rank second in the majors with 39 Web Gems this season, trailing only the Royals.

Getty Images/Gerg FiumeGio Gonzalez has dominated opposing hitters in 2012

One of the top storylines in the Sunday Night Baseball game between the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves 9 8 pm ET, ESPN) is Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez and his attempt to become the first 20-game winner in the majors this season.

Let's take a closer look at this pursuit:

Chase for 20
Gonzalez, who enters with 19 wins, is looking to be the second pitcher in Expos/Nationals franchise history to win 20 games.

The only other to do so was Ross Grimsley, who went 20-11 for the Expos in 1978.

Gonzalez could reach 20 wins and 200 strikeouts on Sunday, if he wins and strikes out nine hitters.

Five of the last six NL lefties to reach those levels won the Cy Young, the one exception being Fernando Valenzuela for the 1986 Los Angeles Dodgers.

If Gonzalez wins the Cy Young, he should thank the bats behind him. He’s been getting 5.4 runs per game, the third-best rate in the NL, and significantly better than either other top Cy contender: R.A. Dickey (4.9, 10th), and Johnny Cueto (3.8, 54th).

Road Success
Gonzalez enters with an NL-best 11 wins. Another win would give him the most by an NL lefty since Tom Glavine went 12-2 in 1998. Three other NL lefties have gotten that many road wins in the last 40 seasons (Ron Bryant (1973 Giants, 13), Steve Carlton (1980 Phillies, 13), and Tom Browning (1988 Reds, 13).

How does he win?
Gonzalez’s curveball is his most well-known pitch, but he’s made it a point to cut back on how often he throws it. In 2010, he was throwing it 30 percent of the time. Two seasons later, he’s dropped that rate to 21 percent.

That’s not to say that the pitch hasn’t been effective. He’s third in the majors with 76 curveball strikeouts. The pitch nets him six outs for every baserunner he yields with it.

In terms of location, Gonzalez is a pitcher who thrives in working on and off the outside corner of the plate

Of the 33 left-handed starters who have qualified for the ERA title, Gonzalez ranks third in highest frequency of pitches to the outer-third or further away from hitters (48 percent).

Since the All-Star Break, he’s upped that rate to 56 percent.

Gonzalez has gotten 177 hitters out with fastballs on the outer-third of the plate, or off the outside corner. That’s second-most in baseball (Bartolo Colon, 182).

Exploiting a weakness
The Braves are 56-34 against right-handed starters this season, but just 27-29 when the opposition starts a left-handed pitcher. Left-handers tend to neutralize the Braves lefty hitters, most notably Brian McCann (.233 BA), Freddie Freeman (.232) and Jason Heyward (.227).

McCann in particular can’t be looking to Gonzalez’s curveball. He has one hit (and 13 strikeouts) against curveballs all season.

Gonzalez’s pitching opponent
Gonzalez may be outdone by his mound rival on Sunday- Braves lefty Mike Minor.

Minor has the second-lowest ERA among NL pitchers since July 1 (2.39), trailing only teammate Kris Medlen’s 0.80. It’s a sharp contrast to April to June, when Minor’s 6.20 ERA was the highest of any NL pitcher.

What’s turned it around for Minor has been his performance against right-handed hitters. The chart on the right shows the improvements that Minor has made.

Minor and Gonzalez share a common bond. Gonzalez's .229 opponents batting average on at-bats ending with a fastball ranks best among NL starters. Minor's .241 ranks fifth.

Elias Stat of the Day
Only two pitchers from a Washington-based team were the majors’ first pitcher to 20 wins: Hall-of-Fame Walter Johnson in 1913 and 1914 and General Crowder in 1933, both for the Washington Senators.

Nats' power surge seen only twice before

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
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ESPN Stats & Information
Whether it’s pitching or hitting, the Washington Nationals are getting it done lately.

HITTING

On Wednesday, the Nationals became the third team in major league history to hit at least six home runs in consecutive games, joining the 2003 Los Angeles Angels and the 1996 Los Angeles Dodgers.

They’re the first team to hit at least 12 homers over a two-game span since the 2007 New York Yankees, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Two of those six homers were hit by 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper, his second multihomer game of the season.

According to Elias, Harper is the third player ever with more than one multihomer game in a season as a teenager, joining Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989 and Mel Ott in 1928.

• Harper is the youngest player with 17 homers in a season since Tony Conigliaro in 1964.

His 17 homers trail only Conigliaro (24) and Ott (19) for the most ever by a teenager.

• How did Harper connect on the two homers?

Both of Harper's home runs came on pitches in the outer third of the strike zone. He's been seeing more outside pitches as the season goes on. For the year, he's hitting .322 against inside pitches and .225 against outside pitches.

PITCHING

But it wasn’t just the Nationals' bats that earned them a 9-1 win over the Chicago Cubs.

Gio Gonzalez held it down on the mound. He’s the fifth Nationals/Expos player ever with 18 wins in a season and the first since Bryn Smith (18 wins) in 1985.

How did Gonzalez get it done?

• Gonzalez struck out six Cubs with his curveball and did not allow one to be hit in play. The Cubs missed on six of their 10 swings against it.

• Forty-seven percent of his fastballs were in the bottom third of the zone or lower, his fourth-highest percentage of the season. Gonzalez got 15 outs with his fastball overall, and Cubs hitters were 0-for-7 in at-bats ending with a low fastball.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Stephen Strasburg is the star, but it's the depth of the Nationals rotation that has helped the team to the best record in the major leagues.
Before the 2012 season, few people would’ve been able to guess what team would have the best record in baseball entering August 9.

Yet, there, two games ahead of every other team, are the Washington Nationals. Yes, the Nationals, they of the one playoff appearance in franchise history, that coming in 1981 when the team was still based in Montreal.

The 2012 version of the team has a 68-43 record, good for a .613 winning percentage. That would be the second-best mark in franchise history, trailing only the 1994 Expos, who were 74-40 (.649) before the season was canceled due to a players’ strike.

The strength of this Nationals team has been its pitching, particularly the starters. You might immediately think of Stephen Strasburg when you think of Nationals pitching, but it’s the rotation’s depth that will help in September and beyond.

Nationals pitching as a whole leads the majors in ERA, as well as opponents’ batting average and on-base percentage. The starters have been even better, with a 3.19 ERA, best in the majors, compared to the bullpen’s 3.40 ERA, which ranks 13th in the majors.

Strasburg is the headliner of the rotation, with a MLB-best 11.3 K per 9 IP, but he's at 127⅓ innings for the season and averaging about six innings per start. If 160 innings is his limit for the season, and he continues to start every fifth day, he's on pace to hit that mark Sept. 7 against the Marlins, nearly four weeks before the end of the regular season.

But not to fear, Nats fans. Even if Washington has to go without Strasburg to end the season, starting pitching will still be a strength with these four anchoring the rotation.

Gio Gonzalez
Gonzalez
• Gio Gonzalez: Gonzalez came over from the Oakland Athletics in an offseason trade, and his 14 wins are tied for the National League lead and just one off Jered Weaver’s MLB lead. Entering Thursday, he led the league in both hits and home runs allowed per 9 IP.

• Jordan Zimmermann: Zimmermann enters Thursday night’s start against the Houston Astros as Washington’s hottest pitcher, going 5-0 with a 1.65 ERA in his last eight starts. In those eight starts, he’s allowed more than one earned run just once, and he hasn’t allowed more than four earned runs in a start this season.

• Ross Detwiler and Edwin Jackson: These two round out the rotation, but they rank 16th and 34th respectively in the majors in ERA. Since the All-Star Break, Detwiler has a 1.93 ERA.

Washington’s pitching becomes even more impressive when you consider that no Nationals starter ranks in the top 20 in the majors in run support this season. Strasburg and Gonzalez also rank first and second in the majors in defense-independent ERA.

Elite young lefties in national spotlight

June, 21, 2012
6/21/12
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Howard Smith/US PresswireClayton Kershaw will try to end the Dodgers' two-game skid this afternoon in Oakland.
There are just six major-league games on the schedule today, but still plenty of intriguing games and ace pitching matchups.

Los Angeles Dodgers at Oakland Athletics, 3:35 ET
Clayton Kershaw is coming off one of his worst starts of the season, when he allowed five runs (four earned) on a season-high-tying eight hits in a six-inning no-decision against the White Sox.

Kershaw, who won the pitching Triple Crown last year, ranking first in the NL in ERA, wins and strikeouts, has not been able to replicate those numbers this year.

One problem is that his slider has been hit hard. He has allowed five homers on sliders this year, after giving up just three on the pitch all of last year. His percentage of at-bats ending in a well-hit slider has also more than doubled this season compared to 2011.

Tampa Bay Rays at Washington Nationals, 7:05 ET
A pair of elite young lefties square off in Washington tonight as Matt Moore faces Gio Gonzalez. Moore and Gonzalez both are two of the best in the majors at missing bats, each ranking in the top 10 this season among southpaws in strikeout rate and miss percentage.

Gonzalez, who is allowing a tiny .071 batting average with two strikes, is putting up historic numbers. Only one lefty starter in major-league history has matched or bettered his rate of 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings – Randy Johnson did it an amazing seven times.

Gonzalez has also given up just one home run in 13 starts this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one other pitcher in the last 20 seasons gave up no more than one homer through his first 13 starts: Jake Peavy for the 2007 Padres.

Minnesota Twins at Pittsburgh Pirates, 7:05 ET
The Pirates put the NL’s second-best home record and the major’s best home ERA on the line tonight in their rubber match with the Twins. The Pirates' 2.37 home ERA would be the lowest in a single season since the 1988 Mets had a 2.31 ERA at Shea Stadium.

James McDonald, who was roughed up in his most recent home start, still owns a 1.75 ERA at PNC Park this season and had pitched a quality start in his first six home outings before giving up three runs in four innings against the Royals on June 9.

McDonald’s breaking pitches have been nearly unhittable at home this season. Opponents are 8-for-58 (.138) with 23 strikeouts in at-bats ending in a slider or curveball at PNC Park. Lefties have fared even worse; they have just one hit in 23 at-bats (.043) ending in a breaking pitch at home.

McDonald will be challenged by Trevor Plouffe, who has nine home runs this month, second only to Jose Bautista. Plouffe, however, has struggled mightily against breaking pitches from righties this season, hitting .167 (6-for-36) with just one home run.

Nationals pitching has been more than o'K'

June, 9, 2012
6/09/12
11:00
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U.S. PresswireStephen Strasburg (right) and Gio Gonzalez (left) have racked up strikeouts in 2012.
The Washington Nationals starting rotation goes far beyond just Stephen Strasburg, with the offseason additions of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, as well as the return-to-health of Jordan Zimmermann.

The Nationals starters are well on their way to one of the great single-season pitching performances from a starting rotation, particularly in one category: strikeouts.

Gio Gonzalez will look to keep the strikeout run going when he faces the Red Sox later this afternoon at Fenway Park

Chasing a Mark
The Nationals rotation is currently striking out 23.5 percent of all batters faced. That would be the highest strikeout rate for a starting rotation in the Expansion Era (since 1961).


The Nationals are not just threatening the Expansion Era-mark for all MLB teams, they are on pace to finish way above their previous franchise best.

That mark of 19 percent was set in 1996

Strasburg/Gonzalez:
The New Schilling/Johnson?

What Stephen Strasburg and Gonzalez are doing so far this season merits comparison to that of another righty-lefty duo—Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson-- particularly considering it is those 2002 Diamondbacks whose record the Nationals are chasing.

Strasburg and Gonzalez have both done their part to this point, ranking 1-2 in the majors in strikeout rate among starting pitchers. Strasburg has struck out nearly 33 percent of the hitters he's faced. Gonzalez has struck out 31 percent of hitters. The next-closest starter, Max Scherzer of the Tigers, is three percentage points behind.

Strasburg and Gonzalez are on pace to be the first starters to strike out 30% or more of batters faced since Rich Harden in 2008 and among an exclusive list to do it since 2000.

Johnson and Schilling combined for a 47-12 record and 2.77 ERA in 2002, striking out nearly 32 percent of the hitters they've faced. Gonzalez and Strasburg are comparable, with a 14-3 mark and 2.36 ERA.

How They’ve Improved
While Gonzalez has made a number of improvements this season, one in particular that has helped with the increase in his strikeout rate has been his effectiveness at spotting his curveball against right-handed batters.

Gonzalez has reduced the frequency with which he throws the changeup to righties (from about once every four pitches to once every five), but the pitch has been very effective.

The heat map below shows the difference in location from 2011 to 2012. The chart alongside this piece shows the difference in his success with the pitch.

Gonzalez will be challenged against the Red Sox on Saturday. He’s allowed at least three runs in each of his five starts against the Red Sox, and four runs in each of his last three appearances against them.

Darvish whirls best with early strikes

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
12:51
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Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireeYu Darvish is tied for the major-league lead in wins after improving to 6-1 with a win Wednesday against the Athletics.
Yu Darvish picked up his sixth win of the season, tied for most in the majors, as the Texas Rangers beat the Oakland Athletics 4-1.

Darvish has struck out at least seven batters in each of his last five starts after striking out 14 and walking 13 in his first three starts. That’s the longest streak off seven-strikeout games by a Rangers' pitcher since Bobby Witt in 1987.

The key for Darvish has been the most important pitch in baseball – strike one. When he throws a strike on the first pitch to a batter, they hit .146 and strikeout nearly eight times as often as they walk. A 1-0 count leads to a .308 average and more walks than whiffs.

Over his first three starts, Darvish fell behind in the count more often than not. He threw first-pitch strikes to only 42 of 88 batters (48 percent). In his most recent five starts, he has upped that percentage to 60 percent (84 of 139). On Wednesday, he threw a strike on the first pitch to 17 of 28 hitters, right at his average over his last five starts.

This has allowed him to rely less on his fastball and slider and more on his changeup and curveball. In his first three starts, nearly half of his pitches were fastballs and opposing hitters hit .343 against his heat. He was forced to go with the fastball when he fell behind in the count, recording 11 walks and just three strikeouts on the pitch in his first three starts.

In his last five starts, he has used the fastball just over a third of the time while unveiling a changeup that he didn’t throw in the first three contests and increasing his curveball frequency from 11 percent to 17 percent.

For the season, opposing hitters have only 3 hits in 38 at-bats (.079) and have struck out 24 times against his curveball. That’s the most strikeouts that he has recorded with any pitch, even though it’s only the fourth-most used pitch in his arsenal.

Around the Diamond
• Adam Jones hit a game-winning home run in the 15th inning as the Baltimore Orioles won in Kansas City. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first major leaguer with two game-winning home runs in the 15th inning or later in the same season since 1988. That year, Mark McGwire hit game-winners in the 16th inning of back-to-back days in July.

• Also from our friends at Elias, Jamie Moyer became the oldest player to drive in a run in a game. Julio Franco was nearly six months younger when he drove in his final run in 2007.

• Gio Gonzalez gave up his first home run of the season after 48⅓ innings. He was the last qualified starter – meaning a minimum of one inning pitched per team game – to allow a homer this year.

Lee Singer contributed to this post.

Nationals walk off with wild win over Reds

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
8:46
PM ET

Most frequent pitch locations for Gio Gonzalez vs Reds on Thursday.
Click here to create your own Gonzalez heat maps
Don’t look now, but the Washington Nationals have zoomed to the top of the NL East following their 3-2, extra-inning win over the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday afternoon.

The Nationals improved to 5-2, their best start since moving to Washington, and also win their first home opener since 2008. This is just the second time in the last 15 seasons the franchise has won five of its first seven games. In 2001, the Montreal Expos were 6-1 after seven games.

The Nats took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning but Brad Lidge blew the save, allowing two runs on two hits and two walks. Lidge had allowed just one run over his previous 16 appearances dating to August of last year.

The Nationals won it in the 10th inning thanks to a wild outing by Reds reliever Alfredo Simon. Simon hit Ryan Zimmerman to lead off the inning and Zimmerman eventually came around to score four batters later on Simon’s wild pitch with Roger Bernadina at the plate.

This was the Nationals’ fifth win on a game-ending wild pitch since moving to Washington in 2005. Entering Thursday, the Nats had lost their last six extra-inning games against the Reds and were 0-5 in one-run games versus Cincinnati over the last two season.

Gio Gonzalez got a no-decision but deserved the win, tossing seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and just two hits allowed.

Gonzalez had success going low as Reds hitters went 0-for-11 in at-bats ending with pitches down in the zone or below. Gonzalez also did a good job finishing off batters, allowing zero hits in 13 at-bats that reached a two-strike count.

Around The Diamond
• The Minnesota Twins came back from a six-run deficit against the Los Angeles Angels thanks to home runs from both Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. It was the first time that Morneau and Mauer homered in the same game since July 6, 2010.

Matt Garza
Garza
• Matt Garza fell one out short of a shutout when he was pulled after 119 pitches in the ninth inning of the Chicago Cubs 8-0 win. Garza had his slider working, throwing 31 of them, as the Milwaukee Brewers were hitless including five strikeouts in nine at-bats ending with the pitch.

• The Detroit Tigers improved to 5-1 this season with a win over the Tampa Bay Rays. Austin Jackson scored a run and has now crossed home plate in all six games this season, the longest streak to start the season by a Tiger since Darrell Evans scored in the first eight games in 1986.

• Madison Bumgarner took a no-hitter into the sixth inning as the San Francisco Giants beat the Colorado Rockies 4-2. Bumgarner recorded a career-high 14 ground-ball outs (including a double play) with eight of them coming in at-bats ending in sliders.
Left: Where Gio Gonzalez threw his 92 mph fastball in 0-2, 1-2 counts
Right: Where Gonzalez threw his 80 mph curveball in 0-2, 1-2 counts
Click here to create your own Gonzalez heat maps

Each Sunday, ESPN Stats & Information provides a statistical recap of notable transactions from the week.

Nationals trade for LHP Gio Gonzalez
Gonzalez became known in Oakland for his nasty curveball. Over the past two seasons, he’s thrown his hook nearly 30 percent of the time, the third-most-often among left-handed pitchers. His 212 strikeouts with the pitch in that span are the most in the majors.

One thing that Gonzalez did last season was change his approach against right-handed hitters. In 2009, when he was ahead 0-2 or 1-2 on a righty, he threw his fastball only 25 percent of the time.

In 2010, he upped that rate to 35 percent, then upped it again to 47 percent last season.

By the end of 2011, he’d struck out more right-handers with his fastball (73) than his curveball (71), a dramatic swing from a year prior, when he whiffed 98 with his curve and 33 with his fastball. The heat maps above show where Gonzalez located his two primary pitches when in 0-2 and 1-2 counts.

The change worked, as noted by Gonzalez’s effectiveness in the chart on the right.
-- Mark Simon/Lee Singer

Reds acquire LHP Sean Marshall in trade from Cubs.
Marshall had a statistically superb season in 2011, his second straight strong year.

Over the last two seasons, Marshall has averaged better than 10 strikeouts per nine innings, with a strikeout-to-walk rate of better than four-to-one. He’s the only one of the 176 pitchers who threw at least 150 innings in that span to be able to hit both of those benchmarks.

Marshall’s combination of strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed was so good that he led the majors in fielding independent pitching (2.07 FIP) over the last two years. He was valued at 5.0 wins above replacement combining 2010 and 2011, the best for any relief pitcher.

What makes Marshall so good?

Marshall succeeds because he gets hitters from both sides of the plate out at a high rate. He’s one of three lefties to hold both left-handed and right-handed hitters to a sub-.600 OPS over the last two seasons (minimum 200 batters faced on each side) along with Jonny Venters and Clayton Kershaw.

Marshall does this primarily with his breaking pitches. He threw the lowest percentage of fastballs of any left-handed pitcher over the last two seasons (just under 40 percent), relying on a curveball and slider, the former of which has the biggest horizontal break of any from a lefty in the majors.
--Mark Simon

Twins sign Jason Marquis
The pitch-to-contact righty Marquis will fit perfectly into the Twins' rotation, which last season had the lowest swing-and-miss rate and highest in-play percentage in the majors.

Batters missed on one of every six swings against Marquis and put the ball in play nearly 50 percent of the time when taking a cut last year.

More than half of his opponents' at-bats resulted in a grounder (this was true for each of his three primary pitches -- fastball, slider, changeup), putting Marquis among the top 10 ground-ball specialists in the league.

Marquis has posted an ERA below 4.00 just once in his career as a full-time starter, and will be challenged to achieve that performance level this year with the Minnesota Twins.

In 2011, Minnesota’s infield defense cost the team 45 runs, the worst mark by any major league team.

The Twins did slightly upgrade at the shortstop position this offseason.

The four shortstops that accounted for minus-27 defensive runs saved in nearly 1,500 innings in 2011 will be replaced by 37-year-old Jamey Carroll, who had minus-5 defensive runs saved in 504 innings at shortstop last year.
--Katie Sharp

Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesCarlos Beltran is headed to St. Louis after reportedly agreeing to a two-year deal with the Cardinals.
After spending the past seven seasons on the East and West Coast, Carlos Beltran is headed back to the Midwest. Beltran agreed to a two-year deal with the world champion St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, according to sources. The six-time All-Star batted .300 and hit 22 home runs with 84 RBI last season with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants.

This will be Beltran's second stint with a team in the state of Missouri. He spent seven seasons with the Kansas City Royals winning Rookie of the Year in 1999.

While he’s no longer a borderline MVP-candidate, Beltran’s track record of productivity can be matched by few in the National League since 2005. Beltran ranks sixth in the NL among position players in Wins Above Replacement over that span.

Besides his offensive and defensive skills, Beltran has a history of excelling in the postseason. No player in MLB history with a minimum 75 plate appearances has a higher OPS in the postseason than Beltran's 1.302.

With Beltran joining the Cardinals, St. Louis now has the two best offensive switch-hitters in the majors from last year. Lance Berkman's OPS was .959 last season while Beltran's was .910.

Meanwhile, the Oakland Athletics traded All-Star pitcher Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals for four prospects according to sources. The Nationals receive pitchers Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Tom Milone and catcher Derek Norris. Gonzalez had a career best in wins (16), ERA (3.12) and strikeouts (197) last season, but also led the league in walks (91).

Few pitchers have provided a greater value for the dollar than Gonzalez. Over the last two seasons, 13 pitchers have won at least 30 games. Of those, Gonzalez has been the most cost-effective option, earning $26,613 for every win since 2010.

Gonzalez is under team control through 2015, but he's about to get more expensive. MLBtraderumors.com projects a $4.2 million salary in 2012, the first of Gonzalez's four arbitration-eligible years.

With the acquisition of Gonzalez, the Nationals now have three pitchers (Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann) who will all be age 26 or younger in 2012. They join two other franchises (Braves, Diamondbacks) who have at least three starters – all of whom were 25 or younger in 2011 - who posted a cumulative ERA better than 4.00 since the start of the 2010 season.
Today’s Trivia: When Bartolo Colon, 37, takes the mound Wednesday for his first start with the New York Yankees, he will be the oldest pitcher to start a game this season. Who currently holds that distinction?

Quick Hits: With some of the hottest pitchers set to take the mound, Wednesday sets up to be quite a day for pitching.

• Of the 34 starters scheduled for Wednesday, 11 have an ERA under 2.00 and nine are looking to start 3-0 or better. Eight of the MLB’s top ten in ERA draw starts Wednesday.

Gio Gonzalez
Gonzalez
• Gio Gonzalez, Justin Masterson, Aaron Harang, Jered Weaver and Matt Harrison are all scheduled to pitch. Each has allowed 1 ER or fewer in 6+ innings in each of their first three starts. (According to baseball-reference.com), the last pitcher to start a season with four straight such starts was Cliff Lee in 2008 (who did it in five straight).

• The last time multiple pitchers started the season with four straight starts of 1 ER or fewer in 6+ innings was 1998: Chuck Finley and Greg Maddux.

• Weaver (4-0, 1.30 ERA) looks to become the first pitcher in MLB history with five wins by April 20, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

• He faces Harrison (3-0, 1.23 ERA), who looks to be the first Texas Rangers pitcher to win each of his first four starts since Darren Oliver in 2001.

• Gonzalez (2-0, 0.47 ERA) faces the Boston Red Sox with the MLB’s best ERA. He’s boasts a streak of 17 scoreless innings and opponents are 0-for-13 with RISP.

• Masterson (3-0, 1.33 ERA) has held right-handed hitters to a .103 BA (3-for-29).

• Jaime Garcia (2-0, 1.35 ERA) takes on the Washington Nationals. In his career, he is 4-1 with a 1.17 ERA. In seven career April starts, he’s never allowed more than two earned runs.

Dustin Moseley
Moseley
• Dustin Moseley is 0-3 despite a 1.83 ERA. A big reason? The San Diego Padres haven’t scored a run in any of his three starts. According to Elias, the only pitcher in the last 30 years whose team was shut out in each of four consecutive starts was Arizona's Randy Johnson in June-July 1999.

• Harang (3-0, 1.50 ERA) draws the second start of the day for San Diego. He looks to become just the third pitcher to win his first four starts of a season with the Padres. Only Randy Jones (1976) and Andy Hawkins (1985) have done so. Dennis Rasmussen won his first four starts with the Padres in 1988, but was a midseason acquisition.

Trivia Answer: Derek Lowe, who also takes the hill Wednesday, is the oldest pitcher to start a game so far this season. Also 37, he’s just eight days younger than Colon. Last season, Jamie Moyer (47) and Tim Wakefield (44) were the oldest to start a game.

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