Stats & Info: Jeff Francis

Curveball is crucial for Beckett turnaround

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
2:53
PM ET

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJosh Beckett has struggled this season, but his curveball has just a .165 opponent average.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will send Josh Beckett to the mound tonight against the Colorado Rockies (8:40 ET) as he makes his debut for Los Angeles. Beckett will be starting his first game as a National League pitcher since 2005 when he was with the Florida Marlins, and in his time with the NL he posted a 41-34 record.

Beckett's last start against the Rockies was Game 1 of the 2007 World Series at Fenway Park. He struck out nine in the first win of a Boston Red Sox sweep, and the pitcher who took the loss for the Rockies in that game was Jeff Francis, the Rockies starter tonight.

Fastball in Decline

Beckett will look to turn things around with a new team, as he has certainly struggled lately. In his first four seasons with the Red Sox, Beckett won over 65 percent of his decisions and recorded six complete games. Since the start of the 2010 season, though, he has a winning percentage of just .500.

The main cause for concern has been with the heater, as Beckett's fastball velocity has declined each of the last three seasons. In 2009, when he won 17 games, Beckett averaged 94.1 miles per hour on his fastball. In 2012, he is averaging just 91.5. This season his fastball has not fooled batters in the least, as he's allowed a .299 opponent batting average.

Curveball is Beckett's Key

While his fastball has not been successful this year, his curveball has. While Beckett has thrown the fastball 962 times this season, he has the same amount of strikeouts (32) with the curve despite throwing his curveball 614 fewer times. Opponents are also posting just a .165 batting average and .198 on base percentage.

AP Photo/Jeff LewisAlbert Pujols represents a significant upgrade for the Angels at the No. 3 spot in the order.
Albert Pujols makes his Los Angeles Angels debut tonight against the Kansas City Royals (ESPN2, 10 ET). Pujols signed a 10-year, $254 million free agent deal with the Angels in the offseason after spending 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pujols is one of six players to hit 400 career home runs and bat at least .325. The others are Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial. Pujols’ 445 home runs through his first 11 seasons are the most all-time through a player’s initial 11 years in the majors.

Pujols represents a significant upgrade for the Angels at the No. 3 spot in the order. His .906 OPS last season was a career low, but stands as a huge improvement over the Angels’ .745 OPS out of the three hole last year.

Starting Pitchers
Bruce Chen – who will turn 35 in June - is making his first career opening day start. According to Elias, only one major-league pitcher in the last 10 years was older than Chen when he was making his first opening day start. That was Jose Contreras, who was 35 when he started the first game of the 2007 season for the Chicago White Sox.

Bruce Chen
Chen
Quick Hits on Chen
• Chen threw 2,518 pitches last season. Only nine of those reached 90 mph
• Last season, his fastball averaged 85.7 mph. In the AL, the only starters with a slower fastball were Mark Buehrle, Jeff Francis and Tim Wakefield.
• Held opposing No. 3 hitters to .224 BA and .674 OPS

Jered Weaver makes his fourth opening day start (and third straight) for the Angels. Weaver is 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA in three career opening day starts. Last year, Weaver became the first pitcher in MLB history with six wins by April 25, and just the sixth with six wins by the end of April.

Jered Weaver
Weaver
Quick Hits on Weaver
• No starting pitcher had a higher fly ball percentage in 2011 (50 percent)
• In his seven no decisions last season, he allowed a total of seven earned runs
• Opposing 3-6 hitters combined for a .196 BA and .570 OPS
• There are three active pitchers who had double-digit wins in each of their first six seasons: Weaver, CC Sabathia and Tim Hudson. Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte would also qualify if active.

Stat of the Game
Pujols is a .379 lifetime hitter against the Royals, giving him the highest batting average against the Royals for any player – past or present – with at least 150 at-bats against them, according to our friends from the Elias Sports Bureau.

Opening Day Note
This is the first time in 37 years that the Angels and Royals have met on Opening Day. According to Elias, it last happened in 1975, as California’s Nolan Ryan threw a three-hitter and won, 3-2. Besides Ryan, two other Hall-of-Famers played in that game: George Brett and Harmon Killebrew of the Royals.

US Presswire/Jeff HanischFrancisco Cordero's 194 saves since 2007 are the most in the majors.

Stats & Information's weekly roundup of notable baseball moves:

Toronto Blue Jays sign pitcher Francisco Cordero to one-year contract
Three notes on the changes related to Cordero’s performance over the last two seasons.

1-- Cordero’s average fastball velocity dropped from 94.3 miles-per-hour in 2010 to 92.6 in 2011. Fastballs and sinkers, which made up more than two-thirds of his pitches in 2010, represented 44 percent of his pitches in 2011.

2-- Cordero’s ground ball rate increased from 42 percent in 2010 to 48 percent in 2011. His opponents’ batting average on ground balls dropped 100 points, from .250 to .150 in that span. That .150 ranked sixth-best in the majors among those who induced at least 75 ground balls in 2011.

3-- Our advanced hit location data shows Cordero’s batting average made the biggest drop on ground balls hit between 15 degrees to the right and 15 degrees to the left of second base (in other words, the middle of the field).

The chart on the right shows the difference, as well as an increase in plays made by Reds shortstops.
--Mark Simon

Blue Jays sign infielder Omar Vizquel
to minor league contract

If Vizquel makes the major-league roster, he will be chasing two milestones, both with the same number -- 3,000.

Vizquel has 2,841 hits, leaving him 159 away from becoming the 29th player with 3,000 hits. Vizquel has 137 hits over the last two seasons.

Vizquel could be the fourth player of Hispanic heritage in the 3,000-hit club, joining Roberto Clemente, Rod Carew, and Rafael Palmeiro.

Another milestone would occur if Vizquel (2,908 games played) plays in 92 games. He would become the ninth player in major league history to play in 3,000 games. Vizquel who turns 45 on April 24, played in 108 and 58 games the last two seasons.

Both the active leader and the No. 2 man in sacrifice bunts signed this week. Vizquel has 255 sacrifices, 111 more than new Phillies free agent signee Juan Pierre.

Thirty players who played in the majors last season were born after Vizquel made his major league debut on April 3, 1989, including Vizquel’s infield mate, Brett Lawrie.
--Zachary Singer/Kevin Gibson

Other moves of note
Quick hits on other signings from the past week-- players who share a theme of being given opportunity despite recent struggles.

New Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jeff Francis is 14-32 in four seasons since starting Game 1 of the 2007 World Series (he was 17-9 that season). His .304 winning percentage is third-worst among the 162 pitchers who have made at least 50 starts in that span.

New Houston Astros pitcher Zach Duke is 40-72 over the last six seasons. His .357 winning percentage is the worst among the 105 pitchers who made at least 100 starts in that span. Duke was 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 2005.

New San Francisco Giants shortstop Ryan Theriot has dealt with injuries and not fared well via advanced defensive metrics over the last two seasons. His -17 Defensive Runs Saved (a stat that measures a shortstop’s effectiveness of turning batted balls into outs and converting double plays) in 1,001 innings are tied for fourth-worst among shortstops in that span.
--Mark Simon
Chicago White Sox
They owned the league’s lowest WAR from designated hitters (-0.8) last season. If Adam Dunn’s WAR this season is somewhere around 3.4 (approximately what it would have been over the last six seasons if he didn’t have to play any defense), then he should greatly impact an offense that ranked seventh in runs in the American League in 2010.

Has Gordon Beckham turned the corner? Last season he entered the All-Star break with a .216 batting average and .581 OPS. But in the second half, he hit .310 with an .877 OPS.

Cleveland Indians
Their bullpen rated among the best in the American League in the second half of the 2010 season. Among the standouts was Chris Perez, who was amazing after the All-Star break (16 saves in 17 chances, 0.63 ERA, 28 ⅔ IP, 0 HR allowed, 32 K). Among pitchers with at least 60 innings, Perez's 1.71 ERA was the sixth lowest by an Indians pitcher in the expansion era (since 1961).

Shin-Soo Choo ranked second in the American League in Wins Above Replacement at 7.3, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Detroit Tigers
Their starting rotation may have an emerging star in Max Scherzer, whose 2010 season did a 180 after a brief demotion to the minor leagues. He was 1-4 with a 7.29 ERA when he was sent down, but returned to go 11-7 with a 2.46 ERA in his final 23 starts.

Justin Verlander averaged a Game Score of 61 over his last 17 starts in 2010. To put that into perspective, Roy Halladay, the NL Cy Young Award winner last season, averaged a Game Score of 63 for the entire season. In other words, Verlander pitched at a near-Cy Young-level over the second half of his season.

Kansas City Royals
The quintent of Kyle Davies, Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Vin Mazzaro appear to be the Royals' rotation to start the season. Those five pitchers combined to have a 7.2 WAR last season. As starting pitchers, their respective MLB ranks in that category were 85th, 91st, 93rd, 110th and 133rd last season.

In four seasons, Joakim Soria has 132 saves and a WHIP of 0.99. Mariano Rivera is the only other pitcher with 130 saves and a WHIP under 1.00 since 2007.

Minnesota Twins
Justin Morneau was an MVP contender last season before suffering a season-ending concussion. Despite missing the final 78 games of the season, Morneau finished as the team's leader in Wins Above Replacement (5.3). However, the Twins offense actually averaged more runs per game after his injury (5.0) than it did before (4.7).

Closer Joe Nathan is back after missing a season because of Tommy John surgery. He saved at least 35 games each season from 2004 to 2009. The only players with more consecutive seasons with 35 saves are Trevor Hoffman and Robb Nen (seven each).

-- Justin Havens, Paul Carr and Derek Czenczelewski contributed to this report
Our weekly statistical take on some recent moves by major league teams

How good of a hitter is Jim Thome against right-handed pitching?
Jim Thome
Thome

Historically he’s among the best of the best, and statistically speaking, he’s a needed fit for the Minnesota Twins, who re-signed him earlier this week.

Last year, Thome proved he still had his magic touch against right-handers, batting .302, with a 1.154 OPS against them. The only hitter in the American League who was better was Josh Hamilton (1.163).

Rank the top 50 seasons of OPS against right-handed pitching since 1974 and two names show up more frequently than any others. One is Barry Bonds (seven times). The other is Thome (six).

Of the top 15 seasons in the American League in that span, Thome has five of them.

Amazingly, last season was one of the best in Thome’s career by that measure. Baseball-Reference.com has a means to compare a player’s performance in a split-stat (such as versus right-handers) to the rest of his league, adjusting for ballpark.

Thome’s OPS+ against right-handers was 204. The only season in which he rated higher was in 2002, when he hit 40 home runs against righties.

Last season, with Thome’s help, the Twins rated fourth in the American League in OPS against right-handed pitching. They jumped seven points (from .768 in 2009 to .775 in 2010) despite a) moving into a less-hitter-friendly home ballpark and b) it was a season in which most offensive performance declined.

It was their highest AL rank in OPS against right-handers since being third-best in 1992. The last time the Twins were even in the top five in the AL in that stat was in 2003, when they rated fifth.
-- Mark Simon

Balfour not so bad
Newest Oakland Athletics reliever Grant Balfour finished the season in the Tampa Bay Rays’ bullpen with the seventh-lowest FIP (an ERA estimate based on strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed) of any American League reliever at 2.68, even lower than former teammate and now New York Yankees reliever Rafael Soriano.

Grant Balfour
Balfour
That’s due primarily to his better strikeout rate (9.1 per 9 innings, compared to Soriano’s 8.2) and a lower rate of home runs allowed per nine innings.

Left-handed hitters may have hit .267 against Balfour last season, but his ability in those three FIP stats, was a match for his performance against right-handers (who hit .174 against him). Of note: Of the 100 lefties he faced in 2010, he yielded only one home run.

Balfour rated at 1.2 Wins Above Replacement in 2010, according to Fangraphs.com, a match for both Jonathan Papelbon and Scott Downs, both of whom will make considerably more than the $4 million Balfour will be paid in 2011.
-- Ben Duronio

Farnsworth's unusual 2010 skill
Kyle Farnsworth may not be the most obvious choice as a shutdown reliever for the Tampa Bay Rays, but last season Farnsworth was able to raise his game when facing the toughest lineups.

Against the teams that finished with a .500 or better record, Farnsworth finished with a 2.09 ERA, .611 opponents OPS, and a 5.3 strikeout-to-walk rate.

Against teams with sub-.500 marks, he had a 5.19 ERA, .670 opponents OPS, and 2.23 strikeout-to-walk rate.
-- Katie Sharp

1st Pitch: The league leaders you never see

June, 30, 2010
6/30/10
1:53
PM ET
Quick Hits: Not all statistical categories are created equal, but they all have a leader. Let’s take a look at some of the more obscure – and in some cases meaningless – league leaders.
  • On Tuesday, David Murphy reached base by catcher’s interference for the third time this season, which leads the majors. The last player with more than 3 in a season? Edwin Encarnacion who had four in 2007.
  • Derek Jeter leads the majors with 181 ground balls, 22 more than the next player, according to STATS LLC. Having led the majors with 316 in 2009, Jeter is on pace for 385 grounders this season.
  • Carlos Lee is tops with 114 fly balls, though Rod Barajas has 108 in 89 fewer at-bats than Lee.
  • Vladimir Guerrero has swung at the first pitch 152 times, which is 14 more than Vernon Wells. Over the last 35 years, the most first pitch swings in a season belongs to Nomar Garciaparra (381 in 2003).
  • Rafael Betancourt and Carlos Villanueva have both had three batters reach on a strikeout. Yet, it hasn’t happened to Tim Wakefield this season. He is the active leader in that category with 46 in his career.
  • Zack Greinke has had the most batters reach on an error (8), but not the most unearned runs. That would be Felipe Paulino with 11.
  • Ross Ohlendorf leads the majors with four pickoff errors, which is more than every other team except the Tigers.
  • The Dodgers have had seven hitters reach on a strikeout, a huge number when you consider that 26 of 30 teams have three or fewer.
  • Dave Bush leads the majors with seven sacrifice flies against with seven. But how about the Diamondbacks’ Carlos Rosa? He’s given up five sac flies in just 13.1 innings of work.
  • Derek Lowe is on pace to issue 18 intentional walks, which would be the most since Roger McDowell’s 20 in 1991.
  • Justin Verlander has had the most pitches fouled off with 370.
Today’s Trivia: Denard Span tied the modern record with three triples in a game on Tuesday, the first player to do that since Rafael Furcal in 2002. Who holds the record for most at-bats in a season without a triple?

Today’s Leaderboard: Dustin Pedroia leads the majors having fouled off 294 pitches, according to Inside Edge. That accounts for 46.7 percent of the swings he’s taken. Ichiro Suzuki (271) is the only other player with more than 260 fouls this season.

Key Matchups: Paul Konerko is the batter that Zack Greinke has faced most in his career. He’s held the White Sox slugger to a .137 batting average in 51 at-bats. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the second lowest batting average in a matchup between two current AL players (min. 40 at-bats). Nick Swisher’s .111 in 45 AB against John Lackey is the only one worse.

Of the 27 times that Adrian Gonzalez and Jeff Francis have done battle, the Padres slugger has struck out 11 times, or 40.7 percent of the time. That’s his highest K rate against any pitcher he’s faced at least 20 times. Overall, Gonzalez has hit .154 with a .454 OPS against Francis. The two haven’t faced off since 2008, but Francis has struck out Gonzalez in five of the last six at-bats and retired him nine times in a row.

Trivia Answer: Aaron Hill was without a triple in 682 at-bats last season, which set a record according the Elias Sports Bureau. In fact, he is in the midst of a streak of 1,394 consecutive at-bats without a triple. It’s rather ironic for a player whose first career hit was a triple.

The Closer: Dice-K leads the way

May, 23, 2010
5/23/10
3:40
AM ET
Daisuke Matsuzaka dazzled Phillies hitters Saturday night, throwing 7 2/3 hitless innings before Philadelphia's Juan Castro ended the bid with a bloop single just over the reach of Red Sox shortstop Marco Scutaro. That starting stint without a hit is the longest no-hit bid of Matsuzaka's career, surpassing his four innings without a hit vs the Angels on September 15, 2009. It has been 32 years since the Phillies have been no-hit (Bob Forsch, 1978).

Matsuzaka's outing also ties CC Sabathia for the longest no-hit bid this season that did not go on to finish as a no-hitter. In other words, only two pitchers have no-hit bids longer than 7 2/3 innings this season -- Ubaldo Jimenez and Dallas Braden.

Why Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka won:
- Had three innings of fewer than 10 pitches and zero with 20 or more. In his first four starts, Matsuzaka made it through just one inning with fewer than 10 pitches.
- The Phillies swung at 33.9 percent of Matsuzaka's offerings outside the strike zone, a season-high for Daisuke. Two of Daisuke's three swinging strikeouts were on fastballs outside the strike zone.
- Matsuzaka had success working up in the strike zone against the Phillies. Four of his five strikeouts were on high pitches, and the Phillies missed on five of their 15 swings against his offerings up in the zone.

Why Cubs starter Randy Wells deserved the win:
- Effective with off-speed stuff, particularly his slider. Rangers hitters were only 1-7 (.143) against the slider and the opposition is hitting only .204 against Wells' slider this season. His strike pct on all off-speed pitches was 74 (MLB average: 61 pct). Plus, Rangers hitters chased 46 pct of off-speed stuff out of the zone tonight (MLB average: 31 pct).
- Economical. Five of his 8 completed innings were 1-2-3 (62 pct; double the MLB avg.)
- Control. Went to a 3-ball count to only 4 of 31 batters faced (13 pct; MLB average: 19 pct).

Why Rockies starter Jeff Francis won:
- No solid contact. Of the 21 pitches that ended at-bats, Inside Edge determined only 2 balls were "well-hit." That .095 well-hit percentage is miniscule compared to the MLB average (.267).
- Dominated with slow stuff. Royals hitters were 0-11 against Francis' curveball and changeup. For the season, hitters are 2-for-21 against Francis' off-speed deliveries.

Why Athletics starter Gio Gonzalez won:
- Season-high first pitch strike percentage of 70.4. Giants hitters were 0-5 when putting the first pitch in play.
- The Giants were 0-7 with four strikeouts against Gonzalez's curveball and took just eight swings against it, despite the fact that he threw 38 of them on the day. Gonzalez got 12 called strikes with the curve, including three for strikeouts.
- Gonzalez retired the leadoff hitter in each of his eight innings..
- Gonzalez kept his curveball down in the zone, throwing 31 of his 38 curves in the lower third. The Giants were 0-4 with three strikeouts on low curveballs. For the season, opposing hitters are 0-35 with a whopping 29 strikeouts against Gonzalez curveballs in the lower third. On the season, Gonzalez has thrown 84 low curveballs before two strikes, and not a single one has been put in play. With two strikes, Gonzalez has thrown 85 low curveballs, with only six being put in play, all for outs.

Why Giants starter Matt Cain deserved better:
- Dominated with his curve and changeup. With a combined 0-for-7 performance against the two pitches today, opposing hitters are now 6-48 (.125) vs. Cain's curve and change in 2010.
- He got out of trouble. Cain retired only 3 of 8 leadoff hitters (38 pct; MLB average: 68 pct) but only allowed 1 to score - however it ended up being a big one.
- He put hitters away in all situations. When counts got to 2 strikes, 88 pct of at-bats ended in outs (MLB average: 72 pct). When counts got to 2-0, 2-1, or 3-ball, 82 percent of at-bats were outs (MLB average: 54 pct).

Why White Sox starter Gavin Floyd won:
- Commanded the inner half of the plate: 20 of Floyd's 24 pitches on the inner third went for strikes, and the Marlins were just 1-12 against those pitches. Six of Floyd's seven strikeouts came on inside pitches.
- Fooled the Marlins with his off-speed pitches (curveball, changeup, slider): Floyd threw 35 of 54 off-speed pitches for strikes, with 14 of the 35 strikes being of the called variety. The Marlins took 21 swings against Floyd's curveball, changeup, and slider, missing on 11.
- Five of Floyd's seven strikeouts were with off-speed pitches.
- Floyd retired the first six leadoff hitters he faced.

Why Angels starter Scott Kazmir won:
- A season high 79.5 pct (89 of 112) of his pitches were fastballs, with the Cardinals hitting just 2-18 against the pitch. Cardinals hitters missed on 14 of their 42 swings against Kazmir's fastball.
- Kazmir retired six of seven leadoff hitters he faced and retired the side in order in five of seven innings.
- Kazmir reached a 2-0 count on just one of the 27 hitters he faced.
- All five of Kazmir's strikeouts came on pitches on the outer third of the strike zone, with the Cardinals hitting just 2-16 against outside pitches.

SPONSORED HEADLINES