Stats & Info: Joe Saunders

Same strategy keeps working for Matusz

October, 6, 2012
A year ago, Baltimore Orioles reliever Brian Matusz was best known for being the fourth pitcher to post an ERA of 10.00 or higher in a season with at least 40 innings pitched since 1900.

Yesterday, he was the key to the Orioles getting the biggest out of their AL Wild Card Game win.

Matusz protected a two-run lead in the eighth inning by striking out Josh Hamilton with a man on base. Hamilton entered that matchup hitless in nine at-bats against Matusz, his worst regular-season 0-for against any pitcher.

Matusz’s turnaround has mirrored that of his team, which is headed to the ALDS for the first time since 1997.

Keys to success
Matusz has been a different, far more successful pitcher, since making the conversion to middle relief.

In his last 18 regular-season appearances, he allowed two runs and five hits in 13 1/3 innings, with 19 strikeouts and three walks. Opponents hit .114 with a .352 OPS against him.

Matusz has been effective all season against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .175 opponents’ batting average though he’s used a different approach against them as a reliever than as a starter.

Matusz retired Hamilton on a pitch on the outer-third of the plate. Of the 25 outs that Matusz has gotten as a reliever against left-handed hitters, 21 have come on pitches to that outer-third area, or just off the outside corner.

When Matusz was a starter earlier this season, about 59 percent of his outs came on pitches to that area.

This approach was nothing new in terms of Matusz getting Hamilton to whiff. Of the 10 times Matusz has gotten him out, seven have been with an outer-third pitch. Six of those outs, including Friday’s, were strikeouts.

Hamilton’s struggles
Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton went a combined 2-for-17 in the last four games that ended the season, all Rangers losses.

He was 1-for-9 with five strikeouts against lefties. Four of those whiffs came on outer-third (or off the corner) pitches.

Saunders was good too
Joe Saunders came up huge for the Orioles, allowing only one run in 5 2/3 innings to beat Yu Darvish.

Saunders allowed more than one run in 16 of his last 18 regular-season starts in 2012. He entered 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in Rangers Ballpark (2nd worst ERA for an active pitcher), but held the Rangers down.

Six balls were put in play against Saunders with runners on base and all six were on the ground, which helped lead to three double plays. Saunders induced only two double plays combined in his first six career starts in Texas.

The Rangers scored only one run. They were held to one run or fewer only 19 times in the regular season, second-fewest in the majors (the Yankees were just 18 times).

Nothing new for this bullpen
The Orioles bullpen has gotten big outs late in games all season. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that they had the third-best regular-season record since 1900 when leading after seven innings, 74-0.

The Orioles fell a little bit short of being best on this list. The 2011 Tigers hold the top mark at 77-0.

The Orioles will now try to match what those Tigers did last season- beat the Yankees in the ALDS.
It might be time for reruns on the television networks, but it was sweeps week as the second round of interleague play began. Six series ended with one team winning all three games, including the Citrus Series between the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays.

The mood has been bright in Tampa since the word Devil was removed from the team’s name, and the Rays are well on their way to taking the season series against the Marlins for the fourth time in the last five years. The Rays swept the series by outscoring Miami 22-7 in their first trip to Marlins Park.

Expect that to continue when the series shifts to Tropicana Field next weekend. The Rays have won 9 of their last 12 games against the Marlins in St. Petersburg.

Miami keeps switching directions with each turn of the calendar. After going 8-14 in April, the Marlins went 21-8 in May, accumulating the most wins in a single month in franchise history. The tide has turned since then, as Miami has lost six straight and is 2-7 in June.

The Marlins next series is at home against the Boston Red Sox, another team that is coming off a weekend whitewashing. The Red Sox were swept by the Washington Nationals at Fenway Park. Heading into the series, the Nationals/Expos franchise had never won in nine games in Boston.

Washington did something that no National League team had done since 2002. That June, the Atlanta Braves swept a series at Fenway Park, the last time the Red Sox were swept at home in an interleague series. Between the two sweeps, Boston compiled a 58-23 record at home in interleague play.

The sweep craze also swept into the Bronx for the Subway Series. The New York Yankees swept the New York Mets at Yankee Stadium for the first time since 2003. Russell Martin hit a walk-off home run as the Yankees won 5-4 on Sunday. It was the first walk-off homer by the Yankees in the history of the Subway Series.

The series win for the Yankees shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the Subway Series is one of the more lopsided in interleague history. The Bronx Bombers are 52-35 against the Mets in regular-season play. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Yankees’ .598 winning percentage is the highest by a team against an in-state opponent in interleague play.

Former Yankee A.J. Burnett was also part of a sweep this weekend, as the Pittsburgh Pirates swept the Kansas City Royals. Burnett has now won five straight starts, which Elias points out is his longest streak since winning six straight in 2008 for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Los Angeles Angels swept the Colorado Rockies in Denver to extend their road winning streak to nine games. That’s tied for the longest streak away from home in the majors this season, and is two games short of the franchise-record 11 straight in 1988. The Baltimore Orioles won nine straight road games in May.

The Arizona Diamondbacks finished up a sweep of the Oakland Athletics with Joe Saunders picking up the win. It was the 13th win of Saunders’ career against the A’s. Elias confirms that it is the most wins by a pitcher against Oakland since Saunders picked up his first win against them in 2006.

Matt Kemp zeroes in on Triple Crown

September, 23, 2011

Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
Not only is Matt Kemp on the verge of winning the first Triple Crown since 1967, but he has a chance to become only the fifth 40-40 member (home runs and stolen bases) in baseball history.

Los Angeles Dodgers centerfielder Matt Kemp has thrust himself into the Triple Crown race by his recent hot hitting, batting .600 (15-for-25) with four doubles, three HR and eight RBI over his last six games. Kemp is trying to become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski (.326 BA, 44 HR, 121 RBI) won it as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 1967. If he does win it, Kemp would be the first Triple Crown winner from a National League team since Joe Medwick of the 1937 St. Louis Cardinals.

To win the Triple Crown, a player must lead his league in batting average, home runs, and RBI. Kemp leads the NL in RBI (118) and is closing in on the lead in batting average (.326, four points behind Ryan Braun) and home runs (36, one behind Albert Pujols).

How rare is it for a player to be this close, this late in the season, to the Triple Crown? Since Yastrzemski won it in 1967, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kemp is the only player to date to be within five points of the league leader in batting average (or leading), within one HR of the league leader (or leading), and within one RBI of the league leader (or leading), in the last 15 days of the season, let alone the last week of the season.

In addition to the Triple Crown, with four more home runs, Kemp will become the fifth 40-40 player (home runs and stolen bases) in MLB history. The other four are Jose Canseco (1988 Oakland Athletics), Barry Bonds (1996 San Francisco Giants), Alex Rodriguez (1998 Seattle Mariners) and Alfonso Soriano (2006 Washington Nationals).

One reason Kemp is in the race for the Triple Crown has been his ability to handle pitches up in the zone, especially since the beginning of August. Pitchers were able to limit Kemp’s effectiveness early in the season by attacking up in the zone. However, since the beginning of August, Kemp has improved his eye on pitches up in the zone, walking more and striking out less. He’s getting better pitches to hit too, as he’s been chasing less (but swinging more), and has added 120 points to his average while doubling his home run percentage.

What are the chances for Kemp to become the 12th Triple Crown winner since 1920 (the previous 11 Triple Crown winners were by nine players, Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby won it twice)? The Dodgers end the season with three games at the San Diego Padres and three at the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Since 2009, of the six potential starting pitchers Kemp will face to end the season (Wade LeBlanc, Aaron Harang, Cory Luebke, Daniel Hudson, Wade Miley and Joe Saunders), he’s had the most success against Saunders - .364 BA (8-for-22), three home runs, one double, three walks and two strikeouts.

Although he’s had success against Saunders, since 2009 Kemp is one-for-seven (a single) against Saunders in pitches up in the zone. However, you need to remember that Kemp has clearly made an adjustment late in the season against those types of pitches.
The Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies play the middle game of a three-game set in Philadelphia on ESPN’s Wednesday Night Baseball.

Two of the top four teams in the National League square off in the City of Brotherly Love, a city where before Tuesday night’s win, Arizona had lost seven straight and eight of the last nine games to the Phillies.

On the mound

Joe Saunders takes the mound for the Diamondbacks tonight. The lefty has turned around his season of late after an ugly start to the year. After starting 3-7 with a 4.50 ERA, Saunders is 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA over his last 10 starts.

Saunders has not had success against the three Phillies he has faced the most, Placido Polanco (9-23, .391 BA), Raul Ibanez (8-23, .348 BA) and Ben Francisco (5-11, .455 BA).

However, the good news for Saunders is that the player he’s faced the next most is Ryan Howard (0-9, 4 K).

The Phillies counter with Cliff Lee, who’s also had a tale of two seasons. Lee got off to a slow start before having one of the best months ever by a starting pitcher in June.

Over the first two months of the year, Lee went 4-5 with a 3.94 ERA, but is 8-2 with a 1.86 ERA since June (including going 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA in five June starts).

How has Lee done it during this turnaround?

By throwing his curveball more often, which has made his changeup even more effective as a secondary pitch even though he’s throwing it with the same frequency.


There are two bona-fide MVP candidates squaring off in this game -- one who gets mentioned all the time (Justin Upton) and one who is routinely passed over (Shane Victorino).

Upton is on the short list of NL MVP candidates this season as he’s broken through to superstardom. He leads all National League players in Wins Above Replacement and is third among all major leaguers.

Victorino’s name doesn’t normally come up when National League MVP candidates are mentioned, but maybe it should, especially since Victorino has played just 93 games to Upton’s 121.

Stat of the game

The Diamondbacks are 33-27 on the road. They haven’t finished a season with a winning road record since 2005 (41-40). One of the biggest keys to that – their pitchers are on pace to allow 67 fewer ROAD walks than last season.

1st Pitch: 600 HR and other hits

July, 23, 2010
Today’s Trivia: Alex Rodriguez hit his 599th career HR Thursday night, this one off Kansas City’s Robinson Tejeda, the 365th different pitcher he’s homered against. A-Rod also hit his first and 500th career home runs against the Royals. Who were the pitchers that gave up each of the long balls?

Quick Hits: Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig announced that, effective immediately, minor league players will be subject to random blood testing for the detection of human growth hormone under Major League Baseball's Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Major League Baseball is the first United States professional sports league to conduct blood testing. All blood samples will be collected postgame from the non-dominant arms of randomly selected non-40-man roster players at select Minor League affiliates.

Carl Pavano pitched a five-hitter to earn his career-high seventh straight victory as the Twins beat the Orioles 5-0. In 32 starts since coming to Minnesota in a trade with Cleveland during the 2009 season, Pavano is 17-10 with 5 complete games. After signing a 4-year, $39.95 million deal with the Yankees in December of 2004, Pavano made only 26 starts for New York, going 9-8 with one complete game.

Cliff Lee allowed two runs in 8 1/3 IP in the Rangers' 3-2 win over Los Angeles. Lee - who won for the first time in three starts since joining the Rangers - extended his streak of at least eight IP and one or fewer walks to 7 straight starts. In the divisional era (since 1969), only Ferguson Jenkins in 1974 had a longer streak (eight).

The Kansas City Royals traded third baseman Alberto Callaspo to the Los Angeles Angels for two pitchers Thursday: Sean O’Sullivan and minor-league lefty Will Smith. According to the Kansas City Star, plans call for O’Sullivan, 22, to join the big-league rotation — possibly as soon as Sunday’s series finale at Yankee Stadium. O’Sullivan made his season debut Tuesday against the Yankees (despite knowing he was being called up, he did not know until he got to New York that he was starting that night). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only four other pitchers since 2000 have started against one team...for two different teams (within a span of seven days or less): In 2000, Andy Ashby started against Baltimore while pitching for the Phillies and Braves; Kris Benson in 2004 started against the Braves as a Pirate and a Met; Cory Lidle threw against the Rockies as a member of the Reds and Phillies in 2004; and Carl Pavano faced Detroit in 2009 as an Indian and a Twin.

From ESPN Stats and Information: Red Sox starter John Lackey threw 7 2/3 innings of no-hit ball against the Mariners before allowing a Josh Bard single. That tied the longest no-hit bid for the Red Sox this season. Daisuke Matsuzaka also went 7 2/3 IP with a no-hitter on May 22 at the Phillies. Lackey represents the 13th time a pitcher has taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning this season. So that means 33 percent of the previous 12 instances ended up finishing off the no-hitter.

Additional Notes from ESPN Stats and Information: Jason Bay is being overly aggressive against fastballs compared to previous years. And in this month, he's striking out frequently and unable to get the ball in the air, which obviously doesn't help his chances of hitting more homers.

Before his injury this season, opponents were hitting .500 (10-20) against Josh Beckett’s change-up. Last season, opponents hit just .198 against Beckett's change.

Opponents are hitting .250 (10-40) against Randy Wells' fastball in July after hitting .348 (63-181) against the right-hander's heater in the first 3 months of the season.

Opposing batters are only hitting .200 (9-45) off Mark Buehrle's fastball this month (MLB avg .279) after hitting .377 (29-77) off heater in June.

Joe Saunders is walking just 4 percent of his batters faced in July (3/82) compared to 10 percent during the first three months.

In Vicente Padilla's first five starts (through June 19) opponents hit .325 (25/77) against his fastball. In his last five starts (since June 19) opponents have hit .165 (13/79) against his fastball.

Johan Santana looks to continue his July success. From April through June (5-5, 3.55 ERA in 16 starts), opponents hit .286 (61/213) against his fastball. In July (2-0, 0.58 ERA, 4 starts) opponents have hit .175 (11/63) against his fastball.

C.J. Wilson: On first pitch of the at bat: .333 BA, .854 OPS, PA/EBH 11.5. On all others: .230 BA, .603 OPS, PA/EBH: 18.92

Notable Elias Sports Bureau notes from Thursday night:
As mentioned above, the Twins defeated the Orioles, 5–0. That raised their record against Kevin Millwood to 9–0. That’s the most victories without a loss by any team against an active pitcher, breaking a tie with the Dodgers, who are 8–0 against Matt Cain. The Senators/Twins franchise won its first nine or more decisions against only three other pitchers: Sid Monge (their first 10, 1975–1981), Ted Blankenship (1922–1925), and Gordon Rhodes (1929–1933).

Josh Johnson lowered his ERA to 1.61, allowing one run in 6 1/3 innings in the Marlins’ 3–2 win over the Rockies. But for the fifth time this season, Florida’s bullpen cost Johnson a victory. That tied Johnny Cueto for the highest total in the majors this season, and it matched Johnson’s total of squandered wins in 2009. In fact, he’s the first pitcher in the Marlins’ 17-year history to lose five or more potential wins in consecutive seasons. It was also the fifth time this season that Johnson failed to win a start in which he allowed fewer than two runs. The only other pitchers with at least five such starts are John Santana (six), Gavin Floyd (five), and Randy Wells (five).

Matt Holliday’s fourth-inning single off Cole Hamels was the Cardinals’ only hit in the Phillies’ 2–0, 11-inning win at St. Louis on Thursday. It was only the third game since 1900 that went beyond the 10th inning in which a team allowed only one hit. One was the game in 1959 in which Harvey Haddix of the Pirates was perfect through 12 innings before losing, 1–0, to the Braves, with Joe Adcock’s baserunning blunder turning a potential home run into a game-winning double. The other was a 2–1 Yankees victory over the Angels in 1962 in which Whitey Ford pitched seven hitless innings and Jim Coates allowed a ninth-inning single to Buck Rodgers. That was also the game in which Roger Maris set an AL record that still stands when he was walked intentionally four times.

Derek Jeter hit his first inside-the-park home run since his rookie season in the Yankees’ 10-4 win over the Royals. Jeter’s previous inside-the-parker was also against Kansas City (Aug. 2, 1996). Only two other active players have more than one IPHR against the same team: Randy Winn against the Yankees and Chase Utley against the Reds (2 each). At age 36, Jeter became the oldest Yankees player to hit an inside-the-park home run since Earle Combs did it against the Washington Senators in 1935. Combs was 20 days older at the time than Jeter was on Thursday.

Today’s Leaderboard: As we know, Alex Rodriguez is 1 HR shy of becoming only the 7th player in baseball history to hit 600 career HR. A-Rod would probably prefer to hit the milestone HR in front of adoring Yankee fans rather than on the road (the Yankees start seven-game road trip through Cleveland and Tampa Bay on Monday). Luckily for A-Rod, there are 3 more games this weekend against Kansas City, a team he hit milestone HR No. 1 and 500 against (he also hit HR No. 499 and 599 against KC).

A-Rod’s 41 career HR against the Royals are second-most among active players and tied for 2nd with Rafael Palmeiro among ALL players.

Key Matchup: Brian Bannister takes the hill Friday night for the Royals at Yankee Stadium. Among pitchers he has faced at least 10 times in his career, Alex Rodriguez's best AB per HR rate is against Bannister. Overall, A-Rod is hitting .571 (4-for-7) with 3 HR and 6 RBI while posting a 1.857 slugging percentage against the righty. According to ESPN Stats and Information, on Bannister’s most common pitch, the fastball, Rodriguez is batting .500 with a 2.000 slugging percentage, .600 on-base percentage and two home runs in four at-bats.

Trivia Answer: Alex Rodriguez hit his first career HR on June 12, 1995 against Tom Gordon. His 500th career HR was on August 4, 2007 off Kyle Davies.

The Closer: Blowout Sale

June, 10, 2010
If you like close baseball games, Wednesday would have been a great night to catch a movie - especially if you're a fan of the American League.

Of the night's seven AL games, six were decided by more than two runs and a whopping four were decided by at least nine runs.

Here's a look at some of the pitching performances that helped lead to some wide margins:

Why Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy deserved to win:

- Kept the ball away. Braves hitters were 1-9 (.111) on pitches on the outside third of the plate, including 0-7 on fastballs away.

- Had a solid fastball overall. Braves hitters were 2-13 (.154) against the Kennedy heat, chasing 27.0 pct of fastballs out of the zone (22.8 MLB avg fastball chase pct).

- Threw a nasty changeup. Atlanta batters were 0-8 on Kennedy's changeup, and missed five of their 13 swings (38.5 pct; MLB average miss pct on changeups is 30.1).

Why Angels starter Joe Saunders won:

- Changeup was deadly. Saunders held the Athletics to 1-11 (.091) with a single on his changeup, including 0-8 on changeups down in the zone.

- Threw hard inside. Oakland batters were 1-7 (.143) on inside fastballs against Saunders, including 1-6 (.167) inside to right-handed hitters.

- Finished off Oakland hitters effectively. The Athletics were 0-7 in two-strike counts, chasing 42.9 pct of pitches outside the zone with two strikes (MLB average 35.8 chase pct with two strikes).

Why Yankees starter CC Sabathia won:

- Threw his slider well. On a night when Baltimore hit .462 (6-13) on his fastball, Sabathia was effective with his slider, holding the Orioles to 1-7 (.143) with four strikeouts.

- Induced swings. Sabathia got Baltimore hitters to chase 33.9 pct of pitches out of the zone (Sabathia's 2010 chase pct - 27.4). Baltimore hitters chased 43.5 pct of non-fastballs (MLB avg 28.6 pct). Orioles hitters also missed on 30.2 pct of their swings, well above Sabathia's 21.1 average miss pct.

- Controlled the count. Sabathia threw one of his first two pitches for strikes 91 pct of the time Wednesday, better than the 85 pct MLB average.

Why Indians starter Justin Masterson got his first shutout:

- Kept the ball on the ground. Masterson induced 17 groundball outs, a career best. Overall, Boston hitters were 1-11 (.091) on pitches down in the zone.

- Got hitters to chase. The Red Sox chased 27.1 pct of pitches out of the zone against Masterson Wednesday, their sixth-highest percentage in a game this season. However, the 27.1 chase pct was actually below Masterson's season average (28.9).

- Mixed in a dominant slider. Masterson held Boston batters to 0-9 on his 18 sliders Wednesday, including 0-5 away vs. righties and 0-3 inside vs. lefties. This season, batters are 9-48 (.188) on Masterson's slider.

Why Rays starter David Price won:

- Pounded inside. Price held Blue Jays hitters to 0-5 on inside pitches, the fifth start this season he hasn't allowed a hit on an inside pitch.

- Threw high and hard. Price held Toronto batters to 0-5 on pitches up in the zone, with an average velocity of 94.4 MPH on high pitches (92.6 average velocity Wednesday).

- Controlled the count. Price only went to one 3-ball count Wednesday, and his 67 first-pitch strike pct was well above the 58 pct MLB average.

And here's one note from the hitters:

Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena hit his 128th home run as a member of the Rays on Wednesday, tying him with Aubrey Huff for the Tampa Bay franchise record. However, Pena’s home run, which traveled 333 feet down the line in left field at Tropicana Field, would not have been a home run in any other major league ballpark.

1st Pitch: Hitters who love the slow stuff

May, 19, 2010
Quick Hits: Yesterday in Quick Hits we took a look at batters who are crushing fastballs this season. Today we’ll focus on guys who have excelled against off-speed pitches.

* Joey Votto is batting .529 (9-17) against changeups.

* Ryan Sweeney has yet to swing and miss on a curveball this season. He’s made contact on all 20 he has offered at, and is batting .357 against curves.

* Andrew McCutcheon is batting .647 (11-17) against curves thrown in the strike zone.

* Ryan Zimmerman is batting .520 against sliders (13-25) with four home runs. He has also missed a league-low 11.4 percent of curveballs he’s swung at.

* Derek Jeter is batting.219 against sliders this season, but it could just be bad luck. He leads the league with a .375 well-hit average against sliders.

* Alfonso Soriano is batting .395 (15-38) against sliders with 10 extra-base hits (eight doubles, two home runs).

Today’s Trivia: Vernon Wells tied Joe Carter for the 2nd most home runs in Blue Jays history yesterday. He now trails only Carlos Delgado. Since Wells debuted in 1999, he and Delgado have each hit over 200 home runs with the Blue Jays, over 100 more than the next player on the list. Who has the third most home runs for the Jays during that time span?

Today’s Leaderboard: On yesterday’s leaderboard, Franklin Gutierrez ranked among the leaders in slugging percentage against fastballs 93 mph or faster. Today, he shows up on essentially the opposite list. He’s batting .500 against pitches less than 80 miles per hour, which trails only Andrew McCutcheon.

Key Matchups: In two career starts at U.S. Cellular Field, Angels starter Joe Saunders is 2-0 with a stellar 1.66 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP. In 2009, Saunders was 1-1 against the White Sox with a 2.63 ERA. To get a jump on Saunders, the White Sox may want to think about starting pinch hitter Jayson Nix, who was 3-5 versus Saunders last season with three home runs

Wednesday will mark the fourth time the Los Angeles Dodgers have seen Padres starter Jon Garland since 2009, and Garland likely wouldn't mind seeing them a bit more. The Dodgers have only hit .231 against Garland in those three previous starts, and his fastball in particular has been rough on Los Angeles hitters. The Dodgers are hitting .226 against Garland's fastball, well below the team's .297 average vs fastballs since the start of the ’09 season, and 58 points below the major league average in that same time span (.284).

Trivia Answer: Jose Cruz Jr. hit 97 home runs for the Blue Jays from 1999 to 2002. Trailing him on the list are Alex Rios (81), Tony Batista (80) and Eric Hinske (78).

The Closer: Proud pair of Pirates

May, 15, 2010
Hitters of the Night

Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, PIT: 10-for-11, 2 HR, 7 R, 7 RBI, 2 SB

McCutchen and Jones, batting three-four in the Pirates' order, both had five-hit games, the first Bucs to do that since 1970. It was the first career five-hit game for both players.

Only one of the 10 hits was on an inside pitch, while five were on the outside-- including two out of the strike zone away. Cubs pitchers were reading the scouting report by keeping balls out there. Prior to Friday, the two had combined for a .321 average on inside balls-- with Jones' .344 propping that up-- and only .223 on outside offerings.

Prior to Friday, the two combined Pirates hit only .127 against sliders and .111 against changeups, while striking out on those pitches over one-fourth of the time. Today they went 3-for-4, although the only blemish on their record-- Jones' fourth-inning strikeout-- was on a slider.

McCutchen and Jones saw 23 pitches in the strike zone, and swung at 18 of them (78.3%, much higher than their previous rate of 63.9). They fouled off 10 and had ZERO swings-and-misses. The eight strikes they put in play all went for hits, including both homers.

Two-strike hitting was also key. The two Pirates entered the game with a batting average of only .219 in two-strike counts. On Friday they got five hits and five RBI, including Jones' homer, in those situations. Both players have also had great success against the Cubs so far this season, combining to bat .679 with an OPS of 1.745. Against all other opponents, they're hitting just .255.

Why They Won

Why Giants starter Todd Wellemeyer won:

- Got ahead: 65.5 pct first-pitch strikes (51.5 entering the game), including no hits in four at-bats when the first pitch was put in play (.385 entering the game)
- Pounded away with his fastball: 74.5 pct of his pitches and 65.8 pct strikes, both highs for the season
- Allowed just two hits in 16 at-bats ending on the heater, which averaged a season-high 90.5 MPH

Why Angels starter Joe Saunders won:
- Got ahead: 68.8 pct first-pitch strikes (58.0 entering the game)
- Allowed no hits in 10 at-bats when ahead in the count (.340 entering the game)
- Went to 3-ball counts on just four hitters (0-2, 2 BB)

Why Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie won:
Used his fastball:
- Threw it on 66.4 pct of his pitches, his most in a start this season
- Allowed no hits in 18 at-bats (.296 entering the game)
- Induced misses on 13.3 pct of swings (7.6 pct entering the game)

Why Marlins starter Anibal Sanchez won:
Used his fastball:
- Threw it a lot and threw it for strikes (65.7 pct and 69.0 pct, most in a start this season)
- Allowed only 3 hits in 14 at-bats (.214 -- .379 entering the game)
- Got 3 strikeouts (4 strikeouts total entering the game)

Why Mets starter Oliver Perez lost:
- Couldn't finish off hitters. Florida batters got two hits and drew three walks when Perez already had two strikes on them. Previous opponents hit only .125 in two-strike counts.
- Threw his fastball 56.8 pct of the time, way down from the 67.5 pct rate entering the game.
- Left too many pitches in the strike zone. Earlier this season, Perez left only 45.6 pct of his pitches IN the zone, forcing hitters to chase more. On Friday, 53.4 pct hit the zone, and Florida hitters went 9-for-17 against them. Only two Marlins concluded their at-bats on a pitch outside the zone, and both were swinging strikeouts.
- Left the ball up in the zone. More than a third of his pitches were high, and the Marlins went 5-for-9 including two homers against those.

Home Run Notes

David Ortiz ended up seeing five straight fastballs from Max Scherzer, thanks to the first three missing the zone. He then fouled off a 3-0 pitch before launching his three-run homer.

Since the beginning of the 2007 season, Ortiz has swung at nearly 17% of 3-0 pitches-- almost TRIPLE the major-league average of 5.9%.

However, only seven of his 90 previous homers over that span have come on 3-0 or 3-1 counts.

Ortiz's 459-foot blast was the longest home run of the night, and not surprisingly, would have been a home run in all 30 MLB parks.

As noted above, Andrew McCutchen had a tremendous game at the plate, going 5-for-5. But his 382-foot solo shot at was hit in the lone MLB park (Wrigley Field) where it would clear a fence. That's right, out of all 30 MLB parks, McCutchen's home run wouldn't have cleared the fence in any of the 29 other parks.

The Closer: Stars come out

April, 18, 2010
Lost among a no-hitter, a funky 20-inning tilt and suspended game resumptions, some other players of note managed to make some noise on Saturday.

Why Giants starter Tim Lincecum won:
  • Miss pct of 34.1, has increased in all three starts this season
  • Mixed it up: Threw only 54 pct fastballs, down from 63 pct the last three seasons
  • As a result, hitters were 0-for-10 vs. non-fastballs (.212 vs. non-fastballs first two starts)

Why Astros starter Roy Oswalt won:
  • Was deadly with two strikes. Cubs hitters were 1-13 with a single and six strikeouts in 2-strike counts, lowering his 2-strike opp BA to .214 in 2010 (MLB average .184). In particular, the Cubs were 0-8 with five strikeouts on outside pitches in 2-strike counts.
  • Kept the ball (and the Cubs) down. Chicago hitters were 0-17 on pitches down in the zone with five strikeouts. Oswalt was at his best on the low outside corner in particular, holding Cubs hitters to 0-8 with four strikeouts on pitches low and away.

Why Angels starter Joe Saunders won:
  • Kept his fastball down. Blue Jay hitters were 1-9 against low fastballs from Saunders, and 74.1% of his low fastballs were located for strikes (63% in the strike zone).
  • Controlled the count. Saunders threw 70% of his first pitches for strikes, and only went to a 2-0 count once. Saunders went to 3-ball counts on three hitters all afternoon.
  • Kept leadoff men off base. Saunders retired seven of the eight leadoff men he faced.

Why Nationals starter Livan Hernandez won:
  • Kept Brewers off-balance with slider early in the count. With less than two strikes, Milwaukee hitters were 0-7 against Hernandez's 25 sliders on Saturday, despite making contact on all 11 of their swings.
  • Let his fielders do the work with men on base. With runners on base, the Brewers were 0-9 despite putting nine of their 19 swings in play and only missing two swings.


Derek Jeter: 3-4, 2-run HR

Jeter hit his third HR of the season on Saturday, a screaming line drive to left field, and added two singles in the Yankees' 7-3 win. He had a single and a HR on pitches on the inner third, a spot that's historically been his toughest part of the strike zone. Jeter seems to have made an adjustment, getting to the inside pitch with authority so far this season. From 2007-09, Jeter slugged .370 on inside pitches and .479 on pitches thrown middle and away. So far in 2010, Jeter is slugging .688 on inside pitches and .559 middle/away.

Tim Lincecum: 3-4, 3 RBI

Lincecum had the first multi-hit game of his career on Saturday, and as our David Bearman pointed out, is hitting .428 (3-7) with 3 RBI this season while holding opponents to just .178 (13-73) with only 2 earned runs allowed. Lincecum was aggressive, seeing only 10 pitches in his four plate appearances and all three of his hits came on the second pitch of the at-bat. Lincecum was 2-for-2 on 0-1 counts, giving him six hits on 0-1 counts, the most hits on any count in his career.

ESPN Stats & Info notes from Tuesday

April, 7, 2010
Minnesota's Joe Mauer went yard against the Los Angeles Angels' Joe Saunders, removing an 0-for-8 collar that had been Mauer's biggest against any single pitcher.

In Mauer's nine previous appearances vs Joe Saunders (includes one HBP):

- He swung at only 11 of 30 pitches, including just two of 13 out of the zone.

- Eight of the nine hitting zones are represented (all except middle-in), but only ONE of the 30 pitches was over the heart of the plate (the "5" on your phone). That's precisely where Tuesday's home-run ball got served up.

- Average speed of the pitches he saw in the previous meetings: 85.6. The home run pitch was 90.4. Only one of the previous 30 pitches broke 90 mph (it was up-and-in, and Mauer flied out on it).

Justin Morneau also hit a home run for Minnesota later in Tuesday's game. The pitch that he cranked was middle/away, the zone that has produced the most homers for Morneau over the last four seasons.

Matt Wieters of the Baltimore Orioles got hold of an 81-mph changeup right over the heart of the plate. Of his 10 career homers, it's only the second one that's been on an off-speed pitch.

Carl Crawford's game-winning double was a 91-mph fastball over the plate, but well above the strike zone.

Last season Crawford hit .364, and had an OPS of 1.015, on fastballs that were out of the zone high. The MLB averages were .160 and .744.

Only Todd Helton (.378) and Marco Scutaro (.375) had better batting averages among players with 40 or more plate appearances ending on such a pitch.

Pitcher Chris Young of San Diego faced center fielder Chris Young of Arizona on Tuesday. The combined Chris Youngs went 1-for-6 with an RBI double and a walk. They also pitched 6 one-hit innings (although only one of them really did the work on that). Chris Young vs Chris Young: 0-for-2, two grounders to third.

Ian Stewart finished a single shy of the cycle, thanks in large part to not chasing bad balls out of the strike zone. In fact, Stewart didn't swing at a single bad ball on Tuesday. Last season he went fishing 21.4% of the time.

Clearly the Brewers missed the scouting report. All three of Stewart's hits came early in the count (0-1, 1-0, or 1-1). He hit .346 in those situations last year. All three also came on pitches that were in the middle third vertically. Stewart smacked those at a .343 clip last season.

Unfortunately for the Rockies, all three of his hits also came with the bases empty. That means Stewart went for 9 total bases, yet drove in only one run (on the homer). Only one player (Nelson Cruz of the Rangers) had that happen all of last season.

Tuesday's 1st pitch: Stairs ties a record

April, 6, 2010
Today’s Trivia: Matt Stairs tied a major league record on Monday just by getting into the game. In making his Padres debut, Stairs has now played for 12 different teams, which ties Deacon McGuire (who played from 1884 to 1912) for the most ever by a position player. Pitchers Mike Morgan and Ron Villone can also claim 12 teams. Stairs had been tied for second with an eclectic group: Royce Clayton, Todd Zeile, Kenny Lofton and Paul Bako. Since breaking into the big leagues in 1992, Stairs has had more than 600 teammates. Who are Stairs’ only two former teammates currently in the Hall of Fame?

Jason Heyward In Context: Jason Heyward was 317 days old when Bobby Cox was hired by the Braves to replace Russ Nixon as manager in 1990. On Monday, as Cox managed his final Opening Day, Heyward stole the show. Not only did Heyward homer in his first career plate appearance, he did so with his first swing, depositing a 2-0 Carlos Zambrano pitch deep to right. That won’t do much to lessen the hype surrounding the phenom, who is just 20 years and 240 days old right now. Let’s put his accomplishment in context:

-- According the Elias Sports Bureau, Heyward is the youngest player to homer in his first at-bat since Cincinnati’s Ted Tappe in 1950. Whitey Lockman was 20 days shy of his 19th birthday when he hit a home run in his first at-bat for the Giants in 1945. That makes Heyward the third youngest to do it according to Elias.

-- Perhaps the Braves should start more rookies on Opening Day. Last year, Jordan Schafer homered in the opener in his first career plate appearance. He was the first rookie to start on Opening Day for the Braves since Chipper Jones. Before Schafer, the last player to homer on Opening Day in his first plate appearance was Kazuo Matsui in 2004. Before that it was Will Clark in 1986.

-- Another gem from Elias: Only two players who homered in their first major league at-bat are in the Hall of Fame: Earl Averill (who did it for the 1929 Indians) and Hoyt Wilhelm (for the 1952 New York Giants). It was the only home run of Wilhelm's big league career.

-- Baseball Tonight researcher Mark Simon points out that Frank Howard’s 382 career homers are the most ever for a player who hit a home run in his first game. Other notables: Orlando Cepeda, Yogi Berra, Bobby Bonds.

Quote of the Day: "I was yelling 'Balk' as soon as he threw it." - Phillies catcher Brian Schneider on President Obama’s pitch, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Today’s Leaderboard: It’s April, which means it is Joe Saunders’ month to shine. The Angels lefty, who makes his season debut tonight against the Twins, is 10-1 in April in his career. That’s the best April win percentage of any pitcher (minimum 10 decisions) over the last 50 years. Among active players, Joe Nathan’s 9-1 April record is the next best. April magic will be put to its greatest test on Thursday when Dontrelle Willis and his 14-2 record take the hill.

Matchups of the Day: A pair of interesting head-to-head battles in Anaheim tonight. Bobby Abreu is a lifetime .538 hitter against Nick Blackburn. Only Chone Figgins (.563) has flummoxed Blackburn more. (Side note: Figgins draws Dallas Braden tonight, against whom he is a .538 hitter.) But there’s an even more intriguing matchup to watch: Joe Mauer is 0-8 lifetime against Joe Saunders. His last three at-bats were infield groundouts. Mike Mussina is the only other pitcher against whom Mauer is hitless in at least eight at-bats.

Trivia Answer: Stairs’ longest stop on his odyssey was in Oakland from 1996 to 2000. In 1998, he played with Rickey Henderson. His second Hall of Fame teammate is a bit tougher to get, but’s Oracle tool comes to the rescue. In his initial cup of coffee with the Expos in 1992 (13 games), Stairs teamed up with Gary Carter, who was in his final season.