Stats & Info: Joey Votto

Top stats to know: Reds at Pirates

April, 21, 2014

AP Photo/Don WrightFrancisco Liriano helped eliminate the Reds last postseason. Will they pay him back tonight?

The Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates meet Monday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Francisco Liriano’s change in approach
Francisco Liriano helped eliminate the Reds last postseason with his slider, throwing it on half of his 90 pitches. His slider netted him 14 outs and yielded only one baserunner in the NL wild-card game.

Since the start of last season, Liriano’s slider has been one of the best in the majors, ranking in the top 10 in most major categories. Although successful against the Reds last season with the pitch, Cincinnati is batting an MLB-best .307 against sliders this season.

The slider isn't the only pitch Liriano has leaned on this season. Liriano has increased the usage of his changeup, throwing it nearly 31 percent of the time, up from 22 percent last season.

Liriano has limited opponents to a .174 batting average while generating a 54 percent swing-and-miss rate this season when throwing the change. Last season opponents hit .273, while swinging and missing 38 percent of the time.

We could see a continuation of that trend tonight. The Reds have hit .192 against changeups this season, 22nd in the majors.

Joey Votto’s lineup change
On April 12, the Reds moved Joey Votto to second in the batting order instead of his usual third. The move has aided Votto in returning to his former MVP self.

The Reds are 4-2 since the tweak to the lineup after going 3-7 with Votto batting third. Votto has hit three of his four home runs when batting second.

Andrew McCutchen not as valuable
Last season Andrew McCutchen became the first Pirates player to win the National League MVP award since Barry Bonds in 1992. So far this season, McCutchen has been unable to replicate last season’s success.

McCutchen’s OPS has dipped to .759 this season, which if it held, would be the lowest of his career. McCutchen’s OPS exceeded .900 in each of the previous two seasons.

Such a big dip in OPS isn’t uncommon for the reigning league MVP. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 55 players have dropped 100 points in OPS the season after winning the MVP award. Both McCutchen and Miguel Cabrera have seen such dips in the opening weeks this season.

Jay Bruce is a slow starter
Jay Bruce is batting .220 to start this season, but this hasn’t been uncommon in his career.

Bruce’s career batting average in March and April is .249, his second lowest in any month. Last season, Bruce hit .252 with a .651 OPS in April before ripping off a .288 average and .903 OPS from May to July.

Martin's power leads Pirates to NLDS

October, 2, 2013
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarRussell Martin (right) homered twice for the Pirates in their win against the Reds.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have won a postseason game for the first time since October 13, 1992.

Marlon Byrd, Francisco Liriano and Andrew McCutchen all played significant roles in the victory, but it was Russell Martin who especially shined for the Pirates.

Key to the game: Russell's muscle
Martin had only one multihomer game in the regular season, but he put two pitches into the bleachers in Tuesday's win.

Martin became the second Pirates player to hit two homers in a postseason game, joining Bob Robertson, who hit three against the San Francisco Giants in Game 2 of the 1971 NLCS.

Martin's nine total bases are tied with Willie Stargell for the second-most in a postseason game in team history. Stargell had nine in one of the most famous postseason wins in team history, Game 7 of the 1979 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

Martin is the second player to hit multiple home runs in a postseason game in Pittsburgh. The other? Mickey Mantle in Game 2 of the 1960 World Series for the New York Yankees.

Martin is the seventh player (first since Johnny Damon for the 2004 Boston Red Sox) and second catcher (first since Yogi Berra in the 1956 World Series) with two homers in a winner-take-all postseason game.

He is also the first catcher to homer in postseason play for three different teams, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He'd previously done so for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Yankees.

Martin's first homer came on a 95 mph fastball. During the regular season, he tied Starling Marte for the team lead in home runs on pitches thrown at least that fast. The Reds knew firsthand that Martin could turn around that kind of pitch. He'd done so 10 days ago, hitting a 95 mph fastball from Homer Bailey for a game-tying homer in an eventual 4-2 Pirates win.

Matchup of the game: Liriano versus Joey Votto
The first two hitters in the Reds lineup -- Shin-Soo Choo and Ryan Ludwick -- were 4-for-7 combined. The rest of the Reds went a combined 2-for-25.

Liriano took advantage of Votto's late-season struggles hitting left-handed pitching, striking him out twice. Votto was 4-for-31 against lefties to close the season (though he did draw 11 walks).

The strikeouts both came on sliders down and away that Votto flailed at and missed.

Liriano threw 45 sliders among his 90 pitches, the highest rate of use for that pitch that he's had in any start this season. The pitch netted him 14 outs and yielded only one baserunner.

What's next?
The Pirates will meet the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. It will be the first time the Pirates and Cardinals meet in the postseason.

Pittsburgh will be looking to win a postseason series for the first time since 1979, when it won the World Series by defeating the Orioles in seven games.

Did you know?
This is the second time the Pirates have hit at least three homers in a postseason home game.

The other was in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series against the Yankees, when they won on Bill Mazeroski's walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth.

Top things to know: NL Wild Card

October, 1, 2013

AP PhotosJohnny Cueto and Francisco Liriano will start for the Reds and Pirates in tonight's NL Wild Card game.
For the first time since October 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates will play a postseason game.

Tonight’s game against the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Wild Card Game is the first home playoff game for the Pirates since Bob Walk pitched a complete-game three-hitter Oct. 11, 1992, in Pittsburgh’s 7-1 win against the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the NLCS.

Here are a few storylines for tonight’s game.

1. The Pirates won the season series against the Reds 11-8, including a season-ending sweep this past weekend in Cincinnati.

This is the first meeting between these teams in the postseason since the 1990 NLCS, which the Reds won 4-2. The Reds have won 13 of 20 meetings against the Pirates in the postseason.

2. Johnny Cueto will take the mound for the Reds tonight. He’s 13-4 with a 2.37 ERA in 21 career starts against the Pirates, including 7-2 with a 1.43 ERA in his last 12 starts against Pittsburgh.

In his last start vs. the Bucs on May 31, Cueto threw eight shutout innings, allowing one hit and striking out six in the win.

3. Francisco Liriano will make the start for Pittsburgh in a park where he has excelled this season. Liriano is 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 11 starts at PNC Park this season compared to an 8-7 record with a 4.33 ERA in 15 road starts.

Against the Reds, he’s 0-3 with a 3.70 ERA in four starts this season. Pittsburgh lost all four of those games.

Liriano is a three-pitch pitcher who throws a fastball, slider and changeup. One of his downfalls against the Reds this season has been the ineffectiveness of his changeup. Overall, opponents are hitting .273 against that pitch, but the Reds are hitting .353.

4. Marlon Byrd and Andrew McCutchen have had a lot of success against Cueto during their careers. Byrd is hitting .583 (7-of-12) with a home run and three RBI. Three of McCutchen’s nine career hits against Cueto are home runs.

On the other side, Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto are a combined .154 (8-of-52) in their careers against Liriano.

5. Pittsburgh has not won a World Series title since the “We are Family” team in 1979. The 34-year drought is the third longest active streak in baseball (among franchises that have won at least once).

The 105-year drought for the Chicago Cubs and 65-year drought for the Cleveland Indians are the only longer active streaks.

Top stats to know: Dodgers at Reds

September, 8, 2013
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonClayton Kershaw has many different ways to get hitters out.

The Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers meet with the Reds trying for a series sweep on "Sunday Night Baseball" at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN). Here’s a look at five statistical storylines our broadcast crew will surely be talking about.

1. Despite a three-game losing streak, the Dodgers are 36-11 since the All-Star break. If they can maintain that pace, it would be the fourth-best second-half winning percentage by a team since the All-Star Game began in 1933. After a 30-42 start, the Dodgers are 53-16 in their past 69 games. Their starting pitchers entered Sunday with a 3.09 ERA, best in the majors. The Reds rank second with a 3.37 ERA.

2. Clayton Kershaw enters Sunday night with a 1.89 ERA, which would be the lowest by an NL lefty since Sandy Koufax’s 1.73 in 1966.

Kershaw could be only the fifth pitcher to lead his league in ERA in three straight seasons (the first since Greg Maddux from 1993 to 1995) and only the third to lead the majors in three straight seasons (joining Maddux and Hall of Famer Lefty Grove, 1929 to 1931).

Kershaw is the only pitcher in the majors with at least 60 strikeouts on three different pitch types (69 slider, 68 curveball, 63 fastball).

Kershaw is coming off his worst start of the season. In his first start of September, he allowed more earned runs (five) than he did in five starts in August combined (four).

3. Reds starter Homer Bailey is 5-0 with a 2.42 ERA in his past seven starts. Bailey enters this start with back-to-back outings of seven innings pitched and no earned runs allowed. The last Reds pitcher with three straight such outings was Jim Maloney in 1968.

4. The Kershaw-Joey Votto matchup should be a good one. Lefties are hitting an NL-low .159 against Kershaw this season. Votto is 5-for-20 against Kershaw with 11 strikeouts, his most against any pitcher. He’s also one of four left-handed hitters to hit a pair of homers against Kershsaw. (The others are Adam Dunn, Carlos Gonzalez and Brad Hawpe.)

5. Each team has a rookie doing something notable from a historical perspective. Yasiel Puig is currently hitting .347. Over the past 80 years, the only players 22 or younger to finish a season with a batting average higher than that (minimum 300 plate appearances) are Ted Williams, Alex Rodriguez and Stan Musial.

Meanwhile, the Reds now have a unique offensive weapon in Billy Hamilton, who stole 75 bases in the minor leagues this season. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Hamilton, who has not yet come to the plate in a major league game, is the first player in the modern era (since 1900) to record a stolen base in each of his first four major league games.

5 stats to know: Reds at Cardinals

August, 26, 2013
With five weeks left in the season, the top three teams in the NL Central are separated by 2½ games. The Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals begin a pivotal three-game series tonight on “Monday Night Baseball” (7 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). Here’s a look at some of the stats our broadcast crew will be talking about during the game.

1. The Reds won the NL Central last season and entered 2013 as the favorites to do so again. However, the organization has not made consecutive postseason appearances since winning back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 1976.

The Reds have taken care of business against teams who are below .500, going 45-22. But they’re just 29-35 against teams with a .500 or better record.

2. Mike Leake is making his first start at Busch Stadium. He has been much better on the road during his career, posting an ERA more than 25 percent lower than his home ERA and allowing far fewer home runs.

In the past two seasons, the Reds have had one of the healthiest rotations in the majors. More than 93 percent of their starts have been by the five pitchers who opened the 2012 season in the rotation -– only the 2012 World Series champion Giants have had more consistency. That has helped the Reds' starters post the second-best ERA in the majors the past two seasons.

3. Joey Votto leads the National League with a .433 on-base percentage, but is that what the Reds need out of the 3-hole in their lineup? Votto has 61 RBIs this season, and the Reds have driven in only 62 runs from the No. 3 spot, fourth-fewest in the NL.

Why is Votto’s RBI total so low? He just doesn’t get pitches to hit in scoring opportunities. He has had 151 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, and walked in more than a quarter of them this season. On the flip side, Votto has reached base 254 times. That provides plenty of opportunities for Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce to drive in runs.

What does all of that add up to? Votto is fifth in the NL in wins above replacement among position players, trailing Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gomez, Paul Goldschmidt and David Wright.

4. The Cardinals lead the league by a wide margin in batting average with runners in scoring position (.327). That’s easily the best by any team in the past 50 seasons.

The Cardinals have five of the top eight hitters with RISP this season, led by Allen Craig’s .447 average, which ranks second in the NL.

5. Tyler Lyons is one of 12 rookies to pitch for the Cardinals this season. They’ve gotten 27 wins from rookie pitchers this season (12 from Shelby Miller), tied for their second-most by any team since World War II.

Pujols' contract rising, production declining

August, 19, 2013

ESPN Stats & InfoThe Angels are on the hook for another eight seasons with Albert Pujols, whose numbers have been on the decline in recent seasons.
When it comes to bloated contracts, first there was Mike Hampton’s with the Colorado Rockies. Then, Barry Zito’s with the San Francisco Giants and Alex Rodriguez’s with the New York Yankees set the bar even higher.

But there’s one contract still in its infancy that could end up far more burdensome than any previous contract in major league history.

Much has been made of how the Yankees owe Rodriguez nearly $90 million (not including performance bonuses) through 2017.

However, the Los Angeles Angels still owe Albert Pujols –- who will miss the rest of the 2013 season with an injured left foot -- $212 million through 2021. The two least-expensive seasons in his 10-year deal were 2012 ($12 million) and 2013 ($16 million).

The only player who is owed more money starting next season is the Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto ($225 million through 2023).

Pujols has seen several of his once-lofty statistics decline since he won back-to-back National League MVP awards in 2008 and 2009.

Pujols had 9.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2008 and a major league-best 9.7 in 2009. Since then, it has dropped from 7.5 in 2010 to 5.0 in his first season with the Angels to 1.6 this season. That’s tied for 129th, with players such as Kelly Johnson, Dioner Navarro and David DeJesus, to name a few.

Pujols' OPS has decreased each of the past five seasons after he posted a career-high 1.114 OPS in 2008.

This season will also mark the first time in Pujols’ 13-year career that he will not hit at least 30 home runs and just the second time that he will not drive in 100 runs.

Another streak that will come to an end is his 12-season run with 150 hits. That's tied for the third-longest streak in the live ball era. Only Paul Waner (14 straight from 1926 to '39) and Richie Ashburn (13 straight, 1948-60) had longer such streaks.

And, for the first time in his career, Pujols will play less than 100 games.

When Pujols returns in 2014, he will be eight home runs from becoming the 26th member of the 500-home run club and two RBIs from 1,500.

Jered Weaver adjusts to declining velocity

July, 29, 2013

AP Photo/LM OteroHe's pitching well of late, but Jered Weaver has had little success when's he's started at Texas.
Two of baseball’s hottest starting pitchers take the hill as the Los Angeles Angels’ Jered Weaver faces Texas Rangers’ newcomer Matt Garza, Monday at 7 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN.

Weaver goes off-speed
The last time Weaver made a start in Arlington was April 7, when he fractured his elbow dodging a Mitch Moreland line drive. When Weaver returned from the injury he had a 4.55 ERA in his next five starts but since then he's pitched extremely well.

Weaver is 4-1 with a 1.32 ERA in his past six starts and has found success by increasing the use of his curveball and keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate.

In his first seven starts of the season, Weaver threw his curveball about 10 percent of the time, but has nearly doubled that rate since.

An increased use of the curveball coincides with Weaver’s declining fastball velocity, which has dropped from 89.8 mph in 2010 to 86.6 this season. His recent success indicates that Weaver has found a way to pitch around his declining velocity.

Although Weaver has pitched well of late, he has struggled on the road in his career against the Rangers, going 4-8 with a 5.07 ERA. That’s a stark contrast to the 9-0 record and 2.28 ERA he’s posted against the Rangers at home.

Garza’s red hot
In his first start since being acquired by the Rangers, Garza allowed five hits over 7.1 innings in a win over the Yankees.

Garza has won a career-high six straight starts -- only Bartolo Colon (eight) and Patrick Corbin (seven) have longer such streaks this season. Garza is also riding another career-best streak, allowing two earned runs or fewer in seven consecutive starts.

A key for Garza's success has been his slider, widely regarded as his best pitch. Over his previous seven starts, opponents are hitting .157 without an extra-base hit when he throws his slider.

However, Garza has struggled against the Angels. His 5.83 career ERA against Los Angeles his fourth-worst against any team.

Diminishing returns from Pujols
Another key storyline revolves around Albert Pujols, who was placed on the disabled list on Sunday with a partially torn plantar fascia ligament in his left foot.

If Pujols does not play again this season, he would finish the season with career-lows in games played, batting average, home runs, RBI and runs.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) tell the story of Pujols’ steep decline of late. He led the league in 2009 with a 9.7 WAR on his way to winning the National League MVP. That number has dropped each of the next four seasons to 1.4 in 2013, which ranks outside the top 120 players.

The Angels have gotten a poor return on investment on the Pujols contract thus far, and it does not seem to be getting any better. From 2014-2021, Pujols is still owed $212 million, that's more than any other player except Joey Votto, who is owed $225 million.

Goldschmidt looks to counter Harvey's heat

July, 3, 2013
The Arizona Diamondbacks look to snap a season-high five-game losing streak when they face the New York Mets on Wednesday Night Baseball (7 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). The big matchup at Citi Field is between Mets’ ace Matt Harvey and Diamondbacks’ young slugger Paul Goldschmidt.

Less than two weeks from the All-Star game, Harvey is one of the favorites to start for the NL while Goldschmidt’s first half has also made him deserving of an All-Star starting spot.

Last season, Harvey made his MLB debut July 26 in Arizona. He set a Mets record for strikeouts in a debut with 11, including fanning Goldschmidt all three times he faced him, twice looking on fastballs away and once swinging on a heater high and tight.

Harvey likes to work up in the zone, where he’s been extremely effective. He has thrown 38 percent of his pitches this season in the upper-third or above the strike zone. That’s the second-highest rate in the NL, behind only Barry Zito. On such pitches, he has limited opponents to a .475 OPS.

But Goldschmidt has been the best high-ball hitter in the NL this season. His OPS on such pitches is 1.185, nearly 100 points higher than the next hitter. He also leads the circuit with nine home runs and a .367 batting average on pitches up or above the strike zone.

ESPN Stats & Information
Harvey’s fastball this season has averaged 95.6 miles per hour. That’s the fastest among starters who qualify for the ERA title. And he’s held opponents to a .192 average on at-bats ending with a fastball.

Thanks to that heater, Harvey has been one of the toughest pitchers in baseball for right-handed batters to pull the ball against this season as shown on the image to the right.

Why is that important? The league slugs .635 when pulling the ball as opposed to a .453 mark when going the other way.

Goldschmidt hasn’t been a slouch against fast pitches. He has nine hits this season off pitches thrown at least 95 miles per hour, tied for fourth-most in the National League.

Goldschmidt’s All-Star Case
The Diamondbacks’ first baseman is second in NL All-Star voting, trailing Joey Votto by more than half a million votes.

But considering traditional and advanced statistics, Goldschmidt has had a better season. He has driven in 30 more runs than Votto, and leads the NL in Win Probability Added.

Quick Hits
•  Arizona has dropped 10 of its last 11 road games and seven of its last eight at Citi Field.

•  No Diamondbacks’ starter has recorded a win since Wade Miley on June 5; every other team in the majors has had at least four wins from its starters in that span.

•  The Mets have six wins when trailing after eight innings, the most in the majors.

Giants-Reds look to move past June

July, 1, 2013

Frank Victores/US PRESSWIRESan Fran and Cincy meet for the first time since the Giants came back from a 2-0 deficit in the 2012 NLDS.
The San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds meet on "Monday Night Baseball" (7 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN) for the first time since last season’s divisional playoffs, when the Giants eliminated the Reds. The Reds won the first two games of that series in San Francisco, but the Giants won three straight in Cincinnati to advance to the National League Championship Series.

Both of these teams are looking to put June behind them.

The Giants went 10-17 in the month, marking their first losing month since going 11-18 in August 2011. The Reds, meanwhile, went 12-15 in June and have won just 13 of their past 30 games. This was the Reds' first losing month since September 2011, when they went 12-14.

After years of dominating with starting pitching, the Giants have struggled in that department this season.

Giants starters led the majors last season in opponent batting average with runners in scoring position (.222). This season, Giants starters have allowed a .298 batting average, last in the NL and 28th in all of baseball.

In addition, after ranking in the top five in ERA in each of the previous four seasons, San Francisco has a 4.47 ERA so far this year. That includes a 5.30 ERA on the road, which ranks 28th in all of baseball (the Giants' 3.64 ERA at home is 12th in MLB).

For the Reds, the No. 2 spot in the batting order has been a weak link between Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto.

Zack Cozart has the most plate appearances for the Reds in the second spot, which has recorded a .647 OPS, 13th in the National League. In comparison, the first and third spots have recorded an .894 and .951 OPS, respectively. That leads the National League in both batting positions.

Quick hitters
• Buster Posey is hitting .403 in his past 18 games, with four home runs in his past five. He’s the first Giants catcher with 12 home runs before the All-Star break since Bob Brenly in 1985.

• The Giants' 16 wins since May 14 are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the fewest in the majors.

• Pablo Sandoval is just 3-for-23 since returning from the DL. He hasn’t homered since May 21.

• The Reds are a season-high 5.5 games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates for first place in the NL Central. Their largest deficit in the standings last year was 5.0 games on April 18.

• Bronson Arroyo has been incredibly efficient with his pitches this season. He’s averaged just 13.9 pitches per inning, the fourth-lowest rate in the majors.

• Since 2010, Joey Votto has just two infield popups. In comparison, Albert Pujols has 87.

How do you defend against Joey Votto?

October, 6, 2012
Joey Votto is the rare breed of hitter who not only possesses devastating power but also exhibits some of the best plate discipline in the league and a penchant for recording high batting averages.

He’s a complete hitter. No player in baseball has posted a higher on-base percentage in the past three seasons than Votto (.433); in other words, no player has avoided recording outs as well as Votto has.

So just how do you get him out?

Over the past three seasons, no left-handed batter has recorded a higher OPS against left-handed pitching than Votto.

In fact, his lead over second-best (Adrian Gonzalez) is equal to the gap between Gonzalez and the ninth-best option. But even taking that into consideration, Votto does appear to have a (relative) weakness: soft stuff on the outer half from those left-handers.

Since the start of 2010, 43 left-handed batters have seen at least 400 off-speed pitches on the outer half of the plate from left-handed pitchers.

The group hit .195 with a .529 OPS and a home run rate of 2.1 percent.

Votto ranks 34th out of that group in batting average (.150), 30th in OPS (.440) and 31st in HR rate (0.7 percent). Even James Loney has a higher batting average in such scenarios.

It gets even worse when looking at Votto's performance against those pitches with two strikes.

Votto has seen 218 off-speed pitches from lefties on the outer half with two strikes in the past three years. He has exactly nine hits to show for it, good for a .095 batting average.

Only two left-handed batters have seen more such pitches and come up with fewer hits -– Adam Dunn and Carlos Pena.

The good news is that although this remains a distinct weakness, Votto seems to be improving against this plan of attack.

From 2010 to 2011, Votto hit .144 with a .409 OPS and a 31.2 percent strikeout rate. In 2012, those numbers are up to a .200 batting average, a .646 OPS and a 21.4 percent strikeout rate.

As you can see by the heat maps below, he has managed to do some damage with the pitches that have stayed on the upper/outer half but remains susceptible to down and away.

Gonzalez does damage early in count

September, 24, 2012
Adrian Gonzalez
The Los Angeles Dodgers kept pace in the Wild Card race by beating the Cincinnati Reds with the help of two big lefties; Adrian Gonzalez and Clayton Kershaw.

After homering in his first plate appearance with the Dodgers on August 25, Gonzalez went 105 at-bats before hitting his second one in the second inning Sunday.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the third-longest homerless at-bat streak of Gonzalez’s career. He went 110 at-bats between home runs for the Padres in 2006 and had a drought of 109 at-bats earlier this season for the Red Sox.

Sunday was the 14th multi-home run game of Gonzalez’s career, but it was the first in which both of his homers gave his team the lead. His second-inning homer put the Dodgers ahead 1-0 and his seventh-inning homer made it 2-1 Los Angeles.

Both of Gonzalez’s homers also came early in the count, the first off a 1-0 fastball and the second off a first-pitch slider.

Gonzalez, like many hitters, has been at his best this season when he attacks early in the count.

Twelve of his 18 homers this season, including all three with the Dodgers, have come early in the count.

Plus, Gonzalez now has five career homers in just 15 at-bats against Homer Bailey, his most against any pitcher.

Kershaw took the mound for the first time in 12 days due to a hip injury. He was a bit rusty, especially with his fastball command.

Kershaw threw just 32 of his 62 fastballs (52 percent) for strikes, his second-lowest percentage in 147 career starts. He issued five walks for the first time this season and only the second time in the last two seasons.

However, Kershaw still was able to command his breaking pitches, and he was able to escape trouble by going to them in key situations.

Six of the seven curveballs Kershaw threw came with runners in scoring position. Reds hitters finished 1-for-9 in at-bats ending with his breaking balls and 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

Three of Kershaw’s five strikeouts came with runners in scoring position, all with his breaking balls (two curveballs, one slider). Maybe the biggest coming from a slider that struck out Joey Votto with the bases loaded in the fourth inning.

It was the 10th time Votto has struck out against Kershaw in 17 career at-bats, his most against any pitcher. Six of the first seven strikeouts came on fastballs, but the last three strikeouts have come on breaking balls.

The Dodgers are off Monday, but finish the season with three games at the San Diego Padres, and six games at home. Three apiece vs the Colorado Rockies and rival San Francisco Giants.

Show them the money, watch them get hurt

August, 20, 2012

AP Photo/Kevin CaseyAlex Rodriguez is one of a host of players with large contracts who got hurt this season

This isn’t necessarily the best time to be a big-money player. Carl Crawford’s decision to have season-ending Tommy John surgery is the latest in a run of significant injuries to players with $100 million contracts.

Let’s run through the list:

Carl Crawford After signing a $142 million contract in the 2010-11 offseason, Crawford was a disappointment in his first season with the Boston Red Sox. He then missed most of 2012 with an elbow injury, came back, but has since decided to have Tommy John Surgery and will miss the remainder of 2012.

Ryan Howard-- The Philadelphia Phillies signed Howard to a $125 million contract extension in 2010, though the deal didn’t kick in until this season. Howard’s contributions this year were stalled by an Achilles injury suffered while making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. He’s played in just 35 games this season.

Matt Kemp-- Kemp signed an 8-year $160 million contract that began this season, but has had to battle through a pair of hamstring injuries. He’s had a fantastic follow-up season to his 2011 campaign, but has only played in 70 games.

Alex Rodriguez-- Rodriguez played only 99 games last season for the Yankees due to injuries. This season, in his 94th game, he suffered a broken left hand when he was hit by a pitch from Felix Hernandez.

CC Sabathia-- Sabathia had a season and a vesting option added on to his massive contract this offseason, but has since fallen victim to the injury bug. He is expected to return from his second DL stint of the season on Friday, but has battled both a groin and elblow injury.

Johan Santana-- Santana proved to be worth the $137.5 million early into his contract with the Mets. But he then had to miss all of 2011 with a shoulder injury. He returned to throw a no-hitter in 2012, but has been greatly ineffective in the latter part of the season.

One stint on the DL doesn’t appear to have cured him and there is talk that the Mets could shut him down for the remainder of 2012 in the near-future.

Troy Tulowitzki-- Tulowitzki signed a 7-year deal worth more than $130 million with the Colorado Rockies after the 2010 season. This season, he’s been limited to 47 games by a groin injury and hasn’t played since May 30.

Joey Votto-- After signing a $225 million extension with the Reds this year (it kicks in in 2014), Votto got through 86 games before being forced to the sidelines with a torn meniscus. He has yet to return.

Vernon Wells--A thumb injury in mid-May sent Wells to the sidelines and he didn’t return for more than two months. Wells, who signed a seven-year, $126 million deal that runs through 2014, is hitting just .222.

Jayson Werth-- Werth got a 7-year $126 million deal in the 2010-11 offseason, but was a disappointment with the Washington Nationals in 2011. Werth broke his wrist trying to make a catch in May and missed nearly half a season’s worth of games. He is hitting .389 since his return on August 2.

AP Photo/Reed SaxonMatt Kemp hit his sixth career walk-off home run as the Dodgers beat the Phillies
The Los Angeles Dodgers needed somebody to stop the bleeding after heading into Wednesday's game on a four-game losing skid. Who better than Matt Kemp?

Regulation baseball didn’t treat Kemp nicely as he went 0-4 with three strikeouts through the first nine innings. As it turned out, he was merely saving it for later.

After coming up with a game-tying infield single in the bottom of the 10th inning, Kemp went deep off of the Philadelphia Phillies Jacob Diekman in the bottom of the 12th for his eighth career walk-off hit.

Six of Kemp's eight walk-offs have cleared the fences including both this season. All six walk-off homers have come since 2010, two more than any other player in the majors and more than 12 entire teams.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kemp is the first Dodger to have a game-tying hit in extra innings and then follow it up with a walk-off homer since the team moved to Los Angeles. The last non-Dodger to accomplish the feat was Mike Young of the 1987 Baltimore Orioles.

The all-world centerfielder has been limited to 41 games this season due to nagging hamstring injuries, but drove in three huge runs Wednesday - all in extra innings. In fact his three RBI match the extra-inning total the Dodgers had as a team entering the game.

Kemp’s home run looked similar to many of the others he has hit this season in that it came off of a fastball and he didn’t pull the pitch. Of Kemp’s 13 home runs, 10 have been off of heaters – all of which went out to center or right.

With seven opposite-field home runs, Kemp is tied for second in the majors. Only the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen has more with eight.

Votto's value takes many forms

July, 17, 2012
Joey Votto is expected undergo surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, and will miss three to four weeks. That leaves the Cincinnati Reds without the most valuable player in the National League over the past three seasons. Since 2010, Votto’s 17.3 wins above replacement (WAR) are the most for any NL position player.

Votto was putting up MVP-type numbers, while leading the Reds to the division lead in the NL Central. His .465 on-base percentage puts him on pace for the highest by a Reds player since Joe Morgan (.466) in 1975. Going into Monday, Votto had reached base 57 more times than any of his teammates.

That’s just one aspect of Votto’s game that will be glaringly absent over the next month.

Votto the Run Producer
The Reds will have to find a replacement run producer, as Votto had been carrying much of that load. His .371 batting average with runners in scoring position ranks second in the NL behind only Andrew McCutchen. The rest of the Reds are hitting just .223 with RISP.

Votto has spoiled Reds over the years. His .350 career average with runners in scoring position is the highest of any player over the past 50 years (just percentage points higher than Tony Gwynn).

Earl Webb’s Record Is Safe
Votto’s 36 doubles lead all major leaguers, and are just four shy of his 2011 total which led the NL.

That put Votto on pace for 65.5 doubles, close enough to threaten Earl Webb’s 81-year-old record of 67 in a season. Even if he didn’t get to Webb, Votto seemed poised to become the seventh player to reach 60 doubles, and the first since 1936.

With eight more doubles than anyone else, Votto could still wind up leading the NL even after this DL stint.

Losing a Lefty Bat
The loss of Votto makes the Reds lineup almost exclusively right-handed. Already, Cincinnati has nearly 200 fewer left-handed plate appearances than any other NL team. With Votto out, Jay Bruce is the lone left-handed regular.

That’s an area for concern going forward considering that the right-handed hitters on the Reds are batting just .236 against right-handed pitching this season.

Don’t Discount the Defense
Though he’s known for his bat, the Reds will certainly miss Votto’s defense at first base. His five defensive runs saved lead all NL first basemen, and he leads the majors in scooped throws. Votto is a big reason why the Reds have only 22 throwing errors this season

John Grieshop/Getty ImagesWith a league-leading 35 doubles, Reds All-Star Joey Votto is on pace to become the seventh player to hit 60 two-baggers in a season.
The Reds and Cardinals meet for the ninth time this season (8 ET on ESPN) with Cincinnati trying to sweep St. Louis for the first time since May 2011. If the Reds are to do that, they'll need a quality start from Homer Bailey. Bailey, who is replacing originally scheduled starter Johnny Cueto, is just 1-4 with a 5.86 ERA at home this season. That’s the highest home ERA in the NL this season. Twelve of the 16 home runs he’s allowed have come at home. Bailey's last win at the Great American Ball Park was nearly two months ago when he beat the Braves.

Despite Cueto being replaced, the Reds have still only used five starting pitchers this season. Only the Marlins have also only used five. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us the Reds’ 29 players used and 20 different starters are both the fewest for any club in the majors this year.

Cardinals notes

The Cardinals have struggled against the league's better teams this season going 16-25 against teams with a .500 or better win pct and 30-17 against teams with losing records. They won three of the first four games vs the Reds this season, but have lost three of the last four. St. Louis has not been swept since May 18-20 vs the Dodgers and the final game of that series was also on Sunday Night Baseball.

Despite being just four games over .500 heading into Sunday's game, the Cardinals offense hasn’t missed a beat without Albert Pujols.

Jake Westbrook takes the mound for the Cardinals looking to improve to 2-0 vs the Reds this season. In his last outing against Cincinnati back in April, Westbrook went seven innings allowing just one unearned run for his first win.

Westbrook has the second-highest groundball percentage (60%) among NL starters and the third highest percentage of pitches down in or below the strike zone (53%) in the NL this season.

Reds notes

Joey Votto has been a big reason for the Reds' success. Since 2010, Votto ranks in the top three in the NL in several major categories.

Votto is on pace for 65 doubles. Earl Webb holds the single-season record with 67. Votto led the NL with 40 doubles in 2011. He’s already five shy of that total.

Even if he doesn’t get to 67, Votto could become just the seventh player to hit 60 doubles in a season, and the first since Charlie Gehringer and Joe Medwick in 1936.

The Reds need more production from the top of their order. Their leadoff hitters have a combined batting average of .200 and a .244 on-base percentage, which ranks last in the NL. They are also near the bottom in slugging percentage, runs and walks.