Stats & Info: Jon Rauch
Even with a less-than-reliable closer, the Phillies have been the best team in the National League over the last two seasons, winning an NL-best 190 games (10 more than the second-place Giants). Philadelphia’s potent lineup often allows pitchers a greater margin of error. In six of Lidge’s 16 blown saves since 2009, the Phillies have gone on to win the game. Only Leo Nunez has had more blown saves (seven) in which team has won over that span.
Charlie Manuel said that Jose Contreras would likely start the season as the team’s closer, but setup man Ryan Madson could also see time in that role. Manuel might want to re-think having a closer by committee and instead give the job to Contreras on a full-time basis.
Contreras converted four of his five save opportunities in 2010 and was more effective in save situations than in other relief opportunities. In 18 save situations, Contreras had a 3.21 ERA and an opponents' OPS of .637. In non-save situations, he had a 3.38 ERA and an opponents' OPS of .720.
While Contreras thrived in the closer’s role in 2010, Madson struggled. We mentioned above that Lidge has the lowest save percentage in the majors since 2009 among pitchers with at least 50 save opportunities. When you consider all pitchers with 25 or more save opportunities, that dubious honor now belongs to Madson, who has 15 saves in 26 opportunities (57.7%) over the last two seasons.
If Lidge’s injury turns out to be more serious than anticipated, you don’t have to search hard to find a team that was able to overcome an injury to its All-Star closer in spring training. Minnesota Twins reliever Jon Rauch stepped into Joe Nathan’s rather large shoes after the latter was lost for the season with an elbow injury last March. Rauch saved 20 games prior to the All-Star Break before yielding to midseason acquisition Matt Capps, who was equally effective as the Twins won the AL Central for a second straight season.
Quick Hits: Pitchers love getting ground ball outs and pitching coaches love preaching to play to your defense. Let’s take a look at which hitters and pitchers have ratios at either end of the spectrum:
Derek Jeter has been beating the ball into the turf more than any other AL hitter. He has a 3.30 groundout-to-flyout ratio, which blows away second place on the list (Juan Pierre, at 2.28).
Meanwhile, the man who frequently bats behind Jeter in the order is a polar opposite. Nick Swisher’s 0.66 ratio is second-lowest on the list, narrowly behind Jhonny Peralta’s 0.65
Chalk up the Cleveland Indians as a team that pitches to the ground ball. Justin Masterson is the leader in groundout-to-flyout ratio among pitchers, and two other Indians (or former Indians) ranked in the top eight in that category – Fausto Carmona and the departed Jake Westbrook.
In the NL, a pair of Central division batters – Michael Bourn and Skip Schumaker – are the groundout-to-flyout frequenters. Maybe the biggest surprise comes at third on the list – Jason Heyward, with a 1.92 ratio.
Roger McDowell and Dave Duncan seem to be kindred spirits, with their pitching staffs following in tow. Of the top four groundout-to-flyout pitchers in the NL, two are Braves (Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe) and the other two are Cardinals (Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright).
On the other end of things, the San Francisco Giants have three starters in the top five of pitchers who get flyouts most frequently. Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito are all among the league leaders in that category.
Today’s Leaderboard: How would you like to be Jon Rauch on Sunday – entering the game trying to continue the dominance after Kevin Slowey pitches seven no-hit innings? It didn’t end well for Rauch, who allowed a double to the second batter he faced, ending the no-hitter and eventually the shutout.
Lucky for Rauch, it was a relatively low-leverage situation, at least numbers-wise: his team was up 4-0 with only nine outs needed to polish off the A’s. But which guys have entered games in high-leverage situations the most this season? Interesting to see two Boston Red Sox pitchers on this list:
High leverage is defined here as the first PA of a pitcher’s appearance having a leverage index of 1.5 or higher. A leverage index of 1.0 is considered average, with the greater index indicating the higher pressure. By the way, Rauch has 21 high leverage appearances this season.
Key Matchups: Max Scherzer has only faced four active New York Yankees batters in his career, but he’s made them look silly. Lance Berkman, Curtis Granderson, Austin Kearns and Mark Teixeira are a combined 3-16 (.188 BA) against Scherzer. Those batters have eight strikeouts in 18 AB.
You could see why Kevin Correia might not be thrilled about taking the mound at Wrigley Field tonight – Correia has a 17.47 ERA in five games there, including one start. That’s his worst ERA of any ballpark where he’s made a start. In his last outing, a start with the Giants, Correia didn’t make it out of the fourth inning and allowed seven earned runs.
More on the potentially epic lefty matchup tonight in Tampa. Let’s breakdown their Opp BA numbers, tale-of-the-tape style:
Moral of the story? It’s better to go lefty-lefty against Lee rather than Price. And while Lee excels in keeping runners off base in the first place, Price thrives once they do get on.
Trivia Answer: Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine finished 1-2 in 2000. The NL hasn’t seen a lefty Cy winner since the Big Unit won his last in 2002. To find two leftys that finished 1-2 in the AL, you have to go all the way back to 1979, when Mike Flanagan won and Tommy John took second.
Had Slowey finished the job, it would have been the first Twins no-hitter since September 11, 1999, when Eric Milton beat the Angels. If Rauch and the bullpen had finished it off, it would have been the first combined no-hitter since six Houston Astros pitchers shut down the New York Yankees on June 11, 2003.
The last pitcher removed from a no-hitter, having thrown at least seven innings, was Damian Moss in 2002 for the Braves in St. Louis (Moss threw 116 pitches).
The last AL pitcher removed after seven no-hit innings was David Cone for the Yankees in Oakland on September 2, 1996 (Cone's 1st start back from injury).
As a result, the A's still have the longest drought of any AL team without being no-hit. Oakland has gone 19 full seasons without being no-hit, and Nolan Ryan was the last to do it, on June 11, 1990.
The Twins went from one former Nationals reliever to another for their closer role, acquiring Matt Capps from the Nationals on Thursday. Both pitchers have more than 20 saves, but Capps’ stats show he gets more strikeouts, more swings and misses and more batters to go out of the strike zone. Also, almost half of the balls put in play against Capps are grounders, a much better rate than Rauch.
Capps’ First Pitch Importance
Like most pitchers, Matt Capps sets the tone of the at-bat with his first pitch. Unlike most pitchers, he’s usually better off if it’s a ball. Hitters are actually performing worse against Capps this season when he starts them off by missing the strike zone.
Who has the most hits in baseball? Odds are prior to the start of the season, you wouldn't have said Scott Podsednik, Placido Polanco or Franklin Gutierrez would lead baseball in hits with 21 on this date. Podsednik leads baseball with a .457 BA.
Even more bizarre, Ivan Rodriguez leads the NL with a .444 BA.
I'm sure everyone thought Jorge Cantu would be the player with the most RBI with 16.
No Joe Nathan, no problem. The Twins Jon Rauch has the most saves with 6.
Felix Hernandez or CC Sabathia have to lead the AL in strikeouts, right? Wrong. That honor goes to the Orioles Brian Matusz with 23, one fewer than Tim Lincecum's ML-leading total 24.
Of course Lincecum leads baseball in K per 9 then... Wrong again. Fellow Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez has a higher K per 9 than any starter in baseball (12.41).
Your ML leader in XBH? None other than Blue Jays SS Alex Gonzalez with 11. In fact 11 of his 17 hits have gone for extra bases.
Stop the presses, a Nationals pitcher leads baseball in ERA. We told you Stephen Strasburg was the real deal. Wait. It's not Strasburg you are talking about? Nope. Livan Hernandez has yet to allow a run in 16 innings this season. In case you missed it, Hernandez' ERA is almost 6 over the last two years. Matt Garza leads the AL in ERA at 0.75.
Obviously the Blue Jays knew Ricky Romero would have the lowest opponent BA among AL starters at this point (.143). Why else would they have traded Roy Halladay? And if you guessed a Cardinals starter led the majors in Opp BA, you guessed right. Except it's not Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter we're talking about. We'd be talking about Jaime Garcia, who has held opponents to a .116 BA this season.
Quick Hits: More fun with tiny sample sizes. This time, with the help of Baseball Tonight researcher Mark Simon, let’s take a look at some strangeness pertaining to closers.
* Jon Rauch has had an odd go of it, so far. He's started 13 of 19 hitters with an 0-1 count. Those hitters are batting .385 against him. The six hitters that he's started with a 1-0 count are hitless.
* For the first time in his career, Jonathan Papelbon has more walks (2) than strikeouts (1) in a season.
* Via Fangraphs, hitters have only swung at 11 percent of pitches that Mike Gonzalez has thrown out of the strike zone. Last year, they swung at nearly 31 percent.
* Also via Fangraphs: In three appearances, hitters have made contact on 94.7 percent of their swings against Rafael Soriano. Last year, they made contact on 71.3 percent (16th-best among the 341 pitchers to throw at least 50 innings)
* Jose Valverde, who has always been more of a flyball pitcher, has induced eight grounders compared to only one fly.
* Matt Capps has allowed two doubles and five walks in four appearances, yet has only been charged with one run. Opposing hitters are 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Key Matchups: Brandon Inge is 0-for-14 in his career against Brian Bannister, which matches his history with Bruce Chen for Inge’s most at-bats without a hit against a pitcher. It is also the most Bannister has faced anyone without allowing a hit. Gary Sheffield is 0-for-12 against him.
Jorge Cantu is 6-for-20 all-time against Bronson Arroyo, which normally would not be significant enough to be mentioned in this space. However, Cantu is swinging for history on Tuesday. He has at least one hit and one RBI in all seven games this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he can tie the MLB record tonight for consecutive games to start a season with both a hit and an RBI. George Kelly did it in eight straight games for the 1921 Giants. The good news for Cantu? He has four hits in his last five at-bats against Arroyo, including a pair of home runs.
Today’s Leaderboard: Two of the hitters struggling most so far this season are leading the majors in pitches per plate appearance. David Ortiz leads the way with 5.0, followed by Milton Bradley. Are they struggling with patience or because of it? According to baseball-reference.com, Ortiz has been caught looking at 37 percent of the strikes thrown his way, well above his career average of 25 percent. He has also only swung at eight percent of first pitches. His career average is 28 percent.
Trivia Answer: Rose had 64 hits off of Phil Niekro, four more than he had against Don Sutton. A big part of that were 266 plate appearances against the knuckler, 72 more than against Sutton. Fun fact: Rose did not strike out once in his final 101 plate appearances against Niekro.
It seems like doomsday for the Minnesota Twins with all-star closer Joe Nathan having major elbow issues. So who is going to fill the gaping hole that Nathan's injury creates? Among relievers currently on the roster, Jon Rauch's 26 career saves are second to the 247 that Nathan has racked up. Three other relievers, including Matt Guerrier, have a total of just 10 saves over 18 combined seasons. Nathan earned a career-high 47 of those 247 career saves last season in large part to how effective he was when the game was on the line. His BA allowed when runners were in scoring position was .103, which was the 3rd-best mark in the bigs among those pitchers with at least 60 innings.
Ironically - or expectedly - the three pitchers who ranked at the top of that list are sporting significant arm injuries. Erik Bedard, who led baseball with a .092 opponent's BA with RISP, had surgery in August for a torn labrum, while Angel Guzman has a tear in his shoulder. This injury certainly wasn't expected from Nathan, who has proven to be one of the most durable pitchers around. His 490 appearances since 2003 are the 4th most in baseball. Brad Lidge (511), David Weathers (493) and Francisco Cordero (492) are the only players who have pitched in more games than Nathan in that span.
But taking a deeper look using Inside Edge's numbers, Minnesota's hopes are not crushed. Yes, Nathan's production has been on par with Mariano Rivera since becoming the closer full-time in Minnesota, and he's performed MUCH better than the league average in a number of areas. But the two pitchers with the best shot to fill Nathan's cleats haven't been that far behind.
As you can see, Rauch and Guerrier excel at a lot of the things that made Nathan and Rivera among the AL's best over the last three seasons.
But there is one thing that Twins fans will have to get used to as they root for their 2010 closer to finish opponents off: fewer punchouts.
Last season, 46 pitchers made at least 5 saves. Of those 46, just three pitchers had a K-per-9 rate below 6.0.
Matt Guerrier's K per 9 last season? 5.5. And Jon Rauch was not too much better at 6.3 K per 9.Jeremy Lundblad, Dennis Renno, Mark Simon contributed to this post.