Stats & Info: Jose Lopez
Quick Hits: A quick look at more Opening Day longevity.
* With Vladimir Guerrero gone, the Texas Rangers will have a different Opening Day designated hitter for the 12th straight season. The last to go back-to-back was Rafael Palmeiro in 1999-2000.
* The Chicago White Sox appear set to start the same outfield trio that began the 2010 season. In the past 35 years, the White Sox have had the same Opening Day outfield in back-to-back seasons just once. That was in 2003-04 with Carlos Lee, Aaron Rowand and Magglio Ordonez.
* Here's a glimmer of hope for New York Mets fans: the Mets have won five straight games on Opening Day, the longest active Opening Day win streak. Of course, Friday starter Mike Pelfrey may not evoke memories of Johan Santana or Tom Glavine, the starting pitchers in those five Mets wins.
* Conversely, no team has a worse recent Opening Day history than the Oakland Athletics. The A's have lost six straight times on Opening Day, the longest current streak in baseball. Oakland's most recent win was 2004, which was the last Opening Day start that Tim Hudson made in an A's uniform.
* Apart from first base, the entire Minnesota Twins infield falls into this category. In its Opening Day lineup, Minnesota will have its fifth second baseman in five years and eighth shortstop in eight years. It also will be the ninth straight year that the starting third baseman is different from the year before.
* Evan Longoria will be the only player in the Tampa Bay Rays lineup who started each of the last two opening days.
* Yunel Escobar will be the Toronto Blue Jays sixth different Opening Day shortstop in six years. Russ Adams was the last to start back-to-back openers in 2005-06.
* Similarly, Josh Willingham will be the A’s 12th Opening Day leftfielder in 12 years. Ben Grieve was the last to go back-to-back.
* Carlos Beltran is expected to be the 13th different person to man right field on Opening Day for the Mets in the past 15 years. Only Ryan Church and Jeromy Burnitz managed two such starts in that span, which included the likes of Eric Valent and Butch Huskey.
* The Colorado Rockies have only had two Opening Day first basemen: Todd Helton and Andres Galarraga. Jose Lopez will be the 14th to start at second in the opener. The last to do so in back-to-back seasons was Mike Lansing (1998-2000).
* Kevin Correia will be the 15th different Opener Day starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 19 years. That’s the period since Doug Drabek left via free agency.
Trivia Answer: Wade Miller was the last Astros pitcher not named Roy Oswalt to start on Opening Day.
Roy Oswalt didn’t allow a run in seven innings, yet he got a no-decision in the Philadelphia Phillies' 1-0 win over the Atlanta Braves. The Phillies have wons each of the last 10 starts made by Oswalt. From the Elias Sports Bureau: The last time Philadelphia won 10 consecutive games started by one pitcher was in 1993, when it was victorious in 11 straight starts by Tommy Greene.
More from the Elias Sports Bureau: The Phillies are the second National League team this season with a 10-game winning streak in September, along with the Colorado Rockies. The last year in which two National League teams had winning streaks of at least 10 games in September was 1969, when the Braves and New York Mets each won 10 straight en route to winning their respective divisions.
From ESPN.com Senior Baseball Writer Jayson Stark: From 2004 to 2009, there were five 1-0 games at Citizens Bank Park. However, since July 10, there have now been six 1-0 games at there, and the Phillies have won five.
Jose Lopez became the first Seattle Mariner to hit three home runs in a game since Mike Cameron hit four against the White Sox on May 2, 2002. He’s the second Mariners third baseman with a 3-HR game, joining Jim Presley in 1986.
Lopez is the third different third basemen to hit three home runs in a game this season (Aramis Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion are the other two). The only season with more three-HR games by third basemen in the modern era (since 1900) is 1987 with four (Tim Wallach, Mike Schmidt, Brook Jacoby and Darnell Coles). Note: Alex Rodriguez also had a three-HR game this season, but he did it as a designated hitter.
The Oakland Athletics had a 3-2 ninth-inning lead before the Chicago White Sox came back with two in the top of the ninth to win 4-3. It was Oakland’s first loss of the season when leading after eight innings (68-1). The only remaining team without a loss when leading after eight innings is the Kansas City Royals, 48-0.
- Among starting pitchers, only Carlos Silva (70.0) throws a higher percentage of first-pitch strikes than Cliff Lee (69.0). So it should be little surprise that batters come out swinging. Opponents swing at 39.2 percent of Lee’s first pitches. The last starter with a higher rate? Johan Santana’s 39.7 in 2005.
- Somehow Scott Downs has put together a solid season in the Toronto bullpen despite a 45.0 first-pitch strike percentage. After a 1-0 count, opponents are hitting just .217 against Downs.
- James Shields has given up 34 hits on the first pitch, and is on pace to allow the most for the second straight year. Opponents are hitting .540 against him on the first pitch (league average is .339).
- Shields has also allowed seven first-pitch home runs. The entire Yankees’ pitching staff has allowed just four.
- Chris Carpenter has hit four batters with the first pitch. That is more than seven teams have all season.
- As a team, no one swings at the first pitch more than the Blue Jays (33.2 percent) or less than the Red Sox (19.1). Not surprisingly, the Blue Jays have the fourth-worst batting average on the first pitch (.310), while the Red Sox are fourth-best (.371).
- Of Geovany Soto’s eight home runs, five came on the first pitch. He has the highest first-pitch OPS (2.115) of any player with at least 20 plate appearances ending on the first pitch.
- Pablo Sandoval has grounded into nine double plays on the first pitch this season. That’s more than six teams and almost twice as many as the Mets (5).
- Brett Gardner has only swung at the first pitch 18 times all season and has the second lowest percentage of swings in the majors behind Franklin Gutierrez. Gardner has made those swings count, having gone 5-for-8 on the first pitch.
Today’s Leaderboard: Given that no one swings at a higher percentage of first pitches, it should be no surprise that Vladimir Guerrero leads the majors with 22 RBI on the first pitch. Delmon Young is next with 21. In his career, Guerrero has 382 RBI coming on the first pitch. That’s 78 more than the next active player (Manny Ramirez).
Key Matchups: Zack Greinke is a perfect 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA in his career against the Mariners. Consider that the second, fourth and fifth hitters in the Mariners lineup are a combined 3-for-51 (.059), and it’s easy to see why. Chone Figgins is 0-for-16 against Greinke and hasn’t even walked. Meanwhile, Jose Lopez (1-for-17) and Franklin Gutierrez (2-for-18) have not fared much better.
Vernon Wells’ overall numbers (19 HR, .872 OPS) may have warranted his All-Star selection, but much of that is courtesy of an electric April. Over his last 25 games, Wells is hitting just .191 with a .651 OPS. Could Tuesday be the start of a turnaround? Wells is 8-for-20 with four home runs in his career against Carl Pavano. No other player has more than three long balls against the Twins hurler. Wells is hitting .600 with three home runs in his last 10 at-bats against Pavano.
Trivia Answer: Since the day of Orel Hershiser’s retirement, Derek Lowe’s 54 wins are the most in a Dodger uniform. Chad Billingsley could tie that total in his next start. Only the Pirates have fewer wins from their wins leader over that span. For comparison, Hershiser won 135 games over 13 seasons with the Dodgers.
Fast forward to the first week of the season: Rajai Davis hit a sharp ground ball off Doug Fister that sped toward the 3B/SS hole. Lopez, playing in on the grass with the chance of a bunt from the speedy Davis, dove to his left but missed the ball by inches. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I’d bet that Adrian Beltre or Chone Figgins would have come up with that ball, and Lopez just cost them a base hit.” Before I could finish the thought, shortstop Jack Wilson flew into the picture, backhanded the ball, set his feet and launched a rocket to first, just in time to get Davis. Wilson bailed out Lopez, Fister, and the Mariners on a play that Figgins might have made (had he been playing third).
Sure, it’s just one play, but this example illustrates that playing two good fielders on the left side of the infield could cause some overlap, effectively making the total less than the sum of the parts. On some ground balls, both the third baseman and the shortstop could make the play, but only one needs to.
I created a model of the Mariners’ infield using each player’s 2009 performance. I’ll spare you the long explanation for now (I’m running over my word count as it is), but I projected the distribution of ground balls allowed by Mariner pitching in 2009 onto their projected infield before and after the swap. Since I didn’t have a model for Lopez and Figgins at their new positions, I used average third basemen (Melvin Mora, Kevin Kouzmanoff) and above-average second basemen (Dustin Pedroia, Chase Utley, Aaron Hill) as proxies at their respective positions.
For example, let’s compare the Mora/Wilson/Pedroia/Casey Kotchman infield to Figgins/Wilson/Lopez/Kotchman. Adding up the full season of plays, the drop-off at third was significant, but Jack Wilson reached most of the grounders anyway. In fact, Mora (Lopez’s proxy at third base) covers an estimated 58 fewer plays than Figgins, but Wilson’s elite defense makes up 45 of those from shortstop! Add in the 18-play increase from Lopez to Pedroia (Figgins' proxy) at second base, and it’s a net gain of five plays for the team. Using similar infield proxies at third and second, the Mariners’ improvement ranges from zero to 15 plays per season as a result of the swap. Even though it’s not a huge improvement, every run could make a difference in the competitive AL West.
Regardless of the reasons, the (very) early returns on the position swap are positive: Figgins has saved one run at second according to Baseball Info Solutions, while Jose Lopez has accumulated eight Runs Saved, leading all third basemen. So far, so good in Seattle.
The fact that Greinke allowed back-to-back home runs is actually nothing new, he’s done that four times previously including a back-to-back-to-back occurrence in 2004 against the Mariners (Miguel Olivo/Jose Lopez/Hiram Bocachica). But there are some interesting notes about tonight’s dingers allowed by Greinke.
It was the 17th time that Greinke allowed multiple home runs in a game, but just the 4th time he’s done so in his 73 starts at Kauffman Stadium. In fact, Greinke had gone 36 straight starts in Kauffman since he last allowed more than one in a game. It was the longest such streak by a Royals starter since Mark Gubicza went 48 straight starts from 1990 to 1995.
Perhaps the most interesting nugget off the back-to-back shots, however, comes from Stats and Info’s Doug Kern who points out that both home runs came off Greinke’s curveball. Last season, only three players had homered off Greinke’s curve – Gordon Beckham, Marlon Byrd and Adam Jones.
While the low home run total off the curve is impressive, perhaps it's nothing more than dumb luck. Over the past three seasons opponents are hitting .276 off Greinke’s curve with an OPS of .714. Both those numbers are well above the league average of .222 and .601.
After hitting primarily in the second and ninth spot in the order last season, Aybar is slated to replace Chone Figgins at the top of the lineup – which makes him One2Watch4 in 2010. So what can Halos fans expect from Aybar in the leadoff spot this season?
One key part of Aybar’s offensive toolbox is his ability to lay down bunts. Last season he led all major league players with 18 bunt hits.
Aybar’s overall speed and baserunning smarts will also be an asset once he reaches base from the leadoff spot. According to baseball-reference.com, Aybar advanced an extra base (more than one base on a single and more than two bases on a double) 62% of the time when possible, which ranked fourth among players with at least 550 plate appearances last season. However, there are several areas of Aybar’s approach at the plate that do not fit the typical high-walk, patient, disciplined profile of a leadoff guy:
" Aybar walked in just 5.4 percent of his plate appearances, the 17th-worse mark in the majors. The guy he’s replacing – Figgins – walked in 17.9 percent of his plate appearances, the 17th-BEST mark in the majors.
" Aybar saw just 3.47 pitches per plate appearance, the 16th-lowest rate in the majors. Not surprisingly, Figgins was one of the most patient hitters in the league, with 4.21 pitches seen per plate appearance, the 11th-BEST rate in MLB.
" Aybar swung at 36.3 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, the 5th-highest rate in the majors.
" Finally, Aybar’s first-pitch strike percentage of 65.3 percent was the highest in the majors last season.
Yet, don’t give up hope, all you SoCal halo fans out there. While Aybar chases a lot of pitches and often finds himself behind in the count, he’s proven to be resilient in those situations:
" Aybar makes contact on a whopping 79.7 percent of those pitches chased out of the zone, which ranks eighth in MLB.
" Aybar had a batting average of .314 after 0-1 counts, the 5th-best mark in the majors in those situations.
If Aybar can continue to use his speed to get on base and advance on the basepaths, while also improving his discipline and patience at the plate, he’ll be One2Watch4 as the Angels' new and exciting leadoff batter in 2010.