Stats & Info: Justin Smoak

AP Photo/LM OteroNeftali Feliz pitched seven shutout innings in his first major-league start.
Tuesday marked the first major league starts for former bullpen stalwarts Neftali Feliz and Daniel Bard. Both were successful in the bullpen, but only one handled the transition well in his debut.

Feliz was facing off with a familiar foe as the Texas Rangers hosted the Seattle Mariners. Entering the game, the Mariners had not recorded a hit in 48 at-bats against Feliz. Justin Smoak finally broke the hitless drought with two outs in the fourth inning.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 58 at-bats before allowing a hit is the longest streak to start a career against one team in the expansion era (since 1961). The record was previously held by Billy Wagner, who held the Pittsburgh Pirates hitless in their first 48 at-bats from 1996 to 2001.

Feliz was able to handle the move to the bullpen by mixing up his pitches. As a reliever, he threw a fastball on 80 percent of his pitches. The first time through the Seattle order on Tuesday, he threw heat on 69 percent of his pitches. After that, he relied on his fastball only 39 percent of the time.

For the game, Feliz mixed in sliders on 26 percent of his pitches and changeups on 23 percent. Mariners hitters were 1-for-8 in at-bats ending with a changeup, including two strikeouts.

Bard wasn’t as fortunate in his transition to the rotation. He allowed five earned runs without recording an out in the sixth inning as the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Boston Red Sox 7-3.

In three years as a reliever, he threw fastballs 71 percent of the time and sliders 21 percent of the time. The key to his success out of the bullpen was his slider. Opponents missed nearly half the times they swung at the pitch. He was able to coax swings on sliders outside the zone nearly a third of the time.

On Tuesday, he threw the slider 35 percent of the time and was just as successful. The Blue Jays missed on nine of their 14 swings against the slider and four of Bard’s six strikeouts came on the pitch. But they were able to tee off on his fastball, getting eight hits in 17 at-bats ending with the pitch.

Bard was unable to establish a third pitch during the game. In the first four innings, he threw only four changeups and all of them missed the strike zone. He found the zone with three of six changeups to his last five batters and induced a groundout by Adam Lind.

Quick hits
Freddy Garcia tied the American League record with five wild pitches in his start against the Baltimore Orioles.

Jayson Werth recorded his eighth career four-hit game, his first since June 27, 2009.

The Detroit Tigers are the last undefeated team in the American League, despite not getting a decision from their starters.

The Atlanta Braves snapped a nine-game losing streak dating to last season with a win at the Houston Astros.

Andre Ethier celebrated his 30th birthday by hitting the game-winning home run in the bottom of the eighth, his 11th career go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later.

Dan Braunstein contributed to this post.

1st pitch: The most without…

April, 23, 2010
4/23/10
1:36
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Today’s Trivia: Justin Smoak, a South Carolina native, is expected to make his MLB debut on Friday. Who has the most career home runs for a player born in South Carolina?

Quick Hits: Reggie Willits appeared in his 300th game on Thursday, and a career-long trend continued. He went 0-for-3, and still does not have a home run in his career. The active position player with the next most career games without a homer is Jose Morales with 55. In fact, Willits has more career plate appearances without a home run (819) than any pitcher. Ryan Dempster is next at 518. So with that in mind, and the help of STATS, here are some notable “most withouts” among active players:

* Angel Pagan has the most plate appearances (881) without being hit by a pitch.

* Chase Utley has 83 stolen bases, but has never even tried to steal third.

* Alex Rios has the most stolen bases (120) for a player that has never been picked off.

* Ryan Garko has been on base more times (602) than any other player without a stolen base.

* John McDonald has nearly twice as many plate appearances (1,889) as the next player who has never been intentionally walked.

* Ramon Castro has the most plate appearances (1,400) without a triple.

* Edinson Volquez has the most plate appearances (77) without a walk. Tommy Manzella (45) has the most for a position player.

* Ryan Perry has the most appearances (60) and innings (69 2/3) without a win.

* Cla Meredith has the most relief appearances (270) without a save.

* Scott Olsen and Claudio Vargas have the most starts (114) without a complete game.

* Andrew Bailey has pitched the most innings (88 1/3) without hitting a batter.

* Jon Garland has pitched the most innings (1,851 1/3) without a balk.

* Carlos Silva has the most innings (1,147 2/3) without a pickoff. Interestingly, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are next.

* George Sherrill has the most innings (256) without allowing a triple.

* Brad Ziegler has the most innings (142) without a wild pitch.

Today’s Leaderboard: In the spirit of today’s theme, CC Sabathia’s 292 starts are the most for an active pitcher without a relief appearance. He’s followed by Ben Sheets (225) and Jake Peavy (219). Carlos Zambrano has 21 relief appearances to his name, but none since 2002. His streak of 241 straight appearances as a starter is likely to be broken this weekend. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Zambrano’s streak is the fifth longest among active pitchers. Livan Hernandez’s last 415 appearances have been as a starter.

Key Matchups: The top five hitters that the Royals used yesterday are 41-94 lifetime against Carl Pavano. That’s a .436 batting average. It’s no wonder that Pavano is just 4-5 with a 7.84 ERA in his career against Kansas City.

Adrian Beltre is just 1-for-18 in his career against Jeremy Guthrie. That .056 batting average is his worst against any pitcher he has at least 20 plate appearances against.

Whenever Albert Pujols meets Tim Lincecum, it warrants mentioning. Pujols is 3-for-8 in his career against Lincecum, but has just one hit in their last seven meetings at the plate.

Trivia Answer: Jim Rice’s 382 home runs are the most for a player born in South Carolina. He’s followed by Reggie Sanders (305). The active leader? Orlando Hudson with 78.

One2Watch4: Rangers 1B Chris Davis

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
1:57
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It didn't take long for Chris Davis to find success at the major league level. The Rangers first baseman burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2008 posting a .285/.330/.549 line with 17 home runs in his first 80 big league games. Expectations were high going into 2009, but Davis failed to live up to his rookie hype, sinking to a .238/.284/.442 line in 113 games while striking out 150 times. Through his first two Major League seasons, Davis is in rare air historically.

The Play Index tool on baseball-reference.com shows how historically high, or in this case low, Davis' career contact rate is. In the simplest terms, contact rate measures a hitter’s ability to put the ball in play. Davis’ contact rate is the lowest in Major League history for a player 23 or under over the course of his first two seasons played. To put it another way, nobody at Davis’ age and experience level has struck out at the rate he has. Ever. Still, despite his propensity to swing and miss, hope remains for the first baseman, especially when you compare him to some other sluggers with historically low contact rates at his age.

Eight of the nine other players on the list became All-Stars during their careers, with some ranking among the greatest home run hitters of their generation. What Davis lacks, compared to this group, is plate discipline. Davis’ career walk-to-strikeout ratio is .18, the worst of the nine players. For reference, the MLB average in 2009 was .50. Players who struggle to make contact and have well-below-average plate discipline typically don’t last long in the big leagues.

However, many of the players on the previous list made improvements in their third seasons.



Five of the players equaled or bettered their contact rate while four did the same for their walk-to-strikeout ratio. Only Reggie Jackson and Darryl Strawberry improved both. Davis has a long way to go to be compared to Jackson or Strawberry, but there are some positives to go on. After spending 44 games in Triple-A, Davis improved his contact rate by almost 20 percent, raising it from 56 percent in the first half to a respectable 73 percent after returning to the big leagues. His walk-to-strikeout ratio still sat at .19, however. With highly-regarded prospect Justin Smoak pushing for playing time at first base, 2010 may be a make or break season for Davis. Season-long improvements in his contact rate and plate discipline will go a long way in determining whether his career path rivals Pete Incaviglia or Reggie Jackson. This makes him One2Watch4.

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