Stats & Info: Los Angeles Angels

Star-studded showdown: Trout vs. Kershaw

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
4:09
PM ET
ESPN Stats & InformationThe Trout-Kershaw matchup will test the strengths of both players.
Hollywood loves a good blockbuster, and Tuesday night's battle in Chavez Ravine between the Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers will be no exception.

It will be the first ever regular-season meeting between Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw.

Here are a few of the top stats to know for Tuesday night's marquee matchup.

Best of the best
Trout debuted for the Angels in 2011 (the season Kershaw won his first Cy Young award), but made a name for himself in 2012.

Since then, Trout has been arguably the best hitter in baseball, while Kershaw could be considered the game's best pitcher.

Trout leads all position players in WAR since the start of 2012 and Kershaw leads all pitchers in WAR over the same stretch.

Not only are they both at the top of their games in 2014, but each has started his career in historically impressive fashion.

Trout has produced more WAR through age 22 than any position player in MLB since 1900. His 26.1 WAR from 2011 on is ahead of Ty Cobb's 25.5 and Ted Williams' 23.6 through their seasons at age 22.

Meanwhile, Kershaw has produced more WAR through his age 26 season (this season) than any pitcher to debut in the last 40 years. His 37.4 WAR since 2008 is ahead of Dwight Gooden's 36.5 and Bret Saberhagen's and Roger Clemens' third-place tie at 35.7 through their seasons at age 26.

Strength vs. strength
One thing to keep an eye on will be how Trout handles Kershaw’s pitches in the lower third of the strike zone and below.

Kershaw ranks at or near the top in baseball in effectiveness with pitches down in the zone.

It's also worth noting that Kershaw has thrown an increasingly high percentage (46.0) of his pitches down, a jump from 37.3 percent a season ago and 36.5 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, Trout has crushed pitches down in the zone, leading MLB with a .382 batting average, .763 slugging percentage and 17 home runs this season on pitches in that location.

Fastballs early, curveballs late
When thinking about how Kershaw might pitch to Trout, consider how Trout has fared against each of the types of pitches Kershaw throws.

Eighty-five percent of Kershaw's first pitches this season have been fastballs, while Trout ranks in the bottom third of the league in batting average against fastballs. Against first-pitch fastballs, Trout is hitting .250 this season, which ranks in the 13th percentile across MLB.

Trout has also struggled to hit pitches thrown up in the zone.

If Kershaw can survive deep in the count, he has thrown the curveball on 36 percent of his two-strike pitches up in the zone this season, the highest rate of any starter in MLB. Trout has seen 131 curveballs up in the zone in his career and has produced zero hits on just seven swings.

Top stats to know: Angels at Braves

June, 15, 2014
Jun 15
12:23
PM ET

AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
Nobody has hit more home runs on pitches down in the zone this season than Mike Trout.
Tonight on ESPN (8 PM ET), two teams in the thick of their divisional races square off in an interleague matchup as the Atlanta Braves host the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels have excelled recently in interleague play, winning 11 of their last 14 games, while the Braves are just 1-7 this season against American League opponents.

Here are some players and matchups to watch.

Star Watch: Mike Trout
In Saturday night’s game, Mike Trout homered to give him 75 in his big-league career in 399 games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Trout needed the third-fewest games in MLB history to reach the 75 HR-75 SB mark, being beaten there by just Eric Davis and Alfonso Soriano.

Braves starter Mike Minor should avoid pitching down in the zone when facing Trout, as Trout has hammered that type of pitching during his career.

Dating back to the start of the 2012 season, Trout leads the majors with a .356 batting average and a .581 slugging percentage against pitches down in the zone. And his 27 home runs ranks behind only Baltimore’s Chris Davis.

Trout is getting better against those pitches. As the chart on the right shows, his slugging percentage has risen every year, and his 11 homers against pitches down in the zone is three more than any other player this season entering Sunday.

Working up in the zone will be a much better bet for Minor. Trout is 0-28 this season against pitches up in the zone.

Matchup to Watch: Angels Hitters vs Minor’s First Pitch
This season, opposing hitters have 13 hits in 24 at-bats against Minor’s first pitch, good for a .542 batting average. On all other counts, batters are hitting .241 against Minor.

That’s continuing a trend for Minor, against whom opponents batted .345 on first pitches in 2013, compared to .254 in 2012.

Hitters are getting a bit more aggressive against Minor’s first pitch, as the swing rate on his first pitches has increased from 24.8% in 2012, to 29.5% this season. And they’ve been rewarded, as the swing-and-miss rate is 11.3% this year, compared to 26.0% in 2012.

What’s Going on With the Braves Offense?
Last season, Braves batters struck out 1,384 times, tied for the sixth-most by a team in a single season in MLB history. This season, their strikeout rate is up from 22.7% to 23.2%.

But along with the worse strikeout rate, the Braves have dropped off in several other categories this season, giving them one of the worst offenses in baseball.

Last year, the Braves ranked 13th in the majors in runs scored, but this season, they’re averaging just 3.6 runs per game, 29th in MLB.

Inside Mike Trout's contact struggles

May, 13, 2014
May 13
12:45
PM ET

ESPN Stats & InformationMike Trout is really struggling to hit pitches up and in this season.
Entering this season, much was made about Mike Trout’s comments regarding how he intended to be more aggressive early.

While his swing rate is up slightly overall (and on the first pitch of an at-bat), the real story through the first month and a half is the fact Trout is making contact a lot less this season when he does swing.

The most surprising leaderboard from the first quarter of the season may be that, entering Tuesday’s action, Trout is tied for first in the American League in strikeouts with 47.

TROUT’S STRIKEOUT/SWING & MISS ISSUES
Trout’s production is down this season and the biggest difference is a massive increase in strikeouts, which naturally results in fewer balls in play.

Trout is whiffing far more often against pitches in the strike zone, and pitchers have been able to strike him out while keeping the ball in the zone.

Nearly half of his strikeouts last season came against a pitch in the strike zone. This season, almost three-quarters of his strikeouts are via a pitch in the zone.

His batting average on pitches in the zone – which he should crush – has fallen from a top-15 mark of .350 in 2013 to a below-average .291 in 2014.

DIVING DEEPER: INSIDE TROUT’S STRUGGLES
It appears that Trout is struggling with pitches up in the zone, and specifically when pitchers challenge him inside as well. As you can see in the heat map above, the ‘blue/cold’ area is most pronounced up and in, an area that was largely ‘red’ last season.

Last season, 43 percent of his hits came on pitches on the inside, but that rate has dropped to just 23 percent this year.

Perhaps the most telling stat of his “up-and-in” struggles is this: No hitter is producing hard contact less often against pitches in the upper half this season than Trout.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A MONTH MAKES
Trout’s contact issues have been a season-long problem, but recently his entire offensive production has collapsed. After putting together an MVP performance in April during which he led the AL in WAR, he has just five hits in 38 at-bats in his first 10 games in May.

Pitchers are challenging him more this month -- throwing more fastballs and pitches in the zone -- and he hasn't taken advantage like he did in April.

He is hitting just .111 on pitches in the strike zone and is 3 for 24 vs the heater this month.

It also appears that pitchers have recognized his inability to do anything with pitches up in the zone and have been pounding that area with a lot of success.

His rate of pitches seen in that location has increased from 34 percent in April to 42 percent in May, and Trout has just one hit in 13 at-bats ending in a pitch in the upper half of the zone this month.

Furthermore, Trout is really struggling to pull the ball with any authority in May. He has one hit to left field this month, a groundball single on May 2. He had 17 hits, including 10 extra-base hits (5 doubles, 1 triple, 4 home runs), to left field in April.

--Katie Sharp contributed to this post

Top stats to know: Athletics at Angels

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
12:24
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The Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels face off in part two of an ESPN doubleheader Monday night (read about part one here). Here are some of the statistical storylines we’ll be tracking from that matchup.

Oakland’s economical pitching
The Athletics are going with a very low-budget starting rotation this season as they’ve spent only $11.3 million on their five starters. Only the Marlins ($3.2 million) have spent less.

Scott Kazmir accounts for $9 million of the starting pitching budget. The next highest paid starter, Jesse Chavez ($775,000), starts Monday night.

Chavez, a 42nd-round pick in 2002, is now pitching for his seventh major league team, and he seems to have found a groove early this season.

In 13 innings pitched, Chavez has posted a 1.38 ERA, 13 strikeouts and only two walks (6.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio). He has done most of the damage with his cutter.

Chavez has thrown his cutter on nearly 37 percent of his pitches, second only to Travis Wood (44 percent, min. 2 starts). Opponents have gone 4-for-24 (.174) against the pitch with eight strikeouts and no extra-base hits in 2014. The Angels have struggled against cutters so far this season, batting .160 against those pitches.

A more aggressive Mike Trout
Mike Trout mentioned this past offseason he wanted to be more aggressive early in the count. While the sample is small, so far he’s staying true to his word.

Trout has increased his swing percentage on the first pitch by 47 percent, which has led to him doubling his chase percentage against the first pitch as well.

Trout hasn’t put many of these balls in play (just 1-for-3), but falling behind early hasn’t been a detriment. Trout is batting .346 this season after falling behind in the count 0-1.

Josh Donaldson’s early slump
Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson has gotten off to a slow start in 2014, hitting .222 through the first dozen games. The biggest difference for Donaldson is in his strikeout and walk totals. He’s struck out 15 times and walked only once this season, after 110 strikeouts and 76 walks in 2013.

An early issue for Donaldson has been the inside pitch. He’s 3-for-22 (.136) against pitches thrown to the inner third of the plate or off the inside corner this season, after hitting .330 against those pitches last season.

Hector Santiago’s fastball a concern
Hector Santiago pitches tonight for the Angels. He has posted a 7.71 ERA in his first two starts, both losses.

Opponents have posted a .346/.485/.577 slash line against Santiago’s fastball this season, which is compounded by Santiago throwing the pitch 74 percent of the time. Against Santiago’s other pitches opponents have hit .250 with a .500 OPS.

Top stats to know: Kobe Bryant's return

December, 7, 2013
12/07/13
11:32
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Danny La-USA TODAY SportsThe Los Angeles Lakers will welcome back Kobe Bryant Sunday night against the Toronto Raptors.

In an April 12 game against the Golden State Warriors, Kobe Bryant hit the deck after tearing his left Achilles and missed the final two games of the season and the playoffs. Two hundred forty days later, Bryant will make his Los Angeles Lakers return against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.

Making History
Bryant had the best season ever by a player in his 17th season or later in terms of scoring last season. He averaged 27.3 points per game, 3.9 points per game more than the previous record set by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his 17th season during the 1985-86 season.

The record for the highest single-season scoring average by a player in his 18th season or later belongs to Karl Malone. He averaged 20.6 points per game in his final season with the Utah Jazz.

Approaching records
Bryant is one of five players in NBA history with 30,000 career points. Currently fourth on the all-time scoring list, Bryant is just 676 points away from passing Michael Jordan for third. In NBA postseason history, Bryant is third on the all-time scoring list, just 348 points away from passing Jordan for first.

If Kobe has his sights on passing Abdul-Jabbar for first on the all-time scoring list, he’ll need to play past his current contract which ends in 2015-16. If Bryant averages 25.0 points the rest of the way, he’ll need to play three full 82-game seasons and then 25 more games on top of that.

Style of Play Change
The Lakers have used a more traditional Mike D’Antoni offense without Bryant this season, using pick-and-roll plays (including passes) at the fifth-highest rate in the league, compared to the 20th-highest rate last season. The Lakers are relying more on catch-and-shoot plays, one reason why they lead the league with 10.7 made 3-pointers per game.

Recruiting Skills
Bryant signed a two-year contract extension for $48.5M on November 25th, maintaining his status of the highest-paid player in the league. This summer looms large for the Lakers, who currently have three players under contract in 2014-15 for a total of $34.1M in guaranteed money. The projected salary cap for next season is $62.9M and the Lakers could gain more space by using the stretch-provision on Steve Nash (he would be released and his $9.7M contract would be spread over three seasons).

5 stats to know: Rays at Angels

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
7:00
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Kim Klement/US PresswireEvan Longoria has cooled off after a hot start this season.
The Tampa Bay Rays hold the second Wild Card in the American League as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are trying to complete another disappointing season. The teams meet tonight in the second game of a Wednesday Night Baseball doubleheader (10 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN).

Here are five stats the broadcast crew will be talking about during the game:

1. The Rays won last night to end a five-game losing streak. Overall they have dropped eight of 10 to let the Yankees and Orioles back into the Wild Card race.

Headed into Wednesday, Coolstandings.com simulations powered by Fangraphs.com projections still pegged the Rays with a 73% chance to make the playoffs, ahead of the Indians (17%), Yankees (15%) and Orioles (7%).

2. Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson returns to the rotation for his 28th start of the season after being sent down to the minors earlier this summer. He is 2-1 with a 2.29 ERA in four career appearances against the Angels. Hellickson has seen his ERA rise in consecutive seasons, from 2.95 in 2011 all the way up to 5.21 this season.

3. Evan Longoria started the year batting .307/.366/.569 (.935 OPS) in his first 75 games with 17 HR and 47 RBI, on pace for an MVP-caliber season.

Since then, he’s batted .217/.317/.429 (.746 OPS) in his last 60 games and that includes an 11-game outburst over which he went 17-43 with 6 home runs between August 14-25. Longoria has gone just 4-for-34 since that brief hot stretch.

4. Mike Trout is tough to keep off the bases. In 67 games since June 14, he’s batted .378, with a .498 OBP and .602 slugging percentage. Trout has increased his OBP in each month this season, including a .692 mark so far in September.

To give you an idea of Trout’s complete skill set, he ranks in the top three in the American League in batting average, OPS, triples, walks and runs scored this season.

5. Angels starter Jered Weaver has performed well atop an inconsistent starting rotation. The top of the rotation (Weaver, C.J. Wilson & Jason Vargas) have been very effective when healthy (in Weaver & Vargas’ cases).

The rest of the Angels rotation and fill-ins have struggled. The Weaver/Wilson/Vargas trio is 31-19 with a 3.46 ERA this season while the rest of the Angels starting rotation is a combined 15-32 with a 5.40 ERA.

Hamilton no longer hitting hard

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
9:12
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Brandon Wade/Getty ImagesJosh Hamilton has not played up to his $125 million contract this season.
Josh Hamilton signed with the Los Angeles Angels after five seasons with the Texas Rangers. With Texas, Hamilton won an MVP award, reached the World Series twice, and reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs three times (including a career-high 43 homers last season).

His performance in 2013 has not been up to the standards he set in Texas. Without oversimplifying it, much of his struggles have derived from Hamilton not hitting the ball as hard as he has in previous seasons.

The ball is not jumping off Hamilton’s bat the same way this season. According to Sportvision/BAM, the average speed of the ball off Hamilton’s bat this season is 80.6 mph, down from 83 mph in 2010, when he won the AL MVP award.

Coinciding with that, Hamilton’s average home run is 12 feet shorter than last season (416 in 2012, 404 in 2013). The average distance of his balls hit in the air (fly balls and line drives) is down 16 feet from last season as well.

Inside Edge’s video scouts elaborate on this idea, as they tell us that 22 percent of the pitches Hamilton has hit this season are classified as “hard-hit,” down from an average of 33 percent over the past three seasons.

The Angels slugger’s struggles are magnified when facing lefties this season. Over his last three seasons in Texas, Hamilton averaged about 45 hits and 45 strikeouts off lefties per season. This season, Hamilton already has 47 strikeouts against lefties with only 24 hits.

Remarkably, Hamilton’s batting average is down at least 39 points in every quadrant of the strike zone this season compared to last season. The drop in averages is not for lack of contact, as Hamilton is swinging and missing at a lower rate than he did last season (31 percent this season, 36 percent in 2012).

Hamilton routinely crushed fastballs last season, hitting .310 and slugging .599 off them. This season, his batting average against fastballs is down 60 points and his slugging percentage has fallen by 117 points.


Trout's WAR a Hall of Fame head start

September, 19, 2012
9/19/12
2:15
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US PresswireMike Trout is having a historic season this year.
The Los Angeles Angels kept pace in the AL Wild Card race with an 11-3 rout of the Texas Rangers Tuesday night and are now just three games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the second Wild Card spot.

But the road is arguably much tougher for the Angels, who have eight games left against teams with winning records, compared to three for the Orioles.

The Rangers held onto their three-game lead in the AL West despite the loss as the Oakland Athletics lost in Detroit on Tuesday night. Texas has been in first place for all but two days this season.

The Amazing Trout
Need any more evidence that Trout is having a historical season?

Trout has 10.3 Wins Above Replacement this season, tied for the 25th-best single-season total in MLB history. Only 14 other position players have posted a WAR that high, and all but one of them is in the Hall of Fame (Barry Bonds).

The last position player to have at least 10 WAR in a single season was Barry Bonds in 2004 and the last centerfielder to do it was Willie Mays in 1964.

His 10.3 WAR are the most by any position player in his age 20 season or younger (age as of June 30). The only pitcher in the modern era (since 1900) to have a 10-WAR season was Dwight Gooden, who posted 11.9 WAR in 1985.

On the mound
C.J. Wilson has been unbeatable in September (2-0, 2.55 ERA) but has struggled against his former team, the Rangers, this season. He is winless with a 7.27 ERA in four starts against them, his second-worst ERA vs any team in 2012 (7.36 vs Red Sox).

The Rangers have crushed his four-seam fastball and cutter, hitting .380 and slugging .560 in 50 at-bats ending in those two pitches this season. He has held the rest of the league to a .242 batting average against his cutter and fastball.

Derek Holland hasn’t had much success against the Angels this year, with 12 earned runs and five homers allowed in just 13⅓ innings over two starts. Albert Pujols and Mike Trout have each took him deep twice this season.

However, Holland is undefeated in his last seven starts with a 2.98 ERA in that span and has thrown a quality start in each of his last five outings.

One key to his unbeaten streak has been his ability to get righties out, who are hitting just .190 against him in those seven starts. In his first six starts after coming off the DL they tagged him for a .263 average.

He has increased his frequency of pitches on the outer third of the plate to righties in his last seven outings and that strategy has paid off for him. He’s held right-handed batters to a .154 average in at-bats ending in pitches away in his last seven starts, nearly 100 points lower than in his first six post-DL starts.

Fewer changeups part of Price's new look

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
12:08
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Opponents are hitting .189 against David Price in his last 11 starts.

What has helped to spur David Price’s remarkable run since late June?

Price has won his last eight decisions and has a 1.72 ERA in his last 11 starts, heading into tonight’s matchup against the Kansas City Royals.

A reduced emphasis on his changeup has been a part of that success.

Price’s changeup has never been his go-to pitch, as he usually relies on one of the most devastating fastball-breaking ball combinations in the league and, largely, succeeding off just those three pitches.

Through his first 13 starts, Price was using the changeup over 15 percent of the time and, while he was quite good, he’s been better since reducing its usage.

Over the last 11 starts – including last Thursday against the Los Angeles Angels – he’s thrown it on average less than 10 percent of the time, and has not lost since adjusting his repertoire in that manner.

Now, that’s over his last 11 starts. What does it look like if we break it down start-by-start?

Overall this season, Price has been more effective when he’s thrown the changeup 10 percent of the time or less.

With the changeup not as much in the mix, the breaking pitch has become a more valuable weapon for Price.

In his first 13 starts, he had 32 strikeouts with his curveball and slider. In his last 11, he has 42 strikeouts with those two pitches.

B'day basher Trout rips 2-strike pitches

August, 8, 2012
8/08/12
12:00
PM ET

Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMIMike Trout is having a historic season for any player, regardless of age.
Mike Trout celebrated his 21st birthday in style on Tuesday night. His eighth-inning homer off Travis Blackley made him just the fifth player in major-league history to hit a home run on his 21st birthday.

It also was his 20th longball of the year, making him the youngest player all-time to hit 20 homers and steal 30 bases in a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The “Next Level” Trout
What makes Trout stand out as a rookie is his ability to avoid outs in two-strike counts. His on-base percentage of .349 with two strikes ranks third in the majors and first in the American League.

Another unique aspect of Trout’s hitting is his ability to hit pitches at his knees or lower. Trout is hitting .389 on pitches located in the bottom third of the zone or lower, which ranks first among major-leaguers.

Trout’s power comes mostly from his ability to mash offspeed pitches. His .741 slugging percentage against the “slow stuff” leads all players and is more than double the major-league average of .358.

The Trout Record Book
If Trout plays in every game the rest of the season, he’ll play in 139 games. If you project his current totals to 139 games, he will have 56 stolen bases, 31 home runs and a .346 batting average. No player in major-league history has finished a season with each of those numbers.

Trout leads the league in batting average, runs and stolen bases, while ranking second in slugging and OPS, and is third in on-base percentage. He is the only AL player to rank among the top three in each of the four “rate” stats (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS).

He also leads all major-league players this season in Wins Above Replacement. His 7.1 WAR already is the fourth-highest for a position player in his age 20 season or younger (age as of June 30).

Another way to compare players across eras is using adjusted OPS (OPS+), which is OPS adjusted to the player’s league, ballpark and era.

Trout’s OPS+ of 183 this season would be the highest for any player in his age 20 season or younger with at least 300 plate appearances.

The Trout Trophy Shelf
Trout’s amazing season has made him a near-lock for AL rookie of the Year and put him among the top MVP contenders. The only two players to win an MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season are Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro (2001).

Trout would be the youngest ever to win MVP at 21 years and 57 days old at the end of the regular season. The current youngest MVP winner is Vida Blue at the age of 22 in 1971.

If Trout maintains his lead in the batting race, he’ll join Tony Oliva (1964) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) as the only rookies to win the batting title and would also be the third-youngest to do it since 1900, according to Elias.

Weaver's curve is the winning pitch

August, 6, 2012
8/06/12
12:58
PM ET
The Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels kick off a critical three-game series at the Coliseum starting Monday night. Though the Texas Rangers have a sizeable lead in the AL West, the A’s and Angels are neck-and-neck in the AL Wild Card race, with Oakland a half-game ahead.

The Angels pitching has really struggled during this stretch, with a 6.02 ERA and 16 homers allowed in just 80⅔ innings. However, tonight they send their ace, Jered Weaver, to the mound as he looks for his league-leading 15th win of the season.

Jered Weaver Stats To Watch
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he would be the sixth pitcher in the Expansion Era to record 15 wins in his first 16 decisions in a season. The only pitchers to start 15-1 since 1961 are Dave McNally (1969), Gaylord Perry (1974), Ron Guidry (1978), Roger Clemens (2001) and Ubaldo Jimenez (2010).

Weaver is on a nearly incredible run, going 9-0 with a 1.85 ERA in his last 11 starts. A win Monday would match the third-longest streak of decisions won by an Angels starter. He has also won eight straight starts, something that only Chuck Finley (10 in 1997) has done as an Angel in a single season.

Weaver has gone to curve a lot more during this undefeated stretch, nearly doubling his usage of the pitch compared to his first eight starts.

The curve has become a legitimate out-pitch for him too, as opponents are hitting .135 in at-bats ending in his hook while chasing 40 percent of those pitches in his last 11 starts.

Another key for Weaver during this stretch has been his ability to pitch under pressure. Opponents are just 2-for-31 (.065) with runners in scoring position against him in his last 11 starts; they hit .259 with RISP in his first eight starts.

Jarrod Parker Stats To Watch
Opposing Weaver will be one of the 11 rookie pitchers that Oakland has used this season, Jarrod Parker. Parker was one of the league’s best starters through the first three months of the season, posting a 2.46 ERA in his first 13 starts through July 2.

However, he struggled since then, going 2-2 with a 6.07 ERA in his last five starts. During this slump, righties are hitting .396 against him, after he held them to a .198 average in his first 13 starts.

Parker has had a lot of trouble putting hitters away, allowing a .651 OPS with two strikes in his last five starts, compared to a .419 mark in his first 13 outings.

He’s thrown his changeup more often with two strikes recently but with little success. Parker has already allowed as many two-strike hits with his changeup in his last five starts (6) as he did in his first 13 starts, in nearly half as many at-bats ending in the pitch.

AL East features pivotal matchups

June, 5, 2012
6/05/12
3:43
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The battle in the AL East is closer than ever with all five teams separated by just three games. Each team is at least two games over .500 and no team has a negative run differential. That's impressive, considering that according to Elias, the last time prior to this season that an American League division had all of its teams at least two games above .500 at least 50 games into the season was in 2000 (AL West).

A look at some key matchups within the division tonight:

Rays at Yankees, 7:05 ET

James Shields looks to get revenge against a New York Yankees team that has owned him in his career. Shields is 5-12 with a 4.39 ERA in 22 starts against the Yankees, including 2-7 with a 5.00 ERA in 11 starts at Yankee Stadium. This season New York has tagged him for nine ER in 11 innings (7.36 ERA) over two starts. The Yankee lefties feasted, going 9-for-29 (.310), and he struck out only 9.4 percent of those batters.

Andy Pettitte faces a Tampa Bay Rays team that gave him trouble in 2010. He gave up nine ER in 7 1/3 innings (11.05 ERA) in two starts against them, and is coming off his worst start of the season (five runs, nine hits) versus the Los Angeles Angels. Pettitte tried to work away from the Angels batters, with little success, as they were 4-for-9 (.444) and missed on 2 of 19 swings (10.5 percent) against pitches on the outer third of the plate.

Orioles at Red Sox, 7:10 ET

Jason Hammel takes the mound for the Baltimore Orioles, looking to avoid losing consecutive starts for the first time since May 10th and 15th of last season. Hammel beat the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on May 5th, allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings. The Red Sox struggled to make good contact against Hammel last month, fouling off a season-high 30 of 55 swings (54.5 percent).

Jon Lester gets the start for the Red Sox. Since his one-run, complete game on May 14th, Lester has allowed 15 ER in 16 2/3 innings (8.10 ERA). But the Orioles are the perfect team for him to break out of his slump against, considering he is 14-0 in 19 career starts against Baltimore. According to Elias, only three other pitchers won each of their first 14 decisions against a particular team in the Expansion Era (since 1961).

Rangers Reeling

The Texas Rangers, once the hottest team in baseball, are in a slump right now with five losses in their last six games. The offense has slipped, with three runs or fewer in four of those six games, and Monday night Texas was held hitless through the first seven innings of the game by Jarrod Parker.

However, the pitching has been even worse, as the Rangers have allowed 10+ runs in three games during this six-game slide. In their first 49 games, they gave up at least 10 runs just once.

Jesse Johnson/US Presswire Dan Haren has lost four straight starts for the second time in his career.
Dan Haren of the Los Angeles Angels will be looking to change his fortunes around when he gets the nod tonight against the Seattle Mariners (10:10 ET). He enters having lost four straight starts for the second time in his career, having previously done it in 2005. While Haren does have a 5.79 ERA in that stretch, the Angels have managed a total of two runs in those four games.

The Angels are 1-8 in his nine starts, and only Haren and Chris Volstad of the Chicago Cubs have seen their team lose eight of their starts this season. In addition, only teammate Ervin Santana has received worse support in the AL. The Angels have scored more than three runs just once in Haren's nine starts.

Ike Davis Slumping
The New York Mets are four games over .500 despite Ike Davis having one of the worst seasons in the majors. Davis has the second-lowest batting average among qualifying players, including a .065 average at home, and based on WAR, Davis is the least valuable player in the majors.

When he is making contact this year, Davis has seen a very high percentage of his balls in play turn to outs. Among all players this season, Davis' .188 batting average on balls in play is the lowest.

Last year, Davis found considerable success against the fastball, batting .343 with an OPS of 1.100. This year, those numbers have dropped to .157 and .448.

Other Key Notes
- Ichiro Suzuki was just 2-18 vs Dan Haren last season. He's a .227 career batter vs Haren.
- Hunter Pence is 7-12 (.583) in his career vs Jake Westbrook.
- Philip Humber has a 7.86 ERA since his perfect game.
- Albert Pujols has 3 HR, 8 RBI in his last nine games.
- Cincinnati Reds have a season-high five-game win streak.

Breaking down Hamilton's homer barrage

May, 12, 2012
5/12/12
10:31
PM ET

AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJosh Hamilton tied an MLB record with his 18th homer in the Rangers' 34th game Saturday.
Josh Hamilton homered for the ninth time in his past six games Saturday, sending C.J. Wilson’s 80 mph curveball into the right-field seats in the sixth inning of the Texas Rangers' 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

One key to Hamilton’s power surge has been his ability hit breaking balls out of the yard. After Saturday, Hamilton now has seven home runs on breaking balls this season, already his most in any season since joining the Rangers in 2008.

Hamilton is hitting .420 against breaking balls in 2012, a dramatic increase over his .260 average against such pitches a year ago. And his slugging percentage against curveballs and sliders is .860, dwarfing his 2011 mark of .468.

Hamilton’s sudden ability to smash breaking balls has helped him get off to one of the best starts to a season in major league history.

His 18 homers have tied Cy Williams of the 1923 Phillies for the most all-time through 34 team games. And with nine home runs in his past six games, Hamilton is just one shy of the MLB record for homers in a six-game span set by Frank Howard with 10 in 1968, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Hamilton’s 18 home runs this season are five more than the entire San Diego Padres team and one fewer than the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins.

Hamilton will look to continue his record run Sunday night against Jered Weaver and the Angels on ESPN. Hamilton has 34 career at-bats against Weaver, his second most against any pitcher, but just one home run.

Elsewhere in the majors Saturday:

• 2011 home run champ Jose Bautista hit his 10th career home run at Target Field in just his 10th game at the park. Only four players, all Twins, have more HR at Target Field since it opened in 2010. According to Elias, Bautista is the first player to hit 10 HR in his first 10 games in a ballpark since Shawn Green at Miller Park from 2001 to 2004.

• Roy Halladay took the loss after allowing seven hits and two runs in seven innings as the Philadelphia Phillies lost to the Padres. The Phillies have now lost each of Halladay’s past five starts. That ties the longest losing streak for a team in Roy Halladay starts, matching the Toronto Blue Jays' five-game losing streak in Halladay starts in 1999.

• The Boston Red Sox beat the Cleveland Indians 4-1 for their second straight home win following a six-game losing streak at Fenway Park. It’s the first time the Red Sox have won back-to-back home games since April 13-15.
Stats & Info insights into this morning's top sports stories

1. SPURS FINISH OFF SWEEP: The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Utah Jazz, 87-81, finishing a four-game sweep to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. This was the Spurs sixth postseason sweep since Tim Duncan was a rookie in the 1997-98 season. According to Elias, that ranks second in the NBA. Only the Los Angeles Lakers, with seven, have more over the last 15 seasons.

2. PAUL & GRIFFIN LEAD CLIPPERS TO VICTORY: The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, 101-97 in overtime, to take a 3-1 series lead. According to Elias, the Clippers became the first NBA team to have a pair of players (Chris Paul, Blake Griffin), with at least 25 points and at least seven assists in a playoff game since they did it themselves back on May 14, 2006 (Elton Brand had 30 and eight and Sam Cassell had 28 and nine in a victory over the Phoenix Suns).

3. RANGERS EARN HISTORIC WIN: The New York Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals, 3-2 in overtime to take a 3-2 series lead. That win would not have been possible if Brad Richards hadn’t tied the game with seven seconds left in regulation. According to Elias, this is the first NHL postseason to have three games feature game-tying goals in the final 15 seconds of regulation. The first-two games in the Phoenix Coyotes - Chicago Blackhawks series also had such goals.

4. COYOTES IN UNCHARTED TERRITORY: The Coyotes defeated the Nashville Predators, 2-1, to win the Western Conference Semifinals in five games. The Coyotes advanced to their first Conference Finals since joining the NHL in 1979-80. Prior to joining the NHL, the franchise (then known as the Winnipeg Jets) reached the WHA (Avco Cup) Finals five times in seven seasons.

5. WEAVER PERFECT 5-0: Jered Weaver allowed one earned run in six innings, as the Los Angeles Angels defeated the Minnesota Twins, 8-3. For the third time, Weaver has started a season 5-0. According to Elias, he joined Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Christy Mathewson as the only pitchers to start 5-0 in three seasons.

6. RED HOT ROOKIE: The Boston Red Sox defeated the Kansas City Royals, 11-5 to snap a five-game losing streak. Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks remained hot, going 3 for 5, with two home runs and five RBI. According to Elias, he tied the MLB record for most RBI (nine) in a player’s first four games to start career.

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