Stats & Info: Matt Diaz
Quick Hits: Over his last nine games, Carlos Gonzalez is hitting .515 with five home runs, 13 runs batted in and 12 extra-base hits. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that nine-game stretch has only been equaled by three players over the last 40 years. Gonzalez is so hot he can just step up to the plate and get a hit. Consider this great note from Kenny Kendrena of Inside Edge: Gonzalez went 3-for-4 Wednesday night while seeing only five pitches. Elvis Andrus is the only other player in 2010 to pick up three hits on a night where he saw only five pitches. Here are some other fun notes on pitches seen via STATS LLC and Inside Edge:
• If Gonzalez and Andrus represent the successful end of the one-pitch spectrum, Alex Avila stands on the opposite side. On August 4, he went 0-for-3 on three pitches including a GIDP.
• Vernon Wells leads the majors with 111 at-bats lasting only one pitch. He won’t reach Lance Johnson status though. In 1995 and 1996, Johnson had 168 AB ending on the first pitch, most of any player over the last 20 years.
• On the flip side is Daric Barton, who has seen 125 full counts this season. He has 50 walks compared to 20 strikeouts.
• Rickie Weeks has been hit by the first pitch six times. That’s the most in the majors, but still just half of Craig Biggio’s total of 12.
• Austin Jackson has seen 10 of his plate appearances last 10 pitches or more. That’s one more than Ichiro Suzuki for most in the majors. Amazingly for a player with 139 K, only one of those plate appearances ended in a strikeout.
• The league batting average is .259. But on a 0-0 count it jumps to .334 thanks in part to the impossibility of striking out. Just don’t tell that to Tigers rookies Scott Sizemore and Will Rhymes. They are a combined 0-for-31 in one-pitch at-bats.
• How about Chris Snyder? He’s hitting .722 (13-for-18) on the first pitch, and just .181 on at-bats that go beyond a 0-0 count.
• Mike Pelfrey has suffered through the most 10-pitch plate appearances with 10.
• Jose Mijares has held opponents hitless in 17 full-count at-bats, issuing only two walks. Contrast that with Dustin Nippert, against whom hitters are 14-for-23 (.609) in full counts. They are hitting just .267 in all other counts.
Today’s Leaderboard: Skip Schumaker has 19 home runs, but enters September having never homered in that month. His 297 plate appearances without a homer in September are the most of any active player. Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa can probably sympathize. He never hit a home run in 1,566 September plate appearances.
Key Matchups: There are 102 players who have faced Johan Santana at least 20 times. With a .533 batting average against the Mets ace, no one can top Matt Diaz’s success. He has a hit in all 10 games in which he’s faced Santana, and is 16-for-30 overall. But is it possible Johan finally figured him out? He fanned Diaz in each of their last two meetings, after having done so just once in the first 29.
On the other side of that Braves-Mets matchup, we have David Wright and Tim Hudson. Wright has struck out about once every five at-bats over the course of his career. This season, it’s a career-worst one per 3.5 AB. The strikeouts haven’t been a problem against Hudson though. In 49 at-bats, he has just three strikeouts – or one per 16.3 AB. Hudson last struck him out in 2007. That’s not to say Wright’s had success against Hudson. He’s just a .204 hitter with only one extra-base hit against Hudson.
Trivia Answer: In 2000, Jose Lima allowed 48 home runs and 152 runs, while opponents hit .313. All three were worst in the majors, giving him the most recent Triple Frown.
(Hint: one was an All-Star last season for a team that currently leads its division. The other has a career BA of .224 and is a former teammate of Rodriguez’s with the Yankees.)
Quick Hits on the number 59 in baseball after golfer Stuart Appelby carded a 59 to win the Greenbrier Classic (thanks to researcher Paul Carr for several items)...
Only one team has exactly 59 games left this season: the San Diego Padres, who are 61-42 through 103 games. Every other team has fewer games left, some as few as 55.
Your MLB leader in games pitched this season is the oft-used Pedro Feliciano, who has appeared in 59.
Hall-of-Famer Satchel Paige pitched his final major-league game at age 59. He started for the Kansas City Athletics on September 25, 1965 and allowed just one hit in three shutout innings.
The active MLB player who has hit the most doubles in a season is Todd Helton, who hit 59 in 2000. Helton finished eight shy of the record 67 doubles by Earl Webb in 1931.
Only one player has ever hit exactly 59 home runs in a season. That was Babe Ruth, who broke his own single-season record in 1921 when he hit 59 homers, a record that stood for six years until Ruth broke it again.
No current MLB pitcher has exactly 59 career wins. One player has 58, but he might not get his 59th for a while. Oliver Perez is that player, and he’s 0-4 this season and hasn’t won since August of last season.
Today’s Leaderboard: After an intentional walk to the batter in front of him, Jason Kubel blew open a scoreless game in the sixth with a bases-loaded double against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday. Kubel had to feel comfortable at the plate in that situation – he’s among the league leaders in bases-loaded plate appearances this season.
Would you believe that two Minneosta Twins are on this list and neither are typical No. 4 batter Justin Morneau or No. 5 batter Michael Cuddyer?
Key Matchups: Here’s the daily A-Rod vs Opposing Starter update: Rodriguez is 4-15 (.267 BA) in his career against Brandon Morrow. He does have one career HR against Morrow, however, it came at a stadium that isn’t in use anymore. Rodriguez hit it in 2007 at old Yankee Stadium.
The first name Bobby Cox should write when he makes his lineup tonight against Johan Santana is Matt Diaz. Diaz is 14-26 (.538 BA) with a HR in his career against Santana. That’s the highest BA by any active player who has come to the plate at least 20 times against Santana (and there are 101 such players).
It’s probably for two reasons – the young Houston Astros roster and the fact that he has pitched his whole career in the AL until tonight – but Jake Westbrook has only faced one current Astro before. And he might want to stay away from that one tonight when he debuts for the Cardinals. Carlos Lee is batting .400 (12-30) and slugging .600 against Westbrook in his career. (Note: Westbrook has faced Geoff Blum before, but Blum is on the DL for the Astros)
Trivia Answer: Wil Nieves (A-Rod’s former teammate) is 0-16 in his career and Texas Rangers 2009 All-Star Nelson Cruz is 0-14.
Our friends at Inside Edge Scouting Services charted every one of the 187,079 plate appearances in the major leagues during the 2009 regular season. That's almost three-quarters of a million pitches. Below are some things we can learn from that data.
1. Mauer Power is not a myth. The Twins' Joe Mauer was the best hitter in the majors last season if you isolate only those plate apparances that end on a fastball. (As we'll see later, don't throw him one down and in, either.) Since most pitchers' fastballs don't have a lot of movement, the key for hitters is simply catching up to it. As you'd expect, most of these leaders are your traditional "power hitters". Albert Pujols ranks eighth on the chart below.
2. Hitting an off-speed pitch is not the same as hitting a fastball. To catch up to a fastball, you need bat speed. On the other hand, the best off-speed hitters aren't power guys. They're batters with good eyes who can follow the movement on the pitch. And last season's leaders include some names who wouldn't roll off the tip of your tongue.
3. Know the hot zones. We've all seen those 3x3 charts that look like a tic-tac-toe board or a telephone keypad. Every ESPN GameCast has them when a batter comes to the plate. Sometimes it's a batter's stance that influences whether they can hit high heat or low "nasty" stuff. You've often seen pitchers with good control who can "lead" a batter, gradually throwing pitches farther and farther outside/inside/up/down until the hitter can't reach them anymore. Different batters have different zones. And waiting for a pitch that's in one of them-- or not throwing him a pitch there-- is a huge part of the strategy.
The best moral, though, is that if you can't hit it, don't try. You'll end up on a highlight reel-- and not in a good way.
4. Strike early. A long at-bat becomes a battle of wits between hitter and pitcher. Some players prefer to just get it over with. Although the conventional wisdom frowns upon swinging at the first pitch, a select few have done very well at it.
5. Strike early. It's true for pitchers also. You've heard that "the best pitch in baseball is strike one." Getting ahead in the count puts the batter on the defensive and allows the pitcher more flexibility. But for some hitters, it's a challenge they can rise to.
6. Being "clutch" is, well, clutch. It's fun to watch Albert Pujols rip one out of the park. But only 35% of the runs scored last season actually came on homers. A hitter who can drive runners in, especially with two outs, can often be the unsung hero on his team. These are the quiet guys who don't make a lot of home-run noise, but the team would flounder without them.
7. It all starts with contact. Some of the toughest outs are hitters who refuse to swing at bad pitches. It requires a good eye and a lot of self-restraint. But when a pitcher is forced to stay in the zone, the batter ends up with more pitches to hit. "Chase percentage" measures the number of pitches outside the strike zone that a batter swings at. "Swing-and-miss percentage" measures a batter's ability to make contact, whether inside the strike zone or out. A hitter can be equally selective by not swinging at pitches he knows he can't hit.
We'll keep analyzing pitch types and locations throughout the 2010 season on Baseball Tonight and here in The Max Info. Studying what a pitcher throws, and where, often provides clues to why he had a great outing. Studying a batter's hot and cold zones, along with favorite pitch types, adds insight to a great day at the plate (or a terrible one), a hitting streak or slump, or just that amazing walk-off homer.