Stats & Info: Rodrigo Lopez

One of the sport’s fiercest rivalries takes center stage as the Chicago Cubs take on the St. Louis Cardinals in this week’s Sunday Night Baseball tilt (ESPN, 8 ET).

The Cubs probably would prefer the game take place on a different day of the week -- Chicago is 3-13 (.188) on Sundays and 39-52 (.429) during the rest of the week.

No matter the day, the Cubs’ starting pitchers have been awful. They rank last in the majors with a 5.13 ERA. Over the last 60 years, the highest ERA for Cubs starters was 5.33 in 1999.

Things weren’t helped by Rodrigo Lopez’s outing on Saturday (4⅓ IP, 6 ER) as the Cardinals turned a 5-0 deficit into a 13-5 win. Ryan Theriot’s sixth career four-hit game and Albert Pujols’ 24th home run paced the attack.

The Cardinals’ offensive explosion was fairly typical since they lead the National League in batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, OPS and Runs per game.
Albert Pujols

Pujols, who recorded his 2,000th hit on Friday, is hitting .327 with 7 HR and 14 RBI against Ryan Dempster, Chicago’s starter Sunday. In addition, in 61 plate appearances against Dempster, Pujols has struck out only once.

Pujols’ seven homers against Dempster are tied for the most he has against any pitcher.

Another player who has had a lot of success against Dempster is Skip Schumaker. He's a .419 career hitter against Dempster (18-for-43), including 18-for-36 when putting the ball in play. This season, however, Schumaker is 0-3 with two strikeouts against Dempster.

Schumaker’s .419 mark is third-best among players with at least 20 at-bats against Dempster, behind Placido Polanco (.450 BA) and Jeff Keppinger (.448).

One bit of good news for the Cubs is that they're facing Jake Westbrook. On May 11, Westbrook lost to the Cubs 11-4, allowing five runs in 2⅓ innings. Westbrook allowed five straight baserunners, all of whom scored.

Westbrook is unbeaten in his last seven starts (3-0, 4.32 ERA); however, the Cardinals are just 4-3 in those games.
Justin Verlander
For the second time this week it appeared we would have a pitcher to throw two no-hitters in a regular season for the first time since 1973 when Nolan Ryan did so. But like Francisco Liriano on Sunday, Justin Verlander's bid at a second no-hitter ended in the eighth inning.

However Verlander finished the game notching a two-hit shutout, his third complete game of the season. More importantly he put the Detroit Tigers back in sole possession of first place in the AL Central for the first time since July 10 of last season.

While he did not complete the second no-hitter, by some measures Verlander did complete a better performance.

Game Score, a metric developed by Bill James, measures a pitcher's single-game performance based on innings pitched, runs, hits, strikeouts and walks.The average score is around 50 and most games are between 0-100.

According to this metric, Verlander scored a 94 with his performance on Tuesday. In his no-hitter earlier this season his Game Score was a 90. In fact, the 94 was the highest recorded Game Score this season.

Verlander struck out 12 batters, his 14th game with double-digit strikeouts in the last three seasons. That is tied with Jon Lester for most in the American League during that span and trails only Tim Lincecum (18) for most in all of baseball.
The Cleveland Indians missed at 24 of his pitches, the second straight start Verlander has generated that many swings-and-misses. Only two other pitchers have gotten 24 or more misses in a start this season.

With this performance Verlander passed Roy Halladay for the lead in overall swing-and-misses in 2011. Those two are at 205 and 201, respectively, more than 20 ahead of anyone else.

Not to be outdone, James Shields threw his major-league leading third shutout of the season as the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Boston Red Sox to snap their nine-game win streak.

James Shields
According to Elias, Shields is the first pitcher to throw a shutout to end a win streak of at least nine games by the opposing team since Rodrigo Lopez shut out the Oakland Athletics to end their 10-game win streak on September 3, 2003.

The last pitcher to shut out the Red Sox to end a win streak of at least nine games was Jim Abbott on August 30, 1989.

This marked Shield's second career shutout against the Red Sox. He accounts for half of the franchises career shutouts pitched against Boston. Scott Kazmir in 2006 and Steve Trachsel in 2000 each had one.

Shields' changeup continues to be his out pitch. Red Sox hitters were 0-10 with four strikeouts in at-bats ending with it. He now has 53 strikeouts with his changeup this season, seven more than any other pitcher in baseball.
Today’s Trivia: Pete Rose turns 70 today. Since his final game on Aug. 17, 1986, who has collected the most hits?

Prince Fielder
Prince Fielder faces his nemesis today, but it’s not who you might think. Fielder is just 3-for-42 (.071) with 13 strikeouts and no extra-base hits against Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Paul Maholm. He’s not the only star player with a seemingly random pitcher that he can’t solve. Some other examples:

• Alex Rodriguez was 1-for-18 (.056) against Darrell May, a pitcher with a career 26-43 record.

• Ryan Howard traditionally has struggled against southpaws, but it’s a righty who has flummoxed him the most. Howard is 3-for-28 with 11 strikeouts against Tim Redding.

• Albert Pujols is 0-for-11 with three strikeouts in his career against Rodrigo Lopez. That’s all been since 2007, a period during which everyone else is hitting .291 against Lopez.

• Vladimir Guerrero (1-for-19), Mark Teixeira (1-for-18) and Ryan Zimmerman (1-for-13) all share Jeremy Guthrie as an unexpected nemesis.

• Hanley Ramirez is 0-for-10 lifetime against Charlie Morton, a pitcher who entered 2011 at 11-29 with a 5.98 ERA.

Trivia Answer: Craig Biggio’s 3,060 hits all came after Rose retired, giving him the most in that span. Rafael Palmeiro is the only other player to collect 3,000 hits from that date on. His first hit came less than one month after Rose’s last game.
Today’s Trivia: With all the talk of Triple Crown races, Rodrigo Lopez’s chase is flying under the radar. He’s allowed the most home runs (32) and runs (111) of any pitcher in the majors, while opponents are hitting .287 against him (ninth worst). Who was the last pitcher to achieve the MLB Triple Frown - being worst in the majors all three categories?

GONZALEZQuick 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.
A lot of history was made on Saturday north of the border in the MLB's highest-scoring game of the season. The Toronto Blue Jays hit eight home runs, two shy of their franchise and major-league record 10 set back in 1987 against Baltimore.

The biggest story of the 17-11 win for the Jays over the Tampa Bay Rays was a player making his major-league debut. J.P. Arencibia had 31 HR in 379 AB at Triple-A Las Vegas this season before being called up Wednesday when John Buck (right thumb) went on the 15-day DL. The 24-year old was the 21st overall pick in the 2007 draft and Arencibia made the most of his day at the plate, hitting two HR, including one off of the first pitch he ever saw as a big leaguer. He's the second player to do that this season, the other being Boston's Daniel Nava on June 12.

Arencibia is the 6th player in the last 30 seasons to have 4+ hits in his MLB debut, and the second this season joining Wilson Ramos, then of the Twins. He is also the first player with 2+ HR in his MLB debut since the Royals' Mark Quinn in 1999. Both homers were on first-pitch fastballs.

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that Arencibia is the first player in the modern era (since 1900) with four hits AND two HR in his major-league debut.

It's unfair to expect him to keep that pace up in the majors but it's worth nothing that his minor-league .639 slugging clip this season has been topped by 300-AB catchers just three times in MLB history: Javy Lopez (2003), Ivan Rodriguez (2000) and Rudy York (1937).

For those curious, his last name is pronounced "air-in-SEE-bee-uh". If he's going to become a household name, we better start learning how to say it.

And then there's James Shields, who allowed six of those Toronto homers before being pulled after four innings. Shields is just the 3rd pitcher in the Divisional Era (since 1969 when the mound was also lowered) to give up six HR in a game. Shields surpasses Rodrigo Lopez and Dan Haren for the ML HR allowed lead with 28.

Six homers are a lot. But the three NON-home runs that Shields allowed on Saturday were all doubles. Thus he gave up nine hits, ALL for extra bases. Since 1920, the Florida Marlins' Ricky Nolasco is the only other pitcher to do that (9+ H, all XBH). That was April 17, 2008, when he allowed four HR, four doubles, and a triple.

1st Pitch: Trends coming out of the 'pen

June, 21, 2010
Quick Hits: When Luke Gregerson walked Matt Wieters on Sunday, it snapped a streak of 118 batters faced without issuing a walk. The Padres’ reliever still sports the best BB per 9 IP among relievers this season. Let’s take a look at some other interesting numbers coming out of the bullpen:
  • Pedro Feliciano has already appeared in 40 games. With 19 games to go before the All-Star break, he’s on track to break Mike Stanton’s Mets record of 49 appearances before the break. Over the last 30 years, Salomon Torres’ 53 pre-break appearances for the 2006 Pirates are the most for any reliever.
  • Opponents are hitting just .104 against Jose Valverde. Over the last 50 years, the lowest opponent batting average for a pitcher with at least 50 innings was .133 against Eric Gagne in 2003.
  • The Astros’ Wilton Lopez has not allowed any of 19 inherited runners to score, nor have any of the 14 runners inherited by Joe Thatcher scored. According to STATS LLC, the best inherited runners scored percentage over the last 30 years belongs to Robb Nen, who allowed only one of 28 to score in 1994.
  • Mike Adams and Gregerson are tied for the MLB lead with 17 holds. Thus, both teammates are on pace for almost 40 holds, breaking the record of 36 shared by Tom Gordon (’04 Yankees) and Scott Linebrink (’06 Padres), according to STATS LLC.
  • The Padres’ 2.52 bullpen ERA is on pace to be the lowest since the 2003 Dodgers (2.46).
  • The bullpens for the Braves and Tigers are both 16-6. That .727 win pct would be the best since the 1998 Yankees bullpen went 28-9 (.757).
  • The Diamondbacks’ 7.14 bullpen ERA is on track to be the highest over the last 50 years –- and it’s not even close. The 2007 Rays had a 6.16 bullpen ERA. Opponents are hitting .304 against Arizona’s bullpen, which would be the highest since opponents hit .315 against the Tigers pen in 1953.
Today’s Trivia: The Yankees and Diamondbacks meet on Monday for the 10th time since Arizona took Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Only three Diamondbacks who appeared in a game in that World Series are still active somewhere in the majors. Can you name them?

Today’s Leaderboard: According to STATS LLC, the Padres have allowed only 15.4 percent of inherited runners to score, on pace to be the lowest over the last 35 years. Meanwhile, the Angels have allowed 48.2 percent of inherited runners to score. That would be the second highest in the last 30 years, behind only the 2003 Royals (48.7).

Key Matchups: Derek Jeter is a .448 career hitter against Rodrigo Lopez, whom he faced extensively as AL East foes from 2002 to 2006. That’s his fourth highest average against a pitcher he has faced at least 30 times. His four home runs and 11 RBI are both the second most he has against any pitcher, with five HR and 13 RBI against Sidney Ponson leading the way.

Jason Kendall has an 11-game hitting streak against Livan Hernandez dating back to 1998. A .353 career hitter against Hernandez in 26 plate appearances, the two first squared off in 1997, the only game in which Kendall didn’t get a hit.

Trivia Answer: Craig Counsell, Miguel Batista and Rod Barajas are the only active major leaguers who appeared in the 2001 World Series for Arizona.

1st Pitch: A different player at home

June, 16, 2010
Quick Hits: With Todd Helton and Joe Mauer in opposing dugouts this week, it has highlighted the fact that neither slugger has hit a home run at home this season. Some other intriguing home/road notes:
  • Denard Span is hitting .378 at home and .172 on the road. That .206 discrepancy is the largest in baseball.
  • On the other hand, Ryan Braun is hitting .370 on the road, but just .216 at home, the largest discrepancy in the other direction.
  • Chris Young has hit 10 of his 12 home runs at home. Paul Konerko is next, having hit seven more homers at home.
  • Nine of Justin Morneau’s 11 home runs have come on the road, while David Wright has hit eight more homers on the road than at home. Meanwhile, all seven of Ian Stewart’s homers are away from Coors.
  • Of Ryan Sweeney’s 28 RBI, 23 have come at home.
  • At .391, Martin Prado is on track for the highest home batting average since teammate Chipper Jones hit .399 at home in 2008.
  • Over the last 55 years, only two Yankees have posted a higher home batting average than Brett Gardner’s .385: Paul O’Neill (.409 in 1994) and Mickey Mantle (.387 in 1957).
  • Casey Kotchman’s .175 batting average at home would be the fifth worst among qualifying players over the last 50 years.
  • Jason Heyward has 17 more walks on the road than at home, the biggest difference in the majors.
Today’s Trivia: If Alex Rodriguez returns to the lineup against Jamie Moyer on Wednesday, it will mark the second time that a player with 500 career home runs has faced a pitcher who has allowed 500 long balls. The only other instance occurred in 1966. Who were the players involved?

Today’s Leaderboard: The best hitters at home this season? A pair of players that could find themselves playing elsewhere in a couple months. Who knows if Paul Konerko will still be calling U.S. Cellular Field home after the trade deadline, but for now Konerko is crushing the ball at home. His 1.201 OPS at home is the best in baseball, and is on track to be the best since Barry Bonds in 2004. Second on the list is Kelly Johnson’s 1.133 OPS.

Key Matchups: David Ortiz faced Rodrigo Lopez each year from 2003 to 2006 as AL East foes. In 50 plate appearances, he’s hitting .326 with a .932 OPS. That includes a memorable two triple game in 2004, the only in Ortiz’s career. However, one thing has eluded Ortiz against Lopez: A home run. Ortiz is homerless in 50 plate appearances, the most he’s faced any pitcher without going deep. Even stranger? Despite that .932 OPS, Ortiz only has one RBI against Lopez.

Alex Rodriguez is expected back in the Yankees’ lineup on Wednesday, and he’ll face Jamie Moyer in a matchup that dates back to 1996. They’ve faced each other 59 times in total, and A-Rod is a .389 hitter against Moyer with a 1.218 OPS. This will be the first meeting since 2005, but in his last nine at-bats against Moyer, Rodriguez is 7-9 with four home runs.

Trivia Answer: When Willie Mays stepped in against Robin Roberts on August 6, 1966, he had 529 home runs to his credit. In his previous start, Roberts became the first pitcher to allow 500 career home runs when Hank Aaron took him deep. It was Aaron’s 429th career home run.