Stats & Info: Ryan Ludwick

Anderson looks to break down Tigers

October, 9, 2012
Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty ImagesBrett Anderson will try to keep the Athletics season alive on Tuesday.
The Bay Area teams are hanging by a thread, each down two-games-to-none heading into Tuesday’s games against the Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds.

Brett Anderson and Ryan Vogelsong will be charged with the responsibility of keeping their teams alive.

Anderson is a bit of a question mark after returning from a strained oblique.

Vogelsong is one as well because of the struggles he went through late in the season.

Let’s take a closer look at a key for each pitcher heading into Tuesday’s matchups.

Anderson’s key: Breaking balls
One of the reasons that Brett Anderson pitched so well after his return was that his breaking ball was at the form that made him successful in previous seasons.

In his first four starts, Anderson got 38 outs with his breaking ball and allowed only seven baserunners with the pitch. He’s throwing it 44 percent of the time, so the Tigers figure to see it a lot.

In 2010, when Anderson had a 2.80 ERA in 19 starts, his rate of outs to baserunners with the breaking ball was about 4.2-to-1.

Anderson had a few issues with his breaking ball against the Angels on September 13, allowing five hits, including two doubles, with it. The Tigers got a pair of hits against it in his most recent start on September 18, though both were bunts.

What the Tigers didn’t see was Anderson’s putaway pitch -- his 82 to 84 mile-per-hour offering that most resembles a slider.

When that pitch has a break on it that drops knee-high to Anderson’s glove side, it’s almost impossible to hit.

Anderson has thrown such a pitch in the 82-to-84 mph range to his glove side 72 times in six games. He’s gotten 20 outs (including 14 strikeouts) and allowed just three baserunners with it.

Vogelsong’s key: His fellow Ryans
Ryan Vogelsong pitched well in his last three starts of the regular season, but he’ll be pitching in a tough spot -- with his team facing elimination in a big-time hitter’s ballpark.

Two of the players who were big factors in Game 2 were also named Ryan -- Reds outfielder Ryan Ludwick and catcher Ryan Hanigan.

Ludwick is 2-for-6 with a home run and a pair of walks in this series. He homered in Game 2 against Madison Bumgarner, a pitcher against whom he was 1-for-16 in his career.

Ludwick is 4-for-5 with a walk against Vogelsong, with a hit against Vogelsong’s fastball, changeup, curveball and cutter.

The Giants have pitched Ludwick almost exclusively to the outer half of the plate (and off the outside corner) in this series and you can expect that to continue.

Ludwick hit .333 and missed on 18 percent of his swings against inner-half pitches from right-handers this season. He hit .246 and missed on 33 percent of his swings on the outer-half (or further away).

Hanigan, who had three RBI in the Game 2 win, can also expect a lot of outer-half pitches.

His split is .289 with a miss rate of only seven percent against inner-half pitches and .225 with a 15 percent miss rate against outer-half pitches.

Hanigan has been able to find holes on ground balls this postseason. He’s 3-for-4 when hitting a grounder after closing the season by making outs on 15 of the last 16 grounders he hit.

Vogelsong does have one stat going for him in his quest to get both of these hitters out. A key to his return to form is that he’s held right-handed hitters to two hits (and no walks) in their last 26 at-bats against him.

AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezThe Giants hit just two home runs at home in July, both by Buster Posey.
ESPN's Home Run Tracker analyzes video of each home run hit this season and as far back as 2006. Each month, the tracker will detail the best and worst home runs, as well as some other interesting statistics pertaining to the long ball. With the exception of the final day of the month, below are the notable home runs for the month of July.

No Doubter of the Month: Longest true distance HR
June Winner: Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers (484 feet)
July Winner: Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres (485 feet)
On July 2 at Chase Field, Maybin hit a 485-foot shot to left-center field. Not only was it the longest home run of his career, but the second-longest at Chase Field since ESPN began tracking home runs in 2006.

Wall-Scraper of the Month: Shortest true distance HR
June Winner: Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers (329 feet)
July Winner: Cody Ross, Boston Red Sox (338 feet)
On July 19 at Fenway Park, Ross hit an Addison Reed pitch into the monster seats for a walk-off home run. The 338-foot HR is the longest “wall-scarper” this season. It was Ross’ shortest home run since he hit one 337 feet off Hiroki Kuroda in 2008.

Moonshot of the Month: Highest apex HR (maximum vertical height ball reaches)
June Winner: Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds (152 feet)
July Winner: Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians (154 feet)
Hafner’s 363-foot HR off Ricky Romero on July 13 was the third-highest in 2012. The two home runs with higher apexes in 2012: 366-foot home run by Todd Helton on April 14 that had an apex of 162 feet, and a 419-foot bomb by Paul Goldschmidt on April 6 that reached a height of 156 feet.

Liner of the Month: Lowest apex HR
June Winner: Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles (43 feet)
July Winners: Ryan Ludwick, Cincinnati Reds and Casey Kotchman, Cleveland Indians (47 feet)
Ludwick’s 361-foot HR on July 14 was his lowest apex since the beginning of the tracker in 2006. Kotchman’s 354-foot shot on July 4 also had an apex of 47 feet, the lowest at Progressive Field since May of 2010.

Mother Nature: Most climate-impacted HR
June Winner: Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds (+67 feet)
July Winner: Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies (+50 feet)
On July 28, the wind was blowing out at Coors Field when Michael Cuddyer’s 363-foot home run was aided by a 13 mph wind. That carried the ball an extra 50 feet. Only four home runs at Coors Field have been more wind-aided since 2006.

Masher of the Month: Player with greatest average distance (min. 5 HR)
June Winner: Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks (425.8 feet)
July Winner: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (424.9 feet)
Cabrera’s nine home runs in July had an average distance of 424.9 feet, more than five feet more than the next closest player, Edwin Encarnacion. Four of Cabrera’s nine July home runs went at least 440 feet, including his 300th career HR, which went 457 feet.

Team Power Outage of the Month: Team with fewest HR
June Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers (6)
July Winner: San Francisco Giants (14)
After relinquishing the June award to their NL West rivals, the San Francisco Giants once again take the award for fewest home runs. The Giants hit just 14 in July, three more than the 11 the Giants hit in May. Only two of the Giants’ 14 HR in July were hit at home.
It was a game of comebacks at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, as the Baltimore Orioles outlasted the Detroit Tigers 8-6 in 13 innings.

It was the fourth time this season that the Orioles played at least 13 innings. That’s the most in the majors, and Baltimore is a perfect 4-0 in such games this season.

The O’s are 10-2 in extra innings this season, the most wins in the majors. Since the start of the 2010 season, the Orioles have 31 extra-inning victories, also tops in MLB. The Cincinnati Reds, who beat the St. Louis Cardinals in 10 innings Saturday, are third on the list with 27.

The hero was Taylor Teagarden, who made his Orioles debut by entering the game as a defensive replacement in the 11th inning. Teagarden’s two-run homer provided the winning margin and was his first career walk-off hit.

Teagarden bailed out Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, who allowed a season-high three runs in picking up his second blown save of the season. Entering the game, Johnson had allowed only five runs in 37⅓ innings.

J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones also got into the action with game-tying hits in extra innings. Jones tied the game in the 11th and leads the majors with four game-tying or go-ahead hits in extra innings this year. Hardy hit a solo homer in the 13th, the first time in his career that he has tied a game by going deep after the ninth inning.

There have been nine home runs hit in the 13th inning or later in the majors this season, and the Orioles have four of them.

That offset the efforts of Quintin Berry, who was in line to be the hero for the Tigers. After picking up his first career game-tying ninth-inning hit to force extra innings, he got his second career extra-inning go-ahead hit in the 13th.

Diamond Dust
• The hero in Cincinnati was less of a surprise. Ryan Ludwick hit his fifth career walk-off home run as the Reds downed the Cardinals 3-2 in 10 innings.

• The Atlanta Braves rallied late to cost R.A. Dickey the win, but he has made 15 straight starts without a loss. That’s the fourth-best streak in New York Mets history. Tom Seaver (1969-70), Dwight Gooden (1985) and Johan Santana (2008-09) all have 18-game streaks without a loss.

• Andrew McCutchen homered in three straight games for the first time in his career. Since he hit his first long-ball of the season on May 8, only Jose Bautista has more home runs.
Clayton Kershaw takes the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field on Thursday night, looking to bounce back from a six-run outing Saturday at Cincinnati.

That game aside, Kershaw has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball over the past three years, whether facing left-handed or right-handed hitters.

Left-handers are batting .186 against Kershaw, giving him the the sixth-best opponents' batting average, third among left-handed pitchers. His swing-and-miss percentage of 36.9 leads all pitchers against lefties.

Among left-handed pitchers, Kershaw ranks second in opponents' batting average and first in OPS and strikeout percentage when using breaking pitches.

While his success against lefties might be anticipated, Kershaw separates himself from other southpaws with his ability to get right-handed batters out as well. Since 2009, Kershaw has the ninth-ranked opponents' batting average against among all starting pitchers (.218) when facing right-handed batters. Kershaw and Jonathan Sanchez (who is eighth) are the only two lefties in the top 25.

Since 2009, right-handed hitters are batting .243 in at-bats ending against Kershaw's fastball, well below the league average of .284. His breaking pitches have also been effective against righties, particularly at preventing home runs. Ryan Ludwick and Allen Craig are the only two right-handed batters to take a Kershaw breaking ball deep over that span.

Kershaw takes his breaking ball to Denver on Thursday, looking to continue his improvement at Coors Field. He had a 9.88 ERA in his first three career starts there, but he hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of his past five starts in Colorado, posting an ERA of 3.38.

Opening Day's First Pitch

March, 31, 2011
Today’s Trivia: Former top picks Luke Hochevar and David Price will start on Opening Day for the first time in their respective careers. Who was the last No. 1 overall draft pick to start on Opening Day?

Quick Hits: A quick look at some Opening Day longevity.

* Jorge Posada will start his 12th straight opener in pinstripes. That’s the most by a New York Yankee since Willie Randolph suited up for 14 in a row.

* Derek Jeter will make his 10th straight Opening Day start at shortstop for the Yankees, passing Phil Rizzuto's nine-game streak from 1947 to 1955.

Chipper Jones
* Chipper Jones is making his 15th straight Opening Day start for the Atlanta Braves, the longest current stretch with one team. That’s the longest streak by a Brave since Eddie Mathews also started 15 in a row. Hank Aaron started 20 of 21 openers while with the Braves, but that was divided into streaks of nine and 11.

* Make it 11 straight openers where Albert Pujols will be penciled into the St. Louis Cardinals lineup, the longest streak for the franchise since Lou Brock started 15 in a row.

* Alex Gordon will be the Kansas City Royals 12th consecutive different Opening Day starter in left field. Johnny Damon is the most recent Royal to start back-to-back Opening Days there, in 1999 and 2000.

* The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's Howard Kendrick will start on Opening Day for the fifth straight year. The only Angels second baseman with a longer streak of Opening Day starts is Bobby Knoop, who was in seven straight opening lineups from 1964 to 1969.

* Aaron Harang signed with the San Diego Padres in the offseason, meaning that he will not be the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day starter for the first time since 2005. Edinson Volquez will get the nod, ending Harang's five-season streak, which matches Mario Soto and Pete Donohue for the longest Reds stretch since 1920.

* Ryan Ludwick will be the Padres’ 20th different starter in left in the past 24 years. The last player to start three straight openers in left was Gene Richards (1980-83). Meanwhile, Cameron Maybin will make it nine straight years with a different Opening Day centerfielder.

* For the second straight year, there’s a complete overhaul to the Washington Nationals outfield. The last time the franchise repeated an Opening Day outfield was 1993-94: Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker.

Trivia Answer: Paul Wilson started the opener for the Reds in 2005, though he lasted only eight more games in the big leagues. Before that, Kris Benson got the Opening Day start for the Pirates in 2003.
Today’s Trivia: On Thursday, the San Diego PadresRyan Ludwick makes his first trip back to St. Louis since getting traded. Who is the only player with 50 career home runs for both the Padres and Cardinals?

MORTONQuick Hits: Charlie Morton gets the start for the Pittsburgh Pirates today, which opens the door for all sorts of fun notes on notably poor seasons. But he isn’t the only young player suffering from a steep learning curve.

• Morton is 1-11 in 56 2/3 IP, which would be the most losses ever for a pitcher with fewer than 60 innings. Rick Langford (1986 Oakland Athletics) and Johnny Murphy (1942 New York Yankees) both had 10.

• Among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, Morton (9.05 ERA) has the highest ERA since 2000, when a pair of hurlers were even worse. One was Sean Bergman (9.66), but the other provides some hope for Morton. Roy Halladay had a 10.64 ERA that season, the highest ever for a pitcher who threw at least 50 innings.

• Morton has 11 losses in just 13 starts. The Elias Sports Bureau was able to provide some context looking ahead to today’s start. Over the last 30 seasons, the only NL pitcher with 12 or more losses in a span of 14 starts was Omar Daal for the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000.

• After a hitless Wednesday, Oakland’s Chris Carter is now 0-for-24 this season (and in his career). If the season ended today, he’d have the third-most at-bats without a hit in a season for a non-pitcher. Last year, Houston’s Jason Smith finished 0-for-25. The all-time mark belongs to Hal Finney, who was 0-for-35 for the Pirates in 1936.

• When you allow pitchers into the equation, Bob Buhl’s 0-for-70 season in 1962 takes the cake.

• If Morton can take solace in Halladay’s season, there must be similar hope for Carter. How about a pair of Hall of Famers? Tony Perez was 2-for-25 in his first cup of coffee, while Brooks Robinson was 2-for-22.

Taylor Teagarden is back up in spot duty for Texas. He has 30 strikeouts in 62 at-bats this season. Since 1900, the only player was more strikeouts in a season of 70 or fewer at-bats was Jack Cust (32 K in 65 AB) in 2002.

• Well, this one can only be characterized as bizarre. In 14 1/3 innings, Atlanta’s Mike Dunn hasn’t allowed an earned run. The last rookie with a season of more innings without allowing an earned run was Fernando Valenzuela, who went 17 2/3 innings in 1980. Here’s where it gets strange. Dunn has issued 15 walks – more than a walk per inning. If the season ended today, he’d hold the MLB record for most walks in a season without allowing a run. That distinction currently belongs to Bob McClure, who walked 14 in 1975, but was unscored upon.

Today’s Leaderboard: Troy Tulowitzki’s September has been astounding. But rather than show each leaderboard, take a look at how far ahead he is in several categories.

Key Matchups: Trying to get lefties in against Chad Billingsley, Bruce Bochy got creative with his lineup on Wednesday. Regulars like Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen were benched in favor of Eugenio Velez and Nate Schierholtz. But that should change with lefty Ted Lilly taking the mound on Thursday. Shouldn’t it? Burrell is just 1-for-9 in his career against Lilly, while Jose Guillen is 3-for-20 with nine strikeouts. The only lefty Guillen has a worse average against (min. 20 PA) is Billy Wagner.

Tim Stauffer gets the start for the Padres, who sit just a half game up on the San Francisco Giants. His 0.64 road ERA is the lowest in the majors (min. 25 IP), with Mariano Rivera (1.30) a distant second. However, Stauffer is 0-3 in three previous appearances against the Cardinals. Among active pitchers who have pitched at least 10 innings against St. Louis, Stauffer’s 10.13 ERA is the third highest.

Trivia Answer: Jack Clark is the only player with 50+ HR for both the Padres and Cardinals. In fact, no other player has 30 for both franchises.

Worse collapse: 2010 Cardinals or 2007 Mets?

September, 2, 2010
The infamous collapse of the 2007 New York Mets is one that very nearly every baseball fan knows about – the team blew a seven-game lead over the season's final 17 games, ceding the National League East to the Philadelphia Phillies and becoming the butt of jokes nationwide.

Fast forward three years, and here we are in 2010. While the St. Louis Cardinals’ collapse has occurred at a different time and in a different division, the net result is almost certainly the same – the loss of the division and any shot at the playoffs. The similarities between the two collapses are striking.

While both collapses are similar in magnitude, the reason behind the slump could not be more different. The Cardinals’ bats have gone silent during the collapse, this despite the presence of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. On the flip side, the 2007 Mets couldn’t have done much more on offense during their collapse – they averaged nearly six runs per game – but their pitching staff's 5.96 ERA down the stretch proved to be their undoing.

Another interesting angle to look at is the play of the team’s superstars during the respective collapses. In baseball, one player cannot carry a team (even if that player is Albert Pujols or David Wright).

What's even more puzzling about the Cardinals slump is that the team presumably sacrificed offense for pitching at the trade deadline, swapping out OF Ryan Ludwick and swapping in SP Jake Westbrook. Matt Holliday, St. Louis' big offseason signing, is batting just .268 with a paltry .303 OBP during these 18 games.

Mercifully, the Cardinals have Thursday off to try and collect themselves before opening a 3-game set against the division-leading Reds Friday in St. Louis.

1st Pitch: Who are the real contenders?

August, 3, 2010
Today’s Trivia: After pitching 1,198 innings in the American League (all with the Indians and Yankees), Jake Westbrook made his National League debut on Monday for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Can you name the active AL pitcher who has thrown the most career innings but never pitched for the NL? What about the active NL pitcher who has thrown the most innings but never pitched for the AL? We’ll give you the top 3 in each league at the bottom of this document.

Quick Hits on non-contenders who have owned contenders this season, on the heels of the Houston Astros improving to 5-2 in St. Louis this season (they’re 15-28 on the road against all other teams).

• The jury is still out on whether the Detroit Tigers are a contender, but they’re 3-1 against the Yankees this season. All other AL Central teams are 6-15 against the New York Yankees.

• The Tampa Bay Rays only have a losing record against one AL team this season (the Texas Rangers), but they have losing records against four different NL teams, including the Arizona Diamondbacks (1-2) and Florida Marlins (2-4).

• The Cleveland Indians can claim dominance over the Chicago White Sox this season, going 8-4 against Ozzie Guillen’s club. Cleveland is 12-14 against the rest of the division.

• The Rangers need to stay away from AL East bottom-feeders. Texas is 3-9 against the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles this season.

• If the Philadelphia Phillies could beat the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, they’d be a lot closer to the Atlanta Braves in the standings. Philly is 4-8 against the Cubs and Pirates this season, but 6-0 against the other two NL Central non-contenders (Milwaukee Brewers and Astros).

Today’s Leaderboard: Today is Sid Bream’s 50th birthday, so let’s celebrate the player who memorably scored from 2nd base with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS to send the Braves to the World Series. Who, in Bream’s footsteps (pun not intended), has scored from 2nd base on a single most often this season?

It would be Martin Prado, who recently was placed on the disabled list.

And, since you’re wondering, which MLBers have a 100 percent success rate? It’s a tie among two guys who are 6-for-6: Asdrubal Cabrera and Kyle Blanks.

Key Matchups:
• Here’s the daily A-Rod vs Opposing Starter update: Rodriguez is 4-13 (.308 BA) in his career against Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero. But he has never homered off Romero and has only one extra-base hit (a double). And Romero really has Rodriguez’s number this season – A-Rod is 0-5 with 2 strikeouts and a double play in his last 5 AB’s against Romero.

Bud Norris has gained a reputation as a Cardinals-killer in his career (4-1 with a 1.60 ERA vs STL, 5-9 with a 6.35 ERA vs all other teams) despite getting knocked around by the Cardinals in his most recent start against them. But Norris still owns plenty of Cardinals individually. Felipe Lopez is 0-8, Matt Holliday is 4-16, Colby Rasmus is 2-13 and Skip Schumaker is 2-14. What about the Great Pujols? Not great either, just 3-14 and no home runs.

• In a battle of the newly-acquired players for NL West teams, give a strong edge to Ted Lilly when he pitches against Ryan Ludwick tonight. Ludwick is batting just .192 (5-28) with twice as many strikeouts (10) as hits (5) in his career against Lilly.

Pat Burrell hasn’t been an everyday player this season, but he should find himself starting tonight against the Rockies’ Aaron Cook. Pat the Bat is batting .591 (13-22) and slugging .773 against Cook. Of all the pitchers Burrell has faced at least 20 times, Cook is the pitcher Burrell has hit the best.

Trivia Answer: Your top AL guys who have never pitched for the NL: Mark Buehrle (2,193.1 IP), John Lackey (1,641.2) and Kelvim Escobar (1,507).

As for the other way around, it’s the recently-traded Roy Oswalt (1,938.1 IP), Randy Wolf (1,823.1) and Ryan Dempster (1,769.2).

FanGraphs: Ryan Ludwick is well-protected

May, 3, 2010
On the heels of Ryan Ludwick’s somewhat innocuous 1-for-3 performance Sunday against the Reds, it might seem odd to focus on the Cardinals right fielder today. But there was a lot of intrigue in those few at-bats, and a lot of food for thought.

Ludwick's strong season to date has garnered some notice. He is batting .290, he's walking more than 10 percent of the time, and he has an isolated power above .190. These all are benchmarks he met back in the halcyon days of yore (aka 2008, when he also hit 37 home runs), but fell short of last year. So what has changed?

For starters, manager Tony La Russa has him hitting second this year after usually batting him fourth or fifth the past two seasons. The stated reason for the switch was to get Ludwick more fastballs while hitting in front of Albert Pujols. So far, so good. Thus far, Ludwick is seeing fastballs 57 percent of the time, which is the most he's seen in five years. In Sunday's win against Cincy, 10 of the 13 pitches Ludwick got were fastballs.

This would seem like a silly new strategy because Ludwick crushes fastballs. A statistic on FanGraphs measures a batters’ effectiveness versus each type of pitch and produces a runs above average figure for each offering. In his career, Ludwick has been most successful against the fastball, to the tune of 53 runs above average. Compare that to his success against the curve (plus-3 runs) and the change (plus-7.8 runs), and you get a sense of how much he enjoys the fastball. His run-producing single Sunday came on a fastball.

So why are pitchers throwing him the fastball? Convention wisdom says that Pujols lurking in the on-deck circle has something to do with it. Fastballs find the strike zone 54.1 percent of the time across baseball, compared to 44.7 percent of the time for curveballs and 42.9 percent of the time for changeups. (Thanks to Daniel Moroz of Beyond the Box Score for those numbers.) If pitchers are worried about Pujols coming up next, it makes sense they’d want to make sure not to walk Ludwick and use a pitch that they could command against him.

Lineup protection is an easy explanation for all the fastballs Ludwick is seeing, but there has been research that shows that lineup protection is a myth. Whether you are inclined to believe J.C. Bradbury or conventional wisdom of lineup protection, the bottom line is that Ludwick is seeing more fastball this year. And that's a boon to his bottom line.

Eno Sarris is a writer for FanGraphs.

Friday's 1st pitch: Fun with early numbers

April, 9, 2010
Today’s Trivia: When Tim Wakefield takes the hill on Friday, he will become the fifth-oldest player in Red Sox history. He will also be the oldest pitcher to start a game for Boston. Who was the oldest Red Sox starting pitcher prior to today?

Quick Hits: It’s incredibly early to find much meaning in numbers, but there are some interesting trends out there when it comes to plate discipline:

* In 18 plate appearances, Ichiro Suzuki has yet to swing at the first pitch. Entering this year, he traditionally swung at the first pitch about one out of every five times at the plate.

* Ryan Ludwick has swung at the first pitch in seven of 10 plate appearances, the highest rate in the majors thus far. Last season, he swung at 34.9 percent of first pitches.

* Alex Cora has taken 21 swings this season and has yet to swing and miss. Others yet to swing and miss: Marco Scutaro, Brett Gardner, Russell Martin. Victor Martinez has taken 30 cuts and missed only once.

* On the other end is Aramis Ramirez. He has a 52.4 swing and miss percentage this season. Typically, only about 15-20 percent of his swings are swings and misses.

* Replacing the immensely patient Chone Figgins in the leadoff spot, Erick Aybar is averaging 5.06 pitches per plate appearance. Last season, Aybar averaged 3.47 pitches per plate appearance, and was the Angels' least-patient regular aside from Vladimir Guerrero

Today’s Leaderboard: On the subject of plate discipline, you have to at least mention Nick Johnson. Early on in his return to the Bronx, Johnson is hitless, but has drawn a league-leading five walks. The biggest reason? An almost comical take percentage. Johnson has left the bat on his shoulder for 77.3 percent of the pitches thrown his way. To put it another way, he has swung 15 times and taken the pitch 51 times. Of course, this is nothing new for the notoriously selective Johnson. But something to keep an eye on: The highest take percentage over the past 35 years belongs to Barry Bonds, who watched 71.9 percent of the pitches thrown his way in 2004 when he was intentionally walked 120 times.

Key Matchups: Michael Cuddyer has five career home runs off of John Danks, his most against any pitcher. But what’s even more amazing is the fact all five came last season. In fact, four of his past seven plate appearances against Danks have been homers. In his career, Cuddyer has hit .533 (16-30) with a 1.729 OPS against Danks. Interestingly, while Danks gave up 28 home runs last season, no one else had more than one.

Carlos Pena would prefer Javier Vazquez return to the National League. Pena is a career .118 (2-for-17) against Vazquez with 10 strikeouts. If you include their last meeting in the 2008 ALDS, Pena has whiffed in seven of his past nine plate appearances against the new Yankees starter.

Trivia Answer: David Wells was 43 years and 98 days old when he made his final start for Boston in August 2006. Wakefield has him beat by 152 days as of today.

One2Watch4: Cardinals OF Ryan Ludwick

March, 16, 2010
Matt Holliday drew all the offseason attention with his mammoth contract and Albert Pujols is again expected to be "the Mang" in the Cardinals lineup. Production from those two is taken as a given, but Ryan Ludwick's success - or lack thereof - will likely determine just how much fear the Cardinals lineup puts into opposing hurlers.

If you subscribe to the alternating-year theory (and hey, it's Spring Training, you can believe in anything), then Ludwick is due to mash this year. In his three seasons with the Cardinals, his stats have followed the path of the keyboard carat (^): low, then high, then low again.

Here are the basic slashlines:
2007 - .267/.479/.339
2008 - .299/.591/.375
2009 - .265/.447/329

It's no surprise then that the Cardinals offensive fortunes mirrored Ludwick's over those three seasons, following a similar carat path:

Cardinals NL OPS rank, last three seasons
2007 10th
2008 2nd
2009 6th

So what did Ludwick do in his 2008 season that differentiated him from the 2007 and 2009 years? The answer to that question could help determine what he needs to do this season to regain that form. We'll pull out a few things...

-He walked more. Ludwick walked in about 10 percent of his plate appearances in 2008, compared to about a 7.5 percent mark in his two down seasons. The league average hovers near 9 percent, so when Ludwick was an above-average walker, his batting lines were much higher than when he took the free pass less frequently. How big of a difference is there between a 7.5 percent rate and 10 percent rate? Over a season of 500 plate appearances, that's at least 12 more walks for Ludwick.

-He struck out more. This seems paradoxical, but it's a necessary message to Cardinals fans groaning every time Ludwick whiffs - more strike outs doesn't mean Ludwick is a less productive hitter. Only one Cardinal struck out more frequently than Ludwick last season, and that player isn't back with the team this season - Rick Ankiel. While Ludwick is likely to be the team's biggest whiffer again this season, consider this tradeoff: his strikeout rate was higher in 2008, but so was Ludwick's home run rate, extra-base hit rate and RBI rate.

-He hit the ball in the air. Ludwick isn't going to beat out many grounders to the left side; his reputation is as a power hitter, which means doubles in the gap and big flys on the regular. In 2008, Ludwick's line drive percentage jumped significantly - from 19 percent to 28 percent. Not surprisingly, it dropped back down last season, to 21 percent. His ground ball-to-fly ball ratio was at its lowest in 2008 as well. It went from 60 percent in 2007 down to 37 percent, back up to 48 percent last season.

Ludwick stands to bat fifth in the order regularly this season after spending the first half of last season fourth before the Matt Holliday trade bumped him down a spot. Tony LaRussa's lineup-tinkering is well-documented, but he figures to leave the Pujols-Holliday-Ludwick heart of the order intact, even though it must pain LaRussa that it's righty-righty-righty. That puts pressure on Ludwick to match the production of other notable National League five-hitters (Jayson Werth, James Loney, Troy Tulowitzki).

He's affectionately earned himself the nickname "Thudwick" among Cardinal fans when things are going well at the plate and "Dudwick" when they're not. In a Cardinals lineup with its two top banana's returning, Ludwick returning to form could push the heart of the order into a fearsome threesome.