Stats & Info: Scott Kazmir

Rays attendance leading to financial issues

October, 6, 2011

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
Despite making the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years and advancing to the World Series in 2008, Tampa Bay's attendance has been at or near the bottom in the majors.

Shortly after the team’s loss to the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series -- which saw only 28,299 fans show -- Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg launched into the troubling financial situation of his franchise:

"The rubber has got to hit the road at some point. We're four years into winning. We're getting to the point where we don't control our own destiny. This is untenable as a model…When I came in here in '05 and '06, I saw the stars, and I was confident that we could put a winning product on the field -- and I was told by you guys and others that all we needed was a winning team. Well, we won. We won. We won. And we won. And it didn't do it."

Sternberg acquired control of the franchise in 2005. Since that point, the Rays have arguably developed into the model organization in the sport, allowing them to compete year after year over the last four years despite a limited payroll.

The team’s success has not translated to sufficient attendance. One would have expected at least a noticeable uptick in attendance with the team routinely winning 30 more games per season than it used to, but that has simply not been the case.

It appears the preseason warnings of a down season and the huge departures via free agency may have kept the fans away.

The Rays have two AL East titles, a World Series appearance and three postseason appearances in four seasons, but have averaged exactly 1,748 more fans per game than they did in 2007, when they lost 96 games.

Unfortunately, the lack of attendance has a direct effect on the Rays’ ability to spend money. After attendance issues last year both in the regular season and postseason, the Rays slashed payroll by around $30 million.

While at first glance it might appear as though the Rays’ 2011 spending situation is actually a non-trivial improvement over the spending from 2005-07, it is actually just a case of context. The team ranked 29th in 2011 and ranked 30th, 29th, 30th, 29th from 2005-08. Payrolls across baseball have risen since 2005 as a whole, so in reality the Rays are still spending at the same fractional amount of competitors. For example, in 2005 the Rays payroll accounted for 24 percent of the Boston Red Sox payroll. In 2011, the Rays payroll increased 38 percent over its 2005 payroll -- was barely more than 25 percent of the Red Sox 2011 payroll, essentially no difference from 2005.

Over the years the team has lost Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Joaquin Benoit, Scott Kazmir, Rafael Soriano, either due to unmatchable free agent offers or trades made necessary by salary obligations. It’s entirely possible that the team could once again leak talent this offseason, with James Shields getting more expensive and B.J. Upton due a raise from the nearly $5 million he made in 2011 in the arbitration process.

An organization can only churn out Matt Moores and Jeremy Hellicksons and Desmond Jennings for so long in an effort to paper over holes created from departures. At some point, perhaps the Rays can find themselves a better situation, allowing their on-field success to overshadow their off-field issues.

David Price set a single-game Tampa Bay Rays record with 14 strikeouts in a 12-0 victory Sunday over the Toronto Blue Jays.

David Price

Price's 14 strikeouts passed the previous Rays record of 13 set by James Shields earlier this season and first done by Scott Kazmir in 2007. Price's strikeout total finished one shy of the most by an American League pitcher this season. Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels struck out 15 -- also against the Blue Jays -- on April 10.

The most strikeouts in a game this season belongs to Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies, who struck out 16 against the Atlanta Braves in seven innings on May 6.

Price, who just turned 26 years old on Friday, flirted with the possibility of nearing the MLB record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game of 20 held by Roger Clemens (done twice in 1986 and 1996) and Kerry Wood in 1998.

Price struck out 10 batters through four innings, which was one more than what Clemens had in his two 20-strikeout games and was two more than what Wood had.

Price proceeded to strike out two more batters in the fifth, which kept him on pace with what Clemens had and was one ahead of Wood's pace. However, Price did not strike out a batter in the sixth inning, the only frame in which a batter did not go down on strikes.

But the left-hander finished with two more in his seventh and final inning of the game. He became the fourth pitcher this season to record 14 strikeouts in seven or fewer innings.

Price became the fourth pitcher to record at least 14 strikeouts on the road against the Blue Jays and the first since Bartolo Colon on May 29, 1998. The first to do it was Mark Langston in 1988 at Exhibition Stadium, the Blue Jays original home from 1977 until 1989.

So how was Price able to rack up so many strikeouts? He relied on what he always does, the fastball. He picked up 10 of his 14 strikeouts on pitches ending on the fastball. It's his third start this season in which he had 10 strikeouts with his fastball. No other starter in baseball even has one. This season, Price has 128 strikeouts ending on the fastball, 30 more than Colon, who is second with 98.

Blue Jays hitters swung 32 times against the pitch and put only four in play, the fewest fastballs ever put in play in a start against Price with a minimum of 20 swings.

Fallen Angels: a history of costly mistakes

July, 3, 2011
The Los Angeles Dodgers visit the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday Night Baseball (ESPN, 8 ET).

Last month, the Angels released Scott Kazmir and ate the remaining $9.5 million on his contract. It's another chapter in a run of very expensive acquisitions that have not played out well for the Angels.

While the pattern started before GM Tony Reagins took over, the situation has worsened since. To see how unsuccessful the moves have been we can look at dollars spent per wins above replacement (WAR).

Gary Matthews Jr. -- Offseason prior to 2007 (free agency)
Contract: five years, $50 million (2007-11)
Gary Matthews, Jr.
Matthews Jr.
Matthews was both the first in the run of bad acquisitions and looked to be easily the worst until the Vernon Wells trade. The Angels bit on Matthews’ career year with the Rangers in 2006, which was both out of line with his career and oddly timed given his age. The Angels released Scott Kazmir with part of a season left on his deal; they released Matthews Jr. with two full seasons left on his deal. In the three seasons he did play for the Angels, he contributed production below replacement value. For the cost of $50M, Matthews Jr. provided a robust minus-0.5 wins above replacement. Net result: $50M for minus-0.5 WAR.

Scott Kazmir -- Midway through 2009 season (via trade with Rays)
Contract: $22.5 remaining at time of trade (2010-11, 2012 buyout)
Scott Kazmir
Kazmir was effective for the Angels in 2009, going 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts. Unfortunately, the wheels came off after that, as Kazmir’s velocity declined and his effectiveness went with it. In 2010 and 2011, Kazmir combined to go 9-15 with a 6.17 ERA in 151 ⅔ IP. Between 2010 and 2011, the Angels paid Kazmir $20M and received below replacement level production. Net result: $22.5M for minus-1.0 WAR. **Excludes 2009 partial season given difficulties in parsing out split-season WAR.**

Fernando Rodney -- Offseason prior to 2010
Contract: two years, $11 million (2010-11)
Fernando Rodney
This contract is obviously still going, but Rodney has been a mix of ineffective and unavailable during his tenure with the Angels. Rodney contributed just 0.3 WAR during his 2010 season and, in his brief time in 2011, went backward, contributing minus-0.1 WAR. While Rodney still has time to turn around this particular season, it’s almost certain he’s not going to be able to turn around the value of the contract. More than 40 percent through this season, the Angels have paid him approximately $8M of the $11M he’s owed. Net result: $8M for 0.2 WAR.

Vernon Wells -- Offseason prior to 2011
Contract: $81M remaining on contract at time of trade
Vernon Wells
Even though he possessed a contract that was largely considered unmovable within baseball, the Angels welcomed Wells -- a player clearly on the downslope of his career -- and almost the entirety of his contract. He’s owed $23M in 2011 and $21M in each season from 2012 to 2014. The Blue Jays chipped in only $5M to facilitate the deal.

Not only did the acquisition of Wells result in $80M worth of dead weight, it also blocked the team’s best prospect -- arguably the best prospect in baseball -- Mike Trout. Wells has posted a .212/.244/.385 line this season, good for minus-0.3 WAR. There are three full seasons left on this deal, but they’ve already paid him approximately $10M and received below replacement level production. Net result: $10M for minus-0.3 WAR.

The Angels have spent approximately $90 million on players who have actually provided a net negative contribution (relative to replacement level).

Given that teams usually spend somewhere around $4-5 million per marginal win on the open market, the idea of paying more than $90 million for negative wins is almost unfathomable.

The most eye-opening angle is that the team still owes Wells more than $70 million, which means there’s a good chance this below-replacement-level bill could ultimately exceed $150 million. Or, in other words, approximately the Florida Marlins' team payrolls from 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 … combined.
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.
The Washington Nationals' Adam Dunn hit a 479-foot home run Tuesday at Atlanta -- the third longest HR this season behind Josh Hamilton (485 feet on June 27) and Colby Rasmus (483 feet, also on June 27). Dunn owns the third- and fifth-longest home runs of the season. Interestingly enough, the five longest home runs this season have all been hit by left-handed batters.

More significant is the fact that it's the seventh straight season Dunn has hit at least 35 home runs, which is tied for the fifth longest streak in baseball history. Only one left-handed hitter has a longer streak than Dunn: Rafael Palmeiro hit at least 35 HR in nine straight seasons from 1995-2003.

Also in the Nationals' 6-0 over the Atlanta Braves, pitcher Livan Hernandez hit his 10th career HR and drove in two runs. He now has 77 career RBI, two shy of the Arizona Diamondbacks' Mike Hampton for the most among active pitchers.

• The Philadelphia Phillies' Cole Hamels struck out a season-high 13 batters in 6⅔ innings against the Florida Marlins. From the Elias Sports Bureau: Hamels is the first Phillies pitcher since 1900 to strike out 13 batters in fewer than seven innings.
• The New York Yankees' Jorge Posada hit his first career pinch-hit, go-ahead home run in the 10th inning or later to give the Yankees an 8-7 win against the Tampa Bay Rays. From the Elias Sports Bureau: The last Yankee to hit a go-ahead, pinch-hit HR in extra innings was Matt Nokes on May 8, 1993 at Detroit. Posada had been 0-for-10 this season as a pinch-hitter prior to hitting the home run.

• From 2005 to 2008, there were three left-handed pitchers who won at least 45 games and an ERA under 3.60: Johan Santana, CC Sabathia and Scott Kazmir. That seems like a distant memory for Kazmir, who is now 0-5 in his last seven starts and 1-9 in his last 12.
Saturday Notables from the Elias Sports Bureau:
The Detroit Tigers' Max Scherzer has a 1.72 ERA over his last eight starts dating back to July 31. Over that span, only two pitchers have a lower ERA (minimum: 50 IP): the Seattle Mariners' Felix Hernandez (1.07) and the Houston Astros' Wandy Rodriguez (1.63). Scherzer, Hernandez and Rodriguez are all scheduled to start Saturday as well.

Felix Hernandez has started 16 games this season in which he has pitched at least six innings and allowed three or fewer earned runs and failed to get a win. Over the last 15 seasons, only one other pitcher has had that many such starts: the San Francisco Giants' Matt Cain (16 in 2007). The last American League pitcher with at least 16 such starts: Bert Blyleven for the Twins in 1972 (16).

The Baltimore Orioles' Jeremy Guthrie goes for his 10th win of the season tonight against the Tigers. Winning 10 or more games in three consecutive seasons doesn't seem like a big accomplishment, but doing it for a team that ends the season at least 25 games below .500 is. Over the last 30 seasons, only two pitchers won at least 10 games in three consecutive seasons for a team that was at least 25 games below the .500 mark: Scott Kazmir with Tampa Bay (2005-07) and Ben Sheets with the Milwaukee Brewers (2001-04). (The Orioles are currently 33 games under .500.)

The Giants can take sole possession of first place with a win over the San Diego Padres. Over the last 10 seasons, the Giants have been in first place this late in the season only once and that was in 2003 when they won the National League West.

With a win Saturday night over the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cincinnati Reds will end their streak of nine straight seasons with a losing record. Cincinnati has had only two other stretches in which they had at least nine straight losing seasons: 1929 to 1937 and 1945 to 1955.

Rays ready for final meeting with Red Sox

September, 8, 2010
The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays finish up their season series tonight at 7 ET in the first game of our Wednesday Night Baseball doubleheader on ESPN.

Matt Garza gets the call for the Rays as they try to keep pace with the Yankees in the race for not only the AL East title but also the best record in the majors. Garza carved his name in the franchise record books in August, posting a 1.27 ERA in August that was the second-lowest in any month in Rays history, just behind Scott Kazmir’s 1.22 in May 2008.

His run of overpowering performances actually started in late July when he became the first pitcher in Rays history to throw a no-hitter - during a Monday Night Baseball game on ESPN July 26. Including the no-no, Garza has gone 4-2 with a 1.58 ERA in his last eight starts, posting the third-best ERA in the majors over that time span.

In case he needs any more confidence heading into the game tonight, he only has to recall his past matchups against the Red Sox. He owns a 7-3 record in 17 career starts versus Boston, which is the fifth-best winning percentage against the franchise among players that debuted in the last 70 seasons (min. 17 starts). Only Gaylord Perry (22-5), Allie Reynolds (24-9), John Buzhardt (10-4) and Bobby Witt (12-5) have better records than Garza - and none of those pitchers beat the Red Sox twice in the same playoff series, as Garza did in the 2008 ALCS.

With the Red Sox playoff hopes virtually extinguished following their 14-5 loss to the Rays Tuesday night - which left them seven and a half games back in the Wild Card Race - Terry Francona announced Tim Wakefield as the starter for tonight's game in place of Clay Buchholz, who was originally slated to pitch on short rest in a last-ditch push for the postseason.

Buchholz certainly would have given the Red Sox a legitimate chance to win the game, since he finished August with a 1.03 ERA, which was the fifth-lowest by a Red Sox pitcher since 1913 when earned runs were first tracked. His 1.88 career ERA vs the Rays is also the second-best by any pitcher that has made at least five starts against the team.

Yet, the 44-year-old Wakefield is not a bad second choice, despite the struggles that have plagued him in 2010. Not only are his 20 wins against the Rays the most of any pitcher versus the franchise, his .769 winning percentage (20-6) is the highest among the dozen pitchers with at least 15 decisions against the team.

He's also a masterful 10-2 career against the Rays at Fenway Park, with a couple of eight-inning, no-run gems. But that comes with a caution: Evan Longoria is 6-for-11 with a home run and three walks against the knuckleballer.

It's not just Longoria and Garza that have enjoyed a lot of success against their AL East rival. The Rays have collectively fared well against the Red Sox this season, winning 11 of 17 matchups, including six of seven games in Beantown. Both of those win totals are their most against the more-storied franchise in the 13 seasons since Tampa joined the league in 1998.

Need even more evidence of the Rays' recent surge against the Red Sox? They are 27-17 versus Boston dating back to June 30, 2008...and that is the best record by ANY American League team against the Red Sox since that date.

The Hunt For October continues tonight as the Rays and Red Sox battle in the first game of a Wednesday Night Baseball doubleheader at 7 ET on ESPN.

Can Shields return to 'Big Game' form?

August, 29, 2010
With nearly 1,000 career innings on his resume, 28-year-old James Shields is the elder statesman and most experienced pitcher in the Tampa Bay Rays' starting rotation. He’s already the franchise leader in innings pitched, and is tied with Scott Kazmir for the most wins in Rays' history. Shields started (and won) the first postseason game in Rays history, and notched their only win in the 2008 World Series.
So, based on his franchise pedigree and proven performance in the postseason, you would figure Shields to be a lock for a spot in the Rays’ playoff rotation this year, right? Not so fast …

Shields started this season going 5-2 with a 2.99 ERA in his first 10 starts. His command of the strike zone was most impressive -- averaging more than 10 strikeouts and less than two walks per nine innings. But in his last 17 starts -- dating back to May 30 when the Chicago White Sox tagged him for seven runs -- Shields has posted an ERA over six and opponents have hit nearly .300.

During the first two months, Shields was absolutely brilliant when getting to two strikes. In those 10 starts, he had a two-strike count on a hitter 133 times, and 71 of them struck out. But over his last 17 starts, his ability to finish off batters with a "K" has fallen and he's become much more hittable in two-strike counts (see chart).

Early in the season Shields had issues when pitching with the bases empty, allowing nearly 30 percent of the batters he faced to reach base. However, he was able to limit the damage by holding opponents to a .228 batting average and just seven extra-base hits in 101 at-bats with runners on base. It's been a different story in his last 17 starts though, as he has been hit much harder compared to his first 10 starts (see chart). In fact, according to Inside Edge, 30 percent of his at-bats with runners on base since May 30 have ended in "well-hit" balls into play. (Well-hit balls are determined by video scouting from Inside Edge.)

Shields has also been vulnerable since against right-handed batters. In his first 10 starts, right-handed batters hit just .243 with a slugging percentage of .409. In fact, in the three starts prior to that May 30 game against the White Sox, Shields allowed just seven hits in 43 at-bats (.163) to right-handed hitters. But the White Sox righties crushed Shields, pounding out five hits (including two home runs) in 11 at-bats. Since then, righties are hitting .335 against Shields with an OPS of .990.

Shields’ 4.76 ERA is currently the highest in Tampa Bay's rotation. He has a career-high 11 wild pitches and has allowed 29 home runs, equaling his career high. It’s clear that he has not performed over the last three months like the "Big Games James" in the past, but don't count him out yet. The 28-year-old has shown signs of breaking out of his slump recently, having won his last two starts, allowing just three runs in 13 innings against the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels.

Sunday's matchup with the Boston Red Sox is a crucial game for the Rays as they try to hold off Boston and keep pace with the New York Yankees in the American League East. But it could also be the most pivotal and important start of the season for Shields as he tries to prove that he deserves to be pitching in meaningful games come October.

1st Pitch: Wednesday is all about Favre …

August, 18, 2010
Today’s Trivia:
Brett Favre seems to be on the brain and on the lips of the sports world, so let’s keep his name there for baseball. Over the last 50 years, there have been five players (including one who’s a Hall-of-Famer) named Brett to be an All-Star. Who are they? Note: Brett can be either their first or last name, and it can be spelled with either one “T” or two.

Quick Hits:
The Minnesota Twins' Jim Thome hit his 12th career walk-off home run Tuesday. That ties five players (Foxx, Mantle, Musial, Robinson, Ruth) for most in MLB history. It also gives us a great chance to look at some fun walk-off home run notes:

• Dusty Baker hit plenty as a player and has seen his seen his fair share as a manager. Baker hit eight walk-off home runs in his career, twice as many as current managers Terry Francona and Joe Torre.

• Aaron Boone hit more walk-off home runs (6) than Willie Mays (5).

• Three players share the all-time mark for most walk-off HR in a come-from-behind situation: Babe Ruth, Frank Robinson and Fred McGriff.

• You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Gates Brown. He hit .257 with 84 career home runs from 1963-75 with the Detroit Tigers. But it's funny how the baseball gods look down on some players. Brown hit three pinch-hit walk-off home runs, the most of any player in MLB history.

• Harold Baines has the distinction of hitting the latest walk-off home run in history. His came in the 25th inning of a game against the Brewers in 1984.

• Anyone up for a 13-pitch walk-off shot? Garret Anderson did it in 1997, taking Rick Aguilera deep to beat the Twins.

• Finally, let’s circle back to Thome. His first career walk-off home run came on June 15, 1994, in a game where he did three things you haven’t likely seen from him much in recent years: played third base, batted 8th in the order and finished a triple shy of the cycle.

Wednesday Matchups:
If the Boston Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia struggles tonight against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Scott Kazmir, you’ll know something is wrong. Pedroia has hammered Kazmir in his career to the tune of a .526 BA and 1.433 OPS. Pedroia has 16 hits and six extra-base hits off Kazmir, the most against any pitcher.

The Twins Francisco Liriano has a career 5.22 ERA against the Chicago White Sox, almost a point and-a-half higher than his ERA against all other teams. Look to two main culprits for his lack of success against the Sox, but maybe not the ones you’d think: Alexei Ramirez and A.J. Pierzynski. Of the 72 batters who Liriano has faced at least 10 times in his career, Liriano is allowing a batting average above .400 to seven of them, and Ramirez (.500 BA) and Pierzynski (.417 BA) are two of them.

When the San Francisco Giants' Matt Cain tries to suppress the Phillies lineup tonight (7 ET on ESPN), there’s one recently activated player he might want to avoid.

Trivia Answer: The Hall-of-Famer is George Brett. The other players are Bret Boone, Ken Brett, Brett Butler and Bret Saberhagen.

Superior starts leaderboard update

July, 13, 2010
The first half of the baseball season was highlighted by several incredible individual pitching performances, with four no-hitters in the books and 18 different pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title that have an ERA under 3.00. Hurlers have dominated the headlines so much during the first few months that 2010 is already being dubbed “The Year of the Pitcher” by experts and pundits across the country.

Prior to the season, we set out to redefine the traditional quality start stat (6 IP, 3 ER or fewer), with the intent to make it a more legitimate statistic that would reward the best performances by a starting pitcher. Little did we know that pitchers would redefine quality over and over again throughout the first half of the season.

First, a quick summary of our method to define a “Superior Start”: we took the two elements of a starter's pitching line that are now used in current definition of a quality start (innings and earned runs) and assigned a 0-100 grade on each outing based on the expected team winning percentage, given the combo of innings and earned runs allowed by the starter.

Since our last update in May, we made one significant change to the model: the grade on each start is now season-dependent, meaning that it is now calculated relative to all starts made that season. Even with this adjustment, a Superior Start is still defined as any start with a grade of 75 or greater.

Now, here’s a look at the first-half leaders in Superior Starts:

Not surprisingly, six of the top seven pitchers in Superior Starts are slated to take the mound tonight in Anaheim. David Price, the American League All-Star Game starter is just off this list with nine superior starts this season

The Yankees – who enter the break with the most wins – also lead in Superior Starts and are the only team in the majors with five pitchers that have at least five superior starts each. The Pirates have the fewest number of superior starts with 14, which is only one more than the individual leader, Josh Johnson!

Speaking of bad pitching, there actually was some in the first half of the season, and to make sure that it gets proper recognition, we also have created an Inferior Start metric. It is defined as any start with a grade of 25 or below.

Here are the “leaders in inferiority” at the break:

Scott Kazmir wins the award for the worst start of the first half, with his five-inning, 13-run disaster this past Saturday against the Athletics. And it should come as no surprise to see the Pirates, Indians and Orioles leading the list of most Inferior Starts, as they also rank second, first, and fourth, respectively, in the most losses among major-league teams entering the second half of the season.

Be sure to look for our Superior Starts leaderboard later this month on Baseball Tonight, and for further updates during the rest of the season.

1st Pitch: Pitches are piling up

June, 24, 2010
Quick Hits: With the epic Nicolas Mahut-John Isner tennis match shattering all sorts of records at Wimbledon, let’s take a look at which MLB players are working hard this season (numbers via STATS LLC).
  • Mahut and Isner combined for 1,894 strokes in Wednesday’s portion of the fifth set. That’s more than the total number of pitches thrown by a pitcher this season. Dan Haren leads the majors with 1,761 pitches thrown this season, 81 more than the next pitcher (Chris Carpenter).
  • Ubaldo Jimenez leads the majors with 110.5 pitches per outing. Since 2006, the only pitcher that has topped that number is Justin Verlander, who averaged 112.5 last season.
  • Wade Davis is averaging 18.2 pitches per inning, which would be the highest for a qualifying pitcher since Ian Snell’s 18.3 in 2008.
  • Jered Weaver is averaging 4.3 pitches per batter faced, which is just shy of Clayton Kershaw’s average from last season and the third highest rate over the last 10 years for a qualifying starter.
  • No one has seen more pitches than Dustin Pedroia, in part because only Martin Prado and Rickie Weeks have more plate appearances. Pedroia has faced 1,449 pitches. That puts him on pace to see 3,215 pitches this season. Since 1988, no batter has faced more than Bobby Abreu’s 3,159 in 2005.
  • Even though he swings less often than the average player, Pedroia also leads the majors in swings with 616. He’s on pace for 1,367 swings, just shy of Ryan Howard’s 2009 league-leading total of 1,385.
  • Brett Gardner leads the majors with 4.53 pitches per plate appearance. That would be the highest average since Rickey Henderson’s 4.55 in 1997.
Today’s Trivia: When was the last time two starting pitchers threw at least 13 innings in the same game? Who were the pitchers?

Today’s Leaderboard: Having issued more walks than any other team, it’s no surprise that the Brewers are throwing a lot of pitches. They average more pitches per game (158.0) and per inning (17.7) than any other team. The Rangers throw more pitches per plate appearance (4.0) than any other team. Contrast that with the Twins, who throw the fewest in all three categories.

Key Matchups: Manny Ramirez has traditionally fared better against lefty pitchers, but that has not been the case against Scott Kazmir. Ramirez is just 7-for-44 (.159) with 14 strikeouts against the Angels’ southpaw. That’s Manny’s lowest batting average against any of the 54 pitchers that he’s faced at least 30 times.

Alex Rios is 0-for-10 in his career against Derek Lowe. The only pitcher he has faced more without a hit is Mariano Rivera (0-for-13). Meanwhile, Lowe has actually faced three hitters more times without allowing a hit. It’s a pretty impressive group: Barry Bonds (0-for-11), Mark Teixeira (0-for-12) and Jason Bay (0-for-15).

Trivia Answer: On August 27, 1976, both Catfish Hunter and Frank Tanana tossed 13 scoreless innings before finally giving way to the bullpens. The Yankees wound up scoring five runs in the 15th to beat the Angels. No one has had an outing of 12 innings or more since Charlie Hough in 1986.

The Closer: Dice-K leads the way

May, 23, 2010
Daisuke Matsuzaka dazzled Phillies hitters Saturday night, throwing 7 2/3 hitless innings before Philadelphia's Juan Castro ended the bid with a bloop single just over the reach of Red Sox shortstop Marco Scutaro. That starting stint without a hit is the longest no-hit bid of Matsuzaka's career, surpassing his four innings without a hit vs the Angels on September 15, 2009. It has been 32 years since the Phillies have been no-hit (Bob Forsch, 1978).

Matsuzaka's outing also ties CC Sabathia for the longest no-hit bid this season that did not go on to finish as a no-hitter. In other words, only two pitchers have no-hit bids longer than 7 2/3 innings this season -- Ubaldo Jimenez and Dallas Braden.

Why Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka won:
- Had three innings of fewer than 10 pitches and zero with 20 or more. In his first four starts, Matsuzaka made it through just one inning with fewer than 10 pitches.
- The Phillies swung at 33.9 percent of Matsuzaka's offerings outside the strike zone, a season-high for Daisuke. Two of Daisuke's three swinging strikeouts were on fastballs outside the strike zone.
- Matsuzaka had success working up in the strike zone against the Phillies. Four of his five strikeouts were on high pitches, and the Phillies missed on five of their 15 swings against his offerings up in the zone.

Why Cubs starter Randy Wells deserved the win:
- Effective with off-speed stuff, particularly his slider. Rangers hitters were only 1-7 (.143) against the slider and the opposition is hitting only .204 against Wells' slider this season. His strike pct on all off-speed pitches was 74 (MLB average: 61 pct). Plus, Rangers hitters chased 46 pct of off-speed stuff out of the zone tonight (MLB average: 31 pct).
- Economical. Five of his 8 completed innings were 1-2-3 (62 pct; double the MLB avg.)
- Control. Went to a 3-ball count to only 4 of 31 batters faced (13 pct; MLB average: 19 pct).

Why Rockies starter Jeff Francis won:
- No solid contact. Of the 21 pitches that ended at-bats, Inside Edge determined only 2 balls were "well-hit." That .095 well-hit percentage is miniscule compared to the MLB average (.267).
- Dominated with slow stuff. Royals hitters were 0-11 against Francis' curveball and changeup. For the season, hitters are 2-for-21 against Francis' off-speed deliveries.

Why Athletics starter Gio Gonzalez won:
- Season-high first pitch strike percentage of 70.4. Giants hitters were 0-5 when putting the first pitch in play.
- The Giants were 0-7 with four strikeouts against Gonzalez's curveball and took just eight swings against it, despite the fact that he threw 38 of them on the day. Gonzalez got 12 called strikes with the curve, including three for strikeouts.
- Gonzalez retired the leadoff hitter in each of his eight innings..
- Gonzalez kept his curveball down in the zone, throwing 31 of his 38 curves in the lower third. The Giants were 0-4 with three strikeouts on low curveballs. For the season, opposing hitters are 0-35 with a whopping 29 strikeouts against Gonzalez curveballs in the lower third. On the season, Gonzalez has thrown 84 low curveballs before two strikes, and not a single one has been put in play. With two strikes, Gonzalez has thrown 85 low curveballs, with only six being put in play, all for outs.

Why Giants starter Matt Cain deserved better:
- Dominated with his curve and changeup. With a combined 0-for-7 performance against the two pitches today, opposing hitters are now 6-48 (.125) vs. Cain's curve and change in 2010.
- He got out of trouble. Cain retired only 3 of 8 leadoff hitters (38 pct; MLB average: 68 pct) but only allowed 1 to score - however it ended up being a big one.
- He put hitters away in all situations. When counts got to 2 strikes, 88 pct of at-bats ended in outs (MLB average: 72 pct). When counts got to 2-0, 2-1, or 3-ball, 82 percent of at-bats were outs (MLB average: 54 pct).

Why White Sox starter Gavin Floyd won:
- Commanded the inner half of the plate: 20 of Floyd's 24 pitches on the inner third went for strikes, and the Marlins were just 1-12 against those pitches. Six of Floyd's seven strikeouts came on inside pitches.
- Fooled the Marlins with his off-speed pitches (curveball, changeup, slider): Floyd threw 35 of 54 off-speed pitches for strikes, with 14 of the 35 strikes being of the called variety. The Marlins took 21 swings against Floyd's curveball, changeup, and slider, missing on 11.
- Five of Floyd's seven strikeouts were with off-speed pitches.
- Floyd retired the first six leadoff hitters he faced.

Why Angels starter Scott Kazmir won:
- A season high 79.5 pct (89 of 112) of his pitches were fastballs, with the Cardinals hitting just 2-18 against the pitch. Cardinals hitters missed on 14 of their 42 swings against Kazmir's fastball.
- Kazmir retired six of seven leadoff hitters he faced and retired the side in order in five of seven innings.
- Kazmir reached a 2-0 count on just one of the 27 hitters he faced.
- All five of Kazmir's strikeouts came on pitches on the outer third of the strike zone, with the Cardinals hitting just 2-16 against outside pitches.

1st pitch: Not so home sweet home

May, 6, 2010
Today’s Trivia: Robin Roberts won 20 games six times during his career with the Phillies. Since then, the Phillies have had just two pitchers (Steve Carlton and Chris Short) win 20 games, and none since 1982. Who was the last Phillies pitcher to win as many as 17 games in a season? [hint: he once won 20 games with another team, and he’s not a current ESPN employee]

Quick Hits: Today, let’s take a look at some players who have been more comfortable on the road than at home this season:

* All seven of Miguel Cabrera’s home runs have come on the road
* Colby Rasmus is batting .450 on the road and just .175 at home
* Alberto Callaspo ranks 2nd in the AL with 14 road RBI, but has just 3 at home
* Yovani Gallardo is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA on the road, but just 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA at home
* Trevor Hoffman has converted just two of six save opportunities at home, but is a perfect 2-2 on the road
* Carl Pavano has a 2.05 ERA in three starts on the road, but has a 7.71 ERA in two starts in Target Field
* And now for the most bizarre one of all... the Rockies’ Ian Stewart is slugging .810 on the road, but just .250 in Coors Field

Today’s Leaderboard: John Danks, who starts today against the Blue Jays, is off to an impressive start. One of the keys to his success has been his ability to fight back after falling behind in the count. Danks has allowed opponents to reach base just 24 percent of the time after falling behind 1-0.

Key Matchups: Ricky Nolasco has posted a career 1.13 ERA against the Giants, but he’s dominated one player in particular: Edgar Renteria. In his career against Nolasco, Renteria has yet to collect a hit in 14 at bats.

Scott Kazmir will face his least favorite hitter tonight, Dustin Pedroia. Among players Kazmir has faced at least 25 times, no one has a higher batting average than Pedroia’s .474 mark.

Trivia Answer: Jon Lieber went 17-13 with the 2005 Phillies. Prior to Lieber, the last 17-game winners were Curt Schilling (1997) and Shane Rawley (1987).

FanGraphs: A different side of Kazmir

April, 21, 2010
The Los Angeles Angels have a lot riding on the left arm of Scott Kazmir, as they try to win what is expected to be a very competitive AL West race this year. His first start of the season was a disaster, giving up six runs in four innings against the Yankees, but he was much more impressive against the Tigers last night. What made this performance noteworthy is that he succeeded by scrapping the pitch that helped make him a star.

As you can see in the graph below (from the indispensable Brooks Baseball), Kazmir was essentially a two-pitch guy last night. The Pitch f/x system, which tracks the ball from the mound to the plate with three high speed cameras, recorded 95 pitches from Kazmir, of which 74 were fastballs and 19 were change-ups. His famous slider, of which he threw 20 percent of the time last year, was left in the dugout.

As Dave Allen showed in a study he did last year, sliders have an extreme platoon split, meaning that they are highly effective against same-handed hitters but nearly worthless against opposite-handed hitters. The Tigers threw a line-up of eight right-handed bats at Kazmir last night, so he was facing a steady dose of hitters against whom his slider would not have been effective.

He responded by featuring his fastball and change-up in lieu of the breaking ball, and was able to keep Detroit off-balance by changing speeds with two pitches that look pretty similar coming out of his hand. While he only got one swinging strike with the change-up, he recorded 15 misses with his fastball. Given that his velocity is
likely never returning to where it used to be -- he averaged just 89.7 MPH on his fastball last night -- Kazmir will need to rely on deception to make his fastball work, and he did that well last night.

Dave Cameron is a writer for FanGraphs.

1st pitch: Strangely still at zero

April, 15, 2010
Today’s Trivia: Who is the all-time home run king while wearing No. 42 on the back of his jersey?

** On the day where baseball honors Jackie Robinson, everyone will be wearing number 42. Mariano Rivera is the last remaining player to call that number his own. Using’s Oracle of Baseball, you can get from Jackie Robinson to Mariano Rivera in a mere 4 steps. Robinson played with Gil Hodges who played with Ed Kranepool who played with Jesse Orosco who was Rivera’s teammate ever so briefly in 2003.

Quick Hits: Inspired by Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira both being homerless after 38 plate appearances, here are some other players with an unexpected zero in a stat column:

* Taylor Teagarden is hitless in 18 plate appearances, which is seven more than the next player, Andres Torres.

* Pedro Feliz has nine hits but has not scored a run.

* Rafael Furcal has 12 hits but zero RBI.

* Fresh of a 100-RBI season, Nick Markakis does not have one in 39 plate appearances.

* Jason Giambi has 10 plate appearances, but hasn’t hit a ground ball.

* Albert Pujols finished second in the NL with 45 doubles this season, but doesn’t have one this year. Of course, he does have those 5 home runs.

* Carlos Pena is tied for the MLB lead with five infield hits. Denard Span, who had 40 infield hits last season, doesn’t have one.

* Ramon Troncoso has thrown 5 2/3 innings with a 1.59 ERA but has no strikeouts.

* Wilton Lopez has allowed five hits, but zero singles.

* John Danks has allowed 10 hits, but none for extra bases.

* In 2006, Jake Westbrook led the majors by inducing 35 double plays. In 14 GIDP situations this season, he hasn’t had one.

Today’s Leaderboard: April 15 is Tax Day, so let’s see which bullpens have been the most taxed this season. The Nationals have averaged 4.4 innings per game out of their pen, which is currently sporting a 5.86 ERA. The Mets have the second most used relief staff, but sport a 2.08 bullpen ERA.

Key Matchups: Notoriously difficult to strikeout, David Eckstein has yet to fan this season in 31 plate appearances. But that hasn’t traditionally been the case against Tim Hudson, who has struck out Eckstein 13 times in 66 at-bats. No other pitcher has struck out Eckstein even half as many times.

Scott Kazmir has a 2.67 lifetime ERA against the Yankees, and it’s easy to see why. Derek Jeter is a .111 (4-36) hitter against him, his worst average against any pitcher he has faced 20 times. Alex Rodriguez has hit just .125 (3-24) against Kazmir, his second worst average against any pitcher he’s faced at least 30 times. However, this might be the game where Mark Teixeira breaks out. He is 7-for-11 against Kazmir with five walks.

Trivia Answer: Mo Vaughn, who wore No. 42 for his entire career, hit 328 home runs, most of anyone wearing that number.