Stats & Info: Shin-Soo Choo


Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsShin-Soo Choo will bring a much-needed skill to the Rangers: on-base ability from the left side.
It’s being reported that the Texas Rangers and OF Shin-Soo Choo have agreed to a seven-year, $130 million contract.

BIG-MONEY CONTRACTS
Are they worth it? To find out, let’s take a look at the 28 unique contracts for non-pitchers worth at least $100 million handed out that have been in effect since at least the 2013 season (including both of Alex Rodriguez’s huge deals).

Of those 28, players averaged 5.7 Wins Above Replacement in the season prior to the contract starting, and 4.2 WAR in the first season of the new deal.

From the second year on, that sample of 28 never again averaged 4 WAR a season as a group, though their collective decline is much less dramatic than it's been for pitchers.

Nine of those contracts have played out to completion with a wide range of production. Albert Pujols (8.2 WAR per season over eight seasons) and Alex Rodriguez (8.1 WAR over seven seasons) remained remarkably productive, but Ken Griffey Jr. (1.5 WAR over nine seasons) and Carlos Lee (1.5 WAR over six seasons) failed to return value.

More specifically to Choo’s situation, there have been 15 free-agent contracts handed out to position players worth at least $100M. Their return-on-investment has been similarly unimpressive. The players saw their WAR drop from 5.9 in the year prior to signing the deal, to 4.3 in year one, declining steadily to a paltry 1.8 WAR in year six.

Combining position players and pitchers, there have been 10 free-agent contracts of at least $100 million issued to players 30 years or older at the time the contract began (Choo is 31). The results are startling.

This crop of players produced an average of 6 WAR in the season before signing their new massive contract. In the first year of the deal, that dropped to 4.9, and the group's average permanently dips below 3 WAR per season by year three.

In the sixth and seventh years combined, none of the eight players posted at least 3 WAR. (As a point of reference, some players who had a 3 WAR this past season were Mark Ellis, Francisco Liriano and Norichika Aoki).

HOW HE HELPS THE RANGERS
Choo’s calling card is his ability to get on base. His .423 OBP in 2013 was fourth in the majors, and was the fifth-best by any lefty outfielder in the past 10 seasons (Barry Bonds, J.D. Drew, and Bobby Abreu twice).

The Pirates and Marlins were the only teams with a lower OBP from their left-handed batters than the Rangers last season.

After an injury and off-the-field-trouble plagued him in 2011 (tied for 60th in WAR among MLB OF), Choo has quickly bounced back to re-establish himself as a borderline All-Star (T-17th last season).

AREA OF CONCERN
One of the concerns with Choo has been his struggles against left-handers -- his slugging percentage has dropped nearly 90 points since 2011, and he’s hitting line drives at a much lower rate.

Over the past two seasons, righties have taken 66 percent of the Rangers’ plate appearances, 3rd-most in MLB in that span.

DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT
Choo will likely be a corner outfielder for the Rangers. He played 1,333 innings in centerfield for the Reds and had -17 Defensive Runs Saved, by far the fewest in the league among qualified center fielders.

From 2009-12, Choo played right field for Cleveland and had 0 DRS, which is average.

-- Contract information provided by Justin Havens

Top things to know: NL Wild Card

October, 1, 2013
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AP PhotosJohnny Cueto and Francisco Liriano will start for the Reds and Pirates in tonight's NL Wild Card game.
For the first time since October 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates will play a postseason game.

Tonight’s game against the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Wild Card Game is the first home playoff game for the Pirates since Bob Walk pitched a complete-game three-hitter Oct. 11, 1992, in Pittsburgh’s 7-1 win against the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the NLCS.

Here are a few storylines for tonight’s game.

1. The Pirates won the season series against the Reds 11-8, including a season-ending sweep this past weekend in Cincinnati.

This is the first meeting between these teams in the postseason since the 1990 NLCS, which the Reds won 4-2. The Reds have won 13 of 20 meetings against the Pirates in the postseason.

2. Johnny Cueto will take the mound for the Reds tonight. He’s 13-4 with a 2.37 ERA in 21 career starts against the Pirates, including 7-2 with a 1.43 ERA in his last 12 starts against Pittsburgh.

In his last start vs. the Bucs on May 31, Cueto threw eight shutout innings, allowing one hit and striking out six in the win.

3. Francisco Liriano will make the start for Pittsburgh in a park where he has excelled this season. Liriano is 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 11 starts at PNC Park this season compared to an 8-7 record with a 4.33 ERA in 15 road starts.

Against the Reds, he’s 0-3 with a 3.70 ERA in four starts this season. Pittsburgh lost all four of those games.

Liriano is a three-pitch pitcher who throws a fastball, slider and changeup. One of his downfalls against the Reds this season has been the ineffectiveness of his changeup. Overall, opponents are hitting .273 against that pitch, but the Reds are hitting .353.

4. Marlon Byrd and Andrew McCutchen have had a lot of success against Cueto during their careers. Byrd is hitting .583 (7-of-12) with a home run and three RBI. Three of McCutchen’s nine career hits against Cueto are home runs.

On the other side, Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto are a combined .154 (8-of-52) in their careers against Liriano.

5. Pittsburgh has not won a World Series title since the “We are Family” team in 1979. The 34-year drought is the third longest active streak in baseball (among franchises that have won at least once).

The 105-year drought for the Chicago Cubs and 65-year drought for the Cleveland Indians are the only longer active streaks.

How the Indians are creeping up on Tigers

July, 5, 2013
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US PresswireJason Kipnis and the Indians have been the AL's best team the last few weeks
The Cleveland Indians host the Detroit Tigers on Friday in the opener of a four-game series at Progressive Field. Earlier this week, the Indians took over sole possession of first place in the AL Central for the first time since early May. But thanks to three straight Tigers wins and back-to-back losses by the Tribe, Detroit comes in with a 1.5-game lead in the division.

Of course, it’s still just a fraction of the 5.5-game lead Tigers held on June 11. How have the Indians been able to go an AL-best 15-7 since that day and close the gap in the Central?

TWO-OUT PRODUCTION
The Indians have scored nearly 41 percent of their runs with two outs this season. Their 169 runs scored with two outs are the most in the American League and second-most league wide (Cardinals - 174). The Tribe leads MLB in two-out slugging percentage (.433) and ranks second in two-out OPS (.767).

SPEED
Offseason additions like Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs were meant to improve overall team speed, and it’s paid off. The Indians’ 64 stolen bases are tied for fourth in MLB and no team has more than their 20 stolen bases since June 11. It’s a dramatic improvement for a team that ranked 12th in stolen bases in 2012. Cleveland baserunners have also gone first to third or scored on a single 61 times this season, most in MLB.

CLOSE-GAME CONSISTENCY
The Indians are 18-8 (.750) in one-run games (best in baseball), and are the only team that has yet to lose an extra-inning game (5-0). Meanwhile, the Tigers are just 9-12 in one-run games and have gone 2-9 in extra innings, the most extra-inning losses in baseball.

BIG MASTY
Justin Masterson has been one of Cleveland’s best starters during its run and he gets the ball on Friday. In four starts since June 11, Masterson is 2-1 with a 2.83 ERA and the Indians have won three of those four games. In his last start, Masterson shut out the White Sox with eight strikeouts and just one walk. It was his major-league best third shutout of the season

Masterson, primarily a sinker-baller, has thrown 28 percent sliders this season after doing so just 19 percent of the time in 2012. His .091 opponents’ batting average against his slider is the lowest among qualified starting pitchers. He’ll be tested on Friday, however, as Detroit has the highest OPS (.783) and the most home runs (21) against sliders this season.

KIPNIS REVIVAL
Jason Kipnis
Kipnis
After hitting .189 through May 1, Jason Kipnis has hit .340 since (sixth in MLB over span) including an AL-best .419 during the month of June. His efforts earned him player of the month honors, the first Indian to win the award since Shin-Soo Choo in September of 2008. He’s riding a career-long 15-game hitting streak and has reached base safely in 35 straight games. It’s the longest on-base streak by a member of the Indians since Victor Martinez reached in 45 straight during a stretch spanning the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

Giants-Reds look to move past June

July, 1, 2013
7/01/13
12:54
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Frank Victores/US PRESSWIRESan Fran and Cincy meet for the first time since the Giants came back from a 2-0 deficit in the 2012 NLDS.
The San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds meet on "Monday Night Baseball" (7 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN) for the first time since last season’s divisional playoffs, when the Giants eliminated the Reds. The Reds won the first two games of that series in San Francisco, but the Giants won three straight in Cincinnati to advance to the National League Championship Series.

Both of these teams are looking to put June behind them.

The Giants went 10-17 in the month, marking their first losing month since going 11-18 in August 2011. The Reds, meanwhile, went 12-15 in June and have won just 13 of their past 30 games. This was the Reds' first losing month since September 2011, when they went 12-14.

After years of dominating with starting pitching, the Giants have struggled in that department this season.

Giants starters led the majors last season in opponent batting average with runners in scoring position (.222). This season, Giants starters have allowed a .298 batting average, last in the NL and 28th in all of baseball.

In addition, after ranking in the top five in ERA in each of the previous four seasons, San Francisco has a 4.47 ERA so far this year. That includes a 5.30 ERA on the road, which ranks 28th in all of baseball (the Giants' 3.64 ERA at home is 12th in MLB).

For the Reds, the No. 2 spot in the batting order has been a weak link between Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto.

Zack Cozart has the most plate appearances for the Reds in the second spot, which has recorded a .647 OPS, 13th in the National League. In comparison, the first and third spots have recorded an .894 and .951 OPS, respectively. That leads the National League in both batting positions.

Quick hitters
• Buster Posey is hitting .403 in his past 18 games, with four home runs in his past five. He’s the first Giants catcher with 12 home runs before the All-Star break since Bob Brenly in 1985.

• The Giants' 16 wins since May 14 are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the fewest in the majors.

• Pablo Sandoval is just 3-for-23 since returning from the DL. He hasn’t homered since May 21.

• The Reds are a season-high 5.5 games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates for first place in the NL Central. Their largest deficit in the standings last year was 5.0 games on April 18.

• Bronson Arroyo has been incredibly efficient with his pitches this season. He’s averaged just 13.9 pitches per inning, the fourth-lowest rate in the majors.

• Since 2010, Joey Votto has just two infield popups. In comparison, Albert Pujols has 87.

Phillies feel right at home in Cincinnati

April, 15, 2013
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Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsCliff Lee looks to open the season at 3-0 as the Phillies visit the Reds.
The Cincinnati Reds return home after dropping their last five games on the road. They’ll face the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday Night Baseball (7 ET, ESPN).

The Reds started the season 5-2, including winning four of six games during their season-opening homestand. Their current five-game losing streak is tied for their longest since they lost six straight in May 2011.

Cincinnati won the NL Central last season and was the preseason favorite to do so again this year. The franchise is looking to make consecutive postseason appearances for the first time since winning back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 1976.

Phillies Starter Cliff Lee
They’ll face Cliff Lee, who is off to a 2-0 start with a 1.08 ERA this season. That’s quite the contrast to last year, when Lee didn’t pick up his second win until his 18th game.

While Lee’s record dropped to 6-9 last season, his peripheral numbers were similar to the rest of his career. He struck out 24 percent of the batters faced, the second-highest rate of his career, while walking only 3 percent of opposing hitters, the second-lowest rate of his career.

His biggest problem last season was the gopher ball. He gave up 26 home runs in 2012, his most since allowing 29 in 2006.

Hitters have taken advantage of Lee’s reputation for pounding the strike zone. Of the 27 home runs he’s allowed since the start of last year, 13 have been in the first two pitches of the at-bat.

Home Away from Home
Since Great American Ball Park opened in 2003, the Phillies are 22-13 in Cincinnati. That’s tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best winning percentage among visitors to play at least seven games there.

Philadelphia has finished with a winning record away from home for nine straight seasons. The Phillies have won nearly 55 percent of their road games in that span, compared to the league average of 46 percent.

Rolling Out the Red Carpet
The Reds’ primary offseason addition, centerfielder Shin-Soo Choo, has quickly settled in at the top of the Cincinnati order. He has reached base in all 12 games this season, and his .483 on-base percentage is third in the National League.

Last season, Cincinnati leadoff hitters posted a .254 on-base percentage. That was the lowest single-season mark in the Wild Card Era, and the lowest since the Toronto Blue Jays in 1981.

Since the start of last year, Choo has posted a .400 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot, five points higher than Mike Trout for best in the majors.

Three key moves: Sanchez, Choo, Youkilis

December, 16, 2012
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Throughout the offseason, we'll feature regular in-depth reviews of MLB moves. This week's piece looks at three veterans: Shin-Soo Choo, Anibal Sanchez, and Kevin Youkilis.

Anibal Sanchez signs 5-year deal with Tigers
Sanchez will now try to duplicate the success he had with the Detroit Tigers down the stretch for a full season in 2013 and beyond.

One key change for Sanchez after he was traded mid-season from Miami to Detroit was an increase in the use of his curveball. Including the playoffs, he threw 55 more curves in 26 fewer innings in Motown compared to Florida.

His hook was a liability with the Marlins but became a key out-pitch for him with the Tigers.

Opponents hit .379 in at-bats ending in a curve and whiffed on just one of every 10 swings against the pitch when he was in Miami.

Sanchez began to throw his curveball more often in all counts, especially with two strikes, after moving to Detroit, and he dominated hitters with the pitch.

After throwing just 14 two-strike curves in a Marlins uniform, he tripled that number with the Tigers. His 47 two-strike curves in Detroit netted him 28 outs and just one hit allowed.

Overall, he doubled his curveball miss rate with the Tigers and opponents hit just .111 against it, including a 3-for-31 mark by lefties.

In his last five regular-season starts and first two postseason starts (vs the Athletics and Yankees), Sanchez threw 104 curveballs and got 27 outs with the pitch, yielding just one baserunner.
-- Katie Sharp

Reds obtain Shin-Soo Choo in 3-team trade
Choo and his .384 on-base percentage over the last five seasons represents a distinct upgrade for the Cincinnati Reds in the leadoff spot. Reds leadoff hitters had a .254 on-base percentage and .327 slugging percentage, which ranked last and next-to-last in the majors respectively.

What are the two aspects of Choo’s game in which he is statistically struggling that are worth watching in 2013?

One would be his issues with left-handed pitching. Choo averaged one home run per 33 plate appearances against lefties in 2008 and 2009, but is averaging just one per 144 over the last three seasons.

In 2012, Choo slugged only .286 against lefties, fifth-worst among the 64 lefties with 100 plate appearances against southpaws last season.

The other problem for Choo is his likely transition to center field. Choo finished with -12 Defensive Runs Saved (a stat that measures the ability to turn batted balls into outs and deter baserunners with your throwing arm). That ranked tied for second-worst among right fielders last season.

The defensive value that Choo has comes from his throwing arm. His 11 Defensive Runs Saved contributed with his arm over the last three seasons are fourth-most among right fielders, behind Jeff Francoeur, Jose Bautista, and Torii Hunter.

One item of note on the Choo trade from the Indians perspective. The Indians got 20 Wins Above Replacement from Choo after obtaining him from the Seattle Mariners in 2006, giving up Ben Broussard.

For the -0.9 WAR that Broussard was worth to Seattle, the Indians get the 20 WAR from Choo, and all the WAR that Trevor Bauer will contribute, being under team control until 2018.
--Justin Havens

Kevin Youkilis signs 1-year deal with Yankees
Youkilis replenishes an offensive approach the New York Yankees were in danger of losing this offseason.

Patience, discipline and the ability to work the count have been trademarks of the Yankees offense in recent history.

The Yankees have faced more pitches per plate appearance than the league average in 16 straight seasons. Last year, the team saw 3.89 pitches per plate appearance, fourth-most in MLB.

The Yankees had seven players in the upper half of the league in pitches per plate appearance last season (min. 250 PA). But of those seven, Russell Martin, Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez have signed elsewhere, while Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher remain on the market.

Youkilis ranked third in the majors with 4.34 pitches per plate appearance last season behind Adam Dunn and A.J. Ellis. He’s seen the third-most pitches per plate appearance among active players since joining the league in 2004.
--Will Cohen

How Josh Hamilton helps, and hurts, a team

November, 27, 2012
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As with most things related to Josh Hamilton, there are two sides. And as one of the most fascinating free agents in history, both of those sides will undoubtedly be scrutinized.
Josh Hamilton
Hamilton
What cannot be debated is that since Hamilton’s arrival, the Texas Rangers have been a much better team than before his arrival.

Not all of that can or should be attributed to Hamilton himself; however, it’s not a coincidence that the Rangers’ offensive production ticked up noticeably in the five years he’s been with the club (2008-12) compared to the five years before the Rangers’ trade with the Cincinnati Reds that brought Hamilton to Texas.

How can we quantify the impact made by Hamilton?

From 2003-07, the Rangers team OPS was .781, they averaged 5.2 runs per game and about 1.3 home runs per game. From 2008-12 – the “Hamilton era” – the Rangers team OPS was .783, they averaged 5.1 runs per game and about 1.2 home runs per game. In other words, the Rangers offense simply remained steady after the arrival of Hamilton.

Not exactly.

When one compares the Rangers production to the major-league average over the two five-year spans, it becomes clear just how much better the Rangers’ offense was with Hamilton.

The Rangers’ run scoring went from about 9 percent above the league average to more 14 percent above league average. Similarly impressive advances were made in the team batting average and OPS (see chart).

Clearly, the departure of Hamilton would have a distinct impact on the Rangers’ offense.

After all, when you look at strictly offensive performance from 2012, Hamilton’s +4.4 offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) -- which removes the defensive component from WAR – was the second-best mark on the Rangers behind Adrian Beltre.

In a vacuum, that production could have been the difference between the Rangers making and missing the postseason. His offensive production would be missed.

But, there’s always another side with Hamilton, and in this case it’s his defense. Despite producing 4.4 oWAR in 2012, Hamilton’s net WAR production was a relatively modest 3.4.

Why? Because Hamilton was a net negative on defense, costing his team more than a win with his glove.

To compound the issue, most of Hamilton’s worst defensive work was done while he was producing his worst offensive stretch of the season.

From Aug. 1 through the end of the regular season, Hamilton produced a Minus-9 Defensive Runs Saved mark, compared to being nearly league-average from the beginning of the year through July (-1 DRS).

Only four players -- Pedro Alvarez, Jose Altuve, Shin-Soo Choo and Chris Nelson -- were worse over the final two months.

Which is why Hamilton’s departure, while it would undoubtedly impact the offense, may not hurt the Rangers all that much overall. Craig Gentry, a cheap and ready-made outfield replacement, produced +2.8 WAR in 2012 on the back of some outstanding defensive work.

And while it might seem impossible that a player who hit one home runs in 269 plate appearances could be a replacement for Hamilton, who hit 43 home runs, the numbers suggest it would far less of a net loss for the Rangers than one would initially think.

That’s why there are always two sides to everything Josh Hamilton. In this case, we’re not talking about on the field versus off the field, but rather in the batter’s box versus in the outfield.

Price, Rays keep rolling at Tropicana Field

May, 5, 2012
5/05/12
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Kim Klement/US PresswireDavid Price helped the Rays win their 10th straight game at Tropicana Field.
The Tampa Bay Rays scored seven runs in the first four innings to roll past the Oakland Athletics for their 10th straight win at Tropicana Field. That’s the second-longest single-season home winning streak in franchise history, trailing only an 11-game run in 2008.

The Rays are the first American League team to start 13-1 at home since the Minnesota Twins won 14 of their first 15 home games in 2002. In 2009, the Los Angeles Dodgers were the last MLB team to start 13-1.

David Price was able to shut down the Athletics with the combination of his fastball and slider.

Sixty-three percent of Price’s pitches were fastballs, and the A’s went 0-for-11 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending with the heater.

With two strikes, Price went with his slider to end the at-bat. He threw 11 of his 15 sliders with two strikes and recorded six strikeouts. That’s his most whiffs with the slider since 2009.

He didn’t even need to stay in the zone to retire the opposing hitters. Over half of his pitches (56 of 106) were outside the strike zone. The Athletics swung and missed on 58 percent of pitches outside the zone, including six strikeouts. Price hadn’t induced as many chases on pitches outside the zone in a start since his rookie season.

With the win, Price improves to 30-3 at home in his career when getting at least three runs of support.

Around the Diamond
• Albert Pujols went four at-bats without a home run on Friday. His 108 at-bats without a home run this season are his longest single-season streak in his career, passing a 105 at-bat streak last season. Two long homer droughts were snapped Friday, as Shin-Soo Choo (67 at-bats) and Mark Reynolds (66 at-bats) hit their first of the season.

• Also in Anaheim, the Los Angeles Angels were shut out with Ervin Santana on the hill for the fifth straight time. Thanks to our friends at Elias, we know that this is the first time in major-league history that a starting pitcher has received no run support over five straight starts (11 pitchers had gone four straight starts without a run scored on their behalf).

• Wilson Ramos hit a bases-loaded single in the 10th inning as the Washington Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies to pick up their MLB-leading fifth walk-off win of the season.

• Mark Teixeira went 2-for-3 with a home run against Bruce Chen, improving to 11-for-22 with seven homers in his career against Chen. That is the most home runs he has hit against any pitcher in the majors.

• Stephen Strasburg allowed two home runs to right-handed hitters; entering the game, he had only allowed one homer to a righty in his career.

• Jerry Hairston Jr. went deep for the Dodgers, and has now hit a home run for six different teams since 2009. No other player has hit homers for as many teams in the same span.

• The Arizona Diamondbacks beat the New York Mets 5-4, snapping a nine-game losing streak in one-run games. According to Elias, that was the second longest streak in franchise history; the Diamondbacks lost 13 consecutive one-run games in 2004.

• Jamey Carroll singled in the first inning to snap a streak of 47 hitless at-bats for the Twins. Elias reports that it was the longest hitless at-bat streak by a team in a season since the San Diego Padres also went 47 at-bats between hits in June 1995.

Andrew Davis contributed to this post.
With the All-Star break upon us, we take a look at some of the game’s best players who are having anything but their best years. We present to you, Major League Baseball’s “All-Struggling Team – Hitter’s Edition.”

Kurt Suzuki
Suzuki
C: Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics (.225 BA, .284 OBP, 7 HR, 22 RBI)

A .264 career hitter who averages 10 HR and 60 RBI per season.

1B: Derrek Lee, Baltimore Orioles (.235 BA, .294 OBP, 9 HR, 28 RBI)

Still stellar in the field, but Lee is far off his career pace of .282, 22 HR, 73 RBI.

2B: Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves (.185 BA, .257 OBP, 15 HR, 34 RBI)

After career highs in average (.287), HR (33) and RBI (105) in 2010, Uggla has fallen hard.

SS: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins (.242 BA, 8 HR, 37 RBI)

Ramirez has hit .310 with 4 HR and 20 RBI in 25 games since coming off the DL, so he might approach career averages of 21 HR, 65 RBI, .313.

3B: Chone Figgins, Seattle Mariners (.183 BA, .231 OBP, 6 CS)

His numbers continue to plummet in the two years since coming to Seattle. He had been a .291 career hitter (.363 OBP) who averages 35 steals a season.

OF: Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox (.213 BA, .262 OBP, 6 HR, 21 RBI)

He appears poised to have his lowest RBI total and batting average of his career this season.

OF: Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians (.244 BA, 5 HR, 28 RBI)

According to Fangraphs.com, Choo was worth 11 wins over a replacement-level player in 2009 and 2010. Battling injuries in 2011, Choo has a 1.5 WAR rating.

Jayson Werth
Werth
OF: Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals (.215 BA, 10 HR, 31 RBI)

What does seven years and $126 million buy you? Not as much as you’d expect.

DH: Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox (.160 BA, 9 HR, 34 RBI, 104 K)

Dunn has been injured and ineffective. In fact, in the first year of a four-year, $56 million contract, he’s on pace to have the worst offensive season in the history of baseball.
The Cleveland Indians were the first team to 30 wins this season and led the AL Central by as many as seven games just three weeks ago. They’ve won four of their past 18 games and are tied for first place in the division.

Their starting pitching has been troublesome lately; the rotation’s ERA has nearly doubled and they’ve allowed opponents to hit more than 80 points higher over the past 18 games than they did in the first 45 games of the season.

Monday’s starter, Carlos Carrasco, will pitch on five days rest; he’s 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA in four starts on exactly five days rest this season. In his other seven starts he’s 2-3 with a 5.16 ERA.

Keep an eye on Carrasco once he’s thrown 50 pitches; opponents are hitting .221 against him on pitches 1-50 and .319 after his 50th pitch.

The New York Yankees counter with A.J. Burnett, who allowed one earned run in 14 1/3 innings against the Indians in two starts last season. Grady Sizemore, who’s been hitting third recently, has had success against Burnett (5-for-12, 3 2B, HR). Shin-Soo Choo, who Sizemore replaced in the three-hole, has not (2-for-11 but both hits are XBH).

Burnett has made two starts in June this season, one good and one bad. He had a June to forget in 2010, when he was 0-5 with an 11.35 ERA in five June starts. That's the worst ERA in any month for a Yankees pitcher since earned runs became official in the AL in 1913 (min. five starts).

The Indians’ issues over the past 18 games are not all with starting pitching. The offense is also to blame, most notably with a .143 BA with runners in scoring position in the past 18 games -- a stark contrast from its .321 BA with men in scoring position during the 30-15 start.

Asdrubal Cabrera
Cabrera
Despite those struggles, the Indians are still third in the AL in hitting with RISP, and are 2-for3-44 (.538) with the bases loaded. Asdrubal Cabrera is a big reason why.

Cabrera ranks first or second among AL shortstops in batting average, home runs, RBI and OPS, and has the fourth-highest batting average with runners in scoring position in all of baseball.

The Yankees are near the top of the league in most offensive stats, except for batting average. They’ve made up for the lack of consistent hitting with the highest walk rate, the highest slugging percentage and the most home runs in the American League.

They’ve relied heavily on home runs to score this season; 47 percent of their runs have been scored by home runs, by far the highest percentage in the league (Orioles are second-highest at 40.3).

What does this mean for the Yankees? Of the past 10 teams to lead the league in this statistic, only two have made the playoffs (Phillies in 2009 and White Sox in 2008) and none have won the World Series.

Derek Jeter, who is seven hits shy of 3,000 for his career, has a .342 career batting average against the Indians. That's third-best among active players, trailing Mark Kotsay (.349) and teammate Mark Teixeira (.349).

From 2003-10, Jeter’s batting average against the Indians was .366. He’s 1-for-9 so far in 2011.

-- Jeremy Lundblad and Mark Simon contributed
Take a quick look at the AL Central standings and you're likely to do a double-take -- go ahead check one more time.

No it’s not a mistake -- through 14 games of the season the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians are currently tied atop the division.

According to 10,000 simulations done by Accuscore entering this season, the Royals entered 2011 with a 0.7 percent chance to reach the postseason.

The Indians fell slightly below them with just a 0.6 percent chance, tied with the Pirates for the lowest in Major League Baseball.

While it may not last, here's why each of these franchises are headed in the right direction:

Kansas City Royals

• With -- by many accounts -- the best farm system in baseball, there was plenty of excitement about the Royals…for 2012

However they are 10-4, off to their second-best start in franchise history, after defeating Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.

They're being led by Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, two graduates of the Royals farm system.

Gordon, a 27-year old former first-round pick, entered the season as a career .244 hitter. He is enjoying an early breakout of sorts batting .373 in 13 games played.

Butler, hitting .373 as well, has hit over .300 in each of his last two seasons.

The Royals as a team having been tearing the cover off the ball, leading the American League in hits and runs scored.

Cleveland Indians

• Everyone knows all about the Indians recent sell-offs including CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez.

The league is now just finding out about the players they got in return, in addition to other notable players they acquired along the way.

Justin Masterson, acquired in the Victor Martinez deal, is 3-0 and has pitched into the seventh inning in all three of his starts. He has only given up three runs in 20 ⅓ innings, striking out 12 and walking only four batters.

Asdrubal Cabrera, acquired in a deal for Eduardo Perez, had four home runs this season within the team's first 10 games. According to Elias, he was the first Cleveland shortstop with at least four homers over the season’s first 10 games since 1960, when Woodie Held had five.

Shin-Soo Choo, acquired in a deal for Ben Broussard, homered on Saturday to help up his batting average to .224 on the season. Despite the slow start to 2011, Choo has hit for a .300 average in each of his three seasons with the Tribe.

Essentially the entire Indians roster, in terms of key contributors, was acquired via trade and can be seen in the chart below.

The maneuvering has positioned the Indians for a surprising present and a potentially bright future.


-- Contributions made to this piece by Justin Havens

1st Pitch: Whose fans are showing up?

August, 19, 2010
8/19/10
4:37
PM ET
Today’s Trivia: Putz
Roger Clemens finds himself back in the news today, so let’s take a look back at the Rocket’s playing days. Clemens won seven Cy Young awards – his first in 1986 and last in 2004. Five pitchers finished second behind Clemens in Cy Voting once, but one pitcher did it twice. Who is he?

Bonus question: Clemens not only won the Cy in 1986, he was the MVP as well. Who was runner-up to Clemens that year in MVP voting?

Quick Hits:
The Philadelphia Phillies are expected to chalk up their 100th straight home sellout on Thursday. The last game the Phillies did not sell out was July 6 of last season when they drew 41,548 for a game against the Reds. Let’s take a look at some parks that have seen attendance boosts or attendance swoons since last season.

Note: all comparisons are through the same number of home games for each season, so since the Reds have played 62 home games this season, their figures are compared to the numbers through 62 home games of last season (not through all 81 home games).

• It is no surprise that the Minnesota Twins are seeing the biggest boost, though they have a new park to thank. They’re drawing more than 10,200 fans per game MORE than they did last season at the Metrodome.

• In the non-new-ballpark category, hats off to the Colorado Rockies. They’re getting a 2,700 fans-per-game boost over last year, even though they made the playoffs last season.

• Give the consistency award to the fans at Busch Stadium. Their change this year is a whopping one, yes one, fan less per game. They averaged 40,846 last year and this year are bringing in 40,845.

• Hardest hit this year is the New York Mets, whose honeymoon with Citi Field has worn off. They’re seeing a decrease of more than 6,000 fans per game.

• And someone wake up the fans in Tampa. Though the Rays are in a division battle and have one of the best records in MLB, their attendance is down by almost 1,400 fans per game.

• Overall, 11 teams are drawing more fans per game this year compared to last, while the 19 others find themselves in the red. The average, through the same number of home games in each season, is 380 less fans per game this year.

Today’s Leaderboard:
Today is the anniversary of Eddie Gaedel and his only career plate appearance. So to honor the 3'7" big leaguer, here are the modern-day Gaedel's, or at least as close as we can get. As you can see, there are plenty of varying body types on this list:

Most Four-Pitch Walks This Season by Players Under Six Feet Tall:
5'11'' Prince Fielder - 16
5'11" Shin-Soo Choo - 13
5'11" Pablo Sandoval - 12
5'10" Andrew McCutchen - 12
5'11" Bengie Molina - 12
5'11" Blake Dewitt - 12
Excludes intentional walks

And, just for fun, let’s use Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon to connect Gaedel with Fielder, his modern-day “counterpart”.

Eddie Gaedel played with Jim Dyck for the 1951 Browns...
• Dyck played with Frank Robinson for the 1956 Redlegs...
• Robinson played with Dennis Eckersley for the 1975 Indians...
• Eckersley played with David Bell for the 1996 Cardinals...
• and Bell played with Fielder for the 2006 Brewers.

Thursday's Key Matchup:
Put it this way: Joe Mauer is batting .256 in his career against pitchers named Mark Buehrle and .329 against pitchers not named Mark Buehrle. There are only two pitchers (Justin Verlander and John Danks) who Mauer has faced more in his career than Buehrle. He’s batting better than .340 against each of them while Buehrle has held him to 11 hits in 43 at-bats.

Trivia Answer:
Randy Johnson was the two-time bridesmaid, finishing behind Clemens in 1997 and 2004. And get this, it happened once in the AL and once in the NL. Clemens the Blue Jay beat Johnson the Mariner in 1997 and Clemens the Astro beat Johnson the Diamondback in 2004.

The MVP runner-up in 1986 was Don Mattingly, who batted .352 that season with 31 HR and a .967 OPS. Only one pitcher was among the top nine vote-getters that season, and it was Clemens.

The Closer: Pitching not perfect Saturday … but close

July, 4, 2010
7/04/10
5:52
AM ET
WHY THEY WON…
How Red Sox starter Jon Lester improved to 12-0 lifetime against the Orioles:
- Lester got 13 groundballs against 5 fly balls. At 72.2 pct, that’s his highest percentage since April 23 (also against Baltimore).
- The Orioles did not put 1 of Lester's 13 two-strike fastballs in play and struck out 4 times against the pitch.
- Lester got 6 of his 7 strikeouts on pitches low in the strike zone. He kept the ball out of the middle of the zone vertically, with 92 of his 100 pitches judged by Inside Edge to be either up in the zone, down in the zone, or out of zone high or low.

How Tigers starter Justin Verlander beat the Mariners:
- He had a miss pct of 27.9 (2nd-best this season).
- His chase pct was 34.0 (2nd-best this season).
- He threw and offspeed pitch on his first pitch 34.5 pct of the time (2nd-most this season).
- His offspeed stuff set up his heater: 8 swings-and-misses (2nd-most this season) and 7 K (most this season) vs fastball.


WANT MORE…
Ubaldo Jiménez had a rough 3rd Inning. How rough?

- Allowed 1st career grand slam (Travis Ishikawa).
- Allowed as many earned runs (7) as he did in April and May combined.
- Had given up 7 ER in a start just twice in career prior to Saturday
- ERA rose from 1.83 to 2.33<>Through 3rd inning (not after)

Stephen Strasburg struck out 5 in 5 innings. His 53 strikeouts in his first 6 games are 3rd-most all-time.



Saturday’s Longest No-Hit Bids
Saturday was the 2nd day this season that 2 pitchers each took a no-hit bid into the 7th inning. The 1st was June 13, when Ted Lilly and Gavin Floyd did it in the same game. Randy Wells and Bruce Chen each made it through 6 full innings before allowing a hit leading off the 7th. Chen had been perfect through 6, which was the first time in 7 starts this season that he took a perfect game bid beyond the 1st inning. In all 6 of his previous starts, he allowed a hit in the 1st inning.

Rolling Rookie
How about the consideration for a rookie, with 3 weeks of major league experience to make the All-Star team? We’re not talking about Stephen Strasburg, but Indians rookie Carlos Santana, who ranked 2nd among the teams’ hitters in WAR. The catcher position for the American League, with injuries to multiple players of significance, is a bit on the depleted side, and there’s a vacancy for an Indian with Shin-Soo Choo headed to the disabled list. Santana was 0-for-3 Saturday, but his 2 walks gave him 17 in 21 games and kept his on-base percentage well above .400

Managing similarity
Saturday was Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson’s 2nd game. In his 2nd game as a player, his team won, 14-1. Today in his 2nd game as manager, his team lost, 14-1.


LOOKING AHEAD…
CHICAGO CUBS
Mike Leake has allowed a .529 (9-17) opp BA (league average: .314) on 1st pitches during his current 4-game losing streak.

NEW YORK YANKEES
Mark Teixeira has not had a hit against Toronto's right handed-pitchers (0/8). He is batting .111 when behind in the count (1/9), batting .000 when ahead in the count (0/5) and 2 of his 3 hits against Toronto in 2010 came off the 1st pitch of the at-bat.

May's top plus/minus plays

June, 1, 2010
6/01/10
9:00
AM ET
Now that Memorial Day has passed, let’s look back at May's top defensive plays, according to the Plus/Minus system. The top Plus/Minus plays aren’t always the flashiest plays; sometimes, the fielder was positioned perfectly or got a tremendous read on the ball off the bat and was able to make the play with relative ease. We’ll go position by position:

First Base -- Ryan Raburn, Detroit Tigers, May 26, Bottom 7: Michael Saunders hit a hard ground ball that traveled over the base and into foul territory. Raburn (only 42 career innings at first base) dove, made the play and flipped to Jeremy Bonderman covering first. Not only does it go for a hit 97.5% of the time, but also that ball usually goes for a double.

Second Base -- Mike Aviles, Kansas City Royals, May 25, Top 4: Vladimir Guerrero is enough of a pull hitter that the Rangers employed the rare right-handed shift on him a few times last season. Apparently, Mike Aviles has been doing his homework, since he was ready for him. On a ground ball to the shortstop side of second base, Aviles ranged way beyond what is normal range for a second baseman and threw out the red-hot Guerrero. Aviles received a +0.99 for that play.

Shortstop -- Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks, May 15, Bottom 7: Martin Prado sent a rocket toward the 3B/SS hole that seemed destined for left field; in fact, hard ground balls at that angle go for hits 99.3% of the time. Drew laid out, came up with the ball and threw from his knees to nab Prado at first base. Drew also received +.99 plus/minus points for the play.

Third Base- Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland Indians, May 24, Top 8 and Don Kelly, Tigers, May 12, Top 6: Here’s an example where the flashy play isn’t necessarily the higher-rated play. Kelly’s play definitely looked harder, but Peralta was positioned closer to the line and managed to range deeper into foul territory and stay on his feet. Kelly’s play was made just 6% of the time over the past year, but Peralta’s play was made only 1% of the time and saved a certain double.

Left Field- Conor Jackson, Arizona Diamondbacks, May 25, Bottom 5: At Coors Field, Conor Jackson tracked down a Brad Hawpe fly ball deep in the left-center field gap. Had his momentum not carried him so far away from the infield, Jackson also would have doubled Todd Helton off of first. It wasn’t a flashy play, but Jackson had to cover a lot of group to save a sure RBI and extra-base hit. Similar balls fall for hits 88% of the time.

Center Field- Nate McLouth, Atlanta Braves, May 14, Top 2: After struggling with deep-hit balls near the wall earlier in his career (see the in-depth study in The Fielding Bible – Volume II), McLouth has played noticeably deeper, and it shows. Chris Young sent a deep fliner to left-center which McLouth caught at a dead sprint before crashing into the wall. Similarly-hit balls were caught only 11% of the time over the past year.

Right Field- Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians, May 1, Top 9: With no-pop Drew Butera up in the ninth, Choo cheated in a bit; he should have cheated more. Butera placed a soft fliner in shallow right, but Choo made a diving catch to save the hit, garnering a +.875 plus/minus score on the play.

1st Pitch: Hitters struggling with 2 strikes

May, 24, 2010
5/24/10
1:46
PM ET
Quick Hits: Chris Coghlan went 0-6 with three strikeouts and was the Marlins only starter who failed to collect a hit on Sunday. In five of his at-bats he found himself in a two-strike count, a situation where he has struggled all season, batting just .125 (MLB avg: .181) and striking out 36.5 percent of the time. Here’s a look at a few others who struggle in two-strike counts.

* Ian Stewart has a .081 OBP in two-strike counts, worst in the majors.

* Rod Barajas chases a league-high 64.3 percent of pitches outside the strike zone in two-strike counts.

* Kyle Blanks has struck out 44 times in 74 two-strike counts, a league-high 59.5 percent.

* Mark Teixeira is batting .094 against fastballs in two-strike counts.

* Mark Reynolds is batting .055 against non-fastballs in two-strike counts.

* Tim Lincecum has been in a two-strike count 10 times this season and has struck out all 10 times.

Today’s Trivia: In Sunday’s game Trevor Hoffman recorded a hold while his teammate picked up the save for the first time since September 12, 1993. Who closed the game for the Padres on that date?


Today’s Leaderboard: On the flip side, here are the pitchers who have excelled in two-strike counts this season. Brandon Morrow leads the way, having recorded a strikeout in 59 of his 106 two-strike counts.

Key Matchups: John Danks is just 2-5 with a 4.89 ERA in his career against the Indians. One reason for his struggles as of late is Shin-Soo Choo. In his career against Danks, Choo is batting .462 (6-13) with a home run.

Carlos Pena’s season-long slump likely won’t come to a halt tonight against the Red Sox. In his career against Clay Buchholz, Pena is batting just .091 (1-11) with three strikeouts.

Trivia Answer: Gene Harris, the Padres’ closer in 1993, picked up the save. Hoffman took over as their full-time closer the following season.

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