Stats & Info: Todd Helton

2012 HR Awards: Stanton reigns supreme

November, 10, 2012
Without further ado, we present you with our end-of-season Home Run Tracker Awards.

*Please note: All information goes back to the 2006 season, the first year of the ESPN Home Run Tracker database. In addition, this excludes inside-the-park home runs unless otherwise indicated.

2012 Winner: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins (494 feet)

Giancarlo Stanton won the award for longest 2012 home run by hitting a 494-foot blast on August 17 off Josh Roenicke at Coors Field. It was the fifth-longest home run since ESPN HR Tracker began in 2006.

B.J. Upton
2012 Winner: B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay Rays (323 feet)

B.J. Upton hit a 323-foot home run off Ervin Santana on April 24, the shortest home run of the season and the shortest home run at Tropicana Field since the beginning of ESPN HR Tracker in 2006.

2012 Winner: Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies (162 feet)

Todd Helton’s walk-off home run off J.J. Putz on April 14 had an apex of 162 feet, the ball hanging in the air for 6.92 seconds. It had the highest apex since 2009, when Alex Rodriguez hit a 390-foot home run with a 169-foot apex.

2012 Winner: Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles (43 feet)

Adam Jones’ 354-foot home run off Edwin Jackson on June 23 had an apex of 43 feet, the lowest by an Oriole player and the lowest at Camden Yards since the beginning of ESPN HR Tracker in 2006.

2012 Winner: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins (122.4 mph)

Giancarlo Stanton’s second award set a record, as his 462-foot home run off Jamie Moyer on May 21 had a speed off bat of 122.4 miles per hour -- the fastest since the beginning of ESPN HR Tracker in 2006.

2012 Winner: Ervin Santana, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Ervin Santana gave up 39 home runs this season, the most in the majors. Jason Vargas and Phil Hughes tied for second with 35. Since 2006, only Bronson Arroyo has given up more home runs than Santana.

Nelson Cruz
2012 Winner: Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers (418.6 feet)

Nelson Cruz averaged 418.6 feet per home run this season, beating out teammate Josh Hamilton by an average of 2.9 feet. Cruz’s 484-foot home run on June 3 was the fourth longest of the season, and he had home runs of 470 and 464 feet as well. Only six of his 22 home runs went less than 400 feet.

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.

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp is the fifth player in history to hit at least 12 home runs before May 1.

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. Below are the notable home runs for the month of April.

Power Surge: (Player with highest combined HR distance)
2011 Winner: Jose Bautista
March/April Winner: Matt Kemp
Kemp is off to a torrid start, with 12 home runs that have traveled a true distance of 4,802 feet. That’s a longer true distances than the Padres, who have hit 11 home runs, and the Cubs, who have hit the fewest HR (9) entering May. Kemp's 12 home runs are two shy of the record set by Albert Pujols in 2006 and Alex Rodriguez in 2007 for the most home runs by April 30.

No Doubter (Longest true distance)
2011 Winner: Prince Fielder (486 feet)
March/April Winner: Travis Hafner (481 feet)
On April 15, Cleveland’s DH hit a home run of the Royals Luis Mendoza, the longest HR of his career. Hafner’s previous long was 454 feet in 2006. The 481-foot shot is the longest HR by an Indian since the beginning of our database (2006).

Wall-Scraper (Shortest true distance)
2011 Winner: Asdrubal Cabrera (320 feet)
March/April Winner: B.J. Upton (323 feet)
On April 24, Upton hit a home run off Ervin Santana that hit off the left-field foul pole. Chris Iannetta hit a 324-foot HR off Phil Hughes, the only other player this season to hit a home run less than 345 feet.

Moonshot: (Highest Apex - maximum vertical height a ball reaches)
2011 Winner: Mark Reynolds (161 feet)
March/April Winner: Todd Helton (162 feet)
On April 14, Helton hit a walk-off home run off J.J. Putz. The ball hung in the air for 6.92 seconds, the highest apex HR since Alex Rodriguez reached 169 feet on Sept 11, 2009.

Liner: (Lowest Apex)
2011 Winner: Carlos Peguero (39 feet, twice)
March/April Winners: Curtis Granderson/Luke Scott (49 feet)
Ervin Santana, who gave up the shortest HR of the month, also gave up the lowest apex. On April 13, Santana served up a 349-foot solo shot to Granderson that had an apex of 49 feet. Scott matched Granderson with a 387-foot laser off Mark Lowe, which also never got higher than 49 feet off the ground.

Mother Nature: (Most climate-impacted HR)
2011 Winner: Luke Scott
March/April Winner: Miguel Cabrera
Even the best need help from time to time. On April 26, Cabrera hit a 382-foot home run off Hector Noesi, but a 15 mph wind gust helped the ball carry an extra 62 feet. Without the wind, it would have been a routine fly out.

Server: (Pitcher who allowed the greatest cumulative distance)
2011 Winner: Bronson Arroyo
March/April Winner: Ervin Santana
In addition to giving up the shortest and the lowest apex home runs, Santana’s 10 home runs allowed traveled a total distance of 3,844 feet.

Launching Pad: (Greatest cumulative distance in one stadium)
2011 Winner: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
March/April Winner: Rogers Centre
Thirty-eight HR have been hit in Rogers Centre thus far, with a total distance of 15,072 feet. Chase Field in Arizona finished second, totaling 12,803 feet. Conversely, only six HR were hit at AT&T Park in April.

Friday's First Pitch

April, 1, 2011
Today’s Trivia: For the first time since 2002, Roy Oswalt will not be the Opening Day starter for the Houston Astros. Who was the Opening Day starter for the Astros in 2002?

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

* With Vladimir Guerrero gone, the Texas Rangers will have a different Opening Day designated hitter for the 12th straight season. The last to go back-to-back was Rafael Palmeiro in 1999-2000.

Carl Crawford
* The most storied position in franchise history, the Boston Red Sox may have finally found their man in left. Carl Crawford will be the fourth different Opening Day starter in as many years. That hasn’t happened in Boston since 1973-76 when the team was transitioning from Carl Yastrzemski to Jim Rice.

* The Chicago White Sox appear set to start the same outfield trio that began the 2010 season. In the past 35 years, the White Sox have had the same Opening Day outfield in back-to-back seasons just once. That was in 2003-04 with Carlos Lee, Aaron Rowand and Magglio Ordonez.

* Here's a glimmer of hope for New York Mets fans: the Mets have won five straight games on Opening Day, the longest active Opening Day win streak. Of course, Friday starter Mike Pelfrey may not evoke memories of Johan Santana or Tom Glavine, the starting pitchers in those five Mets wins.

* Conversely, no team has a worse recent Opening Day history than the Oakland Athletics. The A's have lost six straight times on Opening Day, the longest current streak in baseball. Oakland's most recent win was 2004, which was the last Opening Day start that Tim Hudson made in an A's uniform.

* Apart from first base, the entire Minnesota Twins infield falls into this category. In its Opening Day lineup, Minnesota will have its fifth second baseman in five years and eighth shortstop in eight years. It also will be the ninth straight year that the starting third baseman is different from the year before.

* Evan Longoria will be the only player in the Tampa Bay Rays lineup who started each of the last two opening days.

* Yunel Escobar will be the Toronto Blue Jays sixth different Opening Day shortstop in six years. Russ Adams was the last to start back-to-back openers in 2005-06.

* Similarly, Josh Willingham will be the A’s 12th Opening Day leftfielder in 12 years. Ben Grieve was the last to go back-to-back.

* Carlos Beltran is expected to be the 13th different person to man right field on Opening Day for the Mets in the past 15 years. Only Ryan Church and Jeromy Burnitz managed two such starts in that span, which included the likes of Eric Valent and Butch Huskey.

* The Colorado Rockies have only had two Opening Day first basemen: Todd Helton and Andres Galarraga. Jose Lopez will be the 14th to start at second in the opener. The last to do so in back-to-back seasons was Mike Lansing (1998-2000).

* Kevin Correia will be the 15th different Opener Day starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 19 years. That’s the period since Doug Drabek left via free agency.

Trivia Answer: Wade Miller was the last Astros pitcher not named Roy Oswalt to start on Opening Day.
Some notes from Thursday's early baseball games:

Cardinals 11, Braves 4
• The St. Louis Cardinals win for just fourth time in their last 16 games. The Atlanta Braves have lost six of their last eight.

Adam Wainwright snapped his four-game losing streak and improved to 6-0 in his career vs the Braves (best W-L vs them of any active pitcher). He's the first pitcher to start his career 6-0 against the Braves since Ron Robinson (1984-89).

Albert Pujols, who entered with one HR in his last 11 games, hit his first HR vs the Braves since August 24, 2008. He now has 99 RBI, one shy of his 10th straight 30 HR/100 RBI season.

Colby Rasmus tied a career-high with four hits and had his second career multi-homer game. The last Cardinal with a four-hit, two-homer game against the Braves was George Hendrick in 1978.

Jair Jurrjens lost at home for the first time this season (now 6-1).

Rockies 6, Reds 5
• The Colorado Rockies win their 12th straight September game against the Cincinnati Reds, as they sweep their four-game series.

• The Reds have now been swept in a four-game series on the road by both the Rockies and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Chris Nelson, in his seventh MLB game, won the game with his first career steal of home. It was a straight steal in bottom of the eighth inning. He's the third rookie to steal home this season.

• Nelson was inserted as a pinch runner after Jason Giambi drew a walk. Nelson was then replaced at 1B by Todd Helton to start the ninth. Thus Nelson's ONLY appearance in the boxscore is as a pinch runner who stole home.

• According to Elias, the last time this happened was June 11, 1985. Gary Pettis ran for Bob Boone in a California Angels loss to the Texas Rangers. He stole home and then was replaced by Jerry Narron in the field.

Aroldis Chapman got his first career hold, getting Carlos Gonzalez to ground into a double play with the bases loaded in the seventh-inning. His 12 fastballs averaged 100.3 MPH and maxed out at 103.0 MPH.

• The Rockies get their 19th last at-bat win, tying the Reds for 4th-most in MLB.

• The Reds blew a five-run lead. It's their 21st blown lead resulting in a loss this season, which is tied for second fewest in MLB.

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau it was the fourth time this season that the Rockies won a game after trailing by at least five runs, tying the Tigers for the most such wins in the majors. It was the third time this season that the Reds lost a game after leading by at least five runs, tying the Red Sox, Rangers and Nationals for the most such losses in the majors.

Rangers 4, Blue Jays 2
• Texas Rangers' starter Colby Lewis snapped his seven-game losing streak and four-game road losing streak.

Mitch Moreland had a career-high 3 RBI.

Neftali Feliz became the fourth rookie in MLB history with a 35-save season and is two shy of the MLB rookie record set by Kaz Sasaki in 2000.

• Jose Bautista hit his 44th HR, which is tied for third most in a season in Blue Jays history. His 28 HR at home are the 2nd most in Blue Jays history.

Tigers 6, White Sox 3
• The Detroit Tigers win their third straight and have won six of their last eight games.

• The Tigers had 13 hits, all singles. That is the most hits in a game without an extra-base hit by the Tigers since May 11, 2004 when they 14 singles in a loss vs the Oakland Athletics - their last win in such a game was June 12, 1993 vs Toronto (15 singles).

Johnny Damon had a team-high four hits, his 36th career four-hit game and first as a Tiger.

• Rick Porcello improves to 4-0 in his last four starts (5-11 in first 20 starts). He now sports a 4.09 ERA since returning from his minor league demotion. He and teammate Max Scherzer have both been much improved since returning to the club after being sent down following early struggles.

• The Chicago White Sox have lost three straight after winning seven in a row.

1st Pitch: The importance of 599 and 59

August, 2, 2010
Today’s Trivia: Alex Rodriguez struck out as a pinch-hitter in Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, leaving him stuck on 599 home runs for another game. The strikeout dropped A-Rod to 0-10 as a pinch-hitter in his career. Only two active major leaguers have worse career numbers as a pinch hitter. Who are they?

(Hint: one was an All-Star last season for a team that currently leads its division. The other has a career BA of .224 and is a former teammate of Rodriguez’s with the Yankees.)

Quick Hits on the number 59 in baseball after golfer Stuart Appelby carded a 59 to win the Greenbrier Classic (thanks to researcher Paul Carr for several items)...

Only one team has exactly 59 games left this season: the San Diego Padres, who are 61-42 through 103 games. Every other team has fewer games left, some as few as 55.

Your MLB leader in games pitched this season is the oft-used Pedro Feliciano, who has appeared in 59.

Hall-of-Famer Satchel Paige pitched his final major-league game at age 59. He started for the Kansas City Athletics on September 25, 1965 and allowed just one hit in three shutout innings.

The active MLB player who has hit the most doubles in a season is Todd Helton, who hit 59 in 2000. Helton finished eight shy of the record 67 doubles by Earl Webb in 1931.

Only one player has ever hit exactly 59 home runs in a season. That was Babe Ruth, who broke his own single-season record in 1921 when he hit 59 homers, a record that stood for six years until Ruth broke it again.

No current MLB pitcher has exactly 59 career wins. One player has 58, but he might not get his 59th for a while. Oliver Perez is that player, and he’s 0-4 this season and hasn’t won since August of last season.

Today’s Leaderboard: After an intentional walk to the batter in front of him, Jason Kubel blew open a scoreless game in the sixth with a bases-loaded double against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday. Kubel had to feel comfortable at the plate in that situation – he’s among the league leaders in bases-loaded plate appearances this season.

Would you believe that two Minneosta Twins are on this list and neither are typical No. 4 batter Justin Morneau or No. 5 batter Michael Cuddyer?

Key Matchups: Here’s the daily A-Rod vs Opposing Starter update: Rodriguez is 4-15 (.267 BA) in his career against Brandon Morrow. He does have one career HR against Morrow, however, it came at a stadium that isn’t in use anymore. Rodriguez hit it in 2007 at old Yankee Stadium.

The first name Bobby Cox should write when he makes his lineup tonight against Johan Santana is Matt Diaz. Diaz is 14-26 (.538 BA) with a HR in his career against Santana. That’s the highest BA by any active player who has come to the plate at least 20 times against Santana (and there are 101 such players).

It’s probably for two reasons – the young Houston Astros roster and the fact that he has pitched his whole career in the AL until tonight – but Jake Westbrook has only faced one current Astro before. And he might want to stay away from that one tonight when he debuts for the Cardinals. Carlos Lee is batting .400 (12-30) and slugging .600 against Westbrook in his career. (Note: Westbrook has faced Geoff Blum before, but Blum is on the DL for the Astros)

Trivia Answer: Wil Nieves (A-Rod’s former teammate) is 0-16 in his career and Texas Rangers 2009 All-Star Nelson Cruz is 0-14.

1st Pitch: A different player at home

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

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

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

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

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

1st Pitch: One-run game madness

June, 7, 2010
Quick Hits: On Sunday, there were 11 games decided by one run. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that tied a major league record, done twice previously (1918 and 2001). That is continuing a larger trend that puts us on pace for 750 one-run games this season, which would smash the record of 719 in 2005.
  • At 12-6 in one run games, the Pirates have already matched their win total from 2009, when they went an MLB-worst 12-22. In fact, more than half of the Pirates’ 23 wins have been by one run.

  • The Rangers are on pace for 60 one-run games this season, after appearing in only 37 all of last season. They would be the first team since the 2005 Nationals to play in that many.

  • The Yankees have only appeared in nine one-run games, putting them on pace for only 25. Since the 162-game schedule was adopted, the fewest one-run games in a non-strike-shortened season was 28 by the 2001 Expos.

  • The Yankees are 0-2 in one-run home games. The 1906 Red Sox and 2009 Royals both won only two games at home decided by one run, fewest since 1901.

  • A year after posting an MLB-best 35-20 record in one-run games, the Mariners are just 7-13, tied for the second worst in baseball.

  • The Diamondbacks have currently played in seven straight one-run games, a franchise record. Arizona is just 2-5 over this stretch.

  • The Red Sox are 1-5 in extra-inning one-run games, and 9-5 in one-run games decided in nine innings.

  • The Braves are 8-1 in one-run games at home and 2-8 on the road.
Today’s Trivia: There are eight players currently on MLB rosters who made their MLB debut before Bryce Harper was born in 1992. Can you name the only one who was on the Expos when Harper was born?

Today’s Leaderboard: After beating the Twins 5-4 on Sunday, the A’s are 11-4 in one-run games. That .733 win percentage would be tied for second best in the majors since 1901 behind the 1981 Orioles, who went 21-7 (.750). Among the top four one-run records of all time, both the 1909 Pirates and 1970 Orioles won the World Series.

Key Matchups: Stephen Drew is 15-for-31 (.484) in his career against Derek Lowe, easily his best average against any pitcher that he has faced 20 times. Only Matt Holliday (.514) has a higher average against Lowe among those with at least 30 plate appearances. However, Lowe has had the upper hand lately. Drew hit .583 in his first 24 at-bats against Lowe, but is just 1-for-7 since.

Mired in a 3-for-30 slump, Todd Helton has to be pleased to see Wandy Rodriguez taking the hill for the Astros. Helton is a career .500 hitter against Rodriguez with 11 hits in 22 at-bats. He has six hits in the last nine times they faced one another.

Trivia Answer: Matt Stairs made his MLB debut for the Expos in May 1992, nearly five months before Harper was born.

May's top plus/minus plays

June, 1, 2010
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 sad to see May go

May, 31, 2010
Quick Hits: We’re all well aware of David Ortiz’s May resurgence. But here are a few other hitters who will be sad to see the calendar turn to June.
  • Mike Fontenot is batting .378 in May, over 100 points higher than his career BA of .274
  • Travis Hafner regained his old form this month, batting .333 with a .457 OBP.
  • Jose Bautista has hit 12 home runs in May, tying a team record for most homers in a month.
  • Mike Sweeney has revived his career, batting .333 with a .704 slugging percentage in May.
  • Troy Glaus hit .323 with a team-leading 25 RBI.
Today’s Trivia: Happy 43rd birthday to Kenny Lofton. In the 1990s, no one had a higher batting average as a leadoff hitter than Lofton’s .309 mark. In fact, only three others with at least 1,500 plate appearances were above .300. Can you name them?

Today’s Leaderboard: Typically, a pitcher loses effectiveness as his pitch count climbs. But that doesn’t hold true for everyone. Among those that have excelled in high pitch count situation is today’s starter for the Rays, Matt Garza, who has a .100 opponent’s batting average when his pitch count climbs above 90.

Key Matchups: Not many players in Cleveland’s young lineup have faced Andy Pettitte, but Pettitte has struggled against those that he has faced. The seven players on the Indians active roster who have faced Pettitte have combined to hit .338, led by Austin Kearns’ .462 (6-13) performance.

You can count Todd Helton among the few players who have figured out Tim Lincecum. In his career against Lincecum, Helton is batting .474 (9-19) with a 1.284 OPS.

Trivia Answer: Wade Boggs (.307), ESPN’s own Doug Glanville (.305) and Bip Roberts (.301).

Soriano is Mr. May

May, 23, 2010
At the time Alfonso Soriano signed his eight-year $136 million dollar contract in November of 2006, it was the fifth-largest contract given to a major league player. Behind such stalwarts as Alex Rodriguez ($252 million / 10 years), Derek Jeter ($189 million / 10 years), Manny Ramirez ($160 million / 8 years) and Todd Helton ($141.5 million / 11 years), Soriano was expected to be a key centerpiece for a team that had finished dead last in the National League (2006: 66-96).
To say that Soriano’s arrival in the Windy City has been a mixed-bag is quite an understatement. In between all-star selections in 2007 and 2008, Soriano has also spent considerable time on the disabled list and his been chided for his defensive lapses and base running gaffes. Cubs fans either love him or hate him, depending on the day.
One thing Cubs fans have to agree on though: He owns the month of May.

In his career, Soriano has more hits (304), runs (183), RBI (171), stolen bases (51) and home runs (66) than in any other month in his career. While no longer much of a threat on the basepaths (19 steals in a season is his Cubs high), Soriano has continued to have success in the power department, hitting the eighth most home runs (24) of any Major Leaguer in the month of May since 2007.

As noted in the chart above, Soriano has dominated opposing pitchers fastballs. Not only is Soriano hitting .352 against the fastball since 2007, but 55 of his 90 career home runs as a Cub have come off of the fastball, including four of his five home runs this May.
A look at Soriano’s numbers by pitch-type further indicates his dominance against the fastball in May.

One of the key components to Soriano’s success in May, aside from his ability to neither chase nor miss the fastball, has been his consistency. In 100 career games in May as Cub, Soriano has had a base hit in 80 of them. Impressive in and of itself, Soriano further adds to his month of dominance by collecting multiple base hits in 34 of those games and never going more than two games without a hit.
While the Cubs have not performed to the level that most envisioned so far, much of the blame cannot be put on the shoulders of Alfonso Soriano (at least offensively).

1st pitch: The great DH slump

April, 22, 2010
Today’s Trivia: Who is the highest player selected out of the University of Oklahoma in the June MLB draft?

Quick Hits: The Elias Sports Bureau notes an interesting early season trend: NL teams are outscoring AL teams. The 14 teams in the AL are averaging 4.3 runs, while their counterparts in the NL are averaging 4.8. According to Elias, the NL has averaged more runs than the AL just once since the designated hitter was introduced in 1973. That was in 1974. With that in mind, let’s look at some early numbers involving the DH:

* Diamondbacks pitchers have more hits (10) than the designated hitters for the Yankees (8) or Twins (9).

* Eliminate the DH and pitchers for a moment. AL position players are hitting .251. NL position players are hitting .265.

* Designated hitters have combined to hit just .239. Only catcher (.233) and third base (.238) have produced lower averages in the AL.

* AL East teams are hitting just .204 at DH. Meanwhile, NL West pitchers are hitting .203.

* The Red Sox have scored three runs from the DH spot. The Rockies and Diamondbacks have five runs scored at pitcher, and the Brewers have three.

* The Royals and Jose Guillen are hitting .377 at DH, while the Rangers and Vladimir Guerrero are next at .327. The rest of the AL is hitting just .219 at DH.

* Dan Haren (5) has one fewer hit than Nick Johnson (6) despite 33 fewer at-bats. However, Johnson does lead the AL with 18 walks.

* Only centerfield (178) has struck out more than DH (173) in the AL.

* However, the DH spot has more home runs (29) than any other AL position.

Today’s Leaderboard: There are five teams hitting under .200 from the DH spot, with the Red Sox in the basement at .169. The Yankees are the next worst at .170.

Key Matchups: Most eyes will be on the pitching matchup in Washington today, as Ubaldo Jimenez squares off against Livan Hernandez. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it is just the second time in the last 90 years that a pitcher coming off a no-hitter will face one who is coming off a shutout. The other time? 1996 when Jim Bullinger met Al Leiter, who had just pitched a no-hitter. Although this one might be about pitching, there is still a very intriguing pitcher-hitter situation. Todd Helton is 33-69 (.478) in his career against Hernandez. That is the most hits Livan has allowed to a batter, and the most Helton has off of a pitcher.

An Bay Area native, CC Sabathia is just 5-7 in his career against the A's, and sports a 5.80 ERA, his highest against any AL team other than the Yankees. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean much for today’s start. He was 2-0 against the A’s last season and current A’s hitters are just 14-75 against the lefty, a .187 average.

Trivia Answer: In 1985, Oklahoma’s Bobby Witt was the third overall pick by the Rangers, selected after B.J. Surhoff and Will Clark.

Monday's first pitch

April, 5, 2010
Today’s Trivia: As Bobby Cox readies himself for his final Opening Day, let’s look back on his first. In Cox’s first game as manager (April 7, 1978), a pair of future Hall of Famers dueled on the mound, as the Braves started Phil Niekro against the Dodgers’ Don Sutton. But perhaps more interesting than that? Which two current managers played in that game? (Hint: both are now over 60!)

* Over the last 50 years, there have been four instances of a pitcher getting the start on Opening Day after missing all of the previous season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. On Monday, three pitchers will do just that. Jake Westbrook, Ben Sheets and Shaun Marcum are all starting the opener for their respective teams after missing all of the last year. The last pitcher to do that was Carl Pavano for the Yankees in 2007. Prior to that: Scott Erickson (’02 Orioles), Alex Fernandez (’99 Marlins), Diego Segui (’77 Mariners). And because you don’t get to type this name enough – the last pitcher to do it prior to 1960 was Vinegar Bend Mizell for the 1956 Cardinals after serving in Korea.

* With the NCAA title game tonight, you're probably wondering what baseball history has to say about tonight's outcome. When was the last time a Butler faced a Duke in the MLB? On July 26, 1970, Indians catcher Duke Sims went 0-2 against Bill Butler of the Royals. Score one for Butler there. However, if home run hitting is any indicator, this one could be all Duke. There have been 19 players with the last name Butler in MLB history. Led by Billy and Brett, those Butlers hit a combined 118 home runs. Duke Snider alone had 407 homers. What about the actual schools, you ask? Well, Butler has only produced four MLB players to Duke's 31. But the last time we saw a Duke-Butler meeting at the plate? On April 6, 1998, Butler's Doug Jones (then on the Brewers) got Duke's Ryan Jackson (Marlins) to fly out to center.

* President Obama will throw out the first pitch this afternoon in Washington, continuing a now 100-year tradition started by William Howard Taft. This will be the 63rd time that a sitting President has thrown out the first pitch on Opening Day, with only Jimmy Carter never doing so since Taft. An interesting trend has emerged though. Including Obama, three of our last four Presidents have been real lefties – that is, with their throwing arm. Only the A’s, Blue Jays, Mets and Phillies feature three lefties in their Opening Day rotation. Interestingly, our last five presidents only had 24 fewer wins last season than Toronto’s current rotation.

* Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt will be starting their 8th straight openers, the longest active streak followed by Carlos Zambrano at six. Chipper Jones will be making his 14th straight Opening Day start for the Braves, the longest active streak with one team. Next on that list are Todd Helton (13) and Paul Konerko (12). No Derek Jeter? He missed the first four games on 2001. Otherwise, he’d be one spot ahead of Jones.

* Today’s Leaderboard: If you are going to get Xavier Nady in the lineup, you might as well make it on Opening Day. The Cubs outfielder is a career .481 hitter in the first game of the season, highest among active players with 15 at-bats. Nady also has five home runs on Opening Day. Only Ken Griffey Jr. (8) and Adam Dunn (6) have more among active players.

Matchup(s) of the Day:
Mark DeRosa is 13-27 lifetime against Roy Oswalt. That .481 batting average is the highest for any hitter that has faced Oswalt at least 20 times.

Matt Holliday is just 1-16 in his career against Aaron Harang. That .063 average is his lowest against any pitcher he’s faced 15 times.

Trivia Answer: Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston (who is now 66) appeared as a pinch hitter for the Braves and made the final out the game. Dusty Baker (who is now 60) started in LF for the Dodgers.

The pitches, they keep on comin'

April, 3, 2010
It's a relatively slow Friday afternoon, and the conversation in our newsroom ended up turning to first-pitch strikes. (Yes, we're an odd group.) You may have noticed that all of our boxscores had this stat added at last season's All-Star Break. It's something we continue to track throughout the year as an indicator of how well a pitcher is able to get ahead in the count.

S&I's Marty Callinan, who normally works on our NFL data team, jokingly suggested that in addition to tracking first-pitch strikes this season, we should track "seventh-pitch balls". That prompted us to stumble onto this interesting data, courtesy of our friends at Inside Edge.

If you sort all of last year's pitches by which pitch of the plate appearance they were, you notice a couple really neat trends. The strike percentage (which includes foul balls and balls put in play) rises on every pitch. The percentage of balls that are swung at rises with each successive pitch (three-fourths of all first pitches were taken by batters last year).

We often talk about hitters being patient at the plate, but one of the more surprising trends was the dramatic rise in the chase percentage. This stat reflects the number of bad balls (i.e., out of the strike zone) that a hitter swings at. Sure, a pitcher isn't going to throw one right over the heart of the plate when he's already battled for nine or ten pitches. And long counts favor the hurler anyway. But maybe that's not because of anything the pitcher's doing. Maybe the hitters are more eager to swing at junk pitches, if only just to foul one off and stay alive. Even the most patient hitters eventually lose it.

By the way, the best hitter last season on the first pitch was Oakland's Jack Cust (30-for-52 including seven dingers). The best hitter from the 10th pitch onward? Todd Helton (6-for-10).

And the longest plate appearance last season? It's a tie. Freddy Sanchez (April 16) and Aubrey Huff (July 29) both battled for 17 pitches. They both swung at pitch number 17. And they both made outs.