Stats & Info: Wandy Rodriguez

Kelly keeping opposition grounded

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
10:50
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The Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals meet tonight (ESPN, 7 ET) with the season series tied 7-7. Since their 19-inning marathon which the Pirates won 10 days ago, the two teams have gone in opposite directions. The Pirates have dropped six of eight while the Cardinals have won six of eight.

Cardinals Need Yadier Molina

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina will likely be out for tonight’s game after taking a hit at the plate from Josh Harrison Tuesday.

St. Louis likely cannot afford to go without Molina for long, as he's already set a career high with 17 homers. He needs just three more RBI to tie his career high of 65, and he’s stolen a career-high 11 bases.

He’s also on pace to set a career high in batting average (.325) and OPS (.886). What's more, he leads all catchers with 13 Defensive Runs Saved this season.

Cardinals Heating Up

The Cardinals are getting hot at the right time, and after spending most of the season leading the MLB in run differential, the wins are finally starting to come. Since July 1st, St. Louis is 31-20, the sixth-best record in the MLB in that span. Much of that success can be attributed to St. Louis pitching. Since June 9th, the Cardinals have a 3.30 ERA from their starting rotation, tops in baseball in that span.

Tonight's starter, Joe Kelly, has been effective for the Cardinals this season in his rookie year posting a 3.26 ERA in 14 games (12 starts). Kelly throws his fastball very hard (94.1 miles per hour average), and has been good at keeping the ball in the park by keeping it on the ground. Kelly has a groundball percentage of 57 against his heater, tied for the second-highest percentage in the NL.

Wandy Rodriguez Relies on Curveball

No player has thrown more curveballs this season than Wandy Rodriguez, who opposes Kelly tonight. In fact, he’s led the league in curveballs thrown in each of the previous three seasons, and since 2009, he's thrown 809 more curveballs than any other pitcher in baseball.

Since being acquired by Pittsburgh in late July, however, Rodriguez hasn’t been what the Pirates had hoped. He has a 4.86 ERA with Pittsburgh after posting a 3.79 ERA with the Houston Astros, and is winless in five starts.

Craig crushes lefties as Pujols' replacement

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
11:32
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Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireAlbert Pujols is gone, but Allen Craig has been producing in his absence.
Remember when Allen Craig came through time-and-time again for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 World Series? He had the game-winning hit in Game 1, a go-ahead hit in Game 2, and notable homers in both Game 6 and Game 7.

Perhaps that was some foreshadowing for life without Albert Pujols.

The Cardinals (who face the Pittsburgh Pirates on ESPN on Wednesday night) have gotten near-Pujols levels of production from their combination of first basemen this season. Craig has been the latest and most significant part of that. After his home run and three RBI in Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Reds, he’s now batting .318 with 20 home runs and 71 RBI this season.

Craig has homered on 19 percent of the fly balls he’s hit this season, and his rate of home runs to fly balls is better than any season Pujols has had in 2010, 2011 or 2012. In 60 games at first base (the most of anyone on the Cardinals this season), Craig is hitting .326 with 14 home runs and 52 RBI.

Where Does Craig Excel?

Craig has crushed left-handed pitching this season, posting a .386 batting average with eight home runs and 21 RBI in 101 at-bats. His 1.149 OPS against lefties is fifth best in baseball, and he will face a lefty on Wednesday (Wandy Rodriguez). Craig has also been a well above-average hitter against right-handed pitching, with a .288 average and .518 slugging percentage.

His knack for the big hit has not left him in 2012 as well. He’s batting .409 with seven home runs with runners in scoring position this season, and his .409 batting average ranks best among those with 100+ plate appearances with runners in scoring position.

In addition, 10 of his 20 homers have come with men on base.

Craig is one of baseball’s top hitters against fastballs and fastball variants (cutter, sinker, etc). His .369 batting average and 1.090 OPS in at-bats ending in those pitches rank in the top 10 in the majors (minimum 250 PA this season). His .672 slugging percentage ranks third behind David Ortiz and Matt Kemp.

Pittsburgh is a team Craig has enjoyed facing, as he’s batting .388 with a 1.106 OPS against Pittsburgh for his career.
Sunday’s pitchers lacked the flash or pizzazz of Saturday’s, when the top three vote getters in last year’s AL Cy Young race, and the top two finishers in the NL Cy Young race took the mound.

And there was no Philip Humber coming out of nowhere to pitch a perfect game.

But there were some pretty good pitching performances.

Let’s take a look at some of Sunday’s pitching highlights:

Redbirds soar with Lohse
Winning pitcher Kyle Lohse allowed one run in six innings. He has gone six innings and allowed one earned run or fewer in each of his first four starts this season.
Kyle Lohse
Lohse

The last Cardinals starter to have four games in a row to start the season of at least six innings pitched and one earned run or fewer allowed was Larry Jaster in 1968.

Want to have a good game? Pitch against Pirates starter Erik Bedard. In four starts this season, the Pirates have scored just three runs for Bedard, managing one against the Cardinals on Sunday.

Magic Wandy
Wandy Rodriguez pitched seven scoreless innings, yielding just three hits to shut down the red-hot Los Angeles Dodgers and Matt Kemp.
Wandy Rodriguez
Rodriguez

Rodriguez’s curveball was sharp, netting him 10 outs. He had six strikeouts with the hook on Sunday, matching the total he had with the pitch in his first three starts of the season.

Of the 15 pitches Rodriguez threw Kemp, only two were fastballs. Kemp fouled out on a changeup, flied out on a curve, and then struck out swinging at a curve against Rodriguez. His 10-game hitting streak was snapped.

The 12-0 win marked the Astros largest margin of victory in a shutout win over the Dodgers in franchise history.

All Smyles, but no win
The Elias Sports Bureau confirmed that Drew Smyly is the first Detroit Tigers pitcher ever to start his first three career games and allow one run or fewer in each of them. Smyly got a no-decision in the Tigers loss to the Texas Rangers.

Josh Hamilton homered again for the Rangers, giving him seven in the team's first 16 games. He's the fifth player in Rangers history with that many home runs in that few team games, joining Pete Incaviglia, Alex Rodriguez, Ian Kinsler, and Nelson Cruz.

The Buck (and his team) stops Pujols
Albert Pujols was 0-for-4 and his homerless streak to start the season now sits at 65 at-bats after his Los Angeles Angels lost to the Baltimore Orioles, 3-2.

Pujols was 0-for-11 in the series with three fly outs, three ground outs, three strikeouts, and a lineout. He did reach base once on an error.

Looking ahead to Monday
Bigger names take the mound Monday, with the most attention being paid to Tim Lincecum.
Tim Lincecum
Lincecum

Tim Lincecum will start for the San Francisco Giants against the New York Mets in the second game of Monday’s doubleheader at Citi Field. Lincecum is 0-2 with a 10.54 ERA in his first three starts of the season, but is 3-0 with three earned runs allowed in 28 innings in his last four starts against the Mets.

Lincecum’s fastball velocity has averaged 90.2 miles-per-hour in the first two starts of the season, down two miles-per-hour from his average in 2011. His strike percentage with his fastball is 58 percent. It has consistently been either 63 or 64 percent in each of the three previous seasons.

Hitters have also feasted on Lincecum’s breaking pitches, with 10 hits against them in the first three starts. Last season, in his first three starts, he allowed only two hits with his breaking balls.
Erik Bedard
Bedard
The MLB trade deadline came and went Sunday and on the final day of July, several teams made notable moves.

After their attempt to get Oakland A's pitcher Rich Harden fell through Saturday, the Boston Red Sox acquired Erik Bedard from the Seattle Mariners in a three-team trade involving the Los Angeles Dodgers. Boston also received minor league pitcher Josh Fields from Seattle in exchange for outfielders Trayvon Robinson and Chih-Hsien Chiang. This after the Dodgers traded Robinson to the Red Sox for three minor leaguers.

Bedard returns to the AL East where he pitched for Baltimore from 2002 to 2007. He was just 15-14 with a 3.31 ERA with Seattle and missed the entire 2010 season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Now he'll be pitching at Fenway Park where he has struggled in the past posting a 6.99 career ERA there. That's the second-worst ERA of any stadium that Bedard has thrown at least 20 innings.

The St. Louis Cardinals also picked up veteran shortstop Rafael Furcal from the Dodgers on Sunday. Like Bedard, Furcal has also been hampered by injuries playing in just 283 out of a possible 486 games from 2008 to 2010. He played in 37 of 106 games this season with the Dodgers. Furcal went 0-1 as a pinch hitter in his Cardinals' debut Sunday.

Also it wasn't Heath Bell, but another Padres reliever Mike Adams who switched teams on Sunday. Adams went to the Texas Rangers in exchange for minor-league pitchers Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland. Adams was just 11-9 with a 2.11 ERA in his career, but 3-1 with a 1.13 ERA this season. He struck out 49 batters while walking just nine.

Meanwhile, Michael Bourn who leads the league with 39 stolen bases was traded from the Houston Astros to the Atlanta Braves for Jordan Schafer and three minor leaguers. Bourn's speed helps the Braves who rank 27th in the league in steals with just 42. The two-time Gold Glove winner hit .303 this season with Houston.

Despite these deals, trading on the final day of the deadline was light compared to the last two years. Also, this was the first season since 1998, Brian Cashman's first year as General Manager, that the Yankees did not make any trades in July.

Among the notable players expected to be traded that were not: Heath Bell, B.J. Upton, Wandy Rodriguez, Hiroki Kuroda (invoked no-trade clause), Josh Willingham, Carlos Pena, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Drew Storen.
The New York Mets and San Francisco Giants square off in this week's Sunday Night Baseball (ESPN, 8 ET) matchup.

Mike Pelfrey gets the ball for the Mets and enters the game with some historic numbers. Pelfrey has a 3.53 career ERA at home and a 5.44 career ERA on the road. According to Elias, Pelfrey has by far the largest discrepancy between his home and road ERA (in which the road is higher) among active pitchers (minimum 750 IP).

Next on that list would be Wandy Rodriguez (3.40 home, 4.89 road). This season, Pelfrey is 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA at home and 2-7 with a 6.05 ERA on the road. His 5.44 career ERA on the road is the fourth highest among active pitchers (min. 250 IP).

To read more about Pelfrey's road struggles, click here.

The Giants counter with Matt Cain, who also brings a unique distinction with him to the mound. According to Elias, Cain has the lowest career run support of any active pitcher with 150-plus starts (through Friday).

If there's one thing the Giants are not afraid of this season, it's close games. The Giants are 25-12 in one-run games this season, which puts them on pace for 45 one-run wins. The 1978 Giants hold the MLB record for most wins by one run with 42.

Nineteen of those 25 wins in one-run games have been at home. They are on pace for 37 one-run wins at home.

The franchise record (since 1901) for one-run wins at home is 24 in 1978 (24-10). The modern MLB record (since 1901) for one-run wins at home is 28. Of the three teams to do that, two won the World Series: the 1940 Reds and the 1943 Yankees. The third, the 1974 Orioles, lost in the American League Championship Series.

If there's one thing the Giants are afraid of this season, it's scoring runs at home. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that San Francisco is the only team in the majors that has yet to score more than six runs in a home game this season. Every other team has had at least three such games, with Texas leading the way -- scoring six or more runs in 21 home games this season.

The Giants’ current single-season streak of 43 consecutive home games scoring six or fewer runs is the longest since the 1942 Phillies had a 55-game streak from May 23 to September 27. And it’s the longest to start a season since the Pirates did it in their first 42 games of the 1917 season.
Jay Bruce dialed long-distance like no one else in the big leagues in May, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, and Mark Trumbo had the kind of mammoth blast that hadn't been seen in Kansas City in four years. What were some of the other home run oddities from the month of May?

Player Power Surge: HRs Totaling Most Distance (Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds)
Mike Stanton averaged more than 425 feet per home run in May, but no one totaled more total distance than Bruce. His 12 home runs tallied 4,776 feet, besting last month's winner, Ryan Braun, by nearly 700 feet. Jose Bautista, who leads the majors in home runs, has yet to win this award.

No Doubter: Longest True Distance (Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels)
Trumbo's Memorial Day blast off of Royals pitcher Louis Coleman at Kauffman Stadium traveled a true distance of 472 feet. It was the longest home run hit by an Angels player since Vladimir Guerrero's 473-foot shot off Zack Greinke at Kauffman on May 1, 2007.

Wall-Scraper: Shortest True Distance (Danny Valencia, Brennan Boesch)
On May 8, Valencia hit a 329-foot HR off Daisuke Matsuzaka. Eleven days later, Boesch hit a 329-foot shot off of Daniel Bard. Both home runs were hit at Fenway Park, which is not surprising. Of the 10 shortest home runs hit in 2011, six have been at Fenway Park.

Moonshot: Highest Apex* (Shelley Duncan, Cleveland Indians)
Duncan's 431-foot shot on Memorial Day off of Blue Jays pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes landed in the fifth deck at Rogers Centre, with an apex of 152 feet. Duncan became just the 15th player to reach the fifth deck at Rogers Centre, and the first since Jayson Werth on June 27, 2009 off of Brad Mills.

Line Drive: Lowest Apex (Carlos Peguero, Seattle Mariners)
Peguero’s May 16 shot came off Twins starter Scott Baker. With an apex of 39 feet, it was the lowest home run hit since Travis Snider’s 39-foot apex home run on May 3, 2010.

Fastball of the Month: Fastest Speed Off Bat (Juan Rivera, Toronto Blue Jays)
While his teammate Jose Bautista may steal all the attention, Rivera hit the fastest speed off bat in May. Rivera’s shot on May 22 off of Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez traveled 117.7 mph off the bat, and went 431 feet.

Server of the Month: Greatest Total Distance Allowed (Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds)
Arroyo allowed 10 home runs that traveled 3,981 feet. Last month's winner, Armando Galarraga, now finds himself in Triple-A Reno.

* Defined as the maximum vertical height a ball reaches during its flight

Astros leaning heavily on starters

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
11:13
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The Houston Astros had one of the worst offenses in baseball last season, scoring just 3.8 runs per game en route to a fourth place finish in the NL Central. So just imagine how bad they would have been without a pitching staff that ranked sixth in the National League in ERA and opponent batting average after the All-Star Break.

The Astros’ lack of offense is expected to leave them out of contention this year, but their pitching staff should at least keep them in games.

Houston lost 27 games last season where its starting pitcher went six or more innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs, the most of any team in baseball.

Some notes on the Astros’ rotation entering the 2011 season:

Brett Myers: Myers was incredibly durable last season going at least six full innings in all but his final start, when he fell one out shy of hitting that mark. The 32 straight starts of six or more innings pitched to begin a season were the most since Curt Schilling did so in all 35 of his starts in 2002. Myers’ 223 2/3 innings pitched were a career high, and fifth-most in the National League. He had a 15-start stretch from July 4 to mid-September where he went 8-1 with a 1.89 ERA and 4.3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Wandy Rodriguez: Last year Rodriguez regressed some from the ascent he made the previous 3 seasons. Wandy had improved by at least half-a-run in ERA for three straight years: from 5.64 in 2006, to 4.58 in 2007, to 3.54 in 2008, to a career-best 3.02 in 2009. Wear-and-tear on his left arm may be a concern for Houston this season. Rodriguez has pitched at least 195 innings each of the past two seasons, and has missed time this spring with arm trouble. According to Inside Edge, Rodriguez threw 1,165 curveballs last season, by far the most in all of baseball.

Bud Norris: One of the most remarkable statistics in Norris’ young career is how well he’s done against the St. Louis Cardinals. Norris is 5-1 with a 2.27 ERA in his career against the Redbirds, and 10-12 with a 5.41 ERA against everybody else. Norris’ inconsistency isn’t because of lack of stuff: he was sixth in the NL in strikeouts per 9 innings (9.25) among pitchers with at least 100 IP last season.

J.A. Happ: In eight of Happ’s 13 starts after being acquired in the Roy Oswalt deal, he went at least six innings while allowing two earned runs or fewer. Happ had an exceptional six-start stretch from late August into September: a 1.91 ERA, .218 opponent batting average, and K/BB ratio of nearly 3-to-1. One unique thing Happ did exceptionally well last season was battle after runners got on base – only 17.0 percent of runners to reach base scored against Happ, 7.0 percent better than the league average.

A 'break'down of Galarraga, Rodriguez

January, 30, 2011
1/30/11
11:34
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Our weekly statistical take on MLB moves.

Armando Galarraga may have been almost perfect on one memorable occasion in 2010, but he had a significant imperfection in his overall work.
Armando Galarraga
Galarraga

As Galarraga looks for a fresh start in the NL with the Arizona Diamondbacks after being traded from the Tigers last week, one of his biggest goals for 2011 is going to be re-establishing an out pitch.

Fangraphs.com publishes a run value stat for pitch types for both pitchers and hitters. The number (broken down by total pitches or per 100 pitches of that type thrown) establishes whether that pitch led to positive outcomes for the player more often than not. Higher pitch value numbers mean better results with the pitch (further explanation: here).


Of the 147 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2010, 10 had negative run values per 100 for every pitch type in their arsenal.

Galarraga had a couple of flaws that earned him a spot on this list. Our Inside Edge video review data shows that his 90-mile-per-hour fastball got swings and misses six percent of the time, among the lowest rates in baseball.

When he threw a sinking fastball, he actually had more balls hit in the air than on the ground (the opposite of the desired result)

When Galarraga threw his slider and an opponent made contact, he allowed a hit 35 percent of the time, well above the league norm (right-handed hitters in particular, had a lot of success against it). He also ranked among the major league leaders in home runs allowed by right-handers on breaking pitches, with 10, twice as many as he allowed two seasons earlier.

These numbers were the biggest difference in his performance from 2008, when his slider was an out pitch. In fact, that season, it had the third-best run value in the major leagues. A return to that form would be key to establishing success in a new environment.

• Wandy Rodriguez netted a three-year, $34 million contract from the Houston Astros coming off a season in which his signature pitch—the curveball—was not anywhere near as good of an out pitch as it was in 2009.
Wandy Rodriguez
Rodriguez

No pitcher was as reliant in getting a large number of important outs with his curveball that season. His total run value with the pitch led the major leagues. Last season, he was one of a small group for whom that pitch had a negative run value.

Rodriguez netted 118 strikeouts with his curveball in 2009, 44 more than any other left-handed pitcher. In 2010 that total dipped to 102. The percentage of plate appearances that ended with Rodriguez dropping in a two-strike hook for strike three dipped from half to about 45 percent.

That doesn’t sound like a big decline, but it had an impact in his ERA jumping from 3.02 in 2009 to 3.60 in 2010. Instead of getting strikeouts, Rodriguez ran into some trouble.

When hitters made contact with a two-strike hook from Rodriguez in 2010, they hit .346, a 110-point jump from the previous season and their percentage of “well-hit balls” (a stat tracked by Inside Edge) increased from nine percent to 13 percent, a potential indicator that the batting average jump wasn’t just due to luck.

This wasn’t the first time in his career that Rodriguez had a decline with the success of his curveball. His run value with the pitch experienced similar issues in 2008. He used it to be an excellent pitcher in 2009. He’ll face the same challenge again in 2011.

What Roy Oswalt meant to the Astros

July, 29, 2010
7/29/10
1:38
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With Roy Oswalt now officially out of Houston, it’s worth recounting his importance to the organization with which he’s spent his entire career. Even while on winning teams in the first half of the previous decade, Oswalt spent much of his tenure with Houston out of the national spotlight. Here's some perspective on his significance with not only the Astros franchise, but in baseball history in the state of Texas.

•  Oswalt has 143 wins since being called up to the majors with Houston in 2001. In that span, no other Astro has won more than 59 games (Wandy Rodriguez). His total of 143 victories since the beginning of the 2001 season is 28 more than any other pitcher in the National League (2nd is Greg Maddux, 115), and three more than any other pitcher who did it entirely for one organization (Mark Buehrle, 140).

•  Oswalt started Game 3 of the 2005 World Series – the first ever World Series game played in the state of Texas. Between the Colt .45’s/Astros and Rangers, there were 12,519 major league baseball games played (regular season and playoffs) in Texas before Roy started that game on October 25, 2005.

•  In Oswalt’s seven postseason starts, the Astros went 5-2. Roy’s personal postseason record is 4-0. Nolan Ryan’s was 1-2. No pitcher has recorded more postseason outs in Astros history than Oswalt – 134. Ryan, the man synonymous with baseball in the state of Texas, recorded 123 playoff outs in an Astro uniform.

•  Oswalt pitched 1,932 innings as an Astro. Only Larry Dierker and Joe Niekro have thrown more innings for the franchise. Since 2001, no other Astro has even 1,000 innings pitched. The two men who are closest to Oswalt in that span, Wandy Rodriguez and Wade Miller, combined are still more than 350 innings short of Roy’s total.

•  Oswalt won 20 games twice – in 2004 and 2005. Nolan Ryan never won 20 games as an Astro. Mike Scott only did it once, as did J.R. Richard and Dierker. Only one other pitcher in team history won 20 games twice: Niekro. There have been 12 19+ win seasons by pitchers in team history, and Oswalt has a quarter of them.

•  The Astros have won three playoff series in their somewhat meager history. Oswalt won two of the clinching games in those series, both of which came on the road: Game 5 of the 2004 NLDS against Atlanta, and Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS in St. Louis – the game AFTER Albert Pujols' soul-crushing home run off Brad Lidge. Game 6 of that series was the last game ever played in the old Busch Stadium.

Last offseason, a different Roy was traded after being the most important player for his franchise for about a decade. One can argue that Oswalt meant far more to the Astros than Roy Halladay did to the Blue Jays – Oswalt's successes in the postseason gave Houston baseball fans some of their fondest memories. Now, it’s official that the two men named Roy, trapped in baseball mediocrity for the past few years, will be on the same staff in Philadelphia.

1st Pitch: One-run game madness

June, 7, 2010
6/07/10
2:10
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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.

1st Pitch: Fastballs that aren't working

May, 14, 2010
5/14/10
12:55
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Quick Hits: Not all fastballs are created equal. Let’s take a look at some pitchers whose fastballs just aren’t getting the job done this season.

* Opponents have swung and missed on Jason Hammel’s fastball just 5.4 percent of the time (league average: 14.3) and are batting a league-high .426 against his heater.

* Kevin Millwood has allowed eight home runs off his fastball this season, two more than anyone else.

* Wandy Rodriguez has thrown his fastball for a strike just 57.6 percent of the time this season, the league average is 63.7.

* Opponents are batting .392 against Carlos Zambrano’s fastball this season, well above the league average of .280.

* Ryan Rowland-Smith has yet to record a strikeout via the fastball this season. Opponents are hitting .324 with a 1.074 OPS against his heater.

* When Justin Verlander’s fastball has topped 95 mph, opponents have swung and missed just 15.0 pct of the time (lg avg: 19.4). They’re hitting .275 (lg avg: .243) against his 95 mph fastball and have hit a league-leading three home runs off it.

Today’s Trivia: With his 0.93 ERA through seven starts, it’s a good bet that Ubaldo Jimenez will set the Rockies record for the lowest ERA prior to the All-Star Break. Which pitcher holds the current record, set in their inaugural season in 1993?

Today’s Leaderboard: The red-hot Padres remain in first place in the NL West, but they have shown a weakness this season. Three Padres are tied for the worst batting average against fastballs 94 miles per hour or faster. As a team the Padres are batting .216.

Key Matchups: Alex Rios, who is batting .429 in May, has a chance to stay hot tonight. He’s batting .583 (14-24) in his career against Royals’ starter Gil Meche.

It will be tough for Dallas Braden to duplicate his perfect game tonight if Erick Aybar is in the lineup for the Angels. Aybar is a career .412 hitter (7-17) against Braden.

Trivia Answer: Armando Reynoso entered the All-Star Break with a 3.03 ERA in his rookie year in 1993. The only other Rockies starter with an ERA under 3.50 entering the All-Star Break was Marvin Freeman (3.18) in 1994. Since Coors Field opened in 1995 the top pre-All-Star Break ERAs belong to Kevin Ritz (3.50 in 1995) and Roger Bailey (3.50 in 1997).

1st Pitch: Slumping Sophomores

May, 12, 2010
5/12/10
1:45
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Quick Hits: The sophomore slump has hit a few players hard this year. Let’s take a look a few guys struggling to duplicate their rookie seasons:

* Chris Coghlan hit .319 against LHP in 2009, but is batting just .207 this year.

* Gordon Beckham hit .323 with RISP last year, but that number has dropped to .083 this season.

* Garrett Jones led all rookies with 21 homers last season, all of which came after he got ahead in the count 1-0. This season, he’s batting just .167 when ahead 1-0, compared to .349 last season.

* Rick Porcello’s struggles have come primarily against lefties, who are hitting .389 against him this season – over 100 points higher than their .281 mark last season.

Today’s Trivia: Today is Lou Whitaker’s 53rd birthday. Since he retired in 1995, who has played the most games at second base for the Tigers?

Today’s Leaderboard: Baseball-Reference tracks a stat called percent of extra bases taken. It’s the percentage of times a runner advances more than one base on a single and more than two bases on a double, when possible. There’s a certain element to the stat that’s out of the base runner’s control (where the ball is hit, fielder’s arm, etc) but a higher percentage typically corresponds to a better base runner. Here are this year’s leaders.

Key Matchups: Not many pitchers can say they own Albert Pujols, but Wandy Rodriguez is one of the few. Among pitchers whom Pujols has faced at least 25 times, no one has held him to a lower batting average than Rodriguez. In 40 plate appearances against Rodriguez, Pujols is batting just .212 with one home run.

Don’t be surprised if Ryan Spilborghs gets a start for the Rockies tonight in the second game of their double header. Spilborghs has six hits in 11 at bats against Jamie Moyer, including two home runs.

Trivia Answer: Damion Easley played in 795 games at second base for the Tigers from 1996 to 2002. Trailing him are Placido Polanco (625), Omar Infante (235) and Mark Lewis (144).

Monday's 1st Pitch: Early oddities on the mound

April, 12, 2010
4/12/10
1:41
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Today’s Trivia: With Target Field opening, name the only three remaining teams whose ballpark also is the home for a professional football team (question courtesy of Jeff Bennett)?

Quick Hits: Some fun with early pitching oddities and irregularities.

* Tim Lincecum has retired the first batter in all 14 innings he has pitched this season, including six by way of strikeouts.

* CC Sabathia has held the leadoff hitter to a .100 batting average, but he has walked an MLB-high four leadoff hitters.

* Opponents have a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .000 against Fausto Carmona, yet a batting average of .059. Confused? The lone hit was a home run, and thus was not in-play.

* Consider this the tale of two closers: Opposing hitters have taken 19 swings against Franklin Morales, but have yet to swing and miss. They’ve swung at 15 Carlos Marmol pitches and missed 10 times.

* Eight of the nine batters that Darren O’Day has faced have swung at the first pitch. The ninth was a called strike. That means O’Day has a 100.0 first-pitch strike percentage and has yet to see a 1-0 count.

* Not one of the 20 batters that Rick Porcello faced last week swung at the first pitch (12 of which were balls).

* Charlie Haeger had two batters reach on a strikeout on Sunday. That would have been tied for the second most in the majors all of last season! Felix Hernandez had four hitters reach on a strikeout in 2009, while no one else had more than two.

* Jake Westbrook already has four wild pitches and four hit batsmen. Last season, Fausto Carmona was the only Indians pitcher with four of each over the entire season.

Today’s Leaderboard: As the Minnesota Twins usher in a new era at Target Field, there are some who might be sad to see the Metrodome go. Among them? Kevin Slowey, who was 17-4 in the Twins’ old home. That was the fourth best win percentage of anyone with ten decisions. Slowey will pitch the second ever game at Target Field on Wednesday, while Carl Pavano gets the ball today. Jack Morris and Juan Berenguer were both 23-5 at the Metrodome, tied for the best record there. Berenguer is particularly interesting given that he was just 44-57 everywhere else.

Key Matchups: Both starting pitchers in today’s Astros-Cardinals game have traditionally fared well against the biggest bat in the opposing lineup. Albert Pujols is just 5-31 in his career against Wandy Rodriguez, though interestingly he has only struck out once. That .161 average is easily Pujols’ worst against any pitcher he has faced at least 25 times. However, after starting out 3-25, Pujols has a pair of doubles in his last six at-bats against Rodriguez.

In the other dugout, Carlos Lee probably didn’t circle this game to break out of his 3-23 start to the season. Lee has hit just .050 (1-20) in his career against Adam Wainwright, his worst average against any pitcher that he’s faced at least 15 times. That hit came back in 2007, and Lee is hitless in 15 plate appearances since.

Trivia Answer: With the opening of Target Field only three MLB teams share their home park with a pro football team - the Blue Jays, Athletics, and Marlins. That continues a downward trend from multi-purpose stadiums. In 1970, 17 of 24 MLB teams shared stadiums including the Yankees, Tigers, and Cubs.

One2Watch4: Astros P Wandy Rodriguez

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
8:04
AM ET
According to baseballreference.com, there were 8 pitchers in baseball last season to throw over 200 innings, have a WHIP of 1.30, throw at least 1 shutout, and have an ERA+ of at least 130. Seven of them have been selected to All-Star games in their careers: Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander. The eighth player in this elite group? Wandy Rodriguez of the Houston Astros.

Rodriguez put together his best season as a professional in 2009, setting career-best marks in starts (33), wins (14), ERA (3.02), innings (205.2), WHIP, (1.240), ERA+ (139), and K/BB ratio (3.06). In a year where the Astros’ starting rotation ranked in the bottom-4 in the National League in ERA, innings pitched and opponent OPS, Wandy gave Houston a slice of stability, and their beleaguered bullpen a slight reprieve.

Wandy’s ERA has gone down in each of the last 4 seasons: 5.64 in 2006, 4.58 in ’07, 3.54 in ’08, and a shade over 3.00 a season ago. Among pitchers to make at least 20 starts per season since 2006, Wandy is one of just three pitchers to do that: Felix Hernandez and Jason Marquis are the others.

One thing that has plagued Wandy in his young career is the disparity between his performance at home and on the road. While he’s enjoyed a 3.61 career ERA at Minute Maid Park in his 5 big league seasons, his career ERA is over 5.00 on the road. In 2007, his road ERA was a whopping 3.43 runs HIGHER than his home ERA. That number has settled some in the last 2 seasons, but the difference is still much higher than the Astros’ staff as a whole.

For reference, the difference between home and road ERA last season for the entire National League was 0.43. It’s quite amazing that a pitcher who finished in the top 10 in the league in overall ERA had a road ERA over a-run-and-a-half higher than the league’s mark.

Wandy’s trademark is the 12-to-6 curve that he uses to keep batters off-balance. What’s amazing about this is how often he throws the pitch. Rodriguez threw 1,185 curveballs in 2009 – the most in all of baseball – and it’s not even close. Rodriguez threw 327 more curveballs than the next-most-prolific tosser of the Uncle Charlie, Josh Beckett of the Red Sox.

On the strength of that one pitch, Wandy Rodriguez could be one of the best-kept secrets in the league and definitely One2Watch4 for 2010.

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