SweetSpot: Gerardo Parra

Best defender of 2013: Andrelton Simmons

October, 29, 2013

Pouya Dianat/Atlanta Braves/Getty ImagesAndrelton Simmons was baseball's best defender in 2013 with plays like this.

Who was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013?

In our view, it's not a close call. The SweetSpot voting panel named Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons as its Defensive Player of the Year.

Simmons took nine of the 10 first-place votes from our panel to win easily. Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez edged Orioles third baseman Manny Machado for second place by one point (Machado got the only other first-place vote). Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra finished fourth. Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia placed fifth.

Simmons and Parra both finished 2013 with 41 Defensive Runs Saved, the highest single-season total in the 11 years that Baseball Info Solutions has compiled the stat.

Why Simmons won
What separated Simmons was how much better he was than everyone else at his position. No other shortstop finished the season with more than 12 Defensive Runs Saved.

Baseball-Reference.com computes the defensive component of WAR and credited Simmons with 5.4 Wins Above Replacement just for his glove work, nearly a full win better than the runner-up (Gomez, 4.6).

Simmons twice won our Defensive Player of the Month award this season, and we've provided ample description of his skill sets on many occasions. His strength is that he makes every type of play, from the routine to the difficult. He made the rest of the infield better with his presence.

Two of the stats that most validate his selection are:

1. Baseball Info Solutions’ plus-minus system calculates that Simmons made 49 more plays than the average shortstop would have made against the same series of batted balls.

2. Braves opponents reached safely on only 22 percent of ground balls hit to the left of the second base bag. That was the lowest success rate in the majors.

Other worthy candidates
That's not to say that the other defenders cited weren't worthy of strong consideration.

Gomez finished with 38 Defensive Runs Saved, the most by a center fielder in the 11-year history of the stat. He robbed five hitters of home runs during the 2013 season. No other player had more than two homer robberies.


Who is your Defensive Player of the Year?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,283)

Machado led all third basemen with 35 Defensive Runs Saved and rated highest in the game's other primary defensive metric, Ultimate Zone Rating (31.2). He excelled at the flashy play, finishing with the most Web Gems in the majors.

Parra shares the Defensive Runs Saved record with Simmons after catching him with a September that earned him Defensive Player of the Month honors. Parra had the best combination of range and arm. His 130 "Out of Zone plays" (plays in locations in which a fielder turned the ball into an out less than half the time) were the most in the majors for an outfielder. He also earned 10 Defensive Runs Saved with his arm, the most of any outfielder in 2013.

Pedroia led all second basemen in Defensive Runs Saved. Baseball Info Solutions does video review, tagging Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays into different categories. Pedroia finished the regular season with 89 Good Fielding Plays and 23 Defensive Misplays, the best ratio of any middle infielder. He's solidified that with a strong postseason performance as well.

Do you agree/disagree with our selection? Feel free to cast your vote here and share your thoughts in the comments.

Gerardo Parra: The Simmons of outfielders

October, 3, 2013
All season long, Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons has been praised for his extraordinary defense, and rightfully so, given the success he and the Braves had in 2013.

But it's worth noting that there was another player in baseball with whom Simmons shared the major league lead in Defensive Runs Saved: Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra.

Both Simmons and Parra set the mark for the highest total in the 11-season history of the stat, with 41 Defensive Runs Saved.

But it was a heck of a final month by Parra to finish even with Simmons.

Parra won our voting for defensive player of the month on the strength of a major league-best 13 Defensive Runs Saved in September, beating out other worthy candidates, including Ryan Goins of the Blue Jays, Ben Zobrist of the Rays and Carlos Gomez of the Brewers.

Keith Olbermann noted during the highlights segment of one of his recent shows that Simmons was in a bit of a "defensive slump," and though that sounded odd, the numbers actually bore that out.

Simmons had just two Defensive Runs Saved in September and made an error that cost the Braves a game against the Nationals.

Parra's 13 DRS came partly on the strength of his arm. He threw out five baserunners who tried to advance on a hit or an error in a nine-day span, helping pad his defensive totals. He also made a host of Web Gem-worthy plays, including this ridiculous catch against the Dodgers.

That play was emblematic of how Parra accumulated Defensive Runs Saved with his glove. He rated among the very best in the majors at turning fly balls hit to the deepest parts of the ballpark into outs. Parra's run to the finish makes him a worthy candidate for Defensive Player of the Year honors, which we'll hand out in the near future.

Regardless, for now he shares a spot in the defensive record books for his work in 2013.
Is there a more up-and-down team this year than the Cleveland Indians? They started 5-10, but from April 28 through May 20 they went 18-4 to climb into first place. That was followed by seven losses in eight games and then an eight-game losing streak that dropped them three games under .500. Now they've won nine of 12 after beating the Orioles 5-2 on Monday night.

The Indians are an interesting team in that they have a deep lineup but no obvious star; part-time outfielder Ryan Raburn is the only player slugging above .500. Justin Masterson has been their best starter, but he ranks just 15th in the American League in ERA. He's probably their most likely All-Star representative with his 9-5 record. However, the Indians have two other players who are worthy of All-Star consideration but are unlikely to find a spot on the roster.

The first is catcher Carlos Santana. With all the attention given this offseason to signing free agents Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds, Santana still feels like the fulcrum of the Cleveland offense. He's hitting .276/.385/.476 and is seventh in the AL in on-base percentage, thanks to 43 walks (ranking behind only Miguel Cabrera's 47). Santana's defense takes a lot of knocks; he's started 11 games at first base and 13 at DH as Terry Francona keeps his bat in the lineup, and his caught-stealing percentage has dropped off dramatically this year, from a respectable 26 percent in 2012 (league average was 25 percent) to 12 percent. The Indians lead the league in wild pitches, and considering backup catcher Yan Gomes has thrown out nine of 16 base stealers, Santana might see even more time away from catcher in the second half.

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Carlos Santana
David Richard/USA TODAY SportsCarlos Santana's defensive reputation could keep him off of the All-Star team.
It's that defensive reputation that will likley keep him off the All-Star team. Joe Mauer looks like he'll be voted in as the starter and Matt Wieters will probably get the backup nod via the players' ballot. If there's a third catcher chosen it's more likely to be Jason Castro as the Astros' representative.

Jason Kipnis is quietly having a solid season as well. Compare these batting lines:

Kipnis: .282/.360/.486
Robinson Cano: .276/.354/.497
Dustin Pedroia: .311/.394/.418

Kipnis has nine home runs to Cano's 16, but has more extra-base hits, 32 to 31. He's stolen 17 of 22 bases. Kipnis had a solid first full season last year (4.0 WAR), but you'll remember that he started off red hot before fading. This year, he hit just .200 in April, but then blasted seven home runs in May and is hitting .392 in June. Cano and Pedroia are probably All-Star locks, but if the AL can find room for a third second baseman, Kipnis deserves consideration.

Here are other players flying under the radar who deserve All-Star consideration but have little chance of making a squad. (And here's a piece from Tommy Rancel arguing the case for a few middle relievers to make it.)

Kyle Seager, Mariners
In a league with Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Manny Machado, Adrian Beltre and Josh Donaldson at third base, Seager has no shot of making the All-Star Game, but he's quietly developed into the best position player on the Mariners. His WAR ranks 19th among AL position players on Baseball-Reference (2.2) and 11th on FanGraphs (2.7), ahead of Beltre on both sites. With 22 doubles and nine home runs, Seager sprays line drives all over the field, and has put up solid numbers despite playing in Seattle; seven of his nine home runs have come on the road.

James Shields, Royals
The 2-6 record means Shields can enjoy some hunting and fishing over the All-Star break, but the move from Tampa to Kansas City hasn't cut into his effectiveness. With a 2.92 ERA and league-leading 111 innings, he's been exactly what the Royals desired: a staff leader and a staff ace. Amazingly, Shields is winless (0-4) in his last 10 starts despite allowing only 23 runs. That doesn't mean he hasn't helped the Royals win, however; he has five straight no-decisions but the Royals won all five games.

Brett Gardner, Yankees
Adam Jones, Mike Trout and Nick Markakis lead the fan balloting in what is a lackluster year for AL outfielders. Despite playing for the Yankees, Gardner isn't in the top 15. After missing most of last season, Gardner has returned with more power; he has 28 extra-base hits, nearly equal the 34 he had during all of 2011. But what really ramps up his value is excellent defense in center field. In a game that matters, Gardner could be a late-inning defensive replacement, pinch runner or pinch hitter who will grind out an at-bat. You know, if managers actually played to win instead of just getting everyone into the game.

Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Carpenter doesn't just lead NL second basemen in WAR -- he leads most NL position players in WAR. He's 10th on B-R and fifth on FanGraphs thanks to a .403 OBP and smooth transition defensively from third base. Brandon Phillips and Marco Scutaro are ranked 1-2 in fan voting and Chase Utley got off to a good start that could land him the backup job via the players' ballot, so it's going to be difficult to find room for Carpenter.

Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks
Carlos Beltran, Justin Upton and Bryce Harper lead the fan balloting, none of whom really deserve to start (although they aren't terrible choices). Once you include Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Gomez, Andrew McCutchen and maybe Ryan Braun, that leaves Parra as a long shot. He's hitting .315/.378/.480, ranks second in the NL with 24 doubles and plays superb defense at all three outfield spots. Like Gardner, he would be an excellent late-game defensive sub or pinch hitter. Just don't ask him to steal: He's 6-for-15 trying to steal.

Pedro Alvarez, Pirates
Over the past calendar year, Alvarez is tied with Jay Bruce for the most home runs in the National League with 36. His .237 average and .303 OBP don't scream "All-Star," but he does have 19 homers and is slugging .572 versus right-hand pitchers. With Ryan Zimmerman struggling on defense and Pablo Sandoval having a mediocre year at the plate, Alvarez has a decent case as the backup to David Wright, but Zimmerman or Sandoval probably gets the nod.

Travis Wood/Jeff Samardzija, Cubs
I'm assuming one or the other will be the Cubs' rep, but both have good cases to make it, even though Wood is 5-6 and Samardzija is 5-7. They succeed in different ways. Wood is an extreme fly ball pitcher who limits hits despite a ho-hum strikeout rate; Samardzija is pure power, with 115 strikeouts in 106 1/3 innings. With 14 NL starters currently sporting an ERA under 3.00, somebody is going to get squeezed.

Diamondbacks' defense best in the majors

May, 24, 2013
Paul GoldschmidtNorm Hall/Getty ImagesPaul Goldschmidt's defense has been a key to Arizona's success.
A little more than a week ago with a man on second and two outs in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game, Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit a long drive near the 413-foot sign in right-center field of Chase Field that looked like it would put the Braves in front of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

But Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock raced back and made a reaching grab just before reaching the warning track.

"There's a defensive run saved!" said Diamondbacks play-by-play announcer Steve Berthiaume.

The stat doesn't quite work that way, but the point was right on.

The Diamondbacks have had a lot of those plays this season. They entered Thursday with 40 defensive runs saved. The team with the next-most are the Texas Rangers with 19 -- fewer than half of the Diamondbacks' total.

The defensive runs saved stat relies heavily on a measure of how often a player turns a batted ball into an out. The Baseball Info Solutions video-trackers chart every batted ball from every game, labeling where the ball was hit and how fast it was traveling. They can thus assign every ball a value, of how often it was turned into an out.

If a fielder makes a play on a ball in which players at his position made an out 75 percent of the time, he receives a credit of 0.25 (1.00 minus 0.75, to account for being better than 25 percent of fielders ). If he fails to get the out, he is debited 0.75 points (losing value because 75 percent were able to make the play.

How does a team accumulate that many defensive runs saved in this short a period of time? And what are the Diamondbacks doing that other teams are not?

We worked with the folks at BIS to take a closer look, and found many reasons the Diamondbacks rate so well.

Here are two we deem particularly important and worth keeping an eye on moving forward.

The Diamondbacks outfield is off to a great start to 2013

The statistical separator between the Diamondbacks' defense and that of almost every other major league team is their outfield has excelled at a high level.

Diamondbacks outfielders have 27 defensive runs saved. The Brewers have the next most with 24.

No other team entered Thursday with more than 11.

The Diamondbacks play an outfield that often has two players who can cover a lot of ground in Gerardo Parra and Pollock, who rank among the major league leaders in defensive runs saved.

The way that BIS charts batted balls, it can create a grid in which it determines an "expected out rate" for different sections on the field, based on how fast the ball was hit and where it was hit.

Parra and Pollock differentiate themselves from their peers by making catches in spots where balls are rarely caught. There have been 16 balls hit with Parra in right field in which the "Expected Out Rate" was between five percent and 50 percent. Parra converted eight of those into outs. His 50 percent conversion rate is the best among right fielders on those types of chances. Pollock's conversion rate of 10 outs on 23 balls of that type is second-best among center fielders.

Benny Sieu/USA Today SportsOne among many great catches by Diamondbacks outfielders.

The catch he made on Simmons earned Pollock .76 plus-minus points, meaning he caught a ball in a spot in which only 24 percent of center fielders turned that ball into an out.

Those two aren't the only contributors.

Cody Ross, not known for his defensive prowess in recent seasons, has made a handful of impact catches in right field. He has five catches in areas in which the expected out rate ranged from five to 50 percent. His conversion rate is a very respectable 39 percent. He has six defensive runs saved.

Even Jason Kubel, not known for his defense by any means, has even had some of his teammates' success rub off on him. The catch in that image at right came from a game against the Brewers in the season's first week. He earned .93 points for it by BIS' system, the toughest catch that a Diamondbacks player has made all season by BIS' measure.

The value of a good first baseman goes a long way

BIS does video review on every play in every MLB game, tagging plays into 30 categories of good fielding plays (GFPs) and more than 60 categories of defensive misplays & errors (DM&E).

The first baseman who has excelled the most at maximizing GFPs and minimizing mistakes is Paul Goldschmidt.

In an article last week on ESPN Insider, BIS chronicled Goldschmidt's improvements on both sides of the field. Insider Let's go a little more in-depth.

BIS' video review has credited Goldschmidt with 43 good plays and only three defensive misplays & errors. The average major league first baseman will average about three good plays for every misplay and error, making Goldschmidt's rate by far the best of any regular.

What specifically is Goldschmidt doing?

1. He's handling throws that are either in the dirt or slightly off line with great skill. BIS has credited him with 23 GFPs for handling a difficult throw. That's seven more than the players (Eric Hosmer and Chris Davis) with the next-most.

Simply put: Goldschmidt is saving his infielders from potential errors with those plays.

2. Similar to the Diamondbacks outfielders, he's making plays in areas in which other first basemen don't.

There have been 19 balls hit with Goldschmidt in the field in which the expected out rate for a first baseman was between five and 50 percent. Goldschmidt converted nine of those 19 into outs.

No other first baseman has a conversion rate on those balls as high as Goldschmidt's 47 percent.

In going through video of some of Goldschmidt’s best plays this season, his defensive positioning has played a key role. A player can net a higher total of defensive runs saved if he's in the right spot. Diamondbacks coaches Matt Williams and Turner Ward handle the pre-planned infield and outfield positioning with in-game help from bench coach Alan Trammell and manager Kirk Gibson.

There are multiple examples (like this one) of Goldschmidt playing way off the first-base bag for a right-handed hitter, allowing him to get to balls hit to the first base/second base hole. That's how someone like Goldschmidt leads first basemen with seven defensive runs saved.

Looking ahead

There are a lot of reasons to look at defensive stats very skeptically in the early part of the season. Previous studies have shown that a larger sample size is needed to make a full evaluation and that small samples can be affected by many factors.

But the difference between what the Diamondbacks have done relative to other teams makes their numbers relevant, particularly because the end result of this defensive success is what everyone is looking for when they watch a baseball team.


Scott Spratt of Baseball Info Solutions contributed research to this article.

A quick warning about Jurickson Profar's call to the majors to replace the disabled Ian Kinsler: Do not expect Mike Trout; do not expect Bryce Harper; do not expect Manny Machado.

Yes, the performance of those three wunderkinds has, unfortunately, raised the expectations for all prospects, especially one deemed the best in the game entering this season.

In time, maybe Profar joins them as generational talents (I can see the corny nickname already: "The Four Tops"), but it would be unfair to believe Profar will hit like they have, at least right off the bat. Remember, he's only 20, and, while he held his own in Triple-A, hitting .278/.370/.438 with four home runs, HE'S ONLY 20 YEARS OLD. Most 20 year olds are still learning how to hit curveballs in the South Atlantic League.

That said, I'm excited to see the kid play for a couple weeks. While Profar didn't start Sunday and Ron Washington said he'll split time with Leury Garcia, I'm not sure the Rangers recalled Profar to play three games a week. Profar has a good approach at the plate, particularly for a kid so young, drawing 21 walks in 37 games at Round Rock, so that's a good sign that he'll come up to the majors and not get in trouble by being overly aggressive. And, as Washington likes to say, "He's not afraid of the game."

Kinsler had been one of the best players in the league so far, hitting .302 with seven home runs, 20 RBIs and 24 runs, so the Rangers will miss his production from the leadoff spot. But they have a comfortable lead in the AL West and there was no reason to push him through the injury.

Profar is likely headed back to Triple-A once Kinsler's DL stint ends. Of course, who knows, maybe Profar hits so well he leaves the Rangers no choice but to find a regular spot for him. I don't think that will happen, but I wouldn't be that eager to bet against him, either.



Of the early leaders, who is the best bet to lead the AL in home runs?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,052)

Three stars

1. Matt Joyce, Tampa Bay Rays. Down 4-0 after one inning to the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday, Joyce hit a two-run homer in the third to get the Rays closer and then hit a two-run, go-ahead double in the ninth. On Sunday, Joyce's homer provided the insurance run in a 3-1 win as the Rays swept the O's.

2. Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies. The Rockies had many heroes in winning three of four against the San Francisco Giants at home, but Fowler jumpstarted the offense all weekend with 10 hits and seven runs scored. Not a bad four days: He raised his average from .252 to .286.

3. Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians. Masterson tossed his second consecutive scoreless start, striking out a season-high 11 in seven innings against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday in a 6-0 victory. Masterson improved to 7-2 while lowering his ERA to 2.83. This is a different Masterson than we've seen the past couple seasons, with a much higher strikeout rate (25 percent versus 18 percent last season) but still keeping the home runs to a minimum (just three). While he's struggled in the past against left-handers, he's held them to a .226 average this season with a 36/19 K/BB ratio compared to 72/56 in 2012. And it's not all batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is a fairly normal .285 so far. If he keeps getting lefties out, he's going to keep winning games.

Honorable mention star of the weekend
Have to mention Joey Votto for getting on base all six times in Saturday's win for the Cincinnati Reds -- he went 4-for-4 with two walks, a double and a home run. Only two players had a "6-for-6" day last season -- Aaron Hill of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Neil Walker of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Both went 5-for-5 with a walk and, like Votto, doubled and homered.

One more honorable mention star of the weekend
The Diamondbacks beat the Miami Marlins on Saturday as Brandon McCarthy pitched the three-hit shutout (no save!), but he had a lot of help from Gerardo Parra, who led off the game with this on the first pitch and then did this in the bottom of the first. Parra has one of the better arms in the majors, but his bat is a big reason the D-backs are in first place, as he's hitting .320/.385/.494 with 28 runs (11th in the NL). That batting line, combined with his outstanding defense, has Parra leading the NL in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), tied with Matt Harvey and Clayton Kershaw, at 3.1. Justin who?

Clutch performance of the weekend
Atlanta Braves rookie Evan Gattis keeps finding a way to get himself into the highlights. On Saturday, he pinch hit in the eighth inning against hard-throwing Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers with the Braves down 1-0 and a runner on and did this on a 2-2 fastball. The best part of the highlight is Freddie Freeman's "I don't believe that" reaction in the dugout.

The Dodgers bullpen, meanwhile, continues to implode. They followed Saturday's loss with another one on Sunday, giving up four runs in the eighth in a 5-2 loss. It has 13 losses, three more than any other team, and its 4.61 ERA is better only than the New York Mets and Houston Astros.

Unclutch performance of the weekend
Aroldis Chapman, step on down. Chapman entered with a 2-1 lead on Sunday and walked Delmon Young with one out. That was bad enough, but Cliff Lee pinch ran for Delmon (yes, a guy who plays the outfield regularly got run for by a pitcher) … and got picked off for the second out of the inning. Game over, right? Nope. Erik Kratz homered on a 3-2, 98 mph heater. And then Freddy Galvis -- Freddy Galvis! -- hit the dramatic walk-off home run off a 95 mph fastball.

Best game
OK, it's pretty difficult to top that one. There were some wild games this weekend -- Tampa beat Baltimore 12-10 on Friday, the Indians gave up two home runs in the ninth to Seattle on Saturday only to win in the bottom of the inning -- but Friday's Washington Nationals-San Diego Padres game was a tough one for San Diego. Adam LaRoche homered twice off rookie Burch Smith, but the Padres tied it with two runs in the bottom of the ninth off Rafael Soriano -- with the help of another Ryan Zimmerman throwing error. (A situation that's becoming a serious problem for the Nationals, as that's nine errors for Zimmerman with his fielding percentage a Mark Reynolds-like .897.) Anyway, Chad Tracy hit a pinch-hit homer off Huston Street in the 10th to give the Nats a 6-5 win. That's already six home runs allowed for Street, whose trade value is shrinking with each home run.

Hitter on the rise: Jason Kipnis, Indians
He had a three-run, walk-off home run in the 10th inning on Friday and two hits on Saturday and Sunday, giving him nine in his past four games, all Cleveland victories. The Indians are 17-4 since April 28 and Kipnis has hit .305 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in the 20 games he's played. He won't start the All-Star Game with Robinson Cano in the American League, and the AL is loaded at second base with Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia and Jose Altuve, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Kipnis at the All-Star Game.

Pitcher on the rise: Jeff Locke, Pirates
I'm not necessarily buying, but the lefty is now 4-1 with a 2.73 ERA after tossing seven scoreless innings on Sunday against the Astros in a 1-0 win. His K/BB ratio is a pedestrian 32/22, but opponents are hitting just .219 off him, thanks to a .230 BABIP. With that number likely to rise, Locke will need to record a few more whiffs to maintain success close to this level. Still, that's three scoreless outings this season and one did come against the Cardinals. Even though he's not this good, if he can give the Pirates 175 solid innings as a No. 4 starter, they'll take it.

Team on the rise: Pirates
The Pirates took two of three from the Astros to improve to 11-6 in May and 26-18 overall. They're second in the majors in ERA, and it's not necessarily a huge fluke as they're third in strikeouts. One thing to keep an eye on: Only the hapless Astros have needed more innings from their bullpen, so while the Pittsburgh crew has been outstanding, the workload is a possible concern down the road.

Team on the fall: Dodgers
The two bright spots this week were Zack Greinke's return and Matt Kemp's great catch on Saturday, but three losses in Atlanta reiterated that this isn't just a team ravaged by injuries: It's a bad team with a bad bullpen that finds ways to lose. Manager Don Mattingly said not to blame the bullpen. "You add on a run here or there, it takes a lot of pressure off a guy that you can't give up one hit that changes the whole game. I think we have to take this all as a group."

OK, then, we'll call it a team effort of a team on the fall.

Best defensive SS? How about M's Ryan?

June, 1, 2012
US Presswire/Steven BisigBrendan Ryan was baseball's standard-setter on the defensive side for the month of May.

Seattle Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan had to think when we asked him if he had a favorite play in May.

"There weren’t any between-the-legs, bare-hand, behind-the-neck crazy plays for me," Ryan said with a laugh.

That might be true, but the sum of Ryan’s work this month was statistically impressive. He was the winner of our voting for Defensive Player of the Month for May. Dodgers utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. won the award for April.

Ryan had 13 Defensive Runs Saved for the month, second-most in the majors to Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie.

He had 17 Good Fielding Plays and only four Defensive Misplays & Errors (see explanation in the accompanying chart). His 4-to-1 Good Play/Misplay ratio is far above average for a shortstop.

Lawrie benefited from turning outs in unusual spots on the field due to the Blue Jays' frequent extreme defensive shifts. Ryan’s tally is almost entirely non-shift-based.

He was given 10 "Good Play" credits by Baseball Info Solutions' video-tracking team for recording an unlikely ground-ball out, five for his work starting or serving as relay man on a double play, one for an assist on an attempted baserunner advance, and one for a pop-up catch.

"His anticipation of plays, and his reactions, make the tough plays, really tough plays, almost seem simple," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "He slows the game down and can make reads that most players won't even come close to. And the thing that I think separates him is his uncanny ability to always know where he is on the field. He can field a ball in center field, turn on a dime, and know exactly where he is to make an accurate throw to first base. You can't teach that stuff."

So what did Ryan do right this month? As he noted, he’s not making the super-flashy play, though he did net a pair of Web Gems.

In the past couple weeks, Ryan twice made the play for which he has become most identified, going deep into the shortstop-third base hole, almost into left field, to thwart Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler.

"There are a lot of guys defensively who are underrated, and he’s one of them," Kinsler said afterwards.

These are the plays that tend to add to a shortstop’s Runs Saved because so few shortstops make them (the recently published book "Fielding Bible III" goes into this in great depth).

Ryan talked about his defense at length in a recent interview on FanGraphs. We asked him to elaborate further on the thought process that goes into this type of play.

"You rely a lot on feel and projecting where the ball is going to go, and trust that the ball will be hit that way," he said. "You don’t want to move too early. It’s like you want to get a cheater’s head start in a sprint. You want your feet off the ground when the ball crosses the plate, so your feet are on the ground when the ball is hit, and you can explode to whichever side you need."

Ryan said knowing the hitter helps.

"Ian Kinsler likes to get the bat head out. His home runs are typically to left-center. His swing path is such that he’s not going to get a ton of ground balls up the middle. With his swing, if he hits a ground ball, he’s going to top a lot of them into the six-hole. So I’m going to shade him to the right. Though if it’s a fastball from Jason Vargas, I might shade him up the middle. If it’s a cutter in, it’s probably going to be hit to my backhand side."

There is a mental aspect to defense that Ryan has put a lot of time into mastering. This dates back to his time in the St. Louis Cardinals organization a few years ago.

"I made an error in Double-A that ended a game," Ryan said. "I was (with) Springfield and we were in Wichita. Right before the play, I was thinking, 'If a ball is hit to me and I make an error here, we lose,' and then it happened. It was a horrible feeling, because I knew if I backhanded the ball, we’d be going extra innings."

"I said to myself after that play that I would never think that way again. You know you can play defense. Why would you think that way?"

It has been a while since Ryan thought that way. Wedge said that Ryan’s abilities have progressed to being "beyond any defensive statistic."

That led to us asking Ryan how we could best evaluate defensive play. He came up with an idea that we found intriguing.

"The Olympics are coming up ... you know how they have the guy on the bobsled," Ryan said. "He sets the mark, and then when you see other people competing, you see the lead racer as like a ghost figure (compared to where the current racer is). It would be cool to be able to do that, and to see which players could get to the ball from where. It would be really cool to watch a game on TV and see that."

ESPN.com will be holding its second annual Franchise Player Draft on Thursday afternoon. It's a fun project where we gather 30 ESPN writers and TV personalities and conduct a fictional draft of every player in baseball, asking the question: Whom would you build a team around?

In last year's draft, Tim Lincecum went fifth, the second pitcher selected after Felix Hernandez.

This year? Nobody's going to take a pitcher with a 5.82 ERA.

So what's wrong with the two-time Cy Young winner? In some sabermetric circles, the issues are described as Lincecum merely having a lot of bad luck so far.

1. His batting average on balls in play is high -- .327 versus .281 in 2011 and a career mark of .296. So he's just been unlucky with a few bloops, flares and dying quails, or maybe just some bad defense behind him.

2. His strikeout rate per nine innings is still excellent -- 9.6 K's per nine, a touch higher than 2011 and just a tick below his career average. See? He still has dominant strikeout stuff.

3. He entered Wednesday's start with a .361 average with runners in scoring position? See, more bad luck. No wonder he began the game with a 6.41 ERA.

Add it all up and Lincecum will regress back to more normal levels and return to being one of the best pitchers in baseball over his next 20-plus starts ... just like always.

Maybe all that is true. Maybe some of it is true. But I don't think it's quite so simple.

Let me throw a couple heat maps at you. The first one compares Lincecum's pitch locations versus left-handed batters on 0-1 and 1-1 counts in 2011 versus 2012; the second does the same versus right-handed batters. (These don't include Wednesday's game.)

Lincecum HeatmapESPN Stats & InformationLincecum's heat map versus left-handed batters on 0-1 and 1-1 pitches, 2011 vs. 2012.
Lincecum HeatmapESPN Stats & InformationLincecum's heat map versus right-handed batters on 0-1 and 1-1 pitches, 2011 vs. 2012.

I think these graphics are pretty instructive. In 2011 against left-handed batters, Lincecum pounded the outside corner or bottom of the strike zone. But in 2012, his hot zones are more up in the strike zone and over the middle of the plate. As a result, Lincecum is getting hit harder on these counts. In 2011, for example, batters hit .205/.237/.323 after falling behind 0-1; in 2012, they're hitting .291/.336/.496 (again, before Wednesday's game).

Against right-handers, he's having similar location issues. In 2011, he had two hot zones on the inside corner of the plate and down in the zone; in 2012, there's a lot more red over the middle of the plate and no red on the inside part of the plate. His strikeout/walk ratio after being ahead 0-1 has declined from 11-to-1 to 4.7-to-1. When he got to a 1-1 count in 2011, batters hit .181; in 2012, .230.

The diagnosis, to me, isn't just bad luck, but location, location, location. This can certainly be seen in his walk rate, which is up by more than a walk per nine innings, but also in his command: He's leaving too many pitches in hittable areas, especially in counts where he usually has hitters at a disadvantage. The result? A higher-than-normal batting average on balls in play.

Hey, I could be completely wrong. I'm sure Lincecum has had some bloops fall in. I'm not sure I buy the bad defense angle, as Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito are all doing just fine.

Lincecum's box score line in the Giants' 4-1 loss to visiting Arizona on Wednesday looked better: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 6 SO, 1 HR. (I'm not sure why one run was unearned; Arizona had Miguel Montero on third with one out when a fly ball was hit to Gregor Blanco in right field. He dropped the ball on the transfer, but I believe Montero was tagging up on the play.)

Giants announcer Mike Krukow said he thought he saw Lincecum throw some of his best pitches he'd seen a while, but as you can see with the five walks (one intentional), he was still all over the place. A few examples:

  • With Montero on third in the second, he walked Chris Young on five pitches. He threw three consecutive fastballs to Ryan Roberts and the 1-1 pitch looked pretty hittable, although Roberts got jammed slightly and flew out to right.
  • In the third, with a runner on first and two out, Montero hit a hard grounder to second that Ryan Theriot made a diving stop on.
  • In the fourth, after Paul Goldschmidt had walked, Roberts smoked a 2-0 pitch on a line to left field, but right at Melky Cabrera.
  • In the fifth, on a 2-2 count to Gerardo Parra, Lincecum threw a changeup that bounced in the dirt, an obvious ball. Parra walked on the next pitch. A year go, hitters had a .239 OBP against Lincecum after a 2-2 count; this year, .385 (before Wednesday). In 2011, Parra strikes out on that changeup.
  • In the sixth, Goldschmidt hit 1-0 curveball on low liner over the left-field fence for the go-ahead home run. It wasn't a terrible pitch, down at the knees, but was over the middle of the plate instead of down and away. Goldschmidt now has 12 career home runs -- four off Lincecum.

So maybe there is some luck evening out -- the diving stop, the liner to Cabrera -- but I saw a pitcher struggling with his control. I'm not expert enough to break down his mechanics, but at one point Krukow examined Lincecum's motion and suggested his release point was out of sync with his landing foot. That would certainly explain some of the command problems.

Look, Lincecum is likely to have better results moving forward, but my take is that will have to come from improved pitch location, hitting the corners and making better pitches when he's 0-1 or 1-1. It hasn't been bad luck; it's been bad pitching.

Eric Karabell wrote about Kevin Youkilis Insider today and then we talked about Youkilis and two other 30-something third basemen off to slow starts, Scott Rolen and Placido Polanco. We also discussed Chris Young's injury and where Ivan Rodriguez ranks all-time among catchers. Check it out!
The Arizona Diamondbacks won 94 games a year ago despite having one of the weakest benches in the league. Their playoff roster included retread veterans Geoff Blum, Sean Burroughs and Lyle Overbay, weak-hitting infielder John McDonald, rookie outfielder Collin Cowgill and backup catcher Henry Blanco. None of those players except Overbay really offered much at bat, and heading into 2012, they certainly wouldn't be considered viable backup options in case of an injury to a starter.

[+] Enlarge Jason Kubel
Denis Poroy/Getty ImagesWith injuries in the outfield, the Diamondbacks will look to offseason acquisition Jason Kubel to step up and produce.
That's why the signing of Jason Kubel, while widely criticized as an overpay at two years and $15 million, was understandable: He gave the D-backs another legitimate outfielder, even if it meant pushing defensive whiz Gerardo Parra to a backup role. With center fielder Chris Young landing on the disabled list after crashing into a wall on Tuesday night and Justin Upton fighting a thumb injury that has left him without an RBI, Parra and Kubel will both be in the lineup on a regular basis for at least the next two weeks.

The Diamondbacks didn't release the results of Young's MRI, although they're calling it a shoulder contusion. Upton wasn't in Wednesday's lineup, the second straight game he'll miss. The short-term solution with Upton out will see rookie A.J. Pollock in center field or Willie Bloomquist moving to left field and McDonald playing shortstop with Parra in center. The biggest issue in the next two weeks is that Young and catcher Miguel Montero had been the only guys in the lineup producing, with Young hitting .410/.500/897 and Montero .270/.372/.432. Paul Goldschmidt (.200, one home run) and Kubel (.207, zero home runs) will have to get going.

But this is a team built around its pitching staff, not its lineup. Arizona is 7-4 even though Daniel Hudson and Josh Collmenter haven't pitched well. In Collmenter's case, it's led to cries for rookie Trevor Bauer to get called up. Still, the rotation hasn't lost a decision, as all four defeats have been charged to the bullpen. After Wednesday's game against the Pirates, however, the schedule will get tougher: series against the Braves, Phillies, Marlins, Nationals, Mets and Cardinals before returning to the NL West. That's a lot of good pitching to potentially face without Young and maybe Upton.

Arizona's situation won't end up being unique. The National League has so much parity and so many teams with legitimate playoff chances that injuries and bench play will be vital keys to the playoff races. Benches and depth are often ignored, but Arizona's will now get tested.
First base: Double trouble for D-backs. Justin Upton sat out Tuesday's game against the Pirates due to the thumb injury he suffered April 8. Manager Kirk Gibson said his star right fielder -- batting .212 without an RBI -- saw a hand specialist and would likely undergo an MRI. "The thumb's been bothering him," Gibson told the Arizona Republic. "He's pushed hard through it. We've taken a day to re-evaluate what's going on with his thumb." To make matters worse for Arizona, Chris Young crashed into the wall in left-center making a leaping grab and left the game with a shoulder bruise. He too will undergo an MRI. The D-backs received a lot of criticism for signing Jason Kubel in the offseason, but this is where having four outfielders is an asset, not a problem. If Young can't go, Gerardo Parra can handle center.

Second base: Gold Glovers struggling on defense. Two-time Gold Glove winner Troy Tulowitzki committed just six errors last season but he made his sixth already in 2012, letting an easy double-play go through his legs, an error that led to two unearned runs and nearly cost Jamie Moyer his "oldest pitcher to win a game" achievement. Meanwhile, two-time Gold Glover Evan Longoria booted two grounders and made a throwing error for a three-error night in Tampa's 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays (three of Jeff Niemann's five runs were unearned). While Longoria just had one of those nights, Tulo's situation appears more serious, a possible "fielding slump" that is worth keeping an eye on.

Third base: No A's for Angels. Mike Scioscia removed Dan Haren after just 85 pitches, with the Angels leading 2-1 with two runners on and two out in the seventh. Lefty Daric Barton was up for the A's so Scioscia brought in Scott Downs, who did retire Barton to escape the jam. Even though Downs' is the team's best setup guy -- a guy who has proven he can retire right-handed hitters as well as lefties -- Scioscia took him out after four pitches and brought in Kevin Jepsen, a guy considerably lower in the bullen pecking order. Two walks and two hits later it was 3-2 Oakland, and then Yoenis Cespedes made it 5-2 with a two-run single off David Carpenter. Why Jepsen? Or why remove Haren so soon if your bullpen has been taxed in recent days? LaTroy Hawkins had thrown 31 pitches on Monday so was probably unavailable. Downs had thrown 14 pitches, hardly reason to limit him to four pitches. Jason Isringhausen had thrown 21 pitches on Sunday -- but Carpenter had thrown 37. The obvious question: Why not use closer Jordan Walden ... you know, for more than three batters. He's thrown two innings all season -- one inning in a 7-1 win and one inning in a 7-3 loss. In other words, he hasn't thrown a meaningful inning all season. In the last week, the Angels' bullpen has lost two leads in the eighth inning and one in the seventh. But whatever you do, SAVE YOUR CLOSER FOR THE NINTH INNING.

Home plate: Tweet of the day.

Rockies pitcher tweeting members of the Los Angeles Clippers after Jamie Moyer's win:
Jason KubelKim Klement/US PresswireJason Kubel presumably takes over in left field from Gold Glover winner Gerardo Parra.
The Arizona Diamondbacks improved from 65 wins to 94 wins in 2011, an improvement almost entirely driven by pitching and defense, as they scored only 18 more runs than in 2010. A certain percentage of this improvement was credited to the outstanding defense of left fielder Gerardo Parra, center fielder Chris Young and right fielder Justin Upton. Parra won a Gold Glove and the other two had good cases.

When you look at three different fielding metrics, however, Arizona's collective outfield defense wasn't any better than it was in 2010:

Defensive Runs Saved, outfield:
2011: +21 runs
2010: +38 runs

2011: +31.1 runs
2010: +30.1 runs

Total Zone:
2011: +14 runs
2010: +47 runs

In fact, two of the three defensive metrics suggest Arizona's outfield defense, while still strong, wasn't as good as 2010, when the club lost 97 games.

So, while my first response to the Diamondbacks signing Jason Kubel to a two-year, $15 million contract was, "Why break up this outfield?", my second response was, "You know, maybe they could use another bat in the lineup instead of Gerardo Parra." Arizona finished fourth in the National League with its 731 runs in 2011, just one game from finishing second (735). However, keep in mind they play in a hitter-friendly park.

Anyway, we can evaluate this question by asking: Will Kubel create more runs on offense compared to Parra than he'll cost on defense compared to Parra?

Parra on defense (DRS, UZR, Total Zone):

2010 (849 innings): +20, +14, +16
2011 (1,101 innings): +12, +10, +3

It's interesting to note that all three metrics rated Parra's defense lower in 2011, even though he played more innings. He's still an excellent left fielder, but his metrics were off-the-charts good in 2010.

Here are Kubel's defensive runs per 1,100 innings over the past two seasons (DRS, UZR, Total Zone):

2010: +1, -16, +1
2011: -7, -6, +9

Well ... not a lot of consistency in those ratings. His reputation is that he's not a good outfielder, confirmed by the fact that the Twins started him at DH in about a third of his starts the past two seasons. Taking the best and worst totals from 2011, Kubel is a -7 defender and Parra a +12, a difference of 19 runs over 1,100 innings.

Does Kubel make that up with his bat? Not in 2011, when he hit .273/.332/.434 while Parra hit .292/.357/.427. Of course, you have to account for the fact that Parra played in a good hitter's park, drew 16 intentional thanks to batting eighth and hadn't been a good offensive player prior to 2011. Kubel also doesn't hit lefties well, essentially making him a platoon player.

Over the past two seasons, using wRC (weighted runs created via Fangraphs.com), Kubel has created 119 runs in 982 plate appearances, Parra 91 runs in 886 plate appearances. Over 500 plate appearances, that's an advantage of about 10 runs for Kubel.

I can understand the Diamondbacks' desire to add a left-handed bat with some power: They have Upton, Young and Paul Goldschmidt from the right side, but only Miguel Montero from the left side (plus Stephen Drew, if he's healthy and if he hits). But when you do the math, it's difficult to come up with a scenario where taking away playing time from Parra for Kubel makes the Diamondbacks better.

Now there are three final notes to add:

1. Maybe Kubel will hit like he did in 2009, when he hit .300/.369/.539.

2. Maybe Arizona thinks Parra's 2011 season was a fluke and he'll regress back to previous levels. But he was only 24, and his second half was just as strong as his first half. It would seem his growth at the plate was real.

3. It does give Arizona some much-needed depth. They get didn't any production from reserves like Xavier Nady and Collin Cowgill. Kubel hasn't played first base in his career, but maybe he can spell Goldschmidt against some tough right-handers. Parra can fill in at all three outfield spots, replace Kubel late in games on defense or provide a solid pinch-hitter off the bench. I can still see him getting 300 plate appearances.

In the end, the depth is good, but it doesn't come cheap. I don't think this signing makes Arizona better, but it does give them that extra insurance policy -- a $15 million insurance policy. Either that or maybe a trade is in the works. After all, I can't remember the last time an elite defender like Parra lost his job in the offseason.

Gold Gloves controversial again

November, 2, 2011

If you’re a stathead or even remotely sabermetrically inclined, the announcement of the Gold Gloves might be an annual exercise in controversy. Certainly, after the selections were announced there was plenty of outrage expressed on Twitter from the thoughtful, the snarky and the easily outraged.

The inference of peerless excellence attached to the awards might annoy analysts with low boiling points, not to mention those who assume a measure of certainty from available defensive metrics. A lot of the upset rests on who hands out the trophies. The electorate’s made up of major league coaches and managers, operating only with a prohibition against voting for their own current players. It’s a setup that has produced its share of unfortunate or flat-out indefensible selections; the low-water mark was set by Rafael Palmeiro at first base in 1999 for 28 games spent loitering there when he wasn’t DHing.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a publicly available defensive metric that deserves that degree of confidence, although that isn’t going to stop people from taking suggestions with numbers attached to them at face value and turning the Gold Gloves into an exercise in feigned superiority. For example, let’s say you went by Defensive Runs Saved, a solid choice for best metric available -- but even John Dewan’s team, the inventors of DRS, favors a democratic process in determining their Fielding Bible Gold Gloves -- the numbers serve to create informed voters, not replace them.

So it should not be cause for upset that just five DRS leaders at their positions won the Gold Gloves: in the AL, Mark Buehrle on the mound, Matt Wieters behind the plate and Adrian Beltre at the hot corner, while in the NL Brandon Phillips got the nod at second, and Gerardo Parra his due in left field, no doubt thanks to the overdue segregation of selections between left, right and center.

But even among those relying on the numbers, you shouldn’t begrudge too much some of the voters’ other selections. Take Troy Tulowitzki at short for the NL. He finished a narrow third in the circuit in DRS with 11; picking DRS leader Alex Gonzalez (15) would have been cool, but the difference wasn’t convincingly huge. On similar grounds, it’s easy to buy into Placido Polanco coming out ahead of Pablo Sandoval at third base in the NL despite finishing second to him in DRS -- both suffered injury-shortened seasons, and Sandoval’s reputation before this year was execrable, where Polanco’s was excellent. Seeing Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez wind up with their leagues’ awards at first base reflects the absence of anyone obviously great; they had decent years in the field, Keith Hernandez is still retired, and somebody’s going to be awarded the sponsored hardware.

The difficulty in relying too much on the numbers can be seen at second base in the AL. Dustin Pedroia’s 13 Defensive Runs Saved ranked behind three other AL second basemen, yet he won the nod at second from both Rawlings and the Fielding Bible. One obvious mark in his favor would be his durability and regularity at the keystone, which might put him ahead of the Angels’ oft-injured Howie Kendrick (who made just 105 starts to Pedroia’s 158) and the roving Ben Zobrist (with his 33 starts in right field). That doesn’t easily explain how Pedroia also beat Ian Kinsler (16 DRS), but even there it’s interesting to note that a big chunk of Kinsler’s defensive value came on double plays (an MLB-leading six of his 16 DRS came on twin killings) -- and how much of that was a benefit of playing with Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus to his right? Pedroia may not have been a slam-dunk selection, but it’s one you can buy into.

Yadier Molina might seem like an obvious reputation selection; the number of miscues he made in the postseason seems to back up a less charitable read on him via DRS (minus-6), but here again, I guess I’m not that bent out of shape about it. Molina’s rep, obvious durability and equally transparent ability to intimidate opposing running games out of existence make for a reasonable case. And while Clayton Kershaw represents a strange choice at pitcher for the NL, I’d suspect a widely split ballot and the absence of an obvious favorite.

Unfortunately, that still leaves us with six of 18 selections that aren’t so easy to explain, let alone defend. Segregating the outfield selections appears to have given us the misfortune of achieving the opposite of what might have been intended, Parra excepted. While I won’t get overly worked up over how a platoon player like Carlos Gomez didn’t win despite a spiffy DRS tally, instead of obvious, exceptional defenders such as Austin Jackson or Peter Bourjos in center, or Brett Gardner in left or Jason Heyward in right getting their due, we wound up with five winners who did not rate among the top five in their leagues at their positions via DRS. Separating out by position at a time when several former favorites got injured or old tested the electorate to make new choices, which they did -- just not very good ones. Here again, I wouldn’t be surprised to find the ballots widely split.

But perhaps the weirdest selection of all was the AL’s Erick Aybar winding up on top at shortstop. Brendan Ryan’s superiority via DRS, nice as it looks on paper at 18, wasn’t enough to swing even the Fielding Bible’s GG voters to pick him over Tulo in their league-less selection for shortstop. I’d have thought that two years on the postseason stage might have encouraged voters belatedly moving past the Age of Jeter to move on to Elvis Andrus already -- and he did rank second behind Ryan in DRS -- but apparently not.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

Now we know why the Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks played all-out down the stretch to secure home-field advantage for the first round, which the Brewers finally clinched on the final day of the season. These teams play like the 1927 Yankees at home and the 1962 Mets on the road. The Brewers went 11-4 in their final 15 games to beat out the Diamondbacks for the No. 2 seed, which means they get to head back to the loud but comfy confines of Miller Park for Game 5, and that could be the difference in this series.

They’ll certainly be glad to leave Arizona after getting hammered by the Diamondbacks 10-6 on Wednesday in a game that featured more plot twists than the final score indicates. A few random notes, thoughts, trivia and other stuff:
  • Ryan Roberts did not miss what looked like a hanging slider from Randy Wolf in the first inning, hooking it into the left-field bullpen for a grand slam. It gave the Diamondbacks a 4-1 lead and made them the first team since the 1977 Dodgers to hit grand slams in consecutive postseason games (Ron Cey and Dusty Baker, in case you're keeping track). Roberts struggled in September, hitting .205 with just two home runs, but he's been seeing the ball well in this series, with two home runs, a double and a .400 average in the first four games.
  • After a much-documented disastrous Game 1 in which he pitched to Prince Fielder with a base open and started Lyle Overbay over Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson redeemed himself with several gutsy moves in this game. Leading 5-3 in the bottom of the third, he pinch hit for starter Joe Saunders with runners at second and third and two outs. Saunders had not looked good through three innings but still led. In the regular season, Saunders hits. This isn't the regular season. Gibson seized the opportunity to score more runs and looked brilliant when Collin Cowgill bounced a two-run single into left field.
  • After Micah Owings delivered two scorless innings, Gibson's move to bring in Jarrod Parker, the 22-year-old rookie and top prospect who had pitched just one game in the regular season, didn't look smart when Parker allowed an infield hit, a walk and a single to load the bases. Gibson brought in Bryan Shaw, and Corey Hart ripped one into left-center ... it initially sounded (and looked) like it could be a game-tying grand slam, but left fielder Gerardo Parra took a perfect route to the ball and ran it down at the warning, showing why he's likely to win a Glove Glove this season.
  • That's one of the beautiful aspects of October baseball: Collin Cowgill and Gerardo Parra, unsung heroes. By the way, make sure you watch the replay again to see how much ground Parra covered to make that catch. That ball is out of some ballparks. The play of the game and a terrific play.
  • Chris Young helped out as well, with two home runs of his own.
  • The key guy for the Brewers right now has to be Rickie Weeks. Ryan Braun is hitting .467 with a .529 on-base percentage in the series; Fielder is hitting .333 with a .412 OBP. Those guys are living on the bases, but Weeks is hitting .067 after going 0-for-5 on Wednesday and has just one RBI.
  • Brewers fans certainly were upset with Ron Roenicke for not removing Wolf before he allowed his sixth and seventh runs in the third, but I can't fault Roenicke too much -- with the series lead, there was no need to burn through his bullpen, and Wolf was one out from escaping the inning. Cowgill's bouncer just found a hole.
  • Both starters lasted just three innings. Not including that Justin Verlander/CC Sabathia rainout from the other night, the last postseason game in which both starters pitched three or fewer innings was Game 5 of the 2005 American League Division Series, in which the Yankees' Mike Mussina lasted just 2.2 innings and the Angels' Bartolo Colon left after one with injury. (Rookie Ervin Santana came on and pitched into the seventh.) The last game in which both starters got shelled was Game 3 of the 2004 AL Championship Series, in which Bronson Arroyo and Kevin Brown both pitched just two innings in a game the Yankees eventually won 19-8.
  • Game 5, baby! For the first time since 2001, we have three division series going the distance. That year, the Mariners beat the Indians, the Yankees beat the A's and the Diamondbacks beat the Cardinals.
  • Ian Kennedy versus Yovani Gallardo. If Gallardo has mastery of his curveball the way he did in Game 1, he's going to be tough to beat. He's on a roll; he has 45 strikeouts and just four walks over his past four starts. If either starter struggles, Daniel Hudson and Zack Greinke both will be available for long relief and would be pitching on four days' rest. But I think the biggest number is this one: The Brewers hit .277 and slugged .461 at home (versus .246 and .391, respectively, on the road). They love Miller Park. They're the favorites, but you never know ... one hanging curveball to Goldschmidt or Justin Upton with a couple of runners on ...
It was quite the dust storm of a show on Wednesday's Baseball Today podcast as Keith Law and I gathered from many miles apart to discuss important matters, with plenty of happy, upbeat topics such as …

1. The Roger Clemens trial is about to begin … oh wait, we said happy topics. Why, Roger, why?

2. Wednesday is a huge day for the New York Yankees, but we doubt a certain shortstop will be a part of it. It's about the right-handed pitcher.

3. Similarly, the St. Louis Cardinals officially get Albert Pujols back Wednesday … well, they did on Tuesday but they kind of didn't, too.

4. Jon Lester and Scott Baker each left their outings early Tuesday … both are obviously important to their "contending" teams, but … wait, did I say contending?

5. Arizona radio hosts are up in arms over something, and people outside of Arizona demand to know why. For the love of Gerardo Parra we explain.

Plus: Excellent emails, why Mike Cameron will save the Marlins, what it means to be the player to be named later, Indians versus Pirates, Upstairs versus Downstairs, Matt Kemp's MVP case and a look at Wednesday's slate of pitching matchups, all on a packed Baseball Today for Wednesday! Check out all the podcasts at ESPNRadio.com/podcenter.