Stats & Info: Bud Norris

Jim Cowsert/USA Today SportsMatt Harrison gets the ball tonight to start the season for the Rangers.
Another season of Major League Baseball kicks off at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN as the Texas Rangers meet their new division rivals, the Houston Astros.

The Astros are the first team to change leagues since the Brewers moved from the AL to the NL in 1998.

Here are a few of the storylines we’ll be focused on throughout tonight’s game.

Matt Harrison Stats To Know
Harrison will be the Rangers fifth Opening Day starter in the last five years, following Kevin Millwood, Scott Feldman, C.J. Wilson, and Colby Lewis.

Harrison’s emergence into an elite starter has coincided with improved control. He improved his first-strike percentage from 55 percent to 59 percent and cut his walks per 9 from 3.7 to 2.6.

Harrison's history is that he wins without being overpowering. Last season, he averaged 5.6 strikeouts per 9 innings. That was the lowest strikeout rate for any of the pitchers who ranked in the top 30 in ERA last season.

In the last two seasons, only Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, and CC Sabathia have more wins in the AL than Harrison’s 32.

Bud Norris Stats to Know
Norris had one of the most extreme home-road splits in baseball last season. He had a 1.71 ERA and 4.8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio at home and a 6.94 ERA and 1.7-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio on the road.

His 1.71 home ERA was the second-best in baseball, trailing only Justin Verlander. His 6.94 ERA road ERA was third-worst, better only than new teammate Erik Bedard (6.98) and Nick Blackburn (8.03).

One of the things that Norris did better at home last season was keeping the ball down. He threw 60 percent of his pitches to the lower half of the strike zone or below at home, compared to 55 percent on the road.

Norris allowed home runs on pitches located lower half or below once every 135 pitches last season. His upper half pitches were hit out at a rate of one for every 109.

Matchup to Watch: Adrian Beltre vs Norris

Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre hit 10 home runs off sliders last season, tied for the most in the American League.

Beltre's .600 slugging percentage in at-bats ending in a slider was the third-highest in the majors.

Norris threw his slider 36 percent of the time last season, the second-highest percentage of any pitcher who qualified for the ERA title.

Rangers Rocky Finish
After being one of the best teams in baseball for most of the 2012 season, the Rangers limped to the finish line, eventually costing them the AL West title.

It was an across-the-board malaise. The team scored 5.2 runs per game from April to August, but only 4.3 in September and October. The starting pitchers ERA jumped from 4.22 to 4.66 and the bullpen ERA soared from 3.08 to 4.21.

The Rangers made some changes this offseason, trading Michael Young and watching Josh Hamilton sign with the Los Angeles Angels. This will be the first time since 2001 that Young was not in the Rangers Opening Day lineup.

Hamilton ranked third in the AL in OPS and fifth in home runs in his five seasons with the team.

The Rangers do have a recent history of starting well. They are 44-29 prior to May 1 over the last three seasons, the fourth-best record in the majors in that span.

Astros going to extremes with their budget
Not including the $5 million still owed to Wandy Rodriguez, the Astros opening day payroll is projected to be about $18.7 million.

The last team with an Opening Day roster whose players made less than $20 million was the 2006 Marlins ($15 million)

The team’s total payroll is just over $24 million, but $5.6 million is owed to players no longer with the team. That accounts for 23 percent of that $24 million.

There are 23 individual players (including four Yankees, four Dodgers and three Tigers) who will make more than the current Astros roster this season.

That $18.7 million is less than the Astros owed Carlos Lee at the beginning of 2012.

This year, Norris ($3 million) is the Astros’ highest paid player and he will make less than the league average.

Mark Simon and Jacob Nitzberg also contributed to this post.

Astros leaning heavily on starters

March, 17, 2011
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.

1st Pitch: Who are the real contenders?

August, 3, 2010
Today’s Trivia: After pitching 1,198 innings in the American League (all with the Indians and Yankees), Jake Westbrook made his National League debut on Monday for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Can you name the active AL pitcher who has thrown the most career innings but never pitched for the NL? What about the active NL pitcher who has thrown the most innings but never pitched for the AL? We’ll give you the top 3 in each league at the bottom of this document.

Quick Hits on non-contenders who have owned contenders this season, on the heels of the Houston Astros improving to 5-2 in St. Louis this season (they’re 15-28 on the road against all other teams).

• The jury is still out on whether the Detroit Tigers are a contender, but they’re 3-1 against the Yankees this season. All other AL Central teams are 6-15 against the New York Yankees.

• The Tampa Bay Rays only have a losing record against one AL team this season (the Texas Rangers), but they have losing records against four different NL teams, including the Arizona Diamondbacks (1-2) and Florida Marlins (2-4).

• The Cleveland Indians can claim dominance over the Chicago White Sox this season, going 8-4 against Ozzie Guillen’s club. Cleveland is 12-14 against the rest of the division.

• The Rangers need to stay away from AL East bottom-feeders. Texas is 3-9 against the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles this season.

• If the Philadelphia Phillies could beat the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, they’d be a lot closer to the Atlanta Braves in the standings. Philly is 4-8 against the Cubs and Pirates this season, but 6-0 against the other two NL Central non-contenders (Milwaukee Brewers and Astros).

Today’s Leaderboard: Today is Sid Bream’s 50th birthday, so let’s celebrate the player who memorably scored from 2nd base with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS to send the Braves to the World Series. Who, in Bream’s footsteps (pun not intended), has scored from 2nd base on a single most often this season?

It would be Martin Prado, who recently was placed on the disabled list.

And, since you’re wondering, which MLBers have a 100 percent success rate? It’s a tie among two guys who are 6-for-6: Asdrubal Cabrera and Kyle Blanks.

Key Matchups:
• Here’s the daily A-Rod vs Opposing Starter update: Rodriguez is 4-13 (.308 BA) in his career against Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero. But he has never homered off Romero and has only one extra-base hit (a double). And Romero really has Rodriguez’s number this season – A-Rod is 0-5 with 2 strikeouts and a double play in his last 5 AB’s against Romero.

Bud Norris has gained a reputation as a Cardinals-killer in his career (4-1 with a 1.60 ERA vs STL, 5-9 with a 6.35 ERA vs all other teams) despite getting knocked around by the Cardinals in his most recent start against them. But Norris still owns plenty of Cardinals individually. Felipe Lopez is 0-8, Matt Holliday is 4-16, Colby Rasmus is 2-13 and Skip Schumaker is 2-14. What about the Great Pujols? Not great either, just 3-14 and no home runs.

• In a battle of the newly-acquired players for NL West teams, give a strong edge to Ted Lilly when he pitches against Ryan Ludwick tonight. Ludwick is batting just .192 (5-28) with twice as many strikeouts (10) as hits (5) in his career against Lilly.

Pat Burrell hasn’t been an everyday player this season, but he should find himself starting tonight against the Rockies’ Aaron Cook. Pat the Bat is batting .591 (13-22) and slugging .773 against Cook. Of all the pitchers Burrell has faced at least 20 times, Cook is the pitcher Burrell has hit the best.

Trivia Answer: Your top AL guys who have never pitched for the NL: Mark Buehrle (2,193.1 IP), John Lackey (1,641.2) and Kelvim Escobar (1,507).

As for the other way around, it’s the recently-traded Roy Oswalt (1,938.1 IP), Randy Wolf (1,823.1) and Ryan Dempster (1,769.2).

Superior starts leaderboard update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Pitch: Bad split in a good season

June, 29, 2010
Quick Hits: Sure, they are having great seasons, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a weakness. With help from ESPN Stats & Info's Mark Simon and Dan Braunstein, here are some top performers who have one very specific split where they are not producing.
  • Ubaldo Jimenez has allowed 11 runs in the sixth inning, compared to just nine in the first five innings combined. Opponents are hitting .333 in the sixth and .176 in all other innings.
  • It must be something about the sixth… Albert Pujols is hitting .178 in the sixth inning and .325 in every other inning combined.
  • Joey Votto is hitting just .148 when leading off an inning, but .354 in all other situations.
  • Prince Fielder is hitting .179 on at-bats ending on the first pitch when the league average is .341.
  • Miguel Cabrera is hitting .120 against teams with “Sox” in their name, and .356 against everyone else.
  • Joe Mauer is hitting just .230 with nobody out, but .330 if there are outs in the inning.
  • David Wright is hitting just .205 with two outs, but .349 with less than two outs.
  • Billy Butler is hitting .095 in full counts, but .337 in all other counts.
  • Opponents are hitting .395 off of Daisuke Matsuzaka in the first inning, but just .191 after.
  • Opponents are hitting .314 against Roy Halladay to lead off an inning, but just .223 for subsequent at-bats in the inning.
  • Bud Norris may not fit into the category of players have solid seasons, but this one is almost too bizarre. On the first pitch, opponents are hitting .778 against Norris. If he gets beyond the first pitch, opponents are hitting just .263.
Today’s Trivia: Jim Thome is two home runs away from tying Harmon Killebrew for 10th on the all-time list. Killebrew turns 74 today. He is one of four players to have 140 RBI and 140 walks in the same season. Who are the other three?

Today’s Leaderboard: Josh Hamilton still has two games to go in June, but is hitting .470 for the month. He’s on pace for the fifth-best June batting average over the last 25 years. In 2004, Ivan Rodriguez hit .500 for the month while with the Tigers. Yet, Hamilton is not even the highest Ranger on this list. Mark McLemore hit .472 for Texas in June 1996, but hit just .261 in every other month of that season.

Key Matchups: Andre Ethier is 18-for-33 (.545) lifetime against Matt Cain, whom he faces on Tuesday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the fourth-highest batting average for an active NL batter against a current NL pitcher (min. 25 AB). The best belongs to Albert Pujols, who is a .593 hitter against Paul Maholm.

Kevin Youkilis is just 3-for-28 in the regular season against James Shields, a .107 average that is his second worst against any pitcher he’s faced 20 times (.050 against Erik Bedard is his worst). He was actually hitless in his first 18 at-bats against Shields. But ironically, Youkilis crushed Shields in the 2008 postseason, going 3-for-6 with a home run.

Trivia Answer: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Mark McGwire are the only other players with a 140-RBI and 140-walk season. Ruth is the only player to accomplish it twice.

The Closer: One-hit wonder

May, 14, 2010
On a day when Justin Verlander, Johan Santana, Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia all pitched, it was Padres starter Mat Latos who stole the show. Latos would have had a perfect game if not for an infield single by Giants catcher Eli Whiteside. Not only that, Latos provided all of the Padres offense with an RBI single. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since RBI became an official statistic in 1920, Latos joins Early Wynn in 1959 and Alex Kellner in 1955 as the only players to throw a one-hit shutout and drive in all of his team's runs.

Latos actually threw eight innings while giving up only two hits in a 7-0 win at Houston in his last start. Not only has Latos allowed only three hits over his last two starts, but he did not walk a batter in either game. He's only the third man in baseball's "modern era" (since 1900) to pitch at least eight innings while allowing no more than two hits and giving up no runs and no walks in each of two consecutive starts. The other pitchers to do that were Cy Young in 1905 and Billy Pierce in 1958.

Why Mat Latos won:

- He got nearly everyone out. Latos faced 28 batters and 27 of them failed to reach base. Six at bats went to 2-0, 2-1, or to 3 ball counts and 100 percent were converted into outs.
- He finished batters off. 14 batters went to 2 strike counts and 13 of those batters turned into outs. That's good for 93 percent compared to the MLB average of 72 percent.
- He worked fast. It almost goes without saying, but 8 out of 9 of his innings went 1-2-3 good for 89 percent compared to the MLB average of 31 percent.

Why Jonathan Sanchez could have won:

- He got the first batter out. Sanchez retired 7 out of 8 first batters with Nick Hundley reaching on an error being the only blemish. That means he retired 87.5 percent of first batters compared to the MLB average of 68 percent.
- He finished off hitters. 82 percent of 2 strike at bats were converted into outs compared to the MLB average of 72 percent.
- Even when he wasn't working ahead in the count he still managed to get people out. 86 percent of 2-0, 2-1, and 3 ball counts were converted into outs compared to the MLB average of 54 percent.

Why Zack Greinke finally won:

- He worked ahead in the count. He threw first pitch strikes 71 percent of the time compared to the MLB average of 58. Of the 28 batters he faced, only 2 went to 2-0 counts.
- He finished off hitters. 80 percent of 2 strike at bats turned into outs compared to the MLB average of 72 percent.
- He got run support. The Royals six runs were the most they've scored with Greinke on the mound all year and equaled the combined total they had scored over his previous four starts.

Why Bud Norris won:

- He pitched ahead in the count. Faced 28 batters and went to a 2-0 count only three times. In fact, only seven percent of plate appearances against went to three ball counts compared to the MLB average of 19 percent.
- He worked his off-speed pitches well. Of the 51 off-speed pitches he threw, 75 percent were thrown for strikes compared to the MLB average of 61 percent.
- He made people miss. Batters swung at 51 of his 99 pitches and missed 15 times, which translates to a 29.4 percent miss percentage compared to the MLB average of 20.5.

Why Justin Verlander won:

- He finished off hitters. 87 percent of 2 strike at bats became outs compared to the MLB average of 72 percent.
- He got the first batter of the inning out. After Derek Jeter reached on an infield single on the first at bat of the game, Verlander proceeded to get the first batter out in each of the next five innings. His percentage translated to 86 percent compared to the MLB average of 68 percent.