Stats & Info: Jason Vargas

Notable moves: Pierzynski, Jackson, Vargas

December, 23, 2012

Throughout the offseason, we'll feature regular in-depth reviews of MLB moves. This week's piece looks at A.J. Pierzynski, Edwin Jackson, and Jason Vargas.

Rangers agree to terms with Pierzynski
The Rangers will hope to replace some of the power they lost from the departure of Josh Hamilton and (likely) Mike Napoli with free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, whose 27 home runs at age 35 were nine more than his previous career-high of 18, set in 2005.

Pierzynski took a much different approach against pitches in the strike zone in 2012 than he had the previous few seasons and one of the payoffs was a significant increase in power.

In 2010 and 2011, when Pierzynski made contact with a pitch in the zone, he hit it in the air a little more than half the time. In 2012, he hit more than two-thirds of those pitches in the air.

Pierzynski was able to punish pitchers' mistakes in a big way. He had a .939 slugging percentage and seven home runs against pitches thrown to the middle-third of the strike zone, both height-wise and width-wise.

That was better than double his .454/two-homer output of the previous two seasons.

Pierzynski’s increased focus on driving ball had both positive and negative results. His home-run total was 10 more than his 2010 and 2011 totals combined. But his strikeout tally (78) was also higher than his combined 2010/2011 total (72).

Are the positive results from this change in approach repeatable?

The good news for Pierzynski is that he’s staying in a homer-friendly environment. Our ballpark overlays show that every one of the 18 homers he hit at home last season would have also left Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

However, history is not kind to 36-year-old (and older) catchers. The only ones to hit at least 20 homers in a season are Carlton Fisk, Jorge Posada and Mike Piazza.

One other nugget on Pierzynski: He'll remind Rangers fans of Hamilton in one respect-- they both like to swing at pitches out of the strike zone, as noted in the chart above.
-- Mark Simon

Cubs sign Edwin Jackson
After posting a sub-3.00 ERA in his first 14 starts last year, Edwin Jackson struggled the remainder of the 2012 season with a 5.24 ERA and 15 homers allowed in his final 19 games (including the playoffs).

But that didn't deter the Cubs from giving him a four-year deal.

What was the cause of Jackson's struggles?

His slide began in a loss to the Rockies on June 28 when he surrendered eight runs in three innings. Before that start, he had allowed four-runs-or-more in only two outings. Including June 28 through the rest of the season, he allowed at least four runs eight times.

Over the last three-plus months he did not have the same success locating his fastball at the letters or above that he had in his first 14 starts of the season.

Beginning with that June 28 start, he threw 235 high fastballs, resulting in more total bases allowed (29) than outs (25).

During the first three months, opponents hit .226 in at-bats ending in those pitches. This included a four-start stretch in May during which he allowed just two singles and got 23 outs via the 81 fastballs he threw up in the zone.

Despite the issues with his heater over the final few months, Jackson’s slider remained nearly unhittable the entire season. During the regular season, he had the highest slider miss rate (49 percent) of any qualifying pitcher and his 109 strikeouts via his slider were the most in the NL.

Angels trade for Jason Vargas
Over the past three seasons, Jason Vargas has quietly developed into a reliable starter.

Vargas has shown improvements in each of the past three years. Each season has seen an increase in innings pitched, up to a career high 217 1/3 last year.

What has been the key to Vargas' success?

Vargas owns an effective changeup to neutralize righty hitters. No lefty relied more on his changeup against righties last season than Vargas. And he used it to great effect, holding righties to a .174 average in at-bats ending with the change, the lowest among all lefty starters in 2012.

His strikeout rate increased from 14 percent of batters faced in 2010 to 16 percent last season. A career-best 1.18 WHIP last year was driven by the increased strikeouts as well as a career-low walk rate.
--Will Cohen

Cruz crushes the ball to earn June HR award

July, 1, 2012
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty ImagesNelson Cruz headlines the June awards with his 484-foot homer against the Angels.

ESPN's Home Run Tracker analyzes video of each home run hit this season and as far back as 2006. Each month, the tracker will detail the best and worst home runs, as well as some other interesting statistics pertaining to the long ball. Below are the notable home runs for the month of June (games through June 30).

No Doubter (Longest true distance)
May Winner: Justin Maxwell (471 feet)
June Winner: Nelson Cruz (484 feet)
Nelson Cruz’s 484-foot blast in Angel Stadium off Bobby Cassevah on June 3 is the longest home run hit this season. It is also Cruz’s longest home run of his career and the longest home run hit at Angel Stadium since the beginning of the ESPN Home Run Tracker in 2006.

Wall-Scraper (Shortest true distance)
May Winner: Jed Lowrie (330 feet)
June Winner: Adrian Beltre (329 feet)
Adrian Beltre drove a Brad Brach pitch off the bottom of the right field foul pole 329 feet in PETCO Park on June 19, giving the Rangers the first two June awards. The 329-foot homer is only the third home run to have a true distance of less than 330 feet this year.

Moonshot (Highest apex - maximum vertical height a ball reaches)
May Winner: Josh Hamilton (153 feet)
June Winner: Jay Bruce (152 feet)
Jay Bruce’s 392-foot home run off Joe Smith on June 18 had an apex of 152 feet, taking the award by one foot over Mark Trumbo, who hit a 364-foot homer on June 10 that had an apex of 151 feet.

Liner (Lowest apex)
May Winner: Adam Dunn (47 feet)
June Winner: Adam Jones (43 feet)
On June 23, Adam Jones hit a 354-foot home run off Edwin Jackson that had an apex of 43 feet and left Camden Yards in 3.06 seconds. It is the lowest apex of the season and lowest apex by an Oriole since the beginning of ESPN Home Run Tracker in 2006.

Fastball (Fastest speed off bat)
May Winner: Giancarlo Stanton (122.4 mph)
June Winner: Giancarlo Stanton (120.0 mph)
For the second month in a row, Giancarlo Stanton takes home the award for the homer with the fastest speed off the bat.

Server (Pitcher who allowed the greatest cumulative distance)
May Winner: Mike Minor
June Winner: Jason Vargas
Jason Vargas gave up 11 home runs in June, including a 457-foot bomb to Justin Upton on June 20. The 11 home runs allowed did not exactly help Vargas’ 7.34 June ERA.

Masher (Greatest average home run distance, min. five home runs)
May Winner: Mark Trumbo
June Winner: Miguel Montero
Miguel Montero’s five June home runs had an average distance of 425.8 feet, edging out Torii Hunter by 1.2 feet. Montero hit a 458-foot home run off Jarrod Parker on June 9 and a 447-foot home run off Yoshinori Tateyama on June 14, helping his cause.

Working hard helps Lester down Mariners

May, 15, 2012
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesJon Lester tossed his second complete game of the season as the Red Sox won their season-high fourth straight home game.
Jon Lester narrowly missed out on tossing his first shutout since 2008, but he did manage his second complete game of the year as the Boston Red Sox beat the Seattle Mariners 6-1.

The win was the fourth straight at home for the Red Sox after starting the season with a 4-11 record at Fenway Park. It’s their longest home winning streak since taking nine in a row last July.

With the win, Lester improves to 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA in his last four starts, a stark contrast with his 0-2 record and 6.00 ERA through his first four games.

He was able to get the Mariners out by featuring his hard stuff. He threw a fastball, cutter or sinker on 94 of his 119 pitches. The only time this season that he threw a similar number was against the Chicago White Sox on April 28, when he pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out a season-high seven batters.

The Mariners’ lack of plate discipline played into his hands as well. He didn’t walk a hitter and only threw six pitches when facing a three-ball count. That was despite the fact that less than half of his pitches – 58 of 119 – were actually in the strike zone. He tied a season-high inducing 14 swinging strikes.

He threw 12 curveballs in the game, right at his season average, but used it as his out pitch. Lester recorded four outs, including two strikeouts, without allowing a hit against his curve.

On the flip side, the Mariners lost for the ninth time in their last 10 road games. They had started the season by winning eight of their first 12 games away from Safeco Field.

Seattle starter Jason Vargas allowed home runs to Daniel Nava and Kelly Shoppach during his outing. He has allowed seven homers this season, all of them on the road.

Quick Hits
• Bryce Harper hit his first career home run. He’s the youngest player to homer in the majors since Adrian Beltre hit seven home runs in 1998.

• Speaking of the Washington Nationals, they scored eight runs in today’s win against the San Diego Padres, becoming the last team in the majors to reach that mark this season.

• Adam Dunn homered off Drew Smyly, the first time he went deep against a southpaw since hitting two homers against Clayton Kershaw in August 2010. His last 30 homers had been against right-handed pitchers.

It was his 12th home run of the season, surpassing his total of 11 from last year.

• Emilio Bonifacio stole his MLB-leading 18th base on Monday. He has yet to be caught stealing this season. No other player in the majors has more than seven steals without being caught.

• On the career hit front, Derek Jeter and Placido Polanco both reached milestones on Monday.

Jeter went 1-for-5 to move past Robin Yount into sole possession of 16th place on the all-time hit list. Polanco became the 17th active player to reach 2,000 career hits.

Nova, Yankees put win streak on line

September, 14, 2011

Denny Medley/US Presswire
Ivan Nova is 8-2 on the road this season and has won 6 straight road decisions.

The New York Yankees look to complete its first three-game sweep at the Seattle Mariners since August 13-15, 2009 on Wednesday Night Baseball (10 ET, ESPN). The Yankees are riding a three-game winning streak while the Mariners have lost four straight. New York is an AL-best 44-30 on the road this season.

On the mound
Rookie Ivan Nova (15-4) takes the mound for New York. According to our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau, since 1950, only four rookies have won at least 16 of their first 20 decisions in a season - Bob Grim (1954), Jack S. Sanford (1957), Wally Bunker (1964) and Tom Gordon (1989). Each started 16-4 in their rookie seasons.

Nova started the year 4-4, but has won 11 straight decisions, the longest streak by a Yankees pitcher since Roger Clemens won 16 straight in 2001. Prior to his Sept. 8 start against the Baltimore Orioles (a no-decision in which the Yankees lost), the Yankees had won his last 12 starts.

Jason Vargas, who has lost three of his last four decisions, will start for Seattle. Vargas is 0-3 with a 7.86 ERA in six games (five starts) against the Yankees in his career.

Since pitching two shutouts in four starts (June 3 against the Tampa Bay Rays and June 19 against the Philadelphia Phillies), Vargas is 3-9 with a 5.38 ERA in his last 14 starts.

Matchups to watch
The No. 1 hitter in the batting order is just 11-for-71 (.155 BA) against Nova this season. Cleanup hitters are hitting .339 with four HR against him.

Vargas hasn’t been able to finish off right-handed hitters with his two-strike changeup as he has in previous years. From 2009-10, right-handed batters recorded 72 outs against 24 hits against his two-strike changeup. This year, righties have made 45 outs against 23 hits against the pitch.

Stats of the game
Mariano Rivera recorded his 600th career save as he joined Trevor Hoffman as the only pitchers with that many saves in the Yankees 3-2 win over the Mariners on Tuesday. His next save will tie Hoffman for most all-time (601). Rivera has notched all 600 of his saves with the Yankees, the most career saves all with one team. The next-highest is Jeff Montgomery, who had 304 for the Kansas City Royals.

ESPN's Stats and Information's Mark Simon brings you more on Rivera and his quest to tie Hoffman.

Derek Jeter needs one hit to reach 150 for the season, which would extend his streak of collecting at least 150 hits to 16 straight years. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only four other players in major-league history have had 150 or more hits in 15 consecutive seasons: Hank Aaron (17), Pete Rose (16), Honus Wagner (15) and Stan Musial (15, not including the 1945 season which he missed due to military service).

Mark Simon contributed to this post

Pitchers keep the heat on hitters this week

June, 21, 2011
It’s been called the Year of the Pitcher II, and the drop in offense this season has been well-documented. There’s been no shortage of outstanding pitching performances recently, as three of the six best-pitched games this season -- according to Bill James’ Game Score -- have come in the past week.

Justin Verlander
On June 14, Justin Verlander threw a two-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts, allowing his first hit with one out in the eighth inning. Verlander’s Game Score of 94 is the best in baseball this season, surpassing James Shields' 93.

That same night, Shields threw a five-hit shutout to beat the Red Sox and Jered Weaver got into the act as well -- he threw his own five-hit shutout in a win over Seattle.

One night later, Josh Beckett threw a one-hit shutout, striking out six and walking nobody, tied for the fifth-best Game Score (91) this season at the time. Livan Hernandez also threw a shutout that night -- his second since July 2004 -- with six strikeouts and no walks.

Cliff Lee threw a two-hit shutout the next night, the sixth shutout in the majors in three days. Pitchers gave hitters a two-day break before Seattle’s Jason Vargas threw his second career shutout (and second this season) against Lee’s Phillies on Sunday.

Shields got back in the action Sunday as well, allowing four hits and striking out 10 in a complete game victory, but didn’t get a shutout because of an unearned run. Verlander also went the distance, allowing four hits and one run. Those performances got them a spot in our Cross-Sport Power Rankings.

Clayton Kershaw
Monday night, Tim Hudson threw eight shutout innings in a win over the Blue Jays, and Clayton Kershaw threw a two-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts, racking up a 93 Game Score.

Kershaw finished his shutout by striking out the side in the ninth inning. According to Elias, the last Dodgers starter to finish a shutout by striking out the side in the ninth was Sandy Koufax in his perfect game in 1965.

With all these standout performances on the mound, teams are looking everywhere for offense, and they’ve been finding it lately from the pitchers who’ve been holding it down.

Lee got at many hits as he allowed Thursday, the first Phillies pitcher to allow two hits or fewer in a shutout and get a pair of hits since Steve Carlton in 1980 (according to the Elias Sports Bureau). He’s 8-for-20 with two doubles, four RBI and a stolen base in his past nine starts.

Daniel Hudson allowed one run in a complete game victory Friday, and added an RBI double off of Edwin Jackson -- for whom he was traded last season. The next night, Ubaldo Jimenez got his second win of the season, driving in two runs in a one-run win.

Tim Hudson
Monday night, three pitchers got it done at the plate: Jake Arrieta got his first career hit and RBI in a win over the Pirates. Kershaw drove in two runs in the Dodgers’ 4-0 win -- raising his batting average to .294 -- and he has as many hits this season as he had in his first three seasons combined.

Finally, Tim Hudson hit a two-run homer in the Braves’ 2-0 win. According to Elias, he’s the fifth pitcher in the past 40 seasons to pitch in a game and hit a home run that accounted for all of that game’s runs.
Today’s Trivia: As Tim Lincecum appears on his way to a third consecutive season leading the NL in strikeouts ... who was the last right-handed pitcher to lead the NL in strikeouts for three straight seasons?

Quick Hits: September has been quite a month on the mound, as eight pitchers are 4-0 or better. There are 15 starting pitchers with an ERA below 2.00, 11 of whom reside in the NL. Let’s dive into some September numbers:

LoweDerek Lowe is 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA in September, but the rest of the Atlanta Braves rotation is just 4-11 this month. Wednesday against the Florida Marlins, Lowe looks to become the first Braves pitcher to go 5-0 in September since Dave Jolly in 1954. Jolly picked up all five wins in a relief role.

Both Lowe and Carlos Zambrano (4-0, 0.78) have a shot at a 5-0 September with an ERA below 1.00. Over the last 50 years, that’s only been done five times in the NL: Randy Johnson (2002), Orel Hershiser (1988), Joaquin Andujar (1982), Don Sutton (1976) and Tom Seaver (1969).

Madison Bumgarner is just 1-2 this month despite a 1.00 ERA. That’s on pace to be the lowest September ERA for an NL rookie (min. 25 innings) since 1974 when Dale Murray of the Montreal Expos had a 0.26 ERA in 14 relief appearances.

The San Francisco Giants’ 1.85 ERA is on pace to be the lowest in September for any team since the 1967 Giants posted a 1.79 ERA.

With his start on Thursday, Jon Lester has a shot at becoming the first pitcher to go 6-0 in September since Jose Contreras in 2005. The last Boston Red Sox pitcher to do it was Bobby Ojeda in 1983. In his career, Lester is now 15-2 in September.

Carlos Marmol has 12 saves this month and hasn’t allowed an earned run. Since saves became an official stat, the only pitcher with more saves and a perfect ERA in September was Ryan Dempster with 13 in 2005.

RogersMilwaukee Brewers rookie Mark Rogers has faced 18 batters this month (and in his career) without allowing a hit. Over the last 50 years, which rookie faced the most batters in September without allowing a hit? Would you believe that it’s NBA Hall-of-Famer Dave DeBusschere? In September 1962, he faced 24 batters for the Chicago White Sox and did not allow a single hit. Unlike Rogers, DeBusschere had pitched in the big leagues earlier that season.

It’s not all positives. Jason Vargas takes the hill today for the Seattle Mariners trying to avoid an 0-6 September. The last pitcher to do that was Bud Black in 1992 for the Giants. In the AL, you’d have to go back to Jim Clancy for the 1986 Toronto Blue Jays. Clancy, who lost another one in October, was 14-7 going into September.

Today’s Leaderboard: How good has the pitching been in the National League this September? The league as a whole has a 3.85 ERA this month, which would be the lowest over the course of ANY full month since April 1993.

Key Matchups
Not only is Derek Lowe pitching on three days rest, but he faces a team that has hit him hard this season. In a pair of starts, he has a 9.35 ERA thanks in part to eight walks in 8 2/3 innings. But a much bigger problem has been Dan Uggla. A career .429 hitter against Lowe, most of the damage has been done recently. Going back to last season, Uggla has six hits in his last seven at-bats against Lowe, including two doubles and a home run.

LincecumWith Adam Wainwright (213) done for the season and Roy Halladay (219) unlikely to pitch more than the equivalent of a side-session, Tim Lincecum (220) is in the driver’s seat to take home his third straight NL strikeout title. And guess who he gets to face Wednesday: The Arizona Diamondbacks, the team that’s struck out more than any in MLB history. Mark Reynolds (13 K in 21 AB vs Lincecum), Stephen Drew (12 K in 36 AB) and Chris Young (13 K in 36 AB) are the main targets.

Trivia Answer: Dizzy Dean led the NL in strikeouts in four straight years from 1932 to 1935. The three to do it since – Johnny Vander Meer (1941-43), Warren Spahn (1949-52) and Randy Johnson (1999-2002) - were all lefties.

A-Rod passes Sosa

September, 24, 2010
Friday was quite a day in baseball. Let's get you caught up on some of the notable happenings in a busy night around the league...

• The New York Yankees hit six home runs against their rival, the Boston Red Sox -- and LOST! Since 1920 (the dawn of the Live Ball Era) this is the third time the Yankees have hit at least six home runs and lost, but it is the first time it has happened in a home game. It's the fourth time in the Live Ball Era that the Yankees have hit at least six home runs against the Red Sox. It's the first of the four games that the Yanks have lost.

Alex Rodriguez cracked two of the Yankees' homers and now has 610 career HR. The pair of dingers moved him past Sammy Sosa (609 career HR) for sole possession of sixth-place on MLB's all-time HR list.

• Yankees' starter Andy Pettitte was shelled for seven runs and 10 hits in 3 1/3 IP. CC Sabathia also allowed seven runs and 10 hits in the Yankees' last game. This marks just the second time in the last 65 years that the Yankees had a starting pitcher allow seven or more runs and 10 or more hits on consecutive days.

Jed Lowrie became the first Red Sox player in history to record four hits, three RBI and three runs scored in a road game against the Yankees.

Some quick hits on other action:

• The San Francisco Giants defeated the Colorado Rockies, 2-1, thanks to a two-run HR by Pat Burrell and eight innings of two-hit, one-run ball from Tim Lincecum. The Giants have now allowed 3 runs or fewer in 18 straight games, which is two games shy of matching the 1917 White Sox' Modern Era record (since 1900). Over this 18-game span, the Giants sport a 1.18 team ERA. However, they own a rather modest 12-6 record thanks to an anemic offense that has offered just 3.6 runs per game of support over this stretch (four of the six losses have come via shutout).

• The Philadelphia Phillies extended their win streak to 11 games with a 3-2 win over the New York Mets. The Phillies' win streak is the longest an MLB team has had in the month of September since the 2007 Rockies also won 11 straight. The win streak is the longest by the Phillies since they had a 13-game streak in 1991 (a Phillies team that won just 78 games). The win gives Philadelphia 93 wins this season, matching their total from last season. If the team wins out, it can match the franchise record for single-season wins (101) set in 1976 and 1977.

• The Tampa Bay Rays picked up their third straight win with a 5-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners. Rafael Soriano picked up his 44th save of the season, setting a franchise record. Jason Vargas took the loss for the Mariners and has now lost seven straight starts. That is one shy of tying the franchise record shared by Randy Johnson, Mike Parrott and Rick Honeycutt.

• And Toronto Blue Jays' slugger Jose Bautista just keeps on mashing. He hit two more HR to push his MLB-leading season total to 52. He has eight multi-HR games this season after having just two in his career entering the season. His 52 home runs this season are identical to his total in 1,471 minor league at-bats. His 52 HR are 15 more than the next highest total in the American League (37 by Paul Konerko). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only three players in American League history have posted a larger advantage over the second-place HR hitter in that particular year: Babe Ruth (six times), Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Mantle.

Braden, Beckett and the speed of games

September, 18, 2010
The clock. It controls so much of our everyday lives -- what time to wake up, what time to be at work or school, what time we can leave work or school.

In sports, baseball is one of the few that's not beholden to the clock. There's no 60- or 48- or 40-minute limit. There aren't timeouts to stop the clock. We could care less about tenths of a second. When you start a game, there's no telling when it will end. To some, it's the beauty of the game; to others, it's the biggest frustration.
Braden Beckett
In these days of commercials and warmup pitches and elaborate player routines (both at the plate and on the mound), even a two-hour game is the exception. Although most games come in under three hours, you can't bank on that. Rule changes to speed games up have largely been ignored. Seriously, have you ever seen a pitcher charged with an automatic ball for violating the "12-second rule" with nobody on base? Go ahead, we'll wait.

Here at Stats & Information, we've tracked the game times of every Major League Baseball contest this season. We can recommend some pitchers and teams to see, regardless of which side of the "clock argument" you fall on. For example, it's not a myth that the Chicago White Sox's Mark Buehrle pitches quickly. Or that the Boston Red Sox's Daisuke Matsuzaka takes forever. Or that you will get a marathon out of nearly any New York Yankees game.

While the official game times do adjust for rain delays, power outages and the occasional tornado outside Citi Field, there are obviously a few other factors at play. The speed of the pitcher's opponent isn't taken into account. A starter might get roughed up and turn things over to a slow- (or fast-) moving bullpen, but when you think of fast workers and slow workers, the list is pretty accurate.

Random fact: The total number of minutes consumed by all the games this season (through Thursday) is 383,639. That's more than 266 days. If you watched every game back-to-back, starting on Opening Night (April 4), you'd already have enough baseball to last you until Dec. 27. With no breaks.

Anyhow, this got us to thinking, which teams give you the most baseball for your money? If you want to watch as much baseball as possible in terms of time, which team's season tickets should you buy? Similarly, which teams are "cheating you" by playing really short games all the time?

Adjusting for extra innings, we can get the average length of a nine-inning home game for each team this season. We didn't adjust for home victories where the bottom of the ninth doesn't get played. (We figure you'd sacrifice those extra seven minutes in exchange for seeing the home team win.)

The Cleveland Indians have been involved in both the shortest and longest nine-inning games this season. The Detroit Tigers' Armando Galarraga's near-perfect game against the Indians on June 2 was the fastest nine-inning game played this season -- one hour, 44 minutes. As for the longest? The Indians and Yankees combined to score 24 runs on May 27, a game the Yankees won 13-11. That game lasted four hours and 22 minutes. There have been just four games this season played in less than two hours, compared with six games that have lasted longer than four hours.