Stats & Info: Kansas City Royals

Kernels: While you were sleeping

August, 3, 2014
Aug 3
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In case you couldn't (or didn't) stay up, our weekly look at the interesting and unusual in MLB takes us on a roundup of some late-night and late-inning happenings.

• The Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies were tied 3-3 after four innings on Tuesday. Eleven innings later, it was still 3-3. After the Cubs loaded the bases in the 16th, Starlin Castro ended things with a sacrifice fly. By inning, it was the latest sac fly in Cubs history (flies were split from bunts in 1954), and the Cubs' longest victory since a 16-inning, 1-0 win over Houston on May 31, 2003.

John Baker
Baker
Catcher John Baker pitched the top of the 16th and ended up with the win. Depending on your definition, he's on a very short list of Cubs position players to be a winning pitcher. Hal Jeffcoat won 13 games in the mid-1950s after being converted from an outfielder. In the early days, it becomes a gray area between pitchers and other positions. The Cubs' last winning "pitcher" who played more games in the field than he pitched was Jock Menefee, who in 1902 played 41 games at other positions, but pitched in 22 (winning 12). Their last not-regular pitcher to get a win while pitching in five or fewer games that season was second baseman Fred Pfeffer, who finished three games (and won one) in 1885.

At 6 hours, 27 minutes, Tuesday's was the longest game of the season, the longest in either team's history, and its 1:34 a.m. CT ending was the latest finish ever to a game at Wrigley Field (breaking the previous record from 2012 by 6 minutes).

While there have been four 16-inning games this season, we still haven't had a contest go 17. The last season without at least one was 2002.

• The San Diego Padres piled up 20 hits in Friday's win over the Atlanta Braves, the most hits recorded by any team in a nine-inning game at Petco Park. It was the Padres' highest hit total in a nine-inning home game since 1995. Tommy Medica had five of those hits, including two homers, becoming just the second player in Padres history with that line (Ryan Klesko, 2001).

The Padres took a different tack on Saturday, going to extra innings before Will Venable won the game with a bases-loaded single in the 12th. Venable has both the team's walk-off hits in the 12th or later this season (May 5); the Padres' only other player with two in a season was Chris Gomez in 1997. Venable also had a 13th-inning single in 2012 and is the first player in franchise history with three walk-off hits in the 12th or later.

• The Royals won a 1-0 game against Oakland on Friday behind Raul Ibañez's fifth-inning homer. Eleven games this year have been 1-0 via solo homer, but the Royals had not won such a game since Sept. 18, 1993 (Felix José homer vs. Seattle).

It's only the third time in history that the current Kansas City team (the Royals) has beaten the previous Kansas City team (the Athletics) by a 1-0 score. It happened in 1982 on a U.L. Washington ninth-inning single, and in 1980 when Washington scored the only run on a Willie Aikens base hit.

Hanley Ramirez ended Saturday night's game with a three-run 12th-inning homer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the team's first walk-off homer of the year, leaving four teams (Royals, Padres, Rangers, Nationals) without one. The Dodgers had not hit a walk-off homer against the Cubs since Pedro Guerrero's solo shot in the ninth on May 18, 1982. By inning, it was their latest three- or four-run walk-off, against any team, since Darryl Strawberry beat the Astros with a 13th-inning shot on Aug. 16, 1991.

• On Thursday the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles engaged in a friendly game of chicken as they waited to see who wanted to score first. Finally in the top of the 13th, the Angels combined a walk and two singles into the game's only run. It was the first time the Orioles had played 12 scoreless innings to start a game since Aug. 20, 1978, also against the Angels. Don Baylor's walk-off double in the 14th was the only scoring in that game. That was also the Angels' last 1-0 win in a game of 13 or longer; they've had just one other such win in franchise history (1963).

Red Sox, Royals, Dbacks overcome odds

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
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According to win probability data provided by the Elias Sports Bureau, three teams posted comebacks when faced with less than a 15 percent chance to win in their final at-bat on Wednesday.

Let’s run through those games and the players whose end-game performance made the difference.

Red Sox: win probability in ninth inning bottomed out at 14.3 percent
Brock Holt sure had to be happy that Chris Sale was out of the game come his last turn at-bat.

Holt had gone 0-for-4 against the overpowering Chicago White Sox lefty, having been called out on strikes twice and having grounded out twice. He fared much better against reliever Javy Guerra, lining the game-winning single to lift the Boston Red Sox to victory.

Though Holt strikes out a lot, he has gotten good results with two strikes this season. His game-winning hit against Guerra offset four prior two-strike outs. He’s now hitting .260 in two-strike situations this season, tied for 12th-best in the majors.

Royals: win probability in the ninth inning bottomed out at 14.3 percent
The first 37 home runs of Salvador Perez’s major league career all were calculated at 355 feet or longer.

His three-run home run in the ninth inning on Wednesday would be 17 feet shorter than any homer he’d hit previously, but it was nonetheless a big home run for the Kansas City Royals.

It was the first time in 14 years that the Royals got a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning or later when they were trailing by two runs or more. The last was hit by Rey Sanchez against the Baltimore Orioles in 2000.

Perez got the home run on a fastball in the upper half of the strike zone, a mistake from Tampa Bay Rays rookie Kirby Yates. Perez is 32-for-90 with four home runs against fastballs in the upper half of the zone or above (you can see them in the image below).

His .356 batting average on those pitches ranks in the top 10 percent among hitters this season.

Diamondbacks: win probability in 10th inning bottomed out at 11.1 percent
The Arizona Diamondbacks lost in crushing fashion on Tuesday. They would win in a similar manner on Wednesday.

Paul Goldschmidt, who made the final out of Tuesday’s loss (on Marcell Ozuna’s ninth-inning home run), got the game-winning hit, a two-run double to the left-center gap against Miami Marlins closer Steve Cishek.

It was Goldschmidt’s fifth career walk-off hit, his second against the Marlins and the first to come when his team was trailing.

Goldschmidt has a major league-leading 35 doubles this season and is on pace to be the first player to hit 60 doubles in a season since Hall-of-Famers Joe Medwick hit 64 and Charlie Gehringer hit 60 in 1936.

Royals win 10th straight

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
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ESPN Stats & InformationCatcher Salvador Perez has crushed pitches on the outer third since June 1.
The Kansas City Royals are as hot as they’ve ever been in the last two decades. For the first time since 1994 and just the fifth time in franchise history, the Royals have won 10 straight games. With the exception of the strike-shortened 1994 season, Kansas City has reached the ALCS in each of the previous three seasons when it won at least 10 straight.

The streak
During the 10-game win streak, the Royals have an OPS of .878, which would easily lead MLB this season (Rockies currently top baseball with a .798 OPS).

Over the course of the streak, the Royals have four players batting better than .350: Billy Butler (.389), Salvador Perez (.385), Jarrod Dyson (.381) and Alcides Escobar (.378).

Perez has been an especially difficult out. Perez extended his hit streak to 12 games Wednesday, naturally on a pitch away.

He’s hitting .435 on pitches on the outer third of the plate since the calendar turned to June. In the first two months of the season, Perez batted a respectable .258 on pitches on the outer third or further -- but just slightly above league average.

But over the past two-plus weeks, he's hit .435 on those same pitches.

How Guthrie won
Meanwhile, the Royals got yet another strong performance from a member of their rotation.

Jeremy Guthrie logged nine strikeouts for the second consecutive start, marking the first time he’s accomplished that in his career. Here’s how Guthrie beat the Tigers on Wednesday:

• Guthrie got the Tigers to chase 32 percent of his pitches out of the strike zone, his second-highest rate this season.

• He did so by keeping hitters off balance, using both his fastball and changeup to finish off hitters. The Tigers were 1-13 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending in a fastball, and 1-6 with four strikeouts in at-bats ending in a changeup.

• Guthrie got ahead of hitters and put them away. The Tigers went 0-14 in at-bats that reached two strikes, his only start without allowing a hit in a two-strike count this season.

Great Royals SP during streak
Guthrie’s performance reflects a larger trend among Royals starting pitching during this win streak.

No starter has allowed more than three earned runs in the last 10 games, and the only home run they have allowed was a solo homer that Guthrie gave up in the seventh inning on Wednesday. Royals starters have 58 strikeouts compared to just 16 walks during the streak.

It’s pretty safe to call that a winning formula.

Top Stats to Know: Royals vs. Cardinals

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
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Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsTop prospect Oscar Taveras homered Saturday in his major league debut.
The Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals face off Monday night, when power will be at a premium in St. Louis.


As the Cardinals fight to catch the division-leading Brewers and the Royals look to pull themselves out of the AL Central basement, both teams will be trying to add the long ball to offenses that have suffered power outages to start the season.

Power Problems for Both


The Royals and Cardinals rank last and second-to-last, respectively, in home runs this season. Much of their power struggles have come in the middle of the lineups.

Both teams have received three home runs from their third and fourth hitters in the lineup, tied for the fewest by any team this season. The Royals (0.099) and Cardinals (0.111) also rank last and second-to-last this season in isolated power, which measures extra bases per at-bat.

Chasing History . . . The Wrong Way

The Royals are on pace for 69 home runs this season, which would be their second-lowest total in team history and fewest since 1976 (65) in a non-strike season.

The Cardinals' home run totals are way down as well -- they are on pace to hit 85. That would be their lowest home run total in a non-strike season since 1991 (70).

Matt Holliday has hit only three home runs, the fewest he has had in his first 56 games of a season. Matt Adams, who was recently moved to the disabled list with a left calf strain, has averaged a home run every 64.7 at-bats this season. Adams averaged a home run every 17.4 at-bats last season.

Cardinals' Defense Delivers


The Cardinals lead the majors with 38 defensive runs saved, five more than the next closest team.

St. Louis' infield has been especially dominant defensively, with second baseman Kolten Wong tied with Ian Kinsler for the second-most defensive runs saved with six (Colorado's DJ LeMahieu leads MLB second basemen with seven).

Last season, the Cardinals' defense ranked 22nd in the majors with minus-39 defensive runs saved, while the Royals led the majors in 2013 with 93 runs saved.

Kansas City: Where defense takes priority

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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David Eulitt/Getty ImagesKansas City has gotten off to an 8-0 start thanks in large part to a strong defense.
The Kansas City Chiefs are the NFL's only unbeaten team at 8-0, having already quadrupled their win total from last season.

On the heels of a 2-14 record last year, the Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start 8-0 the season after having the league’s worst record.

With a win Sunday in Buffalo, Kansas City would match the best start in franchise history, accomplished in 2003.

Defensive Domination
In contrast to the high-flying offense of that 2003 squad, this year’s Kansas City team is built on defense.

The Chiefs are allowing 12.3 points per game, fewest in the NFL, and they’re the first team in 36 years that did not allow more than 17 points in any of its first eight games.

Since 1950, only the 1977 Atlanta Falcons have a longer such streak to start a season.

Kansas City’s dominance begins with a pass rush that leads the NFL with 36 sacks, nine more than any other team. The Chiefs sack rate is also tops in the league at 12.6 percent.

Kansas City also leads the league by allowing third downs to be converted at only a 25 percent clip.

Kansas City’s sack success is not simply a product of a superior pass rush. The Chiefs are allowing the third-most time in the pocket this season at 2.83 seconds.

But the secondary has covered well enough to allow only 5.76 net yards per attempt, third-best in the NFL.

Those numbers are a big reason why the defense has allowed an NFL-low 25.2 Total QBR to opposing quarterbacks.

Something In The Kansas City Fountains?
The Chiefs defensive dominance continues a year-long trend in Kansas City sports.

For the first time in a decade, the Kansas City Royals were in the playoff hunt until the final week this season.

They finished 86-76, their best record since 1989, largely because they allowed only 3.7 runs per game, the fewest in the American League and the team's fewest in a full season since 1972.

The Royals won a team-record three Gold Gloves and led the majors in a sabermetric stat, Defensive Runs Saved (which you can learn more about by clicking here), rating among the best in baseball a year after finishing 13th in that stat.

And in MLS, Sporting Kansas City finished the regular season last weekend with the league's second-best record on the strength of a shutdown defense.

Sporting KC allowed an MLS-low 0.88 goals per game in 2013 (30 goals in 34 games), posting the league's stingiest defense for the second straight year.

False Start?
One caveat to the Chiefs undefeated start is that they’ve played the league’s easiest schedule through eight weeks, with a combined opponents’ win percentage of .328 (20-41).

Over the remainder of the season, only two teams will play a tougher schedule than the Chiefs, whose remaining opponents have a win percentage of .593 (35-24).

Breaking down chances for AL wild card

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
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Jason Miller/Getty Images
The Indians enter the season's final week with a 1 1/2-game lead for the second AL wild card spot.

All together, six teams are still mathematically in the mix for the two American League wild card spots. The Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians sit atop the bunch, with the Rays a half-game ahead of the Indians for the top spot.

Here’s a reason to be optimistic, and not so optimistic, about those six clubs down the stretch. Also included is their percentages to make the postseason based on mathematical modeling by NumberFire.com.

Tampa Bay Rays (86-69) – 87% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: The Rays close with a pair of three-game series against the Yankees and Blue Jays. Rays starting pitchers have an ERA under 3.00 against five teams this season, and the Yankees and Jays are among those teams.

• Reason to feel nervous: Each of the Rays' final six games are on the road. Tampa is 36-39 on the road this season, 16th in all of the MLB and third-worst among teams currently with a winning record.

Cleveland Indians (86-70) – 81% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: The Indians' final six games are against the White Sox and Twins, teams they’ve beaten up on this year. They are 23-8 against those two opponents and 63-62 against all other teams.

• Reason to feel nervous: The power has disappeared for the Indians lately. In their last seven games, they’ve hit just four home runs (no more than one in a game) while slugging just .380.

Texas Rangers (84-71) – 30% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: Much like the Indians, the schedule sets up well for Texas. Their remaining seven games are against the Astros and Angels, who they are 25-6 against this year. Against all other teams, they’re under .500 (59-65).

• Reason to feel nervous: The Rangers are 5-15 in September, the second-worst mark in the MLB behind only the White Sox, who have the third-worst overall record in the majors.

Kansas City Royals (82-73) – 1% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: Although a long shot to make the playoffs, the Royals can lean on their bullpen down the stretch. Their 2.54 bullpen ERA is the best in the American League, and second-best in the majors behind the Braves (2.46).

• Reason to feel nervous: K.C. closes the season with a three-game road series against the White Sox. The Royals have averaged just 2.6 runs per game with a .215 batting average against the Pale Hose this season.

New York Yankees (82-74) - <1% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: If the Yankees can stay alive, they’ll close the season with three against the team with the worst record in the majors: the Astros. This season, the Astros have played 12 teams that currently have winning records, and have losing records against all 12, with an 18-70 combined record.

• Reason to feel nervous: With an elimination number of three, the Yankees will have to survive a three-game series with the Rays starting Tuesday. In their last seven games against the Rays, Yankees starting pitching has gone 0-5, with a 6.05 ERA and a .311 opponents’ batting average.

Baltimore Orioles (81-74) - <1% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: The Baltimore bullpen has been solid against their final two opponents. They allowed no runs in 7.2 IP in their last series against the Blue Jays, and no runs in their last four games (13.1 IP) against the Red Sox.

• Reason to feel nervous: If the Orioles stay alive, they close with three against the Red Sox. In their last eight games vs Boston, they’ve hit just .183, scoring 2.5 runs per game.

Royals streaking, flush with strong arms

August, 11, 2013
8/11/13
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For the first time in a decade, the Kansas City Royals are making noise in August and threatening to make the AL Central a three-team race for first place.

Following their 4-3 win over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, the Royals have won 16 of their last 19 games since July 23, the best record in the AL in that span.

It is the first time the Royals have won at least 16 games in a 19-game span since they won 16 of their first 19 games in 2003, but it’s the first time they’ve had a run like this in August or later since 1989.

During this stretch they have gone from 10 games back in the Wild Card standings following a loss on July 22 to 4½ games back in the Wild Card race, leapfrogging the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees.

The Royals one-run win on Sunday was no fluke for this team, which has won its last 10 games that have been decided by one run, including five during this 16-wins-in-19-games stretch.

According to Elias, that ties the second-longest such streak in team history (record is 11 in 1973), and is the second-longest streak in MLB this season behind the Dodgers (11 games).

What has fueled this recent surge?
The pitching staff has allowed more than three runs just four times in 19 games. Their 2.27 ERA since July 23 is the third-best in the majors behind the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers (entering Sunday night’s game).

The bullpen, which tossed three hitless innings on Sunday, has been nearly unhittable the last three weeks. Since July 23, their ERA of 1.21 is behind only the Braves, and they have allowed only one run in 20 innings on this homestand.

Alex Gordon was the sparkplug in Sunday’s win, going 3-for-4 and driving in two runs. All three of his hits on Sunday came on fastballs, marking just the second time this season he’s had three hits off fastballs in a game and the first time since May 15.

James Shields won his first home game since April 30, snapping a streak of nine straight winless home starts during which he posted a 4.70 ERA.

On Sunday he relied on his changeup to get both lefties and righties out. He threw 26 changeups (15 to lefties, 11 to righties) vs the Red Sox, which netted him a season-high-tying nine outs and only two baserunners allowed.

Did you know?
By taking three of four games from the Red Sox, the Royals have now won seven straight series since the All-Star break.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that it is the team's longest series win streak since 1991, and the fifth-longest streak in team history.

Royals, Indians lead red-hot AL Central

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
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Jason Miller/Getty ImagesRoyals pitching has fueled a nine-game win streak.
Three of the four teams with the longest active win streaks in baseball call the American League Central home, making it the hottest division around.

The Kansas City Royals lead the way with a nine-game streak, followed by the Cleveland Indians at eight straight and the Detroit Tigers with five in a row of their own. The Elias Sports Bureau notes this is the first time the AL Central has ever had two teams with concurrent win streaks of at least eight games.

Royals
Thursday night’s 7-2 win over the Twins capped a three-game sweep and marked the first time the Royals reeled off nine consecutive wins since beginning the 2003 season 9-0.

Excellent pitching has fueled this run, as Kansas City pitchers have posted a 1.50 ERA over the streak, allowing just 1.8 runs per game.

In fact, Kansas City has allowed three or fewer runs in each game. Over the past 20 years, the only team to reach double digits with a streak like that was the 2002 Angels, who won 10 in a row (per Elias).

Tonight, the Royals send Wade Davis to the mound to take on the Mets (NL-best 8-2 in interleague play this season) as they try to make it 10 straight wins for the first time since a 1994 14-game streak. It would also match the third-longest win streak in club history.

Davis will look to build off a solid start last time out -- 7 1/3 scoreless innings against the White Sox, which came on the heels of a 10.91 ERA over his previous four starts (all losses).

Indians
After capping a four-game sweep of the White Sox, the Indians have won eight straight games for the first time since April 2011. Over this stretch, they’ve been powered by walk-off homers from Jason Giambi and Carlos Santana. The offense has combined to bat .307 with a .372 OBP averaging 6.3 runs per game, and the pitching has been excellent with a 2.28 ERA.

Keeping it going will be a challenge tonight as the Indians head to Miami to face Cuban rookie Jose Fernandez, who turned 21 earlier this week. The defector is coming off a career-high 13 strikeouts in eight innings against the Pirates his last start out and has posted a 1.87 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 in his last 10 starts since June 1.

Looking Ahead
For all the streaking the Royals and Indians have done, they haven’t been able to gain much ground in the standings with the Tigers winning nine of 10 and 18 of their last 25.

The Royals face the toughest remaining schedule of the group by remaining opponents’ combined win percentage (.494), but they will play the most games at home. The Indians have the fewest remaining games against teams currently at or above .500 (22 of 54 games) of the bunch.

If all three teams win tonight, Elias tells us it would be only the second time in history three teams in a single division held concurrent win streaks of at least six games. The only time it happened was in June 1978 in the AL East (Orioles, Red Sox, Brewers).

Valverde Spoils a Verlander Gem

June, 12, 2013
6/12/13
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The Detroit Tigers are at an impasse with their bullpen, specifically with closer Jose Valverde.

After another gem by Justin Verlander, Valverde surrendered a game-tying two-out, two-strike home run to Lorenzo Cain in the ninth inning in an eventual loss to the Kansas City Royals. How special was this start for Verlander? What exactly did Valverde do to spoil this effort?

How Justin Verlander Should Have Got the Win vs the Royals

Verlander had an overpowering fastball, fueled by superb movement. He got batters to swing at 38 percent of his fastballs thrown out of the zone, his highest fastball chase rate this season. Verlander’s fastball had its most movement of the season, setting season highs in both horizontal break (-7.4 inches) and vertical break (11.8 inches).

Verlander also kept hitters off balance, allowing zero "hard-hit" balls in play for the first time this season.

It’s the third time he has done that in a game over the last five seasons (also in 2009 and 2012).

To further illustrate how special this Verlander effort was, he did not face a batter with a runner in scoring position for the first time this season.

Royals were 0-for-8 and had five strikeouts with a man on first base against Verlander.

How Jose Valverde Blew the Save vs the Royals

Valverde pitched as pooly as Verlander pitched great. Cain's game-tying homer came on a splitter from Valverde, the only non-fastball he threw today.

Valverde has thrown 20 splitters in his last six games and allowed four homers among those 20 pitches. He allowed zero homers on the 21 splitters he threw in his first 12 appearances of the season.

Cain's homer also came on a pitch on the outer third of the strike zone. Righties were 1-13 (.077) vs Valverde in at-bats ending in a pitch thrown to that location this season before the homer, including a flyout by Salvador Perez for the first out of the ninth inning.

Trends

This was the sixth walk-off loss for the Tigers this season, tied with the Marlins and Mariners for most in the MLB.

Jose Valverde continues to struggle, as Wednesday marked his eighth blown save in last two seasons. In 2011, he was a perfect 49-for-49 on save opportunities.

This is the fifth time in his career that Justin Verlander has pitched at least seven scoreless innings and got a no-decision. No other Tigers pitcher in the Live Ball era (since 1920) has more than two such career games.

Verlander now has three losses in quality starts this season, already more than the two he had all last year.

Fewer changeups part of Price's new look

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
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Opponents are hitting .189 against David Price in his last 11 starts.

What has helped to spur David Price’s remarkable run since late June?

Price has won his last eight decisions and has a 1.72 ERA in his last 11 starts, heading into tonight’s matchup against the Kansas City Royals.

A reduced emphasis on his changeup has been a part of that success.

Price’s changeup has never been his go-to pitch, as he usually relies on one of the most devastating fastball-breaking ball combinations in the league and, largely, succeeding off just those three pitches.

Through his first 13 starts, Price was using the changeup over 15 percent of the time and, while he was quite good, he’s been better since reducing its usage.

Over the last 11 starts – including last Thursday against the Los Angeles Angels – he’s thrown it on average less than 10 percent of the time, and has not lost since adjusting his repertoire in that manner.

Now, that’s over his last 11 starts. What does it look like if we break it down start-by-start?

Overall this season, Price has been more effective when he’s thrown the changeup 10 percent of the time or less.

With the changeup not as much in the mix, the breaking pitch has become a more valuable weapon for Price.

In his first 13 starts, he had 32 strikeouts with his curveball and slider. In his last 11, he has 42 strikeouts with those two pitches.
Stats & Info insights into this morning's top sports stories

1. SPURS FINISH OFF SWEEP: The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Utah Jazz, 87-81, finishing a four-game sweep to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. This was the Spurs sixth postseason sweep since Tim Duncan was a rookie in the 1997-98 season. According to Elias, that ranks second in the NBA. Only the Los Angeles Lakers, with seven, have more over the last 15 seasons.

2. PAUL & GRIFFIN LEAD CLIPPERS TO VICTORY: The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, 101-97 in overtime, to take a 3-1 series lead. According to Elias, the Clippers became the first NBA team to have a pair of players (Chris Paul, Blake Griffin), with at least 25 points and at least seven assists in a playoff game since they did it themselves back on May 14, 2006 (Elton Brand had 30 and eight and Sam Cassell had 28 and nine in a victory over the Phoenix Suns).

3. RANGERS EARN HISTORIC WIN: The New York Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals, 3-2 in overtime to take a 3-2 series lead. That win would not have been possible if Brad Richards hadn’t tied the game with seven seconds left in regulation. According to Elias, this is the first NHL postseason to have three games feature game-tying goals in the final 15 seconds of regulation. The first-two games in the Phoenix Coyotes - Chicago Blackhawks series also had such goals.

4. COYOTES IN UNCHARTED TERRITORY: The Coyotes defeated the Nashville Predators, 2-1, to win the Western Conference Semifinals in five games. The Coyotes advanced to their first Conference Finals since joining the NHL in 1979-80. Prior to joining the NHL, the franchise (then known as the Winnipeg Jets) reached the WHA (Avco Cup) Finals five times in seven seasons.

5. WEAVER PERFECT 5-0: Jered Weaver allowed one earned run in six innings, as the Los Angeles Angels defeated the Minnesota Twins, 8-3. For the third time, Weaver has started a season 5-0. According to Elias, he joined Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Christy Mathewson as the only pitchers to start 5-0 in three seasons.

6. RED HOT ROOKIE: The Boston Red Sox defeated the Kansas City Royals, 11-5 to snap a five-game losing streak. Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks remained hot, going 3 for 5, with two home runs and five RBI. According to Elias, he tied the MLB record for most RBI (nine) in a player’s first four games to start career.

Broxton could be right at home in KC 'pen

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
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As the saying goes, a team can never have enough pitching. Specific to the Kansas City Royals, it’s relief pitching. The team came to an agreement with former Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton on a 1-year, $4 million deal earlier this week. No team in baseball has the collection of power arms in the bullpen that the Royals have assembled and if Broxton can return to the form that made him arguably the best reliever in the game, the team could be looking at its best bullpen in 20 years.

In 2009, Broxton established himself as quite possibly the best reliever in the National League. He posted a 2.61 ERA that actually belied how effective he was, as his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark was 1.97, the best in the National League among relievers with at least 50 innings pitched. His 2.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) also ranked 1st among relievers. From 2006 to 2009, working both as a middle reliever and closer, Broxton compiled 398 strikeouts in 303 1/3 innings pitched, culminating in 114 strikeouts in 76 innings in 2009.

His performance has rapidly deteriorated since that point, however. Everything about Broxton’s performance has been headed in the wrong direction – his strikeout rate has dropped from 30.1 percent to 23.2 to 18.2 from 2009 to 2011, while his walk rate has jumped from 14.0 percent to 18.2 over the same span. The rate at which he was surrendering line drives also spiked, going from 16.1 percent in 2009 to more than double that in 2011 – 32.6. In fact, among pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched, that line drive rate was the 3rd-worst in baseball.

Clearly, the Royals are buying low on Broxton in hopes he’ll return to his dominant form of 2009. Part of what made Broxton so effective was his average fastball velocity, which sat at 97.6 in 2009 before dropping to 95.3 and 94.0 the last two seasons. If he can regain his previous form, he’ll fit right in with a Royals bullpen that featured some of the hardest-throwing arms in the big leagues. Among AL relievers who threw at least 200 pitches in 2011, the Royals had 4 of the top 18 according to average fastball velocity – Jeremy Jeffress (3rd, 96.8), Blake Wood (8th, 95.5), Aaron Crow (17th, 94.9) and Greg Holland (18th, 94.9).

That group does not even include established closer Joakim Soria or diminutive lefty Tim Collins, who ranked 5th among AL left-handed relivers in average fastball velocity in 2011 at 92.3. A vast majority of these arms have been acquired under the regime of GM Dayton Moore – Holland in the 2007 draft, Crow in the 2009 draft, Jeffress in the Zack Greinke trade with the Milwaukee Brewers and Collins in a 2010 trade with the Atlanta Braves.

It is this collection of high-upside, hard-throwing bullpen arms that helped the Royals to post its best relief season – by ERA – in the Wild Card era. The team’s 3.74 bullpen ERA was its best since 1992 and only the 5th time since 1990 that it’s been under 4.00. While Broxton may never return to his previously dominant form, it’s yet another example of the Royals front office adding a low-cost, high-upside, high-velocity reliever a move that, if it works, could lead the Royals to their first consecutive seasons with bullpen ERAs below 4.00 since they did so three consecutive seasons from 1988-90 and could lead Broxton to a significantly larger payday after 2012.

How will Sanchez, Cabrera + others help?

November, 13, 2011
11/13/11
1:44
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US Presswire
Melky Cabrera (left) and Jonathan Sanchez (right) will be swapping uniforms next season.
The Hot Stove heated up this week with our first major free-agent signing of the winter, when the Phillies agreed to a four-year, $50 million deal with Jonathan Papelbon (pending a physical). We covered that signing in detail on Friday.

Here's a closer look at some other notable transactions from the past week, including a potentially significant trade and a few under-the-radar signings.

Jonathan Sanchez Traded by Giants to Royals for Melky Cabrera
This was a classic trade where both teams dealt from a strength while looking to improve a weakness. The San Francisco Giants last year had the second-best ERA and the fourth-worst OPS in the majors, while the Kansas City Royals had the fourth-worst ERA and seventh-best OPS.

In Sanchez, the Royals receive a hard-throwing left-hander who has the third-highest strikeout rate since 2008 (minimum, 500 innings pitched). He also struggles with his command, never averaging fewer than four walks per nine innings in a season, including last year’s league-high rate of 5.9.

One concern for the Royals is Sanchez’s diminishing strikeout rate and fastball velocity over the past three seasons. Last year, when Sanchez missed more than a month with a biceps injury, his fastball averaged below 90 mph for the first time in his career.

Sanchez should help a Royals rotation that struck out just 621 batters, fifth-fewest in the majors last year. But he’ll need to improve his efficiency if he is going to make an impact on a Royals rotation that ranked 24th in innings pitched. His average of 5.3 innings per start was second-worst in the majors (minimum, 100 innings).

The Giants hope that Cabrera, who had a breakout season with 18 homers and a .305 batting average in 2011, can help improve an offense that scored the second-fewest runs in the majors last year.

Cabrera's career-best numbers were partly fueled by a .332 BABIP that was well above his career mark of .299. Cabrera also posted the lowest walk rate (5.0 percent) and highest strikeout rate (13.3 percent) of his career.

Pirates Sign Rod Barajas
The Pittsburgh Pirates inked Barajas to a one-year, $4 million deal following his 16-homer season with the Dodgers. Barajas will bring some much-needed power behind the plate to the Pirates. Since 2004, only three catchers have hit more homers than Barajas’ 111.

Pirates catchers hit just 13 homers (23rd in MLB) and had a .382 slugging percentage last year (18th in MLB). The last Pirates catcher to hit more than 15 homers in a season was Jim Pagliaroni, who had 17 in 1965.

Diamondbacks Sign Willie Bloomquist
Twins Agree to Terms with Jamey Carroll
The Arizona Diamondbacks signed Bloomquist to a two-year, $3.8 million contract. On a positive note, Bloomquist is a versatile defender, having played at least 100 innings at every position except catcher in his 10-season career.

But he is also the definition of a replacement-level player. Bloomquist has never posted a season with a WAR of at least 1.0. His career OPS of .654 is the ninth-worst among active players (min. 2,000 PA), and his .073 Isolated Power is seventh-worst.

The Minnesota Twins also found a utility man to their liking with the addition of Jamey Carroll, who has reportedly agreed to a two-year deal. The Twins had a rough go last season at second base and shortstop. The metric Defensive Runs Saved, which measures a middle infielder's ability to turn batted balls into outs and turn double plays, showed that Twins middle infielders went from saving the team 27 runs in 2010 to costing them 39 runs in 2011.

Though Carroll contributed positive value defensively at second base as recently as 2009, last season was his worst in that regard. Carroll's defense was viewed by that metric as costing his team 14 runs.

Molina, Ellsbury golden with the glove

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
11:50
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US Presswire
The strong defensive efforts made by Matt Kemp and Jacoby Ellsbury won them Gold Gloves in 2011.
On Tuesday night, ESPN and Rawlings announced the Gold Glove Award winners for 2011. There were 18 players selected for Gold Gloves and nine of them were first-time winners. Here's a closer look at some notable selections this year:

National League
• St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove. The last National League catcher to win four straight Gold Glove was Charles Johnson, from 1995 to 1998.

Video review by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS), a company that charts every pitch of every game, showed that Molina led the majors in blocks of pitches that were in the dirt with 657.

• The Los Angeles Dodgers outfield duo of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier each won Gold Gloves, with Kemp netting his second and Ethier his first. They’re the first pair of outfield teammates to win Gold Glove Awards in the National League since Andruw Jones and Jeff Francoeur for the 2007 Braves. It’s also the first time Dodgers outfielders have won Gold Gloves in the same season.

• Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco became the second player to win Gold Gloves at multiple positions, joining Darin Erstad, who won as both an outfielder and first baseman. Polanco also won twice previously as a second baseman.

Polanco, in his second season at third base for the Phillies, saw his errors increase from five in 2010 to eight in 2011. However, a closer look at his defensive skills using advanced metrics shows that he actually made big strides in his defensive play this year.

Polanco finished second to San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval in defensive runs saved, a stat devised by sabermetricians Bill James and John Dewan that measures a third baseman’s ability to turn batted balls into outs and defend bunts.

Polanco really improved in turning grounders into outs. Specifically he was much better on balls hit into the areas where third basemen most frequently field balls and balls hit down the third-base line. According to the plus-minus system from BIS, Polanco went from saving five total bases on balls hit to those spots in 2010 to saving 23 bases this year.

American League
• Boston Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury became the first Red Sox outfielder to win a Gold Glove Award since Ellis Burks in 1990. Like Polanco, Ellsbury made a significant statistical jump in his defensive performance from 2009 (his last healthy season) to 2011.

In 2009, he finished near the bottom among center fielders in defensive runs saved, which for outfielders measures their effectiveness at turning batted balls into outs and the value of his throwing arm as a baserunner deterrent. Ellsbury’s defense cost the Red Sox nine runs in 2009, but saved them six runs in 2011, tied for sixth-best in the American League.

• One of the more intriguing selections was in left field where Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon became the first Royals outfielder to win a Gold Glove Award since Jermaine Dye in 2000.

Gordon won on the strength of his major league-best 20 outfield assists, a Royals record and eight more than any other left fielder. However, Gordon’s win deprived New York Yankees leftfielder Brett Gardner of his first Gold Glove Award.

Gardner tied for the major-league lead in defensive runs saved, saving the Yankees 22 runs with his defense. Video review by scouts at BIS also showed Gardner leading all left fielders in “Good Fielding Plays,” which are similar to Web Gem nominees.
Justin Verlander didn't waste any time in his quest for 20 wins. In his first start since picking up his 19th win on Monday, Verlander rallied from a rocky outing and picked up his major league-leading 20th win Saturday in a 6-4 win over the Minnesota Twins.
Justin Verlander
Verlander
Verlander threw 120 pitches over six innings and allowed eight hits, four runs (all earned), and three walks.

For the second time this season, Verlander allowed back-to-back home runs. On April 22, Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko did it in the seventh inning for the Chicago White Sox.

Verlander is the first to reach 20 wins before September 1 since Curt Schilling in 2002 and the first AL pitcher to do it since Roger Clemens in 1997. This is the first 20-win season for Verlander.

Verlander has won his last seven road starts. That's the longest road win streak by a Tigers starter since Jack Morris won seven straight road starts in 1981.

A next-level look: Verlander survived a rough day with his fastball. Twins hitters had six hits and three walks in 17 plate appearances ending with Verlander's fastball, the second-most hits Verlander has allowed off his fastball this season.

Verlander threw a season-high 64.5 percent of his fastballs in the strike zone, which resulted in five of the Twins' hits, including Luke Hughes' home run.

Verlander countered his struggles with success with his offspeed pitches. He threw his second-lowest percentage of offspeed pitches in a start this season, but Twins hitters were 2 for 10 in at-bats ending with his curveball, slider and changeup. He threw 32 of his 44 offspeed pitches on the outside part of the plate and the Twins were 1 for 6 with two strikeouts in at-bats ending with offspeed pitches away.

Verlander has now won his last 15 starts in which the Tigers have scored three or more runs.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last pitcher to win at least 15 straight games when his team scores three or more runs was Joaquin Andujar, who won 18 in a row for the Cardinals in 1985.

ELSEWHERE AROUND MLB:

Matt Kemp hit a walk-off home run, his third of the season and fourth of his career to lead the Dodgers to a 7-6 win in 11 innings over the Rockies. Kemp's three walk-off home runs are the most by a player this season. James Loney helped force extra innings with his game-tying home run in the ninth, his eighth home run this season.

Jim Thome homered on his 41st birthday to lead the Indians to an 8-7 win over the Royals. According to Elias he is the third Indians player to hit a home run at the age of 41 or older (Dave Winfield and Sam Rice). The only other player in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) to homer on their 41st birthday was the Tigers' Darrell Evans (May 26, 1988 versus the Brewers).

Jacob Nitzberg contributed to this story.

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