Finally given a chance to vote, statheads choose to rock the boat

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javier vazquez.jpgAs indecisive as the voters were on who was the NL’s best pitcher in 2009, there was an incredible consensus on the top three, with Tim Lincecum, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright claiming 94 of the 96 available ballot spots.
Not surprisingly, the two voters who were against the grain weren’t from the usual pool of newspaper writers. ESPN.com’s Keith Law, a former Baseball Prospectus writer and Blue Jays assistant GM, placed Javier Vazquez second on his ballot, while Will Carroll, of Baseball Prospectus, opted to go with Dan Haren third.
While I’m typically on the stathead side of these matters, I thought the conventional wisdom was correct in this case: the voting should have come down to the big three. Haren and Vazquez both had excellent seasons, but the numbers weren’t compelling enough to elevate them over the league’s ERA leaders.
In particular, I take issue with Law’s choice to place Vazquez between Lincecum and Wainwright on his ballot.
The conventional numbers clearly favor Wainwright:
Wainwright – 19-8, 2.63 ERA in 233 IP
Vazquez – 15-10, 2.87 ERA in 219 1/3 IP
Law says Vazquez should get some credit for pitching in the tougher division. However, Wainwright had the higher opponent OPS for the season, 733 to 731.
Law’s main argument, though, heavily weighs in the FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) stat to say Vazquez was the better pitcher. And there is a case to be made, as the Cardinals clearly had a superior defense to Atlanta. FIP has Lincecum at a league-best 2.34, Vazquez at 2.80 and Wainwright at 3.11.
But that’s placing a lot of weight in a stat that doesn’t translate into wins and losses. In theory, Vazquez was the better pitcher of the two. In real world results, Wainwright had an obvious edge.
The Cardinals and Braves had some remarkably similar numbers this year. The Cardinals finished the year with a 747 team OPS and a 3.66 team ERA. The Braves had a 744 OPS and a 3.57 ERA. Looking at those numbers, you’d suspect the team had remarkably similar win totals. However, the Cardinals finished 91-71 and the Braves 86-76.
Now get a load of this: the Cardinals were 68-60 when Wainwright didn’t pitch. The Braves were 68-62 when Vazquez didn’t pitch. So, the Cards were 23-11 in Wainwright’s starts, while the Braves were 18-14 when Vazquez pitched. That’s the real world for you.

Sandy Leon homered twice in one inning, including a grand slam

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Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon achieved a rare feat during Monday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition against the Orioles: he homered twice in one inning. One of those homers happened to be a grand slam.

Leon led off the top of the fifth inning with a solo home run off of Logan Verrett. Verrett continued to get knocked around, giving up three singles and a walk before being relieved by Brian Moran. Moran gave up a walk to load the bases, then a single to knock in a run and keep the bases loaded. Leon stepped back to the plate and swatted a grand slam to left field, making it an eight-run fifth for the Red Sox. The Sox would tack on one more before the inning was mercifully ended.

How often do players homer twice in one inning during the regular season? Not that often. Since 2010, the feat has been accomplished four times in the American League and twice in the National League. The Orioles’ Mark Trumbo was the only one to do it last year.

As for Leon, he’s on track to open the season as the starting catcher in Boston, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reported last week.

Phillies release veteran catchers Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday

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The Phillies announced on Monday that the club released veteran catchers Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday. Both were competing for the back-up catcher spot on the team’s 25-man roster. With both out of the picture, that means Andrew Knapp has won that honor.

Knapp, 25, hit a combined .266/.330/.390 with eight home runs and 46 RBI in 443 plate appearances last year at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He did not have a great spring but has hit well as of late, which likely pushed him ahead of Hanigan and Holaday. Knapp will serve as the understudy to starting catcher Cameron Rupp.