Some fun with baseball splits

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A few fun early season statistics using Baseball Reference’s amazing new “Split Finder.”

  1. The Kansas City Royals’ No. 3 through No. 6 hitters have six homers all year … by far the lowest total in baseball.

The Royals, even in the midst of a three-game losing streak, are off to a very nice start, and they have Kansas City baseball fans buzzing for the first time in a decade. But there are a couple of disturbing trends, and this is one of them. The middle of the lineup — which has mostly been Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas — have just those six homers all year. Throw in Jeff Francoeur, who has been abysmal in the No. 7 spot since the beginning of 2012, and you can see that at the moment it’s just too hard for the Royals to score runs.

I suspect that at some point manager Ned Yost will shake up the lineup,* perhaps moving leadoff hitter Alex Gordon into the meat of the lineup (he leads the team with five homers) and Cain up to the top. But this isn’t something that can get fixed with a lineup change. Butler, Hosmer and Moustakas — especially Hosmer, who has not hit a homer yet this season — will have to hit with more power if the Royals are to contend over a long season.

*I wrote this before I saw this story that says, well, yes Ned Yost is considering major lineup changes including moving Alex Gordon down. Well, the Nedster is nothing if not predictable.

  1. St. Louis has a baseball-leading .392 on-base percentage in high-leverage situations. The Cardinals also have the best record in baseball.

People will argue until the end of time, I suppose, about clutch hitting in baseball. Is it a separate skill from regular ol’ hitting? Are there certain players who can raise their games in the biggest moments? Are there certain teams that have the magic when the chips are down, when backs are against the wall, when the moment is right, when it’s squeaky-bum time?

It’s hard to say … but one thing that seems true is that the teams that perform in those high leverage situations — that is those moments when the game is at its tipping point — tend to be really good teams. Last year, the team that had the highest on-base percentage in high leverage moments — the San Francisco Giants — won the World Series.

Two years ago, the team that had the highest on-base percentage in high leverage moments — the St. Louis Cardinals — won the World Series.

Three years ago, that team was Minnesota … which won 94 games. In fact, let’s look at the list:

2009: Angels (won 97 games)

2008: Boston (won 95 games)

2007: Colorado (won 90 games and reached World Series)

2006: Yankees (won 96)

2005: Boston (won 95)

2004: San Francisco (won 91)

2003: Boston (won 95)

So, it works. Teams that make the fewest outs in those key situations wins games. I guess that’s obvious. But how teams actually go about performing so well in high leverage situations over a whole season, well, that’s not as obvious.

  1. Yu Darvish has already had five games where he was given six-plus runs of support.

Not surprisingly — or coincidentally — those are the five games he has won.

Here’s a fun little tidbit for you:

In 1962, the San Francisco Giants gave Jack Sanford six-plus runs of run support 22 times — that’s tied for the most for any pitcher since World War II. Sanford pitched fairly well in those 22 starts, with a 3.18 ERA. That was good enough for him to go 18-0 in those games. Basically because his team scored lots and lots of runs for him, he finished second in the Cy Young Award voting to Don Drysdale.

Here’s what’s interesting about this: Drysdale ALSO got six-plus runs of support 22 times — amazingly two different pitchers got that kind of crazy runs support in 1962 — and Drysdale went 16-0 with a 2.91 ERA in those games.

Meanwhile, Bob Gibson — who probably pitched better than both of them — only had eight games where his team scored six plus runs (he won seven of them). He went 15-13 overall and did not get a single Cy Young vote. I’m sure there are people who will continue to say that Gibson just wasn’t as much of a winner as those other guys.

  1. Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez is hitting .405 and slugging .714 so far against lefties. He’s hitting .263 against righties.

We are obviously only talking about a small sample size … but CarGo has always held his own against lefties as a left-handed batter. For the moment, he’s crushing them and so let’s watch and see if managers are paying attention. If a manager brings in a lefty-specialist to get out CarGo, then they are probably not paying attention.

Bill James thinks the whole specialist thing has brought more blah to baseball than joy, and I would tend to agree. The other day, I was flipping channels and that Jodie Foster movie about life on other planets was on — Contact, I guess it’s called. Was that movie 5 1/2 hours long or do I just remember it that way? I mean it wasn’t bad, but man it felt long.

Anyway, there’s a scene in there — I have no idea how to set this up if you haven’t seen the movie — where aliens may or may not have given explicitly directions on how to build a spaceship that will take Jodie Foster to their planet or their dimension or something. I’m sure I’m getting that wrong. It’s an involved plot. What was striking was that the directions specifically did not include putting a seat on the space ship. The people who built the space ship, though, INSISTED that a seat be put on there, you know, for safety reasons.

So the seat is installed, and the space ship takes off, and it’s rumbling and bumping like crazy, and it seems like it will break apart. Finally, what happens is that the stupid seat breaks loose, and suddenly the ride is smooth and utterly perfect. It was the seat that had caused all the problems.

I’ve come to think of baseball that way with managers. It feels like the more they throw their seats into the game — the move involved they get with bunting and intentional walks and pitching changes and base-running shenanigans — the bumpier and less interesting they make the game. I’m not saying they should stay out entirely. I’m just saying, like in most areas of life, less is more.

  1. The Crime Dog and the Thomenator loved swinging 3-0.

This is a historical split: Going back to 1988, Fred McGriff, by far, was the king of the 3-0 count. One hundred twenty two times, the Crime Dog swung and put the ball in play on 3-0 — the most of any player since they’ve been keeping track. He hit .434 and slugged .852 — hitting 13 home runs and, oddly, two of his 24 career triples.

Here are the home run leaders on 3-0 pitches (again, since 1988):

1. Jim Thome, 17

2. Sammy Sosa, 15

3. McGriff, 13

(tie) Greg Vaughn, 13

5. Carlos Delgado, 12

6. Jeff Bagwell, 11

(tie) Frank Thomas, 11

8. Barry Bonds, 10

(tie) Juan Gonzalez, 10

10. Ken Griffey Jr., 9

Thome’s 3-0 home run record is unsurprising. Pitchers tend to throw fastballs 3-0 – everybody knows that. And Thome, throughout his career, feasted on fastballs. It did not matter how hard you threw it. I remember a game, 2000 I guess, Indians down a run in the ninth against the Angels and Troy Percival was pitching. Percival could throw a million miles an hour, and Thome LOVED facing him. It wasn’t just that Thome hit a massive two-run homer to win the game. It was that there was never even the slightest doubt that he would. Percival was a fastball pitcher in a situation where he would want to pump it up just a little bit higher than normal. To Thome, in those days, faster the better.

The other cool thing is that Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas — who were born on the same day — both hit 11 homers on 3-0 counts. Their cosmic connection is pretty cool. It would be nice to see them go into the Hall of Fame the same year (meaning, next year).

Brad Ausmus is not a fan of the Tigers’ schedule

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Everyone in baseball has a tough schedule. The season is a grind. Some teams, however, due to weather and happenstance, have stretches which are a tougher grind than others. The Tigers are in one of those right now.

Detroit played the Astros on Thursday night, and lost in a three-hour and thirty minute contest. It was a getaway day, er, night, and they didn’t get to Chicago to face the White Sox until the wee wee hours of the morning on Friday. Waiting for them: a double header which was to start at 4pm. The first game of it was rained out, though, so they woke up after a short “night’s sleep for nothing. Then the nightcap was delayed over an hour, giving them another late bedtime. On Saturday it was another double header, so it was another early wakeup and another long day at the park. And, of course, another day game on Sunday, before a flight to Kansas City.

This stretch has made Brad Ausmus grumpy. Here he was after Friday night’s late finish:

“Give some credit to the White Sox pitchers, give some credit to the schedule we have. We’ll try to get about 5 hours of sleep and come back tomorrow and play two more.”

He was particularly miffed at the scheduling of two doubleheaders in a row:

“You can’t control the weather but I think it would have been prudent to play the second game tomorrow in August,” he said. “That would have made a lot more sense to me.”

Ausmus did note, however, that it’s not the White Sox’ job to make a schedule that is convenient for their division rivals.

You can look at this in a few different ways. One one level, Ausmus is understandably upset about a particularly arduous stretch of games. On another level he’s probably trying to protect his players, who have looked flat, by changing the subject from their play to the schedule. On a different level, you could say that he’s making excuses for a team that is underachieving. And, of course, those three things are not mutually exclusive.

The thing is, though, that the Tigers have lost seven of ten, are five out of first place, four games under .500 and could conceivably leave their series with the Royals this week in dead last in the Central. Ultimately, extenuating circumstances like the weather and an unfortunate schedule don’t save a manager whose talented and highly-paid team struggles like the Tigers have. If they don’t turn it around soon, Ausmus could be hitting the bricks and the Tigers could be fixing to sell off and rebuild.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Good morning. I hope your Memorial Day is safe and meaningful. Here are what sound like some good thoughts about all of that. In the meantime, here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

White Sox 7, Tigers 3: Miguel Gonzalez took a perfect game into the seventh inning as the Chisox take three of four from the Tigers. Many baseball experts think that Memorial Day is the point of the baseball season when the early season mirages begin to dissipate and the shape of the season truly begins to take form. I think the wild card and overall parity has altered that some, pushing the date of baseball reality well into the summer, but it’s worth noting that the White Sox are only two games worse than the Cubs right now and have a better pythagorean record.

Dodgers, 9, Cubs 4: Cody Bellinger and Kiké Hernandez each hit three-run homers as the Dodgers offense compensates for a rare bad Clayton Kershaw start (4.1 IP, 4 R, 11 H, 3 HR). He’s allowed to have a bad day, though, I suppose. Jon Lester‘s was worse (3.1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 2 HR).

Brewers 9, Diamondbacks 5: That Chicago thing is weird, but how many of you had the Milwaukee Brewers in first place come Memorial Day? They are — 1.5 games up on both the Cards and Cubs. Here Domingo Santana hit his first career grand slam and Jimmy Nelson struck out ten over seven innings.

Yankees 9, Athletics 5: Aaron Judge hit a grand slam and now sits at .321/.422/.679 and is on pace for 55 homers. His minor league track record suggested he’d be good, but I don’t think many folks expected him to be this good this fast. Meanwhile, Michael Pineda picked up his sixth win. He had six wins in all of 2016.

Rangers 3, Blue Jays 1: The Rangers snap a five-game losing streak as Joey Gallo‘s 15th homer broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth. He’s on pace for 48 homers and is hitting .198. That’s not ideal, but I hope he keeps that pace up exactly, mostly because it’ll make people’s heads explode. And by “people,” I mean those color commentators of a certain age who retreat to their fainting couches when players don’t hit the ball the other way, make contact for contact’s sake and think homers kill rallies.

Indians 10, Royals 1: Josh Tomlin tossed a complete game, allowing only one run on six hits. He only struck out three batters too, which goes against everything baseball in the teens is supposed to be about. It was probably a lot of fun to watch. Jason Kipnis went 4-for-4 with a home run and two RBI. He walked too, reaching base in all five plate appearances

Marlins 9, Angels 2: Marlins starter Jose Urena walked six guys in five innings. Struck out seven and got the win too. “That’s more like it,” says teens baseball. Giancarlo Stanton had three hits and a homer and J.T. Riddle homered and drove in three. Meanwhile, Mike Trout sprained his left thumb while stealing second base. X-rays revealed no fracture, but he is set to have an MRI today. If he’s out for a significant amount of time Angels fans can turn their attention to other things for the rest of the summer.

Mariners 5, Red Sox 0: Christian Bergman tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits, to help halt the Red Sox’ six-game winning streak. Not bad considering the the last time he pitched he gave up ten runs on 14 hits. The M’s turned four double plays behind him in the first four innings. Robinson Cano and Guillermo Heredia hit homers.

Padres 5, Nationals 3: On Friday and Saturday the Padres scored only one run and had only six hits while striking out 31 times in losses to Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg. Here they had five runs on fourteen hits. The lesson: it’s better to face Joe Ross than Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg. Probably worth noting that Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters were all out of the lineup for Washington.

Reds 8, Phillies 4Patrick Kivlehan hit two solo shots and Adam Duvall hit two two-run dongs. Scott Schebler hit only one homer. Slacker.

Rays 8, Twins 6: Fifteen innings of baseball lasting six hours and twenty-six minutes. Even Longoria and Logan Morrison ended the nonsense in the 15th with a pair of solo homers. Meanwhile, Joe Mauer did something special.

Astros 8, Orioles 4: Baltimore had a 3-0 lead at the end of an inning and a half, but it was all Houston after that. George Springer homered and Marwin Gonzalez and Yuli Gurriel each hit RBI doubles during the Astros’ six-run second inning. The O’s have lost seven straight.

Rockies 8, Cardinals 4Gerardo Parra had three hits, including a three-run homer as the Rockies win their fourth straight and their sixth in eight games. German Marquez got the win. The rookies went 4-1 in May. Overall, Rockies’ rookie starters finish 12-3 in May.

Giants 7, Braves 1: Johnny Cueto‘s blisters didn’t seen to be bothering him yesterday as he allowed one run on six hits and struck out eight over six innings. Brandon Crawford drove in three via a fielder’s choice and a two-run single.

Mets 7, Pirates 2: Matt Harvey allowed one run over six to win his second straight start. Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson each had three hits as the Mets rattled off 14 in all.