Division Series - Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees - Game Three

Some fun with baseball splits


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).

Mets expected to tender a contract to Jenrry Mejia

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 12:  Jenrry Mejia #58 of the New York Mets reacts as he walks off the field after getting the final out of the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field on July 12, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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Jenrry Mejia appeared in just seven games this past season due to a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs, but Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Mets are expected to tender him a contract for 2016.

While the Mets were vocal about their disappointment in Mejia’s actions, it makes sense to keep him around as an option. Had he played a full season in 2015, he would have earned $2.595 million. He’s arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and figures to receive a contract similar to his 2015 figure, but he’ll only be paid for the games he plays. He still has 100 games to serve on his second PED suspension, which means that he’ll only be paid for 62 games in 2016. This likely puts his salary closer to $1 million, which is a small price to pay for someone who could prove useful during the second half and beyond. He also won’t count toward the team’s 40-man roster until he’s active.

Mejia, who turned 26 in October, owns a 3.68 ERA in the majors and saved 28 games for the Mets in 2014. He’s currently pitching as a starter in the Dominican Winter League.

Braves and Jim Johnson reunite on a one-year contract

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 17: Jim Johnson #53 of the Atlanta Braves throws a ninth inning pitch against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field on July 17, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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UPDATE: The deal is official. Bowman adds that Johnson will make $2.5 million in 2016.

6:11 p.m. ET: Jim Johnson enjoyed some success out of the Braves’ bullpen in 2015 until a midseason trade to the Dodgers and Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports that he has returned to Atlanta on a one-year contract. No word yet on the terms involved.

After an awful 2014 between the Athletics and Tigers, Johnson signed a one-year deal with the Braves last winter and bounced back to the tune of a 2.25 ERA and 33/14 K/BB ratio over 48 innings. He also saved nine games. However, things went south for him after a trade to the Dodgers in late July, as he put up an ugly 10.13 ERA in 23 appearances. He was left off the team’s roster for the NLDS against the Mets.

It’s unclear what role the Braves have in mind for Johnson, as Arodys Vizcaino finished the season as the closer, but they have made upgrading their bullpen a priority this winter.

Report: Barry Bonds under consideration to be the Marlins hitting coach

Barry Bonds

This shouldn’t cause any controversy, lead to a lot of people saying dumb things or provide fodder for jokes at all. Nope, none whatsoever:

In what promises to be a bombshell move, if executed, all-time great slugger Barry Bonds is under consideration to become Marlins hitting coach.

Team higherups have quietly been discussing this possibility for weeks.

That’s Jon Heyman, who reminds us that Bonds has worked with the Giants in the spring in recent years. And who, no matter what else you can say about him, was one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen. Also worth remembering that despite his controversial past, that greatness came not just from physical gifts, naturally or artificially bestowed. It came from his approach, preparation and strategy at the plate. No one can teach a hitter to hit like Barry Bonds, but you’d think that hitters could be taught to try to approach an at bat the way Barry Bonds would. And who better to do it than Barry Bonds?

That is, if Bonds is willing to drop his seemingly ideal retired life in San Francisco, move to Miami and work for Jeff Loria for nine months a year. Which, eh, who knows? But the possibility of it is pretty fascinating to think about.

Yadier Molina’s new backup: Cardinals sign Brayan Pena to two-year deal

Brayan Pena Reds

Veteran catcher Brayan Pena has agreed to a two-year, $5 million contract with the Cardinals, who’re investing much more than usual in their backup for Yadier Molina.

After bouncing around for a decade without getting even 250 plate appearances in a season Pena signed with the Reds and topped 350 plate appearances in both 2014 and 2015. His production didn’t improve any, as Pena hit .263 with five homers and a .652 OPS in 223 games as a regular.

Pena’s best skill is rarely striking out, which enables him to hit for a decent batting average, but he has very little power and swings at everything. He struggled to control the running game this season at age 33, but has a decent throw-out rate for his career.

Making a multi-year commitment to Pena suggests the Cardinals are no longer counting on Molina being the same type of workhorse behind the plate, which certainly makes sense given his age and injury history. Pena will replace Tony Cruz, who’s been Molina’s understudy since 2011 while hitting just .220 with five homers and a .572 OPS in 259 games.