December 10, 2013
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Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Back in the summer of 2010, I noticed that Ryan Howard was not aging as gracefully as other players. As a big, power-reliant first baseman who loved to walk (he was seventh in all of baseball in 2007 at 16.5 percent), Howard was not taking the traditional "less power, same patience" approach that most hitters with comparable builds had used to slow their aging curve (e.g., David Justice). Instead I wrote:
[W]e find ourselves looking at a player who is seemingly attempting to change his game midway through a fantastic career... With the decrease in power/walks/strikeouts and increase in contact, Howard is looking more like Shane Victorino than his usual self. If Howard is making a conscious adjustment, he may want to revert to his old ways. While the strikeouts and lack of power are a scary thought for an aging slugger, they are typically inevitable (ignoring those aided by illegal substances), and can be mitigated by a solid walk rate.
In retrospect, this comparison is a slight to Victorino, who at this point is a far more valuable asset; 2013 Howard is much more similar to Miguel Olivo. Howard seemed to be making strides in 2011, increasing his walk percentage from 9.5 percent to 11.6 percent, mitigating an unsurprising decrease in power (although his ISO increased, leaving him with a nearly identical wRC+). An injury-ridden 2012, however, proved to be a nightmare; in 292 plate appearances, Howard's slugging percentage plummeted to .423 and his walk rate dropped to a career worst 8.6 percent. With a .303 wOBA, poor defense and poor base running, Howard was undoubtedly a below average baseball player.
This season, the tides have changed but the water is just as deep:
A radical metamorphosis. Howard is simply no longer walking, his rate now the 13th worst in all of baseball (a historically dramatic drop from 2007). He's striking out less and has a higher batting average, but the OBP is pretty much the same. His approach at the plate is just completely different: he's taking fewer pitches and trying to make more contact. To his credit, it has helped his batting average, and his SLG is up 40 points from last year, but who knows if the new approach is causally related to his re-found power. If it's not, a potential power regression could cause his wOBA to plummet (although at .318 he is above league average at the moment and 15 points up from last season).
It's not that Howard's approach is all that awful; a repeat of 2012 would definitely be worse for him and the Phillies. But his transformation is incredibly confusing and unconventional, making his 2010 season seem perfectly normal in comparison. Obviously the sample size isn't huge in just 101 plate appearances, but BB percentage and Swing percentage regress much more quickly than other stats. It looks like we will never see the Ryan Howard of old again, and who knows what this new version will bring.
Braves 8, Nationals 1: That's nine straight wins by the Braves over the Nats dating back to last season. Someone should ask Danny Espinosa if he's impressed by the Braves yet. Tim Hudson notched his 200th career win. In pretty grand style, too: he homered and doubled in addition to pitching seven strong innings.
Indians 14, Phillies 2: Ryan Raburn hit two of the Indians' seven homers as Cleveland obliterated Roy Halladay and three Philly relievers. Delmon Young came back for the Phillies and homered.
Marlins 2, Mets 1: A two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run scoring on a wild pitch for the Marlins. The run before that came in the form of Chris Coghlan, who may very well have been out just before that when he overslid the third base bag. Viva The Human Element. The Mets have dropped six straight. The Marlins have won three in a row, two via walkoff.
Yankees 7, Astros 4: Three RBI singles from Travis Hafner and a bunch of small ball supported Hiroki Kuroda. Phil Humber uncorked four wild pitches. Note: the word "uncorked" is only used in reference to wild pitches, just a "ensuing" is used only in reference to kickoffs. I think that's in the Chicago style guide.
Padres 13, Cubs 7: Quentin was 3 for 4 with a home run, two doubles and three driven in. The Padres have won five of six. Seven homers were hit in all.
Blue Jays 9, Red Sox 7: Man, that first Encarnacion shot was impressive. His second homer put the Jays ahead. Jon Lester, who had been so good so far, had a Number of the Beast line: six runs on six hits in six innings.
Brewers 12, Pirates 8: Rickie Weeks had a three-run homer and five RBI. The Brewers have beaten the Pirates nine straight times and are 46-7 against them in Miller Park. Milwaukee so thoroughly owns Pittsburgh at home that the Pirates are gonna have to ask permission to leave after today's game.
Tigers 6, Twins 1: Cabrera and Fielder homered, Verlander was Verlander and the Tigers have won five straight. I have this feeling that they're not gonna play that derp-around-until-September-before-taking-control-of-the-division game this year like they did last year.
Cardinals 2, Reds 1: The Redbirds snap their three-game losing streak. Jaime Garcia tossed eight strong, Matt Holliday had a two-run jack.
Rangers 10, White Sox 6: Last time out Yu Darvish got a lot of offense behind him and I called him the recipient of the Run Support Award. That was somewhat misleading because he pitched extremely well that night and didn't really need that support. Last night he sorta needed it, as he gave up four runs and was in a close one until the Rangers broke out for six in the sixth.
Giants 2, Diamondbacks 1: Pablo Sandoval with a two run homer in the ninth. Those two runs were the only ones San Francisco needed as Madison Bumgarner pitched seven shutout innings, besting Trevor Cahill on a pitchery night.
Royals 8, Rays 2: James Shields faces the Rays and scatters two runs and five hits over seven innings. Well, the runs weren't scattered -- they both came on a homer in the first -- but that was about all the damage the Rays could do against him. The Royals were stymied by Alex Cobb until the sixth, when they broke through for four runs. By the way: anyone remember Stymie? Whatever happened to him anyway? Totally underrated.
Dodgers 6, Rockies 2: Hanley Ramirez comes back and homers. Hyun-Jin Ryu stuck out 12. Also: Psy was at Dodger Stadium for some reason. Which I liken to M.C. Hammer showing up at your dorm party in 1994. "Sure, we totally remember you, dude. Just ... why?" Ryu gave his game-worn jersey to Psy after the game. You'll probably be able to buy it from Psy in a year or two.
Athletics 10, Angels 6: Yikes, the Angels stink. Yoenis Cespedes drove in four. After the game he said:
"The reason I was so good was because when I got here, I drank (an energy drink)," said Cespedes, who doubled and tripled to pace Oakland's 10-hit outburst. "I was ready for the game."
But don't listen to him. Stimulants players use to wake them up for a game are in no way performance-enhancers. When Mickey Mantle swallowed a handful of greenies after a long night, he was just allowing himself to play at his native ability.
Orioles 7, Mariners 2: Brandon Maurer surrendered four runs in the first and the rest was mere detail. Nate McLouth led off the game with a homer. He's hitting close to .500 over his past 10 games and has scored 14 runs. Manny Machado has hit in nine straight.
Forty years ago today was one of the wildest, most incredible, and unlikely comebacks in baseball history. It was one of the greatest bottoms of the ninth ever, when the Giants came back from the bring of death to smite the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 1, 1973.
As is typically the case in the game with an impossibly amazing bottom of the ninth, the first eight and a half innings were something of a snooze-fest. The Pirates took a lead and appeared to have the game completely in hand. They scored thrice in the first, and then kept adding to it as the day went on.
Heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Pirates had a seemingly insurmountable 7-1 lead. The 7,972 paying customers must have dwindled down a handful of genuine diehards on that Bay Area night.
Surely the way the inning began gave people no hope for anything memorable. Oh sure, Bobby Bonds led off the inning with a walk, but the next two batters both grounded into force outs. Now the score was still 7-1, San Francisco was just one out from defeat, and all the Giants had was shortstop Chris Speier on first base. You have to admit, coming back to win in this situation sure qualifies as an incredible rally.
According to WPA, the Giants had zero percent chance to win. But they had veteran slugger Willie McCovey at the plate. Hey—you take your good news where you can when down to your last out trailing by a half-dozen. McCovey drew a walk, raising the Giants’ chance of winning up to one percent. Well, it’s an improvement.
Up next came third baseman Ed Goodson, who also walked. Hmmm, that’s three walks to the last five batters – and Pirates pitcher Bob Moose hadn’t walked anyone prior to this inning. Time to get him out of there.
Manager Bill Virdon went to his bullpen for Ramon Hernandez. Ordinarily, Hernandez was a terrific pitcher. The year before, he had posted an ERA of 1.67, and if you exclude what he did in this game his 1973 ERA would be 2.01. But it actually was 2.45 because this game did happen, and he was dreadful.
With the bags packed, the first batter Hernandez faced was pinch-hitter Chris Arnold, who promptly made a game of things with a grand slam home run. Arnold wouldn’t hit another homer all year, and had just four in 483 career plate appearances, but this was one of those four. The few fans cheered heartily. At least someone had rewarded their willingness to stick it out to the bitter end.
As impressive as Arnold’s blast was, Pittsburgh still held all the cards. The Pirates still led by two runs, 7-5, there were still two outs, and the Giants had no one on base. WPA figured that San Francisco’s chance of winning the game was still just one percent.
True, but rookie left fielder Gary Matthews belted a double, and then future manager Doug Rader drew a walk. Now the tying run was on base. With the pitcher’s slot due up, the Giants went to their bench for pinch hitter Jim Howarth. He drew yet another walk—the fifth of the inning.
Now things had gotten interesting. A single could tie the game, and an extra base hit could win it. WPA now gave the Giants a 17 percent chance to win the game, still low, but a lot higher than anyone expected when the inning began.
Oh, and coming up was the ever-dangerous leadoff hitter, Bobby Bonds. A sensational talent, the 27-year-old Bonds already had several notable achievements to his credit. He’d had a 200-hit season, and typically stole about 40 bases while blasting 30 homers a season. This year, he’d hit 39 and collect a league-leading 341 total bases. He’s the last man the Pirates wanted to face at a time like this.
Look, Hernandez didn’t have it. Time to go with the team’s fireman, Dave Giusti. This season, 1973, would be his fourth straight season with 20 saves, an impressive figure for the day. He’d average 90 innings a season from 1970-73 with a 2.61 ERA. He was a genuine bullpen ace. A great reliever versus a great hitter to settle a great comeback. What would happen?
Well, if Giusti got him out, I probably wouldn’t tell this story, right?
Bonds blasted a bases-clearing double. All runners came around to score and that was it—a three-run, walk-off double gave the Giants a 8-7 win. I bet none of the happy few fans in attendance ever left a game early again. How could they, after seeing such a brilliant comeback? And that comeback was 40 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate either their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim through things.
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