Welcome to the awards.
All stats are through Sunday, Apr. 3. Given that this is the first column of the season, we will reintroduce you to the awards and what it means when I give somebody a Carter or a Killebrew.
This week’s proof that assigning wins and losses to a pitcher is an archaic practice that must stop
Good luck division
John Axford’s opening day implosion let Edinson Volquez off the hook after the Reds’ opening day starter was roughed up for five runs on seven hits and two walks. Three of the seven hits left the yard and he was charged with a wild pitch along the way.
Max Scherzer got the win despite getting charged with six runs in five innings. The Yankees hit four home runs off Scherzer. Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon saw to it that not even Scherzer’s worst day resulted in a loss.
Mike Pelfrey’s line: two innings pitched, eight hits, seven runs, six earned, one walk, one strikeout, no decision. Joe Blanton didn’t fare much better with four and a third, 10 hits, seven runs, all earned, two walks, six strikeouts, also no decision.
Ubaldo Jimenez escaped with a no decision despite getting shelled for six runs in six innings when the Phoenix and Denver bullpens each yielded runs with Rockies reliever Matt Reynolds getting the loss.
Bruce Chen did poorly against the Halos, finding his way to five runs on eight hits in five innings. When he left though, he was in line for the win as Scott Kazmir was scorched for five runs in an inning and two thirds. Sean O’Sullivan blew the save and neither struggling starter was charged with the loss in a wild game that went to the 13th inning before the Royals celebrated their third straight walkoff victory.
In the Red Sox first win of the year, John Lackey was touched up for six runs in five innings, allowing seven hits, two walks, a hit by pitch, and he threw a wild pitch. Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon continued to struggle, combining to allow eight of the nine Boston runs.
Bad luck division
Tim Lincecum’s opening day start did not deserve a loss. Lincecum allowed one run on an error, struck out five, and walked three. The Giants failed him though, scoring only one too little, too late run off of Jonathan Broxton after being shut out by Clayton Kershaw and Hong-Chih Kuo for eight frames.
Roy Halladay was his usual brilliant self, giving up only one run on five hits in six innings, walking none, striking out six. He got a no decision as Brett Myers held down the Philadelphia bats until Brandon Lyon blew the save.
Brandon Beachy and Chris Narveson combined for 12 innings where they gave up one run between them and struck out 12 batters while walking four. Narveson pitched six scoreless and was in line for the win before Takashi Saito blew the save and Atlanta walked away victorious.
CC Sabathia’s seven innings of good work were ruined by Rafael Soriano and David Robertson. The big fella allowed only three base runners in seven scoreless innings and walked away with a no decision.
Darren Oliver blew the save, gifting Jon Lester a no decision after the Boston starter was tagged for five runs, striking nobody out and yielding three home runs. Daniel Bard came in a half-inning later and made Oliver a winner by allowing four Ranger runs.
Francisco Rodriguez blew the save in the bottom of the ninth and was saved himself when Ryan Webb allowed three runs without collecting an out in the top of the 10th. A special bit of recognition also goes out to Mike Dunn, who uglied up Webb’s ERA by allowing two inherited runners to score after he replaced the unfortunate Webb.
Aaron Heilman got credit for the win and the blown save but he did it differently than most. Heilman did it in a more old-fashioned way. He came into the game in the sixth inning up by a run. He threw a scoreless sixth. He gave up a single and a two-run home run in the seventh. And he came back for a scoreless eighth before a Nick Masset blown save in the bottom of the eighth gave Heilman the win. Throwing three innings is a different way to do it, though if you saw more three-inning relief appearances, you would be more likely to see more vulture combos, as the more time you spend in the game means more chances for your team’s offense to go off on the other team’s relievers and hand you a cheap win.
Chris Ray also got the hold and the blown save in a game where he was tagged with a run by Oakland. Cubs rookie James Russell pulled the same trick against the Diamondbacks in a game where Jeff Samardzija got a hold despite allowing two runs in an inning of work. Matt Belisle also got the vulture combo.
Wes Littleton Award
In 1997, Wes Littleton was credited with a save in a game that he entered with a 14-3 lead. The Rangers scored another 16 runs while he was in the game. This award recognizes the ugliest or least deserving saves. A few times every year we also look at who has the highest save total while not actually being a valuable pitcher.
The Royals/Tigers game this last Sunday encapsulates so much of what I think is wrong with the way bullpens are currently constructed. When Robinson Tejeda relieved Luke Hochevar at the top of the eighth, it was a logical move. In the wake of good work that rookies Tim Collins and Aaron Crow have given the Royals, Tejeda is available for when you want to protect a four-run lead. He hasn’t been as good this year as he was last year. He seems to have lost five miles per hour on his fastball in the early going compared to last year, but you hope that it is an arm strength issue and not an injury. Nonetheless, you have him available and four runs is a reasonable cushion to work with for what was your second-best reliever in 2010. So Tejeda works a scoreless eighth with the only disruption being a bunt single, which was followed by a GIDP. In the next half-inning, the Royals tally another run to make it a five-run lead. So Ned Yost uses this as the opportunity to give Kanekoa Texeira some work with the Tigers’ four-five-six batters coming up.
Now here is the first thing that annoys me. The Royals are working with a 12-man pitching staff despite using a four-man rotation in the early going, keeping Vin Mazzaro in Omaha until he is needed. So you have eight relievers on hand when you don’t have games often enough in your early schedule to require you to need your full complement of starters. This means that unless every game is resulting in your starter getting knocked out of the game by the fourth inning, you aren’t going to have a lot of innings to throw at a normal complement of pitchers and you’re going to be dreaming up excuses to use the guys you haven’t seen a lot of lately. In this case, Texeira gets the call. Texeira is just a guy. He was a waiver claim last year as a Rule 5 guy and is already in his fourth organization at age 25. The most interesting thing on his Wikipedia page is the fact that he is Shane Victorino’s cousin. He has options left and even if he didn’t have options and you lost him on waivers, you likely wouldn’t lose sleep over it. Tejeda has thrown 20 pitches and started games for the Royals as recently as 20 months ago. He has a track record that tells you he can finish the game out without hurting himself. You also have Monday off to rest him so he will be available if the game Tuesday goes into extra frames. But because you have too many guys hanging out in the bullpen getting paid to watch, you feel compelled to bring in somebody else. So that is the first annoyance. You carry too many guys and you end up giving innings to your worst guys out of a sense of obligation.
Then Texeira melts down against the Tigers’ best hitters, yielding singles to Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, then a sac fly to Ryan Raburn that scored Cabrera and a single to Johnny Peralta. So you have two on and one out with a four-run lead. It is now a save situation with Alex Avila and Brandon Inge coming up. In order to tie the game, you have to give up back-to-back home runs. So who do you bring in? Naturally it is a save situation so you bring in your closer to get Detroit’s eight and nine hitters. Since it is a save situation, you don’t even consider bringing in anybody but your closer because that’s what closers do. You don’t bring in Jeremy Jeffress, who has an average fastball velocity of 97 miles per hour this year and hasn’t thrown a pitch in this series (see objection number one). And you can’t use Sean O’Sullivan, who also hasn’t worked since…wait. I can’t advocate using Sean O’Sullivan in any setting. He too should be on the Storm Chasers’ roster. You let a stat tell you who to use instead of skills and availability. It is one of the most ridiculous things about modern baseball and it makes my head explode.
Please hold the applause
Like the save rule, the hold statistic regularly yields results that are bizarre and not really that valuable.
Going all the way back to opening day, Kevin Jepsen entered with a three run lead and proceeded to give up a home run to Mike Aviles, walk Melky Cabrera, induce a groundout from Alex Gordon, and walk Billy Butler. The thing he did that most helped the Angels win was leaving the mound. He still was credited with a statistic that indicated that he played a role in helping the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Barstow, Glendale, and Temecula.
Mike Gonzalez was charged with a run after he retired only one of the three batters he faced, walking the other two. Koji Uehara allowed one of the two inherited runners to score, charged to Gonzalez naturally. Both received holds, having turned a 3-0 game into a 3-1 game.
Any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching
Sometimes a pitcher gets lucky on balls in play and posts a ridiculously low ERA in spite of himself. Sometimes pitchers’ luck or their fielders betray them and they end up with an abnormally high number of runs scored on them.
In the game where Brandon Lyon blew up and handed the game to the Phillies post-Halladay, Brett Myers went seven strong innings, giving up two runs on three hits and three walks. He struck out zero of the 25 batters he faced.
Joe Carter Award
The Joe Carter Award recognizes the hitter with the largest disparity between his RBI total and his overall value. This isn’t to say that Joe Carter was a terrible player, but he did drive in 102 runs for the Blue Jays in 1997 with a .234/.284/.399 line, 115 in 1990 while hitting .232/.290/.391, and a few other seasons that really stand out for their high RBI totals despite pedestrian overall production.
Brian Roberts somehow has eight RBIs partially thanks to the fact that four of his seven hits have gone for extra bases. Still, .189/.211/.432 is an ugly line.
Adam Lind also has eight RBIs. He is hitting a relatively limp .318/.310/.462. He has yet to draw a walk.
Mark Teixeira has four home runs, five walks, and 10 RBIs, but his overall .182/.325/.545 line is dwarfed by some of the other lines by batters who have driven in the same number of runs, like Nelson Cruz and his .310/.400/.862. Miguel Cabrera has one fewer ribby and he is batting .355/.462/.774.
This recognizes the batters who have the largest disparity between their batting averages and overall value. This was originally named after Rey Sanchez, who retired with a .272/.308/.334 line. Freddy Sanchez has repeatedly through the years has demonstrated his own ability to post empty batting averages, notably his .271/.298/.371 performance in 2008. His .344/.378/.473 in 2006 was remarkable in that while his batting average gave him value, it was still about as bad a line as you can post while winning a “batting title.”
Thus far, Chipper Jones likely qualifies given that he’s batting .297/.333/.405. We are still waiting for his first strikeout of the season, but he also has only walked twice and his only extra base contributions are four doubles.
Another third baseman, Brent Morel, is at .294/.314/.382. He is also at 50 percent on the base paths, taking away more value.
Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera have been better than I expected this year given their recent track records. However, batting lines of .282/.310/.436 and .283/.298/.435 have not helped the Royals OBP.
.275/.286/.350? Juan Pierre does what Juan Pierre does.
Harmon Killebrew Award
This is the anti-Sanchez, a player who posts a low batting average (I don’t really look at a hitter for the award if he isn’t at .250 or under) but demonstrates secondary skills that give him an overall positive value, like Killebrew himself.
Jonny Gomes has collected only two singles in 22 at-bats. He has made up for that by clubbing two home runs and by walking 12 times, which is almost certainly an unsustainable rate, but still, .227/486/.545!
Chris Iannetta is at .217/.379/.435. Given that he has struck out in eight of his 23 at-bats, the batting average is likely not a fluke.
Iannetta’s teammate Troy Tulowitzki is batting .214/.378/.607. Given that he has only struck out four times in 28 at-bats and has three hits that aren’t home runs, there is a BABIP rebound coming, and he won’t be in the “good in spite of his batting average” camp but instead will be listed as “good.”
Steve Balboni Award
While you can overcome a propensity to strike out and the low batting average such a tendency brings, there is a breaking point where your secondary skills aren’t sufficient or you’re simply not demonstrating secondary skills because you are too busy hacking at sliders in the dirt to slug home runs or draw walks. Balboni had some nice moments, slugging a team record 36 home runs for the 1985 Royals. But he did not walk a lot, had very little defensive value, and his power was accompanied by a lot of flailing at pitches he shouldn’t be swinging at. In the end, the strikeouts ate his career and he was finished as a regular by the time George Herbert Walker Bush took office.
It is hard for me to communicate how much pain it brings me to list Kila Ka’aihue at the top of the Balbonis. Nonetheless, 13 strikeouts in 34 at bats make his .176/.293/.324 seem very logical. He is currently going through a phase where he has to adjust to getting fed a diet of nothing but breaking balls low and away. And right now it is resulting in a lot of flailing.
Jay Bruce, who I targeted as a potential breakout player is also struggling through a whiff-happy start. The Red with two first names has struck out 14 times in 34 at-bats, producing .235/.250/.294.
Austin Jackson seemed to defy logic last year, throwing up a .293/.345/.400 line despite striking out 170 times. It is way too early to call regression the master of Jackson’s domain for 2011, but with a .184/.244/.289 line and 14 strikeouts in 38 at-bats, it has a good head start.
I had plenty of doubts about Miguel Olivo’s continued ability to be a contributor to a major league team and his nine strikeouts in 24 at-bats makes me feel like those doubts are extremely logical. But when it comes to secondary skills, I didn’t expect him to have two walks and no extra-base hits. Yet with a .250/.308/.250 line, that is indeed the case.
Three true outcomes
Some players, often ones who are featured in the Killebrew and Balboni Awards, post abnormally high home run, walk, and strikeout rates.
There is no shortage of candidates in this small sample. The aforementioned Kila Monster has one home run, six walks, and 14 strikeouts in 40 plate appearances.
Mark Teixeira is at four-five-ten, 38.
In an even shorter sample, Teixeira’s teammate Jorge Posada is three-two-nine, 31.
The major leagues’ strikeout leader, Neil Walker is two-four-15 in 44.
Rickie Weeks has three-four-14 in 45.
Jonny Gomes means business with two-12-six in 34.
As there is overlap between the Killebrew, Balboni, and TTO categories, so too is there often overlap between the Sanchez and Anti-TTO’s.
I mentioned future hall of famer Chipper Jones earlier, he has a zero-two-zero TTO line thus far in 39 plate appearances.
Paul Janish has a very impressive zero-zero-two in 27 plate appearances, which explains a lot about his current .444/.444/.481 line.
I don’t usually expect to see Justin Morneau here, but he has zero-two-one in 33.
A.J. Pierzynski is zero-two-zero, which is only surprising in that he walked twice in 36 PA.
This week’s MVP
AL: Really this is a week and a half, but we’ll keep the name and go with Howie Kendrick as the American League winner. The Angels have been unimpressive but Kendrick has been outstanding, slugging four home runs among his 14 hits. He has also walked six times on his way to a sparkling .389/.488/.818 line in 42 plate appearances.
NL: Matt Kemp has been the picture of an all around player thus far, going .438/.514/.656 with more walks than strikeouts, four doubles, a home run, and a perfect six for six on the base paths.