Archive for April, 2014

Pirates in Serious Trouble

Last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates came within one win of the National League Championship Series, and their star center fielder Andrew McCutchen took home the National League Most Valuable Player award. It was an amazing season, but thus far the success has not carried over to 2014.

After winning five of its first seven games, Pittsburgh has dropped 14 of its past 19 contests, to fall to fourth place. As a result, the Bucs dropped 11 spots in the ESPN Power Rankings this week, all the way back to 24th place. And this isn’t some short-term overreaction. The Pirates are in real trouble.

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The Angels’ strike zone problem

Despite having the best player in baseball and a resurgent Albert Pujols, the Los Angeles Angels are off to a disappointing 11-12 start, failing to take advantage of spring injuries to Texas and Oakland that seemingly had opened a window of opportunity. Even with all their big contracts, the Angels haven’t been more than a single game over .500 since the end of 2012.

Thanks to the otherworldly performance of Mike Trout, along with Pujols, Howie Kendrick and friends, the problem hasn’t been the offense, but rather a pitching staff that ranks in the bottom half in ERA, FIP and xFIP. Not that this is necessarily a surprise, of course; the Angels’ pitching staff was a big problem last year, and even with the additions of Hector SantiagoTyler Skaggsand Joe Smith, it was expected to still be a weakness this year, too.

There are more than a few reasons why that is — Jered Weaver’s declining velocity and sudden homer problem chief among them — but here’s one that may not be immediately obvious when watching the games: The Angels’ pitchers throw fewer first-pitch strikes than any other team in baseball. In fact, since data first became available back in 2002, this particular Angels team has thrown fewer first-pitch strikes (52.8 percent) than any other team on record.
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Tanaka Looking Like A Bargain So Far

It has been only three starts, and it has been only three starts against the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs at that. Almost anything can happen over a few starts; just look at Aaron Harang’s success. But so far Masahiro Tanaka has been everything the New York Yankees could have hoped for and more.

Remember the controversy that swirled in February when Yankees GM Brian Cashman said Tanaka “had the potential to be a No. 3 starter?” That wasn’t exactly what Yankee fans wanted to hear after seeing their team drop $155 million in salary, plus a $20 million acquisition fee on top of that. But if this keeps up, that price might almost look like a bargain. Read the rest of this entry »

Indians Will Bounce Back

Last season the Cleveland Indians started the year 8-10 and, despite winning one contest by a 19-6 count, had been outscored by six runs in the process. This April, the Indians have started 8-10 and, despite winning one contest by a 12-6 count, have been outscored by seven runs in the process. Last April they were mired in the 20s in the ESPN Power Rankings all month, and this week they have slid back to 22.

Last year, the Indians turned things around and earned a postseason berth. This year, the Indians will turn things around, and are still on the short list for earning a trip to the playoffs. Let’s consider why.

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Don’t expect Royals to improve

Coming off an 86-win 2013 season, the Kansas City Royals entered this season with a good deal of optimism. In fact, back in February, we even laid out a blueprint for how they could make the postseason. But a horrible start to the season has frittered away much of that optimism, as the Royals were swept in resounding fashion by the lowly Minnesota Twins, who outscored them 21-5 this past weekend. Kansas City’s record is now 4-7, and it has the second-worst run differential in the American League (minus-14).

Although it’s just one swept series and it’s still early, it’s hard to see where the Royals as currently constituted could make enough gains to reach the postseason.

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Reds can’t let Hamilton lead off

On Monday in St. Louis, Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton led off the game with a single to right field against Michael Wacha. Or at least it would have been a single, had it been struck by 99.9 percent of hitters who have ever played baseball. Instead, Hamilton never stopped running, and not only did he turn the single into a double, he was almost on second before the cutoff man even received the throw. It was an astounding display of speed, and it shows why Hamilton is considered such a promising player.

Unfortunately, that hit was Hamilton’s first of the season, and was only his second time on base. Add another hit Tuesday night, and Hamilton has bumped his average up to .091, with an .130 on base percentage. Hamilton has yet to score a run. He has yet to steal a base. And while it’s early, the total lack of production from the top of the lineup is a big part of why the Reds have lost six of their first eight, and have scored just 2.86 runs per game, tied with Houston for 26th in MLB.

It’s also a big reason why Joey Votto has only one run driven in. It’s much too soon to discuss sending Hamilton to the minors, but it’s not at all too soon to make an easier change: Cincinnati needs to get him out of the leadoff spot immediately. Read the rest of this entry »

White Sox’s Rebuild Is Working

The Chicago White Sox are almost certainly not going to contend this year. That was the prevailing opinion entering the season, and one week of baseball — despite a respectable 3-3 record — has done little to change that notion, as they rank 25th in’s latest power rankings.

The team is rebuilding, but thanks to the busy offseason of general manager Rick Hahn and his baseball operations staff, the path back to contention may not be as long as we think. The White Sox have done or are doing five things correctly that bode well for the future and make them worth following this year.

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Four Pitchers With New Pitches

Let’s say you’re a big league pitcher. You’ve had some success at the highest level, but like any good professional, you’re looking to improve. How do you do it? Getting into peak physical shape helps, but it’s extremely rare for a pitcher to add significant velocity in a single offseason, and command is generally improved over a period of several years, not all at once.

So what can you do? For many pitchers, the best route is to add a new weapon to their arsenal in the form of a new (or improved) pitch. As just one example, Clayton Kershaw came to the big leagues without a slider and threw it infrequently for most of his first two seasons. Now it’s not only one of his best pitches, it’s one of the most feared offerings in baseball.

Each spring, you hear about numerous pitchers coming to camp hoping to showcase a new pitch. Today, we’ll focus on four of them to watch for this season. Read the rest of this entry »

Worst Opening Day Roster Choices

In the week leading up to Opening Day there is always a lot of discussion about how 25-man rosters will shape up. Now that those rosters have been finalized across the league, we can finally see which teams made smart choices.

Here’s a look at the teams that did not.

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