The best of the rest

In light of Armando Galarraga’s near perfect game this week, I decided to take a look at the 10 greatest pitched 9 inning games of all time that weren’t perfect games or no-hitters.  It’s a pretty interesting list, and be assured that many of these guys likely pitched better than the perfectos, just didn’t get the bounce or two needed.  I used a variety of metrics, but didn’t base my choices on any one statistic.  While I compiled the list, I came across quite an interesting nugget.  Since 1920 there have been 62 games in the majors with at least 14 k’s, 9 innings (or less) and a WPA of at least .50.  Randy Johnson is responsible for 12(19%) of them, but did he make my list?

#10. Since the theme of this post was based on Galarraga’s performance this week, I snuck him on at #10, though his 3 strikeout performance really doesn’t belong here.  The Indians put a ton of balls in play against him, and the Tigers fielders managed to make a bunch of plays behind him to get him just one blown call away from a perfect game.

#9. In the first of the “who?” pitchers on the list, Stoneman pitched a gem this day. Stoneman managed just 54 wins in his big league career, but was dominating for this game.  For a guy who twice led the league in walks (in only 4 full seasons), Stoneman managed to walk just one guy while striking out 14 in a 2-0 victory.  He also managed a base hit and drove in 1 of just 2 runs for the Expos.  He does get knocked back a little, as like Galarraga, the team he was facing was pretty weak.  Amazingly enough, despite just 170 games started in his career, Stoneman managed 2 no-hitters in addition to this dazzling performance.

#8.  In a 1-0 game, Seaver had to be great and was against a Pirates team that included both Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, who went 0-7 with 5k’s.  The only thorn in Seaver’s side was Al Oliver who went 2-3 with two singles.  Seaver walked none and struck out 14 on his way to #8 on my list.

#7. Lefty outdueled Juan Marichal, holding the Giants to just 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 14.  It was 1-0 until the 8th when the Phillies pushed two runs across to give Carlton a little breathing room that he clearly didn’t need. Of his 14 k’s, Carlton didn’t strike out anyone 3 times, instead getting 5 guys twice each, and 4 more one time, including a pinch hitting Willie Mays.  After giving up a leadoff single to Chris Speier, Carlton allowed just one baserunner the rest of the game with a walk in the 6th. Carlton even managed to chip in with one of only 6 hits off of Marichal, also scoring a run.

#6. Nomo, who like Stoneman also had two no-hitters came close to perfection in this 2001 game against the Jays, giving up just a 4th inning double to Shannon Stewart.  This was a solid Toronto offense in the heart of the steroid era that had 8 guys end up with double digit HR’s. Nomo struck out 14, including tough lefties Carlos Delgado and Brad Fullmer 3 times each.  The final score was 4-0, but it was a pitchers duel up until the 8th when the Sox scored 3 times to provide the final margin of victory.

#5. Santana only went 8 innings on this night, but he was too dominating not to include.  While the Rangers are generally a top offensive team the 2007 version wasn’t great with the bat.  Santana struck out 17 in his 8 innings, including 31 swinging strikes.  A well past his prime Sammy Sosa was the only batter to get a hit off of Johan, managing a single and a double.  Johan didn’t get his shot for 20 strikeouts as Joe Nathan closed out the 1-0 victory in the 9th with 2 k’s of his own.

#4. In another 1-0 game, Maddux was at his best, striking out 14 (with just 109 pitches) against the Brewers.  This was a pretty solid Brewers offense with 8 guys in double digit HR’s and 6 of their 8 regulars with OPS+’s over 100.  The Braves got their run in the 2nd, and Maddux took care of the rest.  Maddux walked the first batter of the game, who was quickly thrown out trying to steal and gave up both of his hits by the 5th inning.  From the 6th inning on, Maddux struck out 8, including 5 swinging.

#3. A month before Johan Santana dominated the Rangers in 2007, another lefty in Bedard took his turn making Texas look foolish.  Bedard gave up 2 hits while striking out 15, and was in the strike zone all day with 79 of his 109 pitches going for strikes. Bedard went to a 3 ball count just twice and got outs both times.  Jerry Hairston was the only Ranger to avoid being K’d by Bedard but was still hitless.  I couldn’t find video of a postgame interview, but I’m sure, even despite his domination, Bedard was his usual pleasant self.

#2. Neither of Clemens’ 20 strikeout games made the list, as he allowed a run in 1986 and gave up a whopping 5 hits in his 151 pitch 1996 performance.  Against Kansas City in 1998, Clemens gave up just 3 hits while striking out 18 in a 3-0 win.  While it was the Royals, they did throw a out a lineup that included Johnny Damon, Jose Offerman, Dean Palmer, Jeff Conine and Jermaine Dye, so they weren’t total pushovers.  11 of Clemens’ strikeouts were swinging and despite 6 3 ball counts, Clemens walked no one.

#1. The gold standard of games pitched in my lifetime and maybe ever.  Wood was just a light single that could have been fielded away from a no-hitter.  Wood had all of his pitches going on that day, dominating a Houston team that won 102 games and had 4 guys in the lineup that day that ended the season with an OPS+  greater than 120.  Houston led the league in scoring in 1998 by 29 runs.  This was a great lineup and they had absolutely no answer for Wood. Wood struck out every batter at least once, and the 3-4-5 hitters went 0-9 against him with 9 strikeouts.  On the other side of the diamond Shane Reynolds gave up just 1 ER while striking out 10 of his own, but the final score might as well have been 20-0.  13 of Wood’s strikeouts were swinging.  Wood went to 5 3 ball counts, and all of them ended in strikeouts.  If Kevin Orie had just a tiny bit more range at 3B, I think this would be widely considered the greatest game ever pitched.  While this game is often cited when discussing Wood’s later breakdown, the 122 pitches he threw weren’t totally unreasonable (he had 6 more of 122+ and another at 121).  In just his 7th career start, Wood made baseball history in pitching a game that I will never forget.

For more of my work, head over to Mystique and Aura.

Jays hammer Yanks, take series opener

Fresh off a 6-1 homestand against the lowly Indians and Orioles, the Yanks rolled into Toronto for the first time this season to play the powerful and surprising Blue Jays. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t the Yankees’ night, as the Blue Jays continued their homerun derby act early on and won by a 6-1 score that seemed a lot more lopsided than it really was.

Photo Credit: Darren Calabrese, The Canadian Press/AP

Swing Hard In Case You Hit It

That’s the old saying, and Ben and I were joking about it a few weeks ago when Marcus Thames hit that walk-off homer against Jonathan Papelbon. The Jays seem to have taken that mantra to heart, leading MLB with a .226 ISO (nearly 40 points better than anyone else) while ranking near the bottom of the league with a .248 team batting average. There’s no shortening up and trying to find a hole here, they just grip it and rip it.

Photo Credit: Darren Calabrese, The Canadian Press/AP

I don’t know what the hell is going up in Toronto, but it’s pretty nuts how all of a sudden everyone and their mother has turned into a power hitter. Jose Bautista, a guy who came into a year with a career .162 ISO, had already tied his career high of 16 homers through the team’s first 55 games of the season, and all he did was add to that total on Friday.

His first homer of the night came on a relatively harmless 3-2 fastball in the 2nd inning, a solo shot that clanked off the facade of the upper deck in left field. It was no cheapie, that’s for sure, but a one run deficit in the 2nd inning is nothing. Two innings later, Bautista stepped to the plate with Vernon Wells on first thanks to a dinky little infield single, except he didn’t wait around for the count to run full. After two fastballs off the plate (and a pickoff throw), Bautista jumped all over a fastball that ran back over the plate, hitting out and off the upper deck facade in left again. Another no-doubter and a three run lead.

Edwin Encarnacion tacked on another long ball in the 5th inning for good measure, giving the Jays 94 on the season. No one else has even 80. Where is this coming from?

Double Plays: A Rally Killing Story

This game felt like a blow out at times, but the Yankees certainly had a few chances to get back in it. Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate in the 4th inning with men on first and second and no outs with the score still just 1-0, but he chopped a tailor made double play ball to shortstop Alex Gonzalez that seemingly took the Yankees’ chances of scoring along with it. Nick Swisher was able to go from second to third on the play, but was ultimately stranded.

Two inning later, the Yankees again got the first two men on – this time at first and third – but Swish got caught out in front and slapped another tailor made double play ball to Gonzalez. Chad Moeller came into the score from third, but the rally was gone. They had a chance to put a dent in what was then a four run deficit, but could only manage the one run. For shame.

The Yankees also wasted a leadoff single in the 3rd and a leadoff double in the 7th, so it just wasn’t happening tonight. Go back to the hotel, forget about it, and come back ready to do some damage tomorrow.

D’oh!

The Yankees have to know by now that Bautista’s a fastball hitter (+2.51 runs above average for every 100 fastballs thrown) and throwing him eight straight fastballs in his first two at-bats was a dumb idea. He got four curveballs (including one in a 2-0 count) and two fastballs (well off the plate) in his third at-bat for a walk, then two straight fastballs for a double his fourth time up. Andy Pettitte and Javy Vazquez employ the kitchen sink approach, so theoretically they’ll have a better chance of dealing with Bautista than Burnett and Sergio Mitre did in this game.

Photo Credit: Darren Calabrese, The Canadian Press/AP

Solo homers aren’t the worst thing in the world, and apparently there’s no stopping the Blue Jays from hitting them. The Yanks just have to make sure they don’t give their hitters free bases on walks and what not the rest of the series. Burnett walked four in six innings tonight, so it’s no surprise that he got smacked around.

Tip your cap to Brett Cecil, he mixed his pitches very well (18 four-seamers, 23 sinkers, 28 changeups, 30 sliders, six curves) and recorded 19 of his 24 outs either via strikeout or ground ball. The Yanks were off balance all night, it was a great performance by the young lefty.

And what was up with Swisher forgetting the count in the 9th? He took ball four, but just stood there waiting to get back into the box to the continue the at-bat until the ump told him what was up. That’s the third time he’s forgotten the count/number of outs since the Twins series in Minnesota.

Brilliant!

Bob Lorenz doing the play-by-play. I love it and I want more of it. Hopefully getting Jack Curry in the booth isn’t too far behind.

How about Curtis Granderson‘s catch at the wall of Adam Lind’s liner in the 1st? Been a while since the Yankees had a guy who could make a catch like that, and now they have two. And even though he didn’t have any hits to show for it, Grandy hit the ball right on the screws in his second and third at-bats. You almost don’t want him to take the game off tomorrow.

Marcus Thames even flashed some leather tonight, catching a ball at the wall deep in the leftfield corner then throwing out the tagging runner at third for the double play. He doesn’t make a nice defensive play often, but when he does, it’s glorious.

And … uh … did I mention Lorenz killed it in the booth?

WPA Graph & Box Score

Ho hum. MLB.com has the box score, FanGraphs everything else.

Up Next

Nice Saturday matinee tomorrow featuring a pair of lefties: Andy Pettitte and Ricky Romero. Bet you didn’t know didn’t know Romero leads all AL pitchers with 2.4 WAR.

A loss at every level

Brandon Laird is your Double-A Eastern League Player of the Month for May thanks to his .339-.374-.591 batting line with nine doubles, six homers, and a cycle. Hard to believe that Laird is just the second player from the Trenton franchise to win the Player of the Month away since they started handing it out in 1997. The other guy was some scrappy little infielder named David Eckstein, who won it when Trenton was Boston’s Double-A affiliate in 1999.

Corban Joseph got some love in the Team Photo section of this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet.

Triple-A Scranton (3-2 loss to Gwinnett)
Reid Gorecki, RF: 1 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 SB – threw a runner out at first
Reegie Corona, 2B, Eduardo Nunez, SS & Greg Golson, CF: all 1 for 4 – Corona doubled, drove in a run, scored another & K’ed twice … Nunez drove in a run … Golson K’ed
Chad Huffman, LF, David Winfree, 1B & Colin Curtis, DH: all 0 for 4 – Curtis K’ed … Juan Miranda didn’t play today after being taken out of last night’s game for an unknown reason, so he might be hurt
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 2, 2 BB, 1 K – threw one of three baserunners out trying to steal second
Romulo Sanchez: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, 1 Balk, 4-6 GB/FB – 45 of his 82 pitches were strikes (54.9%)
Royce Ring: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – just nine of his 20 pitches were strikes (45%)
Boone Logan: 2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-4 Gb/FB – 16 of his 24 pitches were strikes (66.7%)

[Read more…]

Game 55: Hello, Toronto (and a Dave Eiland update)

I'm so happy he's in the NL now. (Photo Credit: Tom Mihalek, AP)

Hard to believe the Yankees and Blue Jays have yet to meet this season, isn’t it? I guess that’s a good thing though, because the Yanks have won 19 of the last 32 games between the two clubs, and that was when the Jays had that guy you see above. Not to sound arrogant, but it’s nice to have some wins in the bank for the second half.

They don’t have Halladay any more, but the one thing the Jays do have is the ability to hit the snot out of the ball. They lead all of baseball with 91 homeruns, 17 more than any other team and 30 more than the Yankees. Jose Bautista (16), Vernon Wells (13), and Alex Gonzalez (11) (!!!) have all hit double digit homers, then you’ve got John Buck, Aaron Hill, and Adam Lind with at least eight each. Someone should check the water up there.

Here’s the lineup that will have to slap hit and small ball it’s way past those big bad Blue Jays and starter Brett Cecil…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, DH
Thames, LF – ahhhhhhhhhh!!!
Granderson, CF
Moeller, C

And on the mound, the former Jay, A.J. Burnett.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:07pm ET, and can be seen on YES. Enjoy the game.

Dave Eiland to take personal leave

Update by Ben (6:45 p.m.): Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland is taking an indefinite personal leave from the team. While neither Joe Girardi nor Brian Cashman said why Eiland needed the time off, the Yankee skipper said this was not indicative of a rift between the coaches. “Everything is great between Dave and I,” Girardi said.

During Eiland’s absence, current bullpen coach Mike Harkey will move to the dugout to serve as the temporary pitching coach. The Yankees will probably add a coach from the minors next week. “We’ll carry on as business as usual,” Girardi said. “Just as when you have a player go down, we’ll make it work.”

The Yankees do not know when Eiland will return, but the team is willing to give him time and space to straighten out whatever personal issues are taking him away from his professional duties. “He’s going to take the time he needs,” Cashman said. “That’s it. We’ll get him back as soon as practical.”

2010 Draft: Baseball Prospectus’ Mock Draft

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus finally got in on the mock draft craze, projecting the Yankees to take Cal State Fullerton outfielder Gary Brown (subs. req’d) with the 32nd overall pick. Keith Law also had the Yanks taking Brown earlier today, though it’s possible they got their info from the same source. “The Boras client missed the end of the season with a broken finger,” says KG, “but he might be the fastest player in the draft while also offering size, strength, and outstanding defense.”

Like I said this morning, I’d be pretty bummed if the Yankees took Brown in the first round. All tools, no polish. That works for a kid out of high school, but not a for a soon-to-be 22-year-old from one of the biggest college baseball programs in the country.

Series Preview: Yankees (34-20) at Blue Jays (31-24)

Right now the Yankees sit three and a half games ahead of the Blue Jays, but that was just two games a week ago. Unfortunately for the Jays they ran into the first place Rays this week while the Yankees beat up on the Orioles (though Toronto did sweep Baltimore themselves last weekend). This is the second straight tough series for the Jays, and the first time they’ll face the Yanks this season.

I don’t think anyone expected the Jays to be playing this well at this point in the season. Yet looking at their numbers, it appears they’re at least somewhat legit. They rank near the top of the league in hitting and pitching, but just can’t back that up with defense. Imagine what this would look like if they had adequate players in the field? The AL East might be an even tighter race.

On the offensive side, the Jays have impressed with their power. They lead the AL in SLG by a decent margin, 12 points. That will create an interesting matchup on Sunday, when Javy Vazquez, homer prone even on his best day, takes the mound. Beyond power, their offense doesn’t have much of which to speak. Their .248 BA ranks 10th in the AL, and their .312 team OBP ranks 13th, a point below the Mariners.

The real surprise this season has been Jose Bautista. He did reach a career high last year with a .339 wOBA, but that’s just a tick above league average. This year he has destroyed the ball, a .404 wOBA that includes 16 home runs and 12 doubles. He even has a .370 OBP to go with it, thanks to his 15.2 percent walk rate. He’s a huge reason that they’ve been able to cover for one of the worst No. 2 hitters in the league, as well as a disappointing No. 3 hitter.

In terms of their arms, the Jays rank near the top of the league, which is a scary prospect for the future of the AL East. Shaun Marcum has come back stronger than ever after Tommy John surgery, Ricky Romero has made vast strides in his second year, as has Brett Cecil. If Brandon Morrow ever learns to throw strikes that rotation could be one of the strongest in baseball, and they still have a number of high profile guys on the farm.

The deficiency, as the table shows, comes from the fielding. As the table shows, the Jays pitchers have done a good job in terms of strikeouts, walks, and home runs, but on balls in play they’re not quite as strong. That shows up not just in their UZR, but also in their defensive rank vs. their pitching rank. If they had better fielders, perhaps they’d be even higher in the AL East right now.

Pitching matchups

Friday: A.J. Burnett (3.28 ERA, 3.61 FIP) vs. Brett Cecil (3.81 ERA, 3.26 FIP)

I was afraid this was going to happen. When the Jays drafted Cecil he was a college closer. They decided to see if he could stretch out and provide some more value, and that’s exactly what he’s done. It was a rough transition last year, and if not for injuries and a little ineffectiveness in the rotation he would have spent more time at AAA. One bad start has marred his stats, a two-inning, eight-run performance against Texas on May 14. Since then he has started three games, pitching 21.2 innings and allowing just four runs. He’s not a groundball guy per se but can get one when he needs one. e also has excellent control, a BB/9 of just 2.17.

Cecil throws fastball, changeup, slider, with an occasional curveball. The fastball clocks low 90s but he has thrown it only 52.3 percent of the time. He goes to the changeup often, and he’s used it as an effective out pitch this year.

We know the story with Burnett this year: more groundballs, fewer walks. That has led to fewer strikeouts, but that could be more because of his there-today-gone-tomorrow curveball. Even with the lower strikeout total he’s been a far more effective pitcher this year, mainly because he has used at two-seam fastball to play off his four-seamer, especially when his big curveball isn’t working.

Saturday: Andy Pettitte (2.48 ERA, 3.71 FIP) vs. Ricky Romero (3.14 ERA, 2.77 FIP)

This is going to be a tough one for the Yankees. Pettitte has done a great job of keeping the ball in the ballpark this year, which should play to his advantage against the powerful Blue Jays. If he can get them to keep pounding the ball into the ground he should stay in good shape. He’ll need to be at his best, because the Yankees will face one of the hottest, if not best, pitchers they’ve seen all year.

Romero profiles much like Cecil, in that he throws a low 90s fastball. Also like Cecil, he doesn’t rely on it, throwing it just 40.5 percent of the time. He mixes that with a cut fastball at nearly the same speed, and throws that 12.7 percent, so right there he’s around Cecil’s fastball percentage. Furthering the similarity, Romero uses his changeup more than any other secondary pitch. He’ll throw the curveball sometimes, and the slider the least frequently, though when he does throw it he sees results.

As if that weren’t enough, Romero also combines two excellent traits for a pitcher: strikeouts and ground balls. He has struck out more than a batter per inning this year while keeping 56.9 percent of balls in play on the ground. That helps him keep the ball in the park and prevent the other team from getting the big hit. It has worked wonderfully for him so far.

Sunday: Javier Vazquez (6.06 ERA, 5.53 FIP) vs. Brandon Morrow (6.00 ERA, 3.93 FIP)

Someone’s defense apparently doesn’t like him. Then again, maybe it’s just that his walks have come back to bite him far worse than other pitchers. Brandon Morrow came to the Jays from the Mariners in the post Halladay-Lee deals. Picked ahead of Tim Lincecum in the 2006 draft, Morrow was something of a disappointment for the Mariners. For the Jays it looks like he could become yet another excellent cog in the rotation.

Yes, part of Morrow’s inflated ERA is his .350 BABIP. That comes from a 23.6 line drive rate, so clearly some of that is his fault. His fielders apparently aren’t helping out either. Morrow also suffers from a low strand rate, 64.4 percent, meaning that his walks, 5.37 per nine, haunt him more than other pitchers. Really, the walks are his biggest problem. That should play well with the Yanks, but if Morrow can improve on that one aspect of his game, well, I’d like to not think about that.

Morrow has more heat than Cecil and Romero, so he uses the fastball more frequently, 63.3 percent. That’s actually less frequently than in seasons past. He has started using his curveball more frequently, and it has proven an effective out pitch. He also throws a good slider, and mixes in the occasional changeup.

2010 Draft: KLaw’s Mock Draft v3.0

In his latest first round mock draft Keith Law has the Yankees taking Cal State Fullerton outfielder Gary Brown, but he also mentions that they’re in on about a million other players as well. In his last two mock drafts, he had them taking Texas prep righty Tyrell Jenkins and California high school outfielder Christian Yelich.  It’s tough to nail down the 10th overall pick, let alone the 32rd, hence all the changes.

Brown has tremendous physical gifts – the guy’s a great athlete and might be the fastest runner in this draft class (video) – but the problem is that he’s a Grade-A hacker. He’s drawn a total of 41 walks in 774 plate appearances during his three years at Fullerton, or one every 19 or so times to the plate. That’s straight up Francoeurian.Brown does have excellent bat control (just 70 career strikeouts), but man, if you’re picking a college player at 32, you need more polish than that. You can find similar skills in a high schooler and get three extra years to develop him. I’d be kinda disappointed if the Yankees took Brown with their top pick.