Archive for Game Report

Ryan Vogelsong and the Pitches that Won the Game

You think of the Tigers and first and foremost you think of Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, and Miguel Cabrera. You think of the Tigers on a day that Verlander isn’t pitching and you think of Fielder and Cabrera. There are other guys on the roster — lots of them! — and some of them are good, but Fielder and Cabrera are the big offensive guns. They’re the players the Tigers most want in the spotlight in important situations.

The Tigers lost Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday, and now they have to win four in a row if they want to take the title. They lost not because the Giants lit them up, but rather because they very much didn’t light the Giants up. The story right now, depending on your perspective, is either the Giants’ run prevention or the Tigers’ miserable run production, and Saturday saw the Tigers blow what opportunities they generated. Worse, opportunities were blown by both Fielder and Cabrera. The Tigers got the bats they wanted up in the situations they wanted, and still they got shut out by Ryan Vogelsong and the San Francisco bullpen.

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Marco Scutaro and the Curious Take

Let’s face it: try as you might, you can’t really help the things that stick with you. What I remember most vividly from visiting the Acropolis so many years ago is an Offspring song I was listening to. What I remember most about attending a Montreal Canadiens home game is the in-arena Youppi! exhibit. And something I can’t shake from Thursday night’s Game 2 of the World Series is a fastball that was taken by Marco Scutaro for strike three in the bottom of the eighth. Plenty of things happened in the game and Scutaro’s at-bat was of little ultimate consequence, but I keep seeing that pitch over and over. Forgive me, but now I’m going to write about it.

I think I’ve established that I have something of a fascination for Marco Scutaro, and how difficult it is to get him to swing and miss. At no point on Thursday did Scutaro swing and miss — he hardly ever does — but he did strike out, and that’s also weird, if less so. Weirder still was how he struck out. Dave Cameron expressed surprise, too, in the live chat, so I know I’m not the only one. Let’s review the events.

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Madison Bumgarner Not Outstanding, Yet Outstanding

For a while, there was every reason to believe the Giants would look forward to having Madison Bumgarner start in the playoffs. Bumgarner was a very good starting pitcher, and teams like to have very good starting pitchers start for them come playoff time. Then Bumgarner started to wear down, or — if you don’t like that explanation — Bumgarner just started pitching a lot worse. His repertoire got worse, his results got worse, and there was a question of whether Bumgarner would start at all in the World Series. He was ultimately given the start in Game 2, but nobody really knew what to expect. The Giants had talked about a promising mechanical tweak, but Bumgarner was still coming off some lousy performances at the wrong times.

So, naturally, Bumgarner was terrific Thursday night. His box-score results, at least, were terrific, and though it was thanks to an impressive relay that Bumgarner managed to keep the Tigers completely off the board, even a slightly worse performance might’ve meant a Giants loss. Instead, in large part thanks to Bumgarner, the Giants hold a commanding series lead as everybody transitions to Michigan. Bruce Bochy, they say, can’t do any wrong right now. Everything he touches turns to figurative, strategic gold.

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Pablo Sandoval and Hittable Pitches

I think my favorite fun fact Wednesday night came from Sam Miller on Twitter. The Giants, of course, hit only 31 home runs at home all season long, far and away the fewest in baseball. Only three Giants players hit at least three. Granted, those totals were seven, seven, and five — not three, three, and three — but this provided some context. It was more or less within this context that Pablo Sandoval went deep three consecutive times to start off Game 1 of the World Series. And he did it in late October in a game started by Justin Verlander. Maybe a little more impressive than Albert Pujols homering three times in a playoff game in Texas in a game started by Matt Harrison. Apparently I’ve decided to support Sandoval’s performance by denigrating other, similar performances.

In a game where the story was supposed to be about the mismatch between Verlander and Barry Zito, it was Sandoval who completely stole the show, and it was Sandoval who seemed to get Joe Buck legitimately excited with dinger number three. He hit one out to center, he hit one out to left, and then he hit one out to center again. Sandoval would finish 4-for-4, singling off Jose Valverde, but if anything, considering the rest of the night, Valverde successfully kept Sandoval in check. It might’ve been the highlight of Valverde’s Game 1 appearance.

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Reports From Instructs: New York Yankees (Pt 4)

In the past week I’ve seen some amateur events (UF Scout Day, Florida Diamond Club) that I’ll write about here and I’ll be covering the WWBA tournament in Jupiter for ESPN. I also still have lots of instructs reports and extra regular season minor league reports to offload. So, before I move on to all these new topics, here’s the final notes from Yankees instructs, starting with some power arms.

I saw two outings from 20-year-old righty Gabe Encinas, a 6th round pick in 2010 out of a California high school. He sat 93-95 in the first outing and 94-96 in the second outing, getting plenty of swings and misses from his plus-plus velocity. He’s got a clean arm but his delivery is a little rough as he’s throws across his body due to the angle he takes on the mound. This makes him tougher on right handed hitters and creates a little more deception, but also makes his delivery much more east-west than is necessary, costing him command. The arm is electric enough that a straight-on delivery would probably be a better fit and his velocity, arm stroke and high three-quarters slot mean he isn’t a matchup specialist type that needs to create deception to succeed.

In addition to his four-seam heater, Encinas throws a 78-82 mph curveball that has some trouble staying on top of with tight, short rotation and average potential. He also throws a firm changeup at 85-87 mph that he also can lose up and to his arm-side and has average potential when he can command it in the zone. I’d simplify things as much as possible to see if Encinas can be a starter long-term, but he has the look of a potential late inning reliever if he continues to progress.

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Reports From Instructs: New York Yankees (Pt 3)

I’ve seen Yankees catching prospect Gary Sanchez as much as any other prospect this season and while I have a good feel for what he can do, I’m still not certain what he’ll become. I saw him in spring training, at Lo-A Charleston, at Hi-A Tampa and again recently in instructs; he’s shown the same tools each time but has also been making some adjustments, mostly at the plate.

Sanchez has a number of things that command your attention: a $3 million bonus at age 16, present 70 raw power to all fields and a 65 arm. He’s still just 19 and these kinds of tools and accomplishments as a teenager put him in rarified territory. The list of players who have that resume is littered with stars and even Hall of Famers. Therein lies the problem: Sanchez has always been the best player on every field he’s been on until this season, so his tools alone could dominate and he hasn’t had to make adjustments.

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Ryan Vogelsong’s Most Perfect Pitch

The way people talked about him, Chris Carpenter was supposed to be unbeatable in the playoffs, and Ryan Vogelsong was supposed to be a little more beatable. Yet the NLCS between the Cardinals and the Giants has advanced to a Monday Game 7 in large part because, on two occasions now, Vogelsong and San Francisco have bested Carpenter and St. Louis. In Game 2, Vogelsong allowed one run in seven innings, while Carpenter went four innings and allowed five runs, two of which were earned. In Sunday’s Game 6, Vogelsong allowed one run in seven innings, while Carpenter went four innings and allowed five runs, two of which were earned. Ryan Vogelsong isn’t the only reason the Giants are still alive, but he might be the biggest one, and he’s earned this post.

Vogelsong was outstanding on Sunday, and he didn’t allow his first hit until there were two out in the fifth. He came out amped up, throwing his fastball harder than usual in the early innings, and he struck out six of the first nine batters he faced. He wound up with a career-high nine strikeouts, and while he acknowledged later that he got away with some mistakes, all good pitching performances require that a pitcher get away with some mistakes. Vogelsong made mistakes, but he didn’t make many of them.

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Tigers, Yankees, and Playoff Theories Confirmed and Contradicted

Recently, in the American League Championship Series, the Detroit Tigers played against the New York Yankees. The Tigers played the Yankees four times, and now, the Tigers will play the Yankees no more times, having achieved the necessary four conquests. The Tigers now are just four more victories away from winning everything and nothing, while the Yankees are faced with a bleak winter existence of being privileged millionaires. These are important times in sports.

Prior to the beginning of the ALCS, many people examined the matchup between the Tigers and the Yankees and attempted to identify potential keys that might lead one team to triumph. Given that this was a playoff series, many of those keys were unoriginal, having been applied to other playoff series before. People have ideas about the playoffs, see, ideas that the playoffs are meaningfully different from the regular season. Over the course of this series, some of those ideas were validated, and some of those ideas were contradicted. Let us take this opportunity to review, thoroughly yet incompletely.

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Reports From Instructs: New York Yankees (Pt 2)

Dante Bichette stormed onto the scene last season after surprising many by going in the sandwich round and tearing the GCL apart. He struggled to make as much contact this year in Low-A and his power evaporated. What I saw in a short look in the regular season is still what’s causing problems for Bichette currently.

Bichette has an active swing with a lot of early hand movement; his hands end up in a good position but all that activity makes it much easier for him to drift forward, fly open and generally be off-balance. This only needs to happen occasionally to get in a player’s head and cause him to overcompensate. I’ve seen Bichette locked in and while his swing is higher maintenance than many and his tools aren’t overwhelming, his pure hitting ability lets it all work. When he starts pressing, expanding his zone and getting pull-conscious, his swing breaks down and that’s what I saw too much of in instructs.

Bichette is a below-average runner that works hard on his defense at third base but he still looks a little too stiff to stick long-term. His instincts are fine, his footwork is improving and his arm is solid-average but his defensive ceiling is below-average. Bichette will likely move to right field and he has above-average raw power that will profile in right, giving him solid regular upside if he can get back to what works for him at the plate.

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Reports From Instructs: New York Yankees (Pt 1)

Instructional league is a tough place to get a complete look at a player but a great place to get a broad sense of a number of players.  In the regular season, a scout will sit on a minor league team for 5-6 games and get a full look at all the notable prospects.  In instructs, the same 5-6 day look will get you 2-3 games and 2-3 camp days.  The rosters are typically larger than the normal 25, with the Pirates listing 93 players on their instructs roster.  Most clubs sub out the whole lineup around the 5th inning, so even seeing a prospect start 3 games only amounts to a 1-2 game look.

Where a full report from a pro scout could be up to a paragraph on each tool and a summary, instructs reports are typically a handful of sentences in total.  So, my reports from instructs will be these abbreviated impressions, unless it’s a player I got a full look at during the spring.  The Yankees recently closed camp, so I’ll start this series with a three part look at their players from instructs.

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Yankees Put Faith in Narrative, Narrative Flips Yankees the Bird

After Game 3 Tuesday night, the Yankees find themselves behind three games to zero games in the ALCS, one game away from there being no games anymore. What a 3-0 series suggests is domination, and that hasn’t been the case — all three games have been close, with the Tigers just squeaking by. Yet the Yankees have without question been outplayed, and now they can’t lose again. It’s not a surprise they wound up here, since they were behind two games to none before facing Justin Verlander, but one doesn’t typically associate the Yankees with desperation, and this situation is desperate.

What’s interesting is that, while the Yankees faced long odds going up against Verlander on Tuesday, one could argue that plenty of things broke in their favor. It was a cold night, with the wind blowing in, and that helped to even the playing field, since the Verlander run environment couldn’t be reduced by as much as the Yankees pitchers’ run environment. The Yankees pitchers themselves allowed just two runs in eight innings, giving the offense a real chance. Verlander didn’t look like his overpowering self, single run and three hits aside; he tied a season-low for strikeouts with three, and on a handful or two of occasions Verlander left a hittable pitch over the plate that the Yankees didn’t drill. And then at the very end, the Yankees made their final out with the tying run on second and the go-ahead run on first.

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Robinson Cano at the Heart of Two Matters

If there’s good news for the New York Yankees, it’s that, while they’re behind two games to zero to the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, they haven’t yet started CC Sabathia. The flip side of that, though, is that the Tigers haven’t yet started Justin Verlander, and they’re about to, in Tuesday’s Game 3. The series is by no means over, as the Giants demonstrated in the Division Series round against the Reds, but it’s a little Verlander dominance away from feeling over, and Verlander is frequently dominant. Given the losses and the struggles and the Derek Jeter injury, these are challenging times for the Empire.

In Sunday’s Game 2, the Yankees were shut out 3-0 by Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers’ bullpen. This was a game in which Hiroki Kuroda was perfect through five innings, and still he never pitched with a lead. The Yankees, during the regular season, had the best team offense in baseball. It’s largely gone missing in the playoffs, and though they say pitching and defense wins championships, you also need at least a little hitting too. Sunday, the Yankees had none of it.

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Yankees Lose Game, Yankees Lose Captain

I will now include, for your consideration, an incomplete list of things this ALCS Game 1 post could’ve been about:

  1. Robinson Cano being called out at first in the second inning
  2. Alex Rodriguez continuing to struggle
  3. Doug Fister picking it up after getting drilled by a comebacker
  4. Delmon Young torching the playoffs
  5. Jose Valverde being a massive liability
  6. Ichiro and the home-run porch
  7. Raul Ibanez condensing a career’s worth of heroics into one week
  8. The Tigers’ bullpen being poorly set up behind the starters
  9. Drew Smyly dominating

The opener of the American League Championship Series did not leave us wanting for twists and intrigue, with the Tigers finally knocking off the Yankees 6-4 in 12 innings and five hours. It’s good to know the crescendo of the Division Series round has carried over into the next. Game 1 left us with entirely too many question marks and talking points, but after everything else, we were left with one major story drowning out the others: Derek Jeter is hurt. He’s hurt bad, and he’s done for the playoffs.

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Reds vs. Giants: Tales of Three Pitches

At this writing, we’ve had four incredible playoff baseball games in a row, and the Yankees and Orioles have a chance to make it five. The third of them featured the Giants eliminating the Reds in a decisive Game 5 by a 6-4 final. Good starter Mat Latos started for the Reds and was mediocre, and good starter Matt Cain started for the Giants and was also mediocre. The Giants surged out ahead 6-0 and then hung on the rest of the way as the Reds frittered away too many opportunities. That’s how the Giants completed their series comeback and advanced to the NLCS.

In a game like this one, nearly every single individual pitch is important. Any given pitch could be swung on and missed, and any given pitch can be hit for a dinger. Additionally, every given pitch changes the sequencing of the pitches that follow. For example, in the top of the fifth, Latos started Brandon Crawford out with two borderline fastballs, each of which was called a ball. If either of those goes for a strike, maybe Latos doesn’t groove the third fastball, against which Crawford tripled home the first run. And then who knows how the rest plays out? Limitless possibilities, and all that.

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Tim Lincecum Starts Making Sense By Not Making Sense

Given everything that happened later on Wednesday, you might have forgotten that, earlier on Wednesday, the Giants won another must-win game over the Reds in Cincinnati. The Giants won a game that was started by Barry Zito, which lately has not been unusual. Barry Zito himself was quite terrible, which lately has been more unusual. The Giants won mostly because they finally started to hit — they finished with 11 hits in 33 at-bats, eight of which went for extra bases. But another crucial contributor was one Tim Lincecum, pitching in long relief.

Lincecum was not the first guy Bruce Bochy went to out of the bullpen. After Zito discovered a way to walk Dioner Navarro with two outs in the third, Bochy called on George Kontos. Kontos began the fourth, and then was replaced by lefty Jose Mijares, to face lefty Joey Votto. Mijares struck Votto out for the second out of the frame, and after that bit of unplanned strategic genius, Bochy signaled for Lincecum. Lincecum got out of a jam by striking out Ryan Ludwick, and then Lincecum just kept on pitching through the eighth.

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Zach Collier, Anthony Hewitt & You: Evaluating Hitters

Evaluating a pitcher is simpler than evaluating a hitter.  It isn’t easier, due to pitcher attrition, but pitchers show you everything they have to offer—stuff, location, delivery, athleticism, etc.—pitch after pitch and are dictating the action.  Watching a hitter is more complicated since you’re evaluating their ability to react to what the pitcher is doing, along with the physical tools, ability to use them, approach at the plate, etc.  Hitters can go a couple at bats without swinging and full games without having to show their ability in one of these key areas.

The hit tool is the hardest tool to predict and also is the most important.  Imagine the job of a pro scout grading the hit tool for every player on a team from a five game look.  You’ll have notes from batting practice and every at bat of each player, but the information is asymmetrical.  You don’t know how he responds to a fastball on his hands until one is thrown and maybe he never gets one or he doesn’t swing at it.  You pay close attention to his plate discipline but maybe he doesn’t see any borderline pitches for a game or two.  This is multiplied for every player on the team, some of whom play irregularly, so your notes can have some holes. Evaluating a hitter is difficult because it’s a passive act graded off of a short look but also because it’s very complicated by nature with countless components.

While my method for grading hitters isn’t a revelation, it’s helped me organize my thoughts about hitters while taking notes mid-game and while writing the final evaluations.  I separate the hit tool into three components –tools, plate discipline and bat control—and classify any observation into one of the three groups, then use the grades of each of these components to get to the hit tool grade.  If I don’t take this methodical, checklist-type approach, I end up looking at a mess of notes, outcomes, stats and background info and gut-feeling my way to a hit tool grade.

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Giants Win, Make Incredible Postseason History

So far, the San Francisco Giants and the Cincinnati Reds have played three games in their Division Series, with the Reds winning two of them. In one game, the Giants’ offense finished with seven hits and six walks in nine innings. In another game, the Giants’ offense finished with two hits and three walks in nine innings. In the last game, the Giants’ offense finished with three hits, a walk, and a hit batter in ten innings. From that information, spot the Giants’ lone victory.

It was the last one, by the way. In Tuesday’s must-win Game 3, the Giants racked up all of three singles in an extra-innings contest, but good pitching and a timely or untimely error by Scott Rolen allowed the Giants’ postseason dreams to stay alive. They might not survive through Wednesday, but given Tuesday’s offense, it’s a minor miracle they’ve gotten this far.

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Scrabble and the Rookie

At this point, it might not make a whole lot of sense to talk about Sunday’s Game 1 of the Cardinals/Nationals NLDS, since Game 2 is already well underway at this writing. And if we’re going to talk about Sunday’s Game 1, it might not make a whole lot of sense to focus on just one single pitch. Game 1 featured several pitches, dozens of pitches, and each was important. But where many have discussed the decision to replace Mitchell Boggs with Marc Rzepczynski in the top of the eighth, I want to discuss the result of Rzepczynski’s first at-bat.

The controversy, if you want to call it that, is that the Nationals had two runners in scoring position with two out, and instead of letting Boggs face the left-handed Chad Tracy, Mike Matheny chose to have the left-handed Rzepczynski face the right-handed rookie Tyler Moore. Moore singled home two runs, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead, and the win-expectancy swing was about 47 percent. That single won Game 1 for the Nationals — it was a pretty important single.

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Giants Get Arroyo’d, Which Is a Thing

The Giants lost to the Reds 5-2 in Game 1 of their NLDS on Saturday, but for San Francisco, it wasn’t so bad — there were identifiable moments where things easily could’ve gone differently. One break here, one break there, and maybe it’s the Giants instead who’re leading the series. The offense, certainly, didn’t look as bad as its ultimate two-run total. While every game is important when there can only be three, four, or five games, at least the Giants could come away feeling like they hadn’t been badly outplayed.

In Game 2, the Giants got themselves slaughtered. The Reds scored nine runs, the Giants scored zero runs, the Reds racked up 13 hits, and the Giants racked up two hits. In Game 2, the Giants were badly out-hit, and accordingly, in Game 2, the Giants were badly out-pitched. With Madison Bumgarner pitching at home against Bronson Arroyo, I can’t imagine there were many people out there who expected the Giants to lose by the score of a forfeit.

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Reds Lose Ace, Win Game

Eventually, you’re all going to get sick of me talking about how everything that’s going on now is for all intents and purposes unpredictable. Hopefully you aren’t sick of it yet, because Game 1 of the NLDS between the Reds and the Giants went to show why playoff predictions are a complete waste of time. Allow me to review the action:

(1)Ace Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto had to be removed after eight pitches due to injury, but

(2) the Reds still beat the Giants 5-2 on Saturday, because

(3) they hit two home runs off Matt Cain in AT&T Park.

It would’ve made perfect sense for this to turn into a pitcher’s duel. Cueto is one of the better starting pitchers in the National League, Cain is one of the better starting pitchers in the National League, neither the Reds nor the Giants have amazing team offenses, and AT&T Park suppresses run scoring like it’s poisonous and AT&T Park doesn’t want people to get poisoned. Instead, Cain was passable for five innings, and Cueto barely pitched. There still weren’t a whole lot of runs, but this didn’t go the way it was supposed to go.

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