Archive for Game Report

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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Scouting Jameson Taillon

Jameson Taillon has been considered one of the top pitching prospects in the minors since signing with the Pirates for $6.5 million as the second overall pick in the 2010 draft.  What I’ve seen has matched the hype, but he does have some things to work on.  I scouted Taillon in a short spring training outing and two full outings with the Pirates Hi-A affiliate in Bradenton.  I’ll have notes on the rest of the Bradenton squad coming soon.

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Scouting Dylan Bundy

For my day job, I write up scouting reports on amateur players for ESPN’s Draft Blog but have been catching minor league games on the side when my schedule permits. I’m happy to bring some of my scouting reports to FanGraphs, and first up is the buzziest prospect of them all, Orioles righty Dylan Bundy. I caught his start in Charleston versus the Yankees affiliate on May 7th and I pieced together some video from the game:

Video after the jump

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Stephen Strasburg Returns: A Pitch FX Review

Tonight, Stephen Strasburg returned from Tommy John surgery to make his season debut for the Nationals. Here is a look at his Pitch FX speeds from tonight compared to one of his starts from last season. Read the rest of this entry »


Triple Play Trivia and Oddities

I was lucky enough to be in attendance for last night’s game between the Rays and Red Sox, where I got to see something rather rare: a triple play. In the fourth inning of the game, the Rays had runners on first and second with no outs, and Sean Rodriguez hit a sharp grounder right to Jed Lowrie at third base. Lowrie took two steps to the base and then started an easy 5-4-3 triple play. But as fate would have it, this play wasn’t even the first triple play turned this week. The Brewers turned an impressive 4-6-3-2 triple play on Monday against the Dodgers, the first time that sort of triple play has happened since 1972.

So naturally, these two plays have now turned my mind toward all things triple-play-related. Looking for some odd tidbits of information on these triple plays, or on triple plays in general? I’ve got you covered.

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Advance Scouting: Containing Cano

Whenever I watch Major League action, I typically watch the games with the same intent in which I watch games I’m scouting in person.  When evaluating a hitting prospect, I’m interested in finding out how the pitchers are attacking him.  Where are his holes?  How easily are pitchers exploiting those holes?  Is there one spot or type of pitch you can get him out with or does it take a variation of approaches to get him out?

Things like this can be seen in big league games as well, except the holes are smaller, the weaknesses are more difficult to exploit, and the pitchers are better.  Even baseball’s great hitters like Robinson Cano have holes that pitchers and advance scouting departments are constantly searching for ways to exploit.  One of the ways teams might try to get Cano out in 2011 showed up on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. 

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NLCS Series Review: Philadelphia

Perhaps the story of the Phillies in ye old National League Championship Series of 2010 is the story of missed opportunities at the plate. We know how poor of a statistic batting average is, but Ryan Howard was the only regular to top .261, so the bats weren’t hot. The entire team put up a .216/.311/.321 line, which is somewhere between “that’s disappointing” and “OMGz, trade that bum Chase Utley (.182/.333/.227) like yesterday” depending on your current state of mind. A team that hit .260/.332/.413 during the season didn’t come close to equaling that production in a six-game stretch. It happens, and it seems there’s no reason to slice and dice that sample any smaller.

Or maybe there is. Because we’ve talked about this team’s struggles against lefthanders at times. Looking at the series as a whole, though, the Phillies managed “only” 10 runs, 18 hits (7 extra base) and 9 walks in 21 innings against lefties. Perhaps we only remember the high-profile strikeouts – and the Giants’ LHPs did strike out 23 in those 21 innings. Even if we think the overall line overstates the case and want to consider the leverage index of all those Javier Lopez outings, in particular, he only averaged a 1.4 LI while compiling that 2.08 ERA and getting those 13 outs. Impressive? Yes. Higher-than-average pressure in those situations? Yes. The reason the Phillies lost the series? Hardly. The Phillies had chances and we obviously can’t blame their lack of offense all on their overall performance against lefties.

The word going in was that even if the Phillies offense was going to have a little trouble with this staff, their own pitching staff would easily neutralize the poor Giants offense. After all, the Giants were the only playoff team with a below-average wOBA and the Phillies had Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. That trio didn’t perform poorly – they pitched 33 innings and allowed 13 runs, striking out 34 against only six walks. Perhaps more was expected of Roy Halladay after his no-hitter in the first round, but he did strain that groin and you don’t point at three pitchers that pitched 65% of your innings to a 3.27 ERA and say, there, that’s your problem right there.

The bullpen? 13 innings, three runs. The defense? Four errors to the Giants’ three – and even if you want to say errors are a poor gauge of defense, you’d have to admit they played about even on the field in that regard. Timely hitting? Sure, but what can you really do about that, and how much of that is the short sample? Want to blame Ryan Howard just ’cause? Check Dave Cameron’s defense.

It was a tight series. Javier Lopez certainly helped the Giants, and the San Francisco staff deserves some credit for keeping a good offense down. Play this series a million times, though, and the Philadelphia squad probably wins close to half of ’em. The Phillies didn’t play terribly and don’t have an obvious scapegoat going into the offseason, so all they can do is find a way to replace Jayson Werth if he leaves (preferably with a right-handed bat), rework the bullpen as good teams do every offseason, and give it another shot next year.