Archive for Season Highlights

Alex Gordon, UZR, and Bad Left Field Defense

Since Alex Gordon moved into first place in position player WAR (although he’s now second again), quite a bit of back-and-forth discussion has occurred on if he is this season’s best position player. Most of the talk revolves around how much stock  should people put into defensive statistics. Our own Dave Cameron has already taken a stab at the subject earlier in the week. Alex Gordon is getting close to two wins of value from his defense, a considerable jump from his previous seasons. After looking at the inputs used for UZR, it is not Alex Gordon’s performance going to new levels, but the lack of talented defenders in left field making him seem better.

Read the rest of this entry »

Starling Marte Gets on Base the Hard Way

On Tuesday, Starling Marte got his first start in more than a month. To no one’s surprise — at least to those who follow the Pirates — he got hit by a pitch. It was his 22nd hit-by-pitch this season, the second-most behind Cincinnati’s Shin-Soo Choo. Prior to his start this week, Marte had been absent from the Pirates lineup since Aug. 18 — a day after he was hit in the hand. While some players get hit all the time, it looks like Marte might be playing an active role. In fact, it appears he’s getting hit when he’s close to striking out. And if that’s true, the strategy looks to have cost him at least a month’s production.

Read the rest of this entry »

Putting Hitters Away with Heat

In his Major League debut for the Mets, 23-year-old Zack Wheeler struck out seven hitters in his six innings of work. Of those seven strikeouts, six came on fastballs — and of those six, four came on whiffs induced by fastballs.

This got me wondering, what pitchers this year have generated the largest percentage of their strikeouts off of their fastball? And how many generated those strike outs on swings and misses on fastballs*?

Read the rest of this entry »

Change You Can Believe In

Back in High School, my pitching coach used to sit down all of the starting pitchers (all three of us) from the varsity squad to have a chat about pitching philosophy. Coach was a former minor league pitcher who flamed out after injury and ineffectiveness, but his love of pitching was obvious, if not a little obsessive. He used to preach about a lot of things, controlling your emotions, mechanics, pacing, etc. But it was always the video I looked forward to.

He’d roll out the rickety old metal stand with a crummy 18 inch TV and antiquated betamax player. Not only had we seen it before, but we would never really understand the usefulness of the demonstration. But it was still fun to watch.

Read the rest of this entry »

Complete Game, Interrupted

Similar to my post earlier in the summer on what a beautifully morbid season Cliff Lee was having, I tend to have a fascination with the way baseball sometimes refuses to be fair. I blame Tom Paciorek.

When I was 5 years old, I wrote Paciorek and asked him if he had any advice about how to get to the big leagues. After checking my mail obsessively over the next four months, I got an envelope with a Seattle Mariner trident on it. I tore it open. “Tom Paciorek! Tom Paciorek! Tom Paciorek!” I hollered, sprinting through through the house, waving the letter in the air.

And what sage advice did I receive? “Kid,” Paciorek wrote, “in baseball, you’re either the hero or the goat. – Tom.”

From those few words, my passion was born.

Read the rest of this entry »

Examining Gio Gonzalez

Lost in the improbable and rather infatuating season from R.A. Dickey and yet another commanding performance by Clayton Kershaw sits Gio Gonzalez and his measly 5.4 WAR season.

Gonzalez went 21-8 for the Washington Nationals with a 2.89 ERA, 2.82 FIP, and 25.2% strikeout rate and yet garnered only one first place vote in the Cy Young balloting. It’s not that Gonzalez so much deserved more attention from the Baseball Writers Association, but his season might have been as surprising as Dickey’s yet few seem to be talking about it outside of the Capital.

When Gonzalez came over from Oakland for Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, and Derek Norris, reactions were mixed. If you could boil all the sentiments down into a prognosticator sludge, the general consensus was probably that Oakland did well to get highly regarded A.J. Cole and ready to nearly-ready prospects for what was likely a middle of the rotation kind of arm. To be sure, some were much higher on Gonzalez, but there were just as many that expected him to underwhelm the senior circuit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Shut Out of the MVP Voting

The big news associated with the MVP award announced today will be the winners, especially this year with the Trout vs. Cabrera debate. Besides the winners, the below average players who receive votes get a bit of press. Today, I will look at another group of hitters, those who had a good season, but may not get a single MVP vote.

Read the rest of this entry »

Orioles Defying the Odds

Over this past weekend, the Orioles split a 4 game series with the New York Yankees. Baltimore was able win 2 games and stay only 1 game behind the Yankess in the AL East standings, even though they were outscored 31 to 23. This trend of winning while being outscored is not uncommon for the Orioles this season.

The most remarkable part about the Orioles keeping pace with the elite teams in the AL is that they have done it with a negative run differential, (608 Runs scored vice 637 Runs Allowed). It may seem that it would not be too uncommon for a team to be a few wins over .500 and have a allowed a few more runs then they have scored, but it isn’t. Only the San Francisco Giants achieved the feat in 2011 (86-76, -17 runs) and no teams in 2010. Since 1962, when both leagues went to 162 games, 54 teams have been able to reach this feat, or just about 1 per season. The average run differential for the teams was -18.6 runs and the average number of games over .500 was 6.8 games.

Read the rest of this entry »

Physics to Mark Teixeira: Don’t Dive

Most people will remember the bad out call of Mark Teixeira by Jerry Meals from Saturday’s game against the Orioles. While Teixeira was obviously safe on replay, but perhaps the entire thing could have been avoided if Teixeira had simply run through the bag instead.

There have been a multitude of scientific studies on the merits of running through the bag or diving, including this recent one from ESPN’s Sports Science. The video is worth watching, but the conclusion is definite – running through the bag was 10 milliseconds faster on average than diving, and the difference can be significantly larger if the dive results in too much kinetic friction due to landing in the dirt too early. How good was Teixeira’s dive? Let’s take a look.

Read the rest of this entry »

2012: Year of Reliever Whiffs

With due respect to landing a quad, it is believed that one of the hardest things to do in organized professional sports is hit a baseball. Relief pitchers across Major League Baseball are taking that to a new level in 2012.

Since 1961, there have been exactly twelve instances of players registering a strikeout rate above 40%. Five of them are from 2012. While the season is clearly not over yet and we could see declines in strikeout rates, this could be considered the greatest group of relievers, relative to strikeouts, in MLB history.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fister’s Unexpected Great Season

With their backs against the wall, the New York Yankees clobbered the baseball around the diamond for a 10-1 victory and tied up the ALDS with the Detroit Tigers at two games apiece.

The two teams will now head back east to New York for a decisive Game 5. New York will trot out young Ivan Nova, while Detroit counters with right-hander Doug Fister. It will be a rematch of Game 1, in which Fister surrendered six earned runs in 4.2 innings and, ultimately, took the loss. Given that Fister’s dominating second half with the Tigers was so surprising, it’s natural to think that perhaps he was exposed by having to face a good line-up, and that the Tigers are in trouble asking him to try and get the Yankees out again.

After all, it’s become fashionable to point out that Fister didn’t exactly have the hardest road after Detroit picked him up from Seattle in July. This criticism is based in fact – his opponents in August and September, chronologically:

Texas, Cleveland, Baltimore, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Cleveland, Minnesota, Oakland, Kansas City, Cleveland

Read the rest of this entry »

Braves in September

Several reasons have floated around for the cause of the Braves’ historic collapse. Many people point to the horrible September that the Braves and their players experienced. Similar down months happened previously in the 2011 season, but went unnoticed due to the lack of playoff implications.

No Offense

The Braves offense was not a powerhouse over the entire season. They averaged just under four runs a game (3.96). It was 10th in the NL. While not great, it was even worse over the last month. They scored only 87 runs, or 3.22 runs per game. Now, which of the following slash lines led to the offensive collapse:

#1: 0.235/0.300/0.357
#2: 0.222/0.290/0.388

Read the rest of this entry »

Appreciating Derek Jeter

It’s not an easy time to be a legend.

I feel redundant saying this, since it’s become a common refrain among sportswriters when discussing star players, but we live in skeptical times. It’s too easy to blame it on the steroids scandal from the late 1990s and early 2000s.  The problem is more deeply rooted than that. Simply put, we live in an age of technology and information – and in such an age, it becomes more difficult to believe in something as abstract as a hero.

We live in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, where small stories become huge scandals. It’s an age where computers and social networks have come to dominate our lives. An age where stats determine whether we keep our jobs, and where a  computer algorithm promises us we can find true love. We have free and easy access to more news than our great-grandparents could have dreamed about, yet we can’t help but crave more information. We’ve truly reached the Information Age.

Yet in this age of instant information, can legends survive? It used to be that legends would grow from hearsay, from people passing around stories by word of mouth. Still, no story can survive for long in these days without being dissected, torn to shreds and stitched back together. If Babe Ruth’s Called Shot happened today, would baseball fans 80 years from now still remember it? Almost certainly not – there would be hundreds of reporters covering the story, searching for quotes and digging up new information and angles. The very mythology of the story would be sucked dry. Heroes and legends often don’t stand up to close scrutiny – they thrive best on uncertainty and myth and the power of a child’s imagination.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fun with Early Season Offensive Numbers

Small sample sizes are generally a bad thing, but they can also be fun. With April starting to wind down, let’s have a look at some interesting team offensive statistics in the Majors so far this year.

  • The Royals are second in the Majors in hitting: .296 batting average.
  • But we know it’s not going to last for these guys (2010 AVG | 2010 BABIP | Career AVG):
    Scott Podsednik: .449 | .512 | .279
    Jose Guillen: .377 | .370 | .273
    Jason Kendall: .352 | .388 | .290

  • The White Sox are last in hitting: .215 batting average.
  • You know you’re in trouble when Andruw Jones (.270) is your leading hitter, followed by Alex Rios (.250). Sophomore Gordon Beckham should pick up his game soon, and a speedster like Juan Pierre is not going to have a .228 BABIP for long, and the Ks aren’t hurting him (5.0 K%). Seriously, though… Andruw Jones. Have you seen him lately? It looks like he left half of himself at home this season… which has resulted in a much quicker bat.

  • The Cardinals and Blue Jays (!) clubs are leading the Majors in homers with 23. The Brewers squad is leading in slugging percentage at .496 and ISO at .209.
  • Vernon Wells accounts for seven of those for the Jays, followed by free agent steal Alex Gonzalez. Overbay has the biggest goose egg with zero in 59 at-bats (along with a .119 average and ugly batting stance/swing)… guess the Jays should have done that Overbay-for-Chris Snyder trade that they reportedly backed out on. For St. Louis, the usual suspects like Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols are hitting jacks, but it’s also nice to see sophomore Colby Rasmus tapping into his raw power.

  • The Astros (five) and Mariners (six) have fewer home runs than Vernon Wells (seven).
  • Jason Michaels, who has all of 14 at-bats, is leading the Astros club with two jacks. Pedro Feliz (12 in ’09) and Carlos Lee (26 in ’09) have yet to hit home runs. Only three Mariners’ hitters have homers: Casey Kotchman (3), Milton Bradley (2), and Rob Johnson (1). The swift-fielding Franklin Gutierrez is hitting .393 but he’s homer-less in 67 PAs. He knocked out 18 homers last season. Jose Lopez (25 dingers in ’09) is also without a homer in 68 PAs.

  • The Astros (41) and Orioles (46) offenses have scored fewer runs combined than the Dodgers (98), Brewers (97), Rays (93), and Phillies (91).
  • For what it’s worth, the Dodgers club has the highest BABIP in the Majors at .346 so it’s taking full advantage of its success with balls in play. The Brewers team is having success with scoring runs even with Prince Fielder off to another slow start in the power department.

  • More Houston woes… the club has walked a total of 18 times. The next fewest walks for a team is 37 by the Royals. The team with the most walks is the… Twins (?!) with 79.
  • There are three hitters in the Majors that have walked as much or more than the entire Astros team (David Wright, Daric Barton, and Nick Johnson). Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger account for 12 of the team’s walks (six apiece). Feliz hasn’t walked in 56 plate appearances, Tommy Manzella has a goose egg in 40, and Hunter Pence has one in 57. Seriously, that’s pathetic. As for the Twins, Justin Morneau (15), Denard Span (13), Jason Kubel (10), and Joe Mauer (10) are all in double-digits. Span figures to benefit from the increased focus with on-base percentage given that it should provide him with more stolen base opportunities.

  • Despite having a .215 team batting average, the White Sox club is tied with Kansas City for the fewest strikeouts in the Majors (86). Chicago has a BABIP of .222. The most strikeouts by a team is awarded to the Toronto Blue Jays (135), which also has the second lowest BABIP in the Majors at .255. The Mets club is up next, followed by the Rays.
  • Does Chicago have the slowest team in the Majors? Paul KonerkoA.J. PierzynskiCarlos Quentin… are definitely guilty of slow-footedness (Great, I sound like Carson), but the team also has Pierre, Alexei Ramirez, and Alex Rios. Some of this definitely smells like bad luck, especially when you add in the K-rate, which is good news for the much-maligned Chicago fan base. Toronto’s motto: Live by the long ball, die by the long ball (swing).

  • The Red Sox’ hitters make contact almost 10% more often than the D-Backs’ and Jays’ batters.
  • Again, I reiterate: Toronto’s motto: Live by the long ball, die by the long ball (swing). Man, it’s annoying watching the majority of Toronto’s hitters bat. Pull. Pull. Pull. It’s like being at a tug-of-war contest. I’ll give you the scouting report on Toronto: Pitch them low and away consistently and you’ll win the game.

  • The Phillies and Orioles clubs have each stolen just three bases this season. The O’s team has also been caught three times, while the Phillies’ base runners have been caught once. The Rangers club (!) leads the Majors in steals with 20 in 21 tries. The Rays team is second with 19 but six runners have been gunned down.
  • Jimmy Rollins accounts for two-thirds of the Phillies’ steals, but he’s currently on the DL so don’t expect to see much thievery in Philadelphia for the next little while. Why did Shane Victorino suddenly stop running…? I mean, speed is his game. The O’s best stolen base threat (Brian Roberts) is also dealing with injuries. Sure, the Texas club still has its sluggers, but Nelson Cruz leads the team with seven homers and he’s balanced that out with five steals. He should be a 30-20 guy this season, with an outside shot for 30-30 if he’s motivated. Elvis Andrus also has five steals (and what a steal he’s been from Atlanta). Julio Borbon has four swipes even though he’s barely getting on base (.163 OBP).

    A couple of lessons for the day:
    1. Houston is really frickin’ bad with the stick.
    2. Toronto batters swing for the fences and have no idea what “small ball” or “strategy” means.
    3. The Rangers are no longer one-dimensional (Here that Toronto?).
    4. The Twins’ free-swinging reputation is actually wrong (check out the ’09 totals, too).
    5. Sample sample sizes can be fun if used properly and in the presence of an adult.

    Manny’s Hollywood Moment


    These Dodgers just cannot be stopped.

    With the game tied 2-2 in the 6th inning, Bronson Arroyo found himself in a jam with the bases loaded and only one out. Chad Billingsley was due up and was pitching well, having fanned 7 batters and allowed just 2 ER on 93 pitches, but manager Joe Torre opted to go all in and let Manny Ramirez pinch hit. Ramirez was not in the lineup because of a bruised left hand suffered the previous night.

    Dusty Baker then countered with his sinker-balling reliever Nick Masset in hopes of inducing a double play. Instead, Manny hit a laser beam into the left field stands, also fittingly known as the “Mannywood section”. Dodger Stadium erupted into a total frenzy. Ramirez ended up taking two curtain calls. It also just so happened to be Manny Ramirez bobble-head night.

    Some fans and members of the media are already calling this as one of the greatest moments in Dodger history, going so far to compare this moment to Kirk Gibson’s triumphant limp around the bases of Game 1 of the ’88 World Series. Yeah, I don’t think so, but there is a definite lesson here.

    Sorry, self-righteous sports writers. Next time you feel like writing some high-horsed column about how steroids are the epitome of evil in baseball, go back and watch the Manny Granny and watch the fans go completely bananas. It is hard proof that the majority of fans really don’t give a rip about PEDs.

    Game of the Week: 5/11-5/17

    Quantifying the contributions of a manager is a very difficult task in the world of baseball evaluations. Regardless, even those who feel that managers do very little can agree that one responsibility involves accurately filling out the lineup card prior to a game. Rays manager Joe Maddon seemingly could not handle this responsibility yesterday, leading to a ruling that places Sunday’s Rays-Indians game atop all others this week.

    Though Clayton Kershaw and his seven no-hit innings certainly made a solid argument and the three consecutive walk-off wins for the Yankees stated an impressive case, Maddon’s blunder and the results surpassed all others.

    For those who have not yet heard, Maddon penciled in both Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist at third base. The ‘5’ on the lineup card next to Longoria’s name was circled, suggesting he would actually be the designated hitter. After Zobrist played the field in the top of the first, Indians skipper Eric Wedge pointed out the flaw. Thirteen grueling minutes later, the umpires stripped the Rays of their right to use a designated hitter, meaning that Andy Sonnanstine would be their third hitter.


    B.J. Upton led off with a walk and promptly stole second base. Carl Crawford then singled him in, bringing Sonnanstine to the plate. Sonny tried to sacrifice Crawford along but ended up reaching first on a fielder’s choice force out.

    In the top of the second, Ben Francisco hit a three-run homer to put the Tribe ahead, 3-1. A half-inning later, Jason Bartlett tripled and crossed home plate courtesy of a Gabe Kapler groundout. The game remained 3-2 in favor of the Indians until the bottom of the fourth inning, when the Rays erupted for five runs. Prior to that inning, Sonnanstine had batted again and struck out.

    The five-run rally kicked off when Ben Zobrist started the frame with a triple. Bartlett then singled him home to knot the game at three runs apiece. Kapler walked and Akinori Iwamura singled to load the bases with nary an out. Michel Hernandez then delivered a bases clearing double to put the Rays ahead, 6-3. After Upton and Crawford were both retired, Sonnanstine launched a double over the head of the quite shallow Ryan Garko, scoring Hernandez.

    Sonnanstine lasted until the sixth inning and left with a 7-5 lead. Though he got the win, he did not necessarily pitch that well. Maybe he took his poor at bats back to the mound with him. The last time this odd ruling came into play was on July 23, 1999, when Mike Hargrove messed up the fielding positions of Manny Ramirez and Alex Ramirez, meaning Charles Nagy had to bat. It isn’t uncommon to see a pitcher record a win while going 1-3 with an RBI at the dish… but it is very odd to see this occur in a league specifically designed to avoid pitchers hitting.

    Game of the Week: 4/27-5/3

    Whew… this sure turned out to be an interesting week filled with some tremendously entertaining matchup. On Monday, the Phillies came back from an 11-7 deficit in the eighth inning to win 13-11 against the Nationals. Tuesday saw the White Sox and Mariners engage in a solid doubleheader, the first game of which took all of 17 minutes to play and the second of which saw firsthand the dominance of Felix Hernandez. On Wednesday, Yovani Gallardo beat the Padres… literally… as he pitched eight shutout innings of two-hit ball while accounting for the lone run of the game with a solo home run.

    Fast forward to Sunday and several more games staked claim as potential winners for this week’s honor. Scott Baker took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Royals before getting rocked; the Twins would lose 7-5. Barry Zito looked vintage, recording a no-decision while holding the Rockies scoreless over seven innings. The winner, however, is the Athletics-Mariners matchup yesterday in which the Ms walked off on a single in the bottom of the fifteenth frame.


    Chris Jakubauskas, coming off of a two-hit loss in the aforementioned swiftly played game against the White Sox, opposed Josh Outman in this instant classic. Things started out roughly for the Jakulantern as both Ryan Sweeney and Orlando Cabrera singled to start off the first inning. As Jason Giambi stepped up to the plate, the leverage index clocked in at 1.82. The average leverage index for the entire game was 1.88, meaning that the standard for this game featured a fair amount of stress.

    Matt Holliday grounded out, scoring Sweeney, before Jack Cust launched a two-run homer, giving the As a 3-0 lead right out of the gate. From that point until the bottom of the fourth inning, nothing truly noteworthy happened, with a mere two plate appearances exceeding 1.0 on the leverage index scale. Following a Jose Lopez single in that bottom of the fourth, Mike Sweeney put the Mariners on the scoreboard with a two-run homer. The As added another run in the next half-inning and the score stayed stagnant at 4-2 in favor of Beane’s Bunch until the bottom of the seventh.

    Ichiro Suzuki knocked in the third run for the Mariners in the seventh, bringing them within one run of the Athletics, but time was running out. Russ Springer came into close the game out, but things didn’t go as planned, as Kenji Johjima knotted the game at 4-4 with a solo home run. The situation grew more tense for Springer as Franklin Gutierrez and Yuniesky Betancourt each followed with singles. One out, runners on first and second, bottom of the ninth… and Springer managed to escape without any further damage.

    Fast forward to the top of the thirteenth inning, with Miguel Batista on the mound for the Mariners. Landon Powell stepped into the batters box with runners on the corners and one out, and doubled both in, giving the As a 6-4 lead in the process. Orlando Cabrera knocked Powell in soon thereafter, increasing the lead to 7-4. In the bottom of the thirteenth, Bob Geren was counting on Gio Gonzalez to finish things off, unlike Springer.

    Unfortunately, Gonzalez had been in the game for four previous innings and he, too, could not hold the lead, surrendering runs on three straight plate appearances: a bases loaded walk, a force out, and an rbi single. After thirteen frames, the score remained tied, this time at seven runs apiece. The game finally drew to a close in the bottom of the fifteenth, when Jose Lopez singled in Franklin Gutierrez off of Dana Eveland, with runners on the corners. Unlike the middle innings of the game, the extra frames saw a select few plate appearances feature a leverage index below 1.40.

    Though an Alfonseca-handful of games could have qualified for this week’s honors, the constant back and forth deep into the world of extra innings between the As and Ms takes the cake.

    Best Pitching Performances #5-#1

    This morning, our topic of discussion involved the bottom half of the top ten pitching performances of 2008, as determined by single-game WPA. As mentioned then, no pitcher accrued an individual game WPA above +1.0 this season, but there were still some absolutely fantastic outings. For posterity’s sake, numbers ten through six were:

    10) Bronson Arroyo, 8/26 @ Hou:   0.660 WPA, 9 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
    9)  Roy Oswalt,     9/6 @ Col:    0.676 WPA, 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
    8)  James Shields,  5/9 vs. LAA:  0.685 WPA, 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K
    7)  Jeff Karstens,  8/6 @ Ari:    0.695 WPA, 9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
    6)  Matt Cain,      7/24 vs. Was: 0.707 WPA, 9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K

    And here are the top five:

    #5: Cliff Lee, 5/12 vs. Toronto
    Cliff Lee had a remarkable season. After having to fight for his job in Spring Training, Lee went onto win the 2008 AL Cy Young Award. Without attempting to stir any discussions about Lee/Halladay, his top performance of the year, via WPA, occurred on May 12, against Doc’s team. Lee pitched a complete game shutout, scattering seven hits and two walks over nine innings, striking out five in the process. At the end of the day, Lee was putting the finishing touches on an incredible streak to start the season, earning a 0.715 WPA.

    #4: Josh Banks, 5/25 vs. Cincinnati
    Jeff Karstens seemed a tad out of place on this list, but at least there are plenty of people who have heard of him. Banks, however, is not well-known, and did not have a very solid 2008 season, yet he somehow managed to harness everything he has into the fourth best performance of the season. For those that do not remember, this 5/25 Padres/Reds game was the one that went 18 innings. Banks pitched six fantastic relief innings, surrendering five hits and no runs to go with two walks and four strikeouts. His work earned him a 0.718 WPA.

    #3: Jesse Carlson, 4/16 vs. Texas
    Keeping with the theme of relievers earning high WPA marks, Jesse Carlson of the Blue Jays found himself in quite the predicament against the Rangers early in the season. BJ Ryan had blown the save in the ninth inning, and the Rangers were again threatening in the tenth. Brian Wolfe allowed the first three batters to reach base safely, and was lifted in favor of Carlson. Jesse entered into a bases loaded, no outs, situation, and managed to get out of it, recording a “Houdini” in the process. He would pitch two more scoreless innings, limiting the baserunners to one hit and two walks, while striking out four. The Rangers would win the game, but Carlson recorded a 0.721 WPA for his stellar work.

    #2: Ben Sheets, 9/6 vs. San Diego
    Ben Sheets has always been the guy with the ridiculous “stuff” and potential to be fantastic if he could stay healthy. We got to see a lot of him this year, and he didn’t disappoint, but none of his games were better than the one on September 6. Against the Padres, home at Miller Park, Sheets tossed a five-hit, complete game shutout, walking one and fanning seven. His 0.729 WPA for the day placed him second on our list, though quite the distant second behind the best performance of the season.

    #1: CC Sabathia, 6/10 vs. Minnesota
    How could a list like this not have Sabathia? An eventual teammate of second-place Sheets, Sabathia’s game on June 10 actually occurred before he was sent to Milwaukee. Back when he was a member of the Indians, CC tossed a five-hit, complete game shutout, with no walks and five strikeouts. His single-game WPA, the best of any game for a pitcher this year, was 0.775, significantly better than everyone else on this list.

    Nobody may have produced single-game WPAs above +1.0, but it is tough to imagine, after seeing these games, what someone would have to do to accomplish such a feat.

    Best Pitching Performances #10-#6

    Last night, we took a look at the four games from 2000 or later in which a pitcher accrued a WPA of -1.0 or worse, thereby costing his team one or more wins in a single game. Prior to that, our discussion centered around the brilliant games of Cody Ross and Kurt Suzuki, who, in the span of three weeks managed to become the only two offensive players to post a WPA equal to, or greater than, +1.0 in a single game. Unfortunately, no pitcher in 2008 had a performance good enough to be worth one or more wins, but there were still some fantastic outings. Today, we will examine the ten best pitching performances of 2008, sorted by the WPA earned.

    #10: Bronson Arroyo, 8/26 @ Houston
    Arroyo might not be an all star but, over the last four years, has been average at worst (-0.12 WPA this year), while logging 200+ innings each season. His BABIP, LOB, BB/9, and WHIP have trended in the downward direction, but even pitchers in the decline phase can toss out a gem here and there. On August 26, in Houston’s bandbox stadium, Arroyo went the distance, earning a complete game, surrendering just five hits and one run, walking two and striking out three. While it may not seem all that amazing, he earned a WPA of 0.660 for his efforts, the tenth most individual game WPA for pitchers this season.

    #9: Roy Oswalt, 9/6 @ Colorado
    If you thought Arroyo may have had a tough time pitching a gem in Houston, how could Oswalt pull off an even better game in Coors Field? Roy had an interesting season, getting off to an extremely un-Oswalt-like start, before finishing extremely strong, racking up some pretty impressive numbers. His ERA and FIP may have been higher in years past, but his xFIP, which normalizes the home run rate, is actually right in line with these seasons. On September 6, Roy was in the midst of a brilliant streak of games; none, however, were as brilliant as his performance against the Rockies. On the day, he pitched a 9-inning complete game shutout, giving up just one hit, walking two, and striking out six. All told, his individual game WPA of 0.676 takes the ninth spot on our list.

    #8: James Shields, 5/9 vs. Los Angeles Anaheim Angels of California
    In 2008, James Shields continued to stake claim as the Rays #1 starter with a season very similar to his breakout 2007 campaign. He pitched 215 innings in both years, posted FIP marks between 3.82 and 3.86, ranged from 1.51-1.67 in BB/9, and produced identical .292 BABIPs. On May 9th, home against the Angels—ironically, this is the first home game on our list so far—Shields was so dominant that dominant doesn’t even describe his performance. He tossed a complete game shutout, allowing just one hit. Excellent with control, Shields walked nobody and struck out eight Halos hitters. His WPA? 0.685, good enough for the eighth best pitched game of the season. How could it get better than that you might be thinking, but hold on, we’re moving on up.

    #7: Jeff Karstens, 8/6 @ Arizona
    I remember a few years back, while working minor league baseball telecasts for CN8, getting to see Jeff Karstens pitch on a regular basis. He always seemed to have the poise and “stuff” that should translate into major league success. Suffice it to say, things have not panned out the way that I, or other Yankees fans, imagined, and Jeff found himself a member of the Pirates in 2008. He did post a 4.03 ERA in his nine starts, but he K/9 was ridiculously low and his 4.77 FIP does a better job of explaining his performance level. Still, in his first two starts, he looked fantastic. On August 1st, he held the Cubs scoreless over six innings, surrendering only five hits. In his next start, against the Diamondbacks, he pitched a two-hit, complete game shutout, with two walks and four strikeouts. Though this game does not feel better than Oswalt’s or Shields’, Karstens earned a WPA of 0.695. Couple that with his 0.360 in the Cubs game, and Jeff was worth over one whole win after his first two starts of the season. A shame it all went downhill from there…

    #6: Matt Cain, 7/24 vs. Washington
    For those who have followed my writings over the last year and a half or so, you will know that I have some crazy manlove for Matt Cain. I don’t know if it’s due to the criminally low run support he receives, or how dominant he looks most of the time, but I tend to watch all of his starts, which is something I only did (watch starts for non-Phillies players) for Greg Maddux, and Sabathia’s crazy stretch this season. Overall, Cain once more logged 200+ innings of performance under 4.00 in the ERA and FIP department, with a K/BB above 2.0. Unfortunately, he rarely is credited with a win because his team refuses to support him. On July 24, he actually did record a win, pitching a complete game shutout against the Nationals. Cain surrendered just four hits, walked nary a hitter, and fanned four, earning a 0.707 WPA.

    Tonight we will continue by examining the five best pitching performances of 2008.

    Recapping the Top Offensive Plays

    Over the last two weeks, I have used WPA, win probability added, to discuss the top ten offensive plays of the 2008 baseball season. The merits of this list could be debated to death, I am sure, but what cannot be denied is that these ten plays brought with them the biggest shifts in win expectancy. Hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning, when down by a run may seem like a monumental play while watching the game in question, but a two-run walkoff home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning is likely going to vault a team from a 9-11% win expectancy to the 100% victory.

    With that in mind, here is the top ten in its entirety:

    10) Jason Michaels hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the tenth inning against the Cardinals on July 12. The Pirates trailed 10-6 entering the bottom of the ninth inning, and won 12-11 in ten innings. His play was worth a shift of 78.6%.

    9) Nick Swisher, who didn’t make his first plate appearance until the 11th inning, hit a walkoff two-run homer in the bottom of the fourteenth against the Tigers on August 5. The home run was worth a 78.8% shift in expectancy.

    8) Nate McLouth delivered a three-run home run in the top of the ninth, on April 14, off of Takashi Saito and the Dodgers. Unlike the other plays on this list, McLouth’s 79.6% shift in win expectancy was not a walk-off hit.

    7) Nicknamed “the first half highlight” by, well, me, Josh Hamilton hit a walk-off dinger off of Francisco Rodriguez prior to the all star break. The home run, which occurred on July 9, saw a shift of 82.9% in win expectancy.

    6) This was probably the oddest finish to any game this season. The Giants led the DBacks on September 10, 3-2, as the top of the ninth began. Chris Young hit a two-run triple to give the Snakes the 4-3 lead, before Eugenio Velez hit a two-run triple of his own to win the game for the Giants in the bottom half. Velez’s triple brought with it an expectancy shift of 83%.

    5) On June 5, Jason Giambi and his moustache provided an 89.6% shift in win expectancy when he blasted a two-run walkoff home run off of BJ Ryan and the Blue Jays.

    4) Two days later, on June 7, Cody Ross of the Marlins provided the fourth biggest play of the season, worth 89.8%, when he lined a two-run homer with a 1-1 count off of Francisco Cordero.

    3) On May 2, Pat Burrell hit a two-run walkoff home run off of Giants closer Brian Wilson, an expectancy shift of 89.95%.

    2) June 29, Ronnie Belliard delivered a two-run walkoff home run off of George Sherrill in an interleague battle for Maryland supremacy. The dinger brought with it an expectancy shift of 90.05%.

    1) Finally, on July 12, David DeJesus hit, you guessed it, a walkoff two-run homer, off of Brandon Morrow. His home run, 90.36% worth of WPA, was the biggest play of the 2008 season.

    And there you have it, the top ten offensive plays of the season. Brian Wilson appeared twice on this list: he gave up Young’s two-run triple in the top of the ninth in #6, before being bailed out by Velez, and gave up the walkoff to Burrell in #3. #1 and #10 both occurred on the same day, July 12. Three days prior, Hamilton hit his much shown home run off of K-Rod, meaning three of the top plays of the entire season occurred within four days of each other.