I’ve added 3 games at the top of the post, and an overanalysis of one move at the very bottom.
Red Sox 7, @Cubs 4: Franklin Morales was spot-on in a spot start, his first time in that role since 2009: 5 IP, 9 Ks (3 more than his best from 15 prior starts), no walks, 65 strikes in 80 pitches. The strike percentage was the highest in almost a year in a start of 5+ IP. He had just one 3-ball count, and fanned 5 of his last 6 batters.
- In his last 30 games, Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .226 with a .254 OBP, with 4 walks against 25 strikeouts.
- It wasn’t a great Father’s Day for every son of a former big-leaguer: James Russell came into a tight spot in the 7th, game tied but BoSox on 3rd and 2nd with no out. He allowed those runs plus one of his own, and was victimized on a squeeze bunt, partly because he falls off towards 3B in his delivery.
- The Cubs are 3-9 vs. the AL, dropping 6 to teams with losing records at the time. Their 22-39 Pythagorean record is bad enough, but they’ve undershot even that by 5 games thanks to a 7-17 mark in one-run contests, dropping 13 of their last 14 such games. Their bullpen ranks last in OBP (.364) and OPS, issuing the most walks while ranking next-to-last in strikeouts.
@Blue Jays 6, Phillies 2: After they fell below .500 for the first time all year, Toronto’s yo-yo spun upward this weekend with a sweep of the phunk-mired Phils. Colby Rasmus led the offense with his 3rd HR of the week, and Brett Cecil announced his return to the majors with 5 bend-don’t-break innings, backed by 3 sharp ones from Luis Perez.
- Jose Bautista notched his MLB-high 8th outfield assist with a 60-foot lob, doubling off Shane Victorino to end the 4th. I don’t know if the Flyin’ Hawaiian had 3rd base stolen standing up, but with 1 out and Hector Luna at bat (hitting .302) followed by John Mayberry (HR in his prior AB), it’s not a smart play. Mayberry led off the 5th with a hit, naturally.
@Mariners 2, Giants 1: Eric Wedge pursued a questionable strategy in the home 9th, but Justin Smoak made it all right in the end. Smoak’s hit won the game on the strength of algebra and geometry: Melky Cabrera fielded the liner towards the LF line on one hop and made an accurate, on-time throw towards the plate. Rounding third, pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki made a tiny pause, which could have been costly — but instead, due to the minuscule change in his timing and vector vis-a-vis those of Melky’s throw, it left him in perfect position to accidentally deflect the ball with his backside before he slid safely home.
- It was the 4th time this year that Felix Hernandez went 7+ IP on 1 run or less without getting a win — tied with Ryan Dempster for the most such games in MLB. Since 2005, Hernandez has 20 such games, 2 more than the next man (Cliff Lee, of course).
- Kudos to Wedge for using his closer in a tie game in the top of the 9th. Tom Wilhelmsen walked himself into a jam, but whiffed his way out of it; he’s allowed no runs and 4 hits in his last 11.2 IP.
Orioles 2, @Braves 0: A day after Jason Hammel‘s 1-hitter left him at 7-2, Wei-Yin Chen attained the same record with 7 scoreless frames to win his 3rd straight start, backed by the stellar bullpen cast and just enough offense. The O’s had just 4 hits, but scored their two runs by bringing around leadoff doubles with (OK, I’ll say it) productive outs, including Chen’s sacrifice (his first-ever ball in play) and a sac fly by Mark Reynolds, who fanned in his other two trips but got wood on the ball when it mattered most.
- The teams combined for just 5 ABs in RBI spots, and no hits.
- Baltimore’s back-to-back shutouts were their first since 2010, and they won consecutive games without a HR for just the 3rd time since 2011. They’re 9-3 vs. the NL, with remaining series against the Mets and Nationals.
- Atlanta was blanked for the 3rd time this week, and in consecutive games for the first time since 2009, when Milwaukee turned the trick behind Yovani Gallardo and Jeff Suppan. They’ve dropped 6 of 7, but remain in the 2nd wild-card seat.
Yankees 4, @Nationals 1: The juggernaut has reached full steam. The Yanks bagged their 9th straight win and 12th in 13; they’re 19-4 mark since they last saw .500. They’ve faced winning teams in 4 straight series, and taken 11 of 12 games. The 9-gamer ties their best since a 10-spot in May 2005; they also won 9 straight in 2009, their last title year.
- Ivan Nova (9-2, 4.32) allowed an early HR to Adam LaRoche, but got a timely DP when the Nats threatened again in the 4th after LaRoche’s leadoff double, and won his 5th straight start. Before this game, opponents were hitting .325 off Nova with the bases empty, but .195 with RISP. He also joined Freddy Garcia (2011) and Javier Vazquez (2010) as the only Yankee pitchers to lay down 2 sac bunts in a game since the DH was created in 1973, and he did it exactly one year after Garcia.
- “Only weaklings need hits with RISP!” New York went an impressive 0 for 12 in those RBI spots and dropped to .216 with RISP this year, but scored on two solo HRs, a sac fly, and an event not adequately described in the play-by-play. (With a man on 3rd base only, a walk generally does not produce a run; let’s assume there was a wild pitch.)
- Derek Jeter‘s OBP, by month: .433, .339, .296. He’s started every game but one, and has just once been lifted in the late innings.
@Tigers 5, Rockies 0: Get mad, Max Scherzer; get mad! Despite the AL’s best K rate (11.3 SO/9), Scherzer did not have a scoreless start this year, and brought an absurd 5.76 ERA and 10.6 H/9 into the afternoon contest. Colorado got a man to 3rd with 1 out in the 1st, but Scherzer whiffed Dexter Fowler — he would fan Fowler 3 straight times with men aboard — and went on to notch 11 Ks in 8 shutout stanzas, with no walks and a career-high 89 strikes (2nd-most in MLB this year) against 33 balls.
- Quintin Berry (5-1-5-0) had the eighth 5-hit game this year and the first by a Tiger in over a year. The last 5-hit game with no RBI was exactly one year ago, by Derrek Lee; the last 5-hit game with all singles was the day before that, by Jordan Schafer. Berry was erased on a DP in the 1st, scored in the 3rd, was thrown out at home in the 4th, was stranded on a DP in the 6th, and was stranded routinely in the 8th. In 23 games, he’s hitting .333 with 18 runs, and 9 for 9 in steals.
- Jeremy Guthrie (8 hits in 3 IP) fell to 3-6, 7.02, with 30 strikeouts in 11 starts.
- How can you miss so many bats and still get hit so hard? Even in this dominant win, there were 7 hits off Scherzer — the highest total ever in a game of 8 IP, no runs and 12 Ks. The previous 26 such games averaged 3.2 hits. Scherzer’s season totals are 78.1 IP, 100 Ks and 90 hits. That’s 11.5 SO/9, and 10.3 H/9. Among all pitchers with 70+ innings and between 11 and 11.6 SO/9, the next highest hits rate is 9.1 H/9 (Jeff Nelson, 1996); among starters, the next highest hits rate is 7.6 (Mark Prior, 2002). And of those other 37 seasons, the highest ERA was 4.36, and the median was 2.77; Scherzer still sits at 5.17.
@Rays 3, Marlins 0: B.J. Upton opened the home 1st with his first HR in 22 games, Alex Cobb had a personal best 10 Ks over 7 two-hit innings, and this year’s Battle for Florida wound up a rout, with Tampa taking 5 of 6 and outscoring the Marlins by 39-11. Miami has dropped 10 of 12 since their one day tied for the lead, dropping all the way back to .500 and 6 games from the top.
- No Marlin reached second base. Tampa pitchers and Miami hitters tied season highs with 14 strikeouts.
- Carlos Pena had a 2nd straight 2-hit game after seeing his BA plunge as low as .187, and drew his 49th walk, 3rd in the majors.
- Alvarez is the first player with back-to-back multi-HR games this year. He was already the only Pirate to do it since Jason Thompson in 1984, turning the trick in July 2010 — which was also the last time the Bucs scored 9+ runs back-to-back. (See also Andy’s post on the Alvarez feat.) Before this barrage, Alvarez was hitting .189 and hadn’t homered in 13 games.
Reds 3, @Mets 1: Johnny Cueto doubled for his first career extra-base hit and won his 3rd straight start with 7 stout frames on the slab (8 Ks, 1 walk), beating the Mets for the first time in 6 tries. The Reds, winners of 6 in a row, scored all 3 runs starting with 2 out and none on in the 5th, starting with Zack Cozart (5-1-3-0) working full out of a 1-2 count and then doubling. The Mets’ lone run came on a bases-full walk by pitcher Chris Young, his first; they scored just 5 runs on 17 hits while being swept at home, after 29 runs on 40 hits in their sweep of Tampa.
- Cueto has walked 2 or less in 13 of 14 starts this year, for career-best rates of 1.9 BB/9 and 3.35 SO/BB. He has issued 7 run-scoring walks in 81 career chances, but he’s never allowed a grand slam, and opponents are just 10 for 72 with the bases loaded.
- Brandon Phillips drove in the go-ahead run after an IBB to Joey Votto, giving him 10 RBI in his last 5 games, and helped thwart Met threats with a pair of DPs, including this highlight hambone.
- If anybody knows how to keep Votto off the basepaths, please write to the Fraternity of Senior-Circuit Hurlers, Active Chapter. He’s hitting .405 since May began, and .366/.489 over all.
@Twins 5, Brewers 4 (15): With 2 outs and an 0-and-2 count in his 8th AB, Denard Span‘s 4th hit drove in the winning run — his first-ever walk-off hit — moments after the potential game-ender was thrown out at the plate by Norichika Aoki. (No video of that throw, MLB?) All 9 runs in the game were scored with 2 out.
- Milwaukee had 15 hits and 5 walks, but were held scoreless over the last 10 innings after Corey Hart‘s 3-run HR put them ahead in the 4th.
- Minnesota erased a 4-1 deficit in the 7th with 4 straight 2-out hits off Zack Greinke. On the first of those, the batter took 2nd base on a throw to the plate. Span followed with a grounder up the middle that was gloved on the grass by the SS (see 2nd hit in this clip). He had no play on Span, but probably would have had one at 2nd if the previous runner was still on 1st.
@Rangers 9, Astros 3: “Welcome to the Show, kid. Now go tame the Rangers, and don’t let the heat get to ya.” The aptly named Dallas Keuchel blanked Texas for 5 innings in his debut, but after he allowed a leadoff hit in the 6th and was lifted, the Rangers scored 7 two-out runs (3 walks scored) and cruised to a sweep. Houston pitchers walked 9 in all.
- Colby Lewis walked 1 and fanned 10 in 7 IP (1 R, 3 H). He has given just 12 passes in 96 IP, and leads MLB with 1.1 BB/9 and 7.0 SO/BB. The best SO/BB ratio in franchise history is 5.0 by Fergie Jenkins in 1974.
- Texas won 5 of 6 in the rivalry series. They lost by 1 run, and won by 3, 4, 5, 5 and 6.
- As if they needed any more length in that lineup, Craig Gentry is hitting .349 over all and .366 from the 9 hole. Rangers #8-9 men are hitting .294, 60 points above the AL average.
@Angels 2, Diamondbacks 0: In his 3rd start of the year, Garrett Richards — Anaheim’s 4th of 5 picks in the top 50 of the 2009 draft (Mike Trout was their 2nd) — held the Snakes to 4 singles and 4 walks over 8 IP, and the Angels went on to second straight 2-0 win. Albert Pujols drove in the first run with his 10th HR on a tough pitch, and Trout tallied the other with a 2-out double on a mistake.
- Ernesto Frieri came in with the tying run at bat and notched a 1-2-3 save. He is unscored-upon in his last 20 games (20.1 IP), the last 19 of those since coming to the Angels. He has allowed 4 hits with 35 Ks in the streak, and joins Ryan Cook as the only relievers with 20-inning scoreless streaks this year.
- Arizona had 3 baserunners in the first 2 innings, topping their entire output of the night before. Their best threat died in the 8th when Justin Upton fouled out on a 2-0 count with the tying runs on. Upton has just 2 RBI in his last 14 games and hasn’t homered in his last 18.
Royals 5, @Cardinals 3 (15): Yuniesky Betancourt wasn’t in the starting lineup and had never hit a go-ahead extra-base hit in extra innings, but he came up with big ones in the 14th and 15th. His 2-out HR in the 15th — their first hit with RISP since the 2nd inning — picked up Alex Gordon, who flied to shallow CF with a man on 3rd.
- Gordon (3-1-0-0) became the first player this year to draw 5 walks in a game; he owns 2 of the last 5 such games. Gordon scored after the last of those walks, in the 14th, but St. Louis equalized in their half on a 2-out hit by Yadier Molina (check out his 2-out/RISP and high-leverage splits).
@Dodgers 2, White Sox 1 (10): After failing to get down a sac bunt in the 9th (3 straight fouls), Dee Gordon answered an intentional walk in the 10th with his 2nd game-winning hit of the year, cashing in the triple by Tony Gwynn, Jr. No win for Chris Capuano, but he fanned 12 in 8 IP and lowered his home ERA to 1.56 in 7 starts. The Dodgers are 18-13 in one-run games, including 2 of 3 in this series.
- Gwynn is 4 for his last 5 in extra innings.
- Addison Reed blew his first save in 9 tries.
- Adam Dunn walked, but fanned 3 times, twice with RISP including a man on 3rd and 1 out. He has 104 Ks in 285 PAs, on pace for 255 whiffs.
- Not often do you see a successful tag-up appeal — especially when he clearly didn’t leave early.
Happy Father’s Day, all you dads, grandpas, stepdads, and big brothers.
Bear with me now (or not) as I plunge into excruciating detail on the Seattle game:
With the game tied in the home 9th, men on 2nd and 1st and no outs, Seattle attempted a sacrifice bunt, using pinch-hitter Michael Saunders for that purpose. According to TangoTiger’s run expectancy chart, in a run environment of 4 runs per game (the average for both these teams), a successful sacrifice there would have increased their chance of scoring the winning run from 61% to 67%. But Saunders bunted into a force at 3rd base, reducing their scoring chance from 61% to 40% by the chart.
But that outcome was even worse than the chart suggests. The force play erased speedy Chone Figgins, who had just been inserted as the lead runner, leaving the lumbering Jesus Montero on 2nd base. Montero has the 2nd-worst rate of extra bases taken among AL qualifiers; he has scored from 2nd on a single just once in 4 prior chances, has never gone 1st-to-3rd on a single in 15 chances, and has scored from 1st on a double once in 5 chances. So Wedge used another pinch-runner. That left him with 1 bench player — catcher John Jaso — in a tie game with 1 out in the 9th. And as a result of these machinations, he’s taken out 3 of the 4 players on his roster with an OPS+ over 92, while bringing in 2 guys who really can’t hit. If they don’t score here, there’s no telling how long it might take them to score again.
This is the aspect of sacrifice strategy that seems most poorly understand by big-league managers: The failure rate is higher than they think. According to B-R’s Event Finder, there have been 908 sacrifice attempts this year, with 610 sacs and 101 hits. So 22% of all sac attempts have failed to advance the runner(s). But in this particular situation — no outs and men on 2nd and 1st — the failure rate is a little higher, 26% for in 2011-12. (500 sac attempts, 324 sacrifices and 44 hits, thus 132 failures, all per the Event Finder.)
As for Saunders in particular, the stats suggest that he’s good at bunting for hits, but not necessarily at sacrificing: In 16 prior sac attempts, he had advanced the runner(s) 11 times on 8 sacs and 3 hits — a 69% success rate. But even if we assume he’s a little better than the average sac bunter in this situation — say an 80% success rate — the math still doesn’t show an advantage to bunting in this situation. It’s chasing a 6% increase in scoring the run, but with a 21% cost if the bunt fails. Furthermore, in this particular situation, they were bunting in order to bring up Justin Smoak, hitting .218 this year without a single sac fly. For his career, Smoak has hit .225 over all, and has delivered a runner from 3rd with less than 2 out 19 times in 58 chances.
But “aha,” you say: Saunders wasn’t necessarily put into the game in order to sacrifice. Perhaps he was put in to get a platoon advantage, replacing RHB Casper Wells against RHP Sergio Romo, and the decision to bunt was only reached after Romo was replaced by the lefty Javier Lopez. If that was the case, then Wedge was acting on assumption in the face of data: Wells has a reverse platoon advantage, both this year and for his career (.270 BA vs. RHP, .258 vs. LHP), while Romo has a very mild traditional split (.184 vs. RHB, .193 vs. LHB). If you’re batting away against Romo, it’s hard to see Saunders as a better option than Wells. Saunders is a career .217 hitter over all, Wells .264. Yes, Saunders is doing much better this year than he has in the past — but if you believe in this year’s stats, shouldn’t you believe in this year’s splits, too? Saunders has hit better against lefties so far, with a .306 BA and .939 OPS, compared to .256 and .730 against righties.
So when Lopez came in to face Saunders, that was in some ways a hidden gift. You have at bat a lefty batter — thus a better hope of pulling the ball to advance the runners without giving away an out — and on top of that, he hits lefties well and rarely gets doubled up (6 DPs in almost 900 PAs). I would have let him hit away.
You may say this is way too much analysis of a decision that will always have an element of hunch. So be it. Wedge played a hunch with Saunders, it failed, and he still came away smelling rosy. It’s better to be lucky than smart.