From The Upper Deck
By Andrew Perna
Baseball is a game of numbers, but sometimes they lie. The season is less than a month old, which lends itself to some crazy digits. The sample sizes are small and some of the statistics are huge. The average team has played just 12.3% of the schedule, which is the equivalent of less than two full NFL games and just 10 of the 82 contests on the NBA docket.
In short, things will change and players will revert to the mean. In some cases, that means they will rebound from a slow start, but in this piece we will focus on players that will undoubtedly regress as the season matures.
Chris Johnson, 3B, Braves
Filling the void left behind by Atlanta legend Chipper Jones, Johnson has done nothing but rake this season. He is hitting .397/.424/.556 through 17 games (63 at-bats), a batting average more than 100 points higher than his career mark (.282). He's killing waist-level pitches and has a .460 batting average on balls in play.
Chris Davis, 1B, Orioles
The 27-year-old has already slowed from his early home run pace, six in his first nine games and just one since, but it's his average and plate discipline that figure to decline the most. The slugger is hitting .382/.463/.794, significantly better than anything he's ever posted over a full season. He is averaging 0.59 walks per strikeout through 20 games, a rate nearly three times as high as he posted last season. Davis is seeing just 3.72 pitches per plate appearance, the lowest of his career. His strikeouts will soon loom over his walks.
Daniel Murphy, 2B, Mets
His .357 average isn't a complete aberration -- he hit .320 over 109 games in 2011 -- but significant regression is on the horizon. Like Johnson, when he puts balls in play they have found holes. He has a .377 BAbip, more than 50 points higher than his career mark of .325. His .571 slugging percentage will also drop. Murphy has the highest home run rate of his career and he's on pace to hit 63 doubles. Singles are much more likely.
Mark Ellis, 2B, Dodgers
It wasn't my intent, but I appear to be picking on infielders. The 35-year-old Ellis is hitting .348/.370/.470 for the Dodgers in 66 at-bats. Over 10 full seasons, Ellis has hit better than .300 just once (.316 in 2005) and for his career the second baseman is a .266/.331/.395 hitter. I'll lean on BAbip once again, a good indicator of hitting luck, as Ellis has a .396 mark. That number is exactly 100 points higher than it was last season with Colorado.
Justin Upton, LF, Braves
His batting average and on-base percentages aren't all that alarming compared to his career numbers, but Upton's power has been amazing. He leads all of baseball with 11 home runs (a historic figure through 20 games) and his slugging percentage (.813) is almost double what it was in his final season with the Diamondbacks. He is averaging just 6.8 at-bats per home run, an amazing rate. He has averaged 23 at-bats per homer in his 751 Major League games. At his current pace, Upton would hit close to 90 home runs. I think the Braves would be thrilled with 35 dingers.
John Buck, C, Mets
He has already started to cool off, but Buck was so hot over New York's first 10 games that his numbers still jump off the screen. The 32-year-old is hitting .277/.300/.631 with seven home runs and 22 RBI. He leads the National League in RBI and sits behind only Mike Napoli (25) for the overall lead. In his best Major League season, he hit .281/.314/.489 with 20 home runs and 66 RBI over 118 games with Toronto (2010). Buck isn't a bad hitter, but as he has shown over the last seven days (three hits in 19 at-bats), the hot start just couldn't last.
Shin-Soo Choo, CF, Reds
Choo has hit the ground running with the Reds, hitting .387/.535/.613 for his new club through 75 at-bats. The outfielder has never hit higher than .309 over the course of a full season and his walk-to-strikeout rate (0.82) is easily a career-high. He does have a history of good OBP numbers, but not a 53.5% rate. At this point in the season, almost half of the balls that come off his bat are finding space in the defense. He was a good addition to Cincinnati and he'll perform at an All-Star level, but his slash lines won't last.
Mike Napoli, 1B, Red Sox
We knew Napoli would hit well at Fenway Park -- he is hitting .282/.364/.564 at home and .256/.256/.535 on the road -- but it's his run-producing performance that has been exceptional. He leads all of baseball with 25 RBI in the heart of Boston's lineup. Napoli is hitting .188 with the bases empty, but .357 with runners on and in scoring position. He will continue to knock in runs, but such a difference between his hitting splits will not last. Over his career, 15% of the runners on base when Napoli comes to the plate have scored. Through 87 plate appearances this season, 26% of such runners are crossing home plate.
By Andrew Perna
The Yankees made re-signing Andy Pettitte a priority this offseason for three reasons. They wanted to cobble their rotation together as soon as possible, his customary one-year deal kept them from adding to their 2014 payroll and he was very productive this past season.
Brian Cashman has quickly set the top end of his rotation with Hiroki Kuroda and Pettitte both re-signing to throw behind ace CC Sabathia. When you take Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps into account, the Yankees have six candidates for five spots. Hughes, Nova and Phelps will likely serve as a three-man stable for the fourth and fifth turns in the rotation.
Pettitte will turn 41 in June, but in 12 starts he went 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 2012. He pitched under a $2.5 million deal after coming out of retirement in March, but lost three months because of a fractured fibula. If you prorate his numbers out over a full season, Pettitte would have gone 14-11 with 190 strikeouts in close to 200 innings. He averaged 3.3 strikeouts per walk and posted his lowest WHIP (1.14) since his 2005 campaign with the Astros.
He will earn $12 million in 2013, a bump of nearly $10 million after a small sample size. Pettitte could receive an additional $2.5 million in bonuses for individual achievements such as winning the Cy Young, LCS MVP and/or World Series MVP. New York would be thrilled to pay Pettitte for such performances, but in the meanwhile they will overpay him to likely be an average starter.
Pettitte hasn’t started more than 21 games in a season since 2009, when the Yankees last won the World Series. He’ll have to approach 30 starts and pitch well in order to produce at a level equal to his salary. Cashman was willing to dish out an eight-figure contract to a 40-year-old starter because Pettitte has shown he can be productive, if only in small spurts, and because the expenditure won’t hamper the team’s ability to “pinch pennies” in 2014.
Cashman may have filled the No. 2 and No. 3 slots behind Sabathia with proven veterans, but their one-year deals make it vital that he address the long-term future of the rotation sooner rather than later. If the Yankees wait until next offseason to replace Kuroda and Pettitte, who are pitching on a year-to-year basis, they’ll put themselves in poor negotiating position and restrict their ability to keep their 2014 payroll below the $189 million luxury tax threshold.
Grade for Yankees: B-
If this weren’t the Yankees and Andy Pettitte, the grade for his deal would be closer to average. Cashman’s ability to re-sign Pettitte quickly and without any 2014 commitment boosts the rating. He wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere near as much money from another team as he benefited from his relationship with the front office and status as a member of the aging Core Four in the Bronx.
The main issue is that it seems unlikely Pettitte will be able to sustain his 2012 level of play over the course of a full season as he approaches 41. Even if he is able to pitch to an ERA in the neighborhood of 3.00, his age and recent injury history suggest that he won’t be able to make the 30 starts that the Yankees need from him.
The baseline I’ve set for what the Yankees need from Pettitte to "earn" his contract is as follows:
-- 28 starts, a sub-3.50 ERA, a 2.25 K/BB ratio and 7.5 K/9.
If they get that much from Pettitte, he’ll probably win 15 games and force the Yankees to find a replacement for his turn in the rotation just a handful of times. Anything below that line would make Pettitte overpaid, while anything above that line (whether it be in terms of starts or effectiveness) would only add to his Hall of Fame resume.
Grade for Pettitte: A-
There is absolutely only one negative for Pettitte, the amount of time he won't be able to spend with his family -- which he made a priority in 2011. Pettitte has always been a big-game pitcher and if he under-performs the blame will fall on Cashman because you can’t count on guaranteed production from a player of Pettitte’s age.
This has been the case before, but 2013 will truly be the final year of the Core “Four” in New York. Jorge Posada’s retirement left Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera to withhold the tradition this past season and it was a question as to whether the trio would return in pinstripes.
All three will enter the season with significant question marks -- Jeter (major ankle injury in ALCS), Rivera (major knee injury in May) and Pettitte (age, fragility) -- but Cashman has rarely swung and missed when counting on these three over the last two decades.
By Andrew Perna
Something has to give. The Giants have won six consecutive elimination games and the Tigers haven't lost since Oct. 10. Detroit is looking for their first World Series title since 1984, while San Francisco is hoping to bookend a 2011 season in which they missed the playoffs with a pair of championships.
Over the course of the regular season, the Giants and Tigers were quite similar. San Francisco won six more games, but the clubs were close in batting average (.268 for the Tigers, .269 for the Giants), runs per game (4.5, 4.4) and ERA (3.75, 3.68).
In October, the Tigers have hit much better. They have a batting line -- .271/.317/.399 -- considerably better than that of the Giants -- .234/.301/.369. San Francisco has scored more often, 4.4 runs to 4.0 runs, thanks to timely hitting. They have also clubbed 10 home runs to just eight for Detroit. The Giants have drawn more walks, but the Tigers (slow-footed during the regular season) have stolen more bases.
The Tigers have more star power in their lineup, headlined by Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but the Giants are deeper than they look. Hunter Pence and Buster Posey have struggled, hitting .188 and .178 respectively in the postseason, but if they get hot and Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval continue raking, they'll have no problem winning an 8-6 game over the Detroit.
With that said, if Jim Leyland's starting rotation continues to pitch as they did in the ALCS, the Giants won't have a shot at a second World Series title in three years. In nine games, Detroit has a 1.74 ERA and 86 strikeouts in fewer than 83 innings. They held the Yankees to just six runs in their four-game sweep. That's six runs over more than 36 innings to a club that averaged five runs per game in the regular season. They have allowed just 17 runs in the postseason.
Opposing hitters have a line of .176/.248/.275 against Justin Verlander and Co.
Verlander, who will start Game 1 against Barry Zito, has allowed just two runs in more than 24 innings. He is 3-0 with a 0.74 ERA and 25 strikeouts in the playoffs. You expect great things from Verlander, but the rest of the rotation has been nearly as effective. Anibal Sanchez (1.35 ERA), Doug Fister (1.35 ERA) and Max Scherzer (0.82) have each made two sterling starts. Of the 17 runs the Tigers have surrendered in the postseason, the rotation has allowed just seven despite throwing 75% of the team's innings.
How Leyland manages his bullpen, which has had their numbers skewed by Jose Valverde (seven runs in three appearances), will be a key to Detroit's success. If he's lucky, the starters will take the baseball and not return it until the seventh or eighth inning. Chances are Verlander won't give the baseball back under the game is over. If that happens, the Tigers will have a happy clubhouse.
If the Giants want to increase their chances of succeeding, they'll have to find a way to get to Detroit's starters early to ensure hacks at a few different relievers. San Francisco has refused to die this postseason, ensuring comfortability in late-game situations and with their backs against the wall. However, simple math indicates that Valverde should improve towards the mean, while guys like Phil Coke have been effective out of the bullpen.
San Francisco has had to score more to advance than their World Series opponent. Here is their scoring breakdown by inning:
First: 4, 7.69%
Second: 8, 15.38%
Third: 7, 13.46%
Fourth: 12, 23.07%
Fifth: 8, 15.38%
Sixth: 1, 1.92%
Seventh: 4, 7.69%
Eighth: 5, 9.61%
Ninth: 3, 5.76%
As you can see, a bulk of their scoring has come in the first five innings. There are two ways you can take this: (a) it's a positive that they've attacked starters and chased them early or (b) they have gotten to bullpens, but haven't had success against specialist relievers employed by the Reds and Cardinals. In my opinion, if they make opposing starters throw a ton of pitches early in the Fall Classic they'll be more than halfway to celebrating another title.
When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, they did so with a red-hot pitching staff, but Bruce Bochy's club has been far from unhittable this October. Instead of getting even better as Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain did two years ago and the Tigers have this month, San Francisco has simply maintained a solid pitching line. They had the seventh-lowest ERA (3.68) with the twelfth-most strikeouts during the regular season. Of the eight teams that appeared in more than a single postseason game, the Giants have second-highest ERA (3.36) despite shaving nearly half a run off of their regular season number.
The Year of the No-Hitter hasn’t bitten in the playoffs yet, but the mound is still where games are won as the trend away from power hitting continues (just ask the Yankees). That has to scare the Giants at least a little bit, even if they possess a staff capable of stringing together several spectacular performances.
It's hard to imagine Cain getting knocked around and Ryan Vogelsong has allowed just three runs in 19 innings (three starts), but the Giants needed seven games to advance and they don't have the luxury of setting up their rotation as the Tigers have done. There is also the tantalizing presence of Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum.
Zito, who led the team to a 5-0 victory in a must-win Game 5 against St. Louis, has resurrected his career a bit. San Francisco has won his last 13 starts, dating back to Aug. 7, but just two years ago he was left off the team's roster for all three rounds of the postseason.
Because the Giants punched their ticket to the World Series on Monday night, they only announced who they will start after Zito just 24 hours before the first pitch. Lincecum won't get a start. The NL Cy Young winner in 2008 and '09, he struggled extensively this season -- going 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA and his lowest strikeout total since his rookie year in 2007.
In 2010, he led the Giants with a 2.43 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 37 innings. This fall, he has made one start and three relief appearances to the tune of a 3.46 ERA and 12 Ks in 13 innings. While he may not get an official start, there is a chance he could turn in a few innings if one of his teammates struggles early.
Prediction: Tigers in Six
When it boils down to it, too many stars will have to align for the Giants to edge the Tigers over a seven-game series. Verlander will pitch at least twice, which almost ensures two wins for Detroit at this point – that's how dominant he's been. Cabrera and Fielder are a tough tandem to face and they'll make a mark of their own against a San Francisco pitching staff that will have to be better in order to keep runs to a minimum.
I'm not discounting the Cain Effect, especially since he won't be going up against Verlander head-to-head. However, Verlander knows his compadres are also capable of shutting down an offense. Cain will have to cross his fingers that Vogelsong maintains his form, Zito doesn't revert to his usual San Francisco self.
The Tigers are simply riding a wave that the Giants know all too well. They traversed it just two years ago and it resulted in the game's highest reward.
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