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Pitchers Hit This Year (or, Two Guys Named Buchholz) December 23, 2010

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Okay, I admit it. This post was originally conceived as a way to talk about the supremely weird line put up by Gustavo Chacin, who in his only plate appearance for Houston hit a home run to leave him with the maximum season OPS of 5.0. Unfortunately, Raphy at Baseball Reference beat me to it. Instead, I noticed while I was browsing the NL’s home run log to prepare to run some diagnostics on it that Kenley Jansen had two plate appearances comprising one hit and one walk. (Seriously, is there anything this kid can’t do?)

In Kenley’s case, that’s not entirely surprising, since he was a catcher until this season. His numbers weren’t great, but he was competent. What surprised me was that 75 pitchers since 2000 have finished the season with a perfect batting average. 9 were from this year, including Clay Buchholz and his distant cousing Taylor Buchholz. Evan Meek and Bruce Chen matched Jansen’s two plate appearances without an out. None of the perfect batting average crowd had an extra-base hit except for Chacin.

Since 2000, the most plate appearances by a pitcher to keep the perfect batting average was 4 by Manny Aybar in 2000.

At the other end of the spectrum, this year only three pitchers managed a perfect 1.000 on-base percentage without getting any hits at all. George Sherrill and Matt Reynolds both walked in their only plate appearances; Jack Taschner went them one better by recording a sacrifice hit in a second plate appearance.

Finally, to round things out, this year saw Joe Blanton and Heureusement, ici, c’est le Blog‘s favorite pitcher, Yovani Gallardo, each get hit by two pitches. Gallardo had clearly angered other pitchers by being so much more awesome than they were.

Tough Losses July 8, 2010

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Last night, Jonathon Niese pitched 7.2 innings of respectable work (6 hits, 3 runs, all earned, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts, 2 home runs, for a game score of 62) but still took the loss due to his unfortunate lack of run support – the Mets’ only run came in from an Angel Pagan solo homer. This is a prime example of what Bill James called a “Tough Loss”: a game in which the starting pitcher made a quality start but took a loss anyway.

There are two accepted measures of what a quality start is. Officially, a quality start is one with 6 or more innings pitched and 3 or fewer runs. Bill James’ definition used his game score statistic and used 50 as the cutoff point for a quality start. Since a pitcher gets 50 points for walking out on the mound and then adds to or subtracts from that value based on his performance, game score has the nice property of showing whether a pitcher added value to the team or not.

Using the game score definition, there were 393 losses in quality starts last year, including 109 by July 7th. Ubaldo Jimenez and Dan Haren led the league with 7, Roy Halladay had 6, and Yovani Gallardo (who’s quickly becoming my favorite player because he seems to show up in every category) was also up there with 6.

So far this year, though, it seems to be the Year of the Tough Loss. There have already been 230, and Roy Oswalt is already at the 6-tough-loss mark. Halladay is already up at 4. This is consistent with the talk of the Year of the Pitcher, with better pitching (and potentially less use of performance-enhancing drugs) leading to lower run support. That will require a bit more work to confirm, though.

Welcome to the Majors, Jay June 22, 2010

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Jay Sborz had a rough debut in relief of Justin Verlander during tonight’s Tigers at Mets game when there was a rain delay in the top of the 3rd. He faced seven batters in two-thirds of an inning, plunking the first two – Rod Barajas and Jeff Francoeur – and giving up hits to the last three. As Sborz, who was obviously struggling with nerves, tried to pitch his way out of the inning, Mets commentator Gary Cohen was mocking him mercilessly. “That’s got to be some kind of record,” for one.

Though Gary said it, that pinged my “Stuff Keith Hernandez Says” meter, and I trotted off to Baseball-Reference.com to look it up. Since 1973, six other pitchers who debuted in relief have two hit batsman. Were any of them as bad as Sborz?

We don’t have to go back too far to find someone who was. In 2002, Justin Miller of the Blue Jays made his debut against the Devil Rays and hit Chris Gomez, then Jason Tyner. Miller deserves special recognition – after that beautiful start, he held on to pitch 2 2/3 and got the win!

Honorable mention goes to Mitch Stetter of the Brewers. In a 2007 game against the Pirates, Stetter debuted in the last inning of a 12-2 blowout. He was on the winning side, though it ended up 12-3. Stetter hit Jack Wilson. He threw a wild pitch in the process of walking Nyjer Morgan, then iced the cake by plunking Nate McLouth. That was followed up with a groundout that scored Wilson and a merciful game-ending double play.

At the other end… June 22, 2010

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Although AJ Burnett had a bad first inning last night, the Oakland As had a bad tenth inning. After taking a 2-2 game into extra innings, the Cincinnati Reds knocked three out of the park against pitchers Michael Wuertz and Cedrick Bowers. The first was hit by Ramon Hernandez; Joey Votto and Scott Rolen went deep back to back. Although extra-inning home runs aren’t very rare (there have been 35 so far this year), only three pitchers have surrendered more than one, and neither of the other two (Chad Durbin and Matt Belisle) gave them both up on the same night.

Last year, everyone’s favorite balk-off artist, Arizona’s Esmerling Vasquez, gave up two home runs in extra innings against the Texas Rangers on June 25th. Those were two of 83 free-baseball homers in 2009. Extra-innings home runs are more common in the tops of innings, because in a tied game a home run for the home team is a walk-off whereas the road team will get the chance to capitalize on their momentum, but I would have expected the proportions to be much more different than they are. In 2009, for example, of those 83, only 44 were hit by the away team with 39 hit by the home team (and 33 of those were game-enders).

So far, no batter has more than one extra-innings home run this year, but last year there were several. Andre Ethier led the pack with 3, with a bunch of batters who had 2.

AJ Burnett: Statistical Anomaly June 21, 2010

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Tonight, A.J. Burnett had a weird first inning in a game that’s still going on as I write this. He got the first two outs fairly easily, and then surrendered home runs to Justin Upton, Adam LaRoche, and Mark Reynolds. Before he knew it, he was down 5-0 in the bottom of the first. That can’t happen very often.

I queried Baseball-Reference.com’s event finder for home runs, then narrowed it down to first inning home-runs with two outs this year. Prior to tonight, there had been 82. None of them came in three-homer games – that answers that.

Just for fun, I checked 2009 as well. In total, there were 209 2-out, first-inning home runs in 2009. Only one of those home runs happened in a three-homer game, so it didn’t happen then, either.

Poor AJ.

Win, 1 Batter Faced June 10, 2010

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So far this year, 15 games have ended with the winning pitcher having faced only one batter. Using Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index, I ran a search for those games to examine the trends. The most recent was Elmer Dessens, but the Mets’ Pedro Feliciano leads the league with two.

The most interesting fact  to me was that only one third of the games were won by left-handed pitchers (Feliciano twice, Eric O’Flaherty, Randy Flores, and John Parrish). That doesn’t quite make sense because LHPs are more likely to come in for one batter than RHPs. (So far, 189 right-handers have games with one batter faced, compared with 198 lefties). That indicates that wins aren’t distributed uniformly across appearances.

Also interesting is the efficiency shown by Jorge Sosa in the Marlins’ May 31 game against the Brewers. He threw one pitch to pitcher Chris Narveson, who was doubled up along with catcher George Kottaras. Sosa ended up credited with 2/3 of an inning pitched and the win.

Quickie: Balk-Offs June 1, 2010

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Last night, Esmerling Vasquez took the loss in relief for Arizona against the Dodgers. In the bottom of the 9th inning with the score tied, Vasquez balked with a runner on third, bringing in the winning run.

Balks are fun. The rule is designed to keep the pitcher from “deceiving the baserunner,” but also serves to encourage good fundamentals in young pitchers at the lower levels of play. For example, it’s a balk to even accidentally drop the ball.

Walk-off balks (balk-offs) are fairly rare. It’s not surprising that Vasquez, a sophomore in MLB, was fooled by Casey Blake, because balks can result from inexperience, and it’s fairly rare to have an inexperienced pitcher throwing the bottom of the 9th inning in a tied game. I ran a search on Baseball-Reference.com for losing pitchers with at least one balk who finished the game for the visiting team, which are necessary conditions (but not sufficient) to find a balk-off. After wading through the game logs, I found that the most recent balk-off was almost two years ago, when Colorado visited Atlanta in September of 2008. Taylor Buchholz balked in Kelly Johnson to take the loss.

Buchholz was in his third (and so far final) major-league season and is best known for having allegedly failed a trade physical when Houston tried to trade him to the White Sox. He’s still with Colorado and currently on the 60-day DL for Tommy John surgery.

Quickie: The World Series NL DH October 23, 2008

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Things are fairly busy – it’s midterm time, and in my spare time I’ve been crunching numbers on the Canadian federal election. I’ve also been following Theron over at Recondite Baseball, who did a very interesting post about pitchers responsible for a high percentage of their team’s wins. I’d like to take a look at something that I consider to be the opposite: the poor guy who ends up playing DH for the National League team.

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Poor Kazmir. October 17, 2008

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Last night, Scott Kazmir pitched 6 scoreless innings  in ALCS game 5, giving up 2 hits and 3 walks but striking out 7 batters. He totalled up to a game score of 72 points. His bullpen then proceeded to give up 8 runs, allowing the Red Sox to come back and win the game (thus extending the series to game 5).

Has Scotty suffered the greatest postseason indignity ever? Nope. Not even close. That honor belongs to Mike Mussina of the 1997 Orioles.

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Bailouts! September 25, 2008

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That’s right… in the interest of keeping up with this week’s news about the $700b bailout of the financial sector, I’m going to take a look at key instances of bailouts by the bullpen.

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