Tag Archive | "Tim Wakefield"

Knuckleball hits your screens as Dickey hits his 20th.

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Knuckleball hits your screens as Dickey hits his 20th.

Posted on 01 October 2012 by Trish Vignola

Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern didn’t know much about baseball before the 2011 major league season. The co-directors of the documentary “Knuckleball!” had different views of the pitch that would be the centerpiece of their film. “I knew only that it was a disparaged pitch,” Sundberg said to ESPN. “My husband’s old friend from college had nothing good to say about the knuckleball, so that’s all I knew. It has a lot to do with this idea that it’s not a real pitch, that it shouldn’t be held up to the same effect as some of the other pitches like the curveball or fastball.”

“I walked into my kitchen and told my kids about making a film about Tim Wakefield and knuckleball pitchers, and my kids picked up apples and started knuckling them around the kitchen,” Stern said to ESPN. “They were New York City kids who grew up as Red Sox fans and so they had to be very strong in their convictions, and they love Tim Wakefield and the knuckleball, so their reaction was, ‘Woohoo let’s do it!’”

Despite their lack of familiarity with the subject, the two women, best known for their Emmy-nominated documentary films “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” (an amazing piece within itself) and “The Devil Came On Horseback” (about the genocide in Darfur) jumped at the chance to bring the story of the controversial, oft-misunderstood pitch that has baffled batters and catchers for decades to the big screen. “We’re really attracted to the characters — the individuals and people who have obstacles and something to overcome in pursuit of their dreams,” Stern said. “For us, that just makes strong storytelling. The essence of what the symbolic meaning of the knuckleball embodies. These guys are outliers in baseball who struggle against all odds to stay in the game to pursue their dreams. They kind of clawed their way, as they say, with their fingertips — just like one holds the ball with one’s fingertips — back into the major leagues.”

“These guys” refers primarily to Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, the two knuckleball pitchers in the majors during the 2011 season. The documentary also includes retired knuckleballers, Charlie Hough, Jim Bouton, Tom Candiotti, Wilbur Wood and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who are a handful of the approximately 80 men who have been members of the knuckleball fraternity. “You need the fingertips of a safecracker and the mind of a Zen Buddhist,” longtime major leaguer Bouton says at the top of the film, describing the talents required to master the unpredictable pitch.
With unprecedented access to Wakefield and Dickey, as well as their families, from spring training through the end of the 2011 season, Stern and Sundberg directed an endearing, engaging 90-minute documentary about the knuckleball and the men who have managed to make their careers throwing a baseball that doesn’t spin.

I challenge the idea that critics proclaim “Knuckleball” as an anti-baseball movie. Why? There’s no homerun montage? There’s no Bob Uecker?

Not that I don’t love Bob Uecker.

The film is filled with lots of beautifully shot baseball footage (MLB is a co-producer), a rich soundtrack and intricate discussions of the pitch with former players and baseball beat writers. Not only is it a great baseball movie, it’s easily one of the best baseball movies I’ve seen. This is the movie I wanted “Moneyball” to be.

“Knuckleball” is very SABR, slightly geeky and never takes itself too seriously. Does this make the film commercially friendly? Absolutely not.

Although Charlie Hough is pretty much a matinee model in my eyes.

R.A. Dickey got an ovation from the crowd the first time he appears on screen. Ok. Grant it, I saw it at the Montclair Film Festival the same day Dickey got his 20th win. That’s neither here nor there. In all truthfulness, “Knuckleball” is one of the most satisfying baseball films I’ve seen in years. If it’s not coming to a film festival near you, it’s available on iTunes and on Video On Demand through November.

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Starting Pitching Valuation (SPv) Leaderboard

Posted on 16 August 2012 by Dylan Cain

Loyal Full Spectrum Baseball readers may remember an article I wrote a while back about an innovative new stat, one I call Starting Pitcher Valuation (SPv).  For a brief introduction to the statistic for those who have not read the article, SPv is a stat that encompasses 1) the number of base runners a starting pitcher has allowed, 2) how many earned runs he’s allowed, 3) how many batters he strikes out as opposed to how few batters he walks 4) and how well he can lead his team to a victory.

I have taken all these stats and “blended” them together, creating a pitching stat that ranks starters (not relievers) on a scale of 100%-0%. This gives analytically-minded  fans like you the chance to see one stat that is “easy-to-digest” as opposed to reading a long line of the 10-15 most commonly used statistics.  I wrote this article in hopes of providing a weekly “leaderboard” of SPv and to also give my opinions and some notes about how they (starting pitchers) have done of late.  Here are your season-to-date SPv leaders (as of  August 12th). Enjoy!

1) Jered Weaver (84.87%)- The Angels’ ace has been dealing this year, even in an offensive powerhouse division like the AL West. He’s only lost one game this year and with the offensive production of the Halo’s lineup, he doesn’t seem to have that much pressure on him.  With guys like Mike Trout (.340 AVG) and Albert Pujols (Did you hear about his 24 homeruns?? Talk about coming back after a slow start…), any pitcher would feel relaxed on the hill.  His fastball isn’t Aroldis Chapman caliber but it’s enough to get the job done.

2) R.A. Dickey (81.19%)- The Tim Wakefield impersonator has looked slightly more human of late, with his ERA going up .74 points since his second consecutive one-hitter.  Remember, he still has the best SPv in the senior circut, meaning he is on track to have the best season a knuckleballer has ever had, statistically. His 15 wins are tied for the most in the the bigs, he still makes batters look silly, and he is still very likely in line to win the NL Cy Young Award.

3) Chris Sale (80.96%)- The lanky southpaw for the Chicago White Sox has given his rotation a big boost, even with his young, inexperienced arm.  He puts on a show with the radar gun and can shutdown powerful lineups.  He does have an advantage of facing some weaker offensive teams in the AL Central, however.  Six of his 13 wins have come against the Royals, Indians and Twins.  He is a great pitcher but needs a little more experience to convinced me. The addition of Jake Peavy helped him greatly and Francisco Liriano will give him more of an advantage.

4) David Price (79.77%)- The three-time All-Star is on pace to get the most wins of his career and as far as the AL Cy Young Award voting is concerned, he is breathing down the neck of Sale and Weaver.  The only thing he actually lacks is a big bat to support him offensively.  Evan Longoria coming back will hopefully help with that problem.  If any pitcher can help Tampa Bay get a playoff spot from the A’s it will be Price.  He WILL have a Cy Young Award on the wall before his career is done.

5) Justin Verlander (78.62%)- Finally on the list, Verlander comes in at fourth place in the junior circuit, quite surprising for the Detroit Tigers ace. In my opinion, he is the most overrated pitcher in baseball.  Sure, he has a blazing fastball. Sure, his ERA is under two and a half.  But, he has been inconsistent at moments and is on pace to have the most losses in his career since 2008.  I will give him credit, however, because he tends to dominate one of my favorite statistics (WHIP).

6) Stephen Strasburg (77.71%)- The Strikeout king is now on the list and he is very deserving.  In seven of his twenty three games this year, he has struck out nine batters or more!  That is 30.4% of the time.  Looking for a whiff?  He’s the guy you have to call.  His innings limit has been in the news lately and I think if the Nationals want to keep winning he must be in the rotation. We’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out.

7) Matt Cain (76.7%)- “Mr. Perfect”, “Cain-O Insane-O”, “The San Fran Man”…regardless of what you call him, he is still a dominant force on the hill out on the west coast.  His ERA is under 3 for only the second time in his career but he’s currently regarded as the best pitcher in the Giants’ stacked rotation.  This is due mostly to Tim Lincecum‘s recent struggles, and the fact that most of the rotation is considerably “young talent”.  One of his statistics which catches my eye the most is the fact that his walks per 9 is the lowest in his career.

8) Felix Hernandez (76.44%)- “King Felix” is one of my favorite pitchers and I feel he is very underrated.  Although he may only have 10 wins, he already has 3 shutouts, leading the league.  He continues to strikeout batters (he is nearing his 1,500th strikeout) and his ERA is staying low.  His division rivals include the Texas Rangers and the LA Angels, two huge offensive teams.  Hernandez continually gets the job done, though.

9) Madison Bumgarner (76.4%)- When looking at the ERA leaders, you could easily think his fellow teammate Ryan Vogelsong has the edge. However, Bumgarner has a higher SPv for a couple of reasons.  One, he strikes out more batters and walks less, as opposed to Vogelsong.  And secondly, Bumgarner has a better WHIP.  Walks plus Hits divided by Innings Pitched is a crucial statistic in the makeup of SPv.  The first round pick in the 2007 draft is off to a good start in his career and he makes a good #2 behind Matt Cain.

10) Kyle Lohse (76.27%)- I was very surprised when I realized Lohse had made the Top 10. When we look at his stats, he has the second most wins on the St. Louis Cardinals staff (12, just behind Lance Lynn‘s 13) against only has 2 losses.  He hasn’t had much popularity since 2008 when he had 15 wins but the baseball community should know that Kyle still has his stuff.  His WHIP and ERA are at career bests and along with Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn, they are filling the hole left by the Chris Carpenter injury quite nicely.

11) Johnny Cueto (76.18%)- I can truly say that in my mind, Cueto is the best pitcher in the packed NL Central.  I say this because he doesn’t allow many base runners, keeps batters guessing and even when things do get out of hand, he can still often get the win.  This is because of an offense led by Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips.  These athletes, led by Cueto, will help the Reds gain an even larger lead over Andrew McCutchen and the Pittsburgh Pirates as the season winds down.

12) Jordan Zimmermann (76.14%)- I know I say the word underrated too often, but it’s one of the few words that describes Zimmermann accurately.  The reason I feel he hasn’t had instant stardom is due to the fact that, earlier in the year, he lacked run support.  At one point he had a losing record with an ERA under two and a half.  He doesn’t strikeout very many batters but he doesn’t walk many either. This keeps men off the base, keeping his WHIP low.  If anyone on this list will win the NL Cy Young Award in dramatic fashion, it’s Zimmermann.

13) Cole Hamels (75.75%)- This southpaw has been the talk of trade rumors year in and year out, but he remains in Philly, being the only pitcher to have double-digit wins for the Phillies.  He also has the most strikeouts, most innings pitched, leads in ERA+ and the lowest hits per nine innings.  Once the #2 pitcher to Roy Halladay, he is now the ace of the struggling team.  He just signed a huge, $153 million contract, so expect him to stick around for a while.

14) Clayton Kershaw (75.17%)- “The Claw” is the same man as he has been his whole career but isn’t quite as dominant as he was last year.  He is in the very pitching dominant NL, hurting his chances of winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards.  He strikes out a whole batter less per 9 inning than he did last year but he still has a WHIP of 1.027.  He leads the league in shutouts (2), is still the ace for the NL West leading (tied) Los Angeles Dodgers and no longer has to face Melky Cabrera due to a 50 game suspension.

15) CC Sabathia (75.06%)- CC has been on the DL for an extended period of time.  I think the Yankees are in a good enough position to where they can retain first place in the AL East without him.  If you asked me a year earlier, I would’ve told you that New York couldn’t have competed without Mariano Rivera and with Sabathia out, however, that’s exactly what they are doing.  Yankees’ fans just need to hope that C.C. can bounce back from the injuries, and continue on the pace where he left off.

16) A.J. Burnett (74.81%)- I would’ve expected the Pirate’s righty to be higher on this list, with 14 wins and a new beginning in Pittsburgh, however, he is not.  Like many of the pitchers ranked above him, he doesn’t possess a high number of K’s.  Through 21 starts, he already has the most wins in his career since 2008 in Toronto.  Not only does he have a career low WHIP (with 21+ games started), but he has a one-hitter under his belt.

17) Ryan Vogelsong (74.64%)- The reason this guy may not quite be a household name is because he hasn’t performed in the past, as he is just showing signs of greatness.  The last season that he had 25 or more starts before San Fransisco, he had an ERA of 6.50 with a 6-13 W-L record. He has redeemed himself, however, in his second stint for the Giants.  His two years back have been astounding, posting 249 strikeouts and a 23-13 record.  He does walk a few too many, but nothing to worry about. Expect him to have more than one all star selection in his career.

18) Scott Diamond (74.35%)- I consider this young man the only “stud” in the Minnesota Twin’s rotation.  He isnt like many of the guys on this list as far as strikeouts are concerned (5.0 strikeouts per 9 innings), but he makes up for it because he doesn’t walk many either (1.3 walks per 9 innings, a league lead).  He’s only pitched 18 games, and I really don’t expect the trend to continue, as he allows almost a home run a game.  That’s low enough to be a quality pitcher, but not to consistently be on this list.

19) Gio Gonzalez (74.15%)- Gio is one of the best parts of the Washington Nationals “Big 3″ (Strasburg and  Zimmerman included).  He has the most wins out of all of them (15, 2 away from a career high), he has the league lead in home runs per 9 innings (0.4), and the league lead in hits per 9 innings (6.9).  His wicked curveball is similar to those of fellow teamate Stephen Strasburg and Barry Zito.  With Strasburg supposedly being out of postseason play, Gio is the man who needs to step up even further, if possible.  This would be by walking less and staying consistent.

20) Ryan Dempster (73.62%)- The Texas new-comer is lucky to even be on this list.  His ERA has gone up 79 points in 4 games, but I think he still has some success in him.  He is aging, however, and is struggling to get wins.  He is a great #3 or #4 in the Rangers rotation, and run support won’t be an issue anymore, as it was with the Cubs.

Think one of your favorite pitchers deserved to be on the list or would you like to just discuss Starting Pitching Valuation, contact me on Twitter @pitchingstats or use the comments section below. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have about about this list, how to calculate SPv and/or how to apply its usage to fantasy baseball. Thanks for reading and be sure to check back next week.

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The Roster Report – February 18, 2012

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The Roster Report – February 18, 2012

Posted on 18 February 2012 by Bryan Grosnick

Hey there, hardball fans! Get stoked for Spring Training, it’s only a few days away. Pitchers and catchers are due to report soon, and teams are rushing to make those last, late acquisitions to firm up rosters. Today, we have a collection of players who will battle to stay relevant and as major-league-caliber players on minor league deals. And, after quite a bit of speculation, A.J. Burnett moves on to a new destination. All the details can be found below in this edition of the Roster Report!

(By the way, still no Roy Oswalt signing. This is getting ridiculous.)

A.J. Burnett

The New York Yankees trade SP A.J. Burnett and $20MM to the Pittsburgh Pirates for RP Diego Moreno and OF Exicardo Cayones.

In a deal that was as much about money as it was performance, the Yankees finally parted ways with highly-paid starter A.J. Burnett. Burnett had been the subject of trade discussions ever since his performance slipped in 2010. Burnett appeared to be muscled out of the rotation by the acquisitions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda this year, and the Yankees must be pleased to find a team willing to take on some of Burnett’s salary. A.J. was due $33MM over the next two years, and the Yankees will pay $20MM of that for the Pirates to take on that last $13MM of the deal. This should free up enough money for the Yankees to add a couple of bench or DH-type bats, as well as make them more flexible for mid-season acquisitions.

In return, the Pirates get something they’ve been lacking for years: a reliable guy to eat innings. It may come as a surprise, but A.J. is probably the ace of this Pirates staff now. Burnett should slot in ahead of Erik Bedard, James McDonald, Kevin Correia, and Charlie Morton or Jeff Karstens. Though A.J. was undoubtedly a disappointment in his time in the Bronx, he isn’t a terrible pitcher. Burnett earned $49.5MM over the last three years, and the way Yankee fans complain, you’d think he was worth nothing. In fact, FanGraphs values him as worth $28.7MM over that span, which is $20MM less than what he made, but that’s still a very valuable player. Burnett was torched by the long ball as a Yankee, especially last year. Moving out of the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium, Jr. should help him put up more reasonable numbers in 2012 and 2013. Also, accurate future performance predictors SIERA and FIP both had him as an above-average pitcher in 2011, actually. A SIERA of 3.89 and xFIP of 3.86 would be a breath of fresh air in Pittsburgh, and I look for him to be a very strong off-season acquisition.

Let’s talk a little about New York’s return in this trade: Moreno and Cayones. Neither of these guys matter in the slightest. Neither projects to be a major-league player. The end.

Now that Burnett’s in Pittsburgh, it’s fair to ask if he’s a fantasy factor. Truthfully, I’m not sure yet. He’s always managed to get a decent number of strikeouts (8.22 per nine innings over his career), and that tends to play in fantasy. You can also rely on Burnett, which is shocking given how his early career went.

Russ Ohlendorf

The Boston Red Sox sign Ross Ohlendorf to a minor-league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

This is not the R.O. starting pitcher that the Sox were hoping for, but hey, things could be worse. They could have signed a pitcher who racked up a 6.28 FIP in 2011 instead. What’s that? Ohlendorf was that bad last season? Hrm. Well, it was only in about forty innings, so there could be a small sample size issue in play here. At his best, Ohlendorf was about average as a starter, and being able to get back to that level would be a magnificent coup for the Sox. Granted, that probably won’t happen, but looking at his career stats, its possible that he could find work as a spot starter or back-of-the-bullpen arm.

I imagine that Ohlendorf isn’t the first choice for a rotation spot among the Sox gaggle of non-roster invitees, or even the second. Aaron Cook or Felix Doubront would probably be a better #4 or #5 starter than Ohlendorf, but Ross has his pluses as well. He does have a history of striking out more than six guys per nine innings, even in his worst years. If nothing else, he’ll be depth at the Triple-A level, and he’ll be a guy who won’t need a lot of deliberation if they need to cut him loose from the 40-man or 25-man roster.

From a fantasy perspective, avoid avoid avoid Ross Ohlendorf. But given the fact that you’ve probably been doing that for the last four or five years, you’re probably good. He’s not going to be a whole lot better moving into a hitter’s park, in a harder league, in the toughest division for a pitcher…and his numbers with the Pirates were not fantasy-worthy.

Quick Hits

  • The Cincinnati Reds signed Brett Tomko to a minor-league deal (with an invite to Spring Training). In 2011, Tomko was what he has almost always been: a replacement-level pitcher. He’ll get a few strikeouts, he’ll walk too many guys, and not be worth anything other than an end-of-the-bullpen roster spot. Players like Tomko are useful due to their versatility, but they’re not fantasy-worthy and won’t change your franchise’s fortune.
  • The San Francisco Giants signed Ramon Ortiz to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Ortiz pitched for the Cubs last season and wasn’t particularly good by standard measures…but actually managed a 4.14 xFIP and 3.90(!?) SIERA. Granted, that’s only in 33.1 innings pitched, but Ortiz could easily find himself doing time at the end of the San Francisco rotation and bullpen. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a #5 or spot-starter at best and has literally zero fantasy value, but he could play another year, and may even outperform Barry Zito.
  • Hideki Okajima failed his physical, and won’t suit up for the New York Yankees this season. I actually really liked him as a bounce-back candidate this season to sneakily put up good numbers. I hope that he gets healthy and nabs another chance to pitch in the majors, but the Yankees probably won’t be too worried about replacing him.
  • Finally, it’s time to bid a fond farewell to Tim Wakefield. Wakefield has been a fixture as a member of the Red Sox for the last 17 years of his 19-year career. Most famous for carrying on the proud tradition of knuckleball pitchers, Wakefield finishes his career with over two hundred wins and two World Series rings. For me, it’s especially bittersweet. Wakefield is my wife’s favorite baseball player of all time, in part because they share a hometown. Both of our favorite players are knuckleballers (my favorite’s R.A. Dickey), and I’m glad that Wakefield had such a long and successful career. He’ll be missed.

 

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