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Features First in War, Peace, and the NL East A look at the Washington Nationals recent success and how they came from being a bottom dweller to a title contender
48 Top 10 Moments of 2012
A look back at last season, counting down the very best moments
Jays, Halladay Reunion
Roy Halladay faces his former team and comes away with an interesting perspective
Hardest Hitters to Strikeout We list MLBâ€™s toughest outs
72 FEBRUARY 2013
In Every Issue Warmup Tosses Statistics
Letters to the Editor
98 FEBRUARY 2013
Warmup Tosses AL EAST Edition
New York Yankees
Yanks Swap Gardner And Granderson Cano Continues To Get Better What the Yankees do have is Cano, who demonstrated more plate discipline last season and lost nothing off his contact rate or power. Cano’s OBP, slugging percentage, home runs and walk rate all increased from 2011 to 2012, and his chase percent decreased. (Chase percent is the frequency of swings at pitches outside the strike zone.) In the three seasons since the Yankees’ last World Series title, Cano has taken over the mantle as New York’s most important position player. From 2010-12, Cano’s Wins Above Replacement is 21.2. Granderson is a distant second at 12.1. As excited as Yankee fans are to see the return of closer Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner’s return to the everyday lineup is one that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially on defense. Gardner is +59 in Defensive Runs Saved since the start of 2010. That’s the most among outfielders and eight more than Michael Bourn, despite the fact that Gardner has played 1,341 fewer innings than Bourn over that span. On the bases, Gardner stole a career-high 49 bases in 2011. In 2012, Ichiro Suzuki led the team with just 14. As for Jeter, he starts the season 10th on the all-time hits list with 3,304 but should move up the list quickly early in the season. He’s 10 hits shy of Eddie Collins for ninth and 15 back of Paul Molitor for eighth all time.
Manager Joe Girardi made official what was long expected, saying Thursday that he would experiment with Curtis Granderson in left field and Brett Gardner in center field as the Yankees close in on Saturday’s exhibition opener against the Atlanta Braves. ‘’We’re going to toy with it, see if we like it,’’ Girardi said. Gardner was the starting left fielder before missing most of the 2012 season with an elbow injury. Granderson, who has played center field since joining the Yankees in 2010, struggled at times last season. Girardi said the move had more to do with seeing whether the two were capable of covering more territory together in the new alignment. ‘’We’ve had some discussions the last few days about it, and we just decided, you know what, let’s give it a shot,’’ Girardi said. ‘’I think I’ll probably stick with it awhile just to see.’’ Granderson said he accepted the decision but made his preference clear. ‘’I’d love to play center,’’ he said. ‘’That’s what I’ve been playing. But at he same time, I just want to play.’’
The Weiters Effect
Matt Wieters has been very valuable to the Orioles, not just for his offense, but for his work behind the plate. Wieters has made consecutive All-Star teams and won back-to-back Gold Gloves. His 31 Defensive Runs Saved since 2009 are second-most in the majors among catchers behind Yadier Molina. Over the last two seasons, Orioles pitchers have a 4.15 ERA with Wieters catching and a 5.33 ERA with others behind the plate
No Star Power
The Orioles won last year without a superstar everyday player. Their Wins Above Replacement leader among players was Adam Jones (3.4). Three other teams had no position players record a 3.5 WAR or higher and they (Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, and Seattle Mariners) combined for a .399 winning percentage. The Orioles WAR leader among pitchers was Jason Hammel (2.9), making Baltimore one of 10 teams that had no pitchers with a WAR of 3.0 or better. Of those, only the Orioles and Brewers (83/79) had winning records.
Orioleâ€™s Success Tough to Replicate
The Orioles will be challenged to replicate their success in close games last season. They went 29/9 (.763) in one-run games, the best winning percentage in baseball history among teams to play at least 30 of them. They also went 16/2 in extra-inning games, had 24 last at-bat wins (most in the majors), only five last at-bat losses (fewest in the majors), and went 74/0 in games in which they led after seven innings.
Warmup Tosses Wil Myers
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The Rays figure to count on rookie outfielder Wil Myers, whom they obtained in the trade that sent pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals, to add power to their lineup. Only two Rays rookies have had more than 13 home runs in a season--Evan Longoria, who hit 27 in 2008, and Jonny Gomes, who had 21 of them in 2005.
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Pitcher to Watch:
Matt Moore went through his share of ups and downs in his first full season in the major leagues, but his performance after the All-Star Break (3.01 ERA) gave Rays fans significant reason for optimism. Particularly impressive were Moore’s first nine starts out of the break, in which he posted a 2.08 ERA and held opponents to two home runs and a .591 OPS in 56 1/3 innings pitched. Key to that was Moore’s ability to keep his fastball down. He upped the percentage of fastballs he threw in the lower half of the strike zone from 41 percent in the first half to 50 percent during his successful run. With that, the number of home runs hit against his heater dropped from 12 (one every 96.5 pitches) to one (on 568 pitches).
The Longoria Impact
Much of the Rays success is predicated on the health of star third baseman Evan Longoria. When Longoria played last season, the Rays went 47/27. When he didn’t, the Rays were 43/45. Based on his ability at the plate, his presence made a major difference in the team’s impressive offensive success. Longoria posted an .896 OPS in his 74 games last season, the best mark of his career. But he only played 50 games at third base (he was a designated hitter on other days). With Longoria’s health an issue, the Rays were forced to give 263 at-bats at the hot corner to Sean Rodriguez, Will Rhymes, Elliot Johnson, Drew Sutton, Ryan Roberts, and Reid Brignac. They combined to hit a .198 average with five home runs.
Toronto BLue Jays
A Lethal Power Speed Combo
The Blue Jays have a chance to finish in the top of the league in both power and speed. Toronto owns three prolific base stealers in Rajai Davis, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio who rank 3rd, 6th and 13th respectively in stolen bases the last 3 seasons. The team also features two of the most prominent power hitters in baseball as measured by Isolated Power. Jose Bautista (.286) and Edwin Encarnacion (.277) ranked 4th and 5th in the MLB by that metric last season (min. 350 PA), the only pair of teammates in the top ten.
» Shifty Infield The Blue Jays were among the most frequent users of defensive shifts in 2012. Baseball Info Solutions credited them with 12 Defensive Runs Saved due to shift usage last season, the highest such total in the majors. One of the most integral players in their defense is third baseman Brett Lawrie, who led major league third basemen last season with 20 Defensive Runs Saved.
» Postseason Drought The Blue Jays have not been to the postseason since 1993. The only AL team with a longer playoff drought is the Royals, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 1985. The Blue Jays also don’t have a 90-win season since that championship year. Every other team in the AL East has at least two since then.
» New Starters Mean WAR The Blue Jays starting rotation will likely feature three new pitchers: R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle. The three have combined for 47 Wins Above Replacement over the last four seasons. Each of the three ranks in the top 17 among pitchers. Johnson rates the highest: seventh-best, with 19.1 Wins Above Replacement.
Boston Red Sox New Faces on the Mound
The Red Sox made two significant additions to their pitching staff in starter Ryan Dempster and closer Joel Hanrahan. Boston hopes to get the version of Dempster who pitched for the Cubs last season to a 2.25 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, rather than the one who had a 5.09 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 69 innings with the Rangers. The key stat tied to his struggles: he allowed only nine home runs with the Cubs, but yielded 10 in 35 fewer innings with the Rangers. The Red Sox are betting that Dempster’s track record of consistency will help lower the starting rotation’s 5.19 ERA from last season (a franchise-worst in the Live-Ball Era). His strikeout, walk, and homerun numbers have been consistent over the last four seasons, during which his FIP (an ERA estimator that uses those stats to measure effectiveness) has ranged from 3.69 to 3.99. Hanrahan had 36 saves and a 2.72 ERA last season. However, a couple of key indicators were outliers for him. Hanrahan’s percentage of baserunners stranded (89.7 percent) and BABIP (.230) both ranked in the top five among NL relievers with at least 50 innings last season and were far removed from his career averages of 75 percent and .306.
New Faces at the Plate
The Red Sox projected Opening Day starting lineup contains five new position players from last season’s debut lineup. Among the acquisitions, Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes will play the corners in the outfield, Mike Napoli first base, Stephen Drew shortstop, and fill-in reserves David Ross and Mike Carp will catch and play first base respectively. The acquisitions of Gomes, Napoli and Victorino should help the Red Sox against left-handed pitching. The latter three all rank in the top 30 among active players in career slugging percentage against lefties. The Red Sox went 26/25 in games against lefty starting pitchers in 2012. Ross has a reputation as a good defensive catcher, a thought backed up by this stat: opponents have a 64 percent career stolen-base success rate against Ross, fourth-lowest against active catchers with at least 300 games behind the plate.
First In War First In Peace
First In The NL
East? Through years of losing, the Nationals stuck with a draft-and-develop plan. Happy days are here again in the capitalâ€”and they arenâ€™t going away anytime soon. By Ben Reiter 12
Nationals players celebrating Jayson Werth’s walkoff homerun in game 4 of the 2012 NLDS
he Nationals’ rise from sad irrelevance to ownership of baseball’s brightest future began six years ago in a hotel room in San Francisco. The digits on the room’s alarm clock were inexorably advancing, and the assembled members of the club’s front office knew what they were supposed to do before 1 p.m. Pacific time. It was July 31, 2006, the day of the trade deadline, and most of baseball’s bottomdwellers were furiously dealing away their mature assets to contenders in exchange for prospects. The Nationals were 46/59, 17½ games back in the National League East, and they had the player who was supposed to be the prize of deadline day. Leftfielder Alfonso Soriano was already a star when Washington acquired him from the Rangers the previous December, but the 30-year-old had never had this type of year: 32 home runs with 26 stolen bases in only 104 games. He was due to become a free agent at season’s end and would undoubtedly command an annual salary of more than a quarter of the Nationals’ total payroll of $63 million.
Washington realized that to become a contender, it needed to invest and trust in its own scouting and development of players—even if that meant enduring years of losing to produce top draft picks. Phones in the hotel room trilled incessantly as a dozen teams tried to wrest Soriano away from the Nationals. General manager Jim Bowden led the haggling, but with him were three men whose team-branded polo shirts were still creased from their shipping boxes. The Lerner family had gained ownership of the franchise just seven days earlier, after 4½ years of squalid stewardship by Major League Baseball. The three men were key members of the new front office: principal owner Mark Lerner, the son of D.C. real estate magnate Ted Lerner; new team president Stan Kasten,
who had spent a dozen successful years in the same position with the Braves; and new assistant G.M. Mike Rizzo, a 45-year-old longtime scout who had been poached from the Diamondbacks after six seasons as their scouting director, during which he’d improved their farm system from among the NL’s worst to one of its best. The players the Nationals were offered for Soriano were talented but uninspiring: Kevin Slowey, a promising control artist in the Twins system; Mark Lowe, a young flame-thrower with the Mariners. Bowden, Lerner and friends kept
shaking their heads. Then the alarm clock’s digits read 1:00. The phones stopped ringing. The deadline had passed, and Alfonso Soriano remained a National. The team completed 2006 with a 71/91 record and their third straight last-place finish. Soriano became baseball’s fourth member of the 40/40 club, with 46 home runs and 41 steals, and then signed an eight-year, $136 million freeagent deal with the Cubs. But what happened in that San Francisco hotel room was the catalyst for a six-year rise to prominence for the Nationals, who last year had their best NL East showing (third place) since moving to Washington from Montreal in 2005 and this season won 12 of their first 16 games. For starters, one of the two draft picks the club received as compensation for losing Soriano turned out to be Jordan Zimmermann, a righthander taken in the second round in 2007 from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. Zimmermann, now 25, had a a 3.18 ERA in 26 starts last year and a 1.29 mark in his first three this season. Along with 23-yearold ace Stephen Strasburg (the Nationals took him first overall in ‘09), Zimmermann fronts a rotation that is the hardest-throwing starting five since velocities were first tracked in 2002. Washington’s rotation boasts an average fastball of 93.6 miles per hour and a baseball-best starters’ ERA of 1.82. More important, though, was what the Soriano decision signified: the implementation of a rosterbuilding philosophy from which the organization has not wavered. Washington realized that to become a contender, it needed to invest and trust in its own scouting and development of players—even if that meant enduring years of losing to produce top draft picks. “The Lerners made it clear: We’re not in a hurry,” says Bowden. “We want to build this through just like we build our buildings, from the bottom up. We don’t build the penthouse first.” Bowden is now a SiriusXM radio host; he resigned from the Nationals in March 2009 after becoming embroiled in an FBI investigation into the skimming of signing-bonus money from Dominican players. (He has not been formally implicated and denied the allegations.) While Bowden laid the groundwork, one man is most responsible for turning the story of the 2012 Nationals from one about a team biding its time until the arrival of its savior—19-year-old Bryce Harper, the top overall pick in the 2010 draft—to one on the verge of contention. His bald head was one of those that kept shaking in that San Francisco hotel room, and he became Bowden’s successor: Mike Rizzo. They ate sandwiches slapped together by a
Davey Johnson enjoying his time in the Nation’s capital
man who always had a cigarette dangling from his lips. Of all the indignities endured by the young players drafted into the Montreal Expos organization in its final days, this is what first springs to mind for Ian Desmond. The players were supposed to be the club’s future, and yet they couldn’t eat a spring training clubhouse meal without picking ashes out of their ham and cheese.
Major League Baseball ran the Expos, who would move south and become the Nationals in 2005, as if the future didn’t exist. Any good draft pick—like Desmond, a third-round choice in 2004 now in his third season as Washington’s starting shortstop—was the result of dumb luck, as the franchise had no scouting infrastructure to speak of. Whatever prospects they had, they
Rizzo also focused on amateurs, and his results have been astounding. A farm system that once ranked 30th, because baseball has only 30 teams, developed virtually unmatched depth. dealt away willy-nilly, most notoriously in June 2002, when they traded three future All-Stars— Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore—to Cleveland for 17 starts from Bartolo Colon. “Scouting and player development is the only way to build a reputable, long-term, consistently winning organization,” says Rizzo. “We were really starting from below ground zero.” The effort took money, which the Lerners had, as their estimated $3.3 billion fortune makes them the game’s wealthiest owners. While the Nationals’ major league payroll has consistently ranked in the bottom third—this year it is 19th, at $80.6 million—the Lerners poured resources into the procurement of top prospects and of the talented men who could find them. Over the past three years no organization has spent more on bonuses for draft picks, and in 2009 alone Washington’s scouting department added 17 employees. While some were young and versed in the latest statistical analysis, for Rizzo, stats will always come second. “We lean toward the eyeball rather than the numbers,” he says. As with any demolition-and-rebuild job, things had to get worse before they got better, but even the Nationals couldn’t have anticipated how awful they would be in 2009. That year the club dealt with the Dominican scandal; Bowden’s resignation; the firing of manager Manny Acta and pitching coach Randy St. Claire; and a second straight 59-win season. Symbolizing the state of affairs was a night in April when the team’s two best players, sluggers Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman, trotted out onto the field with jerseys that read NATINALS. “Typical, I guess would be the right word to explain it,” says Zimmerman, the franchise’s 27-year-old centerpiece who in February signed a $100 million extension
Harper and Zimmerman slappiing five
that locks him up through 2019. “They’re not going to misspell Yankees.” All the while Rizzo was scanning the country for players who could help turn things around. In June ‘09, for example, he spotted an aging Mariners prospect with holes in his swing and no true position. Mike Morse, the G.M. says, was “the biggest damn minor league shortstop you ever saw, but I saw a big physical guy that could hit the ball a long way.” Rizzo sent journeyman outfielder Ryan Langerhans to Seattle for Morse. Last season, at age 29, the 6’5”, 245-pound first baseman--outfielder hit 31 homers and drove in 95 runs. Rizzo also focused on amateurs, and his results have been astounding. A farm system that once ranked 30th, because baseball has only 30 teams, developed virtually unmatched depth. Strasburg and Harper were the easy picks. The harder ones were pitchers such as A.J. Cole (2010) and Derek Norris (‘07), both fourthrounders; Tom Milone, a 10th-rounder in ‘08; and Brad Peacock, who was selected in the 41st in ‘06. The organization’s depth allowed Rizzo
Nats Win/Loss Totals 98
64 80 81
93 103 102 89 91 81 81
Nats Earned/Allowed Runs 2012
2009 2008 2007
825 783 746
to turn that pitching quartet into Gio Gonzalez, the 26-year-old All-Star lefthander who was acquired in a trade with the A’s in December. The trade demonstrated that the Nationals’ long rebuilding plan was approaching maturity: Packaging their resources to get Gonzalez gave them three top starters who could make them a perennial contender. “What people don’t comprehend is how long it takes to win,” says Bowden. “The Rays, it took them 10 years. It took Oakland six or seven [in the 2000s]. The whole key is, How do you get Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder atop your rotation? Now, in Strasburg, Gio and Zimmermann, they’ve got them.” They will for a while. None of the three can become a free agent until after the 2015 season. Davey Johnson became convinced that his future lay in pro baseball when he was nine years old and he served as a spring training batboy for the Washington Senators at Orlando’s Tinker Field. A 13-year playing career followed, then 14 seasons as a major league manager, including a world championship with the 1986 Mets. Last
June, Johnson was working as a senior adviser to Rizzo, 68 years old and more than a decade removed from his last managing job, when his boss asked if he’d return to the dugout to replace Jim Riggleman, who had resigned. “It seemed like a chance to come full circle, from batboy for Washington to manager for Washington,” says Johnson. The Nationals went 17--10 in September, and Johnson loved the players who had hung tough with him: Zimmerman, Zimmermann, Strasburg (who returned from Tommy John surgery to make five starts down the stretch) and outfielder Jayson Werth. But Johnson also loved the players who would soon join them. Despite sacrificing those four prospects for Gonzalez, the Nationals still have one of the game’s best farm systems, led by 21-year-old Anthony Rendon, the top hitter in last June’s draft who is now playing at Class A. Above all, there is Harper. In his second spring training Harper endeared himself to his teammates with his rambunctious, 19-year-old ways. One day, while they were shagging balls during batting practice, Werth off-handedly mentioned that it might be a good opportunity for Harper, a former catcher, to practice his outfield play. “I said, make sure you get your work in, and the next thing I know he’s running full speed into the outfield fence,” recalls Werth with a chuckle. Harper had a good spring but did not secure a spot on a 25-man roster that included only two players, Zimmerman and backup catcher Jesus Flores, who were with the team on Opening Day 2009. “I explained to him, we don’t want you to come up here and struggle,” Johnson says. “When you come, then there won’t be any turning back.” Harper scuffled through his first 15 games with Triple A Syracuse—he hit .220 with one RBI—but, says Rizzo, “he’s not overmatched whatsoever by that league. We’ve got a lot of worries in this organization. He ain’t one of them.” It seemed unlikely even two Junes ago, when the Nationals made Harper their second straight No. 1 overall pick, but when the phenom does debut—and it could happen in a matter of weeks— he will not do so with savior expectations. Rather, all that will be expected of him will be to provide some help in the outfield, and a solid lefthanded bat in a lineup that, with Morse on the disabled list with a strained back, had produced just 3.6 runs per game through Sunday. Harper’s promotion will represent not the fruition of the plan that was symbolically implemented six years ago in that hotel room in San Francisco. It will be just another step on what looks like the franchise’s journey to sustained excellence.
of 2012 18
10 Raul Ibanez and his late game heroics
Ibanez entered game 3 of the ALDS as a pinchhitter for Alex Rodriguez with one out in the bottom of the ninth and the Yankees trailing 2-1. Facing Orioles closer Jim Johnson, Ibanez deposited Johnsonâ€™s second pitch into the rightfield bleachers for a solo home run, tying the game at 2/2 and sending it into extra innings. In the bottom of the 12th inning, Ibanez was the first batter for the Yankees. He took the first pitch and again drove it into the right-field seats, giving the Yankees a walk-off 3-2 win.
An Epic Cardinals NLDS Comeback
With closer Drew Storen on the hill, the Nationals were just three outs away from advancing to the NLCS with a 7-5 lead. However, the Cardinals middle infielders delivered in the clutch. Second baseman Daniel Descalso and shortstop Pete Kozma both delivered two-run singles in a four-run ninth inning, capping a terrific comeback and giving the Cardinals a 9-7 win and the NLDS victory.
8 Oakland Aâ€™s Take Detroit Tigers to Limit in Epic Battle
7 Derek Jeter Goes Down in a Heap
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was already dealing with a tender ankle when the top of the 12th inning began in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers. Jeter dove to his left, attempting to stop a ground ball off the bat of Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta. In the process, Jeter fractured his left ankle. Jeter had previously never missed a postseason game in his entire career.
The Oakland Athletics were down two games to one in their ALDS matchup with the Detroit Tigers. Facing a 3-1 deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning against Tigers closer Jose Valverde. Crisp hit a single to right field, scoring Smith with the winning run and forcing a fifth and deciding game. The Athletics once again showed their resilience in a season that was indeed special.
6 New York Yankees Sluggers Become Punchless in ALCS
The New York Yankees scraped by the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS to move on and face the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. The Yankees moved on despite hitting just .211 against the Orioles pitching staff. But their impotence at the plate would prove to be their downfall against the Tigers. The Yankeesâ€™ quartet of Robinson Cano (1-for-18), Curtis Granderson (0-for-11), Alex Rodriguez (19) and Mark Teixeria (3-15) combined to hit just .094 in the four-game sweep by the Tigers.
Barry Zito Finally Gives Giants Fans Reason to Cheer
Barry Zito had very few friends in the City by the Bay largely because of the seven-year, $126 million contract he signed in 2006 and, to put it nicely, the fact that he had failed to live up to that contract. Zito did a lot to turn around those feelings with his start in Game 5. With his Giants facing elimination and down three games to one, Zito turned in a gutsy performance. He worked 7.2 scoreless innings, allowing just six hits and leading the Giants to a 5-0 victory.
4 Marco Scutaro Performance for the Ages
3 Kung Fu Panda Registers Record Tying Night in World Series
In Game 1 of the World Series between San Francisco and Detroit, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval put on a power display. It was a display that had only been seen three times before in MLB history. Sandoval hit home runs in his first three at-bats in Game 1, becoming just the fourth player in history to hit three homers in a World Series game (Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols). Sandoval would end the series with a .500 average and would capture the World Series MVP award as well.
The San Francisco Giants fought back furiously to win the National League pennant. Facing a three-games-to-one deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants won three straight. While the Giants pitching staff held the Cardinals at bay over the final three games, their offense was led by a midseason pick-up: second baseman Marco Scutaro. Scutaro hit .500 and collected 14 hits during the series, tying an LCS record. He had six multi-hit games, including three hits and a walk in the seventh and deciding game.
2 R.A. Dickey Makes History with Cy Young Award
New York Mets starting pitcher R.A. Dickey dominated hitters throughout the year. And he did it with the knuckleball. No knuckleball pitcher ever rose to the heights of Dickey’s 2012 season. He finished with a 20/6 record, a 2.73 ERA and a league-leading 230 strikeouts. For his efforts, Dickey was award the National League Cy Young Award—the first time the award had ever been given to a pitcher using a knuckleball as his primary weapon of choice.
Underdog San Francisco Giants Sweep Favored Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers dispatched the New York Yankees in four straight games to win the American League pennant. Naturally, Vegas oddsmakers immediately named the Tigers as favorites. One popular sportsbook, Bovada.lv, made the Tigers a -175 favorite to win the World Series. For the fans who are unaware, that means a gambler has to bet $175 on the Tigers in order to win back roughly $100. If one happened to have a couple of extra dollars burning a hole in their pocket, the Giants’ odds of sweeping the Tigers were +1800.