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MLB Weekend Series - Five Key Takeaways

MLB Weekend Series - Five Key Takeaways

MLB Weekend Series - Five Key Takeaways
By David Malinsky

Once again it is time to break down the weekend MLB action from Point Blank range, taking you inside the game to find key factors that you can lead to major betting value in the days ahead.

Braves – It wasn’t just “early” offense

Things would seemingly be fine in Atlanta, where the Braves opened the season at 17-13 and in first place in the NL East. They have done that despite only San Diego scoring fewer runs, and with a miserable .233/.294/.378 slash line, which would rate #27, #27 and #19. But the worries about the offense could be mitigated by the fact that it is “early”, and there are some big names in the lineup that could come around.

But it really is not early anymore. There was a take here a couple of weeks ago on how bad B. J. Upton has fallen off, yet they continue to run his .213/.303/.324, with 34 K’s in 108 at-bats, out into the #2 slot. At leadoff it has been a miserable .220/.301/.322 from Jason Heyward, with only two HR’s. At 2B Dan Uggla has opened at .190/.248/.280, and since that memorable grand slam in the 9th inning at Philadelphia on April 14 he has gone 9-55, with 18 K’s and not a single rbi.

Your thought process should not be about good veteran hitters off to slow starts, but the fact that at a certain point they simply are who they are. For all of the physical tools that Heyward brings, he now has three HR’s over his last 155 at-bats, and has been an anemic .115/.143/.154 vs. left-handed pitching. As for speed at leadoff, over the past two seasons he has seven steals, and been thrown out five times. Meanwhile a case can be made that Uggla is as bad as any every-day player in the Majors, with his 2014 opening on the heels of a wretched .133/.298/.231 after the All Star break LY.

The Braves jut had a weekend series in which their pitchers held San Franciso to nine runs, yet got swept, despite the Giants offering up the slumping Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong. They have been held to one run or none a dozen times. But instead of looking for a “buy signal” with this lineup to turn around, it might be smarter to simply lower expectations, until they at least bring in someone that can play 2B at a Major League level, and move Heyward and/or Upton out of those key spots at the top of the order.

Red Sox – Clay Buchholz, and “Tempo”

Clay Buchholz has a 63.2 win percentage over his Major League career, #7 among active pitchers and good enough to be in the top 50 of all-time. So when he opened 0-2/7.71 this season there were a lot of concerns, especially after shoulder bursitis derailed part of his otherwise sterling 2013 campaign. Even after a couple of solid outings his bottom line is only back to 2-2/5.63. But take a closer look.

Buchholz indeed struggled with his stamina in the early going, and his velocity was uninspiring. But then the Red Sox got him to adjust tempo, believing that by speeding up a bit he could regain his mechanics. At first there was even more ugliness, when Toronto rocked him for three first-inning runs back on April 26. But since then he has been close to the Buchholz of the past, allowing only one run on six hits over 12.1 frames. From what manager John Farrell told the Providence Journal, the rocky first inning vs. the Blue Jays could be excused – “With the increased tempo, it’s going to change the body position, where it is with the release point. His release point was erratic for the first couple of innings. He settled down and really gained a much better rhythm.”

Note that Buchholz has also had the “worst of it” in terms of that 5.63 allowance – a .345 BABIP and a 62.5 LOB% put him in the lower 10th percentile in each category. As those outliers correct, his entire pitching line should catch up to past standards in a hurry, and particularly note that through his “down” opening to the season his walks-per-9 are at the best rate of his career. Grade him on career norms, not the April struggles.

White Sox – A hole at the top

When evaluating injuries, it is not just comparing the departed player to his replacement, but also factoring in the impact of his particular spot in the batting order. Which could mean double trouble ahead for the White Sox. Adam Eaton was off to a .276/.363/.378 start, scoring 20 runs over his first 25 games, but will not be seen again for a couple of weeks. Now it likely will be Jordan Danks in CF, as he tries to break out of a serious slump, with a .077/.217/.154 that brings the horrific ratio of 19 K’s vs. only three hits (for the past two seasons it is 76 to 40 in that category). But it is not just going from Eaton to Danks that stings, it is also having Alejandro de Aza in the leadoff spot.

Jose Abreu hit a solo HR in the first inning yesterday, and it is something he may have to get accustomed to – batting with two outs and no one on base. De Aza has opened .194/.257/.350, with 23 K’s on 103 at-bats, and the inability to make contact is a void in his game – in 2013 he struck out 147 times. And it is not just his inability to handle leadoff, but the fact that Gordon Beckham is mired in a .167/.231/.222 funk at the #2 slot. The White Sox simply do not have answers in front of Abreu, nor is Danks any guarantee to learn to make contact, and as such Eaton’s absence could be more important than the marketplace will likely appreciate.

Twins – Phil Hughes finds a home?

Hughes had multiple problems coming up through the Yankee system. First was the hype machine that comes with that territory, especially when being promoted in a hurry – he made 13 Major League starts in 2007, despite only having had five at AAA. And there was also the issue of a ballpark that did not play to his strengths at all, with the short porch in right field anathema to his pitching style. So it is easy for folks in the marketplace to be bored with his 59-51/4.55 career mark, and his current 3-1/4.72 is not going to raise many eyebrows. But his possible resurgence is worth following.

Hughes is still only 27, and has good stuff. But now he may have the confidence of being able to actually use it at Target Field. He toiled to a 4.82 at the new Yankee Stadium, allowing an alarming 1.8 HR’s-per-9, and instead of it being a home field advantage, it was a negative. Contrast that to a 3.42 career tally from what is now his new home mound, with only .6 HR’s-per-9, and it can have a major change in his psyche.

Here is the key – Hughes just worked back-to-back home wins over the Orioles and Tigers, not walking a single batter over 13 1/3 strong innings, with 144 of his 199 pitches in the strike zone. That is a sign of someone that is comfortable and confident, and it could render his past stats to being stale. Of all things, make sure that you do not consider his career Home/Away numbers to be of any relevance – those Yankee Stadium tallies are not a meaningful measurement for the category (at no time did he ever have consecutive starts in the Bronx without allowing a walk).

Reds – Alfredo Simon, and the warning signs

It has been a disappointing opening to the 2014 season in Cincinnati, but one of the bright spots has been the performance of Simon, who has opened 4-1/1.99 after being moved back into the starter’s role for the first time since 2011. His only loss came by a 1-0 count, and the Reds won a no-decision, making it 5-1 in his starts.

But then came Sunday vs. Milwaukee, when Simon did not register a strikeout of the 26 batters he faced, and most alarmingly only had one swinging strike out of 80 pitches. And it is actually part of a negative trend through the cycle - despite those strong overall numbers his K’s-per-9 have fallen from a career norm of 6.45 down to 4.87.

So how did he get to 4-1/1.99? There are several dark clouds on the horizon. First has been a great ride in terms of difficulty of opposition – the batters he has faced are a collective .229/.300/.340 this season. Of the 113 pitchers that have worked at least 30 innings, he would rate #109, #98 and a dead last #113 across those tables. Then there is the matter of being most fortunate in two other key categories – his BABIP of .192 rates #3, and his LOB% is 87.6. Hence, a 4.42 xFIP that may be a much better indicator of his true abilities. It is possible that instead of a magical re-birth, Simon may have only had some good roles of the dice.

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