Tag:Craig Kimbrel
Posted on: July 11, 2011 1:14 pm
Edited on: July 12, 2011 12:30 pm
  •  
 

Valverde, Wilson to close for All-Star teams



By C. Trent Rosecrans

PHOENIX -- Not only did the All-Star managers announce their starters on Monday, both Bruce Bochy and Ron Washington announced their closers for Tuesday's game -- if they get that opportunity.

It's no surprise Bochy is going with his Giants closer, Brian Wilson, while Washington said he'll go to the Tigers' Jose Valverde if he has a lead in the game's last inning.

Valverde is making his third All-Star appearance, which is why Washington chose him as his closer over first-timers Jordan Walden of the Angels, Chris Perez of the Indians and the Mariners' Brandon League. This of course is an issue because the Yankees' Mariano Rivera is inactive for Tuesday's game.

"I wanted to have a veteran that may be able to handle whatever pressures are there and that's why I  chose Valverde," Washington said. "I want to win bad, I want to make sure I had someone who can stand whatever heat is applied."

Valverde leads the American League with 24 saves and has a 2.70 ERA, striking out 39 batters in 40 innings. 

For Bochy, the decision was a bit easier -- Wilson's the guy he trusted to close out the World Series, so he's going to close out the All-Star Game if he's in position to close out a National League victory.

Wilson is in his third All-Star Game and gets the nod over the Padres' Heath Bell and the Braves' Craig Kimbrel.  Bochy did note that he'll have to talk Wilson on Tuesday because his right-hander has pitched four of the last five days, picking up saves on Thursday and Sunday, taking the loss on Friday.

"That was part of my reasoning for picking Kimbrel over [Braves starter Tommy] Hanson," Bochy said. "I wanted another reliever to help out late in the game."

For complete All-Star Game coverage, keep up with Eye on Baseball in Phoenix

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: July 8, 2011 5:07 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 1:05 pm
 

Loaded pitching highlights NL East All-Stars

By Matt Snyder

2011 All-Star Game
SEE THE OTHER DIVISION ALL-STARS: AL East | AL Central | AL West | NL Central | NL West
The strength of this divisional All-Star team is going to be mitigated by the fact that we're only picking one starting pitcher, one non-closing reliever and one closer, because this sucker is stacked with pitching. The lineup is no slouch either, in what is probably the second-best division in the majors, if not better than the vaunted AL East. I would have said the NL East was better top-to-bottom if it wasn't for that dreadful June by the Marlins. Anywho, let's get to it.

C Brian McCann, Braves: It's an easy choice, but that doesn't mean the other guys suck. Not by any stretch. Carlos Ruiz, Ronny Paulino, John Buck and Wilson Ramos are admirable backstops to varying degrees, but McCann is the best catcher in baseball this season, hands down. He's hitting .314 with 14 homers and an OPS over .900, not to mention he calls the games for one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.

1B Gaby Sanchez, Marlins: Before freaking out, Phillies fans, remember we're using DHs in this little exercise (wink, wink). We're also going to set Michael Morse aside for later and Ike Davis is injured. So it boils down to Freddie Freeman and Gaby Sanchez. Freeman's been hot of late and is hitting .279 with 13 homers, 42 RBI and a .354 OBP. Sanchez is hitting .290 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and a .370 OBP. He's also superior defensively be several metrics, so it's Sanchez in a close call.

Lineup
No. Name Team Pos
1 Jose Reyes NYM SS
2 Shane Victorino PHI CF
3 Gaby Sanchez FLA 1B
4 Ryan Howard PHI DH
5 Carlos Beltran NYM RF
6 Michael Morse WAS LF
7 Brian McCann ATL C
8 Danny Espinosa WAS 2B
9 Placido Polanco PHI 3B
2B Danny Espinosa, Nationals: Tough call over Chase Utley here, but Espinosa has played in 89 games to Utley's 38, so that makes the choice much easier. Espinosa, the NL Rookie of the Year front-runner at this point, has played a great second base for the Nats in addition to developing as a power hitter. He has 16 home runs and 52 RBI to go along with 11 stolen bases.

3B Placido Polanco, Phillies: We'd be a lot stronger here if David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman and Chipper Jones were completely healthy and hitting up to their full potential, but things haven't gone that way. Jones is in obvious age decline, Zimmerman has struggled -- until very recently -- after a lenghty stint on the DL and Wright has been on the shelf for all but 39 games. Polanco, on the other hand, has provided steady defense for the Phillies at the hot corner and is hitting .274 with a .331 OBP. 

SS Jose Reyes, Mets: Back in early April, we may have thought this would be a three-horse race between Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins and Reyes, but it's not even close. Ramirez had been awful up until the past few weeks and while Rollins is good, Reyes has been an MVP candidate -- at least until he fell injured a few days ago. Reyes leads the majors in hits, triples and batting average while also leading the NL in runs scored.

LF Michael Morse, Nationals: Hey, he's played 27 games in left, even though he's primarily a first baseman now. I'm using him here because we wanted to put together the best possible lineup and the other choices out in left in this division weren't great. Logan Morrison was the next best choice, while Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay are simply far overpaid at this point. Morse, however, has been tearing the cover off the ball since the beginning of May. He's hitting .303 with 15 homers, 48 RBI and an .887 OPS.

CF Shane Victorino, Phillies: The All-Star is really the only choice here. Angel Pagan was injured for a while Victorino has far exceeded the production of Roger Bernadina. Victorino's hitting .303 with a .376 OBP, 53 runs and 13 steals. He also plays a stellar center field behind that vaunted Phillies pitching staff.

RF Carlos Beltran, Mets: Who woulda thought this one coming into the season, huh? You've got the young studs Mike Stanton and Jason Heyward out in right in this division, meanwhile Beltran had to move to right from center to keep his knee injury from reaggravating. All he's done is go out and make his sixth All-Star team. In addition to leading the NL in doubles (26), Beltran is hitting .283 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI and a robust .372 OBP.

DH Ryan Howard, Phillies: If Chipper Jones or Ryan Zimmerman were having better seasons or David Wright and Ike Davis were healthy, this might have been a much tougher choice. Stanton could be an option, too, but I'm going Howard. He has 18 homers, an NL-best 71 RBI, an .842 OPS and just feels like a menacing DH in the batter's box.

SP Roy Halladay, Phillies: Do I seriously have to pick just one? We could put together a five-man rotation of ace-caliber pitchers -- Halladay, Jair Jurrjens, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Tommy Hanson -- and still have the likes of Anibal Sanchez, Jordan Zimmermann and the injured Josh Johnson left over. What if Johan Santana and Stephen Strasburg were healthy? This is the most pitching-rich division in the majors, including the bullpen. And it's only going to get better as the young arms further develop and a dude named Stephen Strasburg gets healthy. Anyway, I have to pick one, so it's the best pitcher in baseball. Maybe Justin Verlander has a case over Halladay, but he's not in this division. Just remember, if we went out to 25-man rosters, this division would have the sickest pitching staff of all.

RP Jonny Venters, Braves: Antonio Bastardo has been excellent for the Phillies. He has a 0.87 ERA and has stranded over 99 percent of his baserunners. He's struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings and has now collected five saves. Tyler Clippard has also been outstanding. He has a 1.86 ERA and strikes out batters at an even higher pace than Bastardo. But Venters has been dominant in 53 1/3 innings (Bastardo has 31) and has thrown in more high-leverage situations than Clippard. According to FanGraph's wins above replacement player, the only relief pitcher in the NL more valuable than Venters this season has been Craig Kimbrel, who you'll see below.

CL Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Drew Storen and Francisco Rodriguez have been good, but Kimbrel leads the majors with 27 saves and has struck out 70 batters in just 45 innings. Sure, he's blown five saves, but none since June 8. Since then, he's closed all nine opportunities and hasn't even given up a run in his last 13 games. He definitely looks the part of a young Billy Wagner. Only workload is a concern for the 23-year-old at this point.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.


Posted on: July 8, 2011 10:15 am
Edited on: July 8, 2011 1:09 pm
 

Pepper: @DatDudeBP leads MLB tweeters

By C. Trent Rosecrans



BASEBALL TODAY:
CBSSports.com senior writer Danny Knobler joins Lauren Shehadi to talk about Derek Jeter, but also notes these games against the Yankees are not just big for Jeter's chase of 3,000 but also vital for the Rays. There's also the Braves-Phillies series, but Danny points out why that may not be as big of a series.

TWITTER 140: Our own @JamesonFleming put together the sports world's top 140 Twitter users and the Cincinnati Reds' Brandon Phillips (@DatDudeBP) comes in as baseball's best Twitter user.

Phillips didn't start using Twitter until this offseason, but has embraced the technology, holding contests for fans and also taking suggestions on restaurants and off-day activities. Earlier this season, a teen asked Phillips to come to his baseball game on a day the Reds were off, and Phillips stopped by. He also sent a pair fans to spring training and then another pair to San Francisco for the Reds' games at AT&T Park.

He has even won over some Cardinals fans, an amazing feat considering Cardinal nation's distaste for the Reds second baseman, who last year used not-so-nice words to describe Tony La Russa's club.

Florida's Logan Morrison (@LoMoMarlins) is fourth on the list and the second baseball player. Brewers closer John Axford (@JohnAxford) is the third MLB player in the Top 10.

LAST ONE THE TOUGHEST: George Brett told the Associated Press he thought the last hit would be the toughest for Derek Jeter in his quest for 3,000. Of course, Brett reached the mark with a four-hit game. Brett also said he wasn't sure how many more players would reach the milestone.

"Is that desire still going to be there when they're worth $250 million when they're 37 years old?" Brett said.

GOTTA BE THE SHOES: Jeter will be wearing special shoes for his 3,000th hit, and you can get a matching pair. Yahoo!'s Big League Stew has all the details on the details of the shoes.

JETER'S BALLS: One more Jeter entry -- a look at the special baseballs that MLB will use to try to track Jeter's 3,000th hit. [BizofBaseball.com]

CARDS LOCK UP GARCIA?: There are reports from the radio station partially owned by the Cardinals that say the team has reached a four-year deal with two option years with left-hander Jaime Garcia. The deal would cover all three arbitration years and one year of free agency for the 25-year-old Garcia. He's 8-3 this season with a 3.23 ERA and is 22-12 with a  3.07 ERA in his career. [MLB.com]

HARPER STILL TOPS: Baseball America released its Midseason Top 50 Prospects List, and the Nationals' Bryce Harper leads the list, followed by Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Rays' lefty Matt Moore.

ALL-STAR SWITCH: Royals right-hander Aaron Crow may have made the All-Star team as a reliever, but Kansas City manager Ned Yost sees the team's former first-rounder as a starter down the line, as soon as next spring. [MLB.com]

DOCTOR MAY NAME NAMES: Canadian Dr. Anthony Galea has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of bringing unapproved drugs into the United States to treat athletes, and he may be pressed to give the names of athletes he treated and gave illegal drugs. Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran of the Mets are among the players who have been treated by Galea in the past. [New York Times]

BORAS SPEAKS AT SABR: Super-agent Scott Boras talked of his love of baseball at the Society for American Baseball Research's annual conference on Thursday. Boras talked about his first superstar -- a cow on his family's farm. [Orange County Register]

SCHILLING TALKS PEDS: Former All-Star Curt Schilling went on a Philadelphia radio station Wednesday and said that no "team in the last 20 years that's won clean." Schilling said he thinks the recent decline in offensive numbers are because of MLB's testing policies. [SportsRadioInterviews.com]

NO TAPE MEASURE NEEDED: Ever wonder how they calculate home-run distances so quickly? There's a chart, of course, but how is that chart made? Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has that story.

CRADLE OF MANAGERS: The Kansas City A's didn't produce a lot of wins, but they did produce their fair share of managers. Tommy Lasorda, Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog, Joe Morgan (not the Hall of Famer, but the former Red Sox manager), Dick Williams, Hank Bauer, Dick Howser and Tony La Russa all played for the A's in KC. Two of the game's more successful coaches, Dave Duncan and Charlie Lau, also played for the A's during their stint in Kansas City. [Joe Posnanski]

SLUGGER EMPATHY: Twins designated hitter Jim Thome said it wasn't his place to comment on Adam Dunn's struggles, but said he did empathize with the struggling Chicago DH. "As a guy who swings and misses and has struck out a ton, it's hard," Thome told the Chicago Tribune. "When you can have success and are blessed to play a long time and [then go through] those periods, it's tough."

NO STARS FOR ALL-STARS: Major League Baseball has added stars to the uniforms of All-Stars, but apparently the designations are purely optional, as the Cardinals' three All-Stars declined to take part to keep their uniforms uniform. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

STARLING UNDECIDED: The Royals took a gamble when they picked prep outfielder Bubba Starling with the fifth overall pick in last month's draft, as Starling is also a top-flight quarterback committed to Nebraska. Starling told the Kansas City Star he hasn't decided whether he's going to play football for Nebraska or sign with the Royals for millions of dollars. Starling said he's going to Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday and will work out with the team, but won't enroll in classes for the summer.

SAVES RECORD: You need more evidence they keep stats for everything? Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has set the record for most first-half saves by a rookie. Kimbrel's 27th save Thursday broke the record of 26 set by Boston's Jonathan Papelbon in 2006. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

LAWRIE PROGRESSING: Just before he was scheduled to be called up in May, Blue Jays prospect Brett Lawrie suffered a broken hand after being hit by a pitch. Lawrie began hitting off a tee earlier this week, and he's improving. The team doesn't expect him to be able to play in games until August. [MLB.com]

ROYAL SHAME: The Royals have once again taken the cheap route in their tribute to the Nergro Leagues, ditching the vintage uniforms. While there are many good signs for the Royals' future, this is a reminder that David Glass is still the owner. [Kansas City Star]

MYTHBUSTER: Scientists are using a lab at Washington State to measure some baseball physics. Among the findings, corked bats don't work, humidors do, and the balls from 2004 performed the same as a ball from the late 70s. [Popular Mechanics]

REMEMBERING BUDDIN: Former Red Sox shortstop Dan Buddin died last week. He's remembered mostly for not being very good -- he averaged 30 errors a year and didn't hit very well, either. A really good remembrance by FanGraphs.com's Alex Remington on the man Boston booed.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: July 3, 2011 4:15 pm
Edited on: July 3, 2011 4:41 pm
 

McCutchen leads All-Snub team

Andrew McCutchen

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Many years on the day that the All-Star teams are announced, people bemoan the fan voting and selections that pick big names over deserving starters. This year won't be one of those years because for the most part the fans made good picks, as CBSSports.com senior writer Danny Knobler points out the fans and players agreed on 14 of the 17 selections. The lone starter that is obviously not worthy is Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who is expected to come off the disabled list on Monday. Jeter's hitting just .260/.324/.324 so far this season, but he's still Derek Jeter -- not to mention his chase of 3,000 hits.

But no matter how many deserving players make the game, with a roster of 33 (plus another to be added, but even those on the 34th man ballot are eligible for our team, because four of those five won't be voted in) there are deserving players who won't be making the trip to Phoenix.

So here you go, the CBSSports.com All-Snub team:

C: Speaking of the fans getting it right, this is one position where the deserving player was voted in for both leagues, Detroit's Alex Avila and Atlanta's Brian McCann. With the Yankees' Russell Martin, Baltimore's Matt Wieters and St. Louis' Yadier Molina, the five most deserving players at the position are headed to Phoenix. The best of those left out is already in Phoenix -- the Diamondbacks' Miguel Montero, who is hitting .270/.344/.457 with nine homers. 

Paul Konerko1B: This position is so loaded that it's almost as tough picking its All-Snub member as it is the All-Star representatives. The fans got it right with Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder, while Albert Pujols sits at home during the break for the first time since 2002. Both Mark Teixeira and Paul Konerko have strong cases for the All-Snub pick, and in the end I'm going to go with Konerko, who is hitting .317/.387/.567 with 21 homers by a nose over Teixeira and his 25 homers.

2B: Robinson Cano's 2011 hasn't equaled his 2010 and wouldn't be my pick at second base in the American League, but it's hard to get worked up and say the fans got it wrong on a guy hitting .292 with 14 homers at second base. The All-Snub representative is tough here, with the choice between the Rays' Ben Zobrist (.261/.347/.463) and Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox (.277/.391/.406). Because I like speed, I'll take Pedroia and his 15 steals and higher walk rate, but just by a tad. Zobrist is on the 34th man ballot, so he's still got a chance. Apologies also to the Nationals' Danny Espinosa who has 15 homers already.

SS: We've discussed Jeter, but let's just acknowledge the fans noticing Jose Reyes -- even though it'd be tough to call yourself a fan and not notice what Reyes has done. The All-Snub goes to Jhonny Peralta of the Tigers, who is having a fabulous season, hitting .311/.359/.538 with 14 homers and solid defense to go with it.

3B: Arizona's Ryan Roberts wasn't even on the ballot, but he's had a fantastic first half of the season, hitting .251/.338/.430 with 10 homers and 12 stolen bases. He's a terror on the basepaths and has been one of the best all-around players at the position. Kevin Youkilis has better offensive numbers -- including 56 RBI -- but defensively he's played much like a first baseman playing at third. San Diego's Chase Headley has had a good season as well, but his glove also holds him back.

Alex GordonLF: You could certainly have made a case for Kansas City's Alex Gordon as a starter in the American League. Gordon came into the season as yesterday's news, a failed top prospect in the way of the Royals' youth movement. However, he's been the Royals' best player so far this season, hitting .301/.368/.491 with 10 home runs.

CF: I still can't believe Andrew McCutchen's name wasn't on the All-Star list, he's the best all-around center fielder in the game. He's hitting .289/.390/.493 with 12 home runs and 15 stolen bases while leading the surprising Pirates to their first winning record in years. 

RF: I'm fudging here, because the All-Star Game often has outfielders playing out of their normal spots, and here I'm going with the Phillies' Shane Victorino. The Phillies lineup as a whole has struggled for production and consistency, but Victorino has given them both. He's hitting .299/.371/.515 with nine home runs and 34 RBI. He's also a very good defender.

DH: You want some roster flexibility? You get it with this DH, who can also serve as a backup catcher -- oh, and Victor Martinez can bash. Martinez is hitting .335/.383/.490 with six home runs.

Starting pitcher: This one is interesting, because I'm going to exclude CC Sabathia, who not only didn't want to be selected, but will also ineligible to pitch in the game when he starts next Sunday. With Sabathia out of the way, I'm going with the Braves' Tommy Hanson, who is 9-4 with a 2.62 ERA in 15 starts, with more than a strikeout an inning and a league-low 6.2 hits allowed per nine innings.

Middle reliever: These guys are used to being overlooked, but that's not to say they aren't worthy. Since Braves' setup man Jonny Venters was named an All-Star, I'm going with David Robertson of the Yankees. Only in middle relief can a Yankee go unnoticed, but Robertson has been fantastic this season. In 33 1/3 innings this season, the right-hander is 1-0 with a 1.08 ERA, striking out 53 batters in 33 1/3 innings of work. He's allowed just four earned runs this season in 36 outings.

Closer: While Atlanta's Venters was recognized, his closer, Craig Kimbrel, was not. Kimbrel leads the majors with 24 saves and has a 2.57 ERA. He's struck out 67 batters in 42 innings, with 18 walks.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: June 10, 2011 2:48 pm
Edited on: June 10, 2011 3:31 pm
 

Venters, Kimbrel on pace for huge workload



By Matt Snyder


This just in: Jonny Venters is a stud. With a 0.47 ERA, 0.72 WHIP and 40 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings, he's been the most dominant reliever in baseball during the still-young 2011 season.

Craig Kimbrel isn't far behind. He's got 18 saves and has struck out 47 in 31 innings. He's suffered a few hiccups, unlike Venters, but has shown that he can dominate.

It's just that the workload of the youngsters might be a bit much at this point in their respective careers.

Venters has appeared in 35 games. He's on pace for 92 appearances and 102 2/3 innings. Kimbrel has appeared in 32 games and is on pace for 84 games and 82 innings.

Last season, only five relievers logged 80-plus innings, including Venters (83). Matt Belisle of the Rockies was at the top with 92. Only six pitchers threw in at least 80 games and only one more than 85. That pitcher? Pedro Feliciano, who will not throw in the 2011 season due to a significant arm injury.

And here's the kicker: There was not a single pitcher in baseball last season who had more than 80 innings and 80 games. Both Venters and Kimbrel are on pace to do so this year, and Venters is on pace to amass a workload we haven't seen given to a short reliever since Scott Proctor in 2006. Proctor hasn't been the same since, because of injuries and alcoholism. Under the circumstances, it's possible the high workload didn't cause injury, but we can't really be sure it didn't, either.

The point is that Venters and Kimbrel are being used almost excessively by Fredi Gonzalez. Kimbrel's probably OK where he is, but should still be monitored. There's enough past evidence to be wary of the path Venters is headed down, though. He's only 26 and should team with Kimbrel to scare the rest of the NL for years to come.

It's not like the Braves don't have options. Eric O'Flaherty has a 1.52 ERA and has been solid. Of course, he's also logged 29 2/3 innings. What about George Sherrill? The former All-Star has only worked 15 1/3 innings and has a 2.35 ERA. Scott Linebrink and even Proctor could be trusted in a few fill-in spots as well.

I'm not advocating a drastic pull back for Venters and Kimbrel. They're young and strong enough to handle 75-80 innings pitched. It's when they get up into the 90-range -- and then possibly being heavily leaned upon in the playoffs -- that could become a serious problem.

You don't want to baby pitchers, but that doesn't mean you should run them into the ground, either. Considering the Braves are likely to be in the race all season and find themselves in lots of close games, it would behoove them to start spacing out the use of the young dynamic duo -- especially Venters.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: May 20, 2011 4:25 pm
 

Kimbrel not in danger of losing closer's job

Kimbrel

By Evan Brunell


It's not easy being a closer, as rookie Craig Kimbrel is finding out.

The flamethrower has blown four of his last 11 saves including Thursday night, when he gave up four consecutive singles, scoring two Arizona runs for a walkoff. With Jonny Venters pitching superb in a setup role, the heat is racheting up on Kimbrel.

Skipper Fredi Gonzalez refused to consider removing Kimbrel from the role, however.

“The kid [Kimbrel] gets that groundball and he’s out of the inning,” Gonzalez told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, referring to a grounder Kimbrel induced and deflected on a potential inning-ending double play that Dan Uggla could not get to after the ball switched paths. Kimbrel would later blame himself after the game for not being able to make a play on the ball, as well as delivering too many hittable pitches even though two of the four singles did not leave the infield.

Gonzalez said that bullpen coach Eddie Perez says Kimbrel warms up too fast in the bullpen when it's not entirely clear when Kimbrel will enter the game.

“Eddie said he’s got to relax, pace himself,” Gonzalez added. “That’s a learning thing.  He's learning, experiencing."

Kimbrel hasn't really demanded a removal from the closer's role despite his recent struggles. He's punched out an incredible 34 batters in 21 innings, working around 10 walks and 17 hits with a 3.00 ERA. He's exactly what any manager would want as a closer. Gonzalez is lucky, then, that he has Venters as well, who is outperforming Kimbrel to date.

Venters has a minuscule 0.68 ERA while leading all pitchers with 25 appearances, pitching 26 1/3 innings while punching out 26 and walking just seven, while not allowing a home run on the season, something Kimbrel also can boast. But the lefty also has induced an impressive 85.4 percent of balls to hit the ground.

That impressive duo at the end of the bullpen has allowed Atlanta to keep pace in the NL East, where it is in third place with a 25-21 record, 2.5 games out of first place.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: May 13, 2011 10:26 am
 

Pepper: Rivalry weekend in MLB



By Matt Snyder


BASEBALL TODAY: Excited about rivals getting together? Danny Knobler joins Adam Aizer to look at some exciting matchups as the weekend approaches. Watch the video above.

FOUR INNINGS FOR WEBB: Brandon Webb made another start in extended spring training Thursday and pitched four innings. The big issue thus far in his rehab progress has been velocity, specifically a lack thereof. Thursday he reportedly averaged around 84 m.p.h. and topped out at 86. That's still pretty bad for someone who wants to be an effective major-league pitcher -- unless he plans on being a great knuckleballer -- but it is an improvement from what we've heard over the course of the past month, when he was sitting high-70s and low-80s. Considering he's still pain-free, maybe some progress is being made. (ESPN Dallas)

SQUEEZED: Based upon data from PitchFX, BaseballAnalytics.org checked out which pitchers have had the fewest percentage of called strikes within what is supposed to be the strike zone. It's pretty interesting, because one of the biggest problems with the strike zone is how many of the umpires seem to have their own interpretation. Topping the list of the people who have been the most squeezed is Nelson Figueroa. As the site pointed out, if we had robot umpires, maybe he'd still be pitching for Houston instead of Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Cardinals BULLPEN SORTED OUT: Since removing Ryan Franklin from the role, the Cardinals had not really named a closer, but it's a pretty foregone conclusion at this point that young Eduardo Sanchez is the closer, as he's saved four games in four chances. Hard-throwing right-hander Jason Motte is their put-out-the-fire guy. "Last year he was very successful doing that, coming in in the middle of an inning and pitching out of it," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "You have to kind of remember what he did there. Because there is a need for a guy like that." (MLB.com)

WHAT ABOUT THE Braves? After Craig Kimbrel went out and blew his third save of the young season Wednesday night, a Braves beat writer (AJC.com) brought up the subject of having Jonny Venters be the closer -- or at least be part of a committee with Kimbrel. He makes a good piont that Kimbrel is the long-term closer and has elite-closer stuff, but that Venters has been so dominant and the Braves are trying to win now. So it's a conundrum. It wasn't a save situation, but Kimbrel's outing Thursday night should stave off any temporary concerns for the time being. He struck out all three batters he faced in a tie game and ended up getting a win.

BUMPED: This is at least mildly humorous. The Mets were forced to stay an extra night in Colorado due to a rainout (I'm sure Carlos Beltran is now fine with the decision), but they had to relocate to a new hotel because they were bumped ... by the Padres, who face the Rockies in a weekend series starting Friday and arrived a day early. It really does seem like the weirdest stuff always happens to the Mets, whether it's due to self-sabotage or uncontrollable outside factors. (ESPN New York)

WALK-OFF WALKS: The boys over at Big League Stew have put together a compilation of everything you've ever wanted to know about walk-off walks. For example, did you know two pitchers issued four walk-off walks in their respective careers? Hall of Famer Goose Gossage did it three times. As for hitters, Jorge Posada is the active leader with three career walk-off walks. I better stop now, lest I reach my allotment of saying "walk-off walk" for the entire season in one paragraph.

GREAT SKIPPERS: ESPN.com's Sweetspot blog ranked the top 10 managers of all-time. The highest active manager (well, the only one) on the list was Tony La Russa, who checked in at sixth. Interestingly, Joe Torre was eighth while Bobby Cox was third, rankings sure to draw the ire of the people who put a good amount more stock on the postseason than the regular season.

WORST HAT EVER: Jim Caple of ESPN.com offers up his pick for the worst cap in major-league history -- the Seattle Pilots' 1969 monstrosity -- and he'll certainly get no argument from me. Man, that thing is awful.

CASHMAN'S CONTRACT: While everyone is concentrating on CC Sabathia's contract situation at the conclusion of this season, when it comes to the Yankees, there is another contract negotiation that will occur. General manager Brian Cashman's deal is going to expire after the season. Though both Sabathia and Cashman figure to stay put, the always-thoughtful River Blues Avenue opines that the Cashman negotiations will be "messier," most notably because ownership went over his head in the Derek Jeter and Rafael Soriano signings.

ANOTHER SLOW START: Adam LaRoche has been pretty terrible for the Nationals thus far, but he's trying not to worry about it from an individual perspective. There's a good reason for that, as he's been there, done that. “I wouldn’t say I’m stressing over it, because I’ve been there so many times in my career,” LaRoche said (Washington Times). “But the frustrating part is not what the average is, it’s the fact that you look back and think, ‘Man if I’d have been doing a little more, we may have won two or three extra games.’” Not only does LaRoche have several awful starts under his belt, but he's one of the most drastically streaky hitters in baseball. He'll get hot. And then he'll go stone cold again. It's a cycle with LaRoche.

HUMBLED STAR: Andrew McCutchen was benched Thursday night for not running to first on a dropped third strike the previous night. It was a good move by manager Clint Hurdle to make sure it didn't become a recurring problem, and it doesn't appear it will. "I know that's not the type of person I am," McCutchen said on Thursday. "I let my emotions get the best of me. I took it out on my bat and myself when I shouldn't have been mad. I was just frustrated at the time and not focused on the game, not focused that the ball was in the dirt with two strikes and I needed to run to first." (MLB.com) I feel like it's important to note that McCutchen is generally a hustler and this shouldn't be discussed any further. He's a good guy and a good player who made a mistake. End of story.

NO RETIREMENT: Dodgers relief pitcher Hong Chih-Kuo is one of the better relievers in the game when he's mentally right. It's just that he seems to suffer from the yips on occasion. He's currently on the disabled list with anxiety disorder as the Dodgers have reported he's too scared to take the mound right now. Kuo's agent did say Thursday that there are no plans to retire, though, and he's going to battle his way back. It's one of Kuo's traits, actually, as he's had four surgeries, including Tommy John surgery twice. He always comes back, so this time won't be any different. (MLB.com)

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: May 9, 2011 11:25 am
 

Braves sport best back-end bullpen in bigs



By Matt Snyder


While the national audience Sunday night didn't see the duo at their best, the Braves' promising young duo of Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters comprises the most dominant, intimidating and electric back-end of the bullpen in the majors. They already have a combination of stuff, swagger and statistics.

Venters, 26, has now thrown 101 2/3 innings in his career. He's allowed one home run (ONE!) and struck out 112 hitters. This season, he's thrown 18 2/3 innings and allowed just nine hits, two earned runs and four walks -- good for a 0.96 ERA and 0.70 WHIP.

Kimbrel, 22, has yet to allow a home run in his 36 1/3 career innings. He's only given up 18 hits, though, which is simply ridiculous. His lone issue is control, as he has walked 23 hitters, though he's drastically cut down on the rate this season, shelling out seven free passes in 15 2/3 innings. Kimbrel has struck out 62 hitters in those 36 1/3 career innings, a staggering total for a pitcher so young. He's got a 1.72 ERA this season and the mark is 0.99 in his career.

It's more than just numbers. These guys make opposing hitters look thoroughly baffled. Kimbrel's fastball-slider combo in particular is a thrill to watch, though Venters' stuff is nothing to ignore.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the upside of Venters and Kimbrel is the relative obscurity of Eric O'Flaherty. The 26-year-old left-hander is also in the Braves' bullpen and he's got a 1.02 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 17 2/3 innings this season. Due to the presence and greatness of Venters and Kimbrel, however, O'Flaherty is relegated to also-ran status. Just don't forget about him. That's a strong close, one that gives the Braves the ability to shorten games to six innings.

The question is, does anyone else have a backside trio better than the Braves' young guns?

The Cubs can make a good case. Carlos Marmol (1.72), Sean Marshall (0.64) and Kerry Wood (1.38) are their final three. With Wood aging and Marmol's inability to shake his control woes, I think I'd take the Braves for the long-term. With Heath Bell (1.29), Mike Adams (1.06) and Chad Qualls (2.50), the Padres have a great case, too. For this season, it's a tough call but I don't think you can definitely say the Braves' trio is worse than either of those. And it's a good bet either Bell or Adams (or both) aren't on the Padres come August.

If things broke the right way, the Yankees could have a case. Mariano Rivera is obvious, Rafael Soriano was arguably the best closer last season and we know the potential Joba Chamberlain has (had?). They aren't there now, though, not collectively.

The Reds have fireballer Aroldis Chapman and veteran closer Francisco Cordero. Bill Bray's sporting a 0.73 ERA in 12 1/3 innings, too.

If Andrew Bailey and Joey Devine come back healthy and round back into form, the A's will be in the mix.

Brian Wilson and nearly any two others for the Giants are a solid top three, but not on level with the Braves' boys.

The Indians, Marlins and Rays have all done pretty stellar work thus far in the back-end, too, but you'll have to forgive me for not trusting the likes of Tony Sipp, Randy Choate and Kyle Farnsworth for the long haul in 2011 and beyond.

If you're looking for a trio of pitchers to shorten a game, there is none in the business better than O'Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel. They're all 26 or younger and under team control for a while. They're only going to get better as confidence grows, assuming they stay healthy.

Put simply, games where the Braves take an early lead are going to be awfully short for opponents in the years to come.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com