Nation STATion: Up for the count


Nation STATion: Up for the count

By Bill Chuck

How may times have you heard the importance of getting that first pitch over? Plenty, right? Getting ahead on the count is a very important part of effective pitching and on certain counts it is ultimately the difference between success and failure.

Let me give you some stats about the count for Sox pitchers this season.

Heres the big picture: When Sox pitchers are ahead on the count this season, batters are hitting .190 with a .494 OPS, when the batter is ahead on the count, they hit about 100 points higher, .291, with an OPS that is over 400 points higher, .942.

First pitch
Batters are hitting .305 against Sox pitchers on the first pitch this season and they have given up 19 homers on that pitch, more than on any other. Wake has given up five homers on the pitch and Andrew Miller has given up three. Batters are hitting .150 against Daniel Bards first pitch, but they are hitting .300 against Jonathan Papelbons. But check this out, batters are hitting 1-for-26 (.038) against Alfredo Aceves first pitch.
Sox batters, known for their patience, are hitting .340 but have only homered nine times on that pitch. Tek has hit three of those homers and is 13-for-23 when putting balls in play on the first pitch, good for a .525 average. Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .444 on first pitches, but Carl Crawford is only hitting .231 on the initial pitch.

1-0 vs. 0-1
Okay, so what exactly does it mean for the pitcher to get that first pitch over?
Sox pitchers hold their opponents to a .283 average when balls are put in play on an 0-1 count. But batters hit .341 on 1-0 counts. However they give up 13 homers on 0-1 and 15 homers on 1-0. When the count is 1-0 for John Lackey, batters hit .406 and when hes ahead at 0-1 they hit a lot worse, but a still not great, .317. When the count is 1-0 for Jon Lester, batters hit .326 and 0-1 the difference isnt that significance as they hit .294. Batters hit .278 off Beckett but on 0-1, batters only hit .205 off him.
Sox batters love the 1-0 count carrying a .405 batting average and have hit 24 homers, the most of any count. On a 1-0 count Jarrod Saltalamacchia has gone 10-for-14, hitting .714 with two homers and a 2.143 OPS. Gonzo is hitting .458 with six homers and a 1.398 OPS, David Ortiz is hitting .448 with four homers and a 1.379 OPS, and Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting .520 with four homers a 1340 OPS. Even Carl Crawford is hitting .409 on 1-0.
But on 0-1, Sox batters are hitting 100 points less at .305 despite Jason Varitek going 5-for-7. Big Papi is hitting .344 with a .938 OPS. Carl Crawford is hitting .370, Gonzo is hitting .356 and even J.D. Drew is at .308. So, whos struggling on 0-1? Youk is only hitting .171 and Jacoby is hitting .235.

The 1-1 pitch
If there is any key pitch in an at bat, this is it. In my conversation with former Mets, A's, Brewers pitching coach, Rick Peterson, this is the pitch he told me was the most critical in the count.

The difference between what happens on a 1-2 pitch and a 2-1 pitch is astounding.
Against the 1-1 count this season, Sox opponents are hitting .304 with a .461 slugging percentage and a .774 OPS.
Against the 2-1 count this season, Sox opponents are hitting .327 with a .542 slugging percentage and a .875 OPS. For example: Jon Lester: .410.7181.143.
Against the 1-2 count this season, Sox opponents are hitting .168 with a .249 slugging percentage and a .427 OPS. For example: Jon Lester: .092.171.286.
The difference for all Sox between 2-1 and 1-2 is 160 points in batting average, 300 points in slugging and 450 points in OPS. For Jon Lester its about 420 points in batting average and 900 points in OPS. (You have permission to say, Wow!)

Lets take a look at how Sox batters do on the 1-2 pitch vs. 2-1 pitch:
Against the 1-1 count this season, overall Sox batters are hitting .363 with a .562 slugging percentage and a .923 OPS.
Against the 2-1 count this season, Sox batters are hitting .356 with a .559 slugging percentage and a .920 OPS. For example: Kevin Youkilis: .5481.1291.692.
Against the 1-2 count this season, Sox batters are hitting .195 with a .323 slugging percentage and a .520 OPS. For example: Kevin Youkilis: .181.333.528
The overall difference for Sox batters between 2-1 and 1-2 is 160 points in batting average, 235 points in slugging and 400 points in OPS. For Youk, its 360 points in batting average and about 1170 point in OPS (all together now, Wow!)

Its incredible the difference that one pitch can make. The next game you watch, start paying attention to the first three pitches of each at-bat and you can be an armchair pitching coach knowing the numbers will back you up.

The stats in this column reflect action through 823.

McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona


McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona

Sometime over the next 10 or so days, either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians will win the 2016 World Series.

Naturally, that will mean one of baseball's two longest-suffering franchises will end their championship drought. Either the Cubs will win their first title since 1908, or the Indians will win for the first time since 1948.

That alone should make for an epic World Series.

But there's another bit of history at stake, too - one of legacies.

In addition to the great discomfort felt by Red Sox ownership -- which fired the manager of one participating team and was seemingly happy to hold the door open for the exit of an executive now running the other - it will also almost certainly result, eventually, in either Terry Francona or Theo Epstein being enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

Epstein would go down as the architect who helped two star-crossed franchises win titles - the Red Sox in 2004, and the Cubs this fall.

The Red Sox went 86 years between championships; the Cubs would be ending a run of futility that stretched across 108 seasons.

That would provide Epstein with an unmatched resume when it comes to degree of difficulty. It's one thing to win it all; it's another altogether to do so with the Sox and Cubs, two clubs, until Epstein's arrival, linked in ignominy.

Epstein could become only the fourth GM in modern history win a World Series in both leagues. Frank Cashen (Orioles and Mets); John Schuerholz (Royals and Braves) and Pat Gillick (Blue Jays and Phillies).

He would also join a short list of executives who have won three rings, a list that includes contemporaries Brian Cashman and Brian Sabean.

Of course, Epstein can't claim to have constructed the entire Cubs roster, no more than he could have done when the Red Sox won in '04.

In Boston, Epstein inherited key players such as Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. Similarly, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras pre-date Epstein's arrival on the North Side.

But Epstein is responsible for nearly the remainder of the roster, and hiring manager Joe Maddon, the coaching staff and most of the Baseball Operations staff, including GM Jed Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod.

Francona's influence on the Indians is just as obvious.

Hired in late 2012 after spending a year in the ESPN broadcast booth, he inherited a team which had suffered through four straight losing seasons. In the five previous years before Francona's hiring, the Indians averaged just over 72 wins per season.

Since his arrival, the Indians have posted four straight winning seasons, with two playoff appearances, while averaging 88 wins per season.

It hasn't seemed to matter to the Indians that they've been without two of their three best starters (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) this postseason or arguably, their best offensive player for all but 11 games this season (Michael Brantley).

The Indians don't make excuses for injuries, or bemoan their modest payroll. Under Francona, they just win.

This postseason, he's made up for the absences in the rotation by masterfully utilizing reliever Andrew Miller anywhere from the fifth to the ninth inning.

A third World Series would put Francona in similarly rare company. Only 10 managers have won three or more World Series and just six have done so since World War 2 - Walter Alston, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bruce Bochy Sparky Anderson and Casey Stengel.

The individual accomplishments of Epstein and Francona won't take center stage this week and next -- that attention will, rightly, go to their respective beleaguered franchises.

But the subtext shouldn't be overlooked. Once the partying and the parades come to an end, a path to Cooperstown for either the winning manager or winning president of baseball operations can be cleared.


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.