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Labor Day notes: Lee’s 6th shutout; rook’s near-perfect game

Posted by John Autin on September 5, 2011

-- Cliff Lee, who was lifted after 8.2 scoreless innings in last start, got his 6th shutout of the year Monday (as first noted by Andy), stopping Atlanta on 5 hits and no walks in exactly 100 pitches. That matches the most shutouts since 1989; Randy Johnson also had 6 in 1998.

  • Lee's surge since July 30 -- 7 straight wins, 0.96 ERA -- has pumped intrigue into the NL Cy Young race, with Lee and Halladay virtually tied in ERA, IP and Wins Above Replacement. Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw leads the league in Strikeouts and IP, has a slight edge on Lee and Halladay in ERA, and is a solid 3rd in WAR; and rounding out the pack, Cole Hamels leads the league in WHIP, Ian Kennedy leads in Wins and W%, and Johnny Cueto remains the ERA leader. (Kennedy's advanced stats don't compare with this bunch, but he deserves to be in the mix for stepping up his game as the #1 starter on a division winner.) Things may shake out a bit over the final 4 weeks, but will a clear-cut winner emerge?

-- White Sox rookie Zach Stewart, making his 8th career start, retired the first 21 Minnesota batters before Danny Valencia doubled leading off the 8th. That was the only runner against Stewart in a 1-hit, 9-K shutout; his Game Score of 94 tied for the 2nd-best of the year.

  • Chicago's playoff hopes essentially died when they were steamrolled by Detroit over the weekend. Despite sweeping the Twins Monday, they still trail by 8 games.

-- Brian Matusz had allowed at least 6 runs in 5 straight starts, the longest streak of its kind since 2001. So Buck Showalter shortened the leash for today's start against the Yankees: Matusz was gone in the 2nd, allowing 5 runs on 5 hits, 2 walks and a HR, inflating his season ERA to 9.84.

  • In his last 32 games, Robinson Cano has 37 RBI and an OPS of about 1.000. Cano had a HR and 4 RBI Monday, passing Adrian Gonzalez for the #2 spot with 105 RBI; Curtis Granderson leads with 109. Cano remained 1 ahead of Granderson for the lead in extra-base hits.
  • Jesus Montero hit 2 HRs in his 4th career game, matching Shelley Duncan for the fastest to that mark for the Yanks since 1919. Duncan hit his 2 HRs in a blowout, with New York already up by 7 runs at the time of his 1st HR; Montero's 1st HR broke an 8-8 tie in the 5th, and his 2nd provided the final margin of victory in an 11-10 win. (The next-fastest Yankee to a multi-HR game was Shane Spencer, who did it in his 10th career game in 1998.)
  • Starting with a 2-run lead, Mariano Rivera worked a tense 9th for his 38th save. After allowing just 1 SB all year, Mariano allowed 4 steals Monday, leading to a run and putting the lead run in scoring position before J.J. Hardy struck out to end it.

-- Brett Lawrie notched his first game-ending hit, a HR with 2 out in the 11th, giving Toronto a 1-0 win over Boston.

  • The home run was Lawrie's 8th in 30 career games, the fastest to 8 HRs in franchise history. He has 19 extra-base hits, matching Albert Pujols and Ryan Braun for 3rd-most in the first 30 games since 1991. (On the other hand, nos. 1 and 2 are Jeff Francoeur and Chris Davis, so there are no guarantees.)
  • 21-year-old Henderson Alvarez allowed no runs in 6 IP, his 2nd straight scoreless game.

-- James Shields beat Texas for the 2nd time in a week with his 11th complete game of the year, the most in either league since Randy Johnson had 12 in 1999. Shields also reached 200 strikeouts for the first time in his career.

  • Among all pitchers since 2007, Shields ranks 6th with 1,071 IP and 9th with 903 Ks.
  • Tampa moved within 7 games of Boston, with 6 more games head-to-head. Hmm ... ? (Nahhh....)

-- Smelling Rangers' blood in the water -- and perhaps hoping to provide MLB fans with at least one real September pennant race -- the Angels beat Seattle, 7-3, and cut the Texas lead to 2.5 games, 2 in the loss column.

  • Rangers-Angels is the only meaningful race left with a margin of less than 7 games. The Phillies lead by 8.5, the Brewers by 10.5, the Tigers by 7.5, the Yankees/Red Sox loser will take the wild card (Boston leads Tampa by 7), and the Braves lead the NL wild card by 8.5.

-- Doug Fister set a career high with 13 strikeouts, 4 more than his previous best, and had his 4th straight start of 7+ IP and 1 ER or less, as the visiting Tigers won their 4th straight. Detroit has gone 14-4 since their lead was last seriously threatened.

  • Fister is 4-1, 2.64 in 7 starts with Detroit, with 36 Ks and just 3 walks.
  • Jose Valverde now has 41 saves with none blown; that would match Brad Lidge's 2008 "perfect" regular-season mark.
  • Ubaldo Jimenez allowed just 2 hits in 7 IP, but one was a 3-run HR by Victor Martinez

-- Dontrelle Willis fell to 0-5, allowing 4 runs in 7 IP in a 4-3 loss to Chicago, with 5 walks and 8 Ks. The Reds have averaged 2.73 R/G in his 11 starts -- despite Dontrelle himself batting .400 with a 1.080 OPS.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 5th, 2011 at 11:27 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

39 Responses to “Labor Day notes: Lee’s 6th shutout; rook’s near-perfect game”

  1. Johnny Twisto Says:

    The Orioles have serious organizational problems. I guess that's not really news to anyone. I have an acquaintance who's an O's fan who always complains about all the $ the Yankees spend. The $ certainly helps the Yanks, but their team has a lot of homegrown talent and guys picked up on the cheap. Meanwhile, look at all the crap emerging from Baltimore's farm system. I was shocked today when I saw Matusz's season ERA was over 9. And it actually went up today! All their young starters seem to be crapping out. Markakis has seriously regressed. Wieters appears to be a solid player but obviously not the star some projected. Adam Jones stagnated. Their coaching and/or player development is just terrible. It's always something of a crapshoot as far as which prospects bloom, but I gotta think there's a systemic problem when Oriole after Oriole flops. I feel bad for Manny Machado; if he stays in that organization he's probably doomed.

    ***

    I felt really good about Cano coming up with the bases loaded today. His performance in clutch spots was generally underwhelming his first few seasons. He reversed that in 2010. I haven't checked his numbers this year but with over 100 RBI, I think he's probably been RISPing pretty well. As well as he's hammering the ball lately, can we finally put to rest this HR Derby curse canard? Eh, probably not.

    ***

    In my fantasy league (which I've barely paid attention to) someone offered me Brett Lawrie for Justin Verlander about a month ago. I quickly rejected it. Hope that wasn't a mistake...

    ***

    Smelling Rangers' blood......

    I initially misread this as a reference to poor Chris Snelling. (If you don't know the name, a great Mariners prospect of 8-10 years ago (good lord I'm old...) who simply couldn't stay healthy.)

    Speaking of prospects....

    MONTERO!

  2. bluejaysstatsgeek Says:

    How about Lawrie? In only 30 games, he's in the top 5 AL rookies position players for WAR!

  3. Lawrie has some big WPA games.

  4. Matusz didn't lose today; the Orioles tied the game at 8 after he left the game.

  5. D'oh!!! Pretty silly of me, since I mentioned that Montero's 1st HR broke a tie. Mea culpa.

  6. The post has been corrected re: Matusz. Thanks, Jimmer!

  7. Dukeofflatbush Says:

    Lee is like Jekyll & Hyde.
    June, 5-0, 41 IP, 0.21 ERA, .690 WHIP, .151/.197/.173
    July, 1-2, 33 IP, 4.91 ERA, .1.33 WHIP, .287/.313/.485
    August, 5-0, 39.2 IP, 45 IP .782 WHIP, .173/.231/.211 (+SHO today)

    In wins .97 ERA
    In losses 7.36 ERA

  8. Last year most of the high-end rookies seem to be in the NL. This year they seem to be in the AL, yet the ones who seem to have the most long-term potential came up later with little chance to win the Rookie of the Year Awead. Hosmer, Ackley, Lawrie, Trout and now Montero will probably be five of the better hitters over the next decade, yet none of them will win the Rookie of the Year Award.

    Coincidence, or are teams holding back their top rookies until mid-season as a way to save money and/or hold on to them longer?

  9. A Frenchy Francuoer mention, JA must be in a good mood. Dontrelle Willis is an excellent hitter and I'm really pulling for him to find his pitching magic again. Regardless of the teams record, any playoff team with Cliff Lee is at a big advantage. Ask the Rangers.

  10. At least it was not a near-blind umpire which spoiled the perfect game.

    i foresee there won't be a perfect game for quiet a while, so the umpires could prove their points.

  11. @7 - Lee's July looks worse than it was: one bad start (a 10-2 pasting by the Nats) skews the rest of the numbers. But it's true when he's bad, he's really bad.

  12. Dukeofflatbush Says:

    @11

    I hear ya. With hitters, one bad day at the plate (0-4, 1-5) and you don't see the batting average fall too steeply, one, two points. But one stinker by a pitcher can change an ERA by a quarter run or more (20%-30%).
    But all that being said, I can only guess something physical or personal was bothering Lee in July. He obviously made adjustments, which all good pitchers do. And I also think coincidence plays a large role in the bad starts falling in one month and the good starts falling in another.
    Just by comparison, Lee's teammate, Halladay's low ERA for a month was 2.00, and his high was 3.00.
    In wins Doc has a 1.83 ERA.
    In losses Doc has a 4.04 ERA.
    Much more consistency.

  13. Was I the only one a bit turned off by Lawrie's antics after his GW HR yesterday?

  14. Mr. Autin,

    Your summaries are amazing and Google-Reader-can't-miss for a nut like myself -- I'll have some withdrawal during the offseason (I don't suppose you do football or hockey, heh)!

    Anyway, in the past couple days you've referenced Brad Lidge's "mark" in his perfect season, as Jose Valverde has approached it. I'll concede that you haven't used the word "record," but Eric Gagne's 55-55 in 2003 is tops all-time for this sort of thing, no?

  15. With yesterday's bad outing, Mariano Rivera's lifetime ERA against the Orioles goes up to 3.15; he's never been as scary against Baltimore as he is against the rest of the league.

  16. As amazing as Kershaw has been, and no matter how terribly bias I am towards Lee, Halladay is still by far the best pitcher in the National leagues. The veteran has been very consistently for years.

    But of course, that lead's to a scary conclusion. At 23, Kershaw has room to grow.

  17. I'm not advocating it but I'm surprised that here in NYC there hasn't been more campaigning for Cano as MVP. Might it be that Granderson has basically already been anointed the Yankee MVP that Cano is completely off the radar. Will he suddenly be more valuable if he passes Granderson for the RBI lead? In any case, I think Verlander will win anyway.

  18. Re #13 DaveZ:

    Why were you put off by his "antics?" He was excited to have hit his first career walkoff HR over a division rival. He's also only 21. I didn't find anything he did even close to being "off-putting."

  19. @18...I guess I found the running around the bases with his tongue out a bit much...I'm getting old I guess.

  20. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I'm surprised that here in NYC there hasn't been more campaigning for Cano as MVP. Might it be that Granderson has basically already been anointed the Yankee MVP that Cano is completely off the radar.

    Yeah. Cano has torn it up lately**. Before that, he was having a good season, but nothing special, not as good as he was last year. So the MVP "candidates" had already been anointed: Bautista, Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Granderson, Pedroia, Verlander. Now that Cano is suddenly closing in on the league RBI lead, you should hear him discussed as a serious candidate for the remainder of the season.

    ** .362/.399/.652, 8 HR, 42 RBI in last 35 games.

  21. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Cano is the third 2Bman with three straight seasons of at least a .520 SLG (if he maintains his pace this season). Hornsby did it twice. Utley had four in a row.

    (Thresholds selected to make Cano look best, of course.)

  22. Cano will surely get some MVP mention now that he's reached the magic RBI mark. But as far as being a contender in a field crowded with worthy candidates, I just can't see it.

    For one thing, after last year's spike in his walk rate, it's back in the basement this year, on pace for 35 walks. So his .350 OBP is middle of the pack for qualifying AL middle infielders, ranking 6th and just .008 above the median.

    Don't get me wrong, he's a terrific player. Just not in the MVP class this year.

  23. @19, DaveZ -- I'm with you. If I'd seen the video, I would have tweaked him in the post. "Act like you've been there before, rook!"

  24. Cano's OBP is very dependent on his power. He has a decent eye but is willing to swing at a pitch he likes early in the count more than most guys. If pitchers are afraid of him, he'll get ahead more and work more walks like he did last year. Earlier this year his power left him and pitchers went right after him. It'll be interesting if they continue that approach the rest of the year.

    There's been a duality with Cano I can't recall seeing from other players. He can hit for power/obp or he can hit for average. He can't do both.

  25. Glad to see Fister getting some recognition with Detroit.

    He was consistently good with the Mariners. But, his decision results suffered tremendously from lack of run support.

  26. Johnny Twisto Says:

    There's been a duality with Cano I can't recall seeing from other players. He can hit for power/obp or he can hit for average. He can't do both.

    Mosc, he's certainly doing both lately.

    And there's a strong positive correlation between his seasonal BA and his ISO over his career. (I don't know how that compares to any other player, though.)

  27. Cano might be hurt because he is such a natural. He has such a great swing, smooth flowing and such that he really makes it look easy. He is a much better pure hitter than probably any of the other position players mentioned for MVP. I still go with Granderson though for MVP.

  28. @27.

    I'm with Timmy on Cano being "a natural".

    His whole demeanor gives the impression (to me, anyway) that he perceives the game as if it were being played in super-slo motion.

  29. Hmm ... I'm not a big fan of terms like "a natural." I think a lot of what passes for natural ability is actually the product of a lot of practice, especially at a young age.

    Anyway, there was a moment last year when I realized what a good hitter Cano had become. Well, it wasn't quite an epiphany, since he mashed the ball all year. But I was watching the Mets-Yanks game of May 21, 2010, when Hisanori Takahashi made his MLB starting debut. Takahashi was a fun story in an otherwise blah Mets year; he threw 6 shutout innings against the Yanks that day, and did the same against the Phils in next start (and matched it when he faced NYY again in June). Cano, meanwhile, was to me just a nice complementary piece in the Yankees' loaded lineup, a status reinforced by his general struggles with RISP.

    But Cano's ABs against Takahashi were really something to watch; I wish I could do justice by a description. The first time, he grounded out on an 0-2 pitch. The next time, in a tense scoreless game with a man on 1st and 1 out, Takahashi got ahead again but, despite an old pro's toolkit of pitches, just didn't seem to have one that would make Cano miss; up, down, in, out, Robby got wood on everything, and he wound up with a loud double to the opposite field. (Takahashi worked out of the jam, though.)

    In their last duel that day, the game still 0-0 in the 6th with a man on 2nd and 2 out, they fought to a full count before Takahashi finally got that swing-and-miss to end both the threat and his day's work.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN201005210.shtml

    They had one other scintillating face-off in their 2nd meeting last year, which ended on the 8th pitch with Cano walking to load the bases. By that time, I had become really taken with Takahashi's craft and nerve -- but the way that Cano seemed to pose a deadly threat on every pitch impressed me even more.

    P.S. I think Cano's development vs. lefthanders dispels the "natural" notion. In his first 2 years, he was much better against RHPs, showing no power against southpaws. But since 2007, he's actually been better overall against lefties. I don't think that happens from natural ability.

  30. Dukeofflatbush Says:

    Timmy P,

    One of the last time I heard of a player referred to as a 'natural' was when Garret Anderson was in his heydays in LAA.
    Real easy swing, lots of doubles, good homer totals, good avg., no walks.
    Sounds just like Cano this year.
    RobCano 2009-'11 162avg 693 638 105 202 46 28 106 42 79 .316/.362/.529
    Anderson 2001-'03 162avg 697 661 -87 -201 49 30 123 30 88 .303/.330/.518
    Besides the runs, everything looks pretty close. But no one considered Anderson an MVP.

  31. Johnny Twisto Says:

    despite an old pro's toolkit of pitches, just didn't seem to have one that would make Cano miss; up, down, in, out, Robby got wood on everything

    This is perhaps both his blessing and curse. He can definitely fight off all kinds of tough pitches, except a lot of them he should probably be taking.

    I think Cano's development vs. lefthanders dispels the "natural" notion. In his first 2 years, he was much better against RHPs, showing no power against southpaws. But since 2007, he's actually been better overall against lefties. I don't think that happens from natural ability.

    Great observation.

    no one considered Anderson an MVP.

    He did get MVP votes in each of those seasons, and finished a strong 4th in '02. And Cano's got a clear BA/OBP/SLG advantage, while playing a tougher position in a lower run environment. If he plays as well for the next month as he has for the last (unlikely, of course), he'll certainly deserve serious consideration.

  32. My take on having "natural" ability is more along the lines of a player having the ability to learn quickly and thereby enhance their skills. Certainly, practice and hard work play into that, but starting from an abundance innate, natural ability makes the results so much more impressive. JA's observation about Cano now hitting lefties well is, I think, a good case in point. Instead of making modest improvements in a weakness in his game, he quickly turns that weakness around and into a strength, not something most players, even the hardest workers, could achieve.

    The flip side of being a "natural" is relying too much on that innate ability. One shudders to think of the kind of results Griffey, Jr. could have compiled with a little more effort on conditioning in his 30s, and looking for edges in game situations. I've heard more than a few stories about Griffey in his prime being so laid back that he wasn't even paying attention to what the pitcher was throwing, or even who was pitching (if a new pitcher had recently come into the game). For Ken, it was pretty much just see the pitch, and hit it hard (actually, that was Musial's theory on hitting, wasn't it).

  33. JA, thanks for linking to my original post about Lee's shutouts total. Oh wait, you didn't, and instead you went on my thread and posted yet another sarcastic comment.

  34. Sarcastic? That was not my intent, Andy. It was just a playful comment on posting "Lee's 6th shutout" before the last outs were recorded; hence, Mr. Smiley.

    I did shamefully neglect to link to your Lee post, and for that I apologize. I've belatedly righted the wrong, FWIW.

  35. That's great!!!
    :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

  36. See, now that's what I call straight-up, no-bones-about-it sarcasm. :)

  37. Johnny Twisto Says:

    For Ken, it was pretty much just see the pitch, and hit it hard (actually, that was Musial's theory on hitting, wasn't it)

    Must have been something in the water.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donora,_Pennsylvania#Notable_people

  38. [...] the baseball-reference blog noted after his latest start: Brian Matusz had allowed at least 6 runs in 5 straight starts, the longest [...]