Wendy Thurm

wendythurm

Wendy was born a die-hard Mets fan but overcame that affliction when she moved to San Francisco in the early 1990s. Now she's a die-hard Giants fan. Baseball has always been a big part of her life. She started writing about baseball in early 2011 when she created HangingSliders.com, a blog devoted to baseball analysis, commentary, humor and poetry. Wendy is now a contributing writer at FanGraphs, Baseball Nation and Getting Blanked.

Recent Posts

You can debate the merits of expanded rosters in September, like my colleague Bill Parker did on Getting Blanked yesterday. Or you can marvel at how one player added to a roster on September 1 can immediately make a big difference for a contending team. Since the Impact Index is all about marveling at the difference one player makes in a particular game or week, we’re going to go with Option Two.

We’ll start with The Prospect. The Texas Rangers called up Jurickson Profar on Saturday. As Scott Lewis wrote, Profar is a highly touted and toolsy young middle infielder who hits for average and power, gets on base, runs fast and has a smooth glove. And I mean young. The first player born in 1993 to play in a Major League Baseball game.

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For a while now, it’s seemed like the beginning of the end for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ run toward the post season. In their last 20 games, the Bucs are 7-13. Entering play on Thursday, they are 8.5 games out in the National League Central. But other teams have faltered, too, so the Pirates find themselves just a half game behind the Cardinals for the second wild card spot. Still, the Pirates need to stop the bleeding, and soon.

In last week’s Impact Index, we looked at Wil Nieves of the Diamondbacks and Chase Headley of the Padres who, in two different games, killed the Pirates with huge, late-inning hits. Today’s Impact Index highlights a member of the Pirates who is single-handedly keeping the Pirates afloat down the stretch.

No, not Andrew McCutchen.

Garrett Jones.

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Since the end of May, when they started their climb in the National League Central Division and wild card standings, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been a model of consistency.  The Bucs’ longest losing streak of the season — five games — was way back in April. They had a four-game losing streak in mid-June and a three-game losing streak in late June. Those were counterbalanced by four four-game winning streaks between the end of May and the end of July and one five-game winning streak from July 17-22.  That consistency pushed the Pirates from a record of 20-24 on May 23 to a 64-50 record today, a 44-26 pace over nearly three months.

But the last week has not been kind to the Pirates, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Bucs have dropped six of their last ten games and lost a game in the NL Central standings to the division-leading Reds, who also stumbled last week but managed to go 5-5. The Cardinals — of the +101 run differential — are lurking, just behind the Pirates in both races. And don’t forget Braves, Giants, Dodgers and Diamondbacks who are all battling with the Pirates for a wild-card spot as a fallback to a division title.

In consecutive games last week, the Pirates were done in by two different players who each posted games in the Top 250 in Win Probability Added this season. On Thursday, the Pirates were battling the Diamondbacks at home in the last game of four-game series. The Bucs had won two of the first three games and were ahead 3-2 in the 6th inning of final game. Wandy Rodriguez, acquired from the Astros before the trade deadline, was on the mound for the Pirates, trying to preserve the one-run lead. Rodriguez retired Justin Upton to start the 6th, but gave up a single to his former Astros teammate Chris Johnson, who’d also been traded at the deadline, to the Diamondbacks. Rodriguez then got Chris Young on a pop fly, bringing Wil Nieves to the plate.

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Ten teams in the American League are still realistically vying for a spot in the postseason. The Yankees and Rangers lead by more than five games in their divisions. The White Sox lead only by a game an and a half in theirs. But seven teams are within five games of the the two wild-card spots. Only the Mariners, Royals, Twins — and after a disastrous 0-9 road trip, the Indians — are eight or more games out with just over 50 games to play.

The Tigers are the team chasing the White Sox in the AL Central. At the same time, they are tied with the A’s for one of the two wild cards. The Blue Jays (as many readers of this site undoubtedly know), are five games behind the Tigers in the wild-card race. At 53-55, the Blue Jays are one of only two teams (the Red Sox are the other) with a losing record, but still a realistic chance at the postseason.

Two sets of teammates — one on the Tigers and one on the Blue Jays — did something pretty unusual in the last week to either really help or really hurt their team. It’s the kind of thing we like to highlight here at the Impact Index.

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The non-wavier trade deadline has come and gone and on this first day of August, many players find themselves in new cities, with new teammates, wearing new uniforms. As you know from Dustin’s wrap-up of Trade Deadline Day, players moved from team to team for different reasons. Contending teams tried to strengthen weaknesses and bolster strengths for the stretch run. Non-contenders tried to offload payroll and strengthen weaknesses for next season and beyond.

Quite a few Impact Index-y kind of players moved at or before the Trade Deadline, which isn’t terribly surprising since “bats off the bench” and “middle relievers who don’t grab the headlines” are just the types of players who strengthen weaknesses (or, at least perceived ones), if not the types whose salaries need to be offloaded.

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It’s crunch time. Or getting close. Two and a half months remain in the 2012 baseball season, and so many teams are still in contention for a spot in the postseason. In the American League, only the Mariners, Royals and Twins are ten or more games out of the second wild card. In the National League, all but the Phillies, Cubs, Astros, Padres and Rockies are still vying for a chance to play deep into October. Sure, each of the 162 games counts the same. Each win a win. Each loss a loss. But with the standings so close, and so much at stake, it just feels like the games now matter more.

And so, as we head down the stretch, we’re tweaking the focus of the Impact Index just a bit. Instead of highlighting just the unheralded bench guys and relief pitchers who had a good week, we’re going to hone in on game-changing pinch-hit at bats and relief-pitcher appearances for the teams making a push for the postseason. The ones where, at the end of the season, fans look back and say: “Ah, if only he’d gotten a hit in that one at bat,” or “That strikeout with the bases loaded saved the game, and the season.” Okay, maybe not all of the confrontations we highlight will be that memorable, but each will be critical to the team’s ultimate success this season.

This week we focus on three pinch hitters: the good, the meh and the ugly.

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First Half Impact Index Awards

By now you know the drill. Here at the Impact Index, we like to highlight the forgotten ones. The middle relievers who bridge the gap from the starter to the Proven Closer. The pinch hitters who keep the rally going. The bench guys. The bullpen guys. The unsung heroes who made the biggest impact on their team in the prior week.

So far this season we’ve brought you the stories of Tom Wilhelmsen, Xavier Nady, Jamey Wright, Mike Baxter, Steve Cishek, Dana Eveland, Jesus Guzman, Josh Lindblom, Brayan Pena, and Adam Ottavino, among others. Some of these players were one-week wonders, like Dana Eveland. Others were so good they moved into a more prominent role, like Tom Wilhelmsen, who is now the Mariners’ closer.

But by looking at these players week-by-week, we miss the ones who haven’t had a spectacular three-game run, but, instead, have been consistently good throughout the first half. Today, we salute the steady guys. One middle reliever and one pinch hitter who’ve gotten the job done for their teams since Opening Day.

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