Archive for the ‘Impact Index’ Category

The chill in the air. The changing colors of the leaves. The earlier sunsets. So much to look forward to as the calendar turns from summer to autumn. Except, of course, for the dwindling days of the baseball season. Those are no cause for celebration, but instead bring the anguish of a long baseball-less winter.

But do not despair, baseball friends. Let us rejoice in the season nearly completed. And let us honor the great men who rose from the dugout bench, night after night, to enter a game in progress and make it their own. The pinch hitters. The middle relievers. The heroes of the Impact Index.

That’s right, it’s time to hand out the awards for the most Impact Index-y hitter and the most Impact Index-y pitcher of the 2012 season.

Let’s start with the Impact Index Pitcher of the Year.

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Of all the teams now leading their division, the Cincinnati Reds have the largest lead over the team in second place. After Tuesday’s games, the Reds lead the National League Central, with the St. Louis Cardinals 10 1/2 games back. Barring a catastrophic collapse by the Reds, and a 2011-like run by the Cardinals, the Reds will win the Central and head into the postseason.

But the Reds don’t have the best overall record in the National League. That honor, for now, belongs to the Washington Nationals. Why does that matter? Because the team with the best overall record will play the Wild Card winner in the League Division Series. The Wild Card winner comes out of a one-game playoff between the two teams with the best records that didn’t win their division. And if there is a tie for one of two spots to even get in the Wild Card game, then those teams will play a tiebreaker just to get to the Wild Card game. So there’s a big advantage to having the best overall record in the league.

In the last week, the Reds have benefited from stellar performances by relief pitchers but been burned by a young prospect-y type player. Together, they are the Impact Index Players of the Week.

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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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