Archive for the ‘Impact Index’ Category

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┬álike 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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I’m a west coaster now, chillin’ by the beach with my freshly-made guacamole, organic heirloom tomatoes, and fifteen different types of lettuce. But it wasn’t always this way. I was born in Brooklyn, and while I was raised out on Long Island, I spent a great deal of my childhood in the Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay neighborhoods of Brooklyn. I’ve always felt a strong connection with the most populous of New York City’s five boroughs. Well, that is until I moved to San Francisco and renounced by Brooklyn Dodgers heritage to become a fan of the Giants.

So while I won’t root for the successors to the Brooklyn Dodgers, I do root for players who grew up in Brooklyn. Players who had to travel the city by subway and bus to get to the decent baseball fields. Players who had to fight for attention from scouts and big-league college baseball programs. City guys like former Mets closer John Franco and Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia.

And guys like Adam Ottavino.

Who?

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There was a time when I spent many hours watching do-it-yourself design shows on HGTV. We were in the pre-pre-planning, pre-planning, planning, and doing stages of our home renovation. I can’t remember the show titles anymore but my favorite ones featured the couples who got halfway through their renovations, ran out of ideas, energy and money, and then called in the TV experts to clean up their mess. I also liked the shows that taught how to make any room look like it was designed by an expert on a shoestring budget.

As I combed through last week’s boxscores on Sunday night, looking for the unsung heroes, my days as an HGTV addict came rushing back. That’s sounds weird, so let me explain.

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Remember when we started the Impact Index, and I said we’d be focusing on more than just numbers? That we’d be peering behind the statistics to tell the stories of the unsung heroes? The long roads traveled by the middle relievers and utility guys who get little press but sometimes do big things to help their team win?

Yeah, well, sometimes the numbers are the story.

Last Thursday, Kansas City Royals platoon catcher Brayan Pena hit a walk-off, pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth against Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford. The Royals were down 3-2, with two outs, and runners on first and second. Pena looped a liner to left field, scoring the runner on second. The Brewers then misplayed the ball on the relay, allowing the winning run to score. It looked like this:

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If one of the goals of the Impact Index is to introduce you to players you may not know, but who made a big impact on their team in the past week, then I’ve been remiss in not writing several posts about the Los Angeles Dodgers. And not just one utility player and bullpen arm. More like the entire starting lineup.

You know Matt Kemp is on the disabled list for the second time this season, and has only played in 36 games. Second baseman Mark Ellis, who was off to a hot start, suffered a scary leg injury and is out at least another month. Juan Uribe was expected to play third base after a season of injuries in 2011 but 2012 has been no better. Here’s the lineup manager Don Mattingly rolled out for a game against the Philadelphia Phillies last week:

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Yeah, these headlines are getting pretty, pretty goofy. I suppose that’s what happens with a week off from the Impact Index. You did notice we were gone last week, right?

With time off for the Memorial Day holiday in America, we have a lot of ground to cover. This week, we’re focusing on the best and worst in pinch hitting over the last two weeks. In the National League West. For the last-place San Diego Padres. By former starter but now utility player Jesus Guzman.

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