New baseball season scouting reports

Now that baseball season has started, what I need from you are scouting reports.  What are the developments, prospects, promising new players, and issues for your favorite team?

It looks like Philadelphia is playing a hand with four aces (maybe five aces, but then the card game metaphor breaks down).   The Brewers seem poised to make a run, what with acquiring pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, two serious pitchers.  Washington is positioning itself to be good NEXT year, when the two first-round draft pick prodigies Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper might be ready.

So, all of you Cranach sports correspondents, please report.

You may also include predictions.

The Official Site of Major League Baseball | MLB.com: Homepage.

The count

Thomas Boswell, one of the better baseball writers, says that the real key to understanding the subtleties of baseball is paying attention to the number of balls and strikes, to the count:

The count [is]  baseball’s open secret, the hidden key, the game-within-the-game that players themselves obsessed about. You don’t wait for the action. You anticipate it — through the count.

To grasp baseball better, digest one vital but little-known fact that has only been discovered in recent years as copious data about ball-strike counts has finally become easily available online.

With less than two strikes, the average hitter is a superstar in every count. It doesn’t matter whether the scoreboard says 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 0-1, 1-1, 2-1 or 3-1. In those counts, the average big leaguer is a .339 hitter, comparable to Stan Musial, and is a .549 slugger, comparable to Hank Aaron.

Last season, in those eight “hitter’s counts,” the MLB average, respectively, was .339, .340, .368, .395, .317, .332, .339 and .352. You barely need to distinguish between them. If the next pitch is hit into play, watch out. The results will evoke “The Man” and “The Hammer.”

So, don’t slumber through a game thinking, “This bum’ll never get a hit.” Oh, yes he may. As long as he hasn’t got two strikes yet.

By one of those lovely baseball symmetries that nobody can explain, almost exactly half of all plate appearances end with less than two strikes. Happy hitters! But the other half reach strike two.

Once that happens, the whole sport changes. On the two-strike counts of 0-2, 1-2, 2-2 and 3-2, batters hit .156, .171, .189 and, finally, if they can reach a full count, .233. In every at-bat last season that reached a two-strike count, the MLB average was .186, with pathetic on-base and slugging averages of .259 and .283.

How bad is that? Mario Mendoza, for whom the Mendoza Line was named — signifying the worst imaginable big league hitter — batted .215 with a .245 on-base and .256 slugging average.

via Thomas Boswell – Pay attention to the count, baseball’s hidden treasure.

Spring training reports

Spring training!  Hope springs anew.  Even for the Washington Nationals, last place though they were last year.  They stocked up on promising young pitchers and signed the aging future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez to catch them.  And the pitching phenomenon Steven Strasburg they drafted looks amazing, though he will start in the minors, as is right and fitting.  Here is an account of his first outing:

Facing a collection of Nationals players likely to start the year in Class AA and AAA, Strasburg struck out nine and allowed a bloop single, three walks and no runs in 4 1/3 innings. He threw 79 pitches; batters hit two of them into the outfield and swung and missed at 11.

The third batter of the game, outfielder Marvin Lowrance, watched the second pitch Strasburg threw him, a 90-mph change-up that started below his belt and dove down to his knees. The umpire called a strike. Lowrance turned around to catcher Sean Rooney and asked, “What was that?”

via Stephen Strasburg dominates in first start in minor league camp – washingtonpost.com.

A 90 mph change-up? What was that, indeed? Anyway, what I’d like to know from you fellow baseball fans around America is how YOUR team is shaping up during Spring Training. I’d like to hear about the Brewers, the Cardinals, the Cubs, the Royals, and as many others as I can.