The graph to the right shows the declining velocity of Mark Buehrle's fastball over the last eight years. The amazing thing is that it was already a well below average fastball eight years ago. Despite this, Mark Buehrle continues to be an effective major league pitcher. Mark Buehrle's average fastball was 83.9 mph last year. Among 88 pitchers with at least 162 innings pitched last year, the only pitcher with a slower average fastball was knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Among those same 88 pitchers with at least 162 innings pitched last year, Mark Buerhle was 30th in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). If Mark Buehrle were a high school pitcher throwing 83.9 mph, scouts wouldn't look at him twice, yet here he is, still pitching in the big leagues, still thriving. He's won 199 games in his career, including 10 or more wins in each of the last 14 years. I'm rooting for him to get #200 in this game.
My pick: Blue Jays 6, Orioles 4
Houston Astros (Collin McHugh) @Texas Rangers (Derek Holland)
In their first three games, the Houston Astros scored just three runs, and were two outs away from being no-hit yesterday, but I expect them to break out in this one by scoring at least three runs, maybe four. Astros pitcher Collin McHugh is coming off a breakout season in which he had a 2.73 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and struck out more than a batter per inning. On the other side, Rangers starter Derek Holland missed most of last season with a knee injury but was very good in September when he returned. This should be a good one. I'm feeling the Rangers for a win in their home opener.
My pick: Ranger 7, Astros 3
Minnesota Twins (Tommy Milone) @Chicago White Sox (Hector Noesi)
The Twins are 0-3 and gave up 22 runs in their first three games. The White Sox are also 0-3 and gave up 21 runs in their first three games. The Twins have Tommy Milone on the bump and Milone is projected to have a 4.72 ERA by the Fangraphs depth charts. The White Sox have Hector Noesi on the mound and he is projected for a 5.38 ERA. So we have two teams that have given up 7 or more runs per game so far and two pitchers that allow close to 5 runs per game. Logic would dictate that this will be a high-scoring game. Let's see how logic does.
White Sox 7, Twins 3
Detroit Tigers (Alfredo Simon) @Cleveland Indians (Zach McAllister)
This is the opposite of the Twins-White Sox game. The Tigers allowed just one run in their first three games. The Indians allowed three in their first three games. Based on just that information, logic would expect this to be a low-scoring game, but logic would also look at the pitchers involved and throw its hands in the air and change its logical mind. Alfredo Simon is projected for a 4.77 ERA this year, while Zach McAllister is projected for a much more reasonable 4.06 ERA. Neither projected ERA is stellar, but McAllister's is slightly closer to being stellar than Simon's is, so my occasionally logical mind will take the Indians to win this one.
My pick: Indians 5, Tigers 4
Chicago Cubs (Travis Wood) @Colorado Rockies (Tyler Matzek)
The Rockies are looking to go 4-0 for the first time since 1995. Here are some of the "Historical Events for the Year 1995" according to historyorb.com:
- 1995 was the International Year of Tolerance (I had no idea this was a thing)
- The last "Far Side" cartoon by Gary Larson (I miss those)
- South Carolina beats West Virginia, 24-21, in the Carquest Bowl (Why is this important?)
- Mike Schmidt is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame
- The O.J. Simpson murder trial begins
- Western Washington begins using new area code 360 (Very historical event, this)
- L.A. Rams announce they are moving to St. Louis
- Mississippi House of Representatives formally abolishes slavery & ratifies 13th Amendment (Really, Mississippi? It took this long?)
- Michael Jordan ends his short-lived baseball career and goes back to that other sport
- Julia Roberts & Lyle Lovette split up (Shattering the hopes and dreams of dorky-looking guys everywhere)
- Cal Ripken, Jr. breaks Lou Gehrig's record of playing in 2,130 consecutive games
- Toy Story is released as the first feature-length film created completely using computer-generated imagery.
- Cartoonist Bill Watterson ends his "Calvin & Hobbes" comic strip
- The Rockies play their first game at Coors Stadium
My pick: Rockies 9, Cubs 5
Boston Red Sox (Wade Miley) @New York Yankees (Nathan Eovaldi)
In Thursday's game, Alex Rodriguez hit his 655th career home run, leaving him just 5 short of Willie Mays for fourth place all-time. You have to wonder how baseball fans will feel when A-Rod catches the Say Hey Kid. Yankees fans will probably cheer the event. Opposing fans will likely boo it. What about Willie Mays, though? Will he be on hand as A-Rod looks to break the tie? Will he be gracious to A-Rod or knock A-Rod for "not doing it the right way" like so many older ballplayers do when talking about this generation of players?
My pick: Red Sox 6, Yankees 4
Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez) @Philadelphia Phillies (Jerome Williams)
Jerome Williams is playing for the seventh different team of his career, including three different teams just last season. His first year was his best year, back in 2003 with the San Francisco Giants when he was worth 2.0 Wins Above Replacement. He hasn't been able to equal that season since and spent 2008 and 2009 in the minor leagues, then missed all of the 2010 season. All told, he's spent nine seasons in the major leagues and has had an ERA under 4.00 just two times. He's not very good, is what I'm saying. He's kind of the Jeff Francoeur of pitching, which is fitting since both Jerome Williams and Jeff Francoeur are on the Phillies, baseball's worst team.
My pick: Nationals 6, Phillies 2
St. Louis Cardinals (John Lackey) @Cincinnati Reds (Jason Marquis)
Just when I thought I couldn't find a worse pitcher than Jerome Williams, along comes Jason Marquis. Marquis pitched in the major leagues from 2000 to 2013 and had two seasons with an ERA under 4.00. He spent last year in the minor league system of the Philadelphia Phillies at the age of 35 and had an ERA of 4.63. A lesser man might have taken the hint and hung up his spikes, but Jason Marquis kept on plugging away and made the Reds' starting rotation in spring training. He's projected to be worth negative Wins Above Replacement (-0.3 WAR), meaning the Reds could theoretically pull a pitcher up from the minor leagues who would be better than Marquis. They could probably pull a half dozen pitchers up from the minor leagues who would out-pitch Jason Marquis. Still, here he is, starting the Reds' fourth game of the season. The Reds are undefeated after their three-game sweep of the Pirates. They won't be after this game.
My pick: Cardinals 7, Reds 3
Tampa Bay Rays (Steven Geltz) @Miami Marlins (Dan Haren)
I've been a baseball fan for many years and I feel like I follow the game closely, but I had no idea that the annual games between the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins was called the Citrus Series. I wonder if anyone outside Florida knows this. In the long, storied history of the Citrus Series, the Marlins have won 47 games and the Rays have won 46. The Rays swept the Marlins in 2013 and the Marlins swept the Rays last year. The most interesting thing about this game is Rays' starting pitcher Steven Geltz. Geltz signed with the Los Angeles Angels as an undrafted free agent in 2008 out of the University of Buffalo. The odds against an undrafted free agent ever making the major leagues are astronomical. In addition, Geltz is listed as 5'10", 170 pounds and he's a right-handed pitcher. Short, right-handed pitchers are a rare breed in major league baseball. Scouts are generally looking for size and projectability when scouting pitchers and this is even more true for right-handed pitchers. It's easier to be short and slight if you're a left-handed pitcher slinging breaking balls than if you're a righty. Geltz doesn't have a great fastball (averages around 92 mph) but he's been quite good in 7 seasons in the minor leagues, with a career 3.38 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 362 minor league innings, while striking out 12 batters per nine innings. He got a cup of coffee with the Angels in 2012 and a Mocha Grande with the Rays last year and has pitched in 15 major league games with a 2.84 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 13.5 K/9. All of his previous professional appearances have been as a reliever and he has never faced more than 10 batters in an outing before. He gets the start today. I can almost guarantee he didn't get much sleep last night.
My pick: Marlins 5, Rays 4
New York Mets (Jonathon Niese) @Atlanta Braves (Eric Stults)
This game is the Atlanta Braves' home opener and features an hour-long concert by Ed Roland and the Sweet Tea Project. Ed Roland is best known as being the lead singer for the band Collective Soul. Collective Soul's peak in popularity was 20 years ago, so having Ed Roland and the Sweet Tea Project play before this game is likely targeted at those 40 year old fans who will, hopefully, bring their kids along, even if those kids will have their faces glued to their smartphones all game. It's an indirect attempt at getting a young crowd out to the ballpark. Maybe it will work, although having Ariana Grande play before the game would have worked much better, in my opinion.
My pick: Mets 6, Braves 4
Pittsburgh Pirates (Jeff Locke) @Milwaukee Brewers (Mike Fiers)
Both of these teams are 0-3 and both struggled to score runs in their first three games. Mike Fiers is starting for the Brewers. He has a (small sample size warning) Brett Saberhagen thing going on. Bret Saberhagen was known in the 80s and 90s for having an every-other-year stretch during which he seemed to pitch well in odd-numbered years and not-so-well in even number years. Looking back, this belief was mostly based on his wins total, which can be very misleading. His advanced metrics (FIP, for example) didn't show such an up-and-down pattern. As for Mike Fiers, his advanced metrics do support an up-and-down pattern, again with the small sample size caveat. Fiers had a 3.09 FIP in 2012. That metric ballooned to 7.17 in 2013, but in just 22 1/3 major league innings. Last year, Fiers' FIP was back down to 2.99. So which Fiers will we see in 2015? Most likely, a pretty good Fiers.
My pick: Brewers 5, Pirates 3
Los Angeles Dodgers (Brett Anderson) @Arizona Diamondbacks (Chase Anderson)
Dodgers' starting pitcher Brett Anderson has been in the major leagues since 2009 and started 20 games in a season just once and that was in his first year. He's been on the 60-day Disabled List five times and has had injuries to almost every body part that has anything to do with pitching. He's pitched an average of just 41 innings over the last three years. When he's been on the mound he's been a good pitcher, with a career ERA of 3.73. On the other side of the field, the Diamondbacks are starting Chase Anderson, a 27-year-old pitcher who started 21 games last year with a 4.01 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. He had a late arrival to the big leagues after being a ninth-round draft pick in 2009. Chase Anderson will have to contend with the hot-hitting Adrian Gonzalez. A-Gonz hit 5 home runs in the first three games of the season and is batting .769 with a 2.077 slugging percentage.
My pick: Dodgers 5, Diamondbacks 3
Kansas City Royals (Jason Vargas) @Los Angeles Angels (Hector Santiago)
This is the home opener for the Los Angeles Angels and marks their 50th season in Angel Stadium. The Angels won 98 games last year but were swept out of the playoffs by today's opponent, the Kansas City Royals. In that series, the Royals won consecutive games on back-to-back 11th-inning homers. The media might like to think the Angels are out for revenge, but it's a whole new season and beating the Royals today won't make the Angels feel any better about last year's disappointment.
My pick: Angels 7, Royals 5
Seattle Mariners (Taijuan Walker) @Oakland Athletics (Drew Pomeranz)
The Mariners are hoping to get their offense untracked against left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz. Last year, the Mariners were awful against lefties, with a batting line of .240/.294/.342. Based on wRC+ (weighted runs created, adjusted for ballpark and league), the Mariners were the second-worst team in baseball against left-handed pitchers. The big move they made to improve against lefties was the free agent signing of Nelson Cruz, who has hit .289/.364/.521 against lefties in his career. The Mariners were shut out in their first game against a left-handed pitcher when they lost 2-0 to C.J. Wilson on Tuesday. We'll see how they do today in their second attempt against left-handed pitching.
My pick: Athletics 4, Mariners 3
San Francisco Giants (Tim Lincecum) @San Diego Padres (Brandon Morrow)
Tim Lincecum played his college ball for the University of Washington, right in the backyard of the Seattle Mariners. Brandon Morrow played for UC Berkeley, just across the bay from San Francisco. They were both drafted within the first 10 picks in the first round of the 2006 draft. Did the Mariners take the hometown boy, Lincecum? Did the Giants draft the Californian, Brandon Morrow? Nope. In fact, the Mariners took Morrow with the fifth pick of the 2006 draft and the Giants took Lincecum with the tenth. Morrow made it up to the big leagues in 2007, pitching 60 games in relief with a 4.12 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. He struck out 22.8% of the batters he faced but walked 17.3%, which is just brutal. He spent the first three years of his career with the Mariners but never lived up to the hype and was traded to the Blue Jays. In five years with the Blue Jays, mostly as a starting pitcher, Morrow had a 4.40 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, while routinely battling injuries. The last two years have been particularly difficult for Morrow, as he's started just 16 games in that time and has an ERA of 5.65. Tim Lincecum, on the other hand, had tremendous success early in his career. He also reached the big leagues in 2007, then won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009. He followed that up by finishing in the top 10 in Cy Young voting in 2010 and 2011. Then it all fell apart. In the first five years of his career, Lincecum was 69-41 with a 2.98 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. Over the last three years, he's gone 32-38 with a 4.76 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, and 3.8 BB/9. Something broke with Tim Lincecum and he hasn't been able to figure out what it is. Both of these pitchers are looking to turn their careers around with good starts to the 2015 season.
My pick: Padres 5, Giants 4