Archive for May, 2011

Coming into the 2011 season the expectations were fairly high for Texas Rangers starter Derek Holland and most had envisioned he would take another step forward into developing into one of the better young starters in the game.  The twenty-four year old left hander has been among the game’s best pitching prospects for a few seasons and was a sleeper among many analysts for this current season.

On the surface it would appear he isn’t progressing at all with a pedestrian 4.68 ERA and 1.53 WHIP but given his age, lack of major league experience, home ballpark and overall numbers I think Derek Holland is coming along rather nicely.  I decided to compare Holland to another young and promising (if not already established) left handed starter in David Price. 

Price is one year older than Holland so I thought it prudent to compare Holland’s current 2011 season to Price’s 2010 season, his first full season and breakout year to see how they stack up.  Price has seemingly had better overall stats than his peripherals would suggest and does pitch in a relative pitcher’s park while Holland has never quite seemed to pitch the way his secondary stats would seem to project.

Although the 2011 season is still rather young and only gives us a small sample size to use for Derek Holland it is still rather interesting to see some of the similarities between both the two south paws.

  ERA xFIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP GB% HR/FB
10-Price 2.72 3.83 8.11 3.41 0.65 .270 43.7 6.5
11-Holland 4.68 3.65 7.24 3.32 0.91 .346 46.4 10.5

 As you can see, very similar numbers overall.  David Price has benefited from a very strong Tampa Bay defensive unit and has also seemed to get rather fortunate with balls in play compared to Holland so far this season.  Overall Derek Holland has pitched quite a bit better than his 4.68 ERA would suggest and actually has a lower mark than David Price’s 2010 season.   

Let’s see how they like to attack hitters.

10-Price FB – 74% (94.6) CB – 15.6% (77.5) CH – 5.5% (84.2) SL – 4.9% (86.5)
11-Holland FB – 60% (93.3) SL – 15.9% (82.8) CH – 15.4 (85.3) CB – 8.6% (75.6)

 Velocity is relatively the same across the board but as you can see Price throws his fastball harder and more often and doesn’t rely much on his secondary offerings, at least not compared to Derek Holland.  I find this odd given Holland can clearly dial up the fastball when he needs to, perhaps the control and command of this pitch isn’t where he needs it to be.

  O-Swing Z-Swing Swing O-Contact Z-Contact Contact SwStrike
10-Price 31.1 66.9 48.5 68.6 84.6 79.3 9.8
11-Holland 28.9 64.9 45.8 68.2 89.4 82.3 8.0

 Again, pretty similar numbers across the board in terms of contact and swing rates.  Price’s stuff is clearly superior at this point as he seems to be able to limit contact, get hitters to fish out of the zone and swing through his offerings better than Holland at similar stages in their careers.  David Price in 2010 was a lot more experienced as a starting pitcher at the major league level than Holland is this year so with a little more seasoning and experience Holland could seemingly take another step forward overall.

David Price has taken a big step forward by commanding his fastball this season and has lowered his BB/9 to a remarkable 1.53.  His fastball hasn’t lost an inch and has been worth a cool 1.27 runs per 100 pitches thrown thus far in 2011 and has continued to be a real catalyst for his increased success thus far. 

He has basically abandoned the slider he threw earlier in his career and curveball from last season for increased fastballs and change-ups with the latter being thrown a career high 10%.  Both pitches show huge dominance when thrown and it seems David Price has gotten himself into a groove and has found his niche on the mound.

David Price has three of his four pitches with positive run values per 100 pitches with only the slider (which he has reduced his dependency on) showing a negative value.  Derek Holland has thrown slightly more curveballs and changeups when compared to last season but a lot of that might have to do with being in the rotation full time this year and needing the extra weapons.

For his career only Holland’s slider and curveball show (slight) positive run values while the oft-used changeup just hasn’t been an effective pitch for him thus far in his young career with a negative 1.83 runs per 100 pitches.  The changeup is probably one of the tougher pitches for a young hurler to properly develop a feel for or maybe Holland struggles enough his fastball velocity pitch to pitch that hitters don’t full respect his heater.

When I watch Derek Holland pitch he can often touch 95/96 MPH in an at-bat but will also dip down below that.  Whether he is mixing in more two-seam fastballs I am not sure but it could be a case of a tall lanky kid struggling with his mechanics and delivery.  He needs to be throwing his fastball with confidence and he needs to be throwing it harder.

Derek Holland will likely never have the relatively repeatable and smooth delivery of a David Price but I think maintaining or increasing his fastball velocity will go a long way to lessening his dependence on and likely increasing the effectiveness of his lackluster (to this point) secondary offerings.  Getting a little better defense and luck with balls in play might also help.

Any way you look at it Derek Holland is still a pitcher with a bright future ahead of him.

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After another dominating performance by St. Louis Cardinals top pitching prospect Shelby Miller on May 27th, 2011 (7 IPs, 3 hits, 1 earned, 1 BB and 12 Ks) the team has decided to promote the youngster from Class A to ‘AA’ ball.  With nothing left to prove the 20-year old will move to a much more difficult ‘AA’ Texas League and join the Springfield Cardinals.

Simply put Shelby Miller has probably been one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball so far this season.  In 53 innings, Miller has given up only 40 hits, 17 earned runs, 20 walks and an amazing 81 strikeouts.  The kid could hopefully improve on his weak groundball tendencies as he definitely pitches up in the zone to achieve his awesome strikeout numbers but that is just nitpicking at this point.

Miller hasn’t even had much in the way of luck on balls in play this year with a .343 BABIP, his HR/FB ratio is a bit low (under 0.4) but as you can see, the sky is the limit for this strikeout machine. 

Overall he has a 2.89 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .204 BAA, 3.4 BB/9, 13.7 K/9, 4.0 K/BB

Shelby Miller is climbing the prospect charts and he may rank near the top of all of the major prospect website’s ranking sheets if he continues to absolutely dominate opposing hitters.  I am super intrigued to see if Shelby Miller can continue to dominate at a much more difficult league against stiffer competition and tougher overall hitters at such a young age.

Derrick Rose is an amazing basketball talent and there is almost nothing he cannot do on the court.   But after only three games of the monster NBA Eastern Conference finals series with the Miami Heat it has become abundantly clear to me that the real MVP of the NBA is not playing on the Chicago Bulls.  Lebron James had a relatively quiet scoring night (22 points) in game three but he was absolutely the most dominant and “valuable” player on the court.

In almost 44 minutes LBJ put home 22 points on 6 of 13 shooting (9 for 9 at the free throw line) to go along with 6 big rebounds and a stellar 10 assists with zero turnovers.  When the ball was in his hands the Bulls were on their toes with something seemingly good about to happen for the Miami Heat, whether he found the open man or just used his massive frame to get into the lane and ultimately on the free throw line.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have definitely helped take the load off of Lebron James, which was the whole point of him signing with the Heat but the real MVP of this series and really the entire NBA season is none other than Lebron James.  An MVP has the ability to dominant the play for extended minutes and make the players around him better on a nightly basis, can we really say with a straight face that Derrick Rose does this better than LBJ?

As much as it probably pains a lot of people around the NBA after watching the playoffs unfold thus far there is no doubt who the best player in the game truly is.  In fact as opposed to becoming irrelevant or “out of the conversation” I think the exact opposite is happening, Lebron is showing everybody he might still go down as the best player to ever play the game of basketball.

Lebron’s struggled in game one (as did the entire Heat team) as he scored only 15 points on a paltry 5 of 15 shooting night but even taking that game into consideration he has made Derrick Rose look like just another good player, but not an MVP of the league.  Lebron has scored only 3 fewer points, has shot better, rebounded better, and more importantly has even more assists than the point guard Rose.

Lebron James is the best player in the NBA by a wide margin and the Miami Heat are going to beat the Chicago Bulls on their way to the NBA finals.  Although Lebron James going to Miami was supposed to take him out of any MVP discussions the fact is there is nobody more valuable to their teams than the best player of the past 10-15 years.

Lebron James could and should have been the NBA’s most valuable player in 2010/11 and honestly if he so choose he could have strung off ten or more MVPs in a row given his talents and new situation in Miami.  I am not afraid to say I was completely wrong when I felt he was going to make major personal sacrifices when he decided to “take his talents” to South Beach.

Scoring, rebounding, shot blocking, defensive presence, size/strength and playmaking Lebron James has no equal.  Scary to think but he is actually better than ever and the true MVP.

Yesterday afternoon Toronto Blue Jays prized hitting 3B prospect Brett Lawrie continued his monumental start at the ‘AAA’ level going 2-4 with 2 homeruns, driving in 4 and walking once.  Lawrie, only 21 is one of the youngest players in the league and has shown he has all of the tools and talent to one day become an integral part of the Toronto Blue Jays line-up. 

Though some have called on the Jays to bring the youngster up as soon as humanly possible I feel general manager Alex Anthopoulos and company have handled the kid perfectly.  Through 43 games Lawrie has absolutely raked, slashing 346/403/633 with 15 2Bs, 11 HRs and even 9 SBs to boot.  What more could a team ask of its star prospect with an ISO approach .300?

 

“I’m very pleased with how he’s responded to us asking him to be a little more selective in his at bats,” said Anthopoulos. “I’m more excited about him today than I was in April when he was hitting .430.”

I feel the exact same as the Jays have felt, Lawrie has been impressive but if he thinks he will be able to walk all over AL East major league pitching on a nightly basis without a much more selective approach he is going to be sadly mistaken.  As it stands now Lawrie has a less than stellar 6.9 BB% and while his K-rate is only 19% what has me most excited is seeing the adjustments and progress he is making at the plate.

 “When I look at a game report for Lawrie the first thing I look at is the number of pitches seen per plate appearance,” said Anthopoulos. “When they’re not going to give him a lot to hit we need to see that he’s made the adjustment, and he’s starting to do that.”

Over his past ten games (and 40 ABs) the Jays top prospect has slashed 375/490/800 (including  7 extra-base hits) and though it is a small sample size the most impressive stat that stands out in my mind is the 9 BBs to go with only 7 Ks – a stellar 18+ BB%.  If Lawrie continues this trend and focuses on taking quality at-bat after quality at-bat we might have a true star in the making.

While I don’t think Brett Lawrie is destined to become the major league leader in the walk category given his natural ability to square the bat on the ball in a very consistent matter any added patience and increase plate discipline could see Lawrie go from good to great, especially at a valuable corner infield spot like third base. 

So when will we likely see Brett Lawrie on the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre?  When he is fully ready to take over on a full-time basis and not a second sooner, and if that also happens to save his pending “super two” status even better, but that would be purely coincidental of course (wink, wink).  Be patient Jays fans this invaluable seasoning and progress being shown by our star prospect could go a long, long way in helping Lawrie be the best player he can possibly be.

Prospect guru John Sickels took in a recent Las Vegas 51 game and wrote a glowing scouting report on Brett.

**UPDATE, Ken Rosenthal reports Brett Lawrie will be called up as soon as Friday June 3rd, 2011**

 
Ken Rosenthal

@Ken_Rosenthal Ken Rosenthal
All signs point to #BlueJays promoting Lawrie on Friday. Move not official yet. #MLB
 
**02Jun2011 UPDATE** The saga continues, Brett Lawrie was beaned by a pitch during a game 31May2011 and injured his hand.  Turns out it was only a bruise so hopefully nothing to worry about.

The second I heard that Nike Golf was releasing another combo iron set I was instantly intrigued and when the brand new Nike Pro VR (Victory Red) Combo irons hit the market I was going to test them out.  Well that test turned into a purchase and that will turn into another review of a great iron set as I received a lot of great feedback about my review on the Taylor Made Burner 2.0 irons.

Why did I make the switch?  I loved the Burner 2.0s and still recommend them to anyone looking for added distance, forgiveness and overall technology built into a top iron but in the end they weren’t for my bag and I wanted more of a players iron going forward.  The offset in the Burner 2.0s was nothing I couldn’t get used to or play on a regular basis but I guess I just didn’t want or need that much extra “bulk” on my irons for forgiveness.

The Nike Pro VR Combo set comes in 3-iron to pitching wedge so I will have to put my gap wedge back in the bag but it’s a Cleveland CG14 and it is still in pretty good shape.  The irons are broken up smartly with the harder to hit 3 and 4-irons a full cavity with some added help for some launch and forgiveness, which is a good idea for these types of irons that you need it for.

There is not much offset in either the 3 or 4-iron (less offset than Titleist AP2s) but you can slightly see the cavity when you address the ball, again, it is only slight but that could turn some golfers off.  To me, I know it is there to help so I accept it and move on.  These clubs require a fairly skilful player regardless of a cavity however and the 3-iron as always takes a solid swing each time, though a lot of players will simply replace it with a hybrid of choice.

There is a split-cavity on irons 5 through 7 and these look stunning in the bag and at address, very reminiscent of the Titleist CBs in my opinion and you will end up loving hitting these clubs in particular.  A lot has been written about people wishing that Nike would potentially offer an entire split-cavity set and I can definitely see that set being a success.  A lot of talk on Twitter about this as well, follow me on twitter  (@tdotsports1) if you have any questions or want to discuss further!

Now for the great part a full muscle-back blade for the 8, 9 and pitching wedge irons.  No fooling around, not much technology just a true beautiful blade, and boy are they beautiful.  Bring your A-game as always when striking a blade as they offer little in the way of help or forgiveness.  I must say I shanked my first 8-iron when I went to Nike demo day in my area (in front of an attractive female rep too – doh!).

Once I grooved my swing and bore down I got the hang of it but it had been a while since I played a true blade, short iron or not it took some adjustment.  These started to fly pretty nicely and I was surprised at the distance I could get out of them on a solid strike, I could work them nicely high or low, draw or fade, which was expected from a blade.

LOOKS:

These clubs are stunning in my opinion and look absolutely beautiful in my bag.  A shiny chrome finish and simplistic understated appearance and you think you are playing a Titleist blade set (outside of the Nike swoosh, which I didn’t mind). 

At address the 5-iron through to the pitching wedge are classic and beautiful and inspire a lot of confidence with little offset and blade appearance.  I compared looks at address to the Nike Pro VR Combo irons with the following sets and found almost zero difference: Titleist AP2s, Titleist CBs and Srixon Z-TX.  All looked great when looking down at the club(s).

Lots of pictures out there.

FEEL:

I will break this up in terms of type of club – cavity, split-cavity and blade.

Cavity (3 and 4-iron)

These had a pretty solid feel and though there is some help on the back of the club you still need to put a great stroke to get a good result from the 3-iron.  The 4-iron was a bit easier to hit.  Feel was solid and there was some feedback and miss-hits as well as a little forgiveness.

Split-cavity (5, 6 and 7-iron)

These felt smooth, soft and just plain nice.  These will quickly become trusted and favourite clubs in your bag.

Blade (8, 9 and PW)

The 8-iron will definitely take some adjustment and reading a few other reviews I don’t think I am alone in stating this.  The feel is typical with a blade, when you hit it on the screws it feels so buttery smooth and when you are off a bit you feel it, a slight vibration.

PERFORMANCE – DISTANCE/ACCURACY/WORKABILITY:

These aren’t going to go as far as the Taylor Made Burner 2.0s and I wasn’t expecting them too, the face isn’t as hot and the lofts aren’t nearly as supped up.

Club Burner 2.0 Nike VR Combo
3-iron 19* 21*
4-iron 21* 24*
5-iron 24* 27*
6-iron 27* 31*
7-iron 31* 35*
8-iron 35* 39*
9-iron 40* 43*
PW 45* 47*

 Loft isn’t everything of course, but just look at the difference at the Burner 2.0s they are a nearly a full club stronger on each iron.  If distance is what you crave, you can’t go wrong with the Burners.  The Nike Pro VR Combo’s have a standard loft specification for the most part, on par with nearly every other “players” iron.

My accuracy and distance control was definitely better with the Pro VR Combo’s in comparison to my Burner 2.0s but again this is to be expected as on my approaches I will be hitting (hopefully) only 100-165 yards out and will require the use of either a split-cavity 6 or 7-iron or a bladed 8-iron to pitching wedge – and these clubs proved to be deadly accurate when struck soundly.

I found I could do what I wanted with the ball in terms of shaping the ball flight and I hit some high fades, lower draws and knockdown shots with relative ease.  These clubs can be worked if you need to do so.  I didn’t find the average trajectory to be high or low, just a boring mid flight but a lot of that could have something to do with the weather (cool-ish), wind (fairly windy) and condition of my lies at the range (suspect).

A good video review of the Nike Pro VR Combo irons, a trusted source.

OVERALL: 

This is a great overall set and exactly what I was looking for in terms of a player’s iron with the hope they force me to continue to work on and improve my overall swing and keep me sharp.  These look great, feel amazing and the combo aspect where you get three sets in one is a smart feature and the new Nike Pro VR Combo set is one I was more than happy to put in my bag.

As I did with my Taylor Made Burner 2.0 review I will be sure to update you on my progress as I continue to practise and play with the new iron set.  For what it is worth I was debating between the Nike Pro VR Combo set and the very popular Titleist AP2 set but in the end I just found the Pro VR Combo’s to be the perfect set for me, I encourage you to get out and try all the latest new (and used) clubs to see what is best for your game and golf swing.