Commentary

Next-level stats at the break

Updated: July 16, 2009, 2:22 PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information | Special to ESPN.com

ESPN Stats & Information digs deep to take you to the next level of baseball statistics at the All-Star break.

AL strikeout leader has thrown a lot of pitches

The first-place Tigers are a big first-half surprise thanks to starter Justin Verlander, who leads the American League with 149 strikeouts and ranks among the top 10 in wins (10), ERA (3.38), innings pitched (122.1) and complete games (2).

Justin Verlander
Verlander
Verlander has done it with the second-fastest average fastball velocity among major league starters (95.4 mph). (Only Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez was faster at 95.6.) Verlander also has the fastest pitch by any starter: a 100.7 mph offering to Nick Markakis on May 30.

With the flash comes the dash, by sending hitters back into the dugout. Swinging strikes are a great way to determine how dominant a pitcher really is, and Verlander has the major league lead in swinging strikes. He gets hitters to miss on 25.6 percent of his pitches.

Fans can find swinging strikes exclusively in ESPN.com's box scores. Just look under the pitching stats section after the game.

Who is swinging at all those pitches? Philadelphia's Ryan Howard (268), Arizona's Mark Reynolds (265) and Texas' Chris Davis (257) lead the majors in swings and misses (Davis is the only major league hitter to miss on more than 40 percent of his swings this season).

Sure, Verlander is getting a lot of swings and misses, but here's the bad news: He could tire.

Verlander led the majors in pitches thrown before the All-Star break in 2008. This season, he's third in pitches thrown (108.4 per game). That could mean trouble for the Tigers. Verlander struggled in the second half last season (4-8 with a 6.04 ERA) after a decent first half (7-9, 4.15 ERA).

Someone who shouldn't be hurt by a big workload is CC Sabathia. His ERA actually went down more than two runs in the second half last season, though his move to the National League (from Cleveland to Milwaukee) probably helped.

Werth his weight in gold

Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth is having the best season of his career. He has 20 homers (eighth-best in the NL) and 56 RBIs. He's hitting .263 but has walked 52 times (seventh in NL) and has a .371 on-base percentage.

Jayson Werth
Werth
Werth's surge has been boosted by his patience. He leads in pitches per plate appearance, which tires opposing pitchers and allows for more walks. That's especially important for Werth, who is a threat to steal a base (he has a dozen swipes on the season).

Patience also is vital to leadoff hitters such as Scott Podsednik, Chone Figgins and Dexter Fowler. But it's been a huge help for the batting average of .300 hitters Todd Helton, Joe Mauer and David Wright and has boosted the on-base percentages of Casey Blake and Adam Dunn.

For those players to continue to have strong seasons, they need to remain patient. To follow their progress, check out how many pitches they've seen in any given game (see the "#P" column in a box score like this one ).

Rich Harden
Harden

Harden hurting in first-pitch strikes

First-pitch strikes are especially important for pitchers because batters hit much worse when behind in the count (.203 this season) than ahead (.343). Four of the top 10 ERAs among starters in the majors made our top six in first-pitch strike percentage.

One pitcher who could turn it around in the second half is Rich Harden. His first-pitch strike pct (50.6%) was the worst among major league starters with 300 batters faced. Harden, who had a disappointing 5-6 record and a 5.47 ERA at the break, had a 44.4 first-pitch strike percentage in losses. He was at 56.2 percent last season, so he can probably turn it around.

Five biggest blasts of the season

First-half star Pablo Sandoval helped the Giants beat the Nationals on May 12, belting the home run that had the most impact, according to our win probability ratings.

Pablo Sandoval
Sandoval
The Giants had just a 15.5 percent chance of winning. Then Sandoval, on his final strike (the count was 2-2) hit a walk-off, three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to give San Francisco a 9-7 victory.

The five biggest-impact home runs are below. None of them came on a full count (which leaves that scenario open in the second half).