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Matthew Leach

A-Rod closing on inner circle of all-time greats

Leach: A-Rod closing on inner circle of greats

A-Rod closing on inner circle of all-time greats
Sometimes a number merits discussion but doesn't require an entire story. Sometimes a trend is worth keeping an eye on before it turns into an avalanche. Sometimes it's just fun to break down stats. Welcome to Five Figures, a recurring feature on MLB.com where we'll look at a few interesting stats from around baseball.

A-Rod's counting stats: Five Figures is typically a spot for the more sabermetrically inclined, but sometimes traditional numbers stand out. It's no secret that Alex Rodriguez has climbed into the top-five all time in home runs, but he's closing in on the inner circle in several other counting stats as well. With merely reasonable performance for the rest of the year, he could finish 2012 way up the leaderboard in some of baseball's most revered stats.

Rodriguez is currently in 10th in RBIs, but with 37 more this season, he'd climb to sixth. He's 13th in runs, but needs just 35 more to move into 10th. With 26 extra-base hits, he'll move from 10th to sixth in that category. He's on pace, even at his less than typical 2012 level, to reach all of those marks.

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And as an aside to all of this, as recently noted by baseball observer Bill Chuck, Rodriguez stands with Willie Mays as the only two players in history with at least 300 home runs, 300 steals, 2800 hits and a .300 or better career batting average.

Ryan Dempster's slider: Looking for a reason for the venerable Cub right-hander's rebound in 2012? Look no further than his slider.

Dempster's average fastball velocity has declined steadily for most of the past seven years, from a peak of 92.7 miles per hour in 2005 to 89.3, the first time it's been below 90, in 2012. He's made up for it this year by throwing his slider more than ever before. According to Fangraphs.com, Dempster has thrown sliders on a stunning 40.1 percent of his pitches, the highest rate of any big league starter and also the highest percentage of his career.

Not coincidentally, he's also throwing it well. Fangraphs' ratings put the Dempster slider as by far his most effective pitch, and more valuable for him on a per-pitch basis than it's been since 2009.

Wade Miley's bat: Despite playing in one of the game's best ballparks for hitters, the Diamondbacks haven't been a very good offensive team this year. They rank 10th in the National League in runs per game. Yet somehow, Arizona rookie lefty Wade Miley has the second-best average run support of any starter in the NL, according to STATS Inc., and that's a part of why he's 7-2.

It probably won't surprise you that the man ahead of him is Lance Lynn, who pitches for the hard-hitting Cardinals. But Miley? Well, here's part of it: he's helping himself. Miley is 9-for-23 (.391) at the plate this year, and he's successfully executed four sacrifices to boot. He wasn't a great hitter in the Minors, so it may not continue, but for now, Miley is doing himself a lot of good at the plate.

Justin Verlander in NL parks: This one probably isn't what you expect. Much has been written about Verlander's dominance of National League clubs, and he gets another chance to extend that when he faces the Reds on Saturday. Oddly, though, he's been much more overwhelming at home, against NL teams using the designated hitter, than on the road when he gets to face the opposing pitcher.

Verlander is 6-2 in his career in road Interleague games, but his ERA is a pedestrian 4.24 in those starts. He has 61 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings, with 24 walks. By comparison, in Interleague home games, he's 10-0 with a 1.73 ERA. He has the same number of walks, 24, but in 83 1/3 innings, and has racked up 87 Ks.

The Phillies' command: Nobody throws strikes like the Phillies. Philadelphia pitchers have thrown the highest percentage of strikes of any team in the Majors, and it's not close -- 65.3 percent, compared to 64.4 percent for the second-place Astros. The gap between the Phils and Astros is larger than the gap between second-ranking Houston and the ninth-best strike-throwing team, the Yankees.

As a team, the Phillies have a 3.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio. For a little perspective, a pitcher who had a 3.56 K/BB would rank 14th among all National League starters, right behind Clayton Kershaw and just ahead of James McDonald and Madison Bumgarner.

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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