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Shaun Marcum’s Fastball and Changeup

Baseball fans know about Zack Greinke, the Brewers’ newest addition to a much-improved rotation, but the performance of lesser known Shaun Marcum is arguably just as important to a successful Milwaukee season. The expectations for Marcum may not be as great as that of Greinke, but Brewers fans should be glad to know that Marcum isn’t too shabby a pitcher himself. In 195.1 innings, Marcum struck out 165 and walked 43, good for a 3.74 FIP, a figure better than that of Jonathan Sanchez and Tim Hudson. And Marcum does this with a high-80s fastball.

Marcum mixes two fastballs, a changeup, cutter, slider, and curveball, but primarily relies on his fastball and changeup. He throws a fastball about 45% of the time, but it’s the usage of his changeup that’s the key to his success at getting whiffs. He throws a changeup about 26% of the time, fourth in the Majors. Of Marcum’s breaking balls and offspeeed pitches, his changeup is the most valuable because of its funny movement, leading all of baseball in changeup runs above average.

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Carlos Gonzalez’s Improved Plate Discipline

It’s not often that a young player receives a seven-year deal for $80 million before he hits his arbitration years, but Carlos Gonzalez is receiving just that from the Colorado Rockies this week. In his first full big league season, he hit 34 home runs and 117 RBIs batting .336/.376/.598. Gonzalez has shown a brilliant combination of power and speed since his first pro season in A+ ball with the Diamondbacks in 2006, and has exceed expectations this past season. And much of that has to do with his improved plate discipline and performance against particular pitches as well as working the count better.

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Jonathan Broxton’s Declining Fastball

Jonathan Broxton, known to Dodger fans as “The Ox,” lost his closer role in August this past season after a 7.45 ERA and 1.76 WHIP in July. After a 2.26 FIP in 2008 and a 1.97 FIP in 2009, Broxton fell dramatically in 2010 with a miserable post-All Star performance. His home run rate remained relatively unchanged, while his walk rate increased by a little less than one walk per nine innings. Of the rate statistics, Broxton’s strikeout rate changed the most, decreasing from 13.5 K/9 in 2009 to 10.54 K/9 in 2010. But the largest difference in Broxton’s pitch results was how often he got hit (and how hard he got hit). Batters hit .270/.351/.367 off Broxton in 2010 (as opposed to .203/.276/.289 in 2007-2009).

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Matt Kemp’s Fastball Struggles Revisited

A few months ago, I posted in the Community Research Blog on Matt Kemp’s struggles against fastballs this past season, highlighting how he whiffed on more fastballs in 2010 compared to that of 2009, particularly high fastballs as well as fastballs down the middle of the plate. I showed that he displayed a lower contact percentage on fastballs down the middle in 2010 as opposed to 2009, and I posited that, since his whiffing behavior was season-long, his 2010 offensive struggles may have been due to a change in swinging mechanics, or worse, a season-long injury kept hidden from the media.

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Thoughts on Carl Crawford and FIELDf/x

There’s been quite a lengthy discussion covering multiple angles at Dave’s post on the Carl Crawford signing with the Red Sox. From the unprecedented value of the contract for a player of that type to how the Boston lineup should look to what this means for the future of free agency, a variety of interesting debates stem from a transaction of this magnitude. The one thought that intrigued me most, however, was the argument that playing left field at Fenway Park could diminish the value of Crawford’s defensive range because of the Green Monster. The idea is that Crawford’s speed and range in the outfield may be better served at right field since the left field wall limits the ability for Crawford to chase down balls as many bounce off the wall that would be outs in other ballparks.

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Cliff Lee’s Pitch Type Splits

According to MLBAM classifications (with the help of Dave Allen’s reclassification algorithm), Cliff Lee has thrown six distinct pitches this season: four-seam fastball (FF), two-seam fastball (FT), cut fastball (FC), changeup (CH), curveball (CU), and slider (SL). Classifications of sliders and cutters tend to get mixed up especially if they have similar speeds. However, Lee does throw the slider much more frequently against LHH than RHH while using the cutter around 20% of all pitches to either batter, so, in this case, we’re assuming that he does throw a slider no matter how rarely he uses it.

His new cut fastball may be his most important pitch now, as he used it on 20% of all pitches this season compared to 6% of all pitches in 2008, his Cy Young-winning season. But what does Lee typically throw on the first pitch? Which pitch does Lee use when he’s in trouble in a three-ball count? What about his out pitch when he’s at two strikes? Take a look at his pitch selection against right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters based on the count situation:

Clearly, Lee approaches right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters differently when working the count, as there are a few interesting tidbits to note here. First, look at the fastball distribution. Lee’s two-seam fastball tails away from right-handed hitters more than his four-seam fastball does, so it makes sense that he uses two-seamers more than twice as much as four-seamers against RHH. Against LHH, the opposite occurs: he uses the four-seamer more than twice as much as the two-seamer.

The cut fastball distribution by count is relatively similar, except Lee doesn’t like to use his cutter against RHH when the batter is ahead in the count. The splits for the breaking balls are very interesting, in that Lee uses his changeup almost exclusively for right-handed hitters while utilizing his rarely used slider only against left-handed hitters. Looking at the count situation, does it surprise anybody that Lee’s curveball is one of his favorites to use as an out pitch? He rarely uses the curveball unless he has two strikes and/or he is ahead of the batter in the count. In fact, 78% of all of his curveballs are thrown precisely in two-strike situations.

What about Lee’s plate discipline statistics by pitch type? Let’s glean what information we can get from these splits and suggest why Lee chooses to throw certain pitches in different count situations:

We just found the reason why Lee rarely throws his changeup rarely against LHH: left-handed hitters have not whiffed on his changeup all year while putting 35% of them into play. Granted, Lee only threw 17 changeups against LHH all year, so there is the sample size issue we should keep mind of. But this is clearly a case where Lee chooses not to use a pitch because it is ineffective against left-handed hitters. Similarly, Lee has only thrown four sliders against right-handed hitters all season. That should be self-explanatory.

The curveball splits are very interesting. 18% of RHH whiffed on curveballs, while only 7% of LHH did. However, it was more difficult for LHH to put curveballs into play (7%) than RHH (17%), probably because only 25% of LHH swung at curveballs (compared to 51% of RHH). For some reason, Lee wasn’t able to locate the strikezone with his curveball particularly well against LHH, but that may be intentional for all we know. Again, drawing information from a left-handed pitcher’s breaking-ball usage against left-handed hitters is hazardous because of the sample size — Lee threw fewer than 100 breaking balls against LHH all season.

Still, the most compelling trend is the uniformity of cutter usage no matter the count or the batter. Look for Lee to distribute his cut fastball usage evenly in today’s World Series Game One start. At the same time, his curveball rarely appears, but when it does, he uses it on two-strike counts or when he’s ahead in the count, so keep watch of what pitch Lee uses tonight to induce swinging third strikes.

NLCS Game One Preview: The Bay Area Edition

It couldn’t have turned out any better than this. Whether or not you want to label 2010 as the “Year of the Pitcher,” a Tim Lincecum vs. Roy Halladay matchup is a pitcher’s pitcher matchup of all pitcher matchups. It still gives me shivers to think that just over a week ago, Halladay threw the second no-hitter in postseason history and not to mention in his first playoff start. According to Game Score, Lincecum topped that performance (96 vs. 94) with a franchise playoff-record 14 strikeouts. The National League Championship Series figures to be a wild ride, but we’ll first have to get through two of the best pitchers in the early 21st century.

Because of the much-anticipated matchup, Lincecum will need to be almost perfect if he wants to beat Halladay, making as few mistakes as possible against the Phillies. Although the Phillies’ offense has not exhibited as much firepower as in recent seasons in which they made the NLCS, their slugging is decent enough to keep any pitcher humble. The Giants’ lineup, on the other hand, will have to take advantage of the few mistakes that Halladay will make. Every pitcher will throw at least a few pitches that they wish they could take back, even if the batter doesn’t take advantage of them. As much as we’d like to think that Halladay is a baseball demigod (which, I have confirmed with the baseball gods, he is), he will certainly throw at least a few pitches that can be hit, whether it’s a no-movement fastball down the middle, a hanging curveball, or a misplaced cutter.

The key for the Giants’ offense is to attempt as much as possible to go deep in the count. Halladay found himself ahead of the count on 32.2% of pitches during the regular season compared to behind in the count 22.0% of the time. An additional strategy is to be aggressive against the pitches that Halladay looks weaker with early in the game. Halladay throws four effective pitches: a mid-90s sinking two-seam fastball, a high-70s curveball, a low-90s cutter, and a mid-80s changeup.

Here’s a look at which pitches each Giants’ starting batter was successful against in 2010 along with their pitch type runs above average per 100 pitches:

Andres Torres: Fastball (2.12)
Freddy Sanchez: Fastball (0.75)
Aubrey Huff: Curveball (2.64), Fastball (1.50)
Buster Posey: Curveball (3.06), Changeup (2.76)
Pat Burrell: Changeup (2.48)
Juan Uribe: Changeup (2.14)
Cody Ross: Fastball (2.16), Cutter (1.55)
Pablo Sandoval: Fastball (0.24)

And here’s a look at the pitch types the Giants’ lineup was least successful against:

Andres Torres: Changeup (-1.25)
Freddy Sanchez: Changeup (-0.79)
Aubrey Huff: Changeup (0.16)
Buster Posey: Cutter (0.08)
Pat Burrell: Cutter (-1.07), Curveball (-0.62)
Juan Uribe: Cutter (-0.89), Fastball (-0.51)
Cody Ross: Curveball (-6.90), Changeup (-3.79)
Pablo Sandoval: Curveball (-3.28), Cutter (-2.07)

Because pitch type values for batters vary greatly from year to year, coupled with the fact that Halladay throws a fastball with sinking motion, take these numbers with a grain of salt. But what is clear in the second list is that Halladay’s out pitch (the cutter) and his newest pitch (the changeup) have also been weaknesses for most of the Giants’ lineup during the 2010 regular season. And let’s not forget Halladay has a killer curve and a sinking fastball that breaks toward RHH.

As for Lincecum, we know about his most deadly pitch, a mid-80s changeup; an amazing 25.4% of RHH and 27.7% of LHH whiff on his changeups (league average of swinging strikes on all pitches is 8.5%). For the Phillies’ offense, it looks like Raul Ibanez (wCH/C of 2.67) and Jayson Werth (2.40) have been successful against changeups while Shane Victorino (-2.35) and Ryan Howard (-1.85) have not.

We can break down Halladay, Lincecum, and each NLCS team’s lineup all we want, but anything can happen in a pitcher’s duel. Come Saturday, feel free to sit back, relax, scrap this analysis, and grab the popcorn for what might be the most anticipated pitcher’s duel in the history of the League Championship Series.

NLDS Game Four Review: San Francisco

The San Francisco Giants didn’t exactly take Game 4 in convincing fashion, but was able to capitalize on timely hitting on rare opportunities. When it looked like Derek Lowe was on a roll after five no-hit innings, unheralded Cody Ross (+28.9% WPA) swung at a first-pitch hanging slider, hitting a line drive to left field for a solo homerun. Lowe had been all over the Giants all day, inducing 14 swinging strikes over the first five no-hit innings, 10 of them being sliders by my count.

When Lowe struggled locating his sinker in the 7th inning after pitching two out of the last three starts on short rest, the Giants’ lineup exhibited rare patience. An Aubrey Huff (+4.9% WPA) walk followed by a Buster Posey single called for what turned out to be Bobby Cox’s last mound visit. Lowe insisted that he could finish the inning, but still could not locate the sinker against Pat Burrell (+8.2% WPA), who kept his bat on his shoulders for five pitches, drawing a walk to load the bases. A possible double play groundball from Juan Uribe (+15.3% WPA) wasn’t converted by Alex Gonzalez, allowing Huff to score the tying run.

Cox then elected to bring in Jonny Venters, striking out Aaron Rowand for the second out. But Cody Ross had adjusted his approach to a more aggressive one, hitting a sharp grounder on the second pitch to score Posey. As a recap of the top of the 7th inning, the Giants waited for pitches to hit when Lowe was off-target for the first time all day, and responded to another Braves’ infield error by driving in the winning run, a sequence of classic playoff baseball.

The Braves’ offense was not ready to give up, however. Brian Wilson came to close out the bottom of the 9th with a 3-2 lead, but struggled to find the strike zone throwing multiple fastballs. Two good at-bats by Rick Ankiel and Eric Hinske led to back-to-back walks. But Wilson adjusted his approach against Omar Infante, throwing several outside sliders to get Infante to strike out swinging. And it was the slider that Melky Cabrera grounded out off of for the final out, thrusting the Giants into the NLCS against the Phillies.

For the series, the Giants’ starting pitching has been phenomenal. Madison Bumgarner’s Game 4 start is not to be overlooked, as he struck out five and allowed two earned runs in an efficient six innings on 85 pitches. In hindsight, Bruce Bochy made a wise decision electing to go with Bumgarner instead of Tim Lincecum on short rest, setting the stage for the ultimate pitching matchup against Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the NLCS.

The Giants’ offense, for the most of the series, succeeded by taking advantage of rare opportunities. In Game 1, it was Ross who drove in a run after an intentional walk to Pablo Sandoval. In Game 3, it was several Brooks Conrad errors. In Game 4, it was Ross yet again with timely hits against Lowe and Venters. The Giants did not exhibit much power in the series, and credit goes to the Braves’ pitching staff for much of that. The lack of power will be a major problem against the Phillies in the NLCS this weekend, but for now, Giants’ fans will celebrate and take their first playoff win in eight years.

NLDS Game Two Preview: San Francisco

Not to take anything away from Tim Lincecum and his game score of 96 last night, but the Giants look good tonight, too, with Matt Cain going out there. Cain increased his K/9 and decreased his BB/9 since last year while improving his FIP from 3.89 to 3.65. Interestingly enough, Cain’s strand rate reduced from 81.6% to 75.3%, which most will point toward regression to the mean. His BABIP is still low at .260, while his FIP has outperformed his xFIP every year since joining the big leagues. Much of this is due to pitching at a pitcher’s ballpark all of his career, keeping Giants’ pitchers at low HR/FB ratios (a very good 7.4% for Cain in 2010). Cain can keep the ball in the ballpark at home, especially for Braves hitters who don’t exhibit particularly great power.

If last night’s 1-0 result was any indication, there will probably be very few runs scored in this game as well. Except for a few mistimed sinkers to right-handed hitters Buster Posey and Cody Ross, Derek Lowe was particularly effective in preventing hard hits (9 groundouts, 1 flyout). Still, the Giants’ strength at drawing walks was evident last night, and if the collective lineup remains patient against Tommy Hanson, they will be a few hanging curveballs or over-the-plate fastballs away from a couple of runs. Hanson has drawn swings from outside the strike zone the same as the MLB average (29.3%), so he isn’t particularly deceptive on out-of-the-zone pitches. Rather, Hanson gets most of his whiffs inside the strike zone, so the key for the Giants is to wait for a good pitch to hit and not let Hanson get ahead in the count (then again, isn’t it always?).

As noted by the fielding of Brooks Conrad and Rick Ankiel last night, the Braves defense may be the worst in the National League. Hanson’s GB% is almost identical with his FB%, and I’m not sure which batted-ball type is to the Braves’ advantage based on the lack of quality fielding. Assuming that Hanson doesn’t adjust his pitch selection and sequencing based on last night’s fielding, look for ground balls off Hanson’s changeups and curveballs put in play.

In my preview for yesterday’s game, I noted the strength and depth of the Giants’ bullpen this season. Lincecum’s complete game shutout provides another advantage for the Giants against the Braves going forward in addition to being two wins closer to the NLCS. The Braves’ bullpen is also one of the best in the Majors right alongside the Giants’. But with Jonny Venters throwing 1.2 IP last night (albeit in an efficient 13 pitches) with appearances from Peter Moylan, Michael Dunn, and Craig Kimbrel, the Braves would like to get major innings from Hanson. An off day between Games Two and Three will suppress this advantage, but Giants will be able to freely use any of their bullpen arms tonight should Cain need to exit early.

Carson Cistulli challenged his fellow writers today by predicting the entire box score of the Phillies-Reds matchup tonight. As one of the newer writers and one who is slow to adopt new policies, I will only venture a guess at the final score, which will be 3-0 Giants for a 2-0 lead in the series.

Scouting NLDS Game Two Starters

A look at the pitch selection and pitch outcomes of NLDS Game Two starters. See ALDS Game Two starters, ALDS Game One starters, and NLDS Game One starters.

CIN: Bronson Arroyo, RHP: 5.05 K/9, 2.73 BB/9, 1.21 HR/9, 3.88 ERA, 4.61 FIP

High-80s four-seam and sinker (39.5%)
Low-80s changeup (25.0%)
Low-70s curveball (14.6%)
Mid-70s hard slider (13.6%)
Mid-80s cutter (7.3%)

The right-handed Bronson Arroyo throws multiple pitches at varying speeds. He’s especially adept at throwing the curveball at different speeds, sometimes categorized as sliders. He uses his curveball against RHH and his sinker against LHH, both pitches that go sharply away from the batter. Arroyo doesn’t get too many swinging strikes, but when he does, it’s usually on the curveball to RHH, his best and most valuable pitch. His changeup is actually put in play the most.

In terms of batted ball outcomes, Arroyo’s curveball induces the most flies, while his changeup and cutter (used rarely) gets the most grounders. Finally, he’s ahead in the count on 30.0% of the time and behind in the count 25.2% of the time.

PHI: Roy Oswalt, RHP: 8.21 K/9, 2.34 BB/9, 0.81 HR/9, 2.76 ERA, 3.27 FIP

Mid-90s four-seamer and sinker (55.4%)
Low-80s changeup (15.0%)
Mid-80s slider (14.9%)
Low-70s curveball (14.8%)

The right-handed Roy Oswalt throws five main pitches, splitting up the use of the four-seam fastball and sinker evenly. Both Oswalt’s curveball and slider cave in on LHH, while his other pitches go toward RHH. Against RHH, Oswalt relies heavily on his four-seam fastball, throwing multiple fastballs in a row at some points, but mixes all of his pitches up (except the slider) against LHH. His curveball is better used to get swinging strikes against LHH, while his changeup fools RHH quite a bit, a pitch he just added and perfected this offseason.

Oswalt’s changeup induces the most grounders, even more than his sinker. One important split is that his curveball gets far more pop-ups off RHH than LHH (25.0% of curveballs put in play vs. 6.1%). Finally, Oswalt is ahead in the count (34.6%) a much higher percentage of the time than behind in the count (22.0%).

ATL: Tommy Hanson, RHP: 7.68 K/9, 2.49 BB/9, 0.62 HR/9, 3.33 ERA, 3.31 FIP

Mid-90s fastball (57.0%)
Mid-80s slider (28.0%)
Mid-70s curveball (12.3%)
Low-80s changeup (2.7%)

The right-handed Tommy Hanson throws four main pitches, of which his 12-6 curveball is one of the better ones in the game. Because of the major vertical break on this pitch that is different from sweeping curveballs, Hanson is able to use it frequently against LHH, actually more frequently than against RHH (16.1% and 8.9%). He uses the curveball and slider to get swinging strikes from RHH, but uses his changeup in addition to get the same result from LHH (he almost never uses the changeup against RHH).

For batted ball outcomes, RHH hit grounders at roughly the same percentage of the time against all pitch types. For LHH, grounders come off the slider, curveball, and changeup while flyballs come off the fastball. Sliders also get LHH (16.3% of sliders put in play) to pop-up more frequently than RHH (6.7%). Finally, Hanson has a slight advantage to the batter while working the count, getting ahead in the count 29.6% of the time and staying behind in the count 25.3% of the time.

SF: Matt Cain, RHP: 7.13 K/9, 2.46 BB/9, 0.89 HR/9, 3.14 ERA, 3.65 FIP

Mid-90s fastball (63.2%)
Mid-80s changeup (13.8%)
High-70s curveball (13.5%)
Mid-80s slider (9.5%)

The right-handed Matt Cain throws four distinct pitches and relies heavily on the fastball on over 60% of all pitches. His fastball and changeup go toward RHH, while his curveball and slider go toward LHH. Cain throws his curveball against both handed batters, but relies heavily on his slider as the additional breaking ball against RHH and changeup for LHH. For both batters, his slider and changeup induce the most whiffs of any other pitch, but his curveball is good at keeping the ball from coming in play.

Changeups result in grounders more than 50% of the time a changeup is put in play for both RHH and LHH. Pop-ups off fastballs occur occasionally, about 15% of fastballs put in play for both batters. Finally, Cain has an advantage of being ahead in the count (30.6%) more than he is behind in the count (26.3%).