Grading the Home Runs Against Hunter Strickland by Jeff Sullivan October 23, 2014 Harold Reynolds on Wednesday, a few pitches into Hunter Strickland’s appearance: I think they figured out the problems with Strickland. He struggled against the Nationals and actually a little bit against the Cardinals, but, my goodness, against the right-handed hitters, we saw last night and these first two pitches, very impressive. Harold Reynolds, a few minutes later: [different words] We don’t have enough information to say that Hunter Strickland is homer-prone. We do have enough information to say that Strickland has been homer-prone. With the Giants in the season, he faced 25 batters, and none of them went deep. With the Giants in the playoffs, he’s faced 23 batters, and five of them have gone deep. Or four of them have, Bryce Harper doing it twice. Before this month began, you didn’t know who Hunter Strickland was. Now you’ve got all kinds of opinions, few of them nice. It’s going to take a while for Strickland to repair this reputation. A while, or, one high-leverage World Series inning, if it’s clean. Fans have short long memories. It’s not just crazy that Strickland’s allowed five dingers. It’s also crazy how he’s allowed said dingers. All of them have been hit off his fastball, and his fastball is fast. The slowest that’s been hit out was 96.5 miles per hour; the fastest was 97.5. Using the Interactive Spray Chart Tool, here’s how fast right-handed fastballs were hit in the air this season: You see righties going up the middle, and pushing the ball the other way. Lefties, similar story. This is what you’d expect — hitters generally aim to take a fastball up the middle, and they work off of that. The faster the pitch, the less time to get out in front of it. For lefties against fast fastballs, they pulled 10% of balls in play (homers included) to right field in the air, and about a third of those were hit 300+ feet. For righties against fast fastballs, they pulled 6% of balls in play to left field in the air, and about a quarter of those were hit 300+ feet. Lefties have trouble turning on right-handed heat. Righties have even more trouble. Now, the Strickland postseason dinger log: Bryce Harper, LHB, homer to right Asdrubal Cabrera, LHB, homer to right Bryce Harper, LHB, homer to right Matt Adams, LHB, homer to right Omar Infante, RHB, homer to left Five fast fastballs, five homers, all yanked. This doesn’t happen unless hitters are just sitting on that fastball. Otherwise, they won’t be able to react in time. Here’s a different guy clearly sitting fastball: That time, the swing didn’t work, but even that serves as an indication of how guys have hit against Strickland this month. They’ve hunted for his fastball. They’ve thought about literally nothing else. When Strickland’s other stuff hasn’t been there, he’s gotten into a whole heap of trouble. Five dingers’ worth, basically, plus a two-bagger. We’ll probably look at that in a different post. Another sign guys have swung from the heels? Of 15 balls hit fair against Strickland in the month, just three have been on the ground. It seems worthwhile to review the five home runs. In doing so, I’ll arbitrarily grade them on their difficulty, and discuss the context. How did what’s happened happen? Luck, plus non-luck. Onward! Homer No. 1 Date: 10/3 Batter: Bryce Harper Speed in: 97mph Speed out: 114mph (source) Strickland, making his first postseason appearance and first appearance against the Nationals. An inning earlier, summoned from the bullpen with the bases loaded and two out, he struck out Ian Desmond on four fastballs. That made it pretty clear what he liked as a weapon, and the first two pitches to Harper were fastballs, in, one for a ball and one for a strike. Strickland then tried to get ahead with a breaking ball, but it missed pretty badly, so Harper had no reason to respect it. The count ran 2-and-1, and then Strickland threw a fastball literally over the very center of the plate. Harper was looking for that very pitch, and you might’ve heard before that he’s pretty quick and strong. Difficulty: Difficult! Do you know how hard it is to hit a 97 mile-per-hour fastball? It’s so hard! They’re almost never home runs. Homer No. 2 Date: 10/3 Batter: Asdrubal Cabrera Speed in: 97mph Speed out: 100mph After Harper, Strickland used up nine pitches to freeze Wilson Ramos. All of the two-strike pitches were fastballs. Cabrera took a first-pitch breaking ball inside, then he got a good swing at a fastball a little up and a little away. He fouled it off, and Strickland returned with an elevated changeup that Cabrera was out in front of. At that point Cabrera was behind 1-and-2, but no lefty had seen a good breaking ball, and because the changeup was up, that could be dangerous to go right back to. Buster Posey wanted a fastball above the belt. Strickland didn’t miss his target by that much. But while the pitch was over the outer third, look how close Cabrera stands to the plate — it was over the heart, to him, and right around where he likes to hit right-handed fastballs for dingers. Cabrera figured Strickland would try to put him away with high heat. It just wasn’t quite high enough. Difficulty: Difficult! Hitting a fastball in a pressure-packed situation? I’m so impressed. Baseball players are amazing. Homer No. 3 Date: 10/7 Batter: Bryce Harper Speed in: 97mph Speed out: 100mph This homer had one of the very greatest elevation angles off the bat of the year, at 42 degrees. Called upon, Strickland quickly retired Desmond, with two fastballs and one bad breaking ball. Then it was Harper’s turn, and Strickland tried to steal a strike with a first-pitch changeup. It was bad and missed up and away. He came back to miss in with a fastball, then he threw a centered low fastball that Harper fouled away. Then, another good idea: a 2-and-1 changeup, but like the first one, it missed up and away, being bad. Good idea, poor execution that left Strickland in a 3-and-1 count against an ultra-dangerous lefty. Harper had no reason to believe in the changeup, and he wasn’t feeling a breaking ball, so this was a classic dead-red situation. Strickland came close to his target with a fastball, but the pitch leaked just a little in, and Harper was so ready for it he very nearly pulled it foul. He didn’t, though, because, homer. Difficulty: Difficult! I wouldn’t even want to stand there while a guy was throwing something 97 miles per hour a few feet away from my body. No sir. I like to live. Homer No. 4 Date: 10/12 Batter: Matt Adams Speed in: 97mph Speed out: 105mph This is fun, and here’s why. Strickland retired the first guy he faced, a righty. Up came Adams, and Strickland bought a strike with a first-pitch breaking ball. Then he missed with a breaking ball, then he bought another strike with a 1-and-1 breaking ball. So, with three breaking balls, Strickland had gotten himself ahead, and this was an uncharacteristic approach for him. Adams, clearly, hadn’t been looking for secondary stuff, so all Strickland had to do was locate a few of them to get into a good spot. But then what do you do when you’re up 1-and-2 having thrown three unexpected pitches in a row? Strickland and Posey thought they had Adams set up. They thought they had him looking for something slower. Posey set the same target he’d set for Cabrera. But Adams, obviously, wasn’t fooled; Adams, obviously, assumed Strickland would go to his bread-and-butter in a strikeout count. And putaway fastballs are usually elevated fastballs. Adams was a step ahead. He saw right through the Giants’ plan for him. Difficulty: Difficult! It’s one thing to expect a pitch and expect a spot. It’s quite another to recognize them and execute in the blink of an eye. If you told me exactly what was coming, and what was coming was a 97 mile-per-hour fastball over the plate, I’d be like, great! I will back away, then, for safety. Homer No. 5 Date: 10/22 Batter: Omar Infante Speed in: 98mph Speed out: 106mph In Game 1, in a low-leverage situation, Strickland was great against the Royals, working a 1-2-3 with two strikeouts. In Game 2, by this point he’d already gotten in trouble by yielding a hit to Salvador Perez. That at-bat featured one wasted breaking ball, and the first pitch to Infante was a fastball that missed outside. Infante would’ve figured a couple things. One, Strickland might not trust the breaking ball at the moment. Two, it’s a fastball count anyhow. So Infante would’ve had a notion. Now, here’s a key point: Posey set up away, at the knees. That would’ve been a good pitch, probably. But this time Strickland badly missed, up and to the other side of the plate. If Infante has a power zone, that’s it: up and in against right-handed fastballs. At least, that’s where it’s been historically, and that’s where it was against Strickland. Infante got one of the only pitches he’s able to drive over the fence. It’s exactly what he wanted to see. Difficulty: Difficult! Baseball bats can be surprisingly heavy. They’re easy to swing, but they’re not so easy to swing fast, unless you’re really strong. And did you know that they’re round, and the baseball is also round and little? Collisions like this are miracles. ===== It’s interesting that, four out of five times, Strickland was right around his target. Only the pitch to Infante badly missed. The issue hasn’t been his fastball command; it’s been command of the other stuff. Without it, hitters have looked for the fastball, and when the fastball has been there, it doesn’t matter if it’s 97 if hitters have a hunch. It is to a large extent bad luck that five swings have already generated home runs. Home runs aren’t common, and Strickland’s fastball doesn’t actually supply that much power to the bat-ball collision. It’s not bad luck, though, that Strickland has struggled. Not entirely, and not even in large part. A predictable straight fastball isn’t a weapon. Not when you don’t have an alternate weapon.