Madison Bumgarner’s Many Times Through the Order

If you’ve been consuming baseball analysis for any meaningful length of time, TTO comes as a particularly familiar acronym. It stands for Three True Outcomes — walks, strikeouts, and dingers — and for me, personally, it makes me think of Adam Dunn. And it makes me think of baseball writing eight or ten years ago, when at least I was starting to come into my own. But TTO can and does also stand for something else, something we’ve been talking and reading about a lot over the past several weeks — Times Through the Order. As in, the times-through-the-order penalty, that describes how starting pitchers become less effective over the course of a game. All those things you’ve read about how Starter X was left in too long by his manager? The criticisms are mostly founded upon the idea that pitchers get tired and over-exposed.

Those are tricky things to separate. It stands to reason pitchers get worse because they get more tired. It also stands to reason pitchers get worse because their opponents get more and more familiar with the pitches being thrown. You think about “looks”, and whatnot. We know there’s a TTO penalty during a game. And if any of it has to do with familiarity, then it seems like there ought also be a TTO penalty within a series.

A few weeks ago I was talking to Brandon McCarthy while I was working on something for the upcoming Hardball Times Annual. At one point he started talking about Zack Greinke, and about how he can be a difficult guy to prepare for because he’ll vary his approaches game to game. Like, one game, he might throw a ton of sliders, and then hitters will gear up for the slider in the next game, and in that game he might throw as few as zero sliders. Greinke, therefore, is thought to mix things up on the fly, even when facing a different opponent. Maybe he’s unusual in this regard, and maybe he’s not. It’s one player’s perspective.

Six days ago, Madison Bumgarner made a start against the Royals, and he went seven innings. He was good. Sunday he made another start, also against the Royals, and he went nine innings. He was good. He threw a complete-game shutout! And this despite the Royals seeing him for the second time in a week. I don’t know of any research toward this end, but I wonder if starters who make multiple starts in a series perform worse the second time around. The second time around, they’ve already recently been seen, and that strikes me as overlapping some with the TTO-penalty concerns.

Bumgarner, obviously, suffered from nothing as he cruised from start to finish. Or maybe the Royals were getting better looks and Bumgarner just got outs anyway, I don’t know. But Bumgarner, in his first start, faced 26 batters. Sunday, he faced 31. He’s had seven showdowns each against Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, and Eric Hosmer. I was interested to see if Bumgarner would do anything differently start to start. Sure enough, he approached the Royals like a different pitcher in Game 5. Oh, he still approached them like the dominant version of Madison Bumgarner, but pitch-to-pitch, at-bat-to-at-bat, Bumgarner made the Royals wonder about the significance of their recent matchup history.

Put more simply: Bumgarner did different things. However the Royals intended to learn from his Game 1 attack, he preemptively countered that by adjusting his Game 5 attack. Let us learn from our eyes, and from Brooks Baseball. A table, now, of some fastball rates:

Start RHB, 1st Pitch RHB, 2 Strikes LHB, 1st Pitch LHB, 2 Strikes
Game 1 73% 58% 82% 50%
Game 5 50% 35% 62% 43%

The last column doesn’t tell you much, but the other columns tell you more. Sunday, Bumgarner attacked fewer righties with fastballs. He attacked fewer lefties with fastballs. He tried to put righties away with fastballs less often. One of Bumgarner’s recent trends has been an increase in his four-seam fastball rate, as he’s shifted away from his slider a bit. Sunday, Bumgarner threw 44% fastballs. Last week, he threw 58%. That 44% is Bumgarner’s lowest single-game rate since August 8, when he faced…the Royals, and threw 34% fastballs. So the Royals have seen three versions of this guy in three starts in three months.

Now let’s consider overall pitch locations. I define “Inside” as inner third or beyond, and I define “Way Up” as above the upper threshold of the PITCHf/x strike zone.

Start RHB, Inside RHB, Way Up LHB, Inside LHB, Way Up
Game 1 42% 23% 20% 0%
Game 5 25% 8% 15% 13%

Bumgarner spent more time away against righties, and more time down. The high fastball didn’t disappear, though, as he started using it against lefties instead. In Game 1, Bumgarner attacked righties up and down. In Game 5, he was a lot more side-to-side. This is all very difficult to demonstrate in a few images, so let’s just consider some examples. Bumgarner’s first matchup with Lorenzo Cain, from Game 1:


And the same, from Game 5:


Different sides of the plate, different pitches. In the Game 1 example, Bumgarner started with three fastballs, then threw four of five non-fastballs. In the Game 5 example, you’ve got a fastball away, a fastball down and away, a cutter down and away, and a fastball down and away. Cain reached in both plate appearances, but in one he got hit and in the other his contact was poor.

And here’s Bumgarner’s first matchup with Mike Moustakas, from Game 1:


And from Game 5:


In the Game 1 example, Moustakas saw three cutters, down and away, out of the zone. In the Game 5 example, he saw a cutter high and tight, and three cutters away, in the zone. Bumgarner has talked about how he’ll add and subtract from the pitch, using it very differently depending on the circumstances, and against Moustakas it wasn’t just used as a chase pitch. Although in the seventh inning, Bumgarner moved a couple of those cutters a few inches further away, and Moustakas offered at both.

It can be tricky to discuss adjustments game to game, because we don’t know how much is deliberate, and every single plate appearance is its own unique competition. But it’s clear, at least, that Bumgarner wound up pitching differently on Sunday. I didn’t even mention that he threw a few more changeups than usual. His second time through the order Sunday, he threw 33% curveballs; no other time did he break 21%, and no other time did he break 15%. The cutter was featured more prominently Sunday, and while Bumgarner might now be done for 2014, there’s the chance he returns out of the bullpen in a Game 7. And I’m not sure what the Royals could reasonably expect.

I don’t know what the Royals were looking for throughout Game 5. All I know is that they didn’t get it. Probably had a lot to do with the guy on the mound, I’m guessing.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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9 years ago

As a baseball fan, I admire his variety and command of several pitches; he never served that fat pitch that an opposing hitter could hammer, yet he got so many hitters to chase, what a marvel.

As a Royals fan, man, dammit. Godammit.