The prevailing story from the World Series, right now, has to be the dominance and intimidation of David Ortiz. In the first four games of the series, he’s hit 16 times and made just four outs, one of which was a grand slam that Carlos Beltran pulled back. He’s hitting .727/.750/1.364 for the series, and he’s been so thoroughly dominant that, last night, Mike Matheny just gave up and intentionally walked him — even without Yadier Molina actually getting up and holding his glove out — in a situation that moved the go ahead run into scoring position. As Jeff noted this morning, that was probably not the right idea, but it came about as a result of Ortiz’s total destruction of Cardinals pitchers in this series. Ortiz, as they say, is “locked in”, and Mike Matheny had no interest in pitching to him in a critical situation.
Ortiz is, of course, a great hitter so we shouldn’t be too surprised that St. Louis is having problems getting him out. And, when we look at where St. Louis is actually pitching him, perhaps we should be even less surprised.
From Brooks Baseball, here is a plot of all the pitches Ortiz has been thrown in the World Series so far.
The plan has clearly been to pitch him down and away. 24 of the 55 pitches he’s been thrown are represented in the four boxes that make up the purple/red L on the outer half of the plate, from the middle down. This goes along with how Major League pitchers have attacked Ortiz all year, going down and away in hopes of neutralizing his power. For reference, here’s the same chart, just for the entire 2013 season.
During the regular season, 32% of the pitches Ortiz was thrown were in those same four boxes, while the Cardinals are at 44% in the World Series. The plan seems pretty clear: stay down and stay away. But the plan is also pretty clearly not working, because down-and-away works best if you’re not just going so far down and so far away that Ortiz has little incentive to chase. Instead of just looking at locations of pitches seen, let’s look at the locations of where Ortiz is swinging at pitches. World Series data first.
And now the entire season.
During the regular season, Ortiz chased pitches in those areas about 30% of the time; in the World Series, he’s chased pitches in those areas just 21% of the time. The Cardinals are attacking Ortiz out of the strike zone more often, and he’s swinging at them less often, leading to more balls and fewer strikes. You’ll perhaps note that the Cardinals pitchers have been awful at hitting the low-and-away part of the strike zone, so Ortiz has basically been able to lay off everything in that general area without much worry that it would be called a strike.
So, a significant part of the Cardinals plan has been to attack Ortiz down and away, but it hasn’t worked because they’re missing too far down or too far away and he’s not chasing. That forces the Cardinals pitchers to come over the plate in the at-bats where they’re not just putting him on first base on purpose, and they’ve also been kind of terrible at that.
From Texas Leaguers, here’s a plot of the four seam fastballs that Ortiz has swung at in the World Series.
I probably don’t have to tell you that middle-middle is not a very good place to pitch, especially for a bunch of right-handers facing a monstrous lefty who crushes right-handed pitching. Of the 15 four seam fastballs that PITCHF/x has classified, five of the six he has swung at were right down the heart of the plate. Not surprisingly, David Ortiz is crushing fastballs in this series. He’s not chasing pitches down and away, and when the Cardinals decide to come into the strike zone, they’ve come into the very heart of the strike zone.
This is, in both ways, the essence of poor location. The Cardinals have attacked Ortiz out of the zone, and then he hasn’t swung at those poor pitches, they’ve attacked him over the heart of the plate. In the four boxes that represent the corners of the strike zone — up and away, up and in, down away, down and in — we find a grand total of four pitches in the entire series, or just 7% of the total he’s been thrown by St. Louis pitchers. In the regular season, 12% of his total pitches seen were in those corners.
This hasn’t just been a case of poor pitching. Ortiz has hit some really tough pitches in this series as well, as four of his eight hits have come on pitches in that down-and-away L part of the zone that STL has been attacking. This isn’t to take away credit from Ortiz, who has done a great job of hitting in this series. But, as we head into Game 5, perhaps it’s time for the Cardinals to come up with a new plan of attack. Maybe try getting him to chase fastballs up, which was his biggest area of weakness this season.
Or, at the least, when you decide to throw a strike, don’t throw it in the middle of the plate anymore.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.