The San Francisco Giants have leaped into first place in the NL West thanks to four straight shutouts, becoming the first club to blank the competition four or more consecutive times since the 1995 Baltimore Orioles. Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum dominated the Dodgers for a series sweep, and Madison Bumgarner was an up-the-middle roller from Ryan Hanigan away from a no-hitter versus the Reds last night.
While Zito, Vogelsong, Lincecum and Bumgarner all put up zeroes, their pitch location during their respective shutouts varied. One thing they all had in common, though, was avoiding the fat part of the plate.
Zito stuck to his glove side versus the Dodgers, staying away from lefty batters (nearly 60 percent of his pitches to lefties were thrown outside) and pounding righties inside. Zito threw just five of his 109 pitches to both the horizontal and vertical middle of the plate.
While Zito pitched to his glove side, Vogelsong located to his arm side and induced a bunch of ground balls (15, compared to eight fly balls). Vogelsong also left just five of his 98 pitches over the horizontal and vertical middle of the plate.
Lincecum turned in arguably his best start of the season by keeping the ball down: 54 percent of his pitches were at hitters' knees, compared to 45 percent overall in 2012. Only nine of Timmy's 115 pitches were left middle-middle.
Good luck finding a pattern in Bumgarner's pitch location. Batters must have felt like they got walloped with a beer-and-shaving-cream pie as the big lefty peppered all four quadrants of the plate. Bumgarner threw a mere four of his 107 pitches to the middle-middle-portion of the plate.
Bad things happen when pitchers leave the ball down the heart of the plate: hitters are slugging a collective .579 on pitches thrown to both the horizontal and vertical middle of the dish this season. Basically, batters turn into this year's version of Robinson Cano when they get a cookie. But Zito, Vogelsong, Lincecum and Bumgarner only threw a combined 5.4 percent of their pitches to the fat part of the plate during the shutout streak. The average for starting pitchers is about 7.5 percent. It pays to be precise.