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« Ditching Switch-Hitting Pays Off for Victorino | Main | Wacha's Right-on-Right Changeup Deadly »
Saturday
Oct262013

Joe Kelly Should Bring the Heat vs. Big Papi

Michael Wacha's game plan against David Ortiz in Game 2 of the World Series was simple: The St. Louis rookie wasn't going to let Boston's clean-up man beat him on a fastball. That makes sense, considering Ortiz boasts the fifth-highest slugging percentage (.633) in the majors versus heaters and Wacha possesses a deadly changeup. Wacha threw his change nine times out of 16 total pitches (60 percent) versus Ortiz, but Big Papi roped one of those off-speed pitches into the first row of the Green Monster seats. Throw him a fastball? You lose. Throw him a changeup? You still lose.

All of this might make Joe Kelly, the Cardinals' Game 3 starter, sweat. Kelly throws his fastball about two-thirds of the time, and he hasn't yet developed a knockout secondary pitch akin to Wacha's changeup. But he shouldn't necessarily despair. Crazy as it sounds, challenging Big Papi with fastballs might actually be a good strategy for Kelly.

Ortiz does have the best overall slugging percentage against heaters this side of Miguel Cabrera (.682), Paul Goldschmidt (.650), Jayson Werth (.646) and Edwin Encarnacion (.637). However, he does most of that damage against lower-velocity fastballs. Papi is Babe Ruth incarnate versus gas thrown at or below 93 MPH, but he's merely good when pitchers crank it up to 94 MPH or higher. Ortiz also expands his strike zone against fastballs with extra zip:

Ortiz vs. fastballs in 2013, by pitch velocity

Kelly's fastball has the extra zip that typically tames Ortiz's bat, with an average velocity (94.8 MPH) topped only by Nathan Eovaldi (96.1 MPH), Danny Salazar (95.9 MPH), Gerrit Cole (95.6 MPH), Matt Harvey (95.4 MPH), Stephen Strasburg (95.3 MPH) and Chris Archer (94.9 MPH) among starters. And as a starter, Kelly's fastball has been plenty effective: he's limiting batters to a .317 slugging percentage when navigating lineups multiple times. Ortiz, who's already gone deep five times this postseason, can spoil the best of pitches. But Kelly's best bet might be to try and blow Big Papi away.

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