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Monday
Aug292011

Giambi's Greybearded Slugging

At age 40, Jason Giambi is still mashing. The pinch-hitter and part-time first baseman has cracked 12 home runs and has a .274 average, .371 on-base percentage and a .660 slugging percentage in 124 plate appearances. The Giambino does get to take cuts at Coors, but his 159 OPS+ shows that he has been a superb hitter, high altitude or not.

Now that his quad injury is healed, Giambi's big bat is making him the subject of some trade rumors. The Denver Post's Troy Renck Tweets that while Giambi isn't looking to leave Colorado, the slugger would like to end up in Philly if he is indeed traded. While he may well not reach the Phillies on waivers (claims are awarded based on reverse order of record), Giambi figures to go in the next few days if he's traded at all: players can be swapped in September, but they can't be added to the postseason roster.

So, what makes Giambi a hot commodity? His ability to pulverize fastballs and sinkers. While the sample size isn't huge, he's ripping those offerings unless the pitcher goes up and in:

Giambi's in-play slugging percentage vs. fastballs and sinkers

Five of Giambi's homers have come on fastballs, and three on sinkers. His combined slugging percentage against fastballs and sinkers is .833, highest among MLB hitters seeing at least 300 of those pitches.

Giambi is just the fifth hitter in his forties in MLB history to rock an OPS+ of 150 or higher while getting at least 100 plate appearances, according to Baseball- Reference. To be sure, Giambi's feat isn't as impressive as those of Ted Williams, Barry Bonds (who did it twice), Willie Mays and Carlton Fisk -- those guys averaged nearly 440 plate appearances each during their silver-haired slugging seasons. But even so, it's rare to find a greybeard like Giambi who can still go deep.

Monday
Aug292011

Price's Fastball Priceless

David Price punched out a career-high 14 batters against the Blue Jays on Sunday, and the left-hander's mid-to-upper-90s heat was the main reason. Seventy-seven of Price's 111 pitches were fastballs, with ten of his Ks coming by way of the fastball. Here's what Rays catcher John Jaso and Price said after the 12-0 win over Toronto:

Jaso and Price felt strong gusts pushing them as they walked in from the bullpen beforehand, but didn't know how helpful the wind would be until the game began, and Price's two-seamer started drifting.

"It looks like a strike right out of his hand and then it's just fading off the plate," Jaso explained. "It was moving about three feet. Once they start to swing on his fastball, they can't hold it back." 

"I've never had that much movement before so it was pretty cool," Price said. "The wind kept blowing and it was making my eyes watery all game. I knew it was blowing pretty good and I just kept throwing it."

Price's fastball yesterday tailed away from right-handed hitters (in to lefties) about ten inches more than a pitch thrown without spin. That's nothing new for him, though: Price's fastball has averaged more than 10 inches of tailing action this season, giving him the second-most horizontal movement with the pitch of any left-handed starter (Derek Holland's fastball tails 11 inches).

Combine that movement with the best velocity of any lefty starter (Price averages 94.7 mph with his fastball, topping out at slightly under 99 mph), and you have the recipe for one of the most dominant pitches in baseball. Hitters have missed 21.4 percent fastballs swung at against Price, the fourth-highest rate among starters (Brandon Beachy, Brandon Morrow and Gio Gonzalez rank 1-3).

Price pitches both lefties and righties away with his fastball:

 Frequency of Price's fastball location vs. left-handers

Frequency of Price's fastball location vs. right-handers

Price has shredded lefty batters this year, throwing his fastball to them about 80 percent of the time and holding them to a .149 average, a .216 on-base percentage and a .261 slugging percentage (.259/.339/.386 average for lefty fastballs vs. lefty hitters). Basically, every lefty batter morphs into Drew Butera. Right-handers, who have gotten a fastball two-thirds of the time, have been able to rap some extra-base hits against Price (.243/304/.407), but that's still much better than the .276/.354/.436 average for lefty fastballs against righties.

Most pitchers mix in more breaking and off-speed stuff when they get two strikes on a hitter, but not Price. He's throwing his fastball 71 percent of the time with the hitter's back against the wall, the highest percentage among starters. That helps explain why 125 of his 184 strikeouts (68 percent) have been on fastballs.

David Price also has a pair of breaking balls and a changeup in his arsenal, but it all starts with his darting, blink-and-you'll-miss-it fastball. That's the kind of fastball that would make Mama proud.

Sunday
Aug282011

Lewis's Home Field Disadvantage

Colby Lewis of the Texas Rangers allowed twice as many home runs at home than on the road so far in 2011.  Is the park really that much of a disadvantage to Lewis, or does his pitching approach hurt him there.

What's clear is that balls travel farther in Texas.  The following graph shows his distribution of fly balls by distance on the road:

Colby Lewis, fly ball distance and slugging percentage, away games, 2011.

Note that his fly ball distance peaks at around 260 feet and falls off from there.  Note, also, that on the road even his deep fly balls don't always produce that much power.

At home, things look a little different.

Colby Lewis, fly ball distance and slugging percentage, home games, 2011.There's a huge peak at 330 feet, and the number of fly balls from 360 to 400 feet is much higher than on the road.  In addition, those long flies in Arlington produce a ton of power.  Not many of those get caught.

The park effect also shows up in where batters connect for home runs in the strike zone.  In away games, they tend to take pitches down out of the park:

Cobly Lewis, pitch frequency on HR, away games, 2011.At home, homers come on higher pitches:

Cobly Lewis, pitch frequency on HR, home games, 2011.At home, 14 of his 20 home runs allowed came on various fastballs.  On the road, five of his ten home runs came on off-speed pitches.  He allowed three home runs on change ups on the road, none at home.  It seems that at home, the high fastballs carry better than on the road.  His hard pitches, which produce a .201/.259/.341 slash line away land him a .264/.331/.608 line at home.  It's the stadium, not the pitcher.