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Grounding Youkilis

From 2008 through 2010, Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox saw 35% of his balls in play end up as grounders.  While he hit .393 on balls in play in that time frame, he only managed a .260 average on the grounders.  In 2011, his ground ball percentage rose to 41.4%, with a .270 BA on his grounders.  Over all this season, when he puts the ball in play, he's hitting .347.

The change in ground balls rates comes from changes in both the pitches Kevin sees, and his approach at the plate.  In the three previous seasons, pitchers worked him away, but used the entired vertical part of the strike zone:

Kevin Youkilis, pitch frequency, 2008-2010.In 2011, this shifted down a bit:

KevinYoukilis, pitch frequency, 2011.Pitchers are using the top of the strike zone less, and are not afraid to go out of the zone on the lower edge.

In the 2008-2010 time period, Kevin liked to swing at inside pitches, but he also used the whole vertical part of the inside of the plate:

Kevin Youkilis, swing rate, 2008-2010.Especially at Fenway Park, high pitches could result in fly balls that scrape the Green Monster for hits.  This season, he's looking lower:

Kevin Youkilis, swing rate, 2011.Pitchers work Kevin lower in 2011. He appears to be looking lower, swinging lower, and hitting more ground balls. That's hurting his batting average overall.


Ryan Vogelsong's command

Ryan Vogelsong has been a surprisingly effective addition to the San Francisco Giants' starting rotation this season.  His comand is one reason he's been fairly successful since his first start on April 28th.

Ryan Vogelsong - All Pitches
All heat map data from 2011 (Click image to enlarge)

For the most part, Vogelsong keeps the ball away from opposing batters.  As Dave Golebiewski pointed out back in June, Vogelsong will also throw his fastball inside to righties.  But overall, he's successfully managed to keep the ball away from both righties and lefties.  In fact, the 34 year old righty seems to have tightened up his control even more in the last month and a half:

Ryan Vogelsong - All Pitches
(Click image to enlarge)

To both righties and lefties, Vogelsong is nailing the outside black.  Opposing batters are hitting him a bit better in the last month and a half (.329 wOBA compared to .291 on the season), however.  Most of this is coming from lefties who are OPSing 155 points higher against Vogelsong, compared to their season average. 

Since it looks like the Giants and Diamondbacks will be battling it out for the NL West division title over the next month and a half, Vogelsong will probably need to maintain his command in order to help his team come out on top.


Jason Heyward's Pop Up Problem

The Braves lead the NL Wild Card race, but they're pushing for a playoff spot while getting far less than expected from outfield prodigy Jason Heyward. Rated as the top prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to last season, Heyward hit .277/.393/.456 during his age-20 campaign. But in 2011, Heyward has been slowed by a lingering right shoulder injury and has a .219/.313/.395 triple-slash. He has even recently lost some playing time to Jose Costanza (Costanzaaa!), a 27-year-old rookie with a career .356 slugging percentage in the minors.

To channel Seinfeld for a moment, what's with all the pop ups, Heyward? His 23.3 percent infield/fly ball rate is nearly three times higher than his 2010 mark, and only Corey Patterson has hit the ball up the elevator shaft more often among batters with 300+ plate appearances. Whether a product of his bum shoulder or not, Heyward is getting jammed most often on middle and inside pitches:

Location of Heyward's pop-ups, 2011

Fastballs have been particularly troublesome, as about two-thirds of Heyward's pop-ups have come against the heat.

To be sure, Heyward's line has been dragged down in part due to poor luck on balls put in play: his BABIP sits at .242. But all of those pop-ups amount to gimme outs for the opposition. Heyward surely shouldn't be sitting in favor of Jose Costanza, but maybe George can give him a few pointers.