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Tuesday
Jul262011

Dustin Pedroia under the 'scope

Pig-Pen, not PedroiaIn Boston, where he wears as much as the second base dirt as seemingly possible, Dustin Pedroia (aka "The Muddy Chicken"), has been creating his own heat dome of late. Since June 9, when Pedroia had his knee scoped, Pedey has hit .371 with a .454 OBP and a slugging percentage of .648. Let me save you the brain power, that's an OPS of 1.102.

Pedroia has a 22 game hitting streak and has reached base safely in 34 straight games. He has been so hot that he even has columnists like Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com speculating whether this four-and-a-half season veteran is on his way to Cooperstown.

We thought the least we could do here at BaseballAnalytics.org is put his heat under our 'scope, so that you can see the anatomy of his streak.

Before June 9

231 at bats through June 9

Up to June 9, in 59 games, Pedey hit .247 with a .361 OBP and a slugging percentage of .338. His OPS of .699 was .403 less than it has been since that date. Probably because of the pain of bending his knee, Pedroia was getting killed on sliders hitting .118 with just four singles in 34 at bats.

Since June 9

159 at bats since June 9A lot more red wouldn't you agree? Pitchers have continued to throw Pedey the slider, but now with very different results. Since the knee pain has been relieved, Pedroia has gone 11-for-37 (.407) on the slider with three doubles and two homers. 

The arthroscopic difference

Pedroia's arthroscopic procedure has clearly made him more comfortable in going low for a pitch but by also help him get around the ball and turn that knee to hit inside pitches with more force and power.

Up to June 9Leading up to June 9, Pedroia struggled on inside pitches hitting .188 and slugging .238 in 80 at bats. 

Since June 9

Since June 9, Pedroia is 20-for-43 on the same inside pitches that were getting him out regularly prior to the procedure. The .471 batting average has prodced a .791 slugging percentage.

Obviously Pedroia can't be expected to stay this hot, but as that knee stays healthy we can expect his numbers to stay healthy as well.

Tuesday
Jul262011

Pedro Alvarez Back in the 'Burgh

With rookie Alex Presley hitting the DL due to a left hand contusion and the Pittsburgh's slack bats threatening to sink the club's run at the NL Central title, the Pirates recalled third baseman Pedro Alvarez from Triple-A Indianapolis prior to Monday night's prime time game on ESPN against the Braves.

They did so reluctantly, however. Alvarez, the second overall pick in the 2008 MLB draft who received a $6 million signing bonus, batted just .208 with a .283 on-base percentage and a .304 slugging percentage before hitting the DL with a right quadriceps injury in late May. The 24-year-old stayed in the minors after his rehab assignment was over. While Alvarez posted a .365/.461/.587 line in 18 games at Indy, neither manager Clint Hurdle nor GM Neal Huntington sound thrilled that Alvarez is back in the big leagues. Here's Amy Jinker-Lloyd of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

"In a perfect world, Pedro probably would spend a little more time in the minors," general manager Neal Huntington said, announcing the move. "But this isn't a perfect world. We think it's the right opportunity to bring (Alvarez) back."

                                                      

Hurdle said Alvarez has shown a good finish to his swing and good length.

"It's not so rotary. He was squaring balls up, hitting left center to right field line," he said. "Obviously we need to add offense since one of our better offensive players has just been put on the DL."

Hurdle wouldn't commit to playing Alvarez every day, but he was in the lineup yesterday, and Hurdle said he'll "get the volume of the playing."

But this is a work in progress. Alvarez wouldn't be here except for Presley's injury.

"We brought him back," Hurdle said. "Let's let him play. I think that will take care of a lot of it. We're just going to give him the opportunity to go out and play. Free him up.

Huntington added an interesting tidbit later in the article about what he thinks is the reason for Alvarez's no-show at the plate this season:

 "Pedro's biggest challenge is himself, just trusting that his best swing is when he hits the ball to left-center field. When he tries to hook, pull and launch, he's an out. He's making progress at ... realizing he doesn't need to hit the ball 700 feet."

Most of Alvarez's pop comes from the pull side: According to Fangraphs, 13 of his 18 career home runs have been hit to right field. And his slugging percentage on balls put in play to the pull side is .731, compared to .620 to center and .479 to the opposite field.

But most of that damage to right field came last year, and Huntington may well have a point about Pedro trying to pull too many pitches. He's trying to rip pitches thrown on the outside corner to the right side of the field, with lousy results.

First, take a look at where opponents are pitching Alvarez this season:

Alvarez's pitch frequency by location, 2011

For the most part, they're pounding the zone low and away. Now, look at the location in the zone that is most often producing ground balls for Alvarez:

Pitch location of Alvarez's ground balls hit, 2011

Most of Pedro's grounders (and there have been plenty of them -- his ground ball rate is 53 percent in 2011) have come on low-and-away pitches. And the vast majority of his ground ball outs have been to the pull side: twenty-five of Alvarez's 33 ground outs have been pulled to the right side of the infield.

Alvarez has gotten into the habit of trying to pummel pitches thrown away/low-and-away into the right field stands instead of going the opposite way, like Huntington and the Pirates want him to in those situations. The result? Weak ground outs instead of extra-base hits.

He's plenty capable of launching home runs to the pull side, but he can't employ a pull-happy approach all the time. When pitchers throw Alvarez stuff on the outside corner, he should listen to his GM and look to left-center instead.

Monday
Jul252011

2011's Best, Worst Breaking Ball Hitters

Which major league hitters wreak havoc against breaking pitches, and which just plain reek? To answer that question, let's look at the batters with the best and worst Weighted On Base Averages (wOBA) versus curveballs and sliders this season.

First, here are hitters whose eyes light up whenever a pitcher tosses them something that bends:

 Top 10 MLB hitters versus sliders and curves, by wOBA

  1. Casey Kotchman, .453
  2. Jose Bautista, .436
  3. Matt Downs, .431
  4. Allen Craig, .425
  5. Carlos Peguero, .420
  6. Brennan Boesch, .414
  7. Chris Snyder, .399
  8. Miguel Cabrera, .399
  9. Jhonny Peralta, .396
  10. Alexi Ramirez, .392

 A few notes:

  • Kotchman has a .543 batting average on balls in play versus curves and sliders this season. His average since 2008 is .301, and the league average for lefty hitters is .292. Something's gotta give here.
  • What can pitchers throw to Bautista? He ranks just outside the top 10 in wOBA versus fastballs, and places in the top five against changeups.
  • Three Tigers appear on this list: Boesch, Cabrera and Peralta.

Now, here are the hitters whose knees turn to jelly against breaking stuff:

Bottom 10 MLB hitters versus sliders and curves, by wOBA

  1. Bill Hall, .064
  2. Tony Campana, .067
  3. Daric Barton, .100
  4. Brent Lillibridge, .107
  5. Chase d'Arnaud, .113
  6. J.R. Towles, .126
  7. Xavier Paul, .135
  8. Nate McLouth, .139
  9. Matt Tolbert, .139
  10. Rafael Furcal, .141
  • Hall was kicked to the curb by the Astros, Barton, Towles and Tolbert are back in the minors, and Paul was waived by the Dodgers. When opposing teams figure out you're a Pedro Cerrano clone, your stay in the clubhouse is short.
  • Between DL stints for a broken thumb and a strained oblique, Furcal has hit a ground ball 73 percent of the time that he has swung at a curve or a slider. He doesn't have an extra-base hit against a breaking ball, which is a big reason why he's slugging .221.