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Pitcher of the Day: Kershaw Declaws Tigers

Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw continued his Cy Young-caliber 2011 campaign last night, tossing a complete-game shutout against the Detroit Tigers. Manager Jim Leyland sent out an all-right-handed lineup against Kershaw, and the 23-year-old responded by allowing two hits and one walk while tying a season high with 11 strikeouts.

Kershaw registered nine of his 11 K's with his slider. He located that wicked low-80s breaking ball at hitters' knees or handcuffed them on the inside corner:

 Kershaw's slider location against the Tigers on June 20, 2011

Detroit swung and missed at 10 of the 21 sliders that Kershaw broke off.

While he was once known for a knee-buckling curveball that Dodgers announcer Vin Scully dubbed "Public Enemy Number One," Kershaw has essentially scrapped his curve while going to his slider more and more frequently. Kershaw has thrown his slider a little more than 23 percent of the time this season, compared to about five percent for the curve.

Opponents are hitting .106/.140/.163 against Kershaw's slider this season. Batters have swung and missed at the pitch nearly 42 percent of the time, the sixth-highest rate among MLB starting pitchers.

The slider is a pitch that tends to have a large platoon split. But, as Kershaw showed against the Tigers, he isn't afraid to use the slider against righties. Kershaw has used his slider at a nearly equal rate against lefties and righties, and right-hander hitters are actually faring worse against the offering (.088/.116/.132 in 2011). Maybe it's time to start calling Kershaw's slider "Public Enemy Number One."



Lester and Long Balls

Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox allowed 14 home runs so far this season in 97 1/3 innings.  He gave up the same number of homers in 208.0 IP during the 2010 season.  What changed?

The majority of home runs off Lester occur on his fastball, so this study will concentrate on that pitch.  The first thing to notice is the location of Lester's home runs:

Location of home runs off Jon Lester's fastball, 2010 and 2011.Up and in to righties is not a favorite home run spot.  This season, they're smacking balls that catch a lot of the plate.  The main reason for the shift comes from Lester himself:

Jon Lester, fastball pitch frequency, 2010 and 2011.Lester tended to work to the catcher's left hand in 2010, but in 2011 moved to the right hand.  Home runs came up and in in 2010 because that's where Lester threw the ball.  That's no longer true in 2011.

Batters are also teeing off on fastballs that don't stay up as much:

Movement of Jon Lester fastballs hit for home runs, 2010 and 2011.Although not shown here, the overall movement of Lester's fastballs hasn't changed.  Hitters are able to key on the ones that don't stay up as much, however.  "Rising" fastballs are difficult to hit for home runs, since batters get under them too much.  In 2011, batters are hitting the ones that come in flat.

That may be in part due to a drop in velocity.  In 2010, Jon averaged 93.5 MPH on his fastball, and 94.2 MPH on the home runs he allowed.  In 2011, his average fastball comes in at 92.5 MPH, 92.6 on home runs.  A batter has an extra tick to recognize the ball and line it up properly.

The biggest factor appears to be Lester's overall pitch location.  Working high to the catcher's glove hand gave batters trouble.  Now that he's working more over the center of the plate opponents can make better contact, and they can drive the ball out of the park more often.


Dan Haren's Cutter

Friday's post discussed how DIPS theory did not account for all of Josh Beckett's transformation from 2010 to 2011.  Dan Haren of the Angels was also mentioned in the original FanGraphs article, and this is a look at why defense independent explains Haren's change in going from Arizona to Anaheim.

The big difference between Dan Haren with the Diamondbacks in 2010 and his time with the Angels since then lies in the effectiveness of his cut fastball.  While in Arizona last season, batters hit .308/.344/.513 against his cutter.   Since moving to the Angles, those cutter numbers dropped to .228/.271/.305.

What changed?  First, look at his location:

Dan Haren, cutter pitch frequency, 2010 with the Diamondbacks.Dan Haren, cutter pitch frequency, 2010-2011 with the Angels.If anything, he throwing more cutters higher in the strike zone, and his higher cutters tend to get hit.

What about the movement of the pitch?

Dan Haren, cutter movement, 2010 with the Diamondbacks.Dan Haren, cutter movement, 2010-2011 with the Angels.Tough to tell the difference.  In other words, Dan is throwing the same cutter with the Angels he threw with the Diamondbacks.  His cutter results in 285 PA with the Angels,  211 with the Diamondbacks.    Both are small sample sizes, where luck can go good (Angels) or bad (Diamondbacks).  When we lack evidence that something is wrong or different, DIPS gives us a good idea of where the luck lies.