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Arguing the Strike Zone in the A's-Red Sox game

Last night, both Jason Varitek (BOS) and Jonathan Papelbon (BOS) were ejected in the top of the ninth inning for arguing the strike zone with home plate umpire Tony Randazzo.  Varitek was ejected first after a Cliff Pennington (OAK) double that cut the Red Sox lead over the A's to two runs.

First, let's look at all the called balls Papelbon had from the game:

10 Pitches (Click image to enlarge)

And here's Papelbon's called ball rate heat map from that ninth inning which incorporates all the pitches he threw:

28 pitches (Click image to enlarge)

Other than that one spot middle-down, Randazzo really didn't miss any called strikes.  And as for that missed strike call?  Well, it was the third pitch of Landon Powell's plate appearance.  Papelbon had him 0-2 and that should have ended the atbat.  But it did little to effect the inning because he eventually struck Powell out swinging on the 7th pitch.

Kevin Youkilis also gave Randazzo a hard time after the ump rang the Red Sox third baseman up on a Brad Ziegler (Oak) curveball in the 8th inning.

(Click image to enlarge)

Ziegler started him out with two sinkers, and finished with two curveballs which both caught the outside of the plate, the last well within the pitchFX defined strike zone.

Ironically, one of the biggest missed strikes from last night came while Youkilis batted in the 4th inning.  Oakland starter Trevor Cahill threw him a 3-2 curveball that seemed to land right in the middle of the plate, yet was called ball four.

(Click image to enlarge)

Cahill's sixth, and last pitch of the AB looks to have caught more than enough of the plate, but Randazzo didn't see it that way.  The first pitch, a changeup, was also called a ball by Randazzo, but appears to have caught the corner.  Cahill would get David Ortiz (BOS) to hit into an inning ending double play two pitches after walking Youkilis, however.  So much like the missed called strike to Powell in the ninth, no harm done.


Vargas Adds a Pitch

Jason Vargas of the Seattle Mariners pitched the first shutout of this career Friday night.*  His two prior outings, however were less than successful as he allowed eleven runs in 7 2/3 innings.

*Vargas pitched nine shutout innings on May 12th of this year, but the game went into extra innings and he was not credited with a shutout.

In his starts of May 23-29, Vargas failed to spin his cutter very differently than his four-seam fastball:

Jason Vargas, spin on fast pitches, May 23 & 29 2001.The fastball is in green and the cutter in yellow.  The spin is so close, some of the cutters were classified as fastballs by the PITCHf/x algorithm.  With little difference in movement and less velocity, batters went 3 for 7 against the cutter and 12 for 35 against the fastball.

Looking at the same spin chart from June 3rd, Vargas made two changes:

Jason Vargas, spin on fast pitches, June 3, 2011.First, notice that the cutter shows complete separation from the fastball.  The spin between the two pitches is very different.  Batters went 0 for 2 on the cutter.  More importantly, notice the fastball now exhibits two centers of mass, lighter, faster pitch with more vertical break and a darker, slower pitch with more horizontal break.  That latter pitch is a two-seam fastball, something he didn't throw in his two previous starts.  Batters went two for 17 against those two fastballs.  So Vargas added a pitch and improved the spin on his cutter.  He went from two fastballs that were tough to distinguish to three fastball that moved very differently, and found great success.


Transforming Morton

The following video made the rounds in the baseball blogosphere on Friday.  It compares the way Charlie Morton of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies throw the two-seam fastball.

Morton worked on copying Halladay's delivery during the off-season.  His pitching stats certainly have improved.

The two seam fastball is supposed to sink.  In 2010, it didn't sink all the time:

Charlie Morton, fastball movement, 2010.In 2011, Morton puts more of the density below the X-axis:

Charlie Morton, fastball movement, 2011.That more closely matches what Roy Halladay throws:

Roy Halladay, fastball movement, 2010-2011.There is one big difference that remains between the two, however.  Roy works both sides of the plate with his fastball, Morton works middle-in to righties, middle-out to lefites.  He doesn't throw to the catcher's right hand:

Charlie Morton, fastball pitch frequency, 2011.Morton gets the same movement as Halladay, but can throw it to multiple locations yet.  That may be the lesson for next winter.