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Soria Steps Down as Royals' Closer

Aaron Crow has replaced struggling Joakim Soria as the Kansas City Royals' closer.  Heading into Monday's game, opposing batters were hitting .288/.374/.463 against Soria.  He blew yet another save today (his second in two days) yielding 3 runs on 4 hits in the ninth inning versus the Los Angeles Angels.  The two-run HR he gave up to Torii Hunter was the 4th he's allowed this season which matches his 2010 total.

Right handed batters are a major source of Soria's troubles.  Through May 29th, they were hitting  .302/.388/.581 against him for a .412 wOBA.  In 2009 and 2010 combined, righties put up a measly .269 wOBA.  His location this season is likely a major reason why he's struggled against them.

(Click to enlarge)

Soria was pretty consistent at keeping the ball away from RHB over the last two years, getting beat mostly when throwing over the middle of the plate.  This season, he seems to be living in the middle, and is paying the price for it.  Specifically, Soria has been leaving his cutter middle-in to RHB.  From 2009-2010, righties mustered a .274 wOBA against his cutter.  This season, he's thrown 100 cutters to righties and his wOBA against on the pitch has risen 200 points to .474.

Getting his control over the cutter would go a long way towards helping Joakim Soria regain the closer's role in Kansas City.


Helping Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers came into Monday's action leading the National League in RBI with 42.  Driving in runs is often a combination of men on base plus power supplied by the batter, since long hits move runners father along the bases.  Slugging percentage represents a distance, the number of bases a player earns in an average at bat.  The higher than number, the farther runners on base can advance.  Fielder came into the day with a fine .533 slugging percentage.

Fielder's hot zone for power exists in a diagonal from the upper outside corner down the the lower inside corner of the strike zone.

Prince Fielder, in play slugging percentage, 2011.In the past, pitchers worked him away and down as much as possible.

Prince Fielder, pitch frequency, 2008-2010.I'm sure pitchers are still trying to replicate this pattern, but so far this year they're getting balls up and in the middle more:

Prince Fielder, pitch frequency, 2011.Pitchers are missing their spots, and Fielder is taking advantage of that to drive in plenty of runs.  He might slow down a bit as the season progresses and pitchers find their spots against him again.


Reverse Cain

Since the start of the 2009 season, Matt Cain of the Giants recorded better results against left-handed batters than right-handed batters despite Matt throwing from the right side.  Left-handers hit .224/.282/.360 against Matt, while righties managed a .231/.295/.380 slash line.  How does Matt manage to keep lefties so off balance?

The first thing to notice is that Cain works lefties away:

Matt Cain, pitch frequency vs. LHB, 2009-2011.Left-handed power hitters like the ball low and inside, so this should be a good strategy.  Cain adds to it, however, with the movement of his pitches.  While he works outside, his four pitches move inside:

Matt Cain, movement across the plate vs. LHB, 2009-2011.His fastball in orange, changeup and slider in green (slider closer to the batter) and curve ball in blue all move toward a left-handed batter most of the time.  So Cain can start these pitches outside the strike zone, and have them break over the plate.  So left-handed batters often see ball, but then end up with the ball over the plate.  His fastball and curve ball result in over one third of the time, while his change and slider get chased out of the zone over 40% of the time.  Lefties get fooled.

Finally, here's what happens when lefties put the ball in play:

Matt Cain, in play batting average vs. LHB, 2009-2011.They hit him well down and in, the main area Cain avoids with his pitches.  He uses movement to fool left-handed batters in and out of the zone, and throws where these batters don't hit well.  The result makes Cain as good if not better when the batter owns the platoon advantage.