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Pineda's Perfect Pitch

Michael Pineda (SEA) is a leading rookie of the year candidate as he owns a 6-2 record and 2.16 ERA after nine starts.  He excels at all aspects of the game as a pitcher, striking out a high number of batters while allowing few walks and home runs.  So far, he's accomplished this with two pitches, a fastball and a slider.

The spin view from the PITCHf/x data allows easy identification of the two pitches:

Michael Pineda, pitch spin by velocity, 2011.The red blob represents Pineda's fastball, while the green area indicates the slider.  The location of the fastball indicates that Michael is not perfectly over the top, but his arm slot is a bit right of center which gives his fast ball a little lateral movement, but also keeps it from dropping too much.  As we've seen with Matt Cain, the high fastball is tough to hit for a home run.

The slider, on the other hand, is almost perfectly straight.  A proper slider is thrown with the spin perpendicular to the flight of the ball, so there is no Magnus force.*  Michael gets very close to the ideal with his slider.

*Update: I want to clarify this statement.  The spin of a slider is perpendicular to the spin of a fastball.  The axis of spin of the slider is parallel to the flight of the ball, which is why batters see a dot as the pitch approaches.

The most impressive aspect of his slider, however, is his ability to repeat that spin:

Michael Pineda, pitch spin by frequency, 2011.The bullseye of the slider is quite concentrated compared to the fastball.  That indicates Michael can repeat the pitch consistently, which makes it much easier for him to spot the ball where he likes.  He hits the strike zone 55.8% of the time with the pitch, which is tied for the best in the league.  He doesn't hang the pitch either, as batter have yet to hit a home run off it, and slug just .211 against it.  For him, the slider is the perfect pitch.


Clutch DeJesus

When analysts examine long term situational batting, the best players often rise to the top.  This list of the best hitters with runners in scoring position since the start of the 2008 season demonstrates that nicely.  The hitters ranked one through six are among the best in the game, four of them having won a league MVP.  Number seven, however, is David DeJesus of the A's, someone not thought of as the best in the game.

DeJesus over this time period hit .295 overall, but .327 with runners in scoring position.  Looking at his batting heat maps, you can see the change in his approach.

David DeJesus, in play average, all situations, 2008-2011.David DeJesus, in play average, RISP, 2008-2011.With the chance for an RBI, David concentrates on the inside part of the plate, where he's more likely to pull the ball.  What that does for him is increase his chances of hitting a line drive. 

David DeJesus, line drive rate, all situations, 2008-2011.David DeJesus, line drive rate, RISP, 2008-2011

DeJesus hits over .700 on line drives, so pushing that rate up really helps him. 

I do not wish to claim this is a real skill, however.  David hit over .400 with runners in scoring position in 2008, and his batting average in the situation dropped every year since.  He does seem to approach hitting differently in the situation, and that approach brought him to an area occupied by some of the game's best.



Gaby Sanchez's Hot Start

(Click to enlarge)

Gaby Sanchez is off to a hot start for the Florida Marlins.  He's tenth in the league in wOBA and batting average, and eighth in on-base percentage.  Sanchez has been equally dangerous against lefties and righties, with a .397/.396 wOBA split respectively.

Here's a look at how Sanchez's 2011 start stacks up against last season:

Games through 5/24/2010.279.369.44217.9%11.3%2.7%.357
Games through 5/24/2011.326.406.50913.9%11.9%4.0%.397

Games through 5/24/2010.720.250.23821.4%41.0%35.9%6.3%
Games through 5/24/2011.806.213.25820.8%32.9%41.6%12.8%

Much of the difference between the two starts can be attributed to the long ball. Even though Sanchez is hitting fewer fly balls this season, he's producing HRs at a better rate. From his heat map, you can see he's generating a ton of power on balls on the inner half of the plate.

The one issue Gaby Sanchez has had this season has been hitting changeups. He's faced 73 changeups this season with a 59.5% contact rate. He's yet to get a single hit off the pitch (0 for 25), while striking out nine times. If he doesn't work on picking up the change better, pitchers are really going to come after him with it the rest of the season.