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Prince Fielder's HR off Tommy Hanson

In Wednesday's game between Milwaukee and Atlanta, Brewers' slugger Prince Fielder took Tommy Hanson deep in the 4th inning.  It was the second lefty HR yielded by Hanson this season, and the 7th HR for Fielder.

Hanson attempted to work Fielder very carefully and for the most part his pitch location wasn't bad.  He started Fielder off with a fastball that just caught the low outside corner for a strike, followed by a curve that he seemed to get a bad release on, floating it up and away for a ball.  His next pitch was a fastball outside of the strike zone that Fielder fouled off.  On his fourth and final pitch, Hanson tried to slip a slider down and in on Fielder.  However, he didn't get it down as much as I suspect he wanted to, and it came into the bottom portion of Fielder's power zone.

Tommy Hanson vs. Prince Fielder 4/5/2011, 4th Inning
Prince Fielder's SLG% heat map Data from 2008 to Present (Click to enlarge)

From the video, you can see that Fielder was sitting on an off-speed pitch.  Since his debut in 2009, Hanson has gone to either his curveball or slider with two strikes 50.2% of the time.  On 1-2 counts, that number jumps to 58.7%.  It wasn't necessarily a bad strategy for Hanson.  In fact, when throwing the slider with two strikes, he's held opposing batters to a .193 batting average with a .272 slugging percentage.  And before yesterday, he'd yet to yield a HR on any of the previous 460 two strike sliders he's thrown.

But this particular slider was thrown to a spot in Fielder's wheelhouse, and he was waiting for it.  Just a great piece of hitting from an excellent power hitter.


Erick Aybar and the Inside Strike

Erick Aybar (LAA) hit well in 2009, posting a .312/.353/.423 slash line, good for a wOBA of .334.  In 2010, that dropped to .253/.306/.330, a poor .282 wOBA.  So far in 2011, Aybar's averages are back up.  What changed from 2009 to 2010, and has it changed back?

Aybar is a switch hitter, with most of his at bats coming against right-handed pitching.  In 2009, umpires gave Erick the benefit of the doubt on pitches on the inside corner of the plate.

Erick Aybar, called strikes from right-handed pitchers, 2009.Umps called strikes wide on Erick, but he could take the inside pitch, and force pitchers to move farther over the plate, a better hitting zone.  In 2010, umpires were not as generous.

Erick Aybar, called strikes from right-handed pitchers, 2010.While he still got the low strike called a ball, the inside edge of the plate reverted rightfully to the pitcher.  You can see how this might hurt a batter.  He was hitting in pitchers counts more often, and right-handed opponents didn't need to move over the center of the plate as much.  His strikeout rate against RHP went from 10.6% in 2009 to 14.6% last season.

What about in 2011?

Erick Aybar, called strikes from right-handed pitchers, 2011.Erick gets a big chunk of the lower, inside part of the plate.  The upper inside edge still belongs to the pitcher.  With almost one quarter of the zone going Aybar's way, it no wonder his slash line is back up to .342/.364/.425 and his strikeout percentage is now to 11.3%.  I would be dubious of that much of the zone going his way the full season, but if can at least keep the lower inside edge, he might post good numbers again.


Expanded Strike Zones

Most Called Strikes Outside of the Zone

While Daric Barton (OAK) tops the list, Ike Davis (NYM) has endured more strike three calls on pitches located outside of the zone (9) this season as determined by PitchFX. Arizona's Stephen Drew comes in second with 6.

Of course, you must consider volume when reviewing players' ball/strike data. While Daric Barton leads the league in taken called strikes outside of the strike zone, he also ranks twelfth in taken strikes within the strike zone (86), and 2nd overall in all pitches taken (355). So it's not necessarily the case that umpires have been favoring the opposing pitcher over Barton. He simply takes a ton of pitches, increasing the chances of bad calls by umpires. However, other than Barton, only two other players in the top 25 in called strikes out of the strike zone rank in the top 25 in total pitches taken, Carlos Santana (CLE) with 352 and Mark Teixeira (NYY) with 301.