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InDepth Spotlight: Paul Maholm vs. Ryan Braun

2008-Present (Click to enlarge image)

Paul Maholm (0-1, 2.19 ERA) takes the mound for the Pittsburgh Pirates today at PNC Park.  Since 2008, the lefty has held opposing right-handed batters to .246 average on his curve, arguably the best pitch in his arsenal.  Ryan Braun has hit .229 against lefty curves since 2008, his lowest average among all pitches with a minimum of 50 pitches seen.  That pitch might be the key for Maholm as he tries to retire the powerful Braun in tonight's game.

Braun generates most of his power up in the zone, so Maholm would do well to avoid leaving his fastball up as well, especially considering righties have hit .316 with a .490 slugging percentage off it since 2008. 


Young and Old Dodgers

Hiroki Kuroda and Clayton Kershaw are two Dodgers pitchers off to good starts in 2011.   Kershaw plays 2011 as a 23-year-old fireballer.  Kuroda, at 36 can still strike out batters, but he depends much more on working the count.

Look at Kershaw's pitch location by count (click graphic for a larger image):

Clayton Kershaw pitch location by count, 2008-2011.Clayton always goes after batters in the strike zone.  Even on 0-2, when most pitchers waste one, Kershaw hits the strike zone quite often.  His wOBA goes way up with three balls on the batter, but that's where the walks happen.

Now look how the mature Kuroda approaches each count:

Hiroki Kuroda pitch location by count, 2008-2011Notice how Kuroda moves away from the middle of the plate as he gets closer to two strikes, and into the plate as he approaches three balls.  Unlike Kershaw, Hiroki can't over power a batter on any count.  He wants them to chase balls when he's ahead, and hit the plate when he's behind.  The pitchers use different approaches that play to their strength and weakness, but both are effective in getting batters out.


Phil Hughes' Early Season Blues

Yes, Phil Hughes' fastball velocity is down. We get it. Is that his only problem? Probably not, but it sure makes it harder for him to be successful with his other pitches. Let's take a look at how he's locating compared to the last three seasons.

Phil Hughes Pitch Location (All Pitch Types)
(Click to enlarge)

The major difference so far has been Hughes' attempt to come in on lefties. The main reason for this is that he's been relying on his cutter more over his first two starts, while shying away from his velocity-challenged fastball.

Phil Hughes Pitch Selection vs. LHB
Phil Hughes Pitch Selection vs. RHB

Having to rely more on his cutter has not produced positive results for Hughes. Batters are hitting .412 off it, compared to .290 in his three previous seasons; he's only induced a handful of swings and misses on the pitch as well. In his three previous seasons, Hughes was able to get opposing righties to chase his cutter out of the zone 38.4 percent of the time. So far this season, he's produced just 2 total swings on 21 cutters out of the zone to RHB. This could be a sign that his location is somewhat iffy. But it could also be a side effect of the ineffectiveness of his fastball. With batters seeing the cutter more, it's likely easier for them to lay off the pitch when it's thrown to the outside edge of the plate. And the reduced velocity on his fastball means batters have more time to identify the pitch, differentiating it from the cutter.

Phil Hughes vs. LHB
Phil Hughes vs. RHB

With only two starts under his belt, you can't really get too bent out of shape about any of these numbers, although they don't inspire much confidence going forward. His swing and miss rate is pretty awful even for the limited sample. Basically, opposing batters are making contact on 95 percent of their swings against Hughes. He's obviously not going to be racking up the Ks at that rate.