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Derek Holland Pitching on the Edge

Derek Holland pitched well in his first two starts, posting a 2.25 ERA.  He showed better control than in his first two seasons, but more importantly kept the ball in the park, having yet to allow a home run.  So far, the big change for Derek comes from working better on the edges of the plate. The following heat maps show his pitching against right-handed batters, which he sees much more often.

First, notice the location of Derek's fastball compared to his first two years in the majors (click all images for a larger version):

Derek Holland fastball location vs. RHB, 2009-2010 on the left, first two starts of 2011 on the right.Holland is working inside and on the outer half of the plate, instead of right down the middle.  This actually sets up his off-speed pitches well.  He used to leave his changeup over the plate:

Derek Holland change-up location vs. RHB, 2009-2010 on the left, first two starts of 2011 on the right.He still catches the plate with the change, but more toward the outside edge.  Thrown correctly, this pitch should look like his outside fastball, but coming in slower and lower.  The biggest change, however, probably comes from his slider:

Derek Holland slider location vs. RHB, 2009-2010 on the left, first two starts of 2011 on the right.In the past if the batter was caught by the slider, he could take the pitch and probably end up with a ball call. Now, with him hitting the corner, someone who lays off the slider finds himself down a strike.  Since he tends to work this pitch inside, it serves as a nice contrast to his inside fastball.

Holland improved all three pitches by moving them all toward the edges of the plate.  His challenge now is to keep this up for a full season.


The Three Strikeouts of Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw started the season with 17 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched.  He's maintain a high strikeout rate throughout his career, as he uses three main pitches to knock out batters:



Clayton Kershaw with two strikes, career.
Pitches 1549 494 383
Plate Appearances 734 194 198
Strikeouts 273 110 126
K Pct. 37.2 56.7 63.6


While Kershaw's fastball results in a high number of Ks, his curve ball and slider are much more efficient at delivering the punch out.  Part of that comes from the change in movement.  Kershaw's fastball does not drop as much as expected:

Clayton Kershaw, career fastball movement with two strikes.His curve and slider both drop quite a bit:

Clayton Kershaw, career movement on the curve and slider.The curve drops a little more and stays show less lateral movement.  The three pitches show a great separation in speed as well.  In the following graph, you can see the speed, as well as why each of the pitches is effective (click graph for a larger image):

Clayton Kershaw, batters swinging with two strikes.The fastball doesn't fool batters.  When they swing at Clayton's fastball, they can see it's a strike, and they make contact often.  Often enough, however, they don't make contact and go down swinging.

The slider comes in around 81 miles per hour.  Like the fastball, batter do a good job of recognizing the pitch as a strike, but with the good movement, they make contact much less often.  The slider is his swing and miss pitch.

The curve ball is the pitch that fools batters in multiple dimensions.  They swing a lot less at the curve, and when they do it's less likely to be a strike in the first place.  With fewer swings, the curve can be dropped over for a called strike three.  While batters make more contact against the curve than against the slider, they make less contact than against the fastball.  When batter are swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, even making contact will often result in something good for the defense.

With three pitches capable of getting a batter, Kershaw keeps hitters guessing.  Three different speeds and three different movements means lots of strikeouts, and less pressure on the Dodgers defense.


Marlon Byrd Hitting Ropes

Marlon Byrd's .417 BAbip heading into Saturday's action put him 14th among all batters this season with a minimum of 30 plate appearances.  Byrd has a lifetime .327 BAbip, and while there is an element of skill involved in BAbip, it tends to decline with older players.  Part of this is due to a decline in speed - older players aren't able to leg out infield singles like they could in their younger years.

For the Cubs Marlon Byrd, it's quite clear what's propping up his BAbip early in the season.

Marlon Byrd through April 8, 2011
Line Drive7.8571.286.8570.0%
Fly Ball3.000.000.0000.0%
Ground Ball12.333.333.3330.0%
Pop Up2.000.000.0000.0%

Six of Byrd's line drives in play have resulted in hits so far this season. Compared to his previous three year average, Byrd has been a little lucky so far this season.

Marlon Byrd 2008-10
Line Drive258.7581.043.7491.2%
Fly Ball362.269.723.17011.1%
Ground Ball600.252.283.2520.0%
Pop Up65.092.108.0920.0%

I guess what's most surprising, if anything could be labeled as such this early, is that Byrd has hit more line drives than fly balls so far. Although it's always important to note that line drives are subjective calls and interpretation varies depending on the scorer. Lastly, compared to his previous three seasons, Byrd has been somewhat lucky on his ground balls so far. Expect his overall BAbip to regress in the coming months as his averages on ground balls and line drives come back down a bit.