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Kennedy's Ks

The Arizona Diamondbacks named Ian Kennedy their opening day starter for 2011.  Kennedy excelled at getting batters to swing at pitches low in the strike zone in 2010, helping him improve his ERA from his time with the Yankees. 

Ian Kennedy swing and misses against 2010.The most concentrated area for these pitches is below the strike zone, where even if a batter makes contact, the result for the pitcher is likely to be positive.  Kennedy is able to pull this off by using two pitches with similar movement that can trick batters.

The change up represents his predominant pitch for getting low swings:

Ian Kennedy swings and misses against the change up 2010.

So Ian gets downward movement in on a left hander with this pitch.  He can also release the curve ball, which is even move extreme.

Ian Kennedy swings and misses against the curve ball 2010.

If batters look for the change, Ian can unleash the curve, which falls more and move in on lefties (away from righties) much more than his change up.  His two off-speed pitches keep batters guessing, and swinging over the top.


Could Francisco Pull a Bautista?

The question was posed on our facebook page whether Philadelphia Phillies' outfielder Ben Francisco could have similar success as Jose Bautista by implementing the same hitting techniques that the Blue Jays slugger did last season.  Successful hitting takes into account a whole bunch of different things.  It's nearly impossible to predict whether one batter's style could work for another player.  Jose Bautista clearly had the ability to produce power numbers at the plate prior to his 2010 season; he just needed to tweak his approach and the rest was history.

Whether Ben Francisco can make a similar adjustment and begin to produce better power numbers is anyone's guess.  Although, it is interesting to note that Francisco and pre-2010 Bautista do have similar numbers.  In 2009, Francisco hit .257/.332/.447 in 459 PA.  Bautista: .235/.349/.408 in 404 PA.  Their 2009 heat maps are also very similar.

(click to enlarge)
Bautista's new plate approach made him a terror to right-handed pitchers, producing a 1.030 OPS.  Francisco has, for the most part, fared equally against righties and lefties over the last 3 years (.753/.789 OPS respectively). Francisco does seem to generate most of his power on pitches inside, a quality shared by Bautista.

Ben Francisco 2008-10

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Adopting the hitting changes Bautista made working with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy may help Francisco.  But again, one style of hitting does not work for every player.  Francisco is more of a free swinger than Bautista, and as a result, his walk rate is much lower.  In the last 3 years, Francisco has chased 5% more balls out of the strike zone than Jose Bautista.  As a result, he's put up a .328 OBP.  Changing his swing may help generate more power, but Francisco will need to improve his ability to identify strikes in order to raise his on base percentage.  Otherwise, pitchers will avoid throwing close to the plate knowing Francisco is more likely to chase pitches out of the zone.


What Price Fister?

In parts of two seasons with the Mariners, Doug Fister showed an excellent talent for preventing walks.  In 232 innings, Doug issued just 47 free passes, 1.8 per nine innings.  With a low strike out rate, however, Doug's ERA came in steady at 4.11.  Fister, however, may be much better than both those rates as he may not be getting calls on the low part of the plate to the catcher's throwing hand.

First, Doug does a great job of keeping the ball in the strike zone, the main reason for his low walk rate.

Doug Fister, pitch frequency, 2009-2010.Batters tend to take his pitches to the right-hand side of the catcher.

Doug Fister, pitches taken, 2009-2010.Batter preferences on Fister's pitches may have led him to lose calls in his favor:

Doug Fister, called balls, 2009-2010.That's a huge area where Doug should be getting strikes, but instead the calls favor the batter.  Interestingly, these call seldom happen with two strikes, so Doug isn't losing Ks that way.  He is, however, falling behind in the count on these pitches, giving the batter an advantage.  If Doug starts getting these pitches called early in the count, I suspect his ERA will improve as batters will be on the defensive more.