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Up, Up and Away

Matt Kemp spreads out his home runs across the outfield.  He hit 74 dingers since the start of the 2008 season (including the post season), 28 pulled, 24 to center and 22 to the opposite field.  The reason for so many home runs not pulled is that Matt likes the ball away for home runs:

Mat Kemp home runs 2008-2010.On top of that, he also likes to hit pitches that stay up in the strike zone and tail away from him.

Matt Kemp, movement on home run pitches, 2008-2010.That nice bright red cluster represent pitches Matt could tomahawk the other way.

Interestingly, one might think Matt Kemp would do well against Matt Cain.  Matt the pitcher works Matt the hitter away, with pitches that stay up and move away.  During the three years in question, however, Kemp failed to hit a home run against Cain, going 8 for 29 with two doubles and a triple.


Royals' Escobar Making Contact

Buster Olney reports that the Kansas City Royals are pleased with what they've seen in Alcides Escobar so far this spring.  In addition to his good fielding, GM Dayton Moore likes his approach at the plate: "He hasn't swung and missed much at all, and he's made hard contact."  The Royals are hoping he will develop into a #2 hitter in their lineup.

In his short career, Escobar does have a decent contact rate of 83.8%, putting him in the 74th percentile since 2008.  Against fastballs, he has an even more impressive 88.9% contact rate;  however, this comes with a .243 batting average and .351 slugging percentage. 

Escobar put up an OPS of .797 and .762 in his final two minor league seasons (2008, 2009).  At age 24, he could still develop into a decent hitter, but his major league numbers so far have been less than impressive.  This season might tell us a lot about what type of player he could become.


The Clutch Pitcher

Over the last two seasons, no pitcher did a better job of preventing hits with runners in scoring position than Yovani Gallardo.  What's interesting about this stat is that Yovanni's approach to hitters indicates this might be more than luck.

First, look at how Gallardo pitches to hitters with the bases empty.

Yovani Gallardo, bases empty, 2009-2010.

(In these heat maps, pitch location is on the left, pitch movement on the right.)

The thing to note here is that Gallardo attacks the strike zone.  He pitches to contact in the sense he doesn't walk batters in this situation only 8.8% of the time.  He gets strikeouts about 25% of the time, and batters hit .244 in this situation.  With no one on, Gallardo challenges hitters.

The pattern changes with men in scoring position:

Yovani Gallardo, runners in scoring position, 2009-2010.Not here that Gallardo works more toward the edges, leaving a low frequency swath down the middle of the strike zone.  In addition, he throws more pitches with downward movement.  The upshot is he walks more, 15.1%, strikes out a tiny bit more, 26.2%, but because he works away from the middle of the plate, batters hit just .188 against him in this situation.  He's willing to trade walks for fewer hits, since walks won't do as much damage in that particular situation.

Can this last?  His BABIP allowed with runners in scoring position is an incredibly low .228.  That should be unsustainable.  Yovani does show batters something very different compared to pitching with the bases empty, and maybe that's enough to keep hitters off balance, leading to positive outcomes for the Brewers.