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Arroyo's Mistakes

Bronson Arroyo allowed 89 home runs since the start of the 2008 season, the most in the majors.  His pitching against lefties demonstrates why.  The following graph shows his pitch location and movement against lefties over the last three seasons:

Bronson Arroyo pitch locaiton and movement, 2008-2010Bronson works middle-out against lefties, with most of the movement of his pitches toward the batter.  The next graph shows where batters hit him hard:


Bronson Arroyo pitch location and movement, in play slugging percentage, 2008-2010The power against Bronson happens when he comes too far inside, leaving the ball over the middle of the plate.  Note to that the hot spot for movement, where batters get the most power, is located between the major and minor hot zone on the graph above.  So Bronson does well when his ball stays fairly straight, or when it breaks in on lefties a lot.  When that break is in between, the ball stays over the middle of the plate, and batters hammer it.


Downfall of a Goliath

Ryan Howard has long been viewed as weak to left-handed pitching. In comparison to his production against right-handers, that is largely true. The truth is that he is a slightly above-average hitter against southpaws, ranking in the 69th percentile with a .359 wOBA in 2010.

Still, the New York Yankees neutralized the Phillies in the 2009 World Series by making heavy use of Damaso Marte, causing Howard to strike out in 13 of his 23 at-bats. The Cincinnati Reds followed suit in the '10 NLDS using a quartet of lefties as Howard struck out five times in 11 AB. And, of course, the World Series champion San Francisco Giants allowed Howard to become familiar with lefties Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt, striking him out 12 times in 22 AB.

If you are keeping score at home, that is a grand total of 30 strikeouts in 56 at-bats, a 53.4 percent strikeout rate in his last three playoff series.

Howard is under contract for one more year before his five-year, $125 million extension kicks in. Phillies fans are worrying that the slugger is declining much sooner than anticipated.

2010 was rough for Howard. Aside from missing two weeks with a sprained left ankle, he finished the year with by far his lowest ISO (.229 compared to a .293 career average) and his .367 wOBA was two one-thousandths of a point from being a career low. Following four consecutive years of 45+ HR and 136+ RBI the respective 31 and 108 output is a disappointment.

The surprise, at least in the regular season, was that Howard did not decline against lefties. In fact, he improved! His .358 wOBA against lefties outpaced his career .329 average. By process of elimination, Howard must have declined against right-handers -- and he did, significantly. His career .424 wOBA against right-handers is head-and-shoulders above his .372 output in 2010.

Baseball is a great game because it is impossible to achieve optimal strategy. As your opponent makes adjustments to you, you make adjustments to those adjustments, and so on. Lefties threw Howard a bunch of low-and-away sliders, so the first baseman started to look for those pitches more. He was crushing fastballs from right-handers, so those pitchers threw him more soft stuff.

In 2008, one in every two pitches thrown by a right-hander was something hard -- particularly four-seam fastballs. That figure dropped to 47 percent in '09 and 42 percent in '10.

The following heat map displays the fly ball distance on soft stuff thrown by right-handed pitchers in each of the past three seasons. Two things are apparent on the graph: right-handers have become much more willing to challenge Howard inside, and that Howard became noticeably weaker against pitches on the outer portion of the plate -- perhaps the latter as a function of the former.

Ryan Howard's fly ball distance vs. RH soft pitches

The following heat map shows the fly ball distance on hard stuff thrown by right-handers from 2008-10. Notice that Howard's coverage of the plate -- particularly the inner portion -- seems to have vanished.

Ryan Howard's fly ball distance vs. RH hard pitches

It is particularly the hard stuff that pitchers have been using inside on Howard. This could be an indication that Howard's bat speed slowed; that they doubt his ability to turn around on an inside fastball.

If that is the case, the large extension awarded to Howard by Phillies GM Ruben Amaro may become the franchise's biggest mistake before it even starts.


Jose Bautista's 2010

Jose Bautista had a career year in 2010. His season was even more impressive when you compare his numbers from just a year ago.

Jose Bautista Overall

Jose Bautista In Play SLG%

Bautista improved significantly against RHP in 2010, and this accounted for much of the jump in his production.

Jose Bautista vs. RHP

In 2010, Bautista had a K Rate of 16.3% against righties, down from 25.1% in 2009. His line drive rate jumped from 11.7% to 14.2% against RHP. Bautista also posted the second best wOBA vs. RHP (.430) of all right handed Major League batters in 2010, behind only Miguel Cabrera (.441).

Bautista also became very efficient in hitting offspeed pitches, particularly sliders.

Jose Bautista vs. Sliders

Jose Bautista truly took the league by surprise this year. Having never hit more than 16 HRs in any season, he led the league with 54. At age thirty, Bautista will be entering the 2011 season with increased expectations given his remarkable 2010. It wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect pitchers to make significant adjustments in how they pitch the Blue Jay slugger from here on out. As such, it will be interesting to see how Jose himself adjusts, and whether he can come close to duplicating this remarkable breakout season.