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Too Much Plate

CC Sabathia ran into trouble this post season due to his inability to hit the outside edge of the plate against right-handed batters.  During the regular season, CC worked middle-out against RHB.

CC Sabathia vs. RHB, 2010 regular season.In the post season, his most frequent pitches are down the middle of the plate. 

CC Sabathia vs. RHB, first two starts of 2010 post season. Since righties have less of the plate to cover, they're hitting CC hard.  In the Wednesday afternoon game, watch to see if Sabathia can hit the outside corner as a clue that he's back on track.


Raul Ibanez and the Fastball

Phillies fans are well aware of Raul Ibanez's struggles at the dish during the 2010 post-season. In 25 plate appearances, the left fielder has a triple-slash line of .130/.200/.174. During the regular season, he set a career-low in wOBA among the seasons in which he was a regular starter (since 2002), at .341.

These struggles come after a torrid first half of the 2009 season when he had an OPS of 1.015 and seemed to be on his way to some MVP votes. However, during the second half, he fizzled, OPSing only .774. A good portion of his troubles are likely explained by his left groin strain that sidelined him for 23 days from June 18 to July 11. Since that injury, Ibanez simply has not been the same.

Having watched Ibanez in his time as a Phillie, I have noticed his problems with fastballs. At 38 years old, it seems like his bat speed has been in decline and thus has been rather helpless trying to make solid contact on fastballs. The following images show his in-play slugging percentage on fastballs, the first showing data from April 5 to June 13, 2009 and the second showing everything since.

Ibanez's in-play slug on fastballs, 4/5/09 to 6/13/09

Ibanez's in-play slug on fastballs since 6/14/09

Ibanez has become more of a low-and-inside fastball hitter, a typical area for left-handed hitters. He no longer dominates as much area towards the high and outside part of the plate.

Even worse, Ibanez has also become much less effective against "soft" pitches. Using the same time periods as above:

Ibanez's in-play slug on "soft" pitches, 4/5/09 to 6/13/09

Ibanez's in-play slug on fastballs, since 6/14/09

Given the sample size of the first image, there is obviously going to be some regression to the mean, but overall, Ibanez's recognition of soft stuff has rapidly declined. Additionally, his coverage of the outside part of the plate has been reduced to one small area high and outside but inside the strike zone.

On my blog, I suggested that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel should, at the very least, use Ben Francisco as a defensive replacement in left field late in games. However, this analysis leads me to believe that an outright lineup change in Game Four of the NLCS is imperative, since the Giants will be using left-hander Madison Bumgarner. Ibanez, who performs worse against lefties than Francisco, has been on a precipitous decline. It would behoove the Phillies to admit this before it is too late.



Chase Utley vs. Madison Bumgarner

Chase Utley has traditionally hit left handed pitchers well.  In fact, he holds an identical OPS of .894 against both RHP and LHP in his career.  In 2009, he actually hit lefties better than righties (.288/.417/.545 vs. a .279/.387/.489). and in 2010, the split was even greater (.294/.422/.581 vs. .266/.371/.381).

Tonight he faces a young lefty in San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner (.243/.304/.374 vs. LHB).  Bumgarner has featured a fairly effective curveball since his Major League debut.  Against the curve, opposing lefties have hit .154/.185/.269 with a .199 wOBA.

Madison Bumgarner's In Play SLG% vs. LHB

So how has Utley done against left handed curveballs? 

Chase Utley vs. LHP Curveball since 2008Since 2008, Utley has sported a line of .345/.431/.582 and a .442 wOBA against lefty curves.  As you can see from the heat map, Utley has hit the curve very well pretty much anywhere it's been pitched to him. 

Lastly, here are both players' overall In Play SLG% heat maps:

Madison Bumgarner In Play SLG% vs. LHBChase Utley's In Play SLG% vs. LHP since 2008

Make sure to watch this matchup closely tonight.  It will be very interesting to see how Bumgarner approaches Utley and whether or not he shies away from his breaking ball.