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Entries in Boston Red Sox (105)

Friday
Jul272012

Aaron Cook: Human Batting Tee

When Aaron Cook's pitching, Boston's backstops might as well take the night off. The 33-year-old righty has always put the ball in play often, striking out just 3.7 batters per nine innings and walking 2.7 during his career, but he has taken his human batting tee act to ridiculous heights in 2012.

Cook carries a three-to-three K-to-BB ratio in 36 innings pitched into his start tonight against the Yankees. That's 0.75 strikeouts and walks apiece per nine innings. According to Baseball-Reference, Cook is the first pitcher since the end of the Dead Ball Era to record less than one walk and whiff per nine frames while throwing at least 30 frames in a season. The only other two pitchers  in MLB history to pull it off are Jake Northrop (1918 Boston Braves) and Slim Sallee (1919 Cincinnati Reds).

As always, Cook is taking a sinker-centric approach, with just a smattering of sliders and curves mixed in. Cook has thrown his sinker 83 percent of the time this season, by far the highest clip among starters (Chien-Ming is second at 70 percent). There's no secret here: He's gonna throw a sinker, and it's gonna be low and in the strike zone:

Cook's sinker location in 2012

 

Cook has thrown about 49 percent of his sinkers low (the MLB average for starters is 41 percent), and 55 percent of those sinkers have been located in the strike zone (51 percent average). It should come as no surprise, then, that Cook's sinker is a bat magnet:

Hitters' contact rate by location vs. Cook's sinker

Cook's sinker has a 5.3 percent miss rate, tied with the Yankees' Freddy Garcia for lowest among pitchers who have thrown at least 100 sinkers this season. Using the sinker so often, Cook is in a class of his own in terms of opponent contact. His MLB-low miss rate is almost half that of his next closest "competitor," Jeff Suppan:

Lowest miss rate among starting pitchers (minimum 400 pitches thrown)

PitcherMiss Pct.
Aaron Cook 5.6%
Jeff Suppan 10.7%
Bartolo Colon 11.1%
Henderson Alvarez 11.5%
Chris Volstad 12.1%
Patrick Corbin 12.3%
Kevin Correia 12.8%
Nick Blackburn 13.5%
Tommy Hunter 13.9%
Derek Lowe 14.3%

 

Cook's lack of whiffs mean that the catcher is obsolete nearly 60 percent of the time that he throws a pitch:

Highest percentage of pitches put in play among starters (Min. 400 pitches)

PitcherIn Play Pct.
Aaron Cook 59.9%
Jeff Suppan 54.7%
Jeanmar Gomez 53.0%
Dallas Keuchel 52.8%
Nick Blackburn 52.5%
Derek Lowe 51.9%
Henderson Alvarez 51.7%
P. J. Walters 51.3%
Bartolo Colon 51.2%
Jeremy Guthrie 51.1%

 

The Human Batting Tee has actually been pretty successful so far (3.50 ERA), but he has benefitted from a .222 batting average on balls in play and his fielding independent ERA is over a run higher (4.59). Can he keep this up? I don't know. Probably not. But right now, Salty and Shoppach have the best seat in the house to see baseball's biggest oddity.

Monday
Jul162012

Inside Heat Hurting Adrian Gonzalez

Adrian Gonzalez established himself as one of the game's great hitters by using his smooth, compact stroke to lash outer-half pitches to the opposite field. In fact, no active player this side of Jim Thome has a higher slugging percentage on outer-half offerings dating back to 2008 (.545). Against outer-half fastballs, Gonzalez has a .682 slugging percentage.  

Perhaps tired of being victimized by Gonzalez's outer-half prowess, pitchers have busted him inside much more this year. That's especially the case with fastballs. Gonzalez hasn't been able to adjust to all the inside heat so far, and his power numbers are suffering.

Check out pitchers' fastball location versus Gonzalez in 2011, and then this season:

Pitchers' fastball location vs. Gonzalez, 2011Pitchers' fastball location vs. Gonzalez, 2012

Opponents threw inside fastballs to Gonzalez 33 percent of the time in 2011, but that has jumped up to 43 percent in 2012. That's the second-highest percentage of inside fastballs seen by a lefty batter this season, behind only Atlanta's Jason Heyward. And loud contact for Gonzalez against inside heat has been about as common as quiet nights in the Boston media. Here's his slugging percentage vs. inside fastballs last season, and in 2012:

2011

 

2012

 

Gonzalez slugged .531 against inside fastballs in 2011, about 90 points above the MLB average. That has been cut in half in 2012. He's got one of the 20 lowest slugging percentages against inside heat this year:

Lowest slugging percentage vs. inside fastballs, 2012

BatterSlugging Pct.
Justin Morneau .091
Justin Smoak .125
Mike Moustakas .143
Kendrys Morales .154
Casey Kotchman .160
Carlos Santana .188
Kyle Seager .190
David DeJesus .192
Cameron Maybin .200
Cliff Pennington .214
Jimmy Rollins .222
Gordon Beckham .229
Brian McCann .233
Jason Kipnis .233
Miguel Montero .235
Jose Tabata .240
Dayan Viciedo .244
Jamey Carroll .250
Adrian Gonzalez .266
Justin Upton .268

 

Gonzalez's woes against inside fastballs go a long way toward explaining his 2012 power outage (he's slugging just .417 this season, compared to .548 during his first year with the Red Sox). Pitchers have adjusted their game plan against him, preferring to tie him up inside instead of watch him lace outside pitches off the Green Monster. Now, it's up to Gonzalez to counter-punch.

Thursday
Jul052012

David Ortiz Forever Young against Fastballs

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz has been left for dead many times during his 16 years in the majors.  The Minnesota Twins released him back in 2002, tired of dealing with his wrist and knee ailments. Papi perenially looked cooked in April over the past several years, seemingly unable to catch up to quality fastballs as he reached his mid-30s.

Yet here he still is, slugging his 400th career homer yesterday by ripping an A.J. Griffin down the right field line in Oakland. The shot moved him past Andres Galarraga and into sole possession of 49th on the all-time list. Duke Snider (407) is next.  

That last epitaph written for Ortiz -- "Here lies Big Papi, he couldn't hit the fastball anymore" -- looks laughable these days. His fastball slugging has gotten finer with age:

YearMiss RateSlugging Pct.
2010 22 .610
2011 14.4 .696
2012 13.9 .760
2010-12 Avg. 15.6 .437

 

Ortiz trails only Andrew McCutchen and Alfonso Soriano in fastball slugging percentage this season, and his 17 homers against the heat tie him with Adam Dunn for tops in the game. Papi absolutely kills slower fastballs, but he has no trouble turning on Verlander-level gas either. Check out his fastball slugging percentage by velocity:

VelocitySlugging Pct.MLB Avg.
Under 90 MPH 1.156 .503
90-94 MPH .619 .449
95+ .735 .363

 

Still possessing that kid of bat speed has allowed Ortiz to turn in one of the best years ever among older sluggers. His 162 OPS+ ranks in the top 30 all-time among batters age 36 or older getting 300+ plate appearances in a season, according to Baseball-Reference. Slug on, Papi. We'll probably write your epitaph again soon. And we'll probably be wrong.