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Entries in Boston Red Sox (105)

Tuesday
May292012

Hitters Not Taking Bard's Bait

While reliever-to-starter conversions are proving successful on both sides of Chicago (Jeff Samardzija for the Cubs and Chris Sale for the White Sox), the same can't be said for Boston's Daniel Bard. The erstwhile set-up man, whose most recent starting experience as a pro prior to this season was a walk-a-thon in A-Ball back in 2007, has tallied more free passes (29) than strikeouts (28) for the Red Sox while posting a 90 ERA+.

A major reason why Bard is handing out so many base on balls is that batters aren't taking his bait on pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. In fact, Cleveland's Ubaldo Jimenez is the only starting pitcher with a lower opponent chase rate this year:

Lowest Chase Rates among SPs (min. 150 batters faced)

PitcherChase Pct.
Ubaldo Jimenez 20.0%
Daniel Bard 20.3%
Jeanmar Gomez 21.0%
Philip Humber 22.1%
Ervin Santana 23.1%
Brandon Beachy 23.9%
Brandon Morrow 23.9%
C. J. Wilson 23.9%
Yovani Gallardo 24.0%
Erik Bedard 24.0%
MLB Avg. for SP 28.4%

 

Bard has a below-average chase rate with his low-90s fastball and low-80s slider, but it's his hard, upper 80s changeup that hitters are really laying off:

Bard's Chase Rate By Pitch Type

PitchPct. ThrownChase Pct.MLB Avg.
Fastball 55 22.2 25.7
Slider 26 25 35.5
Changeup 19 11 35.8

 

Bard often locates his changeup high-and-away to lefty batters...

Bard's changeup location, 2012...But they're not biting. Take a look at hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Bard's changeup, and then the league average for lefty batters against righty pitchers: 

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Bard's changeup, 2012

Average swing rate by lefty hitters vs. right-handed changeups, 2012

Perhaps Bard's chase rate will get a boost when he takes on the Tigers tonight (7 PM EST, ESPN). Collectively, Detroit's disappointing offensive attack (ninth in the AL in runs scored) has a 30 percent chase rate. Here are the Tigers taking few pitches thrown off the plate in 2012:

Highest Chase Rates among Tigers Hitters

BatterChase Pct.
Delmon Young 39.9%
Brennan Boesch 37.3%
Andy Dirks 35.3%
Danny Worth 33.3%
Ramon Santiago 32.4%
Miguel Cabrera 31.9%
Prince Fielder 30.7%
Don Kelly 30.4%
Friday
May252012

A-Gon Punchless vs. Outside Pitches

The Boston Red Sox traded a trio of well-regard prospects prior to the 2011 season to get Adrian Gonzalez's bat from the Padres and then signed the franchise first baseman to a seven-year, $154 contract extension. Gonzalez rewarded his new club with 27 homers, a .548 slugging percentage and a 155 OPS+ as the Sox paced the majors in runs scored. Boston still has a quality offense in 2012 despite an avalanche of injuries (third in runs scored). But, as the Boston Herald's Scott Lauber says, Gonzalez's power production is gonzo:

Adrian Gonzalez knows what you’re thinking.

Through 44 games and nearly 200 plate appearances, he has hit three home runs — one fewer than outfielder Daniel Nava, who was called up by the Red Sox [team stats] only three weeks ago. He’s also slugging .406, a lower percentage than even spray-hitting Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar (.422) or Chicago White Sox leadoff man Alejandro De Aza (.417).

Yo Adrian, where has your power gone?

Gonzalez's OPS+ is just 101 this year, a far cry from his career 138 mark. Where has Adrian's power gone? The answer lies on the outside corner of the plate.

During his first year in Boston, Gonzalez was one of the best hitters in the game in terms of thumping pitches thrown away. Look at his slugging percentage on outside pitches, and then the average for lefty batters:

Gonzalez's slugging percentage vs. pitches thrown away, 2011

 

Average slugging percentage for lefty hitters vs. pitches thrown away

Gonzalez slugged .518 against pitches thrown away in 2011, the fourth-highest clip among lefty batters and 130 points above the big league average. With 12 homers on pitches thrown away, Gonzalez trailed just Curtis Granderson, Ryan Howard, Carlos Santana, Carlos Pena and Jay Bruce among those swinging from the left side.  

In 2012, though? Gonzalez's heat map is ice cold on away pitches:

Gonzalez's slugging percentage vs. pitches thrown away, 2012

Adrian hasn't hit a single homer on a pitch thrown away, and his .238 slugging percentage is eighth-worst among qualified lefty batters. Gonzalez is renowned for lacing outside pitches to the opposite field, and he dented or cleared the Green Monster often on pitches thrown away in 2011...

Gonzalez's spray chart vs. outside pitches, 2011

So far in 2012, however, he's hitting singles and weak fly outs:

Gonzalez's spray chart vs. outside pitches, 2012

With Boston's outfield decimated (Gonzalez has played right field recently in interleague games), the Sox need their first baseman to find his power stroke. To do that, he'll have to get reacquainted with the Monster.

Tuesday
May152012

Missing: Beckett's Velocity

Suffice it to say, Josh Beckett is not the most popular man in Boston right now. Beckett, who lugs career worsts in strikeout rate (6.8 per nine innings), home runs allowed (2.3 per nine) and ERA+ (71) into his start against the Mariners this afternoon, was booed off the mound at Fenway last Thursday after the Indians knocked him out of the game in the third inning. His defensive, devil-may-care comments after the game about playing golf a day after he was skipped in the rotation due to a lat injury only added to Red Sox Nation's ire.

But the real story regarding Beckett's 2012 season isn't Golf-Gate -- it's that the formerly flame-throwing Texan has lost a few ticks of velocity on all of his pitches. With the exception of his cutter, Beckett's lack of zip has led to a serious drop in swings and misses:

Pitch2011 Velocity2012 Velocity2011 Miss Pct.2012 Miss Pct.
Fastball 93 91.6 17.2 8.4
Changeup 88.5 88 33.9 25
Curveball 77.4 75.2 38.4 27.3
Cutter 90.5 89.1 24.3 38.3

 

Beckett's declining fastball is especially alarming. He has sat about 1.5 mph lower on the gun this year, with his miss rate more than cut in half. His miss rate with the pitch is well south the 14 percent average for American League starters this season. The change is most striking in the upper third of the strike zone. Check out hitters' contact rate on high fastballs from Beckett in 2011, and then 2012:

Hitters' contact rate vs. Beckett's high fastballs, 2011

Hitters' contact rate vs. Beckett's high fastballs, 2012

Opponents missed 23 percent of Beckett's high heat in 2011, above the 19 percent average. This year? Just nine percent. With Beckett unable to reach back for a few extra ticks (his fastball maxed out at 96.3 mph last year, but just 93.9 mph in 2012), hitters are hammering the pitch. They slugged .372 against Beckett's fastball last year, far below the .438 average for AL starters. In 2012, they're slugging .544.

Even after a four-game winning streak, Boston still sits in last place in the AL East and has a slightly better than 50/50 shot at making the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus' Playoff Odds Report. If Beckett can move past the media maelstrom and start resembling the power pitcher of years past, the Sox' postseason chances should become higher than that of a coin flip.