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Entries in Boston Red Sox (105)

Tuesday
Apr172012

Big Game James

James Shields entered Monday's game against the Boston Red Sox with his team facing the possiblity of getting swept in four straight at Fenway.  He certainly stepped up, holding the Red Sox to no runs and four hits while striking out five over 8.1 innings.

James Shields vs. Red Sox LHB, April 16th, 2012James Shields vs. Red Sox RHB, April 16th, 2012Last year, Shields relied on his fastball only 35.3% of the time; fairly low compared to the league average of 46.2%.  Last night, he mixed up his pitches quite well, and in fact only threw 14 fastballs, accounting for just 14.8% of his total pitches.

In addition, Shields made sure to keep the ball away from righties yesterday, as you can see from the above graphic. Take a look at where RHB hurt him most in 2011:

James Shields vs. RHB, 2011 Regular SeasonShields really limited right-handed batters in 2011 by hitting that outside part of the zone. He followed this pattern yesterday and as a result, the Tampa Bay Rays got a much needed 1-0 victory.

Wednesday
Apr112012

Bard's First Start Better Than it Looks

At first glance, it appears that the Toronto Blue Jays roughed up Daniel Bard in his first career MLB start last night. Bard gave up eight hits and five runs, needing 96 pitches to get through five innings. That performance, plus Andrew Bailey's thumb injury and early hiccups for Alfredo Aceves and Mark Melancon, might add to the clamor to move Bard back to the bullpen.

Look closer, though, and you'll see a quality start marred by some seeing-eye ground balls. Bard struck out six Jays and walked just one, pounding the strike zone with his fastball and slider and inducing a bunch of swinging strikes:

Bard vs. Toronto, 4/10/12

PitchPct. ThrownZone Pct.Miss Pct.
Fastball 51 65 27
Slider 37 54 64
Changeup 13 25  
Bard Overall   56 36
Average AL SP, 2011   49 19

 

Bard got nine swinging strikes apiece with his fastball (averaging nearly 95 mph) and his slider. His 18 total swinging strikes tie him with Colby Lewis (April 6 vs. the White Sox) and Matt Garza (April 7 vs. the Nationals) for the highest total in a single start so far in 2012. Bard got Toronto to whiff on high fastballs and sliders that broke sharply away from righties:

Location of Bard's swinging strikes vs. Toronto, 4/10/12

When the Jays weren't whiffing, they chopped the ball into the turf. Bard got 10 ground balls, but six of them got through the infield.

Getting strikeouts, limiting walks and inducing grounders -- these are pitcher skills that produce positive results in the long run. While Bard's results were lousy yesterday, the process was much more promising.

Monday
Feb272012

Can Jacoby Ellsbury Keep Slugging?

Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury became a radically different offensive player in 2011, finishing second in American League MVP voting by bashing 32 home runs and posting a 146 OPS+. Ellsbury's 2011 homer total eclipsed his major and minor league tally from 2005 to 2010 (30).

ESPN SweetSpot blogger David Schoenfield thinks Ellsbury's newfound slugger status is here to stay, setting the over/under on Ellsbury's 2012 homer total at 24.5:

How much luck was involved in his 32 home runs? The ESPN Home Run Tracker breaks down home runs into different categories, including "just enough" (barely cleared the fence) and "lucky home runs" (a home run that would not have cleared the fence on a calm, 70-degree day). Miguel Cabrera led the majors with 16 "just enough" home runs. Ellsbury had just four such home runs. He had three "lucky" home runs. In other words, the power -- at least in 2011 -- was legitimate.

Ellsbury did change his plate approach considerably in 2011, pulling the ball much more often when he put it in play (35%, up from 27% from 2008-10)  and hitting far fewer ground balls on those pulled pitches (44%, down from 52%). As a result, Ellsbury ranked in the top in slugging on pulled pitches among qualified hitters:

PlayerSLUG
Curtis Granderson 1.108
Matt Joyce 1.031
Carlos Gonzalez 1.026
Jose Bautista 1.000
Mark Reynolds .995
Jay Bruce .982
Josh Hamilton .961
Josh Willingham .943
Jacoby Ellsbury .928
Mike Stanton .911

 

For comparison, Ellsbury slugged .579 when he pulled the ball from 2008-10, way below the .658 average over that time frame.

As you might expect from all those pulled pitches, most of Ellsbury's thunder came when pitchers located on the inside half of the plate. Here's his in-play slugging percentage by pitch location in 2011, compared to 2008-10:

Ellsbury's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2011

 Ellsbury's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2008-10

All but four of Ellsbury's jacks in 2011 came on pitches thrown down the middle or inside.

Pulling the ball more and cutting down on grounders are both positive signs in terms of Ellsbury's power-hitting prospects for 2012 and beyond. But a skeptic might point out that overall, Ellsbury's fly balls hit didn't travel much farther than in years past. Ellsbury hit fly balls an average distance of 254 feet in 2011, compared to 252 feet from 2008-10. The other nine hitters on that list of top pull hitters hit their fly balls an average of 275 feet, ranging from Josh Willingham's 258 to Mike Stanton's 296.

So, can Ellsbury keep slugging? I would answer with a qualified "yes." Ellsbury's plate changes portend to more power, making him a good bet for 15-20 homers if he keeps ripping the ball in the air to right field. His days of single-digit dinger totals are over -- ZiPS, Bill James and The Fans expect between 16 and 20 shots in 2012. With a little luck, he could creep up on 25. But expecting another 30 homer season from Ellsbury would be downright greedy, Red Sox fans.