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Entries in Boston Red Sox (105)

Monday
Jul112011

Breaking Down Team Ortiz's Dingers

Tonight at 8 p.m. E.T., eight of the game's most prolific sluggers will take their cuts in the 2011 Home Run Derby at Chase Field. For the first time, each league has a captain who handpicked three other teammates for the contest. National League captain and 2009 Derby champ Prince Fielder selected Matt Holliday, Matt Kemp and Rickie Weeks. American League honcho David Ortiz, who won last year's derby, called on Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano and Adrian Gonzalez.

Here's a quick breakdown of Team Ortiz, which offers a mix of pull power and all-fields thump.

Jose Bautista

Where he hits 'em: The leader in the home run clubhouse at the break with 31, Bautista is all about the pull power. Twenty-four of his shots have been ripped into the left field stands this season, with four clearing the center field fence and three going the other way. Believe it or not, that's actually a more even dinger distribution than in 2010, when Bautista pulled 47 of his 54 homers.

HR pitch location: As noted last week, opponents are trying to keep the ball away from Bautista, with little success. Take a look at the pitch location of Bautista's shots this season:

Bautista has hit 12 homers apiece on pitches located down the middle and on the outside corner of the zone. Inside, middle, outside...if Bautista has a weakness, pitchers haven't found it yet.

Pitch type breakdown: Sixteen of Bautista's home runs have come on fastballs/sinkers. He has gone deep six times on sliders, while also hitting three changeups, curveballs and cutters apiece.

Robinson Cano

Where he hits 'em: Playing his home games in Yankee Stadium, a venue that smiles upon left-handed hitters, Cano has pulled all 15 of his home runs this season. That pull-happy tendency might serve the second baseman well on Monday night: Chase Field gives lefty power hitters a 14 percent boost compared to a neutral park, according to StatCorner.

HR pitch location: Cano likes the ball on the inside third of the plate, particularly low-and-inside pitches that he can golf into the cheap seats:

Eight of Cano's homers have come on pitches thrown inside.

Pitch type breakdown: Six of Cano's round-trippers have come on sliders, four on fastballs/sinkers, two apiece on changeups and sinkers and one on a curveball.

Adrian Gonzalez

Where he hits 'em: In contrast to Bautista and Cano, Gonzalez is an all-fields slugger. Seven of his home runs have gone to the pull side, with two going to center field and eight the opposite way.

HR pitch location: As you might expect given his opposite-field slugging, Gonzalez does most of his damage on pitches on the outside corner:

Nine of Gonzalez's home runs have come on pitches located on the outside third.

Pitch type breakdown: Eleven of his homers have come on fastballs/sinkers, with four coming on changeups and one apiece on a slider and a cutter.

David Ortiz

Where he hits 'em: Papi has pulled 12 of his home runs in 2011. He has three blasts to center, and four to the opposite field.

HR pitch location: Ortiz has taken advantage of pitchers who have left the ball over the fat part of the plate:

Ten of his home runs have been on pitches thrown over the middle of the plate.

Pitch type breakdown: Ortiz is making much more contact on fastballs this season, and it's loud contact, too. Fifteen of Ortiz's homers have come on fastballs/sinkers, two on changeups and one apiece on a slider and a cutter.

Monday
Jun202011

Lester and Long Balls

Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox allowed 14 home runs so far this season in 97 1/3 innings.  He gave up the same number of homers in 208.0 IP during the 2010 season.  What changed?

The majority of home runs off Lester occur on his fastball, so this study will concentrate on that pitch.  The first thing to notice is the location of Lester's home runs:

Location of home runs off Jon Lester's fastball, 2010 and 2011.Up and in to righties is not a favorite home run spot.  This season, they're smacking balls that catch a lot of the plate.  The main reason for the shift comes from Lester himself:

Jon Lester, fastball pitch frequency, 2010 and 2011.Lester tended to work to the catcher's left hand in 2010, but in 2011 moved to the right hand.  Home runs came up and in in 2010 because that's where Lester threw the ball.  That's no longer true in 2011.

Batters are also teeing off on fastballs that don't stay up as much:

Movement of Jon Lester fastballs hit for home runs, 2010 and 2011.Although not shown here, the overall movement of Lester's fastballs hasn't changed.  Hitters are able to key on the ones that don't stay up as much, however.  "Rising" fastballs are difficult to hit for home runs, since batters get under them too much.  In 2011, batters are hitting the ones that come in flat.

That may be in part due to a drop in velocity.  In 2010, Jon averaged 93.5 MPH on his fastball, and 94.2 MPH on the home runs he allowed.  In 2011, his average fastball comes in at 92.5 MPH, 92.6 on home runs.  A batter has an extra tick to recognize the ball and line it up properly.

The biggest factor appears to be Lester's overall pitch location.  Working high to the catcher's glove hand gave batters trouble.  Now that he's working more over the center of the plate opponents can make better contact, and they can drive the ball out of the park more often.

Friday
Jun172011

Beckett and DIPS

FanGraphs makes an interesting point about Josh Beckett of the Boston Red Sox in terms of Defense Independent Pitching (DIPS).  His xFIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), a number that takes into account strikeouts, walks, home runs and batted ball type rates is almost identical to last season's number:

I know it’s tempting to look at guys who have both high BABIPs and HR/FB rates simultaneously and assume that they must be doing something wrong that allows hitters to tee off on them with regularity. Last year, we had this same conversation about Dan Haren after the Diamondbacks got tired of a “too hittable” pitcher and shipped him to the Angels. At the time of the trade, Haren had a 3.19 xFIP, but his ERA was 4.60 thanks to a .336 BABIP and a 13.9% HR/FB rate. Upon arriving in Anaheim, those numbers immediately dropped, and have stayed below the league averages ever since.

Beckett (and Haren, and James Shields, and many of the other names on the list of guys we noted who were hit hard last year) are seeing dramatically different results this year than they did last year. In a few cases, they are pitching better, though the improvements aren’t anywhere close to the same scale as ERA would suggest. Beckett, though, looks to be almost exactly the same pitcher as he was a year ago, just now he’s on the other side of the results fence.

 

In the case of Beckett, this argument does not hold water.  The big difference between Beckett in 2010 and 2011 can be see in the results on his fastball.  In 2010, batters hit .311/.382/.536 on his fastball, good for a .392 wOBA.  In 2011, those numbers are .203/.319/.294, a .287 wOBA.  If this was a good luck streak and a bad luck streak, as FanGraphs suggest, then Beckett's fastballs should look the same in both years.  That's not the case.  The following mosaic shows three views of Josh's fastball, 2010 on the left, 2011 on the right.  From top to bottom, the heat maps display location in the strike zone, spin, and movement across the plate.  Click the graphic for a larger version:

Three views of Josh Beckett's fastball, 2010 on the left, 2011 on the right.

The pitch location row clearly shows Beckett less wild in 2011 than in 2010.  Note both graphs show the septum, a separation in density between the left and right halves of the plate.  The septum is much more pronounced in 2011.  The second row, the spin on the ball, clearly shows Josh is coming more over the top in 2011 than in 2010.  Josh suffered through an injury in 2010, and you can imagine that injury made it more difficult to get on top of the ball.  In addition, the smaller area of the spin in 2011 leads me to believe that Beckett is better at repeating his mechanics this season.

Finally, the third row shows that Josh delivers more lateral movement on his fastball this season.  His fastball in 2010 came in fairly straight.  That's not the case in 2011.  It seems that the extra side spin on his fastball in 2010 was canceling out some of the lateral movement that we see in 2011.

To sum up, Beckett exhibited less control of a straighter fastball in 2010. Batters hit that pitch harder.  Beckett's bad luck seemed more due to an injury hurting his mechanics that balls finding holes on good pitches.

DIPS is often right, as it was on Dan Haren.  In the case of Beckett, however, there is reason to believe that his improvement is more than just regression to and past the mean.  Sometimes pitchers make their own luck.