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Entries in Bronson Arroyo (4)


Bronson Arroyo Stretches the Strike Zone, Survives Gopheritis

Admit it: you have no idea how Bronson Arroyo's still doing this. He's a wisp of a human being by starting pitcher standards, he slings more slop than a school lunch lady, and he coughs up home runs worthy of their own frequent flyer program. He was cut loose by the Pirates over a decade ago, back when their ace was...Kip Wells? A few years later, Boston swapped him to Cincinnati for prolific out-maker Wily Mo Pena. Yet, Arroyo keeps logging 200 innings a season and cashing checks: The Diamondbacks just signed the soon-to-be-37-year-old to a two-year, $23.5 million deal that includes an $11 million club option for the 2016 season.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Arroyo's unlikely longevity is how often -- and how epically -- he allows batters to take him deep. During his 14-year career, Arroyo has served up 314 home runs in 2,278.2 innings pitched (about 1.24 homers per nine frames). Pitchers who get blasted that often don't stick around the big leagues, much less perform well and pull in nearly $100 million in career earnings. Just five pitchers in MLB history have thrown 2,000-plus innings while allowing at least 1.2 homers per nine (Steve Trachsel, Brad Radke, Pedro Ramos, Arroyo and Woody Williams). And just three of those guys (Radke, Arroyo, and Williams) have managed to compile an above-average ERA once you account for park factors and leaguewide run-scoring levels.

Like Radke and Williams, Arroyo has overcome his severe case of gopheritis by displaying exquisite control. And the older he gets, the stingier he becomes with the free passes: Arroyo has lowered his walk rate in each of the past six seasons, from 3.1 per nine innings in 2008 to a mere 1.5 per nine in 2013. He nearly gave up more homers (32) than walks (34) last year, a bizarre feat that Arroyo actually accomplished back in 2011.

In his mid-to-late-thirties, Arroyo has become a devout follower of the Radke approach to pitching: Fill up the strike zone, walk no one, and learn to live with the solo and two-run bombs. Arroyo has steadily thrown more pitches over the plate (from 44.3 percent of his total offerings in 2008 to 53.8 percent in 2013), and he's getting more calls on the edges of the zone. Take a look at his called strike rate by pitch location back in '08, and then in 2013. Pay especially close attention to pitches thrown up around the letters, and at hitters' knees.

Arroyo's called strike rate by pitch location, 2008


Arroyo's called strike rate by pitch location, 2013

Arroyo has stretched the strike zone vertically, getting the benefit of the doubt from umps on both high and low pitches. His overall called strike rate, which sat at 33 percent back in 2008, climbed into the mid-to-high-thirties over the years and then shot all the way up to 41.4 in 2013. The only qualified starter with a higher called strike rate last season was Cliff Lee (42.2 percent).

Last year, we found that there's a connection between velocity and called strike rate: the slower you throw, the more calls you get from the ump. Arroyo certainly seems to be benefiting from this phenomenon. Never one for lighting up radar guns, Arroyo has become shown even less zip lately. He threw his seldom-used fastball an average of 86.8 MPH last year, down from 88.3 MPH back in '08. Arroyo's soft stuff is softer, too -- he averaged 75.1 MPH when lobbing a slider, curveball or changeup in 2013, compared to 76.3 MPH during his higher-walk days in '08. 

Despite Arroyo's durability and control, there's plenty that could go wrong over the next two years. His body could finally break down as he approaches 40. His receding fastball could enter Jamie Moyer territory. He could become even more homer-prone. But Arroyo has succeeded thus far by throwing his pedestrian pitches over the plate, benefiting from calls on the edges of the zone and tolerating the fireworks displays at his expense. It's not glamorous, but the D-Backs would gladly take another 400 innings of league-average slop-tossing from Arroyo.  


How do pitchers do on the first batter of the game?

We often hear about getting to a pitcher early, but I want to look at the earliest of the early and see how pitchers have fared on the very first batter they faced in the 1st inning.

Up first

  • Qualified starters are hit at a .253 pace by the leadoff batter in the 1st inning, batters have a .311 OBP, slug .393, for a .704 OPS.
  • Overall, qualified starters are hit at a .249 pace by all the batters they face, batters have a .307 OBP, slug .390, for a .697 OPS.

No surprises there. We expect the leadoff batter to do better than at least three and maybe four members of a representative lineup, so we expect them to be better in all statistical categories, but understandably, not by an enormous amount.

Who does well?

You won't find anyone better this season than Bronson Arroyo, who has faced 22 leadoff batters and retired them all, striking out five, getting eight grounders and nine outs in the air. Just to let you know, Arroyo has a 2.84 ERA in 1st inning and a .220 BAA.

Next up, is Jordan Zimmermann. Leadoff batters are 1-for-22 against Jordan with four whiffs for an .045 BAA. The one hit occurred in his last outing on August 2 when he allowed a leadoff double to Rickie Weeks and Zimm stranded him. Overall in his 1st innings, Zimmermann has a 1.64 ERA and a .163 BAA.

The third of four starters who have allowed one hit or less to the leadoff batter is Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie has faced 23 leadoff batters, walked four and allowed just one hit, a Matt Carpenter double on May 30. The Cards got to  Guthrie for two runs that night in the 1st, but Guthrie held them scoreless over the next five innings.

The final first batter star pitcher is the Mets phee-nom Matt Harvey. Harvey has allowed one hit and one walk to the 22 batters he's faced (.048), while striking out seven. The one hit was a Juan Pierre bunt single on June 2. 

First batter of the game strikeout leaders
John Lackey (BOS) 20 9
Wade Miley (ARI) 23 7
Ryan Dempster (BOS) 22 7
Matt Harvey (NYM) 22 7
Mat Latos (CIN) 23 7
Felix Hernandez (SEA) 24 7
Edwin Jackson (CHC) 22 7
Clayton Kershaw (LAD) 24 7
A. J. Griffin (OAK) 23 7
Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE) 22 6

And the not so good...

I find this list fascinating because there is such a mix of successful and not so successful pitchers.

1st inning Leadoff Batter Struggles
James Shields (KC) 24 10 .455 2
Eric Stults (SD) 23 10 .455 1
Andy Pettitte (NYY) 20 10 .526 1
Shelby Miller (STL) 21 9 .529 4
Mat Latos (CIN) 23 9 .409 1
Lance Lynn (STL) 23 9 .391 0
Kyle Lohse (MIL) 23 9 .409 1
Felix Hernandez (SEA) 24 9 .375 0
Bud Norris (BAL) 24 9 .391 0
Anibal Sanchez (DET) 19 9 .563 3

My particular annoyance

I hate it when pitchers walk the first batter of the game. It irks me. Consequently, these guys annoy me.

Leaders in Leadoff Walks (Ugh!)
Tim Lincecum (SF) 22 6 5 .353 .500
Dillon Gee (NYM) 22 3 5 .176 .364
Stephen Strasburg (WSH) 23 2 4 .111 .304
Shelby Miller (STL) 21 9 4 .529 .619
Ricky Nolasco (LAD) 23 5 4 .263 .391
Jeremy Guthrie (KC) 23 1 4 .053 .217
Jeff Samardzija (CHC) 23 7 4 .368 .478

Finally, here are the seven starters who have allowed two homers to first batters they faced

1st inning leadoff gopher pitchers
Yu Darvish (TEX) 22 3 2 .158 .474
Kyle Kendrick (PHI) 23 4 2 .200 .600
Kevin Correia (MIN) 22 7 2 .368 .684
John Lackey (BOS) 20 5 2 .250 .550
Jeff Samardzija (CHC) 23 7 2 .368 .737
Gio Gonzalez (WSH) 23 7 2 .318 .682
CC Sabathia (NYY) 23 5 2 .238 .571

The best first inning leadoff batters

Here's a bonus for you:

Leadoff batters in the 1st inning
Shin-Soo Choo (CIN) 98 .353 .439 .671 1.109 30 5 7 15
Nate McLouth (BAL) 85 .342 .388 .468 .857 27 1 5 7
Eric Young Jr. (NYM) 71 .328 .423 .410 .832 20 0 9 6
Starling Marte (PIT) 102 .319 .373 .500 .873 30 1 5 27
Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS) 106 .313 .358 .495 .853 31 2 5 14
Desmond Jennings (TB) 76 .290 .355 .435 .790 20 2 7 16
Matt Carpenter (STL) 87 .288 .345 .413 .757 23 1 7 10
Michael Bourn (CLE) 81 .286 .321 .416 .737 22 2 4 16
Brett Gardner (NYY) 101 .272 .337 .380 .717 25 0 8 19
Austin Jackson (DET) 79 .271 .354 .343 .697 19 0 9 12
Norichika Aoki (MIL) 91 .263 .352 .313 .664 21 0 10 6
Coco Crisp (OAK) 89 .250 .326 .413 .738 20 3 9 10
Alejandro De Aza (CWS) 105 .213 .295 .372 .668 20 4 11 19
Denard Span (WSH) 92 .200 .261 .271 .531 17 0 7 19
Alex Gordon (KC) 83 .200 .277 .267 .544 15 1 6 17


After all is said and done, the best part of the leadoff experience is that the game has started.


Arroyo and the Long Ball

In a few hours, Bronson Arroyo takes the mound in Cincinnati looking to avoid edging closer to a record set by Bert Blyleven. Usually, it would be an honor to be mentioned alongside the Hall of Fame Dutchman, but not when it comes to the all-time single season record for home runs surrendered. Arroyo has served up 44 dingers in 2011, putting him six shy of Blyleven's record set in 1986.

Arroyo has always had issues with the long ball (his career HR/9 mark is 1.23), but nothing like what he has experienced this year. Heading into today's start, his 2.18 homers per nine innings is the second-highest mark ever among pitchers who qualified for the ERA title, according to Baseball Reference. Only the late Jose Lima (2.20 per nine in 2000) got taken deep more often. Blyleven tossed a league-leading 271.2 innings during his record-setting '86 season, so his HR/9 total was "only" 1.7

Some will point to Arroyo's career-high 16.3 home run per fly ball rate as a sign that he has endured some poor luck this season. That HR/FB total is way above his career high of 10.6 percent, and his average opponent fly ball distance of 309 feet is actually below the 314 average he posted the previous two seasons. However, it's also true that Arroyo is giving lots up homers on pitches that are right down the middle of the plate:

Location frequency of Arroyo's HRs, 2011

Twenty-six of Arroyo's home runs have come on pitches located down the horizontal middle of the plate. He's missing down the middle more often overall this year, and he's getting burned more often:

2009: 21.8% of pitches thrown down the middle, 15.2 HR/FB%

2010: 22.1% down the middle, 17.6 HR/FB%

2011: 24.1% down the middle, 23.6 HR/FB%

When you're a soft-tosser like Arroyo, you can't afford to put the ball on a tee for the hitter. Opponents are slugging a MLB-high .738 on pitches that Arroyo throws down the middle, 265 points higher than the league average. If Bronson wants to stop singing the home run blues, he's gotta hit his spots more often.