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Entries in Chicago White Sox (34)

Monday
May212012

Dunn not Done for vs. Fastballs

Adam Dunn drove a Paul Maholm fastball 20 rows deep into the Wrigley Field bleachers yesterday afternoon, helping the White Sox top to the Cubs, even their record and pull within 2.5 games of the Indians for first place in the AL Central. Dunn, who seemed done for following a 2011 season in which he hit just 11 home runs and had a ghastly 56 OPS+ (his career average entering the year was 133), has kept the Sox competitive by re-emerging as one of the game's great power threats.

Dunn's 14 homers trail just Josh Hamilton (18) among MLB hitters, and his career-best 165 OPS+ ranks in the top 15.  The key to Dunn's turnaround? He's back to killing fastballs.

The 6-foot-6, 285 pound lefty batter mauled fastballs prior to signing with the Sox, slugging .655 against heaters from 2008 (the first year we have Pitch F/X data) to 2010. As Dunn's slugging percentage by pitch location shows, pitchers threw him a fastball over the plate at their own peril:

Dunn's slugging percentage by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2008-10

Dunn's fastball slugging percentage placed second to Albert Pujols (.725) in the majors from '08 to '10. But during his disastrous first year in the South Side, Dunn lost his power stroke against the pitch:

Dunn's slugging percentage by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2011

He slugged just .332 against fastballs in 2011, a far cry from his past mashing and way below the .430 big league average. To put Dunn's fastball woes in context, he got outslugged by water bugs like Ichiro, Juan Pierre and Elvis Andrus. When the entirety of your contribution comes with the lumber, that's a problem.

In 2012, however, Dunn is back to lashing fastballs:

Dunn's slugging percentage by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2012

In fact, Dunn has been the most prolific fastball slugger this side of a pair of Matts:

Highest slugging percentage vs. fastballs, 2012

BatterSlug Pct.
Matt Kemp 1.102
Matt Joyce .943
Adam Dunn .923
Bryan LaHair .886
Pablo Sandoval .853
David Wright .836
Jesus Montero .800
Paul Konerko .794
Curtis Granderson .766
Carlos Beltran .746
MLB Avg. .437
Friday
May112012

Best Mistake Hitters since 2010

Highest HR% on Mistake Pitches since 2010
PlayerPPAAVGSLUGK%HR%
Jose Bautista474183.396.9566.6%16.5%
David Ortiz383176.405.9714.5%15.0%
Matt Joyce25097.389.95811.3%14.7%
Shelley Duncan20475.387.89321.3%14.7%
Jim Thome21483.402.92716.9%14.6%
Russell Branyan17262.306.80619.4%14.5%
Matt Kemp508185.379.8799.7%13.7%
Pedro Alvarez21482.415.91512.2%13.4%
Mike Stanton293116.421.95610.3%13.2%
Pat Burrell24679.408.92111.4%13.2%
Josh Hamilton252124.369.8208.9%13.1%
Brennan Boesch276129.414.8757.0%12.5%
Ryan Braun458178.434.9146.7%12.0%
Brian McCann301109.367.78911.9%11.9%
Carlos Pena361139.296.74112.2%11.9%
Jorge Posada237101.257.64416.8%11.9%
Adam LaRoche24293.376.8179.7%11.8%
Joey Votto420165.466.9759.7%11.7%
Mark Reynolds459170.293.73117.6%11.4%
Carlos Quentin303109.286.7057.3%11.4%
Prince Fielder368159.365.7556.3%11.3%
Albert Pujols407162.379.8144.3%11.2%
Curtis Granderson411110.336.7763.6%11.2%
Kelly Johnson412153.329.7639.2%11.2%

Make a mistake to any of these hitters, and you're bound to pay for it. The above list includes only pitches that crossed the center of the strike zone since 2010. It's no surprise that Jose Bautista has a high HR% on mistake pitches; same for David Ortiz, Matt Kemp and a bunch of others.

I'm somewhat surprised to see Matt Joyce as #3 on the list. Of the 36 home runs he's hit since the start of 2010, 14 have come on pitches right in the center of the strike zone. Eight of those HRs came in 2011 when he hit 19 total long balls.

Nick Swisher has the most hits on mistake pitches with 80, while teammate Derek Jeter's 79 hits has him tied for second with Michael Young.

Mark Reynolds, #20 on the list, also has 30 strike outs on pitches over the middle of the plate since 2010. That's second only to Adam Dunn with 33.

Sunday
Apr222012

Picture Perfect Phil: Humber throws the 21st ever

On April 21st, Philip Humber was dominant in Seattle on the way to posting the 21st perfect game in baseball history. Humber was extremely efficient in his dispatching of the 27 Mariners he faced, needing only 96 pitches to complete the feat. On top of the low pitch count, Humber managed to accumulate nine strikeouts; his use of all of his major pitches while commanding the strike zone was masterful. In his post game interview, Humber showed humility, giving credit to AJ Pierzinski and his defense for getting him to that point. In this column, we'll look at how Humber mixed up his pitches en route to his perfecto.

What might be most amazing about Humber's start was his ability to live in the upper two thirds of the strike zone and still be effective; over 70% of Humber's pitches were at or above the horizontal middle of the zone. Below is a breakdown of Humber's pitch location throughout the game.

Humber's Perfect GameOver the first three innings, Humber set down the first nine by focusing mainly on his fastball and curve, using those eighty percent of the time. He threw only 37 pitches while notching four strikeouts, all swinging, three on curves and one on a changeup. By using his off speed pitched effectively early, he was able to set the Seattle hitters off balance. All other outs were contained within the infield, which can be seen below.

Humber's pitch location and outs through the first three innings

 The next time through the line up, Humber featured his slider 31.6% of the time, 5% more than the fastball or the curveball. This stretch was key to his success, as he needed only 20 pitches to retire the nine batters he faced. This allowed him to stay strong all the way to the end of the game. As can be seen below, worry may have arose as Humber gave up seven outs in the air, though only one were hit particularly hard but directly at the right fielder.

Humber's Pitch Location and outs the second time through the lineup

Humber's Pitch Location and outs in the final three innings

Through the final three innings, Humber labored the most, throwing 39 pitches while racking up four strikeouts. He focused specifically on spotting his fastball, throwing it 41% of the time, thirteen percent more than the slider and the curveball. The first batter of the ninth watched the first three pitches for the first three ball count of Humber's night, but he battled back to get the strikeout on a slider. The second batter of the ninth inning flew out to right field and Humber was one out away from his date with destiny. After battling to a 3-2 count, Humber went to the slider down and away, catching Brendan Ryan on a check swing called out by the home plate umpire. Pierzinski had to block the pitch and throw down to first to close the deal, but Ryan was so convinced he had walked there was no effort to run to first. 

After the game, Humber was mobbed by his teams and drenched in the typical ice bath of success. A Perfect Game: not too bad for a guy with 30 career starts.

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