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Entries in Detroit Tigers (64)


Comparing strike zones for Sabathia and Verlander

During last night's ALDS Game Three between the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers, Yankee manager Joe Girardi mentioned during his in-game interview that he thought CC Sabathia wasn't getting some borderline calls from home plate umpire Gerry Davis.  He also brought it up in the post-game interview saying of CC, “I actually thought he made a lot of good pitches tonight and I thought the zone was a small zone.”

So was CC getting squeezed? Was Justin Verlander getting a better strike zone to work with?  Or both?

Let’s take a look at some of the numbers and heat maps.

(Click image to enlarge)

The most noticeable difference here is the strikes Gerry Davis was calling for Verlander off the outside edge to lefty hitters.  Verlander also benefitted from a few strikes that were a bit high.  However, it's tough to say whether CC would have gotten any similar calls in that area since he didn't throw anything there that was taken by any Detroit hitters. The up and away strike to RHB also seems to have tipped in Verlander's favor, while CC was getting the low and away area.

So what do the numbers say?

Game 3 - Gerry Davis Strike Zone
Strike Zone Called BallsOut of Strike Zone Called Strikes
Called Strike% In Strike ZoneCalled Strike% Out of Strike Zone

So what does this tell us? Essentially, CC and Verlander missed out on about the same number of called strikes in the strike zone. However, Verlander greatly benefited from an expanded zone, getting more than three times as many called strikes on pitches outside of the PitchFX defined strike zone. Most of those pitches are likely the outside strikes to lefties you see in the above heat maps.

As for the percentages, CC was getting fewer strikes called overall in the strike zone. A 62.5% strike zone called strike rate is pretty low. During the regular season, Gerry Davis correctly called 76.8% of strikes in the strike zone, and 78.9% for left-handed pitchers. For whatever reason, he simply was not giving CC much of a zone to work with yesterday.

Granted, we are talking about a total of just 16 taken pitches in the strike zone for CC and 17 for Verlander. If CC was throwing to some borderline spots that Gerry Davis does not normally call while Verlander was not, it could explain the disproportionate results.

However, for strikes called out of the strike zone, it is pretty clear that Verlander was the big beneficiary in last night's game. Three of his strikes called on pitches out of the zone were deciding strike three pitches.


Did Alburquerque Really Hang a Slider?

Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees hit a grand slam Saturday night off Al Alburquerque of the Detroit Tigers that put game one of the ALDS out of reach.  Starting with the call of the game, the narrative is that Al threw a slider that did not sink.  Alex Aviala, Al's catcher, explains to Jason Beck:


“He’s got two sliders, one that he throws for a strike and one that normally goes out of the zone,” Avila said. “I think he just tried to make too good of a pitch there, and it just kind of stayed up. That happens.”

The first version, the one for a strike, was his first pitch to Cano, who took it. The second pitch was meant to be the sharper one, the one that falls out of the zone. He uses it when he’s ahead in the count and gets aggressive hitters swinging and missing.


Looking at PITCHf/x data, I'm not sure that narrative is quite right.  First look at the location and movement on Alburquerque's slider during the regular season.

Al Alburquerque slider, location and movement, 2011 regular season.Al's sliders move down and in on a left-handed batter, and most often wind up in the lower inside quadrant of the plate, often on the edge of the strike zone.   Look at the movement of the two sliders he threw Cano:

Al Alburquerque slider, location and movement, 2011 ALDS game one.The first slider didn't move.  There was no break on the ball, it stayed up in the zone, and Robinson took it for a strike.  The second pitch did what most of Alburquerque's sliders do.  It broke down and in and caught the edge of the plate.  Maybe he meant it to break down further, but that particular break and location was very effective for the Tigers' rookie during the regular season.

Give Robinson Cano some credit.  This is exactly the kind of pitch he learns to hit in the home run drill run by Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long.  The drill forces hitters to be quick on inside pitches, and it turned Cano into a power hitting second baseman.  The pitch was not that bad.  Robinson Cano is simply that good.


Verlander's Reverse Platoon Split

The New York Yankees' lineup will likely sport six lefty bats --  Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and switch-hitters Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada  -- against Tigers ace Justin Verlander tonight. You might that that gives New York an advantage against the Detroit righty, but Verlander has shown a reverse platoon split this season and has actually been better against lefties than righties dating back to 2008:

Verlander's platoon splits


Vs. LHB: .174/.233/.271

Vs. RHB: .215/.253/.364

Since 2008

Vs. LHB: .224/.292/.340

Vs. RHB: .233/.289/.359

Verlander shelves his slider against left-handers, throwing his fastball (55 percent), changeup (26 percent) and curveball (18 percent). His heater is much more of a swing-and-miss pitch against lefties (21 percent) than righties (14 percent). Part of what makes Verlander's fastball so tough for lefties is that it's basically two pitches. He'll buzz them high and inside, or pepper the outside part of the plate:

Verlander's fastball location vs. lefties, 2011His hard, upper 80s changeup tumbles low and away and often ends out of the strike zone:

Verlander's changeup location vs. lefties, 2011Verlander's change catches the plate less than one-third of the time, but hitters whiff at the pitch nearly 40 percent of the time they swing.

With his curve, Verlander does an exceptional job of painting the black low and away:

Verlander's curveball location vs. lefties, 2011

Verlander has the highest overall miss rate among right-handed AL starters against lefty hitters, getting them to come up empty 27 percent of the time they swing. And he'll ring them up on any of his pitches, registering 57 Ks with the curve, 54 with the fastball and 32 with the changeup. Don't expect this Tiger to tremble against New York's loaded lefty lineup.