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Entries in Los Angeles Dodgers (49)

Friday
Aug092013

Yasiel Puig's Beautiful, Reckless Plate Approach

Roughly 2,400 miles separate Yasiel Puig's hometown of Cienfuegos, Cuba from his new home in Chavez Ravine. Incidentally, 2,400 miles is also about the size of the rookie sensation's strike zone. Puig has hacked, slashed and dashed his way to arguably the greatest offensive start in major league history, as his 191 OPS+ trails that of only Shoeless Joe Jackson (193 OPS+ in 1911) among batters getting 200-plus plate appearances during their rookie season. Whether he can sustain that success is another matter entirely. Here's a closer look at how Puigmania is setting records and making a mockery of baseball orthodoxy.

  • Puig is seriously stretching his strike zone, chasing 36% of pitches thrown off the plate (27% MLB average). Pitchers have taken note, as Puig has seen fewer strikes (40% of his total pitches) than all hitters save for Pablo Sandoval. Lunging at so many would-be balls usually spells doom for hitters-- after all, they're batting a collective .178 when swinging at a pitch thrown out of the zone this season. But Puig? He's hitting .280 when he chases a pitch.
  • The 22-year-old is swinging and missing -- a lot. Puig has the third-highest miss rate (37%) among batters taking at least 200 trips to the plate, making more contact than just Chris Carter and Pedro Alvarez. Carter is batting .210, and Alvarez .239. Puig currently sports a .377 average.He has been especially whiff-tastic -- yet still productive -- against fastballs. Puig's fastball miss rate (33%) is more than double the MLB average (16%), but his slugging percentage against the heat (.568) easily beats the big league mean (.433).
  • Considering that Puig has belted 11 home runs and is slugging .600, you would think that he's lofting pitches into the air all the time. However, the 6-foot-3, 245 pounder has actually hit far more ground balls (53%) than the MLB average (46%). He's just reaching base on those grounders like no one else -- Puig has an MLB-best .415 average when he chops the ball into the grass, 170 points above the big league average. Despite only making his debut in early June, Puig already ranks in the top 20 among all hitters in infield hits (19).

Puig is immensely talented, but he has also enjoyed the sort of luck that even Powerball jackpot winners would envy. He has the highest batting average on balls in play (.474) ever for a player during a season in which he gets over 200 plate appearances, and it's not even close. Ty Cobb (.444 in 1911) and Jackson (.434, also in 1911) rank a distant second and third, respectively. For Puigmania to persist, L.A.'s newest star will have to shore up plate approach.

Monday
Aug052013

Kershaw vs. Wainwright: Battle of Wicked Curves

Expect to see lots of jelly-legged hitters when Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright take the mound tonight in St. Louis. Kershaw's curveball has been dubbed "Public Enemy Number One" by Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, who knows a thing or two about breakers after watching Sandy Koufax flummox hitters for years. Wainwright's breaker, meanwhile still makes 2006 NLCS Game Seven victim and current teammate Carlos Beltran break out in a cold sweat.

Wainwright has struck out the second-most hitters with his curve (77) among MLB starters, while Kershaw (53) places fourth. To honor all those victims of Uncle Charlie, here are three reasons why both Kershaw and Wainwright's breaking balls are so nasty.

Kershaw

  • The Dodgers lefty gets a whiff about 38% of the time that hitters swing at his curveball, crushing the 28% MLB average and trailing only A.J. Burnett (42%), Madison Bumgarner (42%), Stephen Strasburg (39%), Jordan Zimmermann (39%) and Mike Minor (39%) among National League starters throwing the pitch at least 250 times.
  • When hitters do manage to make contact, they're chopping Kershaw's curve into the grass. His ground ball rate with the pitch (56%) is comfortably above the 51% big league average, which helps explain how Kershaw has yet to be taken deep on a curveball this season.
  • Kershaw rarely leaves his curve on a tee for hitters, throwing just 19% of them to the horizontal middle of the strike zone. The MLB average for starters, by contrast, is 26%.

Pitch location of Kershaw's curveball

Wainwright

  • While Wainwright gets a fair number of swings and misses with his curve (33% miss rate), he excels at getting hitters to expand their strike against the pitch. Wainwright has baited batters into chasing his curveball off the plate 38% of the time, tying him with Jose Fernandez for third-highest among starters. Minor (42%) and Burnett (39%) rank first and second, respectively.  

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Wainwright's curveball

MLB average swing rate by pitch location vs. curveballs

  • Wainwright buries his curve at hitters' knees, tossing the pitch to the lower third of the strike zone 63% of the time (the MLB average is about 56%). By keeping his curve down, Wainwright has also generated plenty of grounders (53%) and kept the ball in the park (two homers allowed on curveballs in 2013).
  • Part of the reason why Wainwright stays low with his curveball is that the pitch falls off the table like few others in the game. Wainwright's curve drops an average of 9.5 inches compared to a pitch thrown without spin, about four inches more than the big league average and more than all starters save for Barry Zito and Chris Tillman.
Monday
Jul292013

Clayton Kershaw's Curveball is to Die For

Don't look now, but Clayton Kershaw is having himself another Clayton Kershaw-type season. What with being stingy on the walks (35), liberal with strikeouts (156) and keeping his WHIP (0.837) at a microscopic level, not to mention leading the league in fun old-school stats like ERA (1.96), and neutralized new-school stats like ERA+ (182), Kershaw is either on par with, or performing better than he did in 2012.

Maybe he's mad about losing the Cy Young Award to R.A. Dickey last season.

Meet his curveball

So, for those of you who don't know him, say hello to Mr. Clayton Kershaw. And while you're at it, say hello to his curveball.

His curveball?

Yes. His curveball.

Turns out, the 25 year-old's curveball is as devestating as his minor league scouting report said it would be. And it had a lot of hype to live up to.

The hype didn't come right away mind you. Coming into the 2006 draft, one scouting report gave Kershaw's curveball a future grade on the 20-80 scale of 55. But by the time he got to Spring Training in 2008, the common comp for the young man from Dallas, TX was Sandy Koufax.

I can see how they would make that comparison.

Sandy is a lefty. Clayton is lefty.

Sandy was a Dodger. Clayton was in the Dodgers system.

1+1=2. Etcetra and so forth.

But here he is in his sixth season (fifth full season) and his curveball is drawing praise from ESPN's Buster Olney in the form of a few placed tweets.

No way.

Cue the hit chart.

Damn, he's right. 

MORE THAN 800!?!

Well, he has thrown 849 since the start of the 2011 season. And that start that Olney is referring too was his fourth of the season. So, yeah, more than 800 sounds about right.

Check this out

Overall, hitters are hitting .061/.061/.061 against Kershaw's curveball this season.

Lefties are hitting .080/.080/.080 and righties are hitting .055/.055/.055. How is it that lefties have a higher batting average against that pitch than righties? I don't know. Maybe they are all warlocks.

And it's not as if he never throws the pitch.

He's thrown 277 curveballs so far this season out of 2,356 total pitches. Good for 11.8% of the time.

Maybe he could stand to throw it more, but considering Kershaw hasn't had a full season with an ERA north of 3.00, who am I to tell him what to do?

Why isn't there more buzz around Kershaw?

Maybe I don't watch enough ESPN.

Or maybe the MLB Network isn't doing enough to showcase ace pitchers on the west coast.

Or maybe I don't watch enough TV. I probably don't watch enough TV.

But I don't hear as much about Kershaw as I do Justin Verlander. And Verlander, in my opinion, isn't in Kershaw's league with consistent better-than-any-pitcher-on-the-planet production. 

When Clayton Kershaw was a minor leaguer, he developed into a pitcher who's common comp was Sandy Koufax, which is probably the highest level of praise you can give to a young left-handed starter. In time though, they may have to switch the roles, and compare Sandy to Clayton.

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