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Entries in Mariano Rivera (19)

Wednesday
Feb122014

Lefties Lay Off Rodney's Fastball/Changeup Combo

Excluding a select few bullpen iron men  like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, relievers just aren't built for sustained excellence. Their job -- hurling max-effort pitches, logging what amounts to two months' worth of innings for a starter -- is inherently volatile. Some 'pen arms manage to dominate for a decade-plus, avoiding injury and bad bounces that balloon ERAs, but many more devolve from relief ace to dud quicker than you can say "Derrick Turnbow."

Fernando Rodney hasn't quite fallen to such depths -- he just landed a two-year, $14 million contract from the Mariners, after all. But he's nonetheless a prime example of how transient the "relief ace" label can be. The changeup artist was considered a chronic underachiever entering the 2012 season, posting a career park-and-league-adjusted ERA just one percent above average (101 ERA+) and issuing 4.9 walks per nine innings pitched. Then Rodney, in his mid-thirties, suddenly became an arrow-slinging assassin. He walked a mere 1.8 hitters per nine for Tampa Bay in 2012, with the best single-season ERA+ (638) ever for a reliever working 60-plus frames. After a decade of disappointment, Rodney turned in a year that made Dennis Eckersley's fabled 1990 campaign (603 ERA+) look tame.

Was Rodney a changed man? Apparently not. While no one should have expected a repeat performance of 2012, he was pretty much the same strike zone-challenged pitcher who unnerved fans in Detroit and L.A. for a decade (4.9 BB/9, 113 ERA+ with Tampa in 2013). Left-handed batters proved especially troublesome. While lefties took wild swings against his fastball/changeup combo during his banner 2012, they learned to lay off and trot to first base in 2013.

Rodney enticed lefties to chase his pitches 38.9 percent of the time in 2012, blowing away the 28 percent average for righty relievers against opposite-handed batters and trailing only Red Sox teammates Koji Uehara (48.3 percent) and Junichi Tazawa (39.4 percent) among American League firemen. In 2013, though? Rodney baited lefty hitters 31.3 percent of the time, which matches his overall lefty chase rate during the Pitch F/X era (2008-present).

What changed? Lefties stopped bailing Rodney out by swinging at pitches so far off the outside corner that they'd need a telephone pole to make contact. Check out lefties' swing rate by pitch location versus Rodney's fastball over the past two seasons, and then against his changeup.

Fastball 

Lefties' swing rate vs. Rodney's fastball, 2012

Lefties' swing rate vs. Rodney's fastball, 2013

Changeup

Lefties' swing rate vs. Rodney's changeup, 2012

Lefties' swing rate vs. Rodney's changeup, 2013

Rodney's fastball chase rate against lefties dipped from 33.7 percent in 2012 to 24.7 percent this past season. That's awfully close to his overall 26.8 percent fastball chase rate versus left-handers during the Pitch F/X era. He also got fewer chases on the changeup: 47 percent in 2012, and 39.7 percent in 2013. His changeup chase rate against lefties since '08? 39.1 percent. With lefties showing more typical plate patience against him, Rodney surrendered a free pass to 15.2  percent of batters faced after walking lefties just 6.3 percent the previous season. Lefties reached base at a .363 clip, after being held to a .222 OBP in 2012.

Rodney will always have 2012, but he doesn't appear to be a fundamentally different pitcher than the guy who gave Jim Leyland and Mike Scioscia heart palpitations for years. Unless lefties do him a favor by lunging at unhittable, off-the-plate pitches, Seattle's new crooked-capped closer figures to keep walking the yard.

Monday
Aug192013

How to get Miguel Cabrera out (it's not that easy)

I am in awe of living in the Miguel Cabrera Era.

I feel like every day I'm writing another edition of The Miguel Cabrera Report describing the accomplishments and exploits of the right-handed bat of this generation.

Check out the numbers for the last two seasons

The Miggy Report
 AVGSLUGOBPHRRBIRunsGAB
Miguel Cabrera 2013 .360 .689 .452 40 120 89 116 444
Miguel Cabrera 2012 .330 .606 .393 44 139 109 161 622
Miguel Cabrera 2012-13 .342 .641 .418 84 259 198 277 1066

How to get Miguel Cabrera out

I thought you might interested in knowing that there are some ways of getting Miggy out, but the margin between a pitcher's success and failure is mighty slim.

All the graphics represent Miguel Cabrera BA for 2013

Here is a look at Cabrera's 522 PA in 2013

Clearly, we can see that Cabrera owns the inner half of the plate where he's hitting .404.

So if a pitcher wants to get Cabrera out, he's got to go to the outside.

Cabrera on the outer half

Cabrera is hitting .299 on the outer half of the plate, a number that a pitcher would not consider manageable particularly when you consider he's hit 15 homers and has a 1.037 OPS out there.

How about the upper half of the outer half of the plate?

Is this how to get Miggy out?

If I were a pitcher, I wouldn't want to go to there.

In that quadrant, Cabrera is hitting .396 and he has an OPS of 1.301.

How about the middle of the outer half?

OMG! This is not where you want to pitch Cabrera.

Miggy is hitting .453 with 12 homers and an OPS of 1.425.

That leaves only one spot

This is indeed the magic spot.

Cabrera proves that he is human when you can throw him pitches low and outside where he is only hitting .147 with an OPS of .580.

But you must be precise

A pitcher has to really be precise because if you miss the corner and you pitch low, but you end up in the middle of the plate, Miggy starts to recover.

A .286 BA is mortal, the .866 OPS is getting scary though.

But don't miss low and inside

Miggy punishes pitchers at a .475 rate and a 1.198 OPS. But he's been held to just one homer.

Here's the one homer

On August 9, Cabrera made a remarkable adjustment against Mariano Rivera and pitch number seven from Mo was an enormous game-tying homer.

Good luck to pitchers

So there's your lesson in how to get Miggy Cabrera out.

Remember, we are talking inches here.

If you are off by just a couple of inches, the Marvelous Miguel will punish you and even if you are not, as Mo learned, if he makes an adjustment your best laid plans will head toward the stands.

 

Monday
Aug122013

The Miguel/Mariano Epic At Bat of August 9, 2013

There have been many a hypothetical conversation of who would win in a match-up between the best hitter in baseball versus the best reliever. 

How great would it be?

When hypothesis turned to reality, it was even better than we could have ever imagined.

Let's take a look at Miguel Cabrera facing Mariano Rivera

Friday night, August 9, 2013, at Yankee Stadium

It's the 9th inning, two down and Austin Jackson is on second with the Tigers trailing, 3-1.

Miguel Cabrera steps in to face Mariano Rivera

At the time of the at bat, Miggy was 0-for-5 versus Mo, with one strikeout.

  1. 0-0 - Foul on a 91 MPH Four Seamer - Over the Plate. This at bat could have been, should have been over here, but Lyle Overbay alligator-armed it as he approached the dugout railing.
  2. 0-1 - Foul on a 92 MPH Four Seamer - Inside - Cabrera grounds it foul.
  3. 0-2 - Ball on a 91 MPH Cutter - High - Mo tries to expand the zone and get Cabrera to chase a pitch around his neck. Miggy doesn't bite.
  4. 1-2 - Foul on a 93 MPH Four Seamer - Inside - This pitch was in on his hands and Cabrera slams the foul off the top of his knee.
  5. 1-2 - Foul on a 93 MPH Four Seamer - Inside - This time Cabrera fouls the pitch off of his foot.
  6. 1-2 - Ball on a 92 MPH Cutter - Outside - After pounding him on the inside, Rivera tries to get Cabrera to chase a cutter on the outside. It's not close; Cabrera shows no interest.
  7. 2-2 - Fly Ball Home Run on a 93 MPH Four Seamer - Over the Plate  - This is the pitch that people will talk about for years to come. 

If you stop the video, you can watch Cabrera make the adjustment of greatness.

While thousands of times in his MLB career, batters have stepped into Mariano's cutter only to be jammed resulting in a swing and a miss, a foul, or a broken bat that leads to a weak grounder. But Cabrera, on that beaten leg, opened his stance. He took a step toward third base so that he could get the fat part of the bat on the ball and then slam it to dead centerfield and over the fence. Even though the pitch was on the lower inside part of the plate, Cabrera was able to keep his weight back, his hips back, and extend his arms in a magnificent display of hitting.

A "Wow!" Mo-ment

When you watch the replay, watch Mariano's reaction. He says, "Wow!" as he can't even believe it.

Treasure this at bat, I can guarantee you, it will be spoken about for years to come including when each of these players are inducted into the Hall of Fame.

 

If you can't see the video, head here.