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Entries in oakland athletics (22)


That's Quite a Curveball, Sonny

Sonny Gray has emerged as one of the game's great strikeout artists during his brief MLB career, punching out hitters at the sixth-highest clip (9.5 per nine innings) among American League pitchers who have thrown at least 35 frames this season. The 2011 first-round pick out of Vanderbilt has racked up those Ks with his curveball, which Baseball America called a "knockout" pitch and the best in the Oakland A's system entering 2013. Batters would surely agree: Gray has more strikeouts with his curve (20) since being inserted into the A's rotation on August 10 than every MLB starter not named A.J. Burnett.

Here's more on Gray's curveball, as the whiff-prone Houston Astros (punching out in an MLB-leading 25.5 percent of their plate appearances) just try to put the wicked pitch in play.

  • The 5-foot-11, 200 pound righty gets plenty of downward movement on his curveball, as it drops an average of 8.3 inches compared to a pitch thrown without spin. For comparison's sake, the average downward break on a curveball for starters is 5.8 inches. The only starters who throw the pitch regularly with more downward break are Chris Tillman, Kris Medlen, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Felix Doubront, Jeremy Hellickson and A.J. Griffin.
  • With that droping action on his curveball, Gray has buried the pitch as hitters' knees. Gray has thrown his curveball to the lower third of the strike zone 69.4% of the time, far above the 56.2% average for starters. Teammate Tommy Milone and Burnett are the only starters to throw a higher percentage of lower-third curves.

Pitch location of Gray's curveball


  • Pitchers with curveballs that drop like Gray's tend to induce more swings and misses than those with lesser downward break (hitters whiff about 31% of the time against curves with at least eight inches of downward movement, compared to about 28% on curves with less than eight inches of downward break). That has certainly been the case with Gray, who boasts a 42% miss rate with his curveball. That's on par with Fister, Stephen Strasburg (41%) and Clayton Kershaw (40.5%) for tops among starters.
  • Hurlers are also much more effective when they keep their curves low in the strike zone (.234 opponent slugging percentage) than when they hang a breaker in the upper-third of the plate (.319 opponent slugging percentage). Keeping his curve low in the zone, Gray has limited batters to a .125 slugging percentage against the pitch. He has yet to allow a home run when he snaps off a curveball.

ROY or Not, Cespedes a Quick Learner

Ordinarily, Oakland A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedes would earn Rookie of the Year hardware for his performance during the 2012 season. Cespedes racked up nearly 250 total bases and slugged 23 home runs while transitioning from Cuban baseball (thought to be the equivalent of A-Ball stateside) to the majors. 2012 could hardly be described as an ordinary year, however -- not with a Mickey Mantle-in-training grabbing the nation's attention with each circus-like catch and clout.

While Cespedes lost out to Mike Trout in ROY voting, the new face of Oakland's franchise proved to be a quick study against major league pitching. He started his big league career swinging and missing at Adam Dunn-like levels, but he connected much more frequently as he led the A's to their first playoff appearance since 2006.

At times, Cespedes looked like he came straight from A-Ball during his first month in the majors. His 38% miss rate during April was second-highest among qualified hitters, besting only Dave Kingman doppelganger Mark Reynolds. Cespedes had an especially hard time against low pitches, whiffing 57% of the time that he swung:

Cespedes' contact rate in April

Cespedes logged only 23 plate appearances in May due to a left hand injury. But when he returned in June, he was a much more complete hitter. His 28% overall miss rate matched the MLB average, and he sliced his miss rate on low pitches to 36%:

Cespedes' contact rate in June

He plateaued contact-wise during his monstrous July, missing 28% of pitches overall and a slightly smaller percentage of low stuff than the month before (33%)...

Cespedes' contact rate in July

...Then cut his miss rate down to 22% in August (26% on low pitches):

Cespedes' contact rate in August

Cespedes whiffed slightly more in September (25% overall, and 32% on low pitches), but that was still far below his early season rates:

Cespedes' contact rate in September

Cespedes was a near-automatic out against low pitches prior to his hand injury, coming up empty over half of the time he swung at stuff thrown at the knees and slugging just .333 (about 40 points below the MLB average). From June on, though, Cespedes cut his miss rate to below the league average led the American League with a .563 slugging percentage against low pitches. He went from a liability to lethal in no time, and his counterpunching pitchers so quickly bodes well for his future. Cespedes is no Trout, but he's much more than the one-dimensional slugger some feared he would become.


Cespedes with a Veteran's Strike Zone

All 2012 data through Sunday, April 22nd; Minimum 100 Pitches Outside the Strike Zone. (Click image to enlarge)

Athletics' rookie Yoenis Cespedes is getting calls like a veteran.  He has the lowest called strike rate on pitches out of the strike zone - in fact, of the 88 pitches he's taken outside the zone, only one has been called a strike.  In 2011, MLB players who saw at least 500 pitches out of the zone averaged a 9.6% called strike rate.

Yoenis Cespedes - All pitches taken outside the strike zone.You can see that the vast majority of called balls for Cespedes are not close to the strike zone, which certainly brings down his overall rate.  However, there are a number of pitches in that borderline area that have simply gone his way; six have come with two strikes. Not bad for a guy with only 16 Major League games under his belt.