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Entries in San Francisco Giants (49)


Bumgarner Boosts His K Rate

For a former top-10 prospect on the defending World Series champions, Madison Bumgarner pitches in relative obscurity. Two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and international man of mystery Brian Wilson get the attention on San Francisco's staff, and LA's Clayton Kershaw is the precocious NL West lefty that pundits swoon over. Yet, the soon-to-be 22 year-old Bumgarner has quietly ranked among the NL's best while boosting his strikeout rate.

Bumgarner's K rate has climbed from about seven batters per nine innings in 2010 to 7.9 per nine in 2011. And that uptick hasn't simply been the result of facing more hitters per inning: Bumgarner has struck out 21.1 percent of the batters that he has faced this year, compared to 18.2 percent last season. That 2011 K/PA total puts Bumgarner in the same rarified air as Dan Haren, Ricky Romero and CC Sabathia.

How has Bumgarner racked up the Ks? By gaining a tick on his fastball (from 91 MPH to 92 MPH) and shifting his location of the pitch.

In 2010, Bumgarner often threw his fastball middle and middle-away to left-handed hitters:

Bumgarner's fastball location against lefties, 2010

Lefties made lots of contact against Bumgarner's fastball: his 14 percent miss rate with this pitch was well below the 17-18 percent league average for lefty fastballs versus lefty hitters.

In 2011, Bumgarner seems to be employing a high-low approach with his fastball against same-handed batters. While his 2010 fastball was at the same height in the zone most of the time, his '11 heater complements those higher offerings with more low-and-away fastballs:

Bumgarner's fastball location against lefties, 2011

That shift in pitch location is paying dividends: lefty hitters have missed Bumgarner's fastball 24.8 percent of the time this year. Most of those misses have come on fastballs high in the zone. Maybe hitters are taking weaker cuts at those high pitches because they're also trying to cover the lower portion of the zone.

Versus righties, Bumgarner pretty much threw his fastball right down the pike last year:

Bumgarner's fastball location against righties, 2010

Righty batters missed Bumgarner's fastball 11.8 percent of the time that they swung, south of the 15 percent league average.

This year, he's throwing more outside fastballs:

Bumgarner's fastball location against righties

Right-handers have missed Bumgarner's fastball 19.4 percent of the time in 2011, with the highest percentage of those empty swings coming on outside fastballs.

As a guy possessing four major league-quality pitches, Bumgarner already gave opponents much to think about when they stepped into the box. But now, they not only have to contend with an upper-80s slider, a high-70s curve and a mid-80s change, but also a fastball that goes high-low against lefties or middle-away versus righties. That's enough to give a hitter a headache.


Zito Throws a Curve

Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants made consecutive starts against the San Diego Padres.  In the first, he pitched brilliantly, walking none and striking out seven, allowing one run during seven innings of work.  In the second, Saturday night, Barry walked four and struck out three, giving up eight runs in 3 2/3 innings. Talking to the AP after the game, Zito blamed his curve ball:

"It was difficult for me to get the ball down tonight," Zito said. "For the most part, the curveball didn't have the finish down, and the change up, either."

Zito's curve baffled the Padres in the 7/7 game:

Barry Zito, curve ball, 7/7/2011. Location on the left, movement on the right.Zito threw the pitch for strikes, getting nice movement in and down on right-handed batters.  He threw 29 curves, representing 27% of his pitches that day. Of those,  65%  resulted in strikes, batters going 0 for 5 with two strikeouts when it was the deciding pitch.

The pitch missed on 7/16:

Barry Zito, curve ball, 7/16/2011. Location on the left, movement on the right.Barry could not get the pitch inside on right-handers.  He also left the pitch up.  You can see the difference in the movement, as much less lateral movement kept the pitch outside the strike zone, and a bit less vertical movement helped keep it high.  Zito threw his curve in this game 22.4% of the time, only 47% of them resulting in strikes.  The two San Diego batters put in play resulted in hits. although Barry did manage two strikeouts on the pitch.

Zito could not depend on the pitch, however, so he went to the fastball more.  Since Barry's fastball isn't that fast, and his control of that pitch wasn't that good, so Padres batters managed two hits and two walks off that pitch, chased Barry from the game early.


The Beard Experiments With His Fastball

Brian Wilson, San Francisco's bushy-bearded, mohawked stopper, will get the call for Bruce Bochy's National League All-Stars tonight if a save chance arises. There has been some concern about The Beard lately, as he has coughed up five runs in five innings this month. Henry Schulman of The San Francisco Chronicle explains

Before Saturday's game, pitching coach Dave Righetti conferred with Bochy and the decision was made to sit Wilson, who has not been sharp lately. In his past five appearances, he has allowed nine hits and five runs (four earned) in five innings, with two blown saves and a loss.

Wilson's fastball velocity is down some, though part of that can be traced to throwing more two-seam fastballs. which are slower but move more.

"He feels great. He's healthy," Bochy said. "We've talked to him about it. We're not concerned about it at all."

Wilson's fastball velocity is down this season, as he's averaging 94.2 MPH with the pitch after sitting at 95.9 MPH in 2010 and 96.5 MPH in 2009. And, as Schulman noted, Wilson is throwing somewhat slower fastballs with more tailing action, particularly since the beginning of June. Look at the movement on Wilson's fastball in April and May, compared to June and July:

Brian Wilson's fastball movement, April-May 2011

Brian Wilson's fastball movement, June-July 2011

Since June, Wilson's fastball has added about two inches of armside run and has had one less inch of vertical break. Compared to 2010, Wilson's June-July 2011 fastball has four to five inches more tailing action and sits two inches lower in the zone. 

The result of Wilson's fastball experimentation so far has been a sharp drop in hitter misses -- 15 percent this season, compared to 25 percent in 2010 -- but an increase in ground ball rate from 36 percent last year to 53 percent in 2011. Perhaps Wilson is still adjusting to the extra run on his fastball, as his strike percentage with the offering has fallen from 64-65 percent in years past to 59 percent this season.

Overall, batters have a .307 Weighted On-Base Average against Wilson's fastball this season, compared to .275 last year. It will be interesting to see whether Wilson continues to throw his fastball with added movement and less velocity, sacrificing some whiffs for grounders, or he returns to the more powerful approach employed in past seasons. If he gets in the game tonight, keep a close eye on The Beard's heat.