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Entries in San Francisco Giants (49)

Saturday
Oct202012

Zito Paints Corners, Proves Us Wrong

Barry Zito gets hit hard by righty batters. The Cardinals' righty-heavy lineup mauls lefty pitching. Those facts set up a grim scenario for Zito last night as he sought to keep San Francisco alive in Game 5 of the NLCS. So, naturally, he worked deep into the eighth inning with nary a run allowed. Wait, what?

Zito tossed 7.2 scoreless innings, striking out six Cardinals hitters and walking none unintentionally. The lefty showed a marksman's touch, throwing 73 of 111 pitches (not including the intentional walk to Pete Kozma) for strikes. Zito threw quality strikes, as his heat map from last night attests:

Zito's pitch location against St. Louis in Game 5

Zito left just 18% of his pitches over the horizontal middle of the strike zone, compared to the 24% average for left-handed starting pitchers. Avoiding that spot is crucial, as Zito (.566 slugging percentage allowed on middle pitches) gets crushed when he catches too much of the plate.

Kudos, Barry Zito, for displaying ace-like control and command, and for reminding us why October baseball is magical, mystifying and humbling.

Friday
Oct192012

Zito Faces Long Odds vs. Cards' Lefty Killing Lineup

Two years ago, as the San Francisco Giants captured a World Series title, Barry Zito was baseball's equivalent of a healthy scratch. The lefty became a $20 million cheerleader after manager Bruce Bochy left him off the playoff roster. Tonight, however, Zito is tasked with saving the Giants' season in Game 5 of the NLCS. Considering Zito's major platoon split and the Cardinals' lefty-killing lineup, chances are St. Louis will crack open the bubbly.

Zito has been stellar against left-handed hitters this season, holding them to a .299 slugging percentage. That's far below the .378 average for lefty starters against lefty hitters. But righties are a different story:

Zito's slugging percentage by pitch location vs. righty hitters in 2012

Righties are slugging .468 against Zito, about 50 points above the MLB average for lefty starters against righty batters. The only qualified lefty starters with a higher opponent slugging percentage against righties are Randy Wolf, Joe Saunders, Bruce Chen, Derek Holland, J.A. Happ and Clayton Richard.

So, Zito gets smoked by righty hitters. What's even worse for the Giants is the Cardinals' lefty-thumping prowess. St. Louis' righty hitters are slugging .477 against lefty pitchers this season, ranking behind just the Milwaukee Brewers (.482) among all clubs. Allen Craig (.630 slugging percentage vs. lefties), Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina (.613 each) and Carlos Beltran (.500) have inflicted the most pain on southpaws.

Good luck, Barry. You'll need it.

Sunday
Sep162012

Posey Pummeling Fastballs, Sinkers

Buster Posey pushed the Giants a little closer to the NL West title last night, popping a two-run homer off Wade Miley that proved to be the difference in San Francisco's 3-2 win over the Diamondbacks. Posey has shown no ill effects from last year's home plate collision, making a compelling MVP case by ranking near the top in all three triple-crown categories: third in batting (.333) and on-base percentage (.407), and ninth in slugging (.546).

While the result was a game-altering, opposite-field homer, Miley had the right idea by tossing Posey a low-and-away fastball. That's the only portion of the zone where Posey hasn't gone all Ty Cobb on pitchers when they feed him a fastball or a sinker:

Posey's average by pitch location against fastballs and sinkers

Posey's batting .377 overall against fastballs and sinkers, ranking behind only Andrew McCutchen (.388) among qualified hitters. The Giants' backstop makes scads of contact against fastballs/sinkers (13.9% miss rate, 15.9% MLB average) and doesn't chase off the plate, swinging 21.8% of the time he gets an out-of-zone fastball or sinker (25.5% MLB average). That combo of contact and patience is how Posey gets in hitter's counts like the one that produced last night's deciding homer, and that approach has helped him rank 18th in the majors in fastball slugging (.593).

Miley hit his target last night. But the lefty, like many other pitchers this season, learned the hard way that there's no safe spot for a fastball with Posey at the plate.

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