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Entries in Seattle Mariners (36)


Which Pitchers are Really Getting Squeezed?

Earlier in the week we took a look at which pitchers have been squeezed the most based on total pitches called balls within the PitchFX established strike zone.  While it appeared that pitchers like C.J. Wilson (TEX) and Jon Niese (NYM) have been getting a tight strike zone, the truth is that these pitchers tend to stay around the strikezone with the majority of their pitches.  In fact, C.J. Wilson leads the league in called strikes within the strike zone:

(Data from all 2011 games through May 10th)

So in reality, while pitchers like Wilson do lose a lot of called strikes on the borders, it's mostly a product of the volume of pitches they locate there.  In fact, through Tuesday, Wilson was leading all pitchers in total called strikes, regardless of location, with 194.

If we really want to see which pitchers have had a tough time getting calls from umps, we need to look at the percentage of called strikes out of all taken pitches within the strike zone.

 (Data from all 2011 games through May 10th - Min. 40 taken pitches in the strike zone)

Wilson still cracks the top 50, but he's far from the most squeezed pitcher in the league.  Mariners' closer Brandon League is not getting the majority of close calls so far this season.  The league average for called strikes in the PitchFX defined strike zone has been around 77%, meaning umpires have called 23% of pitches in the zone balls.  Of course, the majority of these are borderline pitches as the following graphic shows:

All MLB Called Balls in Strike Zone
(Click to enlarge)

League's missed strikes consist of 18 pitches, the majority of which were thrown to the bottom of the zone.  Batters have taken only 42 total strike zone pitches against him, so his "squeeze rate" is mostly a product of small sample size.  However, when we filter the list down to starters....

(Data from all 2011 games through May 10th)

Among starters, Wilson and Niese still near the top of the list of pitchers getting squeezed. And perhaps Nelson Figueroa would still be pitching in Houston if we had robot umpires.

So we've seen which pitchers have not gotten the majority of close calls so far this season.  In an upcoming post, we'll look at pitchers that have benefited most from expanded strike zones.


Is Ichiro Really a Free Swinger?

Ichiro Suzuki (SEA) earned the reputation as a hitter who will swing at anything.  We've seen him earn hits on balls at his shoe tops and way outside the strike zone.  Is he really that much of a free swinger, however?  The data indicates he may be more selective than thought.

The following graph shows Ichiro's swing rate versus the rate for the majors since the start of the 2008 season:

Ichiro Suzuki swing rate (left) versus MLB rate (right), 2008-2011.Note that most of Ichiro's swing density is in the strike zone.  Yes, he does swing out of the zone more than average, especially down.  There's a good reason for that, however:

Ichiro Suzuki contact rate (left) versus MLB rate (right), 2008-2011.When most batters go out of the strike zone, they swing and miss, especially up and down.  When Ichiro goes out of the strike zone, he makes contact.  Ichiro's strike zone is simply bigger than than it is for most players.  Not only does he make contact, he makes productive contact:

Ichiro Suzuki, in play average, 2008-2011.Notice the nice bright reds down and outside the strike zone.  Those are some of his best places to get a hit.  This represents more evidence that Suzuki's strike zone covers more area.  When most players swing out of the zone, they trade balls for outs.  Ichiro trades them for hits.  He is a selective hitter, just not in the traditional way.


The King's Change

Felix Hernandez has one of the best fastballs in all of baseball.  Last year, opponents hit only .183 against it, best in the majors among starters.  And no other starter held opponents below the Mendoza line with fastballs.

King Felix's change is equally devastating.  Against left-handed batters, right-handed pitchers tend to pitch the change away, attempting to get the batter to chase.  This doesn't always hold true when pitching against righties. As a changeup from a RHP tends to move in on right-handed batters, it's sometime safer to start the pitch inside in order to avoid floating a pitch over the meat of the plate.  If you have a great fastball, you are more likely to get away with throwing a changeup in as well. Felix is a prime example of this.

Changeups: Felix Hernandez vs. All RHP (click to enlarge)

Righties produced a .117 wOBA against his change with an expected line of .139/.204/.169 last season (compared to an actual line of .129/.126/.130.).

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