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Entries in St. Louis Cardinals (38)

Friday
Nov012013

Big Papi's Nearly-Perfect World Series

Nobody can accuse David Ortiz of recklessly celebrating Boston's third World Series title in a decade. Big Papi shielded his dome and nearly broke Twitter by sporting a motorcycle helmet during the Red Sox' postgame bash. Ortiz isn't the one who needs protection, though -- that would be St. Louis' typically stellar pitching staff. Papi batted .688 and got on base at a .760 clip during the World Series, trailing only Billy Hatcher (1990) in both categories among hitters in a single Fall Classic. Combined with his heroics in 2004 and 2007, Ortiz now has the second-highest career OBP (.576) ever in the World Series among batters getting at least 25 plate appearances (Barry Bonds is first, at .700).

Here's more on how Ortiz tortured the Cardinals -- when they weren't giving him the Bonds treatment, that is.

  • Cardinals pitchers wanted nothing to do with Ortiz, throwing just 29.7 percent of their offerings over the plate against Boston's clean-up man. On a related note, he drew eight walks during the series, tying him with Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and a few others for fifth-most all-time. No other hitter in the World Series came close to getting the Ortiz treatment. Carlos Beltran, himself a postseason demigod, saw the second-lowest rate of pitches in the strike zone (42 percent) during the Fall Classic.

Percentage of in-zone pitches seen during the 2013 World Series (minimum 20 PA)

  • When Ortiz did get something over the plate, he made it count. He went 8-for-10 with two homers versus in-zone pitches during the World Series. Big Papi crushed a middle-middle fastball from Kevin Siegrist in Game 1, and then went oppo on a Michael Wacha changeup in Game 2.
  • Ortiz took 38 total swings during the series, and he came up empty a mere four times. His 10.5 percent miss rate was lowest among all Sox and Cardinals hitters logging 20-plus plate appearances, just beating out Matt Carpenter (10.6 percent) and Beltran (10.7 percent).
Friday
Nov012013

Ditching Switch-Hitting Pays Off for Victorino

Batting from the right side of the plate, Shane Victorino played a key role in Boston's World Series-clinching Game 6 victory. Victorino stepped to the dish with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third inning and drove in Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz and Jonny Gomes by making a fresh dent in the Green Monster. Victorino's drive off a Michael Wacha fastball was the biggest play of the game according to Baseball-Reference's Win Probability Added stat, boosting Boston's odds of winning from 58 percent to 84 percent.

And to think, the former switch-hitter has a pulled hamstring to thank for his crowning achievement in the majors.

Victorino injured his left hammy during the summer, compromising his ability to drive the ball as a left-handed hitter. Overall, he swatted just three home runs and posted a .702 On-Base-Plus slugging percentage while batting as a lefty in 2013. But truth be told, Victorino ceased being a threat from the left side long before his hamstring woes (he had a .629 OPS as a lefty hitter in 2012). The injury gave Victorino the opportunity to do something fans and analysts had been clamoring for anyway: give up switch-hitting. And for that, Red Sox Nation is grateful.

In 160 postseason and playoff plate appearances as a righty hitter, Victorino popped seven homers and tallied an .827 OPS versus right-handed pitchers. He flirted with returning to switch-hitting during the postseason, taking swings from the left side in the ALDS and ALCS, but he batted exclusively as a righty against St. Louis. In case Victorino needs any more convincing that he should only step to the plate as a righty batter in 2014, consider his performance from each side of the plate against right-handed pitching this season:

  • Victorino ripped 61.8 percent of pitches put in play down the line while batting as a righty against right-handed pitching. As a lefty hitter, he pulled pitches just 36.7 percent of the time.
  • Batting right-handed, Victorino hit a ground ball just 38.6 percent of the time. As a lefty hitter, he chopped pitches into the turf 50 percent of the time.
  • Victorino drove fly balls an average of 241 feet in righty-versus-righty matchups, compared to 232 feet as a left-handed hitter.
  • Crowding the plate as a righty hitter, Victorino turned into a pitch magnet. Victorino was plunked 16 times in righty-versus-righty situations, trailing just Starling Marte (21 righty-versus-righty hit by pitches). Marte, by the way, logged more than three times as many plate appearances (489) as Victorino in such matchups. Victorino might not like getting drilled, but those hit by pitches boosted his on-base percentage to .367 in righty-versus-righty situations (.316 OBP as a lefty).

If Victorino had challenged Wacha and his wicked fastball-changeup combo as a lefty hitter, Boston's big third inning might have instead ended with a meek groundout. As a righty, though, he was ready to tee off on the rookie's 93 MPH heat. Who knew pulling a hammy and surrendering the platoon advantage could be such a good career move?

Saturday
Oct262013

Joe Kelly Should Bring the Heat vs. Big Papi

Michael Wacha's game plan against David Ortiz in Game 2 of the World Series was simple: The St. Louis rookie wasn't going to let Boston's clean-up man beat him on a fastball. That makes sense, considering Ortiz boasts the fifth-highest slugging percentage (.633) in the majors versus heaters and Wacha possesses a deadly changeup. Wacha threw his change nine times out of 16 total pitches (60 percent) versus Ortiz, but Big Papi roped one of those off-speed pitches into the first row of the Green Monster seats. Throw him a fastball? You lose. Throw him a changeup? You still lose.

All of this might make Joe Kelly, the Cardinals' Game 3 starter, sweat. Kelly throws his fastball about two-thirds of the time, and he hasn't yet developed a knockout secondary pitch akin to Wacha's changeup. But he shouldn't necessarily despair. Crazy as it sounds, challenging Big Papi with fastballs might actually be a good strategy for Kelly.

Ortiz does have the best overall slugging percentage against heaters this side of Miguel Cabrera (.682), Paul Goldschmidt (.650), Jayson Werth (.646) and Edwin Encarnacion (.637). However, he does most of that damage against lower-velocity fastballs. Papi is Babe Ruth incarnate versus gas thrown at or below 93 MPH, but he's merely good when pitchers crank it up to 94 MPH or higher. Ortiz also expands his strike zone against fastballs with extra zip:

Ortiz vs. fastballs in 2013, by pitch velocity

Kelly's fastball has the extra zip that typically tames Ortiz's bat, with an average velocity (94.8 MPH) topped only by Nathan Eovaldi (96.1 MPH), Danny Salazar (95.9 MPH), Gerrit Cole (95.6 MPH), Matt Harvey (95.4 MPH), Stephen Strasburg (95.3 MPH) and Chris Archer (94.9 MPH) among starters. And as a starter, Kelly's fastball has been plenty effective: he's limiting batters to a .317 slugging percentage when navigating lineups multiple times. Ortiz, who's already gone deep five times this postseason, can spoil the best of pitches. But Kelly's best bet might be to try and blow Big Papi away.