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Entries in St. Louis Cardinals (38)

Monday
Oct242011

Holland's Breaking Stuff Key in Series-Tying Masterpiece

The Dutchstache may have saved the Rangers' season last night, tossing 8.1 scoreless innings as Texas tied the World Series at two apiece with a 4-0 victory. Derek Holland gave up just two hits -- both to Lance Berkman -- while striking out seven and walking two. The 25-year-old, an above-slot sign in the 25th round of the '06 draft, had the longest scoreless outing by an AL starter in the Fall Classic since Andy Pettitte blanked Atlanta in 8.1 frames back in 1996.

Holland is known for routinely hitting the mid-to-upper-90s with his fastball, but his breaking pitches were paramount in Game Four. The left-hander threw curveballs and sliders a little more than a third of the time against St. Louis. Just 14 of his 39 breaking balls were in the strike zone (36 percent), but Holland got Cardinals hitters to chase 13 out-of-zone curves and sliders (52 percent of his total out-of-zone breaking balls thrown).

St. Louis didn't really go up to the plate hacking wildly at Holland's breaking balls, though. Instead, the Rangers lefty placed his curves and sliders just off the edge of the zone. The pitches were off the plate, but not by much. Check out the location of the breaking pitches that Cardinals hitters swung at last night:

Location of Holland's curveballs and sliders that St. Louis hitters swung at in Game Four

While Holland only threw 14 of his 39 breaking pitches within the strike zone, 27 of his curves and sliders were labeled as "competitive," meaning they were located within 18 inches of the middle of the zone.

The location of Holland's breaking stuff put the Cardinals in a tough spot last night. The pitches were close enough to the zone that hitters risked having strikes called against them if they chose not to swing. But if they did swing, they didn't figure to have much success. Batters rarely put powerful swings on curves and sliders located in the spots that Holland hit in Game Four:

 League average in-play slugging percentage by location on breaking pitches thrown by left-handed pitchers, 2011

St. Louis went a combined 0-for-8 against Holland's breaking stuff, and Holland registered four of his seven Ks on curves and sliders. Now the world knows there's more to him than velocity and a killer lip tickler.

Thursday
Oct202011

Fly Ball-Slanted Lewis Should Like Busch III

When Colby Lewis is on the mound, most of the action is going to take place in the air. The Rangers right-hander has the fourth-highest fly ball rate (49.4 percent) among starting pitchers. Those lofted pitches often get Lewis in trouble, as he has served up 38 home runs in 212 innings pitched (1.61 per nine frames). Luckily for Lewis, his Game Two start against St. Louis will take place in homer-hating Busch Stadium.

Lewis' fly ball-centric approach doesn't work well at Rangers Ballpark, which, according to StatCorner, increases home run production by 19 percent for left-handed hitters and 14 percent for righties. But Busch III decreases homers by 18 percent for lefty batters and 26 percent for righties. Fly balls that lead to souvenir scrums in Texas are just harmless outs in St. Louis.

The majority of Lewis' homers have been hit on fastballs (18) and cutters (seven), and of those 25 shots, 15 were blasted at Arlington. Lewis' fastball and cutter get smoked at home, but those pitches are much more effective in friendlier confines on the road. In home starts, Lewis has allowed a combined .515 slugging percentage on fastballs and cutters. On the road, hitters have slugged .394 against those pitches.

In addition to park effects, part of the reason for that slugging discrepancy appears to be pitch location. Lewis does a better job of keeping his fastball and cutter down in the zone when he's sporting away grays.

At home, Lewis has thrown 35 percent of his fastballs and cutters up in the zone:

Location of Lewis' fastballs and cutters in home games, 2011Batters pulverize those belt-high pitches at Arlington, slugging a whopping .716 on high heaters and cutters:

In-play slugging percentage on Lewis' fastballs and cutters in home games, 2011On the road, Lewis has thrown slightly under 31 percent of his fastballs and cutters high in the zone: 

Location of Lewis' fastballs and cutters in away games, 2011And when Lewis does leave a fastball or cutter high in the zone in a road start, it doesn't hurt him near as much as in hitter-happy Rangers Ballpark. Opponents are slugging a modest .375 on Lewis' high fastballs and cutters when he's on the road:

In-play slugging percentage on Lewis' fastballs and cutters in away games, 2011

Lewis has been an immense bargain since he returned stateside, providing about seven Wins Above Replacement while earning a little over $5 million and pitching exceptionally in the playoffs (a 2.37 ERA in 38 combined innings in 2010-2011). But as an extreme fly ball pitcher, he's more effective outside of Texas. By lining up Lewis so that he starts on the road (coincidence or not, he started away games against Tampa Bay and Detroit), Texas maximizes the chances that he gives them five strong innings before the club call upon a deep, dominant bullpen.

Thursday
Oct202011

Hamilton's 50 Percent

After last night's 0-for-4 showing in Game One of the World Series, Josh Hamilton has a tepid .267 batting average, a .286 OBP and a .378 slugging percentage during the 2011 playoffs. That's a far cry from the reigning AL MVP's .298/.346/.536 regular season triple-slash, and Hamilton admitted a few days ago that a lingering left groin injury is hindering him:

"I’m about 50 percent," Hamilton told Ben Rogers in an interview on ESPN 103.3 FM. "I’m going to give you 100 percent of my 50 percent."

"We got a lot of power on the team, so I’m definitely not concerning myself with hitting home runs and producing that way," Hamilton said. "Whatever the game asked me to do -- whether get a guy over, or make a catch in the outfield -- I'm trying to do it. I told Kins after our first at-bat [Saturday], 'Let's not try to do too much.' "

Hamilton may well be 50 percent, but you wouldn't know it judging by the distance of his fly balls hit during the postseason. The lefty slugger's fly balls have traveled an average of 318 feet in October, compared to 292 feet during the regular season. Of course, you could argue that some of Hamilton's deep fly ball outs to left and center field (dark blue on the spray chart below) would be round-trippers if he were healthier:

 Hamilton's fly balls hit during the 2011 playoffs

Hamilton has also expanded his already-large strike zone during the playoffs. He has gone after 44 percent of pitches out of the zone, above his 38 percent average during the regular season. In particular, he's trying to poke pitches well off the outside corner of the plate:

 Hamilton's swing rate by pitch location during 2011 playoffs

Those swings on outer-third offerings probably aren't a good thing. Hamilton murderizes pitches thrown inside, but he doesn't inflict a whole lot of pain on outside pitches. Check out his in-play slugging percentage by pitch location in 2011 (including the playoffs):

Hamilton's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2011 (including playoffs)Pitchers seem well aware of Hamilton's issues with outside pitches. They're throwing lots of pitches low and away, many of them out of the zone but close enough that Hamilton still pulls the trigger. Take a look at opponents' pitch location to Hamilton during the playoffs:

 Opponent pitch location to Hamilton during 2011 playoffs

It's hard to ascribe Hamilton's postseason woes to one factor. Maybe it's his groin, turning would-be homers into warning track shots. Maybe it's his plate approach, as he's going after more outside pitches that give him problems. Or maybe it's just plain old bad luck: we're talking about 49 plate appearances, after all. If a couple of those long fly ball outs cleared the fence, Hamilton's playoff line is suddenly .311/.327/.556, and we're surely not having this discussion. Whatever the reason, the Rangers need vintage Josh Hamilton if they're going to top the Cardinals.