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Entries in St. Louis Cardinals (38)

Friday
Oct252013

Wacha's Right-on-Right Changeup Deadly

Michael Wacha evened the World Series at one game apiece last night, limiting Boston's best-in-the-bigs offense to two runs over six innings while striking out six. Just a year removed from anchoring Texas A&M's rotation, Wacha became the first Cardinals starter to win a playoff game at Fenway Park since Bob Gibson took down the Sox in Game 7 of the 1967 Fall Classic. He also tied Gibson's franchise record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched in the postseason, tossing 19 clean frames between Pedro Alvarez's homer in Game 4 of the NLCS and David Ortiz's sixth-inning shot yesterday.

The key to Wacha's Game 2 win? His willingness to throw his changeup to same-handed hitters. Most right-handed starters shelve their changeups when facing righty batters, pulling the string just 7.2 percent of the time. Most pitchers don't have Wacha's changeup, though.

Wacha has thrown his plus-plus change to righties 17.1 percent of the time overall in 2013, and he used it 31.4 percent of the time versus Boston's righty hitters last night. Red Sox righties went a combined 0-for-6 with four strikeouts against Wacha's changeup. Xander Bogaerts went down swinging twice, while Shane Victorino came up empty once and Dustin Pedroia punched out on a foul tip. The whiffs are nothing new for Wacha, whose miss rate with his changeup against righties (47.4 percent) trails just Stephen Strasburg (51.8), Jarrod Parker (48.5), Homer Bailey (47.8) and Kris Medlen (47.7) among right-handed starting pitchers.

Command is big reason why Wacha's tumbling, mid-80s change is so effective. Check out his changeup location versus right-handed hitters this season:

Wacha's changeup location vs. righty batters in 2013

Wacha buries his changeup at righties' knees, throwing the pitch to the lower third of the strike zone 67.9 percent of the time. That's well above the 59.2 percent average for right-handed starters. He also rarely leaves a changeup belt high: Wacha tosses just 18.3 percent of his off-speed offerings to the middle of the plate against righties, way under the MLB average (26 percent) and lowest among right-handed starters save for Homer Bailey (16.3).

Why does that matter? Righty pitchers dominate when they throw their changeups low to same-handed batters (.248 opponent slugging percentage) and get eviscerated when they throw the pitch belt high (.541 slugging percentage). By locating his off-speed stuff low, Wacha has smothered righty hitters for a .125 opponent slugging percentage against the changeup (third-best in the majors, behind Strasburg and Bailey). No righty batter has taken Wacha deep on a changeup, and Willie Bloomquist is the only one to tally even an extra-base hit (a double during Wacha's second big league start back on June 4). Gibby must be proud of this 22-year-old prodigy.

Tuesday
Oct222013

A Tale of Two Lefty-Killers

When the World Series kicks off at Fenway Park on Wednesday, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz should expect to see plenty of Mike Matheny. The Cardinals manager figures to deploy his two lefty-killers, Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist, to neutralize Boston's lead-off and clean-up hitters. Ellsbury (.863 on-base-plus-slugging percentage versus right-handed pitching) and Ortiz (1.092 OPS) crush righties, but struggle to square up same-handed pitching (.641 OPS against lefties for Ellsbury, .733 for Ortiz).

Choate, a 38-year-old slopballer, and Siegrist, a 24-year-old rookie possessing Aroldis Chapman-esque heat, share little common ground. But style differences aside, they both give opposing lefties nightmares.

The Slopballer

If you use the bathroom mid-inning, or grab a sandwich, or blink, you might miss Choate's work for the night. He threw an average of 7.6 pitches per appearance during the regular season, by far the lowest among relievers tossing at least 450 total pitches. That's because Choate is the game's ultimate specialist, facing lefty batters 70.2 percent of the time. Few lefty pitchers in history have smothered same-handed hitters like Choate -- he has the third-lowest opponent OPS ever in southpaw versus southpaw matchups:

Lowest career OPS for lefty pitchers vs. lefty batters (minimum 750 at-bats vs. LHB)

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Choate has been even better in 2013, holding lefties to a .492 OPS. The side-arm hurler gets such excellent results despite radar gun readings that wouldn't get him pulled over on interstate highways. Choate's sinker has the second-slowest average velocity (85.9 MPH) among relievers, topping only submarine pitcher Darren O'Day (85.6 MPH).

While the pitch lacks zip, Choate's sinker is a ground ball machine -- batters are chopping the offering into the grass 76.3 percent of the time. Fellow Cardinal Seth Maness (77.2 percent) is the only reliever to generate a higher percentage of ground balls with his sinker. Choate peppers the bottom of the strike zone with the pitch, throwing his sinker at lefty hitters' knees 59 percent of the time.

Choate's sinker location vs. lefty hitters, 2013

 

His slider also comes in soft, with the second-lowest average velocity (76.1 MPH) among 'pen arms (Darren Oliver averaged 75.2 MPH). Batters nonetheless whiff half of the time they swung at Choate's breaker, compared to the 35.9 percent major league average.

Chapman-in-Training

Siegrist was in elementary school when Choate started his lefty-killer act, but St. Louis' young southpaw has already made some history of his own. Siegrist posted a 0.45 ERA during the regular season, second-lowest ever for a rookie throwing at least 35 innings. Who bested him? Buck O'Brien (0.38 ERA), a 29-year-old spitballer for the 1911 Red Sox. Hitters quickly figured out O'Brien's spit pitch, and he was out of the game a few years later. Considering his stuff and ability to battle hitters on both sides of the plate (he faced a nearly even amount of lefties and righties), Siegrist won't be vanquished so easily.  

Siegrist has little use for breaking and off-speed pitches, firing his fastball 85.7 percent of the time. And with gas like his, who can blame him? Siegrist's fastball averages 95 MPH, a mark best only by Chapman (98.4 MPH), Jake McGee (96.2 MPH), Jake Diekman (95.6 MPH) and Justin Wilson (95.2 MPH) among lefty relievers.

He pounds the outside corner with the pitch -- no lefty has thrown a higher percentage of heaters to the outer third of the zone (69.6 percent) when they have the platoon advantage. Siegrist's combo of speed and command has helped him limit lefty batters to a .388 OPS, best among left-handed relievers save for Luis Avilan (.383 OPS).

Siegrist's fastball location vs. lefty hitters

Saturday
Oct192013

Matt Carpenter: Two-Strike Warrior

The St. Louis Cardinals scuffle against left-handed pitching, posting the fifth-worst team on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.672) in the majors in 2013. Clayton Kershaw, the game's lefty par excellence, is fooling hitters at a level that not even vintage Sandy Koufax matched (Kershaw's park-and-league adjusted ERA was 94 percent above average during the regular season, just beating out Koufax's epic 1966 campaign).

Naturally, then, the Cards crushed the soon-to-be two-time Cy Young Award winner last night, clinching a World Series berth by tagging Kershaw for 10 hits and seven runs in four innings pitched. The beginning of the end for Kershaw came in the third inning, when Matt Carpenter got down to his last strike but then waged an 11-pitch battle culminating in a double to right field for the stealth NL MVP candidate. St. Louis went on to score four times in the frame on their way to a 9-0 triumph. Here's how the Kershaw-Carpenter duel played out in NLCS Game Six, pitch by pitch:

  • 0-0 - Ball on a 89 MPH Slider - Inside
  • 1-0 - Foul on a 94 MPH Four Seamer - Over the Plate
  • 1-1 - Foul on a 94 MPH Four Seamer - Over the Plate
  • 1-2 - Foul on a 95 MPH Four Seamer - Over the Plate
  • 1-2 - Foul on a 75 MPH Curveball - Over the Plate
  • 1-2 - Foul on a 88 MPH Slider - Over the Plate
  • 1-2 - Foul on a 86 MPH Slider - Low
  • 1-2 - Foul on a 94 MPH Four Seamer - Over the Plate
  • 1-2 - Ball on a 93 MPH Four Seamer - Inside
  • 2-2 - Foul on a 94 MPH Four Seamer - Outside
  • 2-2 - Line Drive Double on a 86 MPH Slider - Over the Plate
  •  

    Kershaw pounded the outside corner for most of the at-bat, trying to target the second baseman's relative weak spot (Carpenter slugged .383 versus pitches thrown to the outer third of the strike zone during the regular season, compared to .457 on middle pitches and .702 on inner-third pitches). But Carpenter prevailed when Kershaw caught too much of the dish with his slider:

    Kershaw's pitch location to Carpenter in the third inning of Game 6

    How rare is it for Kershaw to surrender an extra-base hit to a lefty on his slider? Just three left-handed batters accomplished the feat during the regular season. Jay Bruce belted a pair of Kershaw sliders over the fence on September 9, Sam Fuld tripled on August 11, and Gerardo Parra doubled on June 10. That's it. That's the list.

    Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that Carpenter came out on top against Kershaw, considering his two-strike prowess in 2013. Carpenter has a .780 OPS with his back against the wall, besting the MLB average by 266 points and placing second to Miguel Cabrera among all qualified hitters.

    Highest OPS in two-strike counts, 2013