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Entries in strikeouts (19)

Thursday
Sep052013

That's Quite a Curveball, Sonny

Sonny Gray has emerged as one of the game's great strikeout artists during his brief MLB career, punching out hitters at the sixth-highest clip (9.5 per nine innings) among American League pitchers who have thrown at least 35 frames this season. The 2011 first-round pick out of Vanderbilt has racked up those Ks with his curveball, which Baseball America called a "knockout" pitch and the best in the Oakland A's system entering 2013. Batters would surely agree: Gray has more strikeouts with his curve (20) since being inserted into the A's rotation on August 10 than every MLB starter not named A.J. Burnett.

Here's more on Gray's curveball, as the whiff-prone Houston Astros (punching out in an MLB-leading 25.5 percent of their plate appearances) just try to put the wicked pitch in play.

  • The 5-foot-11, 200 pound righty gets plenty of downward movement on his curveball, as it drops an average of 8.3 inches compared to a pitch thrown without spin. For comparison's sake, the average downward break on a curveball for starters is 5.8 inches. The only starters who throw the pitch regularly with more downward break are Chris Tillman, Kris Medlen, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Felix Doubront, Jeremy Hellickson and A.J. Griffin.
  • With that droping action on his curveball, Gray has buried the pitch as hitters' knees. Gray has thrown his curveball to the lower third of the strike zone 69.4% of the time, far above the 56.2% average for starters. Teammate Tommy Milone and Burnett are the only starters to throw a higher percentage of lower-third curves.

Pitch location of Gray's curveball

 

  • Pitchers with curveballs that drop like Gray's tend to induce more swings and misses than those with lesser downward break (hitters whiff about 31% of the time against curves with at least eight inches of downward movement, compared to about 28% on curves with less than eight inches of downward break). That has certainly been the case with Gray, who boasts a 42% miss rate with his curveball. That's on par with Fister, Stephen Strasburg (41%) and Clayton Kershaw (40.5%) for tops among starters.
  • Hurlers are also much more effective when they keep their curves low in the strike zone (.234 opponent slugging percentage) than when they hang a breaker in the upper-third of the plate (.319 opponent slugging percentage). Keeping his curve low in the zone, Gray has limited batters to a .125 slugging percentage against the pitch. He has yet to allow a home run when he snaps off a curveball.
Wednesday
Aug282013

Striking Out on Balls

Strikeouts are the worst.

They are better than double plays, in that, they only account for a single out.  But there is something deflating about strikeouts.

Something very, I don't know, "Charlie Brown getting fooled by Lucy while trying to kick a field goal" about it. And, of course, there can't just be one way to strike out. There has to be numerous ways to get rung up by the home plate umpire. The worst of which, has to be striking out looking. 

I have analogies and puns for days with regards to the ol' "backwards 'K'," but let's just agree that striking out looking makes you, probably, want to crawl under home plate and disappear. Then we can skip all the nonsense.

But what if a hitter strikes out looking, and, it's not his fault? 

Granted, if a hitter has two strikes on him, he should be protecting the plate. You are taught this as a young player. "Anything close. Swing." But that doesn't change the fact that the pitch was a ball. Or the fact that it was probably Angel Hernandez behind the plate

So far this season, there have been 2,045 strikeouts that have been both "looking," and on a pitch that is considered out of the strike zone. Which pitcher has the most?

Out of Zone Punch Outs

 K
David Price (TB) 23
Max Scherzer (DET) 19
Cliff Lee (PHI) 18
Mike Minor (ATL) 17
Jeff Locke (PIT) 17
James Shields (KC) 17
Hyun-jin Ryu (LAD) 17
Eric Stults (SD) 17
Adam Wainwright (STL) 17
Matt Cain (SF) 16

 

David Price, come on down.

You are the winner of the "Your check's in the mail, Mr. Ump" award. 

All of these pitchers, except for Jeff Locke, are considered "strike-throwers."

Does that mean that they are getting the benefit of the doubt from the umpire?

Maybe. But when you are facing Cliff Lee and his 70.8% strike-rate, expect the ball to be over the plate. 

But Jeff Locke? Really?

On the flip-side of this coin, which hitters are falling prey to this phenomenon occurence the most?

Out of Zone Punched Out

 K
Matt Carpenter (STL) 15
Ian Desmond (WSH) 15
James Loney (TB) 15
Chris Davis (BAL) 14
Shin-Soo Choo (CIN) 13
Nick Swisher (CLE) 12
Evan Longoria (TB) 12
Chris Carter (HOU) 12
Trevor Plouffe (MIN) 11
Prince Fielder (DET) 11

 

Looks like Matt Carpenter and Ian Desmond should probably start walking up to the plate with egifts for the men in blue. And no one should be surprised to see Chris Carter on this list. He just strikes out a lot with his  K-Rate of 37.4% this season.

But, Joey Votto has struck out looking on a pitch off the plate eight times this season. Who do these umpires think they are?

All told, those 2,045 strikeouts, account for 6.6% of 30,770 strikeouts this season. Not exactly an overwhelming percentage, and something that umpires should point to and say: "We're right 93.4% of the time."

But with replay getting expanded next year, and the constant cry for an automated strike zone, 93.4% of the time, might not be good enough for baseball fans. 

Friday
Aug022013

Oh Darvish, Yu Good

Look out at the street.

Look. It is lined with the souls of pitchers from the Far East who failed to live up to the expectations that were placed before them upon their arrival in the US of A.

Their odd windups and magic pitches offered them brief success, but it up and vanished like a feather in the wind.

Pitchers like Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka came over with mountains of hype, pitched well for a couple of seasons, and then drifted to the island of mediocrity for the remainder of their careers. 

Yu Darvish arrived from Japan with similar hype. 

He arrived with magic pitches.

He arrived with an odd windup.

By this logic, Yu Darvish is your typical Japanese pitching import. But that doesn't mean he still isn't within that window of wowing fans with incredible performances. Performances like the one he had Thursday night for example.

Stellar work from the Whirling Darvish

Even more impressive than his 14 strikeouts on Thursday was that he walked no one during his seven innings of work. This puts him in a category with Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens as the only pitchers to ever have three 14 strikeout/zero walk performances in the same season. 

This was a very Yu Darvish performance.

 

Darvish generated lots of swings and misses (28% swing and miss rate) and lots of bad swings on pitches out of the zone (33.3% chase rate). He relied heavily on both his fastball (He threw 59 fastballs out of the 111 total pitches he threw on Thursday, or, 53.2%) and his slider (44 of 111, 39.6%). Getting seven strikeouts with each pitch.

He throws other pitches, but apparently didn't have much of a feel for them during his bullpen session prior to the game. Or he felt that he only needed the two pitches carve up the Diamondbacks offense. Either way, Darvish has transformed from a pitcher who was known for throwing any of his pitches at will into a fastball/slider pitcher with tricks up his sleeve if he needs them. And this approach was on full display the other night.

Strikeout pitchers are all the rage

Since the start of the 2012 season, 10 pitchers have registered 14 strikeout performances, seven have done it once, two have done it twice. Yu Darvish has done it four times. 

Outside of velocity (which Darvish has) strikeouts are the ultimate barometer for how dominant a pitcher is.

Darvish has 186 strikeouts to lead the Major Leagues. And his K/9 of 12.072 is 1.798 better than that of both Max Scherzer and Matt Harvey who have K/9's of 10.274. In fact, if the season were to end today, his K/9 would be the eighth best ever.

The Darvish fun factor

Yu Darvish is one of the funner pitchers to watch in all of baseball. Unless he's facing your favorite team. Then he's no fun at all.

He's still "new" to the league, so there's a chance that his brand of dominance won't last. There's a chance that he will end up like Dice-K. Or, he could end up being the Ichiro Suzuki of Japanese pitchers.

Please Yu, be the pitching Ichiro.