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Entries in Tampa Bay Rays (46)

Friday
Sep232011

Moore Mows Down Yankees

Matt Moore didn't face a full-strength Yankees lineup last night, as the AL East division champs gave regulars Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez a rest. But even so, the left-handed uber-prospect's first MLB start was dominant: he struck out 11 batters and walked just one in five innings pitched, never allowing a Yankee to get within 90 feet of home plate.

Moore showed off the stuff that has allowed him to ascend from an eighth-round pick out of a New Mexico high school in 2007 to a force who struck out nearly 13 batters per nine innings in the minors. He threw his fastball, which averaged 94-95 MPH and topped out at 97, over 70 percent of the time. Moore blew the pitch by Yankee batters high in the strike zone:

Location of Moore's fastball vs. Yankees, 9/22/11

His fastball really moved, tailing in on lefty hitters (away from righties) 10 inches compared to a pitch thrown without spin and showing about 11 inches of vertical break. Frankly, it's hard to find other lefties with Moore's combination of fastball velocity and movement. But teammate David Price and Texas' Derek Holland are good comps.

Moore also mixed in a mid-80s changeup that had similar tail to his fastball but sat 4-5 inches lower in the zone, and a short low-80s breaking ball. Here's a look at the velocity and pitch break of Moore's stuff. His changeup mirrored his fastball well and was comparable in velocity and movement to that of Cole Hamels:

Velocity and pitch break of Moore's pitches, 9/22/11 

Six of Moore's 11 Ks came on fastballs, four were on sliders/curves and one came on the changeup. Ten of those 11 whiffs were of the swinging variety. Overall, Bombers batters missed 18 times in 43 swings (42 percent).

According to Baseball-Reference, Moore became the 23rd pitcher in MLB history to record double-digit Ks in his first career start. Here's the full list:

Hall of Famers, phenoms who succumbed to injury, flukes -- they're all on this list. But, given Moore's awesome talent and bat-missing track record, we could be witnessing the beginnings of a perennial All-Star career. Health, as always, permitting.

Monday
Sep192011

Upton Pulling the Ball

B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays lived up to his potential this September, his hot streak contributing to the Rays surge toward the playoff.  After hitting .223/.308/.390 through the end of August, Upton upped his numbers to .311/.408/.557 in September.  Why the surge for the Rays centerfielder?

Most of the season pitchers worked Upton away:

B.J. Upton, pitch frequency and spray chart, 2011 season through August.Notice that pitchers seldom come inside to Upton, and B.J. was willing to go with the pitch.  While he tends to pull his home runs, his singles and other extra base hits get spread out across the field.  However, he hits for a much higher average on the inside pitch that he can pull.

In September, pitchers gave him more of a chance to pull the ball:

B.J. Upton, pitch frequency and spray chart, September 2011Hurler still try to pitch him away, but they're leaving a higher percentage of their pitches where B.J. and pull the ball.  Most of his hits in September are to the left side.  It will be interesting to see if Upton can continue to pull the ball successfully, or if this is just a small sample size anomaly.

Friday
Sep162011

Verlander Versus Shields

A reader sends a question about Justin Verlander of the Tigers and James Shields of the Rays:

With all the talk about Verlander getting Cy Young and possibly MVP, I'm wondering how much better he's been than James Shields of the Rays.  Shields has a 2.70 ERA in a harder division (Verlander doesn't have to face explosive Red Sox and Yankees offenses as much as Shields), with 11 bullpen saving complete games, and 15 wins despite the anemic Rays offense.  Verlander has a gaudy amount of wins and 2.36 ERA in the AL Central, but could it be reasoned that Shields would have a better season if him and Verlander traded places?

It's a great question, but let me look at it another way.  When you look at the two pitchers in terms of opposition batting, Verlander is clearly superior.

 

2011VerlanderShields
IP 236 226.33
OBP 0.243 0.267
Slug 0.333 0.372
wOBA 0.252 0.277
BABIP 0.230 0.247
Strikeout % 0.265 0.227

 

Shields doesn't really save the bullpen any better than Verlander, since Justin pitched more innings this season.  On top of that, with the Tigers closer perfect on the season, there's no reason to avoid going to him in the ninth.  Verlander avoids the underbelly of the bullpen, and that's all a starter needs to do.

On top of that, Justin's averages are lower across the board.  Both pitchers record few hits on ball in play (BABIP), and that helps both tremendously.  One could argue, however, that Verlander received a few more lucky bounces.

That could be a big factor.  Verlander may be facing weaker hitters in the AL Central, or those hitters could just have suffered bad luck facing Verlander.  Let's look a little deeper, as PITCHf/x allows us to see in some ways the quality of their pitches:

 

2011VerlanderShields
Swing % 0.468 0.475
Pct Missed 0.237 0.246
% In Zone 0.428 0.515
Chase % 0.313 0.323
Called Strike % 0.359 0.327
Line Drive % 0.134 0.183

 

Note that this table paints a slightly different picture.  Shields gets more batters to swing, and more to miss when they do swing.  He tends to hit the strike zone more often than Verlander, and gets more batters to chase pitchers outside the strike zone.  In other words, in categories that measure the quality of the pitcher, Shields seems to be better.

That doesn't hold up everywhere, however.  Verlander gets more called strikes, meaning he tends to fool batters more.  A lower number of balls in play as line drives also implies Verlander fools batters, as that could lead to poor contact.

Or it could be that batters just can't see the ball.  Verlander's fastball averages 94.9 MPH, one of the fastest in the league.  Shields is down at 90.8, so he needs to be finer than Verlander.  My verdict is that both are aces, but in 2011, Verlander's ability to strike out more batters and catch them looking leads to his better numbers.  He more than deserves the Cy Young award.

 

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