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Entries in Tampa Bay Rays (46)

Monday
Sep122011

Desmond Jennings and Selectivity

Desmond Jennings of the Tampa Bay Rays gave the Rays offense a boost since his arrival from the minor leagues.  The Rays team batting average only went up from .243 to .246, but their OBP jumped from .312 to .334, and the team slugging percentage rose to .419 from .394.  They were scoring 4.15 runs per game through July 22, but since they've averaged 4.64 runs per game.

Jennings brings excellent strike zone judgment to the Rays.  He seldom chases balls outside the strike zone.  The following table shows the 2011 major league players with the lowest chase percentage, minimum 200 PA.

 

BatterTeamPlate App.Chase Pct.OBPctWalk%
Daric Barton OAK 280 15.9% 0.325 13.9%
Chris Iannetta COL 401 17.1% 0.366 16.5%
Josh Willingham OAK 500 17.3% 0.330 9.8%
Scott Sizemore OAK 373 17.3% 0.336 11.8%
Jim Thome CLE 293 17.8% 0.345 13.7%
Ian Kinsler TEX 658 17.9% 0.352 12.0%
Bobby Abreu LAA 540 18.0% 0.358 13.9%
Kosuke Fukudome CLE 531 18.4% 0.352 10.7%
Mike Cameron FLA 268 18.6% 0.286 10.4%
Casey Blake LAD 239 18.7% 0.342 10.9%
Geovany Soto CHC 433 19.1% 0.314 10.2%
Jack Cust PHI 270 19.1% 0.344 16.3%
Desmond Jennings TB 213 19.1% 0.386 10.3%
Nick Swisher NYY 576 19.2% 0.379 15.6%
Lou Marson CLE 229 19.2% 0.308 9.6%
Yunel Escobar TOR 590 19.7% 0.369 10.3%
Todd Helton COL 487 19.8% 0.384 11.7%
Sam Fuld TB 343 19.8% 0.313 9.0%
Dustin Ackley SEA 313 19.8% 0.367 11.2%
Nate McLouth ATL 321 19.8% 0.344 13.7%

 

I like this list, because it shows that players with good judgment on balls outside the strike zone are not necessarily good hitters. Some players, like Sam Fuld, Lou Marson and Mike Cameron use their ability to recognize balls to compensate for poor hitting skills.  Chris Iannetta, Nick Swisher and Jack Cust use this ability to draw tons of walks and boost their OBP above league average.  Desmond is more like Dustin Ackley and Todd Helton, good hitters with good strike zone judgment.  They are not only good at recognizing pitches out of the strike zone, they are good at recognizing pitches they can hit and smacking them as well.  If Jennings can keep this up as the league learns his strengths and weakness, Rays fans won't miss Carl Crawford very much.

Tuesday
Sep062011

Niemann Finds the Strike Zone

Jeff Niemann of the Tampa Bay Rays allowed a .258 OBP since the All-Star break.  That ranks in the 96th percentile among pitchers.  It represents a huge improvement from his first half.  Before the break, Niemann's OBP came in at .335, 30th percentile. 

Jeff accomplished this with a double whammy on batters.  He's throwing a higher percentage of his pitches in the strike zone, and getting batters to chase more pitches outside the zone:

 

Jeff Niemann, 2011
NiemannFirst HalfSecond Half
In Zone % 49.4% 52.1%
Chase % 28.0% 29.3%

 

That doesn't seem like much, but a particular pitch really made the difference.  Jeff's change up tended to miss the zone in the first half of the season:

Jeff Niemann change up, first half, 2011.

His change up was in the zone 30% of the time and batters would chase it 21.4% of the time.  That changed in the second half:

Jeff Niemann change up, second half, 2011.Now Niemann hits the strike zone 45% of the time with the pitch and batters chase it 30.9% of the time.  With the improved accuracy comes more use as well.  Jeff threw the pitch 4.7% of the time in the first half, 10.2% in the second half.  His first half ERA of 4.53 dropped to 2.98 since the break.  One pitch can make quite a difference.

Monday
Aug292011

Price's Fastball Priceless

David Price punched out a career-high 14 batters against the Blue Jays on Sunday, and the left-hander's mid-to-upper-90s heat was the main reason. Seventy-seven of Price's 111 pitches were fastballs, with ten of his Ks coming by way of the fastball. Here's what Rays catcher John Jaso and Price said after the 12-0 win over Toronto:

Jaso and Price felt strong gusts pushing them as they walked in from the bullpen beforehand, but didn't know how helpful the wind would be until the game began, and Price's two-seamer started drifting.

"It looks like a strike right out of his hand and then it's just fading off the plate," Jaso explained. "It was moving about three feet. Once they start to swing on his fastball, they can't hold it back." 

"I've never had that much movement before so it was pretty cool," Price said. "The wind kept blowing and it was making my eyes watery all game. I knew it was blowing pretty good and I just kept throwing it."

Price's fastball yesterday tailed away from right-handed hitters (in to lefties) about ten inches more than a pitch thrown without spin. That's nothing new for him, though: Price's fastball has averaged more than 10 inches of tailing action this season, giving him the second-most horizontal movement with the pitch of any left-handed starter (Derek Holland's fastball tails 11 inches).

Combine that movement with the best velocity of any lefty starter (Price averages 94.7 mph with his fastball, topping out at slightly under 99 mph), and you have the recipe for one of the most dominant pitches in baseball. Hitters have missed 21.4 percent fastballs swung at against Price, the fourth-highest rate among starters (Brandon Beachy, Brandon Morrow and Gio Gonzalez rank 1-3).

Price pitches both lefties and righties away with his fastball:

 Frequency of Price's fastball location vs. left-handers

Frequency of Price's fastball location vs. right-handers

Price has shredded lefty batters this year, throwing his fastball to them about 80 percent of the time and holding them to a .149 average, a .216 on-base percentage and a .261 slugging percentage (.259/.339/.386 average for lefty fastballs vs. lefty hitters). Basically, every lefty batter morphs into Drew Butera. Right-handers, who have gotten a fastball two-thirds of the time, have been able to rap some extra-base hits against Price (.243/304/.407), but that's still much better than the .276/.354/.436 average for lefty fastballs against righties.

Most pitchers mix in more breaking and off-speed stuff when they get two strikes on a hitter, but not Price. He's throwing his fastball 71 percent of the time with the hitter's back against the wall, the highest percentage among starters. That helps explain why 125 of his 184 strikeouts (68 percent) have been on fastballs.

David Price also has a pair of breaking balls and a changeup in his arsenal, but it all starts with his darting, blink-and-you'll-miss-it fastball. That's the kind of fastball that would make Mama proud.