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Entries in Tampa Bay Rays (46)

Saturday
Aug272011

James Shields, Strikeout Artist

James Shields struck out 12 Blue Jays last night, completing his MLB-best 10th game of the year and joining CC Sabathia (2008) as just the second pitcher this millennium to finish what he started 10 times in a single season. Big Game is rocking a career-best 3.36 Fielding Independent ERA (FIP), and a major reason is that he's missing bats like never before by using his changeup more in two-strike counts.

At first blush, Shields' K rate this season (8.6 per nine innings pitched) looks similar to his 8.3 K/9 mark from 2010. But in this case, K/9 is misleading. Shields suffered from a .341 batting average on balls in play last year, meaning that he faced considerably more hitters per inning and had more chances to rack up Ks. In 2011, his BABIP has dipped to .267.

So, he's facing fewer hitters per inning (about 3.9 in 2011, compared to 4.4 in 2010) yet getting more strikeouts. Thus, his strikeouts per plate appearance total has climbed from 19-20 percent in past years to 24.3 percent this season, which ranks fourth among AL starters behind Brandon Morrow, Justin Verlander and Michael Pineda.

Shields owes his surging K/PA rate to more darting, mid-80s changeups in two-strike situations. From 2008-2010, he used his change about 40 percent of the time with two strikes on the hitter. He's going to the pitch 47 percent of the time with two strikes in 2011, getting more chases and misses in the process. Look at the location of Shields' changeup with two strikes in past years, compared to 2011:

Location of Shields' changeup with two strikes, 2008-2011

Location of Shields' changeup with two strikes, 2011He's burying more of those two-strike changeups below the knees, throwing just 32 percent of them in the strike zone (37 percent from '08 to '10). And hitters just can't resist, chasing 53 percent of those two-strike off-speed pitches tossed off the plate (51 percent from '08 to '10).

Batters are making less contact with those two-strike changeups below the knees, too:

Hitters' contact rate by pitch location vs. Shields' two-strike changeups, 2008-2010         Hitters' contact rate by pitch location vs. Shields' two-strike changeups, 2011 Shields got a miss with his changeup in two-strike counts slightly less than 35 percent of the time that hitters offered at it from 2008-2010, and 42 percent of the time in 2011. The average two-strike miss rate for a changeup is 28 percent.

By relying more heavily upon his best pitch when hitters are against the ropes, Shields is enjoying his best season yet. He likely won't sniff the Cy Young Award, but he's worthy of down-ballot consideration.

Friday
Aug122011

David Price's Diminished Hook

David Price takes the mound tonight for the Rays in Yankee Stadium, bringing with him a 9-10 record with a 3.89 ERA.  One of the problems he's faced this year has been the lack of bite on his curveball.  He's yielded 17 hits off his curve including 5 doubles, one triple, and 2 HRs.

David Price Curveball
PAVGSLGBABIPContact%HR/FB
2010 Season520.262.359.32980.5%4.2%
2011 Season271.298.526.32681.6%20.0%

While a small sample size caveat applies with the above numbers, PitchFX data indicates he may not be getting quite the same break on his hook as he did last season:

David Price Curveball Movement
BrkXBrkZ
2010 Season4.4-6.5
2011 Season3.7-4.7

The most glaring change has been the reduction in downward movement on Price's curve. In 2010, the lefty was getting 6.5 inches of downward break resulting from the spin on the pitch (BrkZ); this season, he's getting nearly 2 inches less of movement on it. In addition, Price has also seen a drop in left to right movement on his curve.

Right-handed hitters have done most of the damage against his curveball this season, going 14 for 37 with a .591 slugging percentage. With 6 RHB in the New York Yankees' lineup tonight, it will be interesting to see just how much Price utilizes that curveball.

Saturday
Aug062011

Mike Napoli's Month

Mike Napoli (TEX) has been the most productive hitter in the last month of baseball.  His .567 wOBA since July 6th leads the majors and is 85 points better Hideki Matsui (OAK) in second place on the list.

(Click to enlarge)
Over that span, Napoli has drilled 8 home runs and 7 doubles, while walking 8 times in 80 PA.  His 11.1% HR rate also leads all players since July 6th.  His HR/FB rate of 29.6% is third behind only Marlins' Mike Stanton (39.1%) and Rays' Ben Zobrist (30.0%).