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Entries in Tampa Bay Rays (46)

Wednesday
Oct052011

Matt Harrison Limits the Rays

Perhaps lost in yesterday’s HR explosion from Texas Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre was just how well Matt Harrison pitched.  In fact, his 9 strikeout performance against the Tampa Bay Rays gives him a 34.6% strikeout per plate appearance rate for the playoffs, leading all pitchers through Tuesday's games.

Harrison held the Rays to five hits and two walks through five innings on Tuesday, allowing two earned runs.  He struck out seven of the 16 right handed hitters he faced.

During the regular season, Harrison actually did slightly better against righties than lefties, holding them to a .293 wOBA, 23 points lower than opposing lefties.  When he did get hit by RHB, it was mostly on pitches in, as you can see from the following heat map:

Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

Yesterday, Harrison made sure to keep the ball away and as a result he was able to not only limit damage from RHB, but also strike out nine batters in all matching his 2011 game high set against the Mariners on September 18th.

Friday
Sep302011

Can Texas Stand the heat vs. Matt Moore?

The Tampa Bay Rays will give the ball to rookie Matt Moore against the Rangers' prolific offense tonight. The 22-year-old lefty struck out 11 hitters in his first MLB start against the Yankees on September 22, featuring a David Price-esque fastball that averaged nearly 95 MPH. Are the Rangers ready for Moore's heat?

In general, hitters struggle mightily against high-speed fastballs. They have a .298 Weighted On-Base average (wOBA) against fastballs thrown at 95 mph or higher over the past three seasons, compared to a .349 wOBA versus fastballs thrown under 95 mph. Several of Texas' heavy hitters have fared worse than most when a pitcher lights up the gun:

wOBA of Rangers hitters vs. fastballs thrown 95+ MPH since 2009 (including with other teams)

Nelson Cruz: .264

Ian Kinsler: .270

Adrian Beltre: .277

Josh Hamilton: .288

This quartet has absolutely killed fastballs thrown under 95 mph, with each posting a wOBA of at least .425, but high-velocity heat has been an issue. Michael Young (.333 wOBA vs. fastballs thrown 95+ mph) and Mike Napoli (.324) have hit top-shelf velocity pretty well, however.

It's possible that the advantage Moore's velocity provides is blunted by Texas' righty-heavy lineup. But if he relies heavily upon his fastball tonight against the middle of the Rangers' lineup, it might be a smart strategy instead of a rookie mistake.

Monday
Sep262011

Curveball Key for Shields vs. Yankees

James Shields needs to live up to his "Big Game" billing tonight, as the Rays (one game behind Boston in the Wild Card standings) open a three-game set with the Yankees. Shields has shut down New York this year, posting a 27/7 K/BB ratio in 30 innings pitched while holding Bombers batters to a collective .222/.270/.343 line. A big reason for Shields' success against the majors' second-most potent offense is that he's using his curveball, a pitch that makes some Yankees look Cerrano-like, more often.

Shields has increased his curveball usage from 13 percent in 2010 to 21 percent this year. The bender,  dropping a couple more inches compared to last season, is holding hitters to a .199 Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA), well below the .253 league average. The Yankees, meanwhile, haven't hit curveballs well this season. It's the only pitch against which the club has a below-average team wOBA:

2011 Yankees Team wOBA by Pitch Type (league average in parentheses)

Fastball: .382 (.340)

Sinker: .345 (.343)

Cutter: .323 (.311)

Slider: .302 (.263)

Changeup: .299 (.290)

Splitter: .289 (.279)

Curveball: .248 (.253)

Here are the Yankee hitters who are scuffling against curveballs in 2011:

Brett Gardner, .117

Mark Teixeira, .190

Nick Swisher, .239

Curtis Granderson, .251

Alex Rodriguez, .256

Rodriguez (.344 wOBA vs. curves from 2008-2011) typically crushes curveballs, but that hasn't been the case this season. Gardner (.216), Teixeira (.263), Swisher (.226) and Granderson (.241) have long been jelly-legged against curves.  

Shields has tossed his curveball for a strike nearly 70 percent of the time against the Yankees, giving up just one extra-base hit in the process. Look for the pitch to play a prominent role tonight as Tampa continues its late-season playoff pursuit.

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