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Entries in Texas Rangers (77)

Wednesday
Oct262011

Napoli's Lefty Lashing

With the score tied at two in the eighth inning of Game Five, Bullpen-Phone-Gate apparently led to lefty Mark Rzepczynski facing Mike Napoli, as righty relief ace Jason Motte never got the signal to warm up. Given Napoli's slugging exploits against southpaws, Tony La Russa and the Cardinals should have used every tool at their disposal -- bullhorns, flares, a team of special-ops Rally Squirrels -- to make sure Scrabble hit the S-H-O-W-E-R-S.

Napoli is no slouch against right-handed pitching, with a .259 batting average, a .337 OBP and a .495 slugging percentage over the past three seasons. But versus lefties, he's rocking a .312/.407/.589 line. In fact, the erstwhile Angel has one of the five best Weighted On-Base Averages (wOBA) against left-handers from 2009-2011 (minimum 400 plate appearances vs. LHP):

 

There's no clear pattern in how lefty pitchers try to combat Napoli. They're not shy about throwing him fastballs/sinkers, as Napoli gets one about 57 percent of the time versus lefties (58 percent league average). And they're all over the place in terms of pitch selection, dotting all four quadrants of the zone:

Left-handers' pitch location vs. Napoli, 2009-2011

That jumble of pitch locations stands in contrast to how lefties typically approach right-handed hitters. They mostly try to hit the outside corner:

Pitch frequency by location for left-handed pitchers vs. right-handed batters

It really doesn't seem to matter where lefties locate, however. Napoli mashes just about everything thrown in the zone, and, as noted last week, he hammers pitchers who try to climb the ladder out of the zone:

Napoli's in-play slugging percentage vs. lefties by pitch location, 2009-2011With left-handers throwing in and out, high and low, Napoli goes with the pitch. He pulls inside pitches, but he also punches outside offerings to center and right field:

Napoli's hit chart vs. lefties, 2009-2011

Napoli will take on another lefty, Jaime Garcia, in Game Six tonight. But this much can be said loud and clear: there's no way Napoli sees another southpaw in the late innings in this series.

Monday
Oct242011

Holland's Breaking Stuff Key in Series-Tying Masterpiece

The Dutchstache may have saved the Rangers' season last night, tossing 8.1 scoreless innings as Texas tied the World Series at two apiece with a 4-0 victory. Derek Holland gave up just two hits -- both to Lance Berkman -- while striking out seven and walking two. The 25-year-old, an above-slot sign in the 25th round of the '06 draft, had the longest scoreless outing by an AL starter in the Fall Classic since Andy Pettitte blanked Atlanta in 8.1 frames back in 1996.

Holland is known for routinely hitting the mid-to-upper-90s with his fastball, but his breaking pitches were paramount in Game Four. The left-hander threw curveballs and sliders a little more than a third of the time against St. Louis. Just 14 of his 39 breaking balls were in the strike zone (36 percent), but Holland got Cardinals hitters to chase 13 out-of-zone curves and sliders (52 percent of his total out-of-zone breaking balls thrown).

St. Louis didn't really go up to the plate hacking wildly at Holland's breaking balls, though. Instead, the Rangers lefty placed his curves and sliders just off the edge of the zone. The pitches were off the plate, but not by much. Check out the location of the breaking pitches that Cardinals hitters swung at last night:

Location of Holland's curveballs and sliders that St. Louis hitters swung at in Game Four

While Holland only threw 14 of his 39 breaking pitches within the strike zone, 27 of his curves and sliders were labeled as "competitive," meaning they were located within 18 inches of the middle of the zone.

The location of Holland's breaking stuff put the Cardinals in a tough spot last night. The pitches were close enough to the zone that hitters risked having strikes called against them if they chose not to swing. But if they did swing, they didn't figure to have much success. Batters rarely put powerful swings on curves and sliders located in the spots that Holland hit in Game Four:

 League average in-play slugging percentage by location on breaking pitches thrown by left-handed pitchers, 2011

St. Louis went a combined 0-for-8 against Holland's breaking stuff, and Holland registered four of his seven Ks on curves and sliders. Now the world knows there's more to him than velocity and a killer lip tickler.

Thursday
Oct202011

Fly Ball-Slanted Lewis Should Like Busch III

When Colby Lewis is on the mound, most of the action is going to take place in the air. The Rangers right-hander has the fourth-highest fly ball rate (49.4 percent) among starting pitchers. Those lofted pitches often get Lewis in trouble, as he has served up 38 home runs in 212 innings pitched (1.61 per nine frames). Luckily for Lewis, his Game Two start against St. Louis will take place in homer-hating Busch Stadium.

Lewis' fly ball-centric approach doesn't work well at Rangers Ballpark, which, according to StatCorner, increases home run production by 19 percent for left-handed hitters and 14 percent for righties. But Busch III decreases homers by 18 percent for lefty batters and 26 percent for righties. Fly balls that lead to souvenir scrums in Texas are just harmless outs in St. Louis.

The majority of Lewis' homers have been hit on fastballs (18) and cutters (seven), and of those 25 shots, 15 were blasted at Arlington. Lewis' fastball and cutter get smoked at home, but those pitches are much more effective in friendlier confines on the road. In home starts, Lewis has allowed a combined .515 slugging percentage on fastballs and cutters. On the road, hitters have slugged .394 against those pitches.

In addition to park effects, part of the reason for that slugging discrepancy appears to be pitch location. Lewis does a better job of keeping his fastball and cutter down in the zone when he's sporting away grays.

At home, Lewis has thrown 35 percent of his fastballs and cutters up in the zone:

Location of Lewis' fastballs and cutters in home games, 2011Batters pulverize those belt-high pitches at Arlington, slugging a whopping .716 on high heaters and cutters:

In-play slugging percentage on Lewis' fastballs and cutters in home games, 2011On the road, Lewis has thrown slightly under 31 percent of his fastballs and cutters high in the zone: 

Location of Lewis' fastballs and cutters in away games, 2011And when Lewis does leave a fastball or cutter high in the zone in a road start, it doesn't hurt him near as much as in hitter-happy Rangers Ballpark. Opponents are slugging a modest .375 on Lewis' high fastballs and cutters when he's on the road:

In-play slugging percentage on Lewis' fastballs and cutters in away games, 2011

Lewis has been an immense bargain since he returned stateside, providing about seven Wins Above Replacement while earning a little over $5 million and pitching exceptionally in the playoffs (a 2.37 ERA in 38 combined innings in 2010-2011). But as an extreme fly ball pitcher, he's more effective outside of Texas. By lining up Lewis so that he starts on the road (coincidence or not, he started away games against Tampa Bay and Detroit), Texas maximizes the chances that he gives them five strong innings before the club call upon a deep, dominant bullpen.