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Entries in Texas Rangers (77)

Thursday
Oct202011

Hamilton's 50 Percent

After last night's 0-for-4 showing in Game One of the World Series, Josh Hamilton has a tepid .267 batting average, a .286 OBP and a .378 slugging percentage during the 2011 playoffs. That's a far cry from the reigning AL MVP's .298/.346/.536 regular season triple-slash, and Hamilton admitted a few days ago that a lingering left groin injury is hindering him:

"I’m about 50 percent," Hamilton told Ben Rogers in an interview on ESPN 103.3 FM. "I’m going to give you 100 percent of my 50 percent."

"We got a lot of power on the team, so I’m definitely not concerning myself with hitting home runs and producing that way," Hamilton said. "Whatever the game asked me to do -- whether get a guy over, or make a catch in the outfield -- I'm trying to do it. I told Kins after our first at-bat [Saturday], 'Let's not try to do too much.' "

Hamilton may well be 50 percent, but you wouldn't know it judging by the distance of his fly balls hit during the postseason. The lefty slugger's fly balls have traveled an average of 318 feet in October, compared to 292 feet during the regular season. Of course, you could argue that some of Hamilton's deep fly ball outs to left and center field (dark blue on the spray chart below) would be round-trippers if he were healthier:

 Hamilton's fly balls hit during the 2011 playoffs

Hamilton has also expanded his already-large strike zone during the playoffs. He has gone after 44 percent of pitches out of the zone, above his 38 percent average during the regular season. In particular, he's trying to poke pitches well off the outside corner of the plate:

 Hamilton's swing rate by pitch location during 2011 playoffs

Those swings on outer-third offerings probably aren't a good thing. Hamilton murderizes pitches thrown inside, but he doesn't inflict a whole lot of pain on outside pitches. Check out his in-play slugging percentage by pitch location in 2011 (including the playoffs):

Hamilton's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2011 (including playoffs)Pitchers seem well aware of Hamilton's issues with outside pitches. They're throwing lots of pitches low and away, many of them out of the zone but close enough that Hamilton still pulls the trigger. Take a look at opponents' pitch location to Hamilton during the playoffs:

 Opponent pitch location to Hamilton during 2011 playoffs

It's hard to ascribe Hamilton's postseason woes to one factor. Maybe it's his groin, turning would-be homers into warning track shots. Maybe it's his plate approach, as he's going after more outside pitches that give him problems. Or maybe it's just plain old bad luck: we're talking about 49 plate appearances, after all. If a couple of those long fly ball outs cleared the fence, Hamilton's playoff line is suddenly .311/.327/.556, and we're surely not having this discussion. Whatever the reason, the Rangers need vintage Josh Hamilton if they're going to top the Cardinals.

Wednesday
Oct192011

Napoli's High-Ball Hacking Pays Off 

No player influenced the AL West in 2011 more than Mike Napoli. The part-time backstop, whose defense never earned him the full trust of Mike Scioscia and the Angels, was shipped to Toronto this past January as part of a deal for Vernon Wells. Four days later, Napoli was traded to L.A.'s chief division rival for Frank Francisco. While Wells turned in a wretched season (-0.3 Wins Above Replacement) and raked in $23 million (it's OK, he has three more years to redeem himself at $21 million a pop!), Napoli paced Rangers players with 5.5 WAR.

Napoli has been devastating offensively. Including the playoffs, his .431 Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) places third among MLB hitters with at least 400 trips to the plate. Napoli has pared down his strikeout rate (to a career-low 19.8 percent), and his patient approach produces plenty of walks as well (13.1 percent). And when he does decide to take a whack at a pitch off the plate, there's a reason: Napoli knows he can crush it.

Generally speaking, swinging at pitches out of the zone is a lousy idea. Hitters have a collective .195 wOBA when going after pitches out of the zone. But Napoli? He has a .360 wOBA when he goes fishing, which ranks second to Pablo Sandoval among MLB batters. Napoli is hardly a Vlad Guerrero-esque, hack-happy hitter: his 23 percent chase rate is well below the 28-29 percent big league average. Rather, his out-of-zone swings are calculated. Napoli kills high pitches, so he's not bashful about going after pitches up the ladder.

Take a look at Napoli's out-of-zone swing rate this season, compared to the league average. You'll note that he's awfully aggressive on high pitches, but just about never swings at pitches off the plate in other locations:

 Napoli's out-of-zone swing rate, by pitch location

League average out-of-zone swing rate, by pitch locationHere's how Napoli's chase rate breaks down by vertical pitch location, compared to the league average:

High pitches: 29 percent, 26 percent league average

Middle pitches: 27 percent, 34 percent league average

Low pitches: 13 percent, 28 percent league average

Napoli's aggressiveness on high pitches is paying off handsomely. Check out his in-play slugging percentage on pitches thrown out of the strike zone, compared to the league average:

 Napoli's in-play slugging percentage vs. out-of-zone pitches

League average in-play slugging percentage vs. out-of-zone pitches

Napoli's nine homers on out-of-zone pitches rank second in the majors, and seven of those shots have come on high pitches. A word of advice to Cardinals pitchers as the World Series kicks off tonight: if you're thinking about trying to get Napoli to chase high, think again.

Monday
Oct172011

Feldman Avoiding Hitters' Hot Zones

Who would've thought that the Texas Rangers' pitching MVP to this point in the postseason would be Scott Feldman? The sidearm reliever-turned-starter-turned swingman, who pitched just 32 regular season innings and missed four months while recovering from microfracture surgery on his right knee, has a 9/0 K/BB ratio and has yet to surrender a run in 8.1 playoff innings.

Feldman has pounded the strike zone this postseason, placing 60 percent of his pitches over the plate (the league average is 48-49 percent). His control has been great, but his command has been even better. Feldman is putting the ball in spots where hitters typically don't do much damage.

The right-hander has faced 30 hitters so far in the playoffs: 20 righties and 10 lefties. Versus same-handed batters, Feldman is hugging the outside corner:

Feldman's pitch location vs. RHBs during the 2011 playoffs

For most right batters, it's hard to put a good swing on a pitch thrown to that location by a righty pitcher. Check out the league average in-play slugging percentage for righty hitters against righty batters:

League average in-play slugging percentage by pitch location for RHBs vs. RHPsRighties slug just .273 on pitches thrown outside by right-handed pitchers, compared to .468 on pitches thrown down the middle and .442 on inside pitches.

Feldman is mostly going low-and-away against lefties, throwing the occasional inside pitch to keep them on their toes:

Feldman's pitch location to LHBs in the 2011 playoffs

Lefty hitters fare poorly when a right-handed pitcher can locate low and away. Here's the average in-play slugging percentage for lefty hitters against righty pitchers:

League average in-play slugging percentage by pitch location for LHBs vs. RHPsLeft-handed hitters slug .309 on low-and-away pitches thrown by righties, compared to a .375 overall slugging percentage against right-handers.  

Maybe we should have seen Feldman's postseason excellence coming. After all, how can a hitter possibly hope to combat such a perfectly crafted playoff beard? Eat your heart out, Brian Wilson.