Counting switch-hitters, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland could pencil in as many as eight right-handed batters to face Texas lefty C.J. Wilson in Game One of the ALCS. In years past, that could have spelled doom for Wilson and the Rangers. But not these days. Wilson has quelled righty hitters in 2011 by busting them inside more often, particularly with two strikes.
In his first big league season as a starter in 2010, Wilson allowed right-handed hitters to reach base at a third of the time that they came to the plate. This year, righties have a paltry .296 OBP against Wilson that is nearly 40 points below the league average for lefty pitchers against right-handed hitters.
A big part of that improvement can be attributed to Wilson putting more pitches in on righties' hands. His percentage of pitches thrown inside to right-handers has increased from 34 percent to 39 percent, and opponents are chasing many more of those offerings. Check out righty hitters' swing rate on Wilson's inside pitches in 2010 and 2011:
Wilson's chase rate against right-handers on inside pitches has spiked from 30 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2011, which is tied with L.A.'s Clayton Kershaw for the highest rate among major league starting pitchers.
The Rangers lefty really likes to go inside once he has the hitter up against the wall. He has thrown 52 percent of his pitches to righties inside with two strikes, up from 43 percent in 2010. No lefty in baseball has thrown more pitches inside to right-handers when looking for a punch out.
Wilson didn't pitch inside as much against the Rays in the ALDS, and he got taken deep twice by Kelly Shoppach on pitches that were belt-high on the outside corner. It will be interesting to see whether Wilson goes back inside against Detroit, particularly since several Tigers have thumped inside pitches from lefties over the past three seasons while swinging from the right side:
If Wilson's conversation with MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan is any indication, don't expect the lefty to step off the gas when it comes to busting righties inside:
The biggest thing is just to try to go out there and be ahead in the count and make them adjust to me, because I think if I'm in the driver's seat, which is a metaphor I like as a race car driver, obviously, I get to steer the course of the game a lot more. As opposed to having to try to pitch around their hot zones or whatever like that. You have to focus on your strengths and attack that way.