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Entries in Texas Rangers (77)

Monday
Oct102011

Dutch Oven's Fastball Heating Up

In the minors, Derek Holland ascended from a 25th-round draft-and-follow selection to primo prospect on the basis of a fastball that jumped up to the mid-to-high 90s range. That velocity wasn't really present in 2009 and 2010, when the lefty sat at 92-93 mph, and he began 2011 in the same territory. But the man they call Dutch Oven, who takes on the Tigers this afternoon in Game 2 of the ALCS, has gained speed on his heater all season. Holland has responded by becoming one of the most fastball-centric pitchers in the game.

In April, Holland averaged 93 mph with his fastball and used the pitch a little over 56 percent of the time. Since then, both his fastball velocity and usage have progressively ticked upward:

Holland's fastball velocity and usage by month:

May: 93.6 mph,  65.3% pitch usage

June: 93.9 mph, 64.1% pitch usage

July: 94.3 mph, 64.1% pitch usage

August: 94.9 mph, 69.4% pitch usage

September: 94.8 mph, 70.2% pitch usage

With his fastball sitting near 95 over the last two months of the season (highest among AL starters over that time frame), Holland struck out a batter per inning in 59 frames. His fastball was particularly nasty in September, when he got hitters to miss 27 percent of the time that they swung at the pitch (the MLB average is 15-16 percent). Holland also shifted his fastball location late in the season, preferring to challenge hitters in the upper part of the strike zone:

Holland's fastball location, April-August 2011

Holland's fastball location, September 2011

His fastball isn't sitting as high in the zone, but Holland has taken that fastball-heavy approach into the playoffs. He threw the pitch nearly three-quarters of the time in two ALDS appearances vs. the Rays (one start), sitting at 95 mph and maxing out at a little over 98 mph.

The 25-year-old, who celebrated his birthday yesterday, might only be able to grow what can charitably be described as a playoff caterpillar on his upper lip (follow the Dutchstache on Twitter!) But that won't matter a bit as long as the Dutch Oven keeps cooking with gas.

Saturday
Oct082011

C.J. Wilson In Driver's Seat vs. Righties

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:

 Hitters' swing rate by location on Wilson's inside pitches, 2010

Hitters' swing rate by location on Wilson's inside pitches, 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.

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.