Scrabble and the Rookie

At this point, it might not make a whole lot of sense to talk about Sunday’s Game 1 of the Cardinals/Nationals NLDS, since Game 2 is already well underway at this writing. And if we’re going to talk about Sunday’s Game 1, it might not make a whole lot of sense to focus on just one single pitch. Game 1 featured several pitches, dozens of pitches, and each was important. But where many have discussed the decision to replace Mitchell Boggs with Marc Rzepczynski in the top of the eighth, I want to discuss the result of Rzepczynski’s first at-bat.

The controversy, if you want to call it that, is that the Nationals had two runners in scoring position with two out, and instead of letting Boggs face the left-handed Chad Tracy, Mike Matheny chose to have the left-handed Rzepczynski face the right-handed rookie Tyler Moore. Moore singled home two runs, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead, and the win-expectancy swing was about 47 percent. That single won Game 1 for the Nationals — it was a pretty important single.

This is also the pitch that Moore hit for said single:

It was a 2-and-2 fastball, outside, well off the plate. Moore swung and hit it off the end of the bat, dropping the ball in front of the right fielder. It was also the pitch that Yadier Molina wanted, so it’s not like Rzepczynski really missed his spot. Interestingly, here was the 2-and-1 pitch to Moore:

And here was the 2-and-2 pitch to Moore:

The two pitches were virtually identical. The first left Rzepczynski’s hand at 91.7 miles per hour, the second at 92.5. The first pitch crossed the plane 1.5 feet away from the middle of the plate, the second 1.4. The first pitch crossed the plane 2.6 feet off the ground, the second 2.6 as well. The first pitch had 8.9 inches of horizontal movement, and a vertical value of 4.8, the second 8.6 and 5.1. These two consecutive pitches could have been more similar, but they could not have been a lot more similar.

Moore swung right through the first one. He dinked the second one off the end of the barrel. You could argue that Molina shouldn’t have called for such a similar pitch, but Molina knows more about this than any of us do, and the immediate result wasn’t even that bad. The quality of contact wasn’t superb, but it wound up being superb enough.

One notes that Moore is said to be a pull hitter, and this regular season just five of his 41 hits went to the opposite field. Most hitters tend to be pull hitters, and most opposite-handed pitchers tend to stay away from the inner half, but that could have been a factor. Anyhow, I want to get to something else.

I was curious about how this pitch has done in the past. Similar pitches, thrown by lefties to righties in 2-and-2 counts. I looked at PITCHf/x data for 2010 – 2012, narrowing to fastballs between 91-94 miles per hour, within this box:

I wound up with 252 results, which isn’t a ton, but which seems like enough for our estimatory purposes. The complete breakdown:

Ball: 110
Called strike: 8
Foul: 52
In play, no out: 16
In play, out: 37
Swinging strike: 29

Pitches similar to Rzepczynski’s generated a 78-percent contact rate. There were 15 hits, an error, and 37 outs on balls in play. That’s a .283 BABIP, if you’re curious about the math. Perhaps most significantly, on those balls in play, there were 34 grounders, seven fly balls, and 12 line drives. A groundball rate of 64 percent is a pretty good ball-in-play outcome for a pitcher.

This doesn’t tell us much of anything about the Rzepczynski/Moore matchup in particular. Every pitcher is different, every hitter is different, and every at-bat and pitch sequence is different. We don’t know what Moore was expecting, and we don’t know what else Yadier Molina thought about calling for. What we know is that Tyler Moore swung at a ball and hit the ball hard, but not really that hard. In the past, this has been a difficult pitch to elevate. Had the pitch been taken, Rzepczynski would’ve been left having to make a big pitch in a full count, but the pitch wasn’t taken, and the result was ever so slightly unlucky for St. Louis.

There were a number of reasons why the Cardinals lost Game 1 to the Nationals, and one might be right to say that Rzepczynski shouldn’t have been pitching in that situation in the first place. He didn’t do that poorly, though, and I don’t know if that should make Cardinals fans feel better or worse.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

10 Responses to “Scrabble and the Rookie”

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  1. Nick44 says:

    The score of the current game should make Cardinals fans feel better.

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  2. chuckb says:

    It’s worth noting that the pitch was still belt high. I’m sure Molina wanted it at the knees rather than up where Moore would be able to get some loft on it. The fact that the previous pitch was also belt high doesn’t mean that Yadi wanted the 2nd one up there as well. In all likelihood, Rzepczinski missed his spot both times by getting the ball up. If that pitch is at the knees, either Moore takes it or he hits an infield dribbler.

    Regardless of the outcome, however, the Cards should have had Boggs or Motte vs. Tracy rather than Rzepczinski vs. Moore.

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    • Zach says:

      as we discussed pretty thoroughly on VEB yesterday, in no world is Boggs vs. Tracy a vastly superior matchup. it MAY be a slightly superior matchup.

      on the other hand, Motte vs. Tracy is a VASTLY superior matchup.

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  3. cpebbles says:

    Rzepczynski has been absolutely terrible, to the point that nobody should have been surprised that he executed and still got beat. The Cardinals should have replaced Matheny as manager at the half-inning.

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  4. David G says:

    This is a prime example of why I come to Fangraphs

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  5. Spit Ball says:

    “Rzepczynski? What the heck are you doing here! I said Motte”! Sorry, I could not help it.

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  6. Jack says:

    Scrabble and the Rookie sounds like an Aesop fable to me.

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  7. This is a fantastic article. My consistency-based rankings of Moore show that he has had some difficulty generating hard contact, despite his nice ISO. So when he didn’t generate hard contact, I wasn’t surprised. I thought it was a miraculous result for the Nats, given everything I knew going into the at-bat, and your article further confirmed that. This is really detailed and informative analysis.

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