If you’re an East Coaster – like myself — and you stayed up late enough to watch the Angels-Mariners game on Saturday night, you were in for treat. The game, based on the pitching matchup alone, would have been an exciting one to watch: Garrett Richards versus Felix Hernandez. There’s a fair argument that Hernandez is the best pitcher in baseball right now. The same could be said about Clayton Kershaw, but if you’re talking about pitchers who have been healthy for the whole season, then King Felix is your guy.
Richards has been no slouch either, turning himself into the bona-fide ace in Anaheim, pitching to a ERA/FIP/xFIP line of 2.55/2.69/3.21, which is good for a WAR of 3.2. This game previewed as more of pitcher’s duel than a slugger’s fest.
However, this game didn’t just feature the game’s best pitcher. It also featured arguably the game’s best hitter: Mike Trout. So, how does the world’s best pitcher pitch to the world’s best hitter?
This is in the fourth inning, and it’s Trout’s second time facing Hernandez. Hernandez starts out with a fastball. Sucre set up for a pitch low and away, and Hernandez misses with a 92 MPH up and in. A slight mistake, but definitely not a costly one. The count is 1-0.
Like any great pitcher, Hernandez fixes the mistake he made on his first pitch. Sucre sets up for the same location, and Hernandez throws a 92 MPH fastball low and away. Hernandez nails it right on the money. The pitch was well executed, and Trout even thought about going around on it. Trout doesn’t go around, but that doesn’t matter because the pitch is a called strike. Hernandez evens up the count at 1-1.
Clearly, the Mariners had a plan: pitch Trout low and away. This is the third time that Sucre set up in that location, however this time Hernandez decided to flash his signature changeup. This hard changeup probably would have bounced in the dirt had Trout not fouled it off. It seems as though Hernandez plans on going after Trout by first establishing the fastball in a particular location, and then attack with the off-speed stuff. The count is in Hernandez’s favor at 1-2.
Hernandez comes after Trout with another changeup, and Sucre sets up in the same location as the last pitch. Hernandez — like any pitcher — is clearly going for the punch out. Hernandez is trying to execute the same pitch, while hoping for better results. Unfortunately he misses inside for a ball. Trout has worked the count to 2-2.
When you throw a pitch two times in a row, you run the risk of becoming predictable. Hernandez decides to break his streak of throwing changeups, and goes for the hard stuff. Sucre sets up in the same location that he always does, however Hernandez floats 93 MPH fastball up and away for a ball. The count is full. The best thing about a full count is that you know that one of three things will happen: strikeout, walk or the batter makes contact.
Well, something did happen. Trout made contact, but it was nothing meaningful, as he fouled off a 94 MPH fastball from Hernandez. Nothing is really new from the Hernandez-Sucre side. Sucre sets up in the same location he has been setting up for the entire at bat, and Hernandez probably would have hit his spot had Trout not fouled it off. The count is still 3-2.
Hernandez comes back with a 94 MPH fastball, hoping to hit the low and away location that Sucre sets up. However, Hernandez leaves the pitch up a little bit just enough to slightly miss the location that Sucre had set up. Trout is one of the best hitters in the game, and the best hitters in the game can take advantage of a pitcher’s slight mistake. Trout almost takes this pitch yard , as it bounces off the wall for a double. This double ended up being nothing significant, as Hernandez managed to work his way out of the inning without Trout scoring.
Crisis averted for Hernandez.
Trout happened to come out successful in that at-bat as he got himself a pretty big hit against Hernandez, however later on in the game Hernandez managed to strike out Trout.
Hernandez finally gets Trout on his signature nasty changeup that breaks on the inside part of the plate. If you look at Mike Trout’s heatmap, you know that going inside on him is risky business. Dave Cameron even wrote a whole article about it. Luckily, Hernandez’s changeup is good enough that he can get away with pitching Trout inside.
One of the best hitters in the game faced off against one of the game’s best pitchers. You could see why these two are the best at what they do. They recognize mistakes, capitalize on those mistakes, and correct their own mistakes. There are a lot of at-bats each year in baseball, and to someone who knows nothing about baseball, this might look ordinary. However, if you look closely enough, you can see the intricacies of a particular at-bat. That’s when you start to realize how complex baseball is.
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