Author Archive

Does Coors Field Make Rockies’ Batters Worse on the Road?

Denver is where pitchers’ peripheral numbers go to die.

Humidors and huge outfields have mitigated the issue a bit, but that’s still the first thing that comes to mind for most stat heads when the words “Coors Field” are uttered: Oh, those poor, poor pitchers.

There’s evidence, though, that the ballpark messes with hitters, too. Rockies hitters have the biggest home/road splits in baseball over the past five years … even after you correct for park effect. By weighted runs created plus, they’re 17 percent worse on the road than at home, whereas the league average home and away split is 10 percentage points lower.

In other words, Coors Field seems to giveth at home and taketh away on the road. When I asked Rockies hitters about this and checked the numbers, a clearer picture emerged: The Rockies are pitched differently at home, and their response to that difference seems to lead to problems on the road. All along, we thought pitchers were the only ones negatively affected by playing half their games at Coors Field; turns out, hitters are affected, too.

Let’s get to the root of what’s happening. First, we’ll look at how things are different at home, then explain how it’s affecting the Rockies’ performance on the road (at least those not named Nolan Arenado, who actually has more home runs and a higher OPS on the road this season).

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Batters Striking New Fear This Year

We’ve seen it happen time and time again, and the numbers agree: when a player shows power, pitchers adjust. They try to defuse that power bat by throwing fewer pitches in the zone, and fewer fastballs.

What we’d like to do here is turn the tables on this process by analyzing various hitters’ power situations based on which batters this season are seeing fewer pitches in the zone and fewer fastballs, and vice-versa.

It seems we can, and to do so we’ll use a few cool stats. The newest is Heart%, a stat created by Bill Petti that measures how often a pitch crosses the plate in the heart of the strike zone. We’ll also look at O-Swing%, which measures how often a hitter reaches at pitches outside the zone. And we’ll judge power using Isolated Slugging Percentage — slugging percentage minus batting average, or basically an extra-base hit rate.

Examining these statistics can help us identify which hitters likely have sustainable power breakouts and are worth targeting or keeping — and which fading sluggers would be best to avoid or let go.

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Gregory Polanco struggling with league’s adjustment to him

Coming into the 2014 season, Pittsburgh outfielder Gregory Polanco was a top prospect with all the tools that make scouts drool — power, patience, contact, defense, and speed. He was Keith Law’s 13th-best prospect that offseason, and he played well enough in the spring to force himself onto the Pirates’ roster.

A good but not great debut, then just 22-year-old, showed hints of future glory, as his overall work compared decently to the debut from a young, toolsy outfielder named Carlos Gonzalez.

But Polanco has had difficulty capitalizing on that promise this season. And now, nearly 600 plate appearances into his major league career, the questions about his potential are getting louder, particularly his ability to hit for power and hit left-handed pitching. Using his appraisal of the situation and the statistics as a guide, maybe we can see if the shine has actually dulled on what was once star-level promise.
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The Cleveland Indians Rotation: Legendarily Bad Luck?

The Cleveland Indians have plenty of talent in their rotation. They have Corey Kluber, last year’s AL Cy Young award winner, who has excellent command of a sweeping, knee-buckling breaking ball. They also have Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, who have fastballs that average 95 mph and are good enough secondary pitches to join Kluber in the double-digit K/9 rate club. And they have Trevor Bauer, who has good velocity and something like 10 pitches in his arsenal.

It’s an excellent rotation — and yet Indians starters have the sixth-worst ERA in baseball (4.41).

As it turns out, this disconnect between stuff and results has actually reached a historic level. Only four rotations in history have ever had a bigger gap between their FIP — an expected ERA based on strikeouts, walks, and home runs — and their ERA.

Let’s see if we can figure out why the Indians’ rotation is less than the sum of its parts right now.

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Chris Heston, now with more Chris Heston

On July 13, 2013, Chris Heston was designated for assignment by the San Francisco Giants to make room for the recently signed Jeff Francoeur. He was released by the team eight days later.

At that point, the pitcher was throwing in the mid-80s and posting mediocre strikeout numbers, not to mention the righty was suffering from elbow problems. It was undoubtedly the low point of his career.

Now less than two years later, Heston already has a no-hitter under his belt, firing an 11-strikeout no-no at Citi Field on Tuesday in just his 13th big league start. He was masterful, not only striking out Mets hitters, but also keeping the ball on the ground (87 percent of the balls in play were ground balls).

With the win, Heston placed his name next to some of the greats in Giants history while also improving his argument for remaining in the rotation when it’s back to full health. Two years after the low point of his career, he’s quite possibly at the high point right now.

So what changed? His body. At least that’s what the pitcher said earlier this season when I asked him about his newfound stuff.

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Brian McCann: Keep calm, carry the pitching staff

Let’s face it, New York Yankees catcher Brian McCann is known more for his offense than his D. He has hit 18 or more homers in nine consecutive seasons and has an .807 career OPS. He has won five Silver Slugger awards — and no Gold Gloves — and has been named an All-Star seven times, more on the strength of his offense than his glove work.

But guess what — he’s pretty good at defense, too. In fact, when you examine McCann’s performance in peripheral catcher-defense stats such as framing, blocking balls in the dirt and calling a game, just one catcher has been better over the past three years: Yadier Molina (of course it’s Yady — who else would it be?). But while the only currently active Molina brother is widely acclaimed for his defense, McCann doesn’t seem to get his due respect.

I examined what makes McCann a good catcher and spoke with the Yankees backstop, as well as his manager, about the importance of McCann’s defensive skills, and what the catcher has learned over the years about his work behind the plate.

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Surgery to success: The story behind Shane Greene’s breakout

There wasn’t much hype about Shane Greene as he slowly made his way through the minor league ranks, and seemingly for good reason. He was a 15th-round pick, not a big-bonus guy. He didn’t make any national prospect lists before or after the draft. His stuff didn’t seem that great, including a changeup that was clearly a work in progress. And his minor league numbers were mediocre at best; in 562 career minor league innings, he had a 29-43 record, 4.39 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. That doesn’t exactly scream “can’t-miss prospect!”

But just look at him now.

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How Framing Changed Andrew Cashner

Sometimes, framing can seem like an invisible skill, a game of centimeters that we can barely see, a practice that affects the game around the edges. Something you might shrug your shoulders at. You wouldn’t feel that way if you were Andrew Cashner, though. Not since the Padres’ pitcher has had to change his approach this year because of the framing he’s getting behind the plate.

Last year, Cashner had the second-best framer in the game behind the plate most days in Rene Rivera. Rivera stole 170 extra strikes last year by Baseball Prospectus’ excellent catcher framing stats, second only to Buster Posey. “It’s a difference maker, for sure,” said Cashner of that skill behind the plate. Look how wide Rivera’s called strike zone was last year with the Padres.

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Fastball movement, location the keys to Garrett Richards’ breakout

As recently as March 2014, Los Angeles Angels right-hander Garrett Richards was considered a league-average starting pitcher/middle reliever with decent velocity and a good slider. Now just 14 months later, he’s considered one of the top pitchers in the American League. What were the keys to his 2014 breakout performance, and will it continue?

Richards has always had good stuff — in his first three years in the league (2011-13), Richards got whiffs on 9.5 percent of the pitches he threw, which would be top 40 this year among qualified pitchers — but he really didn’t post good strikeout totals until 2014. He posted a mediocre (or worse) 6.3 K/9 rate in 2013, which at that point was the highest mark of his career. But he jumped that rate to 8.8 K’s per 9 last season, ranking 19th in the majors among qualified pitchers in that metric, and he has a respectable 8.2 K/9 rate this season.

So I took a closer look at Richards’ repertoire and metrics in an attempt to find out what’s behind the breakout, then asked the pitcher himself for his thoughts.

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FanGraphs+ 2015!

As the new baseball year starts, we celebrate here at FanGraphs+ by compiling an annual of sorts. Equal parts fantasy and real, our articles in this annual take advantage of our best resources here at FanGraphs in order to scout baseball players, research topics, and, in general, think about baseball as best we can.

For the non-fantasy player, our 1200 player caps can serve as gentle prods in the direction of the most interesting aspects of a player’s production. Or for a tickle on a rainy spring day. You don’t have to be interested in fantasy baseball to wonder how the clustering of a pitcher’s release point is correlated to their command peripherals, or how changing a team’s on base percentage affects the individual hitters in the lineup. Just be a baseball geek and you’ll love Dan Farnsworth’s breakdowns of a few key hitters and their mechanics at the plate — remember, this is the man that spotted the changes J.D. Martinez made that launched the Tiger into stardom.

But if you are a fantasy player, there’s gobs here for you. We hope you enjoy! It’ll only cost you $5.99 to enjoy the following:

1200 Player Caps
Eventually including all 50+ future value caps from Kiley McDaniel, these player caps will reside right on the player pages once you log in. You’ll also have access to previous player caps, for fun.

The Annual
How Much Does Having Runners on Base Improve a Hitter? by Jeff Zimmerman
Breaking Down Jung-Ho Kang by Dan Farnsworth
The Fringe Five Prospects (Plus Five) by Carson Cistulli
The Importance of Release Point Consistency by Dan Schwartz
Breaking Down Steven Souza by Dan Farnsworth
Japan’s Best, Now and Future by Jason Coskrey
The Daily Fantasy Baseball Compendium by Brad Johnson
Using Minor League Statistics To Find Sleepers by Chris Mitchell
Top 50 Rookies for Fantasy Prospects by Marc Hulet
Predicting the Quality Start by Michael Barr
Developing The Bestest xBABIP Equation Yet by Michael Podhorzer
Breaking Down Jedd Gyorko by Dan Farnsworth
Don’t Call Them Tiers: Fantasy Talent Distribution by Zach Sanders


Japans’ Best, Now and Future

The 2014 season in Nippon Professional Baseball began with the assumption Hiroshima Carp pitcher Kenta Maeda or Orix Buffaloes ace Chihiro Kaneko, or both, would follow in the footsteps of Masahiro Tanaka and head to Major League Baseball via the posting system.

Things will be the same in 2015, since neither Maeda nor Kaneko was posted in 2014. This is the new normal in Japan. As respect for NPB, already considered the second best league in the world, continues to grow, so too does the reality that MLB teams will try to swoop in and snatch up top players.

Japanese fans take this in stride these days. Hideo Nomo was vilified for leaving in 1995, but Tanaka was hailed as a hero last year as fans beamed with pride because their best proved they could play in the world’s best league. You can’t fit every good Japanese player with an “MLB ship by” tag, though, because not every player harbors a desire to leave Japan. But for those who do the door is somewhat open.

Maeda (and/or Kaneko) is still expected to be among the next group of NPB players who make the leap. Going from NPB to MLB requires a number of adjustments, and the fact that not every player makes the transition successfully is also true of players from other parts of the world as well.

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FanGraphs+ 2014 Is Here!

It’s that time again! Time for FanGraphs+ to help you get ready for the coming season. With this subscription, you get access to the 1200+ player capsules on the player pages (our most ever) and our ongoing pieces that we produce for ESPN Insider for a full calendar year. Enjoy also the research pieces listed below, as our fine writers worked hard to uncover an aspect of baseball or fantasy baseball that you may not have noticed before.

Thanks for subscribing!


Blue Jays need Santana or Jimenez

The Toronto Blue Jays have to sign a pitcher. It’s not a question of desire. They’re short a starting pitcher, maybe two.

Roughly 40 percent of all pitchers who pitched last year will hit the DL at some point in 2014. That means every rotation in baseball — in your average year — needs at least six pitchers. Seven pitchers is a better plan, in case one of those DL stints is longer than most. If you’re the Blue Jays and coming off two straight years of losing more time to pitcher injuries than most of baseball — and still hope to contend — you might want to go eight deep.

Currently, the spots for Nos. 3-8 in the Blue Jays’ rotation are manned by Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, in some order. That group averaged just over 60 innings in the big leagues last season. For a roster that looks to be built for the now, it’s a grim group of pitchers. Even if you add the exciting big-league ready prospect Marcus Stroman, the Jays need another pitcher.

Of course, two potentially elite starting pitchers are available on the free-agent market: Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, and the Blue Jays must make sure at least one of them is toeing the rubber in the Rogers Centre by summer.

Relatively low cost

The biggest reason Santana and Jimenez are still available is that both will cost the team that signs them a draft pick. This is less of a problem for the Blue Jays because they have two of the top 11 picks in the 2014 draft, and the 11th is actually protected because it comes as compensation for failing to sign Phil Bickford, their 2013 first-rounder. In other words, they would only have to sacrifice a second-round pick to sign either pitcher.

A win-now team can afford to lose a second-rounder, especially since by that time, the chance of finding a successful player in the draft has already dropped below 10 percent.

If the rumors are to be believed, the asking price for Santana has fallen below four years, $60 million, and Jimenez is seeking similar terms. That might seem steep for a club whose payroll jumped to $120 million last season after never previously topping $100 million, but it’s a relative bargain when compared to the contract given to Masahiro Tanaka.

So if we assume the Jays need to sign one of these guys, the question becomes: Which one?

Santana vs. Jimenez

If health is your primary concern, then Santana is the choice; he has averaged 206 innings over the last three years to Jimenez’s 183. But age is a component to any discussion about health, and at 30, Jimenez is a year younger, which is worth about an extra percentage point in terms of injury projection.

The research on using pitcher types to predict injury is split a bit in the case of these two pitchers. Santana throws more sliders than anyone in the game, and sliders have been shown to stress the elbow. But Jimenez doesn’t have good control and his mechanics get out of whack sometimes — good control has been shown to lead to good health outcomes.

If health is maybe a wash in this situation, then how about performance? Though the shape of their work over the last three years has been different, and they have different strengths and weaknesses, projection systems see them both as pitchers whose ERA will land in the 4.00 range. They’ve each had issues with home runs in the past, and they’d be leaving home parks that suppress home runs to go to Toronto, the eighth-friendliest park for home runs last season.

A look at their arsenals could split the difference. Santana throws a fastball or a slider 93 percent of the time. Against lefties, he throws the change a little more (11 percent the last two years), but he’s really hoping to get a grounder with the pitch, not whiffs. The slider and the sinker have the worst platoon splits in baseball — lefties love them from a righty. And that’s why Santana’s strikeout, walk and home run rates all get worse when he faces a lefty.

Jimenez has a completely different arsenal. By BrooksBaseball’s algorithm, he threw seven different kinds of pitches last year. The sinker and the slider are still his bread and butter, and they too have platoon splits, but he’s added a new pitch that is fairly exciting. His split-finger, which he used almost one-fifth of the time last year against lefties, gets both whiffs and grounders at an above-average rate, and virtually assures that he’ll continue to show even numbers against batters of both hands.

That might be important to the Blue Jays, who had the third-worst numbers against left-handed batters in the American League last year. As a team, they had a 4.56 FIP against lefties and a 4.08 against righties.

Can the Blue Jays add another $15 million to their budget? Right now, they’re projected to have a $133 million payroll, quite a jump from the $84 million they spent in 2012. But with Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista (and R.A. Dickey) locked up below market value through 2015 (with some club options for 2016), this might be their current window of contention.

So who should the Blue Jays sign? A starter. Maybe one whose arsenal fits their team needs best. Maybe the one who comes with the fewest years attached, or the smallest cost. Maybe the team was waiting for Tanaka to set the wheels in motion so it could catch the falling free agent. It all makes sense.

At least if the Blue Jays sign one of these guys in the end.


Searching for The Spitball

The accusations are on the table. As Gordon Edes reported on ESPN Boston, Jack Morris said he thinks that Clay Buchholz was throwing a spitter in his start against the Toronto Blue Jays last week, and we know the baseball world will be watching Buchholz closely when he toes the rubber on Monday night against the Minnesota Twins.

It’s not easy to test these accusations, despite the fact that every moment of the start was recorded on video and baseball creates more data than any sport. Those who have looked closely at the Boston Red Sox pitcher’s forearm have not decided conclusively whether it’s just sweat and rosin or if there is definitely something else going on there.

Buchholz13annotated
Buchholz’s last start was not out of the ordinary in terms of movements.

So let’s avoid the screen captures of sweaty forearms and try to find the spitball in the numbers. PITCHf/x gives us data for the horizontal and vertical movement of every pitch. We should be able to find the outlier in the data … if it exists.

The quest for a spitball is just the quest to find a pitch that looks different. A pitch that doesn’t fit in. A fastball that moves too much, since that’s what caught Morris’ eye.

To the right are all the fastballs from Buchholz’s May first start against the Blue Jays, plotted by X and Y movement.

The pitch in red is the pitch against Jose Bautista that caught David Schoenfield’s eye. Unless Buchholz was cheating on every fastball, that pitch was perfectly “normal” on May 1. As Dan Rozenson pointed out on Baseball Prospectus, that pitch fits right in with other fastballs thrown by Buchholz and the rest of the league as well.

Drew Sheppard at FanGraphs overlaid that particular pitch against a pitch from last year in Toronto, and almost no difference was noticeable.

But what about those fastballs in green? They are outliers on the day with their near-10-inch horizontal movement, paired with wicked vertical movement and 93-94 mph gas.

Scherzer13annotated
Plenty of pitchers, such as Max Scherzer, have outlier pitches.

Those are excellent pitches — but they aren’t extraordinary. Max Scherzer, Matt Harvey, Jeff Samardzija and Lance Lynn all average more horizontal movement on their two-seamers than Buchholz managed with those three pitches on the day in question. Just take a look at the X- and Y-movement of the fastballs thrown by Scherzer in a start from last week against the Twins and two things should emerge quickly (see right).

First, Buchholz’s “strangest” two-seamers would fit right in the heart of Scherzer’s fastball plot. Second, Scherzer had two extreme pitches of his own, pictured here in green; nobody’s asking Scherzer these questions.

But let’s say those three pitches in green were out of the norm for Buchholz, if not out of the norm for the league’s fastballs as a whole. Let’s look at a start from last April, when things weren’t going well for the Red Sox pitcher.

Buchholz12annotated
Buchholz had similar movement in a start a year ago.

We do see a fairly similar spread of movement, and once again there are outliers. But you might notice that the overall movement of the group was not as impressive — the outliers move just seven inches horizontally, and the heart of the cluster is closer to five inches of movement. There was no 10-inch pitch in that game at all.

Before we start shouting and pointing, though, there’s one last thing to do: zoom out further on his career. Buchholz has had some up and downs in his short career so far, and his pitches have changed some.

Brooks Baseball judges pitch classifications carefully, pitcher by pitcher, and its date has tracked Buchholz throwing a sinker since 2009. The average horizontal movement of that sinker, year by year is shown on the right.

Clay Buchholz‘s average FB horizontal movement by year
Year Movement
2009 -8.11
2010 -7.93
2011 -7.06
2012 -6.00
2013 -6.46
5/1/13 -7.58

Those famous sinking fastballs, darting low and away on May 1? They’d look right at home when measured against the fastballs Buchholz was throwing in 2009 and 2010, when the pitcher had some of the best stretches of his career. You’d think, if he was cheating against the Blue Jays, he’d have broken out the spitter in 2012, when he struggled in the worst year of his career.

Or maybe, as he suggests in this April game report, the two-seamer is a fickle beast. Like most pitches, it’s hard to throw it with the same movement every time. Sometimes it even disappears for a year or two at a time.

And then, when it’s on, it can be a pitch that’s so wicked it almost seems unfair.


Welcome to FanGraphs+

Welcome!

Thank you for your contribution to FanGraphs. You’ll see new content in this blog every week, but to make sure you don’t miss the articles prepared specifically for this product, here’s your table of contents for the ‘annual’ portion of FanGraphs+.

Enjoy!

Impact Fantasy Rookies for 2013, by Marc Hulet
Basic Questions: Potentially Useful, If Marginal, Prospects, by Carson Cistulli
Should You Draft a Prospect In Your Re-Draft League? by Chris Cwik
Finding The Next Fernando Rodney, by Jack Moore
Is There An Adjustment Time for Players Changing Leagues? by Jeff Zimmerman
Snake Draft 401, by Michael Barr
Auction Strategy and Strategies, by Eno Sarris
Do Speedy Players Really Put Pressure on a Defense? by Dan Wade
Projecting X: How to Project Players, by Mike Podhorzer
Auction Values For All Three ottoneu Formats, by Chad Young


Auction Strategy and Strategies

An auction is still an auction. No matter your settings or your belief system, an auction requires a number of fantasy managers to sit down and bid fake money to buy real players for their fake teams. And so there are aspects of preparation that are common to all auctions — thence the first part of the title.

And then, once you have the basics down, it’s time to start considering the nuance. How will you divvy the money between your position players and your pitchers? What sort of player talent distribution will you favor? When do you throw guys you like? And guys you don’t? That’s where the ‘strategies’ come in.

Either way, let’s get going. We’ll start with the stuff that every auction manager should do. And then we’ll give you the options you should consider once you have the basics down.

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Prospects with Pedigree: Eno’s Rookie Lineup

We’ve refined this annual tradition — now there’s beer on the line, for instance — but there is actually a point to this (other than proving once and for all that I’ve got the better hair). By putting up the heralded prospects against those that come with less pedigree, we are trying to accomplish a veritable checklist of strategical things:

1) Collect all the most fantasy-relevant prospects for you in one place.
2) Discuss the chances that each of these prospects actually help in 2012.
3) Point out how hard it is to depend on a rookie-eligible player for steady production.
4) Link prospects to their cost in order to find the real values, heralded or not.
5) Beat Carson Cistulli handily (again) despite all efforts to make this matchup more fair.

Last year, my team featured Freddie Freeman, Danny Espinosa, Dustin Ackley, Desmond Jennings, Jeremy Hellickson, Michael Pineda, Chris Sale, and Jordan Walden. Call it a blowout, especially since I made a Christina Ricci / Buffalo 66 / David Mamet reference in the writeup.

Presented: your 18-man lineup of 2012’s top prospects — with some extra mentions for good measure. Here’s to another blowout, because Carson’s britches are getting a little big. As in, he’s losing weight and really should get those pants taken in.

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Closing Time

Closers are a volatile crew. As many as a third lose their job from injury or poor performance from year to year – the Small Sample Size Blues if you will. If your league has jettisoned the save statistic, call yourself lucky to avoid the headache that is chasing saves all year.

If you aren’t so lucky, then you know the perils of punting, or even the risks of being cheap when it comes to your bullpen. If you spend on Brian Wilson, you get consistency and statistics that are great when compared to others at his position. There is such a thing as value over a replacement closer, and that’s probably worth paying for.

But, as with most rankings, there must be tiers. There will be a cheaper top-end closer and a more expensive mid-range closer, and you know which one you want. So let’s try to separate these guys into their respective groups. Get it sorted, right?

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Promise and Potential: The All-Rookie Fantasy Team

There’s nothing quite like the siren song of the prospect. Like with Christina Ricci in Buffalo 66, their youth can be exciting and yet vaguely uncomfortable to depend upon. Of course, sometimes you end up in jail or at the bottom of the standings.

Prospect lists are nice. This list is about players that will help this year. You don’t have to be in a keeper league to reap the rewards of drafting a high upside rookie for your bench. Just remember that most debuts don’t look like Jason Heyward’s, so don’t spend too many resources on these guys.

Oh, and to spice things up, Mr. Cistulli and I have put together a wager: his Bad News Bears against my Scout’s Darlings. I’m not nervous. Or, maybe I’m not not nervous.

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Jonathan Sanchez’s Costly Mistake

The surprising hero of Game 3 was No. 9 hitter Mitch Moreland; there can be no doubt. But his three-run home run in the second inning, the biggest play of the game by most statistics, may have been surprising for reasons that don’t immediately come to mind.

Yes, he is a rookie in the World Series. But we might remember an even younger Andruw Jones launching two home runs in his first two World Series at-bats.

Yes, Moreland, a left-handed hitter, was digging in against the left-handed Jonathan Sanchez. And yes, Moreland had a poor track record against left-handers this year. But his .200/.304/.300 line against lefties came in only 23 plate appearances, and per Tom Tango’s research, it usually takes about 1,000 at-bats for a lefty’s platoon split to become even 50 percent reliable. Moreland was well short of that benchmark, and the sample is so small as to make the line almost meaningless.

Really, the surprise comes because of the type of pitch Moreland punished Saturday night. Moreland’s home run came on a fastball on the ninth pitch of an extended at-bat. Check out the pitch selection that Buster Posey and Sanchez went with:

88 MPH fastball (ball)
76 MPH slider (ball)
89 MPH fastball (foul)
89 MPH fastball (called strike)
79 MPH slider (foul)
79 MPH slider (foul)
80 MPH changeup (foul)
80 MPH changeup (foul)
89 MPH fastball (home run)

The surprise here is that the tandem chose a fastball in a full count when the slider is Sanchez’s out-pitch (he used it 43 percent of the time on 0-2 pitches in 2010). In a game that was the battle of the slider — Colby Lewis was 11th and Sanchez 26th in slider usage percentage among qualified starters — the Giants’ starter went with a pitch that only got him whiffs 6.8 percent of the time during the regular season. His slider had a 17.4 percent whiff percent during the year.

The fateful pitch did come in a full count, and perhaps the thinking was that a slider was closer in speed to the last two pitches Sanchez had thrown in the sequence, and that Moreland might be waiting for a changeup or slider and could be late on a fastball. But Moreland loved fastballs in 2010. FanGraphs keeps a statistic that tracks in-game results by pitch type, and Moreland was easily best against the fastball (2.6 runs better than average against the fastball, minus-1.1 runs versus sliders). Once again, it looks like the slider might have been the best move.

On Saturday night, the slider wasn’t moving like it normally does for Sanchez. After averaging over five inches of horizontal break during the year, the slider only broke about two inches horizontally during Game 3. He also didn’t manage a single swinging strike on any of his 13 sliders. It wasn’t working for him, and perhaps Posey knew it even as early as the second inning.

We can only guess why the slider wasn’t breaking. Maybe Sanchez didn’t quite get loose, or maybe he was nervous. Or maybe he’s tiring. After a career high of 163 1/3 innings in 2009, Sanchez is now up to 213 1/3 this year. Increasing your workload by 125 percent might make for a tired arm — that’s a lot of sliders.

Sanchez lived by the slider all year, and probably should have died with it too. Despite the surprising pitch selection in that fated at-bat, Mitch Moreland and Rangers fans are not complaining.