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Entries in A.J. Burnett (12)

Wednesday
Oct022013

Bucs, Cards Thrive Low in the Zone

The Pirates and Cardinals will square off in the National League Division Series, thanks in large part to pitching staffs boasting top-five ERAs during the regular season. Pittsburgh and St. Louis are mirror images on the mound, and that comparison extends beyond possessing a vets with wicked curveballs (Game 1 starters A.J. Burnett and Adam Wainwright), hot-shot rookies (Gerrit Cole, Shelby Miller, and Michael Wacha, among others) and where-did-he-come-from closers once again facing doubters (Jason Grilli and Edward Mujica). These clubs are equipped for deep October runs because their pitchers pound hitters at the knees, generate grounders and keep the ball in the park at historic levels. It doesn't hurt that their backstops skillfully steal strikes on borderline pitches, either.

Waging a Ground War

Collectively, the Pirates have thrown an MLB-high 47.6 percent of their pitches to the lower third of the strike zone. The Cardinals also live low in the zone, locating there at the eighth-highest clip (43.3 percent) in the majors. Pittsburgh and St. Louis' "keep it low" philosophy has produced ground balls by the bushel -- the Pirates have the highest single-season team ground ball rate (52.5 percent) in the majors over the past decade, while the Cardinals (48.5 percent) come in eighth.

Charlie Morton (64.6 percent) is the game's top worm-burner among starting pitchers, with Burnett (58.2 percent)  also ranking in the top 10. Francisco Liriano (52.4 percent), Joe Kelly (51.5 percent), Cole (51 percent) and Wainwright (50.1 percent) are among the grounder-centric starters who figure to make a difference in this series (sorry, Jeff Locke and Jake Westbrook).

Seth Maness (70.7 percent) is the most difficult reliever to loft this side of Brad Ziegler, and lefty hit man Randy Choate (68.4 percent) isn't far behind. Mark Melancon (62.2 percent), Carlos Martinez (56.5 percent) and Justin Wilson (53.5 percent) could also alter a game with a late-inning double play.

The Pirates complement their scorched-earth policy by frequently shifting their infielders, a strategy that has paid off in the form of the fifth-lowest opponent average on ground balls hit (.230) in 2013. The Cardinals (.248) are right around the MLB average (.248). 

Historic Homer Prevention

By waging a ground war, the Pirates (0.62 home runs allowed per nine innings) and Cardinals (0.69 HR/9) have surrendered the fewest homers among all MLB clubs. Once you adjust for year-to-year variations in league wide home run levels, the '13 Bucs and Cards are both enjoying one of the ten best homer prevention seasons in club history during the Live Ball Era (1920-present).

This year's Bucs team ranks fourth in franchise history during the Live Ball Era in HR+, or a team's home run rate as a percentage of the National League average during that season. They have surrendered 30 percent fewer homers than the NL average.

Lowest HR+ for Bucs during Live-Ball Era

St. Louis, meanwhile, has given up 22 percent fewer big flies than the NL average this year. That's tied for ninth-best in franchise history during the Live Ball Era.

Lowest HR+ for Cardinals during Live-Ball Era

Stealing Strikes

Aside from inducing ground balls and preventing home runs, there's another added benefit for Pirates and Cardinals pitchers who keep the ball down -- their catchers do a great job of framing low pitches. Yadier Molina and Russell Martin both get more called strikes on low pitches thrown in the strike zone (In-Zone ClStr%) than most catchers, with Molina ranking third among all backstops receiving at least 2,000 pitches and Martin ranking sixth. Molina also gets an above-average number of calls on low pitches that are located off the plate (Out-Zone ClStr%), placing sixth in the majors. Martin is around league average in that regard.

Molina and Martin's called strike rates on low pitches, 2013

With their pitchers getting so many grounders and Martin influencing calls on stuff located at the knees, the Pirates have limited batters to an MLB-low .248 slugging percentage on low pitches this season. The Cardinals' combo of ground ball pitchers and a strike-stealing catcher in Molina has yielded a .308 opponent slugging percentage on low stuff, tied for eighth-lowest in the game. Every pitching coach stresses the need to pound hitters are the knees. But the Bucs or Cards could just ride that platitude to postseason glory.

Tuesday
Sep242013

Breaking Bad

Sorry folks, this is not about Walter White, but it's a story about pitchers who throw the hook, the bender, Uncle Charlie, a yakker, the deuce, yes, my friends...the curve ball.

This is baseball's "Breaking Bad."

2013 top 10 curveball throwers

There has been nobody who has used the curveball more frequently this season, and most often quite successfully, than A.J. Burnett.
Most curves - 2013
P G BF
A. J. Burnett (PIT) 1,027 29 294
Adam Wainwright (STL) 950 33 263
Jose Fernandez (MIA) 876 28 268
Scott Feldman (BAL) 804 29 187
Edinson Volquez (LAD) 709 32 160
Gio Gonzalez (WSH) 683 31 155
Doug Fister (DET) 648 31 164
Stephen Strasburg (WSH) 629 29 157
Jose Quintana (CWS) 625 32 144
Yovani Gallardo (MIL) 623 30 134

Curveballs swings and misses

Here's why I think we haven't seen the best from the Rangers' Yu Darvish.

Darvish leads the majors in strikeouts, but wait until he feels comfortable calling on his Uncle Charlie a little more frequently.

You can see by the chart below, baseball's most effective curveball miss machine belongs to Yu.
2013 - Curveball Swings & Misses
P Swng% Miss% Foul%
Yu Darvish (TEX) 96 32.3% 51.6% 22.6%
Madison Bumgarner (SF) 426 39.9% 42.4% 24.1%
A. J. Burnett (PIT) 1,027 51.2% 42.0% 28.9%
Doug Fister (DET) 648 41.7% 41.5% 24.8%
Stephen Strasburg (WSH) 629 36.2% 40.4% 28.5%
Clayton Kershaw (LAD) 413 44.6% 39.7% 25.0%
Mike Minor (ATL) 416 50.2% 37.3% 27.8%
Jordan Zimmermann (WSH) 363 28.7% 36.5% 25.0%
Edwin Jackson (CHC) 132 40.2% 35.8% 28.3%
Cliff Lee (PHI) 241 45.2% 35.8% 32.1%

Fooling batters

There are two primary ways in which I evaluate a batter being fooled on a pitch: the first being chasing pitches out of the zone, and the second, taking the pitch for a called strike.

Now before you start emailing how ridiculous that is, I understand that circumstances, umpires, counts, and other reasons factor into a batter chasing a pitch or taking a pitch, but over the course of the season, if a pitcher is tossing balls that batters chase, have their knees buckled as they break over the plate, or just get a piece of to stay alive, the man is throwing a good curveball.

Here are the leaders:
2013 - Chase, Called Strikes and Fouled off Curveballs
P Chas% ClStk% Foul%
A. J. Burnett (PIT) 1,027 42.1% 29.1% 28.9%
Mike Minor (ATL) 416 39.6% 24.2% 27.8%
Jose Fernandez (MIA) 876 37.5% 41.6% 35.8%
Wade Miley (ARI) 81 37.0% 16.7% 43.6%
Derek Holland (TEX) 151 36.4% 39.8% 31.7%
Mark Buehrle (TOR) 234 36.1% 25.2% 34.1%
Adam Wainwright (STL) 950 35.2% 38.3% 31.2%
Matt Harvey (NYM) 351 33.1% 45.7% 31.6%
A. J. Griffin (OAK) 497 32.8% 31.0% 33.6%
Mike Leake (CIN) 423 30.7% 40.7% 27.3%

Whiffs

Great pitchers know how and when to use their curveball effectively. The best example comes from baseball's best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, who strikes out more batters on the curve than any other pitcher.

When you look at the chart below, look at all the elements we have previously addressed, including miss rate, chase rate, foul balls
2013 Curveball Strikeout Leaders
P PA K% Strk% ClStk% Swng% Miss% Zone% Chas% Foul%
Clayton Kershaw (LAD) 413 141 53.9% 56.4% 21.4% 44.6% 39.7% 41.6% 28.6% 25.0%
Dan Haren (WSH) 129 19 52.6% 54.3% 37.2% 27.1% 34.3% 41.1% 17.1% 40.0%
Stephen Strasburg (WSH) 629 157 52.2% 64.2% 43.9% 36.2% 40.4% 50.7% 29.0% 28.5%
Wade Miley (ARI) 81 20 50.0% 56.8% 16.7% 48.1% 30.8% 33.3% 37.0% 43.6%
Cliff Lee (PHI) 241 69 47.8% 58.5% 24.2% 45.2% 35.8% 46.5% 26.4% 32.1%
Madison Bumgarner (SF) 426 113 46.0% 53.5% 22.7% 39.9% 42.4% 33.3% 29.9% 24.1%
Gio Gonzalez (WSH) 683 155 45.8% 51.8% 25.9% 35.0% 35.1% 38.1% 24.1% 32.2%
Cole Hamels (PHI) 238 63 44.4% 53.8% 21.4% 41.2% 34.7% 37.4% 27.5% 34.7%
Jose Fernandez (MIA) 876 268 43.7% 69.9% 41.6% 48.4% 33.0% 55.6% 37.5% 35.8%
A. J. Burnett (PIT) 1,027 294 43.5% 65.4% 29.1% 51.2% 42.0% 39.9% 42.1% 28.9%

Hitting against the curve

Don't focus on Jerome Williams here, I want you to notice that batters are 14 (singles) in 141 PA against Clayton Kershaw's curve this season. Kershaw is the Sophia Vergara of baseball, his curves are so good.
Here are the numbers:
2013 - Hitting Against the Curveball
G PA AVG OBP SLUG OPS H XBH HR
Jerome Williams (LAA) 32 38 .081 .105 .135 .240 3 2 0
Clayton Kershaw (LAD) 32 141 .099 .099 .099 .199 14 0 0
Gio Gonzalez (WSH) 31 155 .108 .143 .162 .305 16 5 1
Jose Fernandez (MIA) 28 268 .114 .176 .163 .339 28 8 2
Stephen Strasburg (WSH) 29 157 .137 .159 .183 .342 21 5 1
Mat Latos (CIN) 31 69 .141 .176 .219 .395 9 4 0
Dillon Gee (NYM) 31 65 .145 .185 .161 .346 9 1 0
Madison Bumgarner (SF) 31 113 .147 .170 .220 .390 16 6 1
Ian Kennedy (SD) 30 74 .149 .230 .224 .454 10 3 1
A. J. Burnett (PIT) 29 294 .155 .192 .209 .400 43 12 1

There's breaking bad and breaking bad


2013 - 13 Pitchers w/.300+ BA Against the Curve
G PA AVG OBP SLUG OPS H XBH HR
Travis Wood (CHC) 18 7 .667 .714 1.000 1.714 4 2 0
Jarrod Parker (OAK) 7 2 .500 .500 .500 1.000 1 0 0
CC Sabathia (NYY) 32 13 .385 .385 .692 1.077 5 2 1
Edwin Jackson (CHC) 22 23 .381 .435 .524 .959 8 2 0
Kyle Lohse (MIL) 31 50 .362 .375 .511 .886 17 5 1
Derek Holland (TEX) 30 32 .355 .344 .903 1.247 11 7 5
Andy Pettitte (NYY) 29 52 .333 .333 .417 .750 16 4 0
Eric Stults (SD) 32 88 .329 .341 .506 .847 28 9 2
Jeremy Guthrie (KC) 31 59 .322 .322 .508 .831 19 5 3
Joe Saunders (SEA) 32 52 .320 .333 .600 .933 16 6 4
Miguel Gonzalez (BAL) 28 31 .310 .323 .448 .771 9 4 0
Bronson Arroyo (CIN) 31 70 .309 .329 .574 .902 21 9 4
Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD) 28 72 .300 .319 .471 .791 21 8 2

One final suggestion

To be added to the baseball vernacular: a hanging curve that is hit for a homer should be called? A Heisenberg...because it was breaking bad.
Sunday
Jun022013

Liriano Thriving Low in the Zone

You could forgive Pirates fans if, upon hearing their club signed Francisco Liriano over the winter, they had bad flashbacks to Oliver Perez. The comparison wasn't hard to make: A tantalizing lefty with low 90s gas, a wipeout slider...and the aim of a blind-folded dart-thrower. Liriano issued five free passes per nine innings during the 2011-12 seasons, racking up a five-plus ERA and even getting banished to the bullpen for a time last May. Add in a broken non-throwing arm that wiped out the first month of his season, and expectations were low that Liriano would show the form that earned him All-Star status in 2006 and AL Comeback Player of the Year in 2010.

But Liriano is doing just that. He has punched out 39 batters and walked just nine through 29 innings pitched, and he has yet to surrender a single home run. The 29-year-old is keeping the ball in the park by pounding hitters at the knees: He has thrown 62% of his pitches to the lower-third of the strike zone, the highest clip among starting pitchers throwing at least 400 pitches this season and well above his 52% mark from 2012. Here's more on Liriano's prowess low in the zone:

  • Liriano is inducing whiffs 50% of the time that hitters swing at his low stuff, narrowly beating out baseball's strikeout king, Yu Darvish, for the best mark among starting pitchers.

Liriano's contact rate by pitch location, 2013

  • Liriano is also getting plenty of swings on low pitches thrown off the plate, as his 36% chase rate attests. The only starters with a higher chase rate on low stuff are Shaun Marcum, Johnny Cueto, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ervin Santana and Felix Hernandez.
  • With all of those whiffs and chases, Liriano is limiting batters to a .191 slugging percentage on low pitches. That's 12th-lowest among starters and over 120 points below the big league average (.314), though A.J. Burnett (.153 opponent slugging percentage on low pitches) still has bragging rights in the Pirates clubhouse.
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