A Tale of Two Lefty-Killers
When the World Series kicks off at Fenway Park on Wednesday, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz should expect to see plenty of Mike Matheny. The Cardinals manager figures to deploy his two lefty-killers, Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist, to neutralize Boston's lead-off and clean-up hitters. Ellsbury (.863 on-base-plus-slugging percentage versus right-handed pitching) and Ortiz (1.092 OPS) crush righties, but struggle to square up same-handed pitching (.641 OPS against lefties for Ellsbury, .733 for Ortiz).
Choate, a 38-year-old slopballer, and Siegrist, a 24-year-old rookie possessing Aroldis Chapman-esque heat, share little common ground. But style differences aside, they both give opposing lefties nightmares.
If you use the bathroom mid-inning, or grab a sandwich, or blink, you might miss Choate's work for the night. He threw an average of 7.6 pitches per appearance during the regular season, by far the lowest among relievers tossing at least 450 total pitches. That's because Choate is the game's ultimate specialist, facing lefty batters 70.2 percent of the time. Few lefty pitchers in history have smothered same-handed hitters like Choate -- he has the third-lowest opponent OPS ever in southpaw versus southpaw matchups:
Lowest career OPS for lefty pitchers vs. lefty batters (minimum 750 at-bats vs. LHB)
Choate has been even better in 2013, holding lefties to a .492 OPS. The side-arm hurler gets such excellent results despite radar gun readings that wouldn't get him pulled over on interstate highways. Choate's sinker has the second-slowest average velocity (85.9 MPH) among relievers, topping only submarine pitcher Darren O'Day (85.6 MPH).
While the pitch lacks zip, Choate's sinker is a ground ball machine -- batters are chopping the offering into the grass 76.3 percent of the time. Fellow Cardinal Seth Maness (77.2 percent) is the only reliever to generate a higher percentage of ground balls with his sinker. Choate peppers the bottom of the strike zone with the pitch, throwing his sinker at lefty hitters' knees 59 percent of the time.
Choate's sinker location vs. lefty hitters, 2013
His slider also comes in soft, with the second-lowest average velocity (76.1 MPH) among 'pen arms (Darren Oliver averaged 75.2 MPH). Batters nonetheless whiff half of the time they swung at Choate's breaker, compared to the 35.9 percent major league average.
Siegrist was in elementary school when Choate started his lefty-killer act, but St. Louis' young southpaw has already made some history of his own. Siegrist posted a 0.45 ERA during the regular season, second-lowest ever for a rookie throwing at least 35 innings. Who bested him? Buck O'Brien (0.38 ERA), a 29-year-old spitballer for the 1911 Red Sox. Hitters quickly figured out O'Brien's spit pitch, and he was out of the game a few years later. Considering his stuff and ability to battle hitters on both sides of the plate (he faced a nearly even amount of lefties and righties), Siegrist won't be vanquished so easily.
Siegrist has little use for breaking and off-speed pitches, firing his fastball 85.7 percent of the time. And with gas like his, who can blame him? Siegrist's fastball averages 95 MPH, a mark best only by Chapman (98.4 MPH), Jake McGee (96.2 MPH), Jake Diekman (95.6 MPH) and Justin Wilson (95.2 MPH) among lefty relievers.
He pounds the outside corner with the pitch -- no lefty has thrown a higher percentage of heaters to the outer third of the zone (69.6 percent) when they have the platoon advantage. Siegrist's combo of speed and command has helped him limit lefty batters to a .388 OPS, best among left-handed relievers save for Luis Avilan (.383 OPS).
Siegrist's fastball location vs. lefty hitters