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Entries in Miami Marlins (11)


Big Z's Sinker Key to Comeback

Carlos Zambrano kept the Miami Marlins in a three-way tie atop the NL East standings on Sunday, limiting the Phillies to one run over 7.2 innings and belting a 431-foot homer for good measure. Big Z, shipped out of Chicago this past winter after one too many tirades, has far more pop than most pitchers (his 24 career homers tie him with Bob Gibson and Walter Johnson for fourth all-time among moundsmen). But he has turned his career around in Miami by preventing big flies.

The 31-year-old has cut his home run rate in half (from 1.2 HR/9 in 2011 to 0.6 this season) and has improved his ERA+ from 80 last year to 145 in 2012. The key to Zambrano's comeback is his sinker -- he's using the pitch more, busting hitters inside more often and getting grounders at an elite clip.

In 2011, Zambrano used his sinker a little less than 30 percent and had a ground ball rate with the pitch that was slightly below the 53 percent average for starting pitchers. With the Marlins, he's throwing his sinker more than 40 percent of the time and waging a ground war:

Year Pct. Sinkers Thrown GB Pct.
2011 29 52
2012 41 61


Zambrano has allowed just one home run and is limiting hitters to a .376 slugging percentage with his sinker this year, compared to eight homers and a .489 slugging percentage in 2011. Big Z isn't just throwing the pitch more often; he's mixing up his location as well. Check out his sinker location to righty batters in 2011, and then 2012:

Zambrano's sinker location to RHBs, 2011

Zambrano's sinker location to RHBs, 2012

Zambrano is busting right-handers in on the hands more often this season, increasing his percentage of sinkers thrown inside from 28 percent to 37 percent. Same deal against lefties:

Zambrano's sinker location to LHBs, 2011

Zambrano's sinker location to LHBs, 2012

Big Z has doubled his percentage of sinkers thrown inside to left-handers from 13 percent last season to 26 percent in 2012.

Zambrano's stock dropped markedly in recent years, as he devolved from the power arm of his early twenties to a low-octane starter lacking great control and gradually losing the ability to keep the ball down. But, armed with a bat-busting sinker, Big Z's career prospects are looking up.


Giancarlo Connecting More With Two Strikes

Giancarlo Stanton's power has been the stuff of scouting lore since his scoreboard-clearing days in the minors. But there has also been concern that one of the trade-offs for those thunderous shots -- lots of swings and misses -- would hold him back in his quest to become an all-around terror at the plate. Unfortunately for pitchers, Stanton has solved his one offensive weakness by connecting more in two-strike counts.

Giancarlo's K rate has decreased from 31.1 percent as a rookie in 2010 to 27.6 percent last year and 22.3 percent in 2012, not far off the 19-20 percent MLB average this season. His OPS+, on the other hand, has skyrocketed from 118 to 141 to 155. For that, he can thank better plate coverage in the upper third of the zone when he doesn't have a strike to spare.

First, here's the average contact rate by pitch location for right-handed hitters in two-strike counts since 2010:

Average contact rate by pitch location for RHB in two-strike counts, 2010-12

Righty batters have whiffed 19 percent of the time they have swung at two-strike pitches thrown high in the zone since 2010. Now, look at Stanton's contact rate with two strikes as a rookie. There was a big cold spot on high-and-away offerings:

Stanton's contact rate by pitch location with two strikes, 2010

Stanton swung through 39 percent of two-strike pitches thrown high, the sixth-highest rate among MLB hitters that season. Last year, he adjusted and started to get his bat on those high-and-away pitches:

Stanton's contact rate by pitch location with two strikes, 2011

His miss rate on high two-strike pitches improved to 32 percent. Giancarlo has connected with even more high two-strike offerings in 2012, save for a small sliver of the zone. His miss rate is down to 27 percent:

Stanton's contact rate by pitch location with two strikes, 2012

For all the deserved praise that Bryce Harper and Mike Trout receive, Stanton has rather quietly cobbled together one of the greatest offensive starts to a career. Ever. Per Baseball-Reference, Stanton has the ninth-best slugging percentage (.537) and the 18th-highest OPS+ (136) among hitters getting at least 1,000 plate appearances through their age-22 season. Now that Stanton has cut the Ks, there's no telling how much pain he'll inflict on pitchers in the coming years.


Umpire Review: Opening Weekend (Part One)

Throughout the 2012 season we will take a look at the accuracy of MLB umpires by comparing their ball/strike calls to PitchFX data. With every team now having completed at least one series, let's take a look at the numbers.

First up, let's see which umpires expanded their strike zones during Opening Weekend:

All MLB Games through April 8, 2012

Ed Rapuano manned home plate duties in the Wednseday night MLB opener between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins.  He seemed to be giving pitchers some help as 16 of the 94 pitches taken out of the strike zone by batters were called strikes. As a point of comparison, league average called strike rate on pitches out of the zone last season was 9.7%.

Again, Rapuano's expanded zone on Wednesday was a product of 16 erroneous strikes. Over the remainder of the season, he'll likely move closer to his average from last season (9.3%).

137 Taken Pitches / 49 Total Called Strikes / 16 Strikes Outside the ZoneFrom the above graphic, you can see that Rapuano was favoring the outside strike for both lefties and righties. Five of those strikes came against Marlins batters, while eleven came against Cardinals hitters. It didn't seem to affect the defending champions too much as they still managed to win the game 4-1.

Next up, we'll take a look at missed strike calls within the PitchFX strike zone....