June 9, 2010
Night of the Pitcher? (and a Large Marlin Lands)
“I'm struggling to recall a night with more great pitching lines,” wrote Craig Calcaterra this morning in his must-read daily recap of the previous night’s baseball action. Calcaterra may not have been suffering from selective memory; we all know about what this guy did, but a number of other pitchers brought their best stuff to mounds across America while the spotlight shone on Washington. Here are the highlights of a night replete with superb pitching performances (notably absent from the list: last year’s leading AL Cy Young vote-getters, Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez, who couldn’t keep pace with the players listed below):
So was this an extraordinary night for hurlers, by Game Score standards? Well, not exactly; actually, last night’s pitchers qualified only for an 8th-place tie for the highest average Game Score of the season (of course, it’s possible that some of the higher-ranking days did have fewer great pitching lines, as well as fewer bad ones):
Keep in mind that a Game Score of 50 signifies a roughly average start; Roy Halladay earned a 98 for his perfect game, giving him the highest score this season. As a consequence of the 2-run homer he allowed to Delwyn Young, Strasburg’s total (75) was actually eclipsed by a quartet of hurlers last night alone. That said, a Game Score tells us nothing about prior or future performance; sure, you’d take a complete-game shutout with a 6:1 K:BB ratio over a 7-inning, 2-run, 14:0 K:BB performance any day, but which pitcher would you prefer to have going forward? In this case, the answer is easy.
Strasburg wasn’t the only highly touted tyro to make his major league debut last night. Using the Bloomberg Sports Professional Tool, which I’ll be incorporating into my posts on occasion, let’s take a look at 20-year-old Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton’s first exposure to major league pitching. Here are all the pitches thrown to Stanton last night (note: for those of you who haven’t yet seen Stanton in action, he doesn’t resemble a featureless silhouette in real life):
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of this image is that Stanton managed to lay off of five of the six pitches thrown at his knees and below, one of which was an especially tempting slider delivered by Brad Lidge. Pitchers know that Stanton has a tendency to expand the zone (even while laying waste to AA this season, 27.9% of his at-bats ended in strikeouts—and that rate constituted an improvement), so he’ll have to demonstrate a willingness to watch those pitches go by before his opponents will stop going back to that particular well. Showing the discipline that he did, despite what one would imagine to be a healthy case of first-night jitters, represented a nice start. Of course, the one low offering that did induce a chase from Stanton (an 85-mile-per-hour 0-2 changeup from Kyle Kendrick, indicated by the horizontal blue line just above home plate) had the intended effect, as the big righty swung through it for strike three.
Perhaps by focusing on what Stanton didn’t do wrong, I’ve buried the lead. Stanton also did some things unequivocally right, going 3-5 with three singles, as well as a fly ball to right and the aforementioned strikeout. Here are the three pitches that led to safeties for Stanton:
And here are his hit locations, with the outline of Citizens Bank Park (where the game took place) superimposed:
Stanton’s prodigious power didn’t make an appearance in his debut; in fact, the slugger’s first major league hit was a soft chopper over the head of Kyle Kendrick that never left the infield. To his credit, Stanton went with what he was given, and didn’t attempt to pull pitches on the outside corner. In the 8th inning, he lashed a 97-mph fastball from Jose Contreras (the red ^ seen in the pitch location plot above) into right field, where it nearly took Ben Francisco’s glove with it to the wall.
All in all, a satisfying night of baseball, chock-full of memorable pitching performances and distinguished debuts.