June 28, 2013
The Longest Plate Appearance of the Week, 6/28
Longest Plate Appearance of the Week, 6/20-6/26
Leading off this game against Iwakuma, Coco Crisp popped out to shortstop on the first pitch. When he came back up in the third, he lasted 12 pitches longer—four pitches more than it took Iwakuma to retire the side in order in the second.
Iwakuma throws strikes—against the A’s on Saturday, he threw 70 of them in 98 pitches. Only baseball’s elite control guys—Adam Wainwright, Bartolo Colon, Jordan Zimmermann, Cliff Lee, Doug Fister—have walked fewer batters per inning. But the secret to Iwakuma’s success this season, aside from his .233 BABIP, is that he gets strikes even when he throws pitches outside the zone. The righty has gotten swings on 38.1 percent of his pitches outside the zone, the highest rate among the 123 pitchers who’ve thrown at least 1000 pitches this season. He doesn’t throw hard—his four-seamer averages only 90.6 miles per hour—but he has good command of five pitches with a range of almost 20 miles per hour. By changing speeds, keeping batters guessing about what’s coming next, and putting his pitches where he wants them, he misses bats at an above-average rate without overpowering stuff. (For more on Iwakuma, see this MLB Tonight segment from mid-May.)
Crisp, for his part, has cut down on his swing rate and seen what would be a career-high number of pitches per plate appearance this year. His 1.26 walk-to-strikeout rate is the second-best in baseball behind Norichika Aoki. His more selective approach seems to suit him well. It also makes him a little more likely to be involved in the longest plate appearance of the week.
According to FanGraphs’ PITCHf/x pace stats, Iwakuma’s average of 24.3 seconds between pitches ranks ninth among 98 qualifiers, and Crisp’s 23.8 seconds ranks 32nd of 162 qualifiers. By all rights, this PA should’ve taken some time to complete. And it did, relative to some of the other long plate appearances I’ve timed in previous editions. You can thank Iwakuma’s slow, deceptive delivery and extensive Crisp’s mid-pitch adjustment ritual for that.
The plot (catcher’s perspective):
True to form, Iwakuma pitched mostly around the strike zone and got swings on three of his five offerings outside it.
The exhausted player:
1. 0-0: 82-mph slider, called strike
Iwakuma starts batters on both sides of the plate off with a four-seamer or sinker over half the time. He throws sliders on 0-0 to lefties in only about one out of every 10 plate appearances. Crisp didn't look like he was expecting it.
I'm cutting the beginning of Iwakuma's delivery out of the subsequent pitches to reduce GIF size, but I left it in here so you could see it once. His double-clutch disrupts his momentum, could cost him velocity, and doesn't endear him to Doug Thorburn. But it probably does makes his deliveries more difficult to time.
2. 0-1: 87-mph sinker, called strike
Iwakuma throws the sinker to lefties half the time when he's behind and over a quarter of the time when he's even in the count. He throws it only 17 percent of the time when he's ahead. So naturally, he breaks character again, hits his target, and catches Crisp looking for the second consecutive pitch. He's already up 0-2.
3. 0-2: 79-mph slider, ball
Iwakuma tries to get Crisp to chase by throwing the slider a little lower and slower than the first one, but Crisp won't expand his zone.
4. 1-2: 91-mph four-seam fastball, ball
Finally a four-seamer, just a little high. Iwakuma wants the call.
5. 2-2: 92-mph four-seam fastball, foul
Crisp is late on a 92-mph pitch that catches part of the plate. It's easier to understand why that would be when you remember that on an even count, there's close to a 50 percent chance that Iwakuma will throw a curve, splitter, or slider. In the back of Crisp's brain, he knows this, and maybe that slows his bat slightly.
6. 2-2: 88-mph sinker, foul
Iwakuma goes back to the sinker, and Crisp spoils it.
7. 2-2: 87-mph splitter, foul
Roughly the same speed as the previous pitch, but breaking in the opposite direction and located toward the opposite side of the plate. Probably ball three.
8. 2-2: 92-mph sinker, foul
Maybe the most hittable pitch of the plate appearance. It's the same speed as pitch no. 5, but now Crisp looks a little less late.
9. 2-2: 83-mph slider, ball
No out-of-zone swing on that one. Full count.
10. 3-2: 90-mph four-seam fastball, foul
Late again. This season, Iwakuma has thrown splitters over 50 percent of the time in two-strike counts to lefties. He's done it only once in eight pitches to Crisp to this point, but it's still a consideration.
11. 3-2: 90-mph four-seam fastball, foul
The same pitch, at almost exactly the same spot and the same speed. Iwakuma doesn't change Crisp's eye level or try any other tricks here. Crisp still doesn't hit it. Poor hitting by Crisp, or a reflection of the respect hitters have for Iwakuma's arsenal.
12. 3-2: 92-mph four-seam fastball, foul
Iwakuma goes up the ladder and gets another late swing. He's mostly let Crisp have the inside part of the plate.
13. 3-2: 87-mph four-seam fastball, in play
Another four-seamer, too close to take. Iwakuma subtracts five miles per hour, and Crisp finally catches up with it, but he rolls over and grounds it to second. Sort of an anticlimactic ending to the at-bat, but before the final pitch, we got to see a bit of what's made both of these players successful this season.