Living and Dying With the Fastball

Lance Lynn closed out the season’s first half with a nifty seven innings of 3-hit shutout ball against the Mets.  He pitched pretty well the game before against Miami. Although he ended that game with a loss, he surrendered only 2 earned runs in 5.1 innings.

These two games merit a little closer examination.  Lance is a first-pitch fastball pitcher pitching in a fastball hitting league without that over-powering fastball.  Complicating matters even more is the fact that Lance isn’t one of those pitchers with pinpoint control.

So how does a guy like Lynn survive and sometimes thrive?  The best answers are always the simplest.  Over the 12.1 innings that Lynn has thrown over his last two games, he has been very consistent at keeping the ball away from the middle of the plate.

In those 12.1 innings, Lance has pitched to 45 batters.  Six of them got first-pitch changeups, and one got a curve.  The other 38 got some flavor of a first-pitch fastball (4-seam, 2-seam or cutter).  Some of these were strikes, many weren’t.  But almost all of them were in the vicinity of the plate, and of the 38 first-pitch fastballs thrown, there were only two that swerved back over the plate where more aggressive hitters might have taken a cut at them.

One thing about the fastball – everyone wants to hit it.  So a lot of times your command doesn’t have to be pristine.  If the fastball is a tad inside, or just a smidge off the outside corner, there is a pretty good chance that someone will chase after it anyway.

Surprisingly, though, that didn’t happen with either the Marlins or Mets.  They must surely have been looking for that fastball, but both teams showed no interest in fishing for it.  And so they took.  And took.  And took.

At one point over the two games, 16 consecutive batters that faced Lance took his first pitch.  Of the 45 batters to face him in the two games only 4 swung at his first pitch.  Only 18 of the other 41 first-pitches were called strikes, but falling behind in the count didn’t bother Lance.  For the season, his 60% strike ratio is the lowest on the club.  But the simplified version of his game plan was not to give in.  To trust that eventually the hitters would come out to where the fastball was.

He ended the two games walking just 2 batters and allowing 9 hits (a .214 batting average).  He might have made it through both games allowing no runs had he not given in just once with a 3-2 fastball that Lynn put right into Christian Yelich’s wheelhouse.  That pitch became a three-run home run.

While mostly effective, this approach does come at a price.  Lance threw 100 pitches in his 5.1 innings against Miami, and 93 more in seven innings against the Mets.  For the two games, Lance averaged 4.29 pitches per plate appearance, and is averaging 4.15 for the season – the highest of any of the Cardinal starters.  Long counts lead to short outings.  In 7 of Lance’s last 9 starts, he hasn’t made it through 6 innings.  For the season, 10 of his 18 starts have ended without Lance making it through the sixth inning.

John Brebbia

John Brebbia is another of the Cardinal pitchers with a good, but not overpowering fastball.  John’s mindset is more of a pitch-to-contact approach.  As opposed to Lynn, Brebbia throws the fewest pitches per plate appearance (3.53) of anyone on the staff.  Fully 43.5% of the swings against Brebbia put the ball in play.  Of pitchers who have faced more than 20 batters this year, only Miguel Socolovich (45.6%) and Mike Leake (44.1%) have the ball put into play with higher frequency.

Sometimes batters want to take pitches against John.  When they do that they end up taking a lot of strikes.  Of the 268 pitches he’s thrown in the majors, 52 have been taken for strikes (37.4% of all pitches taken).

The BABIP enthusiasts have issues with the whole pitch-to-contact notion.  BABIP is Batting Average on Balls In Play.  These types will be keeping a close eye on Brebbia in the second half.  Of the 55 balls hit in play against John (and for this metric, home runs are not balls in play) only 10 have fallen in for hits – a .182 BABIP.  BABIP dogma holds that in the long run everybody’s BABIP trends toward .300 or so, so if – over the course of a few months or even a whole season your BABIP is significantly below that, then you have been lucky, and you should expect your luck to turn the other way at some point.

BABIPist don’t easily embrace the concept of inducing weak contact.  It will be interesting to see if Brebbia’s BABIP holds or changes significantly in the season’s second half.

Seung-hwan Oh

Batters have swung at 49 of Seung-hwan Oh’s last 76 pitches – an uncommonly high 64.5%.  Oh leads all Cardinal pitchers in having 52.2% of his pitches this season swung at.

Oh has had 48 batters come to the plate against him in a double-play situation.  He has gotten only one of those 48 to ground into that double play. Trevor Rosenthal also has just 1 double play in 33 chances.

Tyler Lyons

Through the end of June, only 1 of the 18 hits off of Tyler Lyons had been an infield hit.  Lyons has allowed 8 hits already in July – 4 of them of the infield variety.

Trevor Rosenthal

Batters miss with 32.5% of their swings against Rosenthal (the highest percentage on the staff).  Trevor also throws more pitches per batter (4.51) than anyone on the staff.  In between the swings and misses are an awful lot of fouls and a significant number of pitches out of the strike zone.

Recent Scoring Changes

In the eighth inning of the June 22 game in Philadelphia, Odubel Herrera reached second on what was originally ruled an error by left fielder Jose Martinez.  That has been changed to a double for Herrera.  Cardinal pitcher Kevin Siegrist gets a hit and a double added to his line for that game.  Additionally, the two subsequent runs that scored – originally unearned – have now become earned runs.

In the eighth inning of the July 1 game against Washington, Matt Wieters reached on a ground ball that deflected off of first-baseman Jose Martinez into right field.  Originally ruled an error, this is now a single added to pitcher Seung-hwan Oh.

In the second inning of the July 5 against Miami, JT Riddle rolled a groundball past first base for what was originally ruled an error.  That has been changed to a double – charge pitcher Mike Leake with an additional hit and another double.

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