Game 78, Pirates at Mariners
Joe Saunders vs. Jeff Locke, 7:10pm
Matthew mentioned Jeff Locke’s very low BABIP in the series preview, and ID’d Locke as a prime regression candidate. That’s quite true, as it’s difficult to sustain this level of run prevention without a real put-away pitch. Locke’s a rare pitcher who’s achieved better results on his fastball than he has on his curve or change-up. Think about how weird that is – you typically throw your fastball when behind in the count, and batters typically hit really well when they’re ahead. If you’re pitching and you’ve got two strikes on someone, a curve or change doesn’t need to be in the zone, and you might get a stay-alive swing – swings that almost never result in hard contact. But there’s Locke, throwing a 90mph fastball no matter what the count and getting away with it. How?
Locke made a small adjustment that’s paid off thus far. Here are Locke’s “zone%” numbers for his three partial seasons – see if you can spot the outlier:
Here’s the 2013 leaderboard for starters. There’s Locke, second from the bottom in zone%. Why? How can, er, NOT throwing strikes work for a 90mph ground-ballish lefty? I think it’s working, so far, because the magnitude of the change isn’t all that big. In 2012, he went after righties by throwing fastballs at the bottom of the strikezone. So far this season, he’s peppering the area just below the strikezone. I’m not sure if he’s getting more called strikes or hitters still perceive the pitch as coming in within the zone, but he’s getting some o-swings. Not a ton, mind you – his o-swing% is still below average. But if he gets ahead, maybe a pitch that a hitter would’ve laid off earlier in the AB becomes too close to take. Maybe it’s just something the Pirates have learned (the Pirates are an excellent team, and are dead last in MLB in pitches thrown within the strikezone).
This approach seemed to work for Pirates’ reliever Jared Hughes who turned not a ton of stuff into a brilliant 2012 season by throwing an absurd 35.5% of his pitches for strikes, the lowest zone% in baseball. Hughes may have helped the Pirates (and baseball) the lower bound, however. In 2013, Hughes is throwing an absurd 27% of his pitches for strikes, and while he gets more o-swings than Locke does, *twenty-seven percent.* His walks are way up, and his results have been terrible. Still, I appreciate any ballplayer who does something really weird, and I’d submit that this Pirates tendency to throw balls all the time qualifies as weird. They think you’re suckers, M’s! They may be right!
4: Morales (DH)
SP: Safeco Joe Saunders
Perhaps fewer eyes than normal will be on this game, due to it being a midweek contest between the M’s and Pirates, but even more than that, today marks Taijuan Walker’s AAA debut. The 20-year old phenom will pitch for Tacoma against the Fresno Grizzlies starting at 7, assuming the weather allows. We had wet weather in the morning, some sun in the early afternoon, and some massive showers in the south sound in the late afternoon. We’ll see.
Even younger phenom Victor Sanchez continues his 2013 season for Clinton today. He’s been sidelined since May 30th, so it’s good to see the 18 year old back on the hill.
Dustin Ackley’s been recalled, and Franklin Gutierrez has been placed on the -sigh-15 day DL.