Saturday, May 25, 2013
How to pitch to Cabrera and Trout
By Buster Olney
Is there a science to how you pitch to these guys? Depends on your belief in science.
It was a slow Friday night for Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, relatively speaking. Cabrera had a single and two RBIs, and Trout had two hits and a walk and scored twice. Cabrera’s batting average stands at .388, and Trout has an OPS of .963, and in pitchers’ meetings, in mound conferences, in conversations in the dugout, in the scouting section, the same question is being asked:
How do you get these guys out, especially when they’re rolling, when they’re swinging the bat well?
About Cabrera, one scout said, “You’ve got to be willing to pitch in off the plate. You’ve got to be willing to show him that you’ll hit him. You’re not throwing at him, but you’ve got to pitch far enough in that you can miss off the plate. It’s a lot like pitching to Manny Ramirez.
About Trout, another scout said: “If you get him to two strikes, he’ll expand the strike zone. He’ll chase pitches up.”
As the scouts talk, however, they sound as if they’re making plans to break into a Las Vegas vault because they qualify their words with warnings: If you make mistakes, you’ll pay for them.
I asked Mark Simon and John Fisher of ESPN Stats & Information to consider whether there are common denominators in those chunks of success pitchers are having against Cabrera and Trout because, as for all hitters, there are guys who get them out -- and with some regularity. Trevor Cahill, for example, has faced Cabrera in 15 plate appearances, and in those, Cabrera is 2-for-11 with no extra-base hits, four walks and two strikeouts. Trout is 0-for-6 with three strikeouts against Cahill. So, although it could be chalked up to a pretty small sample size when you consider many individual pitchers, we can at least say this: Somebody is getting them out.
Take a look at what Cabrera has done against all the different types of pitches he has seen since the start of 2012. Simon notes that a good slow curveball can give him trouble (Yu Darvish threw him a ridiculously soft one recently that Cabrera missed completely). Simon notes that Cabrera tends to hit them into the ground. The first number is OPS against that pitcher, the second is the number of pitches seen:
Four left-handers have had success against Cabrera. David Price, Chris Sale, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez have shut down Cabrera to the tune of 2-for-29 with 10 walks. Simon writes: "They have a very clear way of pitching Miggy -- away, away, away. They've thrown 119 out of 175 pitches to the outer-half of home plate, or off the outside corner."
How Mike Trout has handled pitches in different locations since the start of 2012.
Trout has destroyed the most cutting-edge pitch of this era, the cutter. Just look at what he has done to the pitch since the start of 2012. Like Cabrera above, the first number is OPS, the second number is the number of times he has seen that pitch.
Simon also pointed out that Trout has just a .531 OPS against splitters, but that's against just 34 of the them, which is far too few to draw any conclusions. That said, it'll be interesting to see how he fares against good splitters going forward in his career.
Of note this season, Simon writes: "Trout is least effective against pitches up in the zone and specifically on pitches down and away. But he does have two hits on pitches down and away in the past three games -- he had just two hits on those pitches in his first 44 games combined this season."
Interestingly, the four left-handers who have been good against Cabrera -- Anderson, Sale, Price and Gonzalez -- have fared well against Trout, too, holding him to two hits in 24 at-bats, with three walks. The difference is that they tend to work Cabrera away but have a different strategy with Trout: They’ll attack him right over the middle of the plate. It helps that each of those guys is also a good pitcher in general and each can produce pretty good fastball velocity.
Ultimately, these guys are hitting strikes really hard, and there are few areas where you can see a clear weakness. And even when you do, the sample size can be small enough to make you wonder whether it's simply a fluke, an error they might ultimately correct.
• Cabrera almost saw another no-hitter Friday, when Anibal Sanchez came within a couple of outs of throwing the second in his career. It was his eighth career complete game, and the 12 strikeouts are the third most of his career. This was also his third 10-strikeout game in 22 starts with the Tigers. He had just three of those in 132 starts with the Marlins. He also now owns one of four shutouts in team history that came with 12 strikeouts. Justin Verlander (2012, 2007) and Jim Bunning (1958) had the others.
Also, check this out. Per Elias, the most complete games with one hit or fewer allowed over the past 40 years:
1) The plate ump, Sam Holbrook, called strikes: his called-strike rate was a season-high 42 percent (32 strikes on 77 takes).
2) Sanchez put hitters away with two strikes. He got to two strikes on 20 hitters and retired all 20, striking out 12.
3) The Tigers’ defense came through. Detroit defenders have had trouble converting batted balls into outs all season. Sanchez entered the game with a .361 opponents' batting average on balls in play, the fifth highest in MLB among ERA-title qualifiers.
4) Sanchez threw 53 of 130 pitches (40.8 percent) down in the zone Friday, including a curveball that Joe Mauer hit to center field for a single. This is the third time Mauer has broken up a no-hitter in the ninth inning.
• Orioles’ Chris Davis hit his MLB-leading 16th home run Friday. The homer off Ramon Ortiz was calculated at 400 feet, which is Davis' 12th home run this season to travel at least 400 feet, second only to Justin Upton, who has 14 such home runs. Next up: Mike Trout with 10 and Mark Reynolds with 9.
• Per Elias, Jordan Zimmermann now has the most consecutive home starts without a loss in Nats/Expos franchise history, with 16. "Zimmermann allowed two runs over seven innings tonight in a 5–2 victory for the Nationals over the Phillies. Dating back to last season, Zimmermann has allowed no more than three earned runs in any of his last 15 starts. That’s the second-longest such streak for any active starting pitcher; Clayton Kershaw has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his last 22 starts. The last Nationals/Expos pitcher with a streak of 15 such starts was Pedro Martinez, who had 17 consecutive starts with three earned runs or fewer spanning the 1996–1997 seasons."