Ahhh, the Superbowl. I split my prop bets this year, though I only bet on one thing: the half time set list! After my McCartney sweep of a few years ago, I was riding Born to Run hard as the show closer last night. I knew Glory Days would be there while others I know doubted. Either way, football season is over which means baseball is even closer! Right??
In my never ending search for remotely interesting baseball content and excuses to curse at Excel, I took notice of The Hardball Times doing some predicitably good work last week by using Pitch F/x to track first pitch fastballs and which batters see them the most. Josh Kalk of THT tracked what percentage of first pitch fastballs each hitter saw and whether or not the pitches were strikes. He also tracked overall swings, swings at balls and swings at strikes. The player's first pitch fastball average and slugging percentage are included, too. The Jays info provided a few surprises and perhaps some insight into their fortunes in the future.
Who sees the most heat on the Jays? Slappy middle infielders, of course! The no-bat gloveman at the center of our heart wastes the least amount of time, swinging at 63% of first pitch fastballs, including 43% of which were out of the zone. Hopefully Cito and crew can gear Johnny Mac down a little bit. Equally stout-hearted but marginally less shitty Joe Inglett took a lot of people by surprise in 2008, something he won't be able to do in 2009. Inglett saw and attacked the large number (73%) of FpFb (First pitch Fastballs) he saw in 08, to modestly Joe Inglett-levels of success. AL pitchers will likely adjust, can Doctor Joe? Marco Scutaro is a fine mayonnaise sandwich, sure to offend no one. He sees a lot of fastballs because he's not going to do shit with them. Shocking, I know.
One big surprise to me was the amount of fastballs used to start off Scott Rolen (73.25%). My assumption is word got around that Rolen's shoulder prevented him from catching up to hard stuff, but he jumped all over these pitches to record a .610 slugging percentage on FpFb. He remained patient (professional even!) only swinging at approx 52% of the first pitch strikes and only 12% of the first pitch balls. Not for nothing, but Scott Rolen the Blue Jay is still in the "President Barack Obama" stage for me. As in: holy shit, Scott Rolen is a Blue Jay! That is fucking awesome, I'm excited all over again!
How's your mind? Ready to be blown? Here you go: Vernon Wells is an aggressive hitter. Pitchers started him off with the fourth fewest fastballs, the second fewest for strikes. Do you think that keeps him from swinging away? Fuck and no. Vernon's got shit to do. Wiis need playing, checks need cashing. Wells flailed away at 43% of these FpFb, even a slightly absurd 23% of first pitch balls. Reckless? Not even a little bit, as Vernon Wells hit .430 and slugged .850 on all first pitch fastballs. Amazing. Vernon Wells doesn't give a fuck, and is probably twice as talented as we credit him.
One hilariously predictable trend that ever so slightly fractured my heart was JP's long lost crushes staring at meaty pitches like high school students at an exposed thong. Who swung at the fewest amount of first pitch fastballs? Kevin Mench and Brad Wilkerson. Who swung at the fewest first pitch fastballs outside the zone? Mencherson, with Jose Bautista right on their shitheels. This may seem like sound strategy, but these chumps were so awful, I'm willing to advocate doing the opposite of whatever Mencherson does. Incidentally, could Gary Denbo have been scapegoated for delivering the philosophy straight from JP's mouth? He obviously covets these kinds of players, in spite of their inherent crappiness. Are they the worst two (or three) Blue Jays in recent years? Balls.
As for the rest; Rios does well with an early fastball while Adam Lind prefers to chill the fuck out and wait. Lyle Overbay sees the fewest FpFb, which is a shame because he swings at 75% of the strikes, smashing them to the tune of .390/.550. As for Rod Barajas, too bad. I don't care what he does, because it matters so little. Hopefully Cito and his team of bat doctors encourage these obviously aggressive hitters going bombs away right from the jump this season. Making Vernon Wells and Alex Rios work the count isn't in their nature, nor is it in their best interests.