Friday, April 22, 2011
Crazy like a Fox
With the Rays coming into town it is important to remember how much smarter Joe Maddon is than you. This loony bastard and his assembled team of eggheads will do just about anything to get an edge.
Unfortunately for Jays fans and pitchers, the madness of the Danks Theory is just crazy enough to work. Brett Cecil and Shaun Marcum were the primary victims in years past, with the Rays sending our more "arm-sided batters" (lefties against Cecil, righties versus Marcum) to neutralize their best weapon (dirty changeups). For very different reasons, neither of those two hurlers are due to face the Rays this weekend, but one potential Jay might be prone to a little lefty on lefty violence.
For his career, Ricky Romero has rather neutral batter splits. Thanks to some ugly home run per fly ball rates as a rookie, his xFIP is about half a run better versus lefties while his FIP is actually better against right handed batters.
Looking at his splits so far this year, one strange number jumped right off the screen: Ricky Romero has faced 42 left-handed batters and walked 6 of them. That's a lot. He's only issued two unintentional free passes to righies in 2011, what gives?
First, let's look at the actual bases on balls in question. Hardly a bunch of stiffs, Romero issued walks to David Ortiz (2), JD Drew, Hideki Matsui, Daric Barton, and Ryan Langerhans. Both Langerhans and Baron draw walks at a near 20% clip in 2011, so no real shame there - patience is the only real offensive tool they possess.
Matsui is a shell but still a cagey vet. Ortiz and Drew are known to struggle against lefties in relative terms but walking them is no great crime. Let's take a look at the strikezone plot in hopes of highlighting the cause.
Not surprising to see so many fastballs, that's kind of what you do when you fall behind. Looking more closely at this tiny sample of at bats, it is clear to see the different ways a pitcher like Romero approaches different hitters.
Middling power guys like Barton and Langerhans saw only fastballs early in the count, even when ahead. While Romero couldn't find the zone against Barton with anything, he had Langerhans 1-2 before missing with a curve, change, and full count changeup (the pitch in the dirt).
Matsui, Oritz and Drew all earned 2-1 changeups thanks to their ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, something Romero didn't bother with against Daric Barton. Why get cute when the batter doesn't have too much potential to hurt you in a real way? Alas, he walked all the same.
Might attempts at being too fine be the main culprit? Behind in the count but unwilling to give in against power hitters, Romero couldn't get the changeup swing and misses he wants in 2-1 counts results in a rash of a early season walks. Hardly life threatening and unlikely to continue, surely nothing to get too worked up about.
What could this mean against the Rays? Romero throws 10% fewer changeups to left-handed pitchers (just under 20% versus over 30% changes against righties) so Maddon may elect to load the lineup with patient lefties like John Jaso, Matt Joyce, and Sam Fuld (not really patient but fingers crossed!)
Will it work? I don't believe it will. Romero is too good with his two-seamer to continue missing the zone with it, and it serves as a solid compliment and setup pitch for his strong curveball - something Overmanagin' Joe Maddon and his band of thieves must be all too aware of.
Joe Maddon(what? Sure it is) image courtesy of Northern Life. Pitch F/X data courtesy of the Joe Lefkotwitz infohub and virginity restoration centre. The Danks Theory originated by men encompassed by The Process Report.