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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Cardinals pitchers embrace art of elevation.

During spring training in 2010 as the Cardinals tried to indoctrinate fastball jockey Brad Penny into the organization’s philosophy of sink, pitching coach Dave Duncan and his staff kept a running tally for Penny’s benefit on a markerboard in the coaches’ office.
In one column, the pitching coach counted every fly ball allowed during spring, and in another all of the groundballs. Beside each was the number of extra-base hits in the air or on the ground. That number, so much higher by the fly ball totals, showed that when it came to pitches put in the air “extra bases are everywhere,” a coach said. Duncan wanted to prove to Penny, who had the game’s hottest fastball for several years and an eagerness to flex it high in the zone, the benefit of staying down, down, down.

“We still preach (low). We’re still all over that,” Matheny said. “But part of that philosophy is when you get two strikes how do we put the guy away right now? What do you do when you’re throwing at the bottom of the zone all the time? You’ve got to have something to put somebody away with. That elevated fastball can help with that. It’s an art. Because you’re flirting with danger. That’s why it’s effective. It’s something they have to practice.”

cardsfanboy Posted: April 14, 2013 at 02:30 PM | 16 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: cardinals, duncan, pitching

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   1. Karl from NY Posted: April 14, 2013 at 04:44 PM (#4413955)
Sounds like the Cardinals have an understanding of game theory. The expected value (for the defense) of a pitch down in the zone is better than one up in the zone. Except that if you throw only low pitches, the hitters can sit on them. So you need to throw a high one every so often, even if each individual high pitch is worse expectancy than each low pitch, so that their cumulative effect on the hitters' behavior sustains the value of the low pitches.
   2. cardsfanboy Posted: April 14, 2013 at 04:52 PM (#4413964)
I was just liking the point that they were saying "when you need that third strike, it's best to throw it up"...

But I like your take on it better.
   3. akrasian Posted: April 14, 2013 at 05:11 PM (#4413986)
It's not game theory in the sense I'm taking your post. Rather, they've concluded while overall the results of high pitches are worse than low pitches - they are more likely to be swung at and missed if properly thrown. So the calculus changes when there are two strikes and it's okay to throw high fast balls then, since one swing and a miss and you have an out. But batters who pay attention can soon figure out that with two strikes you should be ready for a high fastball, but not with fewer than two strikes.
   4. cardsfanboy Posted: April 14, 2013 at 05:17 PM (#4413998)
It's not game theory in the sense I'm taking your post.

The thing is Wainwright does pretty much give reasoning on par with Karl's game theory post.

“If a hitter is really locked in on me then he can distinguish on everything down is going to be hard and when it comes up it’s going to be off speed. (Elevating the fastball) gives the hitter something that comes out of the same slot and at the same level. One drops. The other stays straight. It’s harder to know what’s coming.”
   5. Walt Davis Posted: April 14, 2013 at 05:41 PM (#4414030)
So the Cardinals have "discovered" something that pitchers have known since at least Walter Johnson. Seriously, the classic PA from the pitcher perspective has always been

low, outside fastball for strike 1
low, outside fastball for strike 2
high, inside fastball ... maybe for swinging strike 3, maybe for a ball that moves the batter off the plate
low, outside breaking ball for swinging or called strike 3

But as #3 points out it ain't game theory unless they're sometimes throwing the high fastball with less than 2 strikes. Which everyone since the first guy who realized he didn't have Walter Johnson's stuff has done.

And game theory or no, there have been maybe three pitching coaches in my lifetime who seem to have made a big difference -- Duncan, Mazzone and Ray Miller (I think that's the right guy ... one of those O's coaches). Interestingly in all three cases, the coach was tied to one manager for a long time so maybe it was the combo that was successful. Anyway, Duncan and Mazzone certainly fixated on low and away. Miller I don't recall but given his guys were pitching in front of guys like Belanger, Ripken, Brooks, Grich, etc. I'm guessing keeping the ball down was emphasized ... and if they were going to give up a flyball, make sure it was hit to Blair.

Anyway, if my choice is between game theory and Dave Duncan, I'll take Duncan thanks very much.
   6. cardsfanboy Posted: April 14, 2013 at 06:24 PM (#4414067)
I'm surprised that the article didn't talk about dips at all. It may not have fit into the actual article piece, but I think it could have been a nice segue into dip speak. Even if the people making the decisions don't know much about it(if at all)
   7. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: April 14, 2013 at 06:32 PM (#4414071)
ryan braun applauds this approach
   8. cardsfanboy Posted: April 14, 2013 at 06:59 PM (#4414085)
ryan braun applauds this approach

Braun had 17 homeruns against the Cardinals before today....I don't think this is going to change things much.
   9. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: April 14, 2013 at 07:03 PM (#4414088)

it was just some humor

lighten up francis
   10. cardsfanboy Posted: April 14, 2013 at 07:22 PM (#4414092)
it was just some humor

lighten up francis

I wasn't taking offense, I thought it was funny, was just commenting.
   11. valuearbitrageur Posted: April 14, 2013 at 09:01 PM (#4414137)
Braun had 17 homeruns against the Cardinals before today....I don't think this is going to change things much.

If the Cardinals hasn't pitched him down in the zone so much he would have hit 30 against them.

27 if he hadnt been on steroids.
   12. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: April 14, 2013 at 09:49 PM (#4414180)
Trying to make a high fastball pitcher pitch down in the zone is foolish. Eliminating the best part of the zone for a player just because your pitching coach likes a certain style, rather than tailoring the approach to the stuff, is a fool's errand.
   13. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: April 14, 2013 at 10:01 PM (#4414187)
"Elevate me!"
"Now? Right here?"
   14. PreservedFish Posted: April 14, 2013 at 10:52 PM (#4414215)
So many fortresses and ways to attack. So why you complaining? Ta!
   15. jdennis Posted: April 15, 2013 at 12:19 AM (#4414242)
the only problem i see is that your learning curve could exacerbate the pitcher's failure. a guy who throws high tries to throw low, leaves it up and slower, and gives up a bunch more dingers until he actually gets the ball down with consistency.
   16. Walt Davis Posted: April 15, 2013 at 02:50 AM (#4414278)
Trying to make a high fastball pitcher pitch down in the zone is foolish.

Is it also foolish to teach him a changeup? Or a breaking ball? A sinking fastball is just another pitch.

And of course there's nothing to suggest Duncan said never throw a high fastball. (well, not in the excerpt)

And, with regard to Penny, by the time he got to Duncan, he was 32 and averaging less than 6 K/9 over the previous three seasons while being a league-average pitcher. He broke after 2 months (just 55 IP) but had to that point maintained the K-rate, was putting up the best K/BB or his career, was giving up HR at a much lower rate, had a GB ratio of 1.1 (much higher than his career but it may have started in SF) and had a 120 ERA+.

It's possible the move to a sinker broke him (not that it was the first time he broke) and he was done after that injury.

I don't remember what kind of pitcher Carpenter was before he got to Duncan but his K-rate went up, his GB ratio went WAY up, the walks went down, the HR went down (sometimes ridiculously so) and he became one of the best pitchers in baseball. Of course he broke a few times too.

Obviously there's a risk anytime you tinker with a pitcher so obviously there are times when it's not worth the risk. But in this age of high ISO, I have little doubt that the best general strategy is keeping the ball down.

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