Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dustin Pedroia loves the breaking ball

Subtitle: A voyage through FanGraphs' Pitch Value statistics.

Every hitter has his pitches he loves. Every hitter has his pitches he loves a little less. Thanks to FanGraphs' Pitch Value numbers, we can find out a little bit about what pitches each Red Sox hitter loves or loves less.

The measure here is "Runs created per 100 pitches seen." The calculations are complicated but the idea is relatively simple: A single contributes a certain fraction of a run. A double contributes a certain fraction of a run. A strikeout costs a certain fraction of a run.

Against the fastball
1. Kevin Youkilis, 2.56 runs
2. Victor Martinez, 2.42
3. Jason Bay, 1.8
4. J.D. Drew, 1.73
5. Julio Lugo, 1.03

Against the changeup
1. David Ortiz, 1.92 runs
2. Julio Lugo, 1.39
3. Jason Bay, 1.13
4. Kevin Youkilis, 1.94
5. Jason Varitek, 0.29

(You're probably wondering why Julio Lugo looked so bad if he was so good against fastballs and changeups -- or maybe you've already guessed that he was a minus-2.56 against curveballs.)

Against the curveball
1. Dustin Pedroia, 2.56 runs
2. Alex Gonzalez, 2.44
3. Kevin Youkilis, 1.94
4. David Ortiz, 1.35
5. Jason Bay, 0.76

Against the slider
1. Jason Varitek, 2.67 runs
2. Jacoby Ellsbury, 1.56
3. Jason Bay, 1.14
4. Dustin Pedroia, 0.92
5. J.D. Drew, minus-0.03

Pedroia actually ranked ninth in the major leagues last season against breaking balls, compiling a combined 3.48 runs against curveballs and sliders. He might claim he loves the high, inside fastball, but he was most productive last season against breaking balls.

Two seasons ago, Pedroia ranked 11th against breaking balls, compiling 3.67 runs against curveballs and sliders.

According to the new Red Sox Annual, Pedroia swung and missed at just six percent of curves and sliders against righthanded pitchers -- best in the major leagues. He hit .350 against curveballs last season, including .375 against curveballs from righties.

Kevin Youkilis, on the other hand, loves pitches that come in straight and don't break. He ranked 16th in the major leagues last season with a combined 3.5 runs created against fastballs and changeups. Two seasons ago, Youkilis ranked eighth in the major leagues with a combined 4.48 against fastballs and changeups, nestled right between Albert Pujols and Chipper Jones.

His Achilles' heel over the last two seasons has been the slider. He compiled minus-1.42 runs against the slider last season.

All of this is subject to context: Bay is, by reputation, a fastball hitter who has little success against good breaking pitches. Bad breaking pitches still count on the scale -- and Bay pounds bad breaking pitches.

(Want more context? The best fastball among Red Sox pitchers last season, per 100 pitches, belonged to Tim Wakefield. It only was so effective, though, because he threw it as a complement to his mystifying knuckleball.)

Weaknesses still are weaknesses, and strengths still are strengths. If a pitcher is going to try to get Pedroia out with a breaking ball in a big spot next season, it had better be an awfully good one.

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