Series Preview Nats v Reds.
While the Nats were beating up on the little sisters of the NL, the Reds took on potential AL powerhouse, the (add your own geographical joke here) Angels. This is part of the killer start to the Reds schedule : Home vs the Angels and Nats, Away at the Cards. That's tough, and the series vs the Pirates and Phillies that follow are potentially worrisome as well. But the Reds held their ground vs the Angels, after a tough Opening Day loss where Weaver held them in check they took back to back 5-4 games. Nothing seemingly out of place, this could very well be a NLCS preview.
Bailey v Haren
Leake v Detwiler
Cueto v Strasburg
Bailey v Haren is interesting. Bailey is a fly-ball pitcher in a fly-ball park, but he's a good fly-ball pitcher. He strikes out a lot of guys and doesn't put many on base so there's a lot more solo shots than 3-run blasts. Can the Nats put enough balls over the fence to make a dent in the cold air of April? On the other side we don't know what to expect from Haren. His spring did not build confidence, and while I like to ignore ST stats, I don't like to ignore ST comments of the "this guy doesn't look 100% ready yet" type. Older player, cool night, HR problems in ST, long layoff, back issues, this could be a hard start for Dan. I'd have to give this one to the Reds.
Leake v Detwiler should favor the Nats. Not that Leake isn't any good. He's one of the better 5th starters in the league. But Detwiler might be the best 5th starter in the league. Still that doesn't mean all that much. When you get to 5th starters they can blow-up at any time and Detwiler is still a pitch to contact guy who was among the league leaders in FIP-ERA. What does that mean? Basically FIP is how well you should have done given the way you pitched. ERA is how you actually did. FIP-ERA gives you an idea of who might have gotten lucky/unlucky. Short of it is, Det got lucky. It doesn't suggest he's a terrible pitcher, just hints that he's more a 4.00 ERA guy than a 3.50 ERA guy. Of course he's still learning and some guys can seemingly defy FIP over and over (Lannan come back!), though most don't. All that being said I still like the Nats here.
Cueto v Strasburg. Should be awesome. Since I had the Nats losing the series I'll say Cueto wins 1-0. But obviously the Nats can take this game as long as Strasburg isn't pulled in the 4th after hitting the magical 45 pitch barrier. (Trust me - EVERYONE will be looking to see if Strasburg goes at least 90)
Hot : Choo and Frazier and both 4-12 with a homer and a double. Votto hasn't hit well but already has 5 walks. Bryce is hitting .500 and you know what? So is Zimm. Span has gotten on base in half his PAs.
Not : Bruce, Hanigan and Cozart are combined 2-34 with 2 walks making the bottom of the Reds lineup a cakewalk right now. Laroche and Espinosa are both searching for their first hit. Ian only has one.
If I asked you to describe the type of pitch you'd expect a left handed slugger to take for a home run, what would you say? I'd say a mistake that ended up in his wheelhouse, wouldn't you? Now that we have PitchF/X data readily available we can check that assumption.
On Opening Day Bryce hit two home runs. The first one was off a curve. Nolasco's curves averaged a vertical break of -6.70 and a horiztonal one of 7.53. The curve he threw to Bryce broke -6.64 and 5.39. Without going into details you can see it broke fine vertically but didn't move laterally like he'd want. In fact it had the worst lateral movement of any curve he threw that day. That may not look like much but in the major leagues you're in a situation where a little failure can make all the difference in the world. It looks like a bad curve. The second home run came off a slider. Again average movement -0.41 and 2.49, this pitch 0.05 and 2.66. Not great but not that far off. Seems like a pretty meh pitch.
(why all the equivocation? Well you can't just look at average movement and specific pitch movement and declare it good or bad... ok you can when it's just obvious, but not in these cases. We have our... suspicions, but we'd have to look at a lot more to say anything definitively)
Now of course these things only matter to a point. It's far more important that the pitch goes where you want it to. If it doesn't then you have to hope the break and speed and stuff can save the pitch by fooling the batter. Where did these two end up?
Both ended up middle low and on the inside half of the plate. Exactly where you'd expect a lefty to love it. But maybe they served a purpose in the scheme of the at bat. Is that where Nolasco wanted them? No and yes. That first curve was meant to be outside. (You can watch the videos here). Nolasco messed up and a bad curve in a bad spot means home run. The slider does seem to be exactly where he wants it though and if you look at the pitch order he was working Bryce outside and high and hoped to fool him inside and low. Maybe it missed by an inch or so but it was there. If it's not a mistake is Bryce just awesome? Well yes, but also Nolasco is just bad.
He doesn't throw a great slider. It's Runs above average value was -0.9 last year, 1.0 the year before meaning it's prefectly average. We've already hypothesized it wasn't a great version of the slider so what we have here is a below average pitcher, throwing a below average version of his average pitch at an above average batter. Location can only do so much to save it, even if it was outside his wheelhouse.
None of this is meant to take away from what Bryce did. What Bryce did is what good batters do. They take mistakes and pitches they should hit hard and they hit them hard. No pitcher is perfect on every throw. Every batter gets these types of pitches. Not every batter can capitalize on them. Bryce can.
Sometimes having more information can illuminate things you didn't know. Other times it will validate what you already expected. I think it's fun to see both.