There’s always games like this where you can get really frustrated as a fan. It was tough to watch the Marlins tonight, as it was obvious that they were hitting far worse than Brad Penny was pitching. It was also difficult to see the team give up runs on tough outs, plays where there was a good deal of luck involved. Let’s go into the observations.
If you don’t hit, you can’t win.
Elementary really, so it isn’t some grand sabermetric discovery. Then again, I didn’t really need Hit f/x or anything like that to tell you the Marlins offense was atrocious tonight. What made it especially frustrating was the fact that Brad Penny was more than hittable. His fastball was definitely working, with 95-98 MPH heat throughout his innings. But he wasn’t placing pitches particularly well and there was a good set of pitches that were out there to be hit. Look at his pitch type strike zone, again courtesy of Brooks Baseball.
It’s difficult to see at the size I have it, but it’s simple to tell that:
1) There were a good amount of belt- and thigh-high fastballs the Marlins could have driven.
2) Penny hung a huge amount of curveballs middle and high in the zone.
Yet the Marlins eked out, from my count, approximately four hard hit balls, one of which ended as Jorge Cantu’s two-bag error that drove in the team’s only run. Two others were doubles by Ross Gload and John Baker, but the team never capitalized.
This chart shows graphically the patient approach the Marlins were taking with Penny. The Fish whiffed only five times and only once outside the generalized strike zone. While they did also foul off one or two pitches outside the zone, for the most part the team stayed disciplined and swung at strikes. But all this hard work was for naught, as the team only turned four of those juicy pitches located middle and mid-high into bases. A frustrating evening to be sure.
Andrew Miller had some bad breaks.
In contrast, let’s take a look at Andrew Miller’s night out.
Pitch f/x was all over the place with regards to the types of pitches it was seeing, but as we know, Miller has a three-pitch arsenal: fastball, slider, changeup. Tonight, he was having some decent success with the changeup, throwing it 55% of the time for strikes and placing it where it would be difficult to hit, typically problems for Miller. In general he was able to keep the ball down, a stark contrast to Chris Volstad’s erratic outing. Miller was able to get five swinging strikes outside of the zone, primarily with the fastball, which was ranging from 92-95 MPH and occasionally touching the high 90’s.
So if all of that good was working, how come he gave up four runs? Two major things contributed to the run scoring against Miller:
1) He was missing the zone a lot, mostly down. Can’t blame him too much though, as he was getting squeezed in the strike zone (more on that later).
2) He was getting really unlucky. A lot of soft hit balls found their way through the infield, into holes in the outfield defense, and other inaccessible areas. Some of that is our defense, some of that was just plain bad luck.
I can’t be too disappointed in Miller’s performance. He struck out six while walking four, right around his average performance, but as I mentioned he was being squeezed pretty bad down in the zone. He was getting whiffs with his pitches and showing better command on his changeup, a key to making him a solid starter. As a Marlins fan, you hope a better strike zone can make his numbers look better.
The strike zone seemed way off.
As I watched the game, I noticed some awkward stuff about the strike zone home plate umpire Jerry Crawford was calling. In particular, the one consistent thing I saw was a lack of a knee-high strike, made particularly obvious because Miller was living in that area of the typical strike zone. Normally, I’d be pretty happy to see a pitcher working down consistently like that, but take a look at the strikezone plot for both teams.
My suspicion during the game seemed correct; Crawford was definitely tightening up the bottom of the zone and not giving out the knee-high strike. But Penny was everywhere, so it didn’t hurt him nearly as much. But there are a lot of little green triangles on there representing the Marlins’ pitchers, and particularly Miller. Getting squeezed there really hurt his game plan, as it forced him to go a little higher in the zone or risk walking more men. He chose the latter and got burned by a few untimely lucky hits.
The other oddity I spotted was this.
There were a lot of red marks indicating Boston strikes called off of the inner half of the plate to left handers. Miller seemed to miss by much more to that side, and in addition faced significantly fewer left handers than Boston did; the Marlins trotted out Chris Coghlan, Ross Gload, Jeremy Hermida, and the switch-hitting Emilio Bonifacio, while the left side for Boston was populated by Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz only.
I didn’t notice this in-game, but it makes me particularly mad. When the umps don’t call an even strikezone for both teams, it’s hard to gauge what types of pitches and locations should be used to get hitters out. These sorts of thing can really affect a pitcher’s performance, and aren’t usually seen through the box score stats. Just looking at the box score, I would have said Miller had a difficult struggle, but using the Pitch f/x data and some observation, you can tell he was really more in the strike zone than it was called. Combine that with some bad luck and you can get the makings of a poor performance.
The opposite went for Penny and the Sox starters. They got to take advantage of a fairly consistently called “bad” strike. I know Pitch f/x normalizes the strike zone, so the real zone is more hitter dependent, but those sort of bad calls can get players into chasing pitches that are far worse. It all stinks of just a forgettable evening for the Fish.