Kicking and Screaming: World Sequence

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nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. Today we examine two great World Series starts.

The 2009 version of the Fall Classic has already yielded two classic pitching performances. First Cliff Lee and then A.J. Burnett turned in gems this week in the Bronx, in their own unique ways. Lee's known for his incredible control and ability to throw strikes with any one of his four pitches. A.J. is famous for his electric fastball and one of the best curveballs in the game; his Hammer of Doom.

Lee's outing utter domination of the Yankee bats is due in large part to his ability to mix his pitches. He kept the powerful sluggers from keying on any one pitch by moving the ball around the plate and changing speeds. Burnett, once known as more of a thrower, relied on his fastball as always but kept the Phillies at bay by working well to both sides.

Below I've tracked the first two pitches thrown to each batter by Lee and Burnett during their initial runs through the lineup. Not the movement of the pitch itself, but the change in location from one pitch to the next. Did they "change the hitters eye-level" as Tim McCarver loves to claim? Did they pound inside early to set up soft stuff away late? Find out after the jump!

Cliff Lee - click to enlarge

Again, this chart tracks the first two pitches thrown to each hitter. Look at Lee, moving the ball around against most Yankee hitters. He stayed inside against left handed Matsui but stayed away from Johnny Damon. I excluded Robinson Cano's one pitch at bat. We can see where he threw, but what did he offer?

  • Jeter: Fastball - Curve
  • Damon: Fastball - Slider/Cutter
  • Teixeira: Curve - Slider/Cutter
  • Rodriquez: Fastball - Fastball
  • Posada: Fastball - Changeup
  • Matsui: Fastball (two-seam?) - Slider/Cutter
  • Swisher: Fastball - Changeup
  • Cabrera: Changeup - Fastball

In, out. Slow, fast. Lots of fastballs thrown generally for strikes with slower stuff behind it. Two straight fastballs to A-Rod, both over the plate. Risky or wise? Much has been made of Alex's ability to wait on fastballs and jump all over offspeed stuff, so maybe this aggressive approach is sound. Poor Nick Swisher looked overmatched. A guy like Swish sits dead red all the time, making Lee a bad matchup. What about Burnett?

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Not as many strikes from Burnett, but the he does a good job staying out of the middle of the plate. Let's give AJ the same pitch treatment:

  • Rollins: Fastball - Curve
  • Victorino: Fastball - Fastball
  • Chutley: Fastball - Curve
  • Howard: Fastball - Fastball
  • Werth: Fastball - Curve
  • Ibanez: Fastball - Fastball
  • Stairs: Fastball - Curve
  • Felix: Fastball - Fastball

Attention world: A.J. Burnett will throw you a first pitch fastball. This is hardly news, but considering how hard he throws and how much it moves, hitting it is another thing all together. I excluded Chooch Ruiz's one pitch at bat but he got a fastball too. Marc Hulet of Fangraphs wrote a piece this week discussing this very topic and we saw nothing different from Burnett last night. As everyone knows, if his curveball is on, you are in for a long night.

Did we learn anything? Moving the ball around the plate is as important as you think. Changing speeds will solve the world's problems. Cliff Lee is going to be hella rich in a few years. A.J. Burnett might not, after much deliberation, be too rich to think. Also, the World Series is awesome. More pitching plz!


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5 Comments

Excellent graphics. This is quite interesting after having lunch with my dad, who said that Burnett paid close attention to Cliff Lee's presser after Game One and took his advice to hammer the strike zone on the first pitch. Worked out well for both gents.

Let us not forget the great starts by Mssrs. Sabathia and Martinez, too. These might be the best pitched opening games in recent W.S. history. To wit.

Nicely done, Drew. And Rob's correct: Two games down, and already we've had four very solid to outstanding pitching performances.

Thanks guys, I'll get into more detail in the off-season perhaps, I didn't have a lot of time today.

I think this is a good window into a key detail of pitching, one that will come under increased analysis in the future.

Drew kills it again. Nice work!

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