Where hitting mistakes meets postseason pitching
The graphic above shows the strike zone plot for Red Sox starter John Lackey from last night, courtesy of brooksbaseball.net (you can find more detailed results here). It gives you an idea of how many pitches Lackey spotted around the corners and at the knees, and how many he left over the middle of the plate.
The quotes below show the Tigers’ reactions to that pitching:
- “We had some really good at-bats,” Alex Avila said. “Their pitchers just didn’t make any mistakes. … I would say he probably threw a lot more curveballs and a lot more sliders than he had probably in all of his starts this season. He was mixing it up really well, which kept us off-balance really well, and he wasn’t missing. He was right on today.”
- “He didn’t miss too much tonight,” Austin Jackson said. “When he did, I think he got hit, but he used his experience and was able to get out of some of those jams.”
- “He definitely wasn’t in the middle of the plate,” Prince Fielder said. “He was on the corners. I think that’s playoff pitching. He did a good job, as well as [Justin Verlander].”
- “If they throw a mistake, I hit it. If not, I won’t,” Fielder said. “It’s that simple.”
The problem, as evidenced above, is that there aren’t many mistakes to hit. It’s not just Lackey, but most of the starting pitchers the Tigers have seen this postseason. Sonny Gray missed on some pitches and paid for them in Game 5 of the AL Division Series in Oakland. That’s about it.
Of the four base hits the Tigers posted against Lackey (the light blue boxes on that map), two were around the middle of the plate, one was at the knees and another was off the plate. They also swung and missed at a couple of pitches over the plate. If you look at the map, you can also see right-handed hitters swinging and missing at pitches off the plate, as well as chasing a couple high fastballs.
According to Bill Chuck, Lackey threw 18 out of 20 curveballs for strikes (Brooks has 17 of 19. Just two of those were swings and misses. Four of those were balls put in play. He threw 14 out of 17 sliders for strikes, six for swings and misses and none put in play.
All this illustrates the problem for the Tigers. If they’re going to get to the World Series, they’re going to have to hit a pitcher who doesn’t throw many mistakes. Either that means being closer to perfect in capitalizing on bad pitches, or it means hitting a good pitch. The latter is something that makes Miguel Cabrera so tough for pitchers to attack, but he swung and missed eight times last night, fouled off two other pitches, and put two balls in play for outs.