ST. PETERSBURG FL - SEPTEMBER 15: Pitcher James Shields #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the New York Yankees during the game at Tropicana Field on September 15 2010 in St. Petersburg Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
A college roommate of mine used to always have a saying whenever a redundant conversation came up: "the sky is blue...... the sky is blue," he would say. This was his little way of telling us he was about to zone out as he had no further interest in the conversation our group of friends was having. As I was thinking of this article, I could hear Louie's voice ringing in my ear, "the sky is blue.... the sky is blue." Well, damn you Louie! Not this time! Besides, as Steve warned you on Monday, these are slow times in the baseball world, so what better way to pass the time then a little further dive into the long balls Shields gave up this year?
***This is going to get heavy on the visuals, but stay with me here***
With the help of Joe Lefkowitz's pitchfx tool, behold, two charts for each of the Rays starters in 2010. First is what it called a "Strikezone Report" graphic, which shows all called balls and strikes, and second is what is called a "Home Runs vs Swinging Strikes" graphic (for more detail, check out this). For both charts this will be for the first pitch of the at-bat, so all pitches thrown with 0-0 counts throughout the season. With me?
Couple points that I take away from the Strikezone Reports: 1) Garza does a great job of keeping the ball on the corners and limiting pitches down the middle and gets the largest strikezone, 2) Price appears to have a bunch of first pitch takes right down the pipe, 3) OMG is James Shields stirkezone really that much tighter than everyone else?, and 4) OMG that is a lot of green on Shields's HR vs SS chart. Okay, so that's a bit of exagerration on my part with Shields's homeruns, since that was the reason I was looking at these to begin with. But breaking down that graphic a little further, one will notice there are a whole lot of swing strikes on change-ups and curves, mostly low in the zone, but the cluster of fastballs is disturbing. If we isolate the 4-seamers, this is what we get:
This ladies and gentlemen is not pretty. With basically a 1:1 shot of a HR vs a SS on first pitch fastballs. This wouldn't be so troubling except that Shields threw fastballs (in one form or another) 70.4% of the time on 0-0 counts.
The odd thing about this is batters don't appear to be told to go up and swing on first pitch fastballs for Shields anymore than they do other Rays starters (at roughly 30% of the time). So why the difference? Bad Luck? Hittability? Poor fastball? Starting to hear that voice again, so might as well stop now.