Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Masahiro Tanaka: Start Four

Masahiro Tanaka made his fourth start of the season on Tuesday, pitching in Fenway Park and going seven and one thirds of an inning, walking no one and striking out seven. He gave up two runs, both solo homers, to go with seven hits. Tanaka has now given up one home run per start (two against the Red Sox, none against the Cubs), and let's start this post by looking at the two home run at-bats, which actually came right in a row.

The first was to left-hander David Ortiz:

Other than one low and in fastball out of the zone, Tanaka stayed away from Ortiz, but notice that the home run ball was closer to the middle of the plate than the other three pitches.

The second was to right-hander Mike Napoli:

This time, Tanaka continued to go arm-side, but against Napoli, that meant he was going inside. The pitch that was most up and in, what appears to be a sinker that didn't sink, turned into the homer by Napoli.

For comparison, here is how Tanaka pitched David Ortiz in the non-home run at-bats:

Tanaka mainly kept the ball up and away, but notice that he got two swinging strikes by keeping the ball low and in the middle of the plate, similar to where the homer had been hit.

And here is how he pitched Napoli in the other two times he faced him:

Tanaka was much more successful at keeping the ball away in both at-bats, but got burned again by going up and in.

Here is what Tanaka's overall pitch selection looked like from a spin and speed perspective, labelled with MLBAM tags:

One thing that stands out is fewer curveballs. Also, Tanaka threw more four seamers than sinkers. However, the most prominent thing was his velocity. It seems that he threw more pitches over 95 MPH than he had in any other start. This is probably not park related, as Fenway Park is actually known to be a "cold" park when it comes to velocity. For whatever reason, it appears Tanaka was just throwing harder.

Since we looked at location in individual at-bats, let's compare how he located each pitch on average:

Again, I think we see why he went to the curve so rarely, as he still hasn't got it down like you would want. However, he kept all his pitches down on average, and had good horizontal differential with his sinker and fastball. His splitter stayed below the strike zone on average and the slider was in a decent spot.

For comparison, here is his average result locations:

 Not surprisingly, he had more success going glove side, showing that the slider and fastball were effective. His sinker really seemed to hurt him against Boston.

Tanaka's groundball rate wasn't bad against the Red Sox, but he fell short of the 50% mark that he posted in the first three starts. Here is where he located the average pitch that was hit on the ground and the average pitch that was hit in the air.

This time, there was basically no difference on average. Next, continuing to look at pitch results, I wanted to do something different, giving a visual look using movement, something we haven't looked at since Tanaka's first start. So here is a simple average strike, ball, and contact movement chart:

There seems to be a considerable difference when it comes to movement and results for Tanaka, at least in this start. An average movement chart with each pitch type will most likely demonstrate which pitches were the most effective:

This again seems to support that his fastball and slider were effective and his sinker was not. Notice that his splitter and slider have low vertical numbers, and
his balls and contact pitches had higher vertical numbers on average.

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