Solo Home Run Situations And Why We Should Care
Yesterday, Ben Flajole hit a grand slam with his piece [Free] on Jose Fernandez and situational pitching. Through researching game logs, he discovered the recovering right-hander threw nearly 70% of his innings in “Solo Home Run Situations”, or instances where a bad pitch with no men on base can change the outlook of a game. Advanced statistics delve into the game of baseball to determine what innings and situations are most important, but it’s an algorithm, unable to take the human element into account. In practice, a leverage index is correct in determining the first inning is less important to determining the outcome of a game than the seventh inning from a statistical standpoint. But is this the thought process of a pitcher on the mound?
From catching and managing pitching staff’s through college, I’m comfortable stating a starting pitcher doesn’t come out of the gate with C+ stuff because it’s 0-0 in the first. When calling games, the goal is to establish the fastball early and begin mixing the breaking stuff in a little deeper into the lineup. The essence of establishing the fastball is to paint corners and make great pitches knowing full well a solo home run results in a early disadvantage. As hitters begin timing the fastball, mixing in breaking stuff is key — especially if the pitcher has the ability to work backwards and throw them in fastball counts. This is what separates prospects from suspects at the minor league level. Once again, solo home run situations require the best pitch, every pitch — or at least it’s what I hoped for behind the dish.
When catching and pitching in close games, the mental need to make perfect pitches is mentally and physically exhausting. It’s why closers like Mariano Rivera will make many millions even though WAR values won’t warrant them. It’s also why sites with a focus on statistical analysis will always have enough fuel to stoke the flames by writing pieces about how bad it is to pay for closers when many pitchers can be one. In practice, pitchers capable of handling solo home run, or high pressure situations, are well compensated. It’s an area where advanced statistics and the human element struggle to find common ground.
Through college, a three run lead was considered “cruise control” and situational pitching changed. When staked to a lead, efficiency and preservation of the pitcher’s arm became just as important as the score on the field. Behind the plate, I found myself using my index finger and pinky almost exclusively to call pitches (fastballs) with a goal of hammering the bottom half of the strike zone. Did we go for the strikeout when the opportunity presented itself, or mix in more breaking balls when a couple of missed locations resulted in first and second with no out? Absolutely, but the intent was to roll quick innings first and foremost. Plus, our bullpen wasn’t very good, adding to my motivation. It’s why I wrote this piece on pitcher efficiency through the lens of Carlos Rodon. Unfortunately, my concerns proved spot on. For as much as a prospect writer HAS to be right, it’s an instance where I wanted to be dead wrong as usage may end up costing the left-hander millions in the end.
In my Junior year, our Sunday starter pitched with a partially torn UCL. Each week, he’d finish a series by pitching a day game and we tried like hell to stake the right-hander to a lead and allow him to throw fastballs and change-ups. In close games, it pained me to flash three fingers (slider) knowing he’d feel it every time. Looking back, sports medicine — at both the University of Kentucky and Barry University is rudimentary to what it is today. However, this pitcher was a Senior and made the decision to throw until his arm fell off and demanded I call games to win them. As a result, I’d go for Monday treatment for my never-ending bicep tendonitis and we’d shoot the shit while hooked up to electrical stimulation machines. I’d gawk at the tennis ball in his elbow and he’d talk about the game the following Sunday and our “date” to drink beers and watch a new episode of South Park during the week. To this day, the “Cartman’s Mom Is A Dirty Slut” episode where they promised the identity of his dad on April Fool’s Day, yet cut to black was one of the worst audience let down’s in television history. My money was on the Denver Broncos Super Bowl Team!
Why A Solo Home Run Series?
Those experiences influence my writing. To disavow it would be foolish. Because of this, ideas like solo home run situations pop into my head and need to be fleshed out by a guy like Ben who enjoys spreadsheets and statistics much more than I. Plus, he spent five years more than me working in professional baseball, so I can be sure the series is in capable hands. In the end, this series won’t draw conclusions, but will work to connect the game played on the field with statistics with a goal of adding to the conversation. Expect to see more solo home run situation pieces from Ben with Matt Harvey, Patrick Corbin, Martin Perez, etc. In the future, I can see us looking at historically healthy pitchers like Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez too if dots connect. For now, the data gleaned from Jose Fernandez is enough for us to keep going.
21 May 2014 / Mike Newman /
Categories: MLB Analysis
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