Someone Had to Do It

Four singles, four doubles, a triple, two home runs, and 14 RBI. That’s how productive Ryan Howard was in 39 plate appearances in the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies and in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. His performance as offensive juggernaut against the Dodgers earned him NLCS MVP honors.

Suddenly, that Ryan Howard has vanished. In the World Series, he has struck out nine times in 13 plate appearances. He has reached base only twice (on two doubles) and driven in only one run. In Game 2 and his first two plate appearances in Game 3, he struck out six times in six straight plate appearances.

What happened?

Thanks to two southpaw starters in three games, Ryan Howard has faced a left-hander nearly 70% of the time in the World Series as opposed to 17% in the NLDS and 52% in the NLCS. The biggest difference is that Yankees southpaws have done a good job of sending Howard back to the dugout after his at-bat. He reached base in four of his 11 plate appearances (.364 OBP) in the NLCS but only twice in 9 PA (.222 OBP) in the World Series. Furthermore, the Yankees have struck him out five times in nine PA compared to the four strikeouts in 14 PA he accrued in the NLDS and NLCS combined.

Here’s a look at every PA he’s had against a lefty so far this post-season along with the results.

How have the Yankees been pitching him?

Let’s start with pitch distribution.

  • Breaking pitches — sliders and curves — have accounted for nearly three out of every five pitches (60%) Howard has seen.
  • Howard is seeing significantly less straight fastballs and nearly triple the rate of moving fastballs (two-seamers and cutters), though still not many.
  • Due to the preponderance of left-on-left match-ups, Howard has not seen any change-ups.

This graph will show you the location of those pitches. The breaking pitches have been slightly enlarged for emphasis.

Just about all of the breaking pitches have been on the outside part of the plate to Howard. Very few pitches have been thrown in the top-third of the strike zone.

This graph will show you the pitch location and the result:

  • Howard has swung and missed at a lot of pitches (black diamonds) in the lower third of the strike zone.
  • Howard has fouled off pitches (purple diamonds) in or near the strike zone that have been on the outer third, low, or both. He hasn’t been able to get his arms extended. The two that he hit for doubles (blue squares) were up and over the plate.
  • He has taken only one pitch in the top third of the strike zone. He has taken eight pitches below his knees for balls.

Essentially, the Yankees have been putting on a clinic on dealing with Ryan Howard. They have been making him face lefties against whom he had a .653 OPS  in the regular season. David Eckstein had a .657 OPS in the regular season, for a comparison. Against right-handers, Howard had a 1.086 OPS. Albert Pujols had a 1.101 OPS during the regular season.

Who would you rather oppose, Eckstein or Pujols? Easy decision.

Once the left-hander is in, they pepper the low-and-outside part of the strike zone with sliders and curve balls. That should be the M.O. of every team that has to deal with him.

The Yankees are the first team this post-season to figure that out.

Southpaws Gone Fishin’

The top of the Phillies lineup went 1-for-14. One for fourteen.

Aside from Jayson Werth, the Phillies offense couldn’t figure out Andy Pettitte after the second inning, as he kept the Fightins’ left-handed hitters silent and collectively 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts. Cole Hamels, meanwhile, failed to get back on the post-season success wagon as he failed to leave the fifth inning.

Cole Hamels was victimized by himself once again. He poorly located his curve balls, as not one curve ball was thrown below the knees of a Yankees hitter, four were in the strike zone, and two went for Yankees hits: a double by Nick Swisher and a single by Pettitte.

The bullpen wasn’t much help as every Phillies reliever except Ryan Madson gave up a run. The Yankees’ bullpen threw three scoreless innings in relief of Pettitte, who won his 17th career post-season game, adding to his all-time record.

Manager Joe Girardi was mindful of platoon match-ups: Chase Utley and Matt Stairs were the only Phillies lefty hitters to face right-handed pitching, and they only got one plate appearance each at that. This is a far cry from the way Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre chose to approach the middle of the Phillies’ lineup in previous post-season series.

Have a look at how each pitcher chose to attack the strike zone:

Very rarely did Pettitte throw to the left side of the plate (from the hitter’s perspective) with anything other than sliders. His fastballs were mostly on the right side and, unlike Hamels, was able to keep his fastball low and mostly out of the strike zone.

In the regular season, lefties hit for a .730 OPS against him and right-handers .717. As mentioned, the lefties were silent; right-hander Jayson Werth hit two solo home runs, Pedro Feliz doubled, and Jimmy Rollins (batting right) singled.

Hamels was all over the place with his fastball and used his curve ball very ineffectively. That he only threw four pitches below the knees is troubling — it is not a great way to approach the Yankees’ lineup.

This is a comparison of the pitch selection for the two starters:

Hamels stuck to his 60/30/10 distribution of fastball, change-up, and curve. Pettitte seemed to go back to the plan of attack from Game 3 of the ALCS with a reliance on sliders and used his cut fastball a lot more than usual.

I implore Phillies fans not to give up on Cole Hamels. Do not go Donovan McNabb on the kid. Cole Hamels is fine. Be patient.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.