Look closely, and you’ll see something different in Brad Lidge‘s “layers” in 2009. Layers are a way of dividing a hitter’s zone, without regard to lateral location, from top to bottom. The zone gets three parts (one-third of each hitter’s, based on aggregated PITCHf/x data) and the pitches high and low get their own, out of the zone.
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It’s not dramatic, and could just be noise, but more sliders are going down and out of the zone. More of Lidge’s fastballs are finding the middle and fewer are above the letters.
Chew on some numbers. Swings are a function of all pitches, whiffs of swings. SLGCON is total bases for all balls in play, including home runs. GB% is based on Gameday’s stringer notes.
As we saw in the layers, Lidge is going down and out of the zone more with the slider, and isn’t quite high enough (assuming 2008 is “high enough”) with the fastball.
What’s more interesting is what these tables show. On pitches in the strike zone, middle and up, Lidge’s fastball is not missing bats and the ball is getting crushed. He putting the ball in the middle just a little more in 2009, but that’s merely compounding the extra base hits he’s giving up.
Ground ball rates also have increased in the up and middle layers. I don’t trust the LD/FB splits (yet) in Gameday, so I’ll leave that alone.
Moving to the slider, which has edged downward as well, all layers, except low, have seen drops in whiff rate. Again, missing fewer bats. On sliders middle/up, Lidge’s ground ball rates have plummeted. The sliders he has left up, generally ignored, are getting crushed.
So, a bit of a shift in location, fewer missed bats, fewer grounders, higher slugging rate. Not a good combination. Other than outcome and maybe location, has anything else changed for Lidge?
Not that I can see. His fastball is averaging a little less (.7 mph) in the early stages of 2009, but that’s not enough to blame. Considering the weather and the nuances of PITCHf/x data, that could be meaningless. In any case, Lidge’s problem seems to be a mix of sub-optimal location and, quite possibly, bad luck. His stuff is basically the same, so I’d expect him to bounce back from the rough start.
Step one, stop leaving fastballs in the hitters’ kitchens. Make them go upstairs for it. Step two, get the slider out of ankle-biter mode and make sure you stop leaving it up, too, Brad. Okay, that’s not easy to do. 2008 sure won’t be 2009, given he’s already blown four saves (zero last year) and given up six home runs (two in 2008). But the 7.71 ERA will mellow out and Lidge should be effective, or far more effective, the rest of the way. He’s already settled down, finishing May with four scoreless save conversions. So, step three is for all of us. Be patient.
References & Resources
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM, pitch classifications by the author.