By Jason Wojciechowski on August 20, 2011 at 11:05 AM
The last time Rich Harden faced the Jays, his final line was good (21 outs on 27 batters, eight strikeouts, sixteen swinging strikes on 107 pitches) but I thought he got a little lucky with some pitches left up in the zone that the Jays just missed knocking around their park (fifteen of his seventeen balls "in play" (i.e. including the homer he allowed) were in the air).
This time around, though, back in the cool Oakland air that's served him so well over the years (3.28 RA/9 in the Coliseum -- that's mostly as an Athletic, but he has faced the A's three times in his career while wearing another uniform. With more work, I could figure out how many of those were played in Oakland, but ...), he was stellar, despite the statistics coming out very similarly: eleven strikeouts, four walks, and 10 air-balls out of 13 in play. Visually, though, Harden's changeup looked different: both the one that moves like a slider against righties and the more traditional one against lefties were diving down out of the zone, resulting in fifteen swinging strikes in his 115 pitches.
Here are the PITCHf/x strike zone charts from the two starts, from TexasLeaguers.com -- the one with fewer pitches is against lefties, and the one with more is against righties. I've animated the starts together, so you can see the differences in location from the one game to the other.
The graphs are, as always, from the perspective of the catcher, i.e. right-handed batters stand on the left side of the plate from this view. Against lefties, Harden actually had better location on August 9th, putting a lot of pitches down and generally keeping them away. Against righties, though, note how many pitches he put on the upper part of the strike zone and the inner part of the plate on August 9th, compared to last night, where there's basically nothing except three changeups (classified as sliders, so they had that good change-to-righties movement) in that location.
The first inning, by the way, was a tremendous display of Hardenness, as the Canadian righty made an error and then walked the next two batters to load the bases with nobody out. He then proceeded to strike out Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, and Colby Rasmus on nine pitches to get out of the jam. Complete buffoonery followed by complete domination in the space of just six batters.
The offense was pitiful as always, with Josh Willingham providing the only runs of the game on a two-run bomb to left after a Jemile Weeks walk (and two outs in between). The homer came on a fastball that caught way too much plate despite being fairly low in the strike zone. Adam Lind was likely hanging his head after the game, since he had a chance to throw out Jemile Weeks for a double play on Hideki Matsui's ground ball, but tossed the ball off of Weeks's elbow instead, keeping the inning alive for Willingham.
Cliffy Pennington batted ninth, so apparently Bob Melvin reads my blog.
Brett Anderson still has not learned how to wear his hat.
Jemile Weeks made a silly play in the eighth with Jose Bautista on first and one out. Adam Lind hit a slow chopper to Weeks, who charged it and found himself with Bautista in between him and first base. Bautista wisely stopped. Weeks, instead of getting the lead out and conceding Lind by either chasing Bautista down or tossing back to second, threw to first to get the out there. Bautista ran around Weeks and go to second, easily beating Brandon Allen's throw. I don't know if Weeks thought Bautista was still close enough to first that Allen would be able to throw him out or what was going on, but this is, I believe, the second time I've seen him do this, and I'd much rather he just get the lead out and keep a man out of scoring position.
The run expectancy difference isn't huge, but it does exist -- 2011's table, linked there, shows the difference at about 1/10th of a run.
Stat of the day
Swinging strikes are a good thing to get. They're, as you might expect, positively correlated with strikeouts, as Jeffrey Gross shows in the first graph here. (That article uses K/9 on the vertical axis rather than K/PA or K/AB, which I'd have preferred. Either way, though, I think you'd probably get a similar picture.)
Fangraphs, happily, has a leader-board for swinging strike rate, on which we can see that Rich Harden's swinging strike percentage (which is swinging strikes out of total strikes, not total pitches) stands at 11.5%, sixth among all major league starters. Harden hasn't pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, but the only qualified starters above 11.5% are Brandon Morrow and Michael Pineda, both of whom are very good pitchers.