Game Show Time!
by Ken Arneson
2008-05-13 8:54

Hi, everybody! Welcome to the show! Are you ready for another exciting round of "What’s Wrong With Him?" Ok, let’s play!

 

Kurt Suzuki. What’s wrong with him?
Suzuki hit a homer on Wednesday, but hasn’t had a hit since. The homer is looking like a fluke. His hitting has actually been plummeting like a stone since Bob Geren moved him into the leadoff spot when Travis Buck got hurt a few weeks ago. Suzuki is hitting .209/.277/.256 from the #1 slot in the batting order; it’s clearly time to call that experiment a failure. Suzuki is a catcher in his first full MLB season. He’s still got a lot to learn and absorb. It’s time to take some pressure off the young man by placing him back at the bottom the batting order.
Oh, no, I’m sorry. The correct answer is:
If you play a catcher as often as Jason Kendall, he’ll eventually end up hitting like Jason Kendall. He needs some days off.

 

Rich Harden. What’s wrong with him?
Harden’s first start off the DL Sunday against Texas was pretty weird. He got the first two outs fairly easily in each of his first three innings, and also the leadoff batter in the fourth, but thereafter got smacked around before he could finish off each inning. Will Carroll remarked on BP that "Harden didn’t have his control, but he did have his mid-90’s velocity." I’m not so sure I agree with that. Harden’s control is not really his strength, anyway. Gameday kinda confirmed my suspicions–he hit 96 and 97 mph a couple of times, but most of the time, his fastball sat at 93. While watching the game, I thought Harden’s fastball was lacking its usual little extra oomph–batters were making more contact on it than they usually do. He admitted afterwards that he felt tired out there. He was also not throwing his splitter or his slider, to help avoid injury. The Texas hitters knew he was only a two-pitch pitcher that day, so without a blow-away fastball, Harden had to use the changeup more often than normal to try and fool the hitters with. A few of those got left up and over the plate, and got appropriately whacked. But the core problem is that with a few exceptions, Harden was just throwing fastballs, not Fastballs.
Oh, no, I’m sorry. The correct answer is:
Rich Harden was sporting goofy beard-like thing he had growing on his chin. Just because he took Chad Gaudin’s spot in the rotation doesn’t mean he had to try to grow an ugly beard like Gaudin’s. Gaudin’s beard-like thing kinda suits his mug in a strange sort of way, but it just looked totally out of place on Harden’s baby face.

 

Barry Zito. What’s wrong with him?
People have been asking me that question for several weeks now, but I hadn’t actually seen him pitch this year until last night. As always, the whole key to Zito’s existence is his unusual ability to reduce the BABIP of right-handed batters. Without that skill, he’s nothing. Nearly every non-knuckleballing MLB pitcher who ever pitched yields a BABIP of about .300, but Zito in over 5,500 PA has yielded a BABIP against RHB of only .261. (He’s a more conventional .290 against LHB.) This year, his BABIP against RHB is .339. Why the huge difference this year? People have been harping on his loss of velocity, but I don’t think that’s really the source of his struggles this year. His unusual skill comes from an unique pitch sequence that is set up by his curveball, as I explained here. The problem I saw last night was not all that different from his mediocre nights that he had in Oakland when his curveball wasn’t working. The curve wasn’t that nasty pitch he used to throw that starts out looking like it was clearly a ball, and then sharply snaps over the plate. Instead, the ball just kinda rolled up there. He was throwing curveballs, not Curveballs. He didn’t seem confident in throwing his primary weapon, afraid he’d hang it or something, and without it, he’s a two pitch pitcher, just like Harden, but without about 10mph of speed. He had good control of his fastball last night, and a decent changeup, and that was good enough to get him through the order twice. But just like in Oakland, the third time through the order was a problem without the Curveball.
Oh, no, I’m sorry. The correct answer is:
Barry Zito is a head case. The guy thinks too much. He would be a lot better pitcher if he was an idiot, and just stubbornly stuck with what works. He tinkers with his motion to try to increase velocity, and ends up losing velocity, control, and, most importantly, deception. Every time he tries something new, it screws him up, and he eventually ends up going back to the old stuff. Rick Peterson is the only pitching coach who had success with him, because he recognized that Barry Zito is too smart for his own good, and wouldn’t let him change anything. No, you can’t throw a slider. No, you can’t change your stride length. No, you can’t change your stretch motion. Curt Young and Dave Righetti have been too much like nice, spoiling uncles than stern fathers, too willing to let him try new stuff. Barry Zito should not vote for Barack Obama. Zito needs a pitching coach who will tell him, "No, you can’t!"

Three strikes, you’re out!
We have some lovely parting gifts for you, as reward for your effort. Thanks for playing!

Comments: 2
1.   williemays haze
2008-05-13 20:39

1.  "and without it, he's a two pitch pitcher, just like Harden, but without about 10mph of speed."

Are there any studies like the Zito ones you linked to that discuss this? I didn't realize Harden was considered a two-pitch pitcher. And is it a fastball-splitfinger combo? Or a fastball-slider?

2.   Ken Arneson
2008-05-14 08:42

2.  Harden is a four-pitch pitcher (fastball, changeup, slider, splitter), but he was only using two of them on Sunday (fastball, change), because the other two put more stress on his arm/shoulder.

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