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Mariners blog

Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

February 28, 2007 at 8:21 AM

Aim low, shoot high

Good morning, all! Thanks for some of those name suggestions…Homer Bush? How could I forget him? One of the great names and great people in all of baseball until injuries forced him out of the majors a few years back. Want some other big names? How about this one, going up against the Mariners on Monday? What, you were expecting Ted Lilly? Don’t worry, he’s supposed to pitch as well.
Nothing much happening right now. The players are out stretching and will play a second intrasquad affair at 10:15 a.m. PST. Most of you don’t know about our routine down here. The way it works is that the players usually arrive by 7:30, or 8:00 a.m. and then manager Mike Hargrove speaks to the media in his office between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. That’s where we get all of the quotes, snippets and themes for the morning that you wind up reading about. Today’s theme is about the Mariners trying to get all of their pitchers to keep the ball down. Sounds rather elementary doesn’t it? It sure does, only it’s not as easy as it sounds once arm fatigue starts to set in. No real danger of that this early in camp, but it’s still something the team wants and will be monitoring. Personally, I prefered the early edict — issued two weeks ago by Hargrove — about “pitching to contact”. That is not so elementary to pitchers, especially young ones with some power, who tend to want to strike every hitter out.
Now, pitching to contact doesn’t mean simply lobbing the ball down the middle of the plate. But it does mean not being afraid to pitch to your strengths. If you are a ground ball pitcher, then let the hitters put the ball on the ground. The only way this team has a shot at winning anything this season is if that happens. Jeff Weaver got the message. In Tuesday’s intrasquad game, he got out of the first inning on only eight pitches by notching three consecutive groundouts. Pitching to contact means trying to get ahead in the count by throwing strikes and letting the ball get hit if it has to be hit. It means avoiding the “nibbling” syndrome that sees too many pitchers trying to paint the corners with perfect pitches. Nibbling is no way to be economical in your pitch count. Pitching to contact is.
Here are some numbers to illustrate what I mean.
13.64 — 13.3
6.9 — 5.0
3.25 — 2.92
The stats shown belong to Roy Halladay, arguably the top pitcher in baseball over the last five combined seasons. The numbers on the left are from his 2003 Cy Young Award winning season, while the ones on the right are from the first half of 2006 when he made “pitching to contact” one of his top priorities. Keep in mind, that Halladay began 2006 minus Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson and with a human sieve, Russ Adams, at shortstop.
The three stats, from top to bottom, are his average number of pitches per inning, his strikeouts/nine innings ratio and his earned run average. As we can see, Halladay managed to slightly reduce his number of pitches per inning even with a shoddy infield defense behind him. He did it with a serious reduction in strikeouts and managed to lower his ERA from what had arguably been his finest season. Things went downhill in the second half as Halladay began experiencing more of the arm troubles that have plagued him in recent years and were the reason behind his “pitch to contact” efforts in the first place. He was averaging 15.44 pitches per inning in 2004, when arm fatigue borne out of his tremendous workload the previous year took over. Halladay reduced that count to 13.51 pitches per inning in 2005, when he appeared headed to another Cy Young before a line drive broke his leg. He continued his quest to be more economical last year and, while the numbers I’m showing are somewhat rudimentary, he did go 12-2 in the first half of 2006. So there is a method to the madness.
By the way, keeping pitches down will lead to more ground balls. So, this all ties in to Hargrove’s talk of this morning. Sort of like a full circle.
The point of this is to show that getting hitters to put more wood on the ball will not automatically mean more runs crossing the plate. This is especially true in Seattle, where the presence of a talented infield should mean more outs for pitchers unafraid to have the ball put on the ground. If that happens, things could get interesting in the AL West. But it isn’t as simple as it sounds and could very well remain a work in progress as the season unfolds.
Here’s some more ammo for those of you who think the Angels are overhyped and will not be shoo-ins to win the AL West. As most of you know, I am not in that camp, but I will say that the Halos aren’t doing themselves any favors in the way of a distraction-free, all-focused camp. Here’s the guy who takes Colon’s spot for the first month of the season.
But all of the above speculation will be moot from a Seattle perspective unless M’s pitchers keep it on the ground.
Time to get away from this computer and out on to the field. Speak to you all again soon.

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