Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Look at Zito, Cain and Sanchez's Performances Against the Rockies

Today was a tough one for the Giants. Aaron Rowand graced Giants fans with his presence back at the top of the lineup, Jhoulys Chacin mowed the offense down and the Giants, once again, avoided the sweep for the third straight series.

It sucks that the Giants played three, top shelf National League teams (St. Louis, Philadelphia and Colorado) and came "Oh-So Close" to sweeping each one. Then again, you can't argue with six out of nine, especially against those caliber of teams.

While the Giants couldn't finish off the Rockies today, Giants fans have to be optimistic about their chances in the NL West. What made the Giants so successful this weekend? Well, I think it's safe to say that Giants fans can thank the starting rotation, specifically Barry Zito and Matt Cain.

If you break down Zito, Cain and Jonathan Sanchez's performances over the weekend, they all show some interesting things.

First, let's look at Zito's numbers on last Friday's start (information courtesy of Brooks and their Pitch F/X tool).

Pitch Statistics
Pitch TypeAvg SpeedMax SpeedAvg H-BreakAvg V-BreakCountStrikes / %Swinging Strikes / %NibblenessTime to Plate
FF (FourSeam Fastball)85.9687.66.3710.203319 / 57.58%2 / 6.06%6.220.437
CH (Changeup)74.2475.96.882.68128 / 66.67%1 / 8.33%4.150.503
SL (Slider)78.3681.5-3.921.812014 / 70.00%2 / 10.00%8.170.476
CU (Curveball)73.1476.5-5.34-10.982516 / 64.00%4 / 16.00%8.650.526
FT (TwoSeam Fastball)85.5987.59.257.592918 / 62.07%1 / 3.45%4.740.438
Pitch classifications provided by the Gameday Algorithm and may be inaccurate.

From the information above, you can see that Zito was extremely effective with his breaking pitches, specifically his slider and curve ball. Last Friday's start was just another example of Zito's success this year: his fastball velocity is up early this year, which makes his curve and slider, even more effective.

Last year, and in 2008, when his fastball velocity waned in April, he got mashed, simply because the curve and slider were too close in terms of velocity to his fastball (Thus, it being easier for hitters to adjust). That hasn't been the case this year, and Zito arguably has been the Giants' best pitcher this April (it's either him or Tim Lincecum). Granted, his low BABIP (.209) is still a concern (how will his numbers look when his BABIP eventually rises?) but you can't argue with the results from the big lefty.

Cain also posted an impressive start yesterday, finally earning some run support, and also struck some guys out too boot (eight in eight innings pitched), en route to his first victory of the year.

What is most impressive about Cain's start though is how he bounced back despite rough second and third innings in terms of pitch count.

Inning-by-Inning Pitch Totals
InningPitches in InningStrikes in InningStrike% in InningCumulative Total Pitches

After the second and third, I didn't think Cain would go more than six (seven at the max). The pitch count was high at 65 after the third, and by the fourth, the Giants had already produced a decent impact in terms of run support to cover the Giants right-hander.

However, Cain buckled down and performed admirably. After throwing 49 pitches in the second and third inning combined, and only throwing 29 strikes (his strike percentage in the second and third combined was 59 percent), Cain buckled and threw 57 pitches over the next five innings (including 42 pitches for strikes). Additionally, Cain kept bringing the heat, as his fastball velocity still stayed in the 90-93 MPH range, even after he got past the 100 pitch mark.

Say what you want about Cain: he doesn't strike a lot of guys out, he puts too many ball in play, he doesn't get enough run support, etc. The kid is tough and has a lot of mental makeup, as evidenced by his excellent start against the Rockies.

Unfortunately, you can't say the same of Sanchez and his start today.

If you look at the first inning, Sanchez looked to be on his way to another unbelievable performance. He threw only eight pitches in the first inning, all of them for strikes. The second inning though, he started to show some warning signs. He threw 33 pitches in the two innings combined, 20 of the pitches for strikes (60.6 percent).

And then, in true, "Brian De Palma Post-Mission Impossible" fashion, Sanchez fell off a cliff in the fourth. He threw 32 pitches, and only 15 for strikes (46.88 percent). Though he only allowed one run that inning, he continued to struggle into the fifth, unable to regain the control he had shown in the first inning. It was safe to say, by the fifth, it was just a slippery slope for the Giants in general, especially considering the fact that Chacin was owning the Giants' hitters today like the Kardashian sisters owning athletic stars with their...ugh..."qualities".

Bottom line though for Sanchez? His problem today proved to be the problem he's had his whole career: consistency with his command.

Check out the strikezone plot for him in today's game.

Not exactly impressive, huh? A lot of white in that strike zone.

Then again, you have to expect games like this from Sanchez. He has incredible strikeout stuff, but his control is going to wane up and down. That's just the reality of who he is as a pitcher. The problem is, you wish these games happen against the Astros and Nationals, teams whom the Giants have a good shot against in terms of getting run support to back up "off" performances like this one today from Sanchez.

Unfortunately, it happens against the Rockies and against an impressive pitcher like Chacin. Oh well. You can't win 'em all, right?

What can we take away from the Giants' two through four pitchers and their performances this weekend? Zito continues to be efficient, Cain can bounce back and Sanchez needs to better composure from inning to inning if he wants to be more like Johan Santana and less like Oliver Perez.

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