Robbie Ross threw 26 pitches in the 10th inning with 24 of them being fastballs. It wasn’t until pitch 24 that Ross threw a slider (which resulted in a swinging strike), so the Royals hitters saw 23 consecutive fastballs prior to this slide piece thrown to Elliot Johnson. The 26th and final pitch of his day was also a slider, which struck out Johnson and ended the threat for the Royals. Using Pitch F/X data from Brooksbaseball.net the table below shows the velocity of each pitch during this inning and highlights the steady dose of fastballs thrown by Ross:
As you can see the 24th and 26th pitches both registered around 87-88 mph with the other 24 pitches all hovering in the 93-95 range. Now don’t get me wrong there is not a better pitch than a well-placed fastball and if that is your best pitch it needs to be the dominant pitch in any sequence, but on a day where that pitch isn’t getting the run or movement it usually does that is where the secondary stuff has to get you through the outing. Another great feature that you can see at brooksbaseball.net is the spin or rotation the ball has during the pitch. The table below shows the spin and rotation of all 26 pitches thrown by Robbie Ross. Look closely at the two orange squares at the bottom of the chart, as they were the two sliders thrown by Ross:
As you can see these two pitches of course had more spin/tilt than the fastballs and that will happen hopefully anytime you throw the pitch (hopefully), but the interesting and important thing to see from this graph is how those two pitches changed the eye level of the hitter more than any other pitch in the entire inning. Sequencing the hitter is all about changing his tempo, eye level, and trying to disrupt his timing by keeping him on his toes and not comfortable during the at bat. A lot of what makes Darvish great is the fact that nobody can settle in and sit dead red at any time during their at bat because, as Forrest Gump told us you never know what you’re going to get. This graphic isn’t abnormal to most Ross outings and it isn’t proof that he wasn’t getting his normal movement on his fastball; it just highlights the importance of changing that eye level. But, when hitters see 24 straight fastballs they are able to dig in a little bit more and gives them a bit of an advantage. Ross has thrown his fastball 80% of the time throughout his brief career the last two seasons and his slider 17% of the time during the same span, but he typically gets good downward sink and movement on his fastball. Another point is that a slider doesn’t always have to be a strike or be offered at by the hitter to be effective. Sometimes you just need to change their eye level and thought process to help set up your primary pitch.
In Robbie’s previous outing against the Diamondbacks he only needed 11 pitches to get through an inning with no runs scored. Let’s look at the same velocity sequence chart from that game below:
As I mentioned in the beginning, I am not overreacting or worried about Robbie Ross and I understand that this is an isolated event and shouldn’t be taken out of context or blown out of proportion, but there are moments during the course of a season that it’s fun to take out the microscope and examine closer just for the fun of digging deeper into this great game we all love.