Sequencing

Ross
Saturday June 1st, 2013 marked the first time this season that I had issues with Robbie Ross and/or AJ Pierzynski. For the record, this article and the aforementioned issue is isolated to this instance only and not about Robbie Ross in general. He has been nails this season and will hopefully be a force to be reckoned with in the Rangers bullpen all summer long. But, on this particular day during this particular inning I believe Ross and AJP did a poor job of sequencing their pitch selection during the top half of the tenth inning. It’s also important to note that this was not the reason they lost the ballgame because there were several miscues in this game and blame could be distributed around the diamond, but this caught my attention for the first time in a Ross appearance.
Ross entered the game with the scored tied at one apiece after the Rangers failed to capitalize with runners at 2nd and 3rd in the bottom of the ninth. Alcides Escobar led off the inning turning around on the first pitch he saw for a single to right center. That particular pitch was a 92 mph fastball left out over the plate and Ross followed this with three more fastballs in the 92-94 mph area. Then after going 1-1 on Hosmer, he turned on one of these fastballs for another single to left putting the Rangers in jeopardy of letting this one slip away. Most of you saw the inning, so I don’t need to go further into detail of how the Royals tacked on three runs in this inning to go ahead 4-1 and eventually hold on for the victory. Relievers will have bumps along the way and Ross has been nothing short of spectacular all season, so these things happen but could this be a result of something more than just not having “it” on this particular afternoon? Could AJP or Ross done something differently to give them a greater chance of success?

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:

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brooksbaseball.net

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:

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brooksbaseball.net

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:

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brooksbaseball.net
Ross threw 15 fewer pitches in this outing than he did against the Royals on Saturday, but featured one more slider versus the two he threw in his 26 pitches against the Royals. The sample size is small and if this was an issue or Ross was someone I was genuinely concerned about, it would be interesting to dig deeper in the sample to see if there was a trend that could become an issue, but for now let’s leave that for another day. There are several factors and variables that causes a pitcher or catcher to rely on certain pitches more in those outings like scouting reports, spray charts, and maybe the most crucial is that maybe Ross didn’t feel good about his slider Saturday. There are certain days that some pitches just don’t follow you into the ballpark and you have to rely on your other stuff to get you through.

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.

Jeff  Johnson is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Jeff.Johnson@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter @Houstonhog
Jeff Johnson

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