Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Twins jump all-over Garcia, White Sox

The Twins reclaimed sole possession of first place of the AL Central by jumping all over Chicago starter Freddy Garcia and knocking him out prematurely en route to a 12-6 victory. While it may seem like a simple story of the Twins lineup seeing-ball-hitting-ball, there was much more preparation that presumably went into the team’s plan of attack against Garcia.

Garcia relies on a combination of speed changes and avoiding the middle part of the strike zone in order to navigate through a major league lineup with his substandard velocity (in fact, he has the 5th slowest fastball on average in the AL).  For the most part, Garcia chooses to stay away from the hitter’s swing by throwing the ball off the plate and enticing opponents into get themselves out. To left-handed opponents, Garcia dotted the outer-half of the plate 64% of the time, usually using his fastball that has more tail than the Playboy mansion. Righties have receive similar treatment, seeing pitches on the outer-half 57% of the time, but to his same-sided opponents, Garcia regularly deployed his changeup in hopes of getting those hitters to turn over on the pitch.

This approach, combined with 5.33 runs of support per game, aided in elevating the retread to a 10-4 record in spite of a bloated 4.62 xFIP on the season.

Prior to last night’s game, I tweeted that while Garcia loved to work away, the Twins had two very good hitters in Joe Mauer and Orlando Hudson that handled pitches on the outer-half extremely well. According to Inside Edge’s rankings through the well-hit average, Mauer’s .248 against pitches away was far and away the best in baseball while Hudson’s .169 well-hit average was the fourth best in the majors. This pair would work quickly to get the Twins on the board as Garcia played right into their strengths.

In the first inning, Garcia went to work on the left-handed hitting Hudson, hitting the outer-half of the plate with a mixture of pitches before hanging a curve middle-away that Hudson promptly hooked into the right field corner for a double. Mauer, following Hudson, took a changeup away for a ball before rifling the next pitch, a similarly located change, into the left-center field gap for back-to-back doubles to score Hudson for the first run of the game.

What I had failed to mention (or rather ran out of room in the strict 140-character limitations set by Twitter) was that the Twins had an entire stable of hitters that are very adept at covering the entire strike zone with authority. While not technically qualified among baseball’s leaders due to their lower total of plate appearances, both Jim Thome (.159 well-hit average) and J.J. Hardy (.115) were also much better than the league’s average (.095) at hitting pitches on the outer-half of the strike zone.

With the Twins holding on to their 1-0 lead in the second, Garcia tried to sneak a fastball away to Jim Thome who went with the pitch and drove it into the left field stands for his 15th home run of the year. After retiring Danny Valencia on a groundball, Garcia worked Hardy to a 2-2 count and flipped him a slider that the right-handed Hardy yanked into the left field bleachers as well.

This foursome punished Garcia’s approach thoroughly and chased him from the ballgame in the third inning with a secure 5-0 lead. Jumping out to a one-nothing lead in the three game series bodes well for the Twins yet Wednesday’s opposition, John Danks, isn’t nearly as transparent as his rotation counterpart is. The left-hander, who has significantly better velocity than Garcia, typically throws a fastball on the first pitch and early in the count but is quick to abandon the hard stuff in favor of his changeup (particularly with two strikes), which gets plenty of hitters to chase. Look for the Twins to attempt to get at him early in the count when he is still throwing fastballs. 

Also available, the newest DiamondCentric offering: “FranKKKKKKie” t-shirt. Pick yours up today!