One Plate Appearance: David Ortiz

BOSTON, MA - David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox is congratulated by teammate Nick Punto after Ortiz scored a run against the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

I was watching the Red Sox game last night and thought, wouldn't it be interesting to look at one single at-bat in depth. To show the intricacies of the encounter and not just the result, but how the result was achieved. Today, I'm going to look at David Ortiz's third inning at-bat against Mariners pitcher Blake Bleavan.

* * *

It was the bottom of the third inning in a 0-0 game. David Ortiz stepped to the plate against Seattle starter Blake Beavan. There was one out and nobody on base. To that point, Beavan had had a little bit of trouble with the Red Sox. He had given up a single to Dustin Pedroia and walked Adrian Gonzalez in the first before getting Will Middlebrooks to ground out to end the inning. In the second inning he gave up a lead-off single to Jarrod Saltalamacchia and hit Daniel Nava with a pitch, but got out of that as well. He was laboring a bit, as his pitch count was at 57 when Ortiz stepped into the batter's box.

As far as I can tell (I can't find my copy of the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers at the moment to be certain) Beavan throws four pitches:

  1. A low-90's fastball
  2. A low-80's change up
  3. A slider
  4. A mid-70's curve ball

Those were the pitches Ortiz had to be aware of when he stepped to the plate. So far this year Ortiz has shown a reverse platoon split, though as you'll see, it's not really a problem. Ortiz has hit lefties at a .380/.415/.740 clip (that's an OPS of 1.155) while he's fared slightly worse against right-handers, hitting them at .337/.417/.573 (.990 OPS).

One problem Beavan was about to have with Ortiz or really any patient left handed hitter is that half his repertoire is designed to get right-handed hitters out. The slider and curve both cut away from right-handed hitters, but in to lefties like Ortiz. That gives him a much better vantage point from which to track the flight of the ball. As we shall see.

Pitch 1: Change Up; Called strike; 80mph

Ortiz1_medium

The ball is in the catcher's glove. It was a change up, away from Ortiz and probably a bit farther away and a bit higher in the zone than Beavan wanted. He got the call anyway, putting Ortiz down in the count 0-1 to start the at-bat. Ortiz disagreed with the call and Pitch f/x agrees, saying it was just a hair outside. Ortiz waited until a few moments after he'd initially stepped out and spoke with someone over his left shoulder, presumably the umpire about the call.

So Ortiz takes the change up for a strike to start the at-bat.

Pitch 2: Change Up: low and away; 82 m.p.h.

Ortiz2_medium

Surprise, Beavan goes back to the change up. Often pitchers stay away from throwing change ups on consecutive pitches. The idea is that it's a change of pace pitch and what makes it successful is the difference between what the batter has just seen (or is expecting in this case) and what the pitch is. But Beavan bucks convention and throws Ortiz two in a row.

As you can see, this one was also outside, but a bit further outside than the first and considerably lower. Ortiz, ever the patient hitter, takes this as well, evening the count.

Pitch 3: Fastball; 91 m.p.h.

Here's the pitch Ortiz has waited the entire at-bat (life?) for. A fastball. Here you can see Ortiz's leg lift (his load) before Beavan even has released the ball:

Ortiz

The ball is still in Beavan's hand at this point. If you look closely, you can almost see a speck of drool forming on Ortiz's lower lip.

Ortiz3

The pitch is over the inside part of the plate and Ortiz crushes it. You can see the fat part of the bat just about to redirect the ball's momentum in the above picture. The problem was...

Ortiz

... the ball landed just foul down the right field line. You can see the dark part of the dirt that the ball has just kicked up. Before the at-bat ends, Beavan is going to wish that it had been fair.

After two change ups, Beavan tried to throw a fastball past Ortiz. He succeeded in one sense. The ball was foul and thus a strike. Beavan was now up in the count 1-2. But, his plan of slowing down Ortiz's bat with two change ups so he could throw one by Ortiz failed miserably. So we need a Plan B. What now?

Pitch 4: Fastball; 92 m.p.h. Ortiz checks his swing

Ortiz4

It's another fastball, this one up and out of the zone. Beavan hit the catcher's mitt almost perfectly. This was probably the best pitch Beavan threw in this sequence. Ortiz was tempted to go after it, but changed his mind and held up. The picture makes it look like he might have gone around but he didn't. That's as far as he went and the angle of the bat shows that he didn't swing. What's more, neither Beaven nor the catcher, John Jaso, made any indication that he did. The ball is in the catcher's mitt, by the way.

So now Beavan has thrown Ortiz two consecutive change ups followed by two consecutive fastballs. The count is 2-2. Ortiz has blunted each of Beavan's pitches. Now it's probably about time for Beavan to try something new, something Ortiz hasn't seen yet in this at-bat. Maybe the element of surprise will get Ortiz out.

Pitch 5: Curveball low and in the dirt at Ortiz's back foot; 76 m.p.h.

Ortiz5_medium

This is where I wish my Photoshop hadn't crapped out on me because a GIF would show this oh-so-much better. It's a curveball that Beavan tries to backdoor Ortiz with. The catcher sets up at the outside low corner of the strikezone hoping Ortiz will give up on the pitch, a pitch type he hasn't yet seen during this at-bat, and they can sneak it across the outside corner at the knees.

As you can see, Beavan misses his spot. it's not a bad location as it's possible a worse hitter than Ortiz would have swung over the pitch, but Ortiz is not a worse hitter than Ortiz. He's Ortiz. So he doesn't. Ball three. Full count.

To this point Beavan has done the following:

  1. Change Up at the top corner of the zone. 0-1
  2. Change Up low and away. 1-1
  3. Fastball inside. Fouled down the line. 1-2
  4. Fastball up and away. 2-2
  5. Curveball low and in the dirt 3-2

What to do now? Remember, it's the third inning of a 0-0 game. There's one out and Adrian Gonzalez is standing in the on-deck circle. Walking Ortiz wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but you probably want to put one somewhere in the strike zone and induce weak contact while giving him the chance to swing through it. The pitch that is easiest to do that with for most pitchers is the...

Pitch 6: Fastball, 93 m.p.h.

Beavan reaches back a bit on this one, muscling up to get an extra 1 1/2 mile-per-hour on the pitch. Maybe the extra speed will be just enough to throw off Ortiz after the 76 m.p.h. curve he just looked at.

Ortiz6

It wasn't.

Jerry Remy described the pitch as "right down Broadway" but it wasn't quite. It was on the inner third of the plate, but as you can easily see it's just below the belt. It's exactly the pitch Ortiz just missed, hitting foul on the 1-1 count. It was also the pitch that Beavan didn't want to throw. Make no mistake about it, this is a mistake pitch, if not in execution than in construction. The catcher, John Jaso, sets up with his glove right out over the heart of the plate. I'm not sure if the idea was to throw it past Ortiz, but Beavan's pitch would have hit the mitt if Ortiz hadn't intervened sending it into the Red Sox bullpen.

You can see though that Beavan did attempt to not only fool Ortiz on a pitch to pitch basis (throwing back-to-back change ups; trying to backdoor a curve) but he changed the speeds that Ortiz was seeing, hoping to get him out on his front foot enough to generate weak contact or a miss. Here are those speeds in graph form (courtesy the excellent Brooks Baseball):

Beavan

That change of speeds, from 80 m.p.h. to 91, back to 76 and then back up to 92 can be especially tough on a hitter. The next time you're in a batting cage, take two cuts at the plate, then step six feet towards the pitching machine. Chances are that pitch will be past you quickly. Take two from there, then step back to the plate. You'll probably be out ahead of the next one. That's what it's like to face a change of speeds.

For those select few though, like David Ortiz, it doesn't matter, or it doesn't matter unless it's done exactly correctly and then maybe it still doesn't matter.

You can also see here that Beavan tried to keep the ball on the corners and away from the middle of the plate. For the most part he succeeded (despite Remy's statement to the contrary), as you can see here (also from the excellent Brooks Baseball):


Beavan

This plot is from the catcher's point of view, so David Ortiz, being a lefty, is standing on the right side of the graph.

Ortiz's solo homer was all the Red Sox would need as they shut out the Mariners to win their fifth in a row. If only that ball hadn't landed a quarter inch foul, right Mr. Beavan?

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