If you can throw your breaking ball a lot, you too can beat the Phillies.
It’s pretty simple. Let’s look at the five worst starting pitching assignments against the Phillies this season:
Chris Young, April 17
Game score: 15
Young allowed nine hits in 3.2 innings, among them three doubles, a triple and a home run. He threw only six sliders — everything else was a fastball or changeup. The fastballs scored in the high-80s with very little horizontal movement. He was up and down, easy to strike, and very easy to guess. In a June 3 start he allowed three runs on five hits, throwing twice as many sliders and even more changeups, plotting them around the zone. He even mixed in a curveball.
Shairon Martis, April 27
Game score: 22
After a successful first start against the Phils, Martis allowed seven runs on eight hits, walking four in five innings. In the first start Martis threw 23 percent of his pitches as sliders. In the second start he threw just 16 percent sliders. The fastball tracked in around 88 with a changeup at near 80. And the slider, ranging from 75 to 85, had very little movement horizontally and vertically. In the first start his slider hit different spots throughout the zone, and he used a curveball. He didn’t use the curve when he got lit up.
Daniel Cabrera, May 16
Game score: 22
Cabrera has never been a great pitcher, so there’s one red flag. He had one excusable start against the Phils in April (one earned in five innings), then came back with this stinker: Seven runs on eight hits (two home runs, three doubles, a triple) in five innings. Of the 107 pitches Cabrera threw in this game, 27 were curveballs (25 percent). That’s not a bad ratio, but the curves never went too low, always remaining in the strike zone. He threw fewer changeups, but they came in close to the same height as the fastball. To be short, Cabrera his hittable any time.
Ross Detwiler, May 29
Game score: 23
This is odd. Detwiler allowed five runs on 10 hits (four doubles) in four innings. He threw just 68 pitches, and 18 were sliders (26 percent). Here’s the rub: He only threw two changeups. And because his slider and fastball hit such different spots at such different speeds and paths, it’s pretty easy to pick him up. In his best starts he threw many more fastballs and changeups.
Shairon Martis, May 30
Game score: 19
Martis again. Sense a real bad trend here? In this start he threw even fewer sliders — four of the 71 pitches he threw, or 5 percent. Here he had a fastball that remained high and at about 88. His changeup barely dipped below the heart of the plate. The result? Seven runs on seven hits (two homers, two doubles) in four innings.
Compare these five starts to the best starts against the Phillies — Johan Santana, Derek Lowe, Aaron Harang, Hiroki Kuroda and last night by Scott Richmond — and you’ll see a large amount of sliders or sinkers — breaking pitches that either break wildly horizontally or vertically. In short, you’ll see performances that keep the Phillies completely off balance.
Yes, it takes good pitching to beat the Phillies, but sometimes it simply takes the right ratio of fastballs to breaking pitches, plus the ability to attack the plate early. Most Phillie hitters are guessing hitters; they automatically like swinging at 3-1 counts. Look close at each game — Jayson Werth has two patterned swings, one very low, one reaching out; Ryan Howard seems to have two, as well; Raul Ibanez is easy to beat with high cheese.
The point is it’s very easy to scout against the Phillies. Maybe there’s a reason why the worst pitching performances against the Phillies have almost exclusively come from the Nationals. Just as there’s certainly a reason pitchers who aren’t afraid to change pitch types are likely to succeed against the Phillies. It’s becoming criminally elementary.