(The first part was written Saturday night. So if it seems alive, it’s really not. The 2nd part was added on tonight.)
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I was at the beach today celebrating my grandma’s 80th birthday, so I caught exactly zero pitches of tonight’s game. I did check in on it a couple times on my phone, though the hour-plus drive from where I live to the California coastline sapped the majority of my focus.
But from what I see in the box score, it wasn’t all that eventful, so I’m not disappointed I missed it. It’s good we won and all, but yeah.
The Mariners briefly led 1-0 (on a Jason Bay RBI single, no less), but in the ensuing inning Ian Kinsler reached base on an error and eventually scored, deadlocking the game at 1-1 until the 8th inning.
Because post-game analysis isn’t really my specialty, I generally skip past all the bullshit and get right into the pivotal plays and key players. In tonight’s game, the pinnacle moment came in the top of the 8th with two outs, and Seattle’s Carter Capps on the mound;
This inning is an appropriate example of Texas’s 2013 offensive blueprint: Craig Gentry led off with a walk, and was advanced to 2nd on a Leury Garcia groundout. One out. Ian Kinsler then popped out to 2nd base, which isn’t really part of the plan, but it was avenged by the next hitter, Elvis Andrus, who muscled a two-out RBI single into right field. Then Elvis stole 2nd. After, Capps uncorked a wild pitch, advancing Andrus to 3rd. Still, two outs. Then Adrian Beltre executed what Andrus did before him, placing a single in the perfect spot to get the runner home. 3-1 Rangers.
That’s what the score ended up being.
Alexi Ogando was impressive for the 3rd consecutive time out, allowing just 1 run to cross home plate in 5.0 innings, scattering as many hits (5) as punch outs (5). He only walked one.
What I can’t seem to understand is how Ogando seemingly always throws a ton of pitches, but rarely travels particularly deep into games. So it made me curious.
Let’s look at what the numbers tell us:
Thus far Alexi has thrown a total of 16.2 innings over three starts (about 5.5 IP-per-start), and has compiled a total of 281 pitches in that sample. If we divide his innings pitched (16.667) into the allotted amount of pitches thrown (281), then we can compute that he throws roughly 17 pitches per inning (or 16.86 to be precise) — which is probably a couple-few more than you’d like to see, but it’s not an egregious average.
The first rational thought is: “Well if he’s throwing a lot of pitches and not going very deep into games, then he must walk a lot of guys, right?”
That’s how I would say it, at least.
The problem is, Alexi has only walked 5 batters in 16.2 IP. That translates to about a walk every 3-4 innings — again, not great, but not bad. Of the 281 pitches he’s thrown, 174 (about 62%) have gone for strikes. A general rule of thumb to keep in mind is that pitchers wants to keep their strike-to-ball ratio around 2:1. So again, Ogando is doing just fine.
So if he’s throwing a lot of pitches — and a lot of pitches for strikes — and not walking many guys, then where are all these extra pitches coming from, and why can’t he seem to make it past the 6th inning most nights? The math doesn’t seem to add up.
The answer is two-fold: For starters, Ogando does not own in his limited arsenal a truly dominant out pitch. There’s a fastball, and then there’s his shoddy curveball/slider thing; he can’t consistently snap off breaking balls. This forces him to use his best pitch — his fastball — later in counts, and for some goddamn reason that I’ve never seemed to understand, Alexi induces a ton of foul balls.
To sustain success as a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues, you generally have to be able to command 3 different pitches. Alexi Ogando has legitimate command with one (his fastball), inconsistent command with his slider, and his newer, slower breaking pitch is still a bit of an unknown.
Basically, long story short: Alexi Ogando hasn’t proven he can routinely throw his off-speed pitches for strikes, so hitters can sit on his fastball in 3-ball counts. That is the thesis of this carousel I’ve taken you on.
But to be fair to Ogando, he is quite good. When I asked Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks the question, “Is Alexi Ogando closer to being a #2 than a #3 if his slower breaking pitch is consistent?” he responded, “I still think he’s a setup/closer masquerading as a starter, but he’s proven me wrong before.”
The truth is, this is just one gigantic way of saying that Alexi Ogando has a brilliant, filthy fastball, and that Major League hitters are good enough to foul it off, but not good enough to put it in play enough to satisfy Ogando’s pitch count to the effect that he pitches deeper into games.
The Rangers are 8-5, and will now be playing a 3-game set at Wrigley Field, which includes a projected matchup against Scott Feldman. Baseball baseball baseball.