Scouting report: White Sox-Rays Game 1

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Inside Edge, a leading baseball scouting and information service, will provide scouting reports to Yahoo! Sports throughout the MLB playoffs. Here’s their breakdown of Game 1 of the 2008 American League Division Series between the Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.

INSIDE EDGE BREAKDOWN—WHITE SOX VS. RAYS

Gotta know this…

Starting Pitchers
 
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Vazquez
   
• The Chicago White Sox will send Javier Vazquez to the hill for Game 1 and they are hoping that he is able to find his groove again. Over his last three starts, Vazquez has surrendered 19 runs in only 12 innings of work. Fastball command has been a major issue—prior to his recent cold streak, Vazquez was in the strike zone 58.9 percent of the time with his fastball, but that is down to 48.8 percent over his last three outings.

   
• Vazquez likes to elevate his fastball late in the count, locating 40 percent of his late-count heaters upstairs this year. That might not be the best plan against the Rays, who had the fourth highest slugging percentage in the league (.461) against elevated fastballs this season.

   
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Shields
   
James Shields loves to locate his breaking pitches on his non-throwing side. Against left-handers 55 percent of his breaking pitches ended on the inner portion of the plate. Facing right-handers, 64 percent of his curves and sliders were located on the outer third. Chicago’s left-handed hitters batted only .163 against breaking balls on the inside part of the plate when facing a right-handed pitcher. Right-handed Sox hitters have not fared much better against outside breaking balls from righty pitchers—hitting only .196 on the season.

   
• Most pitchers feel safe when they are able to pound the bottom third of the strike zone with their fastball, but White Sox hitters have managed to hit .328 with a .536 slugging percentage against low, in-zone heaters. Shields has limited his opponents to a sub par .302 slugging percentage when keeping his fastball down in the zone, which he did more than a third of the time.

     
Bullpen
 
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Grant Balfour has made Rays fan sweat it out as he has pitched behind in the count 33 percent of the time after the first pitch of the at-bat. Balfour, a virtual one-pitch wonder, uses his fastball 97 percent of the time when behind in the count, and still held batters to a miniscule .160 batting average against his heater when the count is in the hitter’s favor.

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Bobby Jenks has already closed out one World Series title for the Chicago White Sox (2005) and he appeared to be in late-season form when shutting down the Twins in Tuesday’s AL Central tie-breaker. Jenks goes to his fastball 82 percent of the time in pre two-strike counts but keeps hitters guessing with strikes, when he goes to the off-speed stuff 58 percent of the time.

 
Hitters
 

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Navarro

   
• Rays catcher Dioner Navarro was hitting .352 at the end of May but slowed down to hit only .272 for the rest of the season. The Rays are hoping Navarro can find his stroke against pitchers who leave the ball up in the strike zone. In April and May, Dioner hit an amazing .540 (27-for-50) against pitches in the upper two-thirds of the zone. That tailed off to .294 (47-for-160) over the course of the final four months of the season.

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Upton
   
• Many hitters are susceptible to non-fastballs when they get into a two-strike situation but not B.J. Upton. Upton is hitting .271 (26-for-96) against off-speed pitches in two-strike counts with nine extra-base hits this year. However, sitting on the soft stuff has cut his reaction time against fastballs—B.J. is hitting only .168 (30-for-179) against two-strike heaters with 96 strikeouts.

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Thome
   
Jim Thome provided the only run in Tuesday’s game with a mammoth home run against Minnesota right-hander Nick Blackburn. One way Shields can tone down Thome’s production Thursday is by going to his slider. Thome did not have an extra-base hit all season against a slider from a right-handed pitcher and managed to hit only .095 (4-for-42) against them.


   
• The White Sox have plenty of powerful bats in their lineup, and they have found another one in the emergence of Alexei Ramirez who clubbed a rookie-record four Grand Slams this year. The young second baseman is a fastball-hitting machine, especially with runners in scoring position. Ramirez is hitting a mind- numbing .468 (29-for-62) with a .710 slugging percentage in at-bats ending with a fastball in RISP situations.


Image of the day…

The White Sox led all teams in home runs by a wide margin this season. If they are able to tag one against James Shields in Game 1, chances are it will be to the left side of the diamond. Here is how their 235 homers were spread around the field in 2008:

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Key Matchups…

White Sox hitters who match up well vs. Shields
 
Ken Griffey Slugging .500 in 328 ABs versus similar top-tier, right-handed pitchers since last season.

Jermaine Dye Slugging .658 in 38 ABs vs. other right handed pitchers whose dominant pitch is their changeup since last year.

White Sox hitters who could struggle
 
Josh Fields Batting Average is .151 (19-for-126) versus similar top-tier, right-handed pitchers since last year.

Nick Swisher Just 1-for-6 in his career against Shields and batted .154 against right-handers in September.

 
Rays hitters who match up well vs. Vazquez
 
B.J. Upton Has had the most success against Vazquez other than the injured Carl Crawford. Upton is 6-for-12 lifetime versus the Sox starter. Upton had 3 hits in 2008 against Vazquez—all in different elevations within the strike zone (up, middle, and down).

Gabe Gross Slugging .500 in 10 ABs vs. pitchers similar toVazquez since last season. Gross was 8-for-18 agianst righty curveballs —Vazquez’s best off-speed offering—in the regular season.

Rays hitters who could struggle
 
Eric Hinske    Hinske is 2-for-19 lifetime against Vazquez and batting just .194 (6-for-31) vs. pitchers with similar repertiores since last year.

Akinori Iwamura Well-Hit Average of just .083 (1-for-12) vs. Vazquez since last year.