Want to Win Games Like Roy Halladay? Then You Need To Throw Strikes!

Joseph DelGrippoAnalyst IJune 12, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 6:  Roy Halladay #32 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium May 6, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

In Tuesday night's 7-0 Boston Red Sox victory over the New York Yankees, Josh Beckett dominated the Yankees.

This win further extends the successful streak for the big right-hander. Over his last five starts, Beckett is 4-0 with a 0.76 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP. His only non-win was an eight inning gem against the Mets where he allowed five hits, a single free pass and zero earned runs.

Tuesday night’s start vs. the Yankees might have been even better, as Josh commanded the strike zone like a master painter. While many pitchers have control (which is throwing strikes), very few pitchers have command (which is control WITHIN the strike zone).

Although Beckett walked two (both to Mark Teixeira) in his six innings of work (91 pitches), it appeared he pitched around Tex both times to get to Alex Rodriguez. Beckett handled A-Rod both times without a sweat, getting A-Rod on a pop up and a whiff.

Beckett is a guy who really knows what to do when he gets a lead,” said Yankees DH Johnny Damon. “He probably learned that from watching (Curt) Schilling. When he gets ahead he pounds the strike zone, he doesn't walk guys, he comes after you and makes you do something big to beat him.”

A pitching coach once said that even if you throw strikes to a .400 hitter he will still make out 60 percent of the time, but when you walk someone, the on-base percentage is usually 1.000.

Simplistic, but true. True since the times when Cy Young was throwing pitches.

As a pitcher, you can either give up hits or walk guys, BUT YOU CAN’T DO BOTH.

Current pitchers like Roy Halladay (complete game SHO on June 7), Zach Greinke and Beckett (guys who actually WIN baseball games, and don’t let their bullpens determine the outcome) "pound the strike zone" as Damon said. They control the game, and make the hitter put the ball in play.

The best pitchers throw strikes, get ahead, and get guys out. It doesn't matter if it is via a strikeout or a ball put in play.

This gets the starters deeper into games, and doesn't necessitate them relying on their bullpen (usually a bunch of scrubs) to record victories. These pitchers record most of the decisions in their starts, a key component of an effective starter.

I love (sarcasm) that new stat BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) which indicates a hitter’s batting average on times he makes contact and actually has to run hard out of the box (unless you are a New York Mets player and that running hard task is optional).

The league averages are usually a few ticks above .300. Sabermetric guys always state that if a hitter has a BABIP of under the league average he is usually “unlucky” in that his batted balls are right at a fielder, and they make the play on his batted balls.  

BABIP is also a stat for pitchers. If a pitcher has a higher BABIP than league average, they are considered “unlucky” by the Sabermetric guys because the pitcher's defense might lack range and some hit balls might just find holes.

What happens if a pitcher hits the spots within the strike zone (command) where batters do not get good wood on the ball, and hit the ball off the handle or the end of the bat? Pitchers do pitch to contact as they move the ball on the inner or outer thirds of the plate.

Next time you watch Baseball Tonight on ESPN or MLB.com highlights, notice where the pitch location is off every big blast from a hitter. Almost always the pitch is in the middle of the plate. Guys like Halladay and Beckett rarely hit the middle of the plate.

And you do not have to throw hard like those pitchers to pitch effectively and win. In their long careers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux never threw really hard, but rarely threw the ball over the middle of the plate.

Last week, there were four complete game shutouts including Halladay’s gem. Cole Hamels threw one out in Los Angeles, Jeff Niemman of the Rays threw one, and even Carl Pavano tossed one during his new Carl Pavano 2009 tour comeback season.

All told, there have been 16 complete game shutouts this season. In those 16 games (that is 144 total innings) there were only 11 walks issued by those 15 pitchers (Zach Grienke has two CG SHO).

Also, those 16 games totaled 105 strikeouts, an average of 6.56 per start. The average pitches thrown were 108 per game.

While there were games like Justin Verlander’s May 8 gem with 11 K’s and 121 pitches, there was also Joel Pineiro’s May 19th game of three K’s and 93 pitches. Some were dominating performances, while several were virtuoso, pick-you-apart masterpieces.

Hitters likely felt overwhelmed facing Verlander that day, but probably had a very comfortable zero-fer against Pineiro. Whether striking out double-digit batters or allowing the hitters to put the ball in play, “pounding the strike zone,” (or just “throwing strikes”) allows a pitcher to win more games.

In Beckett’s recent game, he threw only six innings, and was pulled by manager Terry Francona with a big lead after only 93 pitches (only the second time all season Beckett has thrown less than 100). Lucky for him that the big lead, combined with a sturdy Red Sox bullpen, allowed Beckett to get win number seven.

It appears that complete game shutouts are the direct result of "pounding the strike zone" and letting your defense do their work, both of which help keep that pitch count low. In today’s game, it’s usually 100 or so and out. Those pitchers who let the bullpen in the majority of their games usually win less games for their team.

Why let the bullpen have a say in the final result of your work when a pitcher can throw more strikes, get deeper in games, and win more often for his team?

Legendary pitching coach Ray Miller (a disciple of Johnny Sain) constantly preached to his hurlers to: 1) Throw strikes. 2) Work quickly. 3) change speeds. It just goes to show that those principles still resonates as much today as they did in the past.


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