Because MLB.tv serves games with a delay of 30 or so seconds, I can’t often lob first-guesses at an audience that is thirsting for my random hunches. It’d look dumb and confusing to say “Matt Davidson doesn’t have much of a chance here” 20 seconds after he came through with a hit, so I often keep such thoughts to myself.
On Tuesday, though, as Avisail Garcia came to the plate with two on and one out in the ninth inning, a pitching change gave me the opportunity to make a bold proclamation.
Recent history says they're going to throw Avi a first-pitch slider, and he's going to swing at it.
— Jim Margalus (@SoxMachine) April 10, 2018
Would Alex Colome help prove me correct? If he didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have started out with that anecdote!
The thing is that the same situation unfolded two innings earlier, when Garcia faced Andrew Kittridge. Kittridge elevated his first-pitch slider more, but Garcia still caught it off the end of the bat and flared out to Denard Span in left.
Back to the ninth inning, Garcia then swung at two more pitcher’s-pitch sliders out of the zone, meekly tapping the third one back to Colome.
But it’s not just Avi. Jose Abreu followed it up by chasing a fastball low and away on the first pitch he saw from Colome after Garcia grounded out.
After four consecutive swings at pitches out of the zone between Garcia and Abreu, the microphones behind home plate picked up fans pleading for White Sox hitters to “take one.” A Bronx cheer erupted from the same fans when Abreu laid off a slider in the dirt on the next pitch.
Abreu was fortunate he whiffed, because the sequence brought to mind his bases-loaded double play in Toronto a week ago:
Anyway, it’s not just Abreu. Here’s Yolmer Sanchez swinging over a first-pitch slider with runners on first and second and nobody out in the ninth on Monday.
But it’s not just Sanchez. Here’s Tim Anderson rolling over a first-pitch slider one batter later on Monday.
But it’s not just Anderson. Even Omar Narvaez is getting in on it, as he swung wildly over a first-pitch slider in the dirt to start his at-bat with two outs in the ninth on Tuesday.
It seems like the White Sox have a plan when they come to the plate in such situations. Given that this iteration of the Sox is prone to swinging and missing — they’re second only to the Orioles in strikeout rate and whiff rate in the AL — they might not want to flirt with many two-strike counts, so they’re trying to jump on a particular zone. They’re facing a lot of slider-oriented pitchers who are throwing them on the first pitch, so Sox hitters are vigilant about anything down and away (or down and in to lefties like Sanchez and Narvaez) in an attempt to spring a surprise on an unsuspecting reliever.
After all the failure — they’re 7-for-50 with runners in scoring position during the 0-5 homestand — it’s hard to tell which side is less good at suspecting. While the Sox are swinging like they know what’s coming, the contact is a different story. Via Baseball Savant:
Basically, it seems like a typical right-handed slider strategy triggers the binary choice to swing, but their swings aren’t aligned to stay with such a pitch.
Abreu shook off the ugly whiff against Colome to show us what it looks like when this strategy succeeds. With a 1-2 count, Colome threw a slider that was out of the zone …
Rays manager Kevin Cash didn’t fault his struggling closer, and Colome upgraded that pitch execution to Abreu from “great” to “perfect” during a postgame interview. I’d probably call it merely “good” since it did bisect the plate, and maybe a bit worse since Abreu is an all-world hitter who can expand the zone.
Against lesser hitters — think Sergio Romo rocking Garcia and Yoan Moncada to sleep in the eighth inning on Monday — Colome probably has a point. It isn’t taking much to get the White Sox to get themselves out in these situations.