The Royals own Jake Peavy.
Look, I know that’s a sabermetrically controversial statement, and I don’t suggest that it’s provably or predictively true, in some macro way, but certain Royals have hit Jake Peavy very hard over the past few years. Alcides Escobar has 11 hits in 25 at-bats against Peavy, including a two-home run game against him. Billy Butler has been similarly impossible for Peavy to get out. Alex Gordon has hit .333/.355/.500 in 30 at-bats at-bats against him. Perhaps some of this is impossible to duplicate, but it hasn’t been luck. Using Daren Wilman’s wonderful baseballsavant.com, I went through and watched video of several hits by each player against Peavy. There were no cheapies.
Gordon works the count until Peavy gives in and throws him a fastball or fastball variant, then crushes it. Butler seems able to square up everything Peavy throws. I saw him hit a curveball low and out of the zone, away, just as hard as a cutter about knee-high over the middle of the plate, and those just as hard as a fastball in on the hands. Each pitch resulted in a hard-hit ball to the right side. Butler looks to drive the ball from center field to right against Peavy, and something about the match of Peavy’s arsenal and Butler’s swing just clicks. I think when Billy Butler takes the right approach to the plate, Peavy simply can’t get him out, at least not in any reliable way.
As for Escobar, Peavy just seems not respect the usually light-hitting shortstop. Nine of the aforementioned 11 hits, and all of the extra-base shots, came on pitches up in the zone, easily hittable. Peavy tried to get ahead of him with a cheap first-pitch slider on one of the home runs Escobar hit off of him. It had all kinds of the plate. When Peavy does go to the slider and cutter low and away, he gets Escobar out. He just doesn’t do it well or consistently enough. He doesn’t seem afraid of him. He really should be, by now.
Part of the issue here is that Peavy doesn’t exactly paint the corners even at his best. Seminal work by Jeff Zimmerman and Bill Petti at baseballheatmaps.com has established that pitchers induce much weaker contact and get many more called strikes if they can consistently hit the edges of the strike zone. Going back to 2013, though, Peavy had a pedestrian (league-average, roughly) 18.3 Edge %, and a very high (no other pitcher in his range with regard to Edge % came close to it) 55.0 Heart %. (The latter number is the percentage of his pitches that had a big chunk of the strike zone. These are generally very hittable.) We don’t have these stats for 2014, but Dan Brooks of brooksbaseball.net recently observed on Twitter that Peavy still lives in the middle of the dish.
It may just be that the Royals are unusually good at punishing an opponent’s mistakes, or even pitches thrown with intent in the middle of the strike zone. This was the team with the second-best batting average in the American League and the best contact rate in the Majors, don’t forget. They lack power and patience at the plate, but no roster is better-suited to a pitcher who pounds the zone and can’t keep the ball off the good part of the plate. It almost doesn’t matter. At this point, I can’t do anything but predict that the Royals will rout Peavy, or chase him early enough to prey on weak middle relief work by the Giants, and that there will be a Game 7 Wednesday night. That’s especially true since we know Peavy will be pitching at less than 100 percent.
That said, know this about Peavy: He’s capable of proving me wrong. He’s the only pitcher ever to come back from one injury he suffered, a detachment of his shoulder muscle from the skeletal structure to which it was attached. He’s full of fire and emotion and chewing tobacco, and if I am to force people to look past their biases about statistics and their value, I must admit my own blind spots. Jake Peavy is a Hell of a competitor, and while I can’t imagine how that helps a pitcher with fringy command of relatively tepid stuff sneak balls past the sweet spots of opponents’ bats, Peavy has been doing just that for two or three years. He’s an impressive specimen, a dinosaur in the days of pitchers who burn bright or burn out, and while I want more baseball and all the drama of Game 7, a small part of me will be rooting, Tuesday night, for Peavy to overcome his demons with the Kansas City lineup and put the Giants in a position to win.Next post: All Hands: How I would Manage the Game 7 Pitching Staffs
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