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Another threat neutralized: Steve Pearce

The Royals again had a plan to take away the bat of a dangerous offensive player.

Utter dejection.
Utter dejection.
Dilip Vishwanat

I wrote an article before the ALCS began about how the Royals could take care of Steve Pearce. As a side note, it's interesting and fun to go back to articles before each playoff series and read the comments. We have a few days without KC baseball, so why not go do that? Read what you thought about things before the Royals were headed to the Fall Classic.

Anyway, I'm here to analyze things again because that's how I process victory. The basic gist of the article I wrote before the ALCS was that Steve Pearce doesn't like the low and away pitch, and he really likes fastballs. How did the Royals approach him? BEHOLD, a graph of pure satisfaction:

steve pearce zone graph

There were a few pitches up, and this is only four games, but this is how the Royals approached Pearce. Low and away, mostly. Over 18 plate appearances, the Royals held Pearce to a double and a walk. He hit the ball hard a few more times, but he was largely non-existent. They also seriously limited left handed pitching exposure against him; of the 59 pitches Pearce saw in this series, only two of them came from a left handed pitcher. Pearce swung at the first pitch against Jason Vargas in both of his plate appearances, and both pitches resulted in outs.

So I noted that the Royals probably shouldn't throw many fastballs to Pearce. Interestingly, 64.4% of the pitches thrown to Pearce were fastballs. Of the 18 plate appearances, 13 were begun with fastballs. Those 18 first pitches were located all over the place. While the Royals' general strategy was low and away, they remained relatively unpredictable. The first pitch strike rate against Pearce was 72.2% (13 of 18). So, the Royals used fastballs to get ahead in the count and then introduced more junk. Pearce was kept off balance, I suppose, and he whiffed on about 22% of those 59 pitches (13 whiffs).

Here's one plate appearance against James Shields in Game 1. This is from the catcher's perspective (from Baseball Savant).

steve pearce at bat

Shields started him off with a very inside fastball and obviously didn't get the first pitch strike. However, Shields then threw three straight low changeups, and 2 of the 5 pitches were of the low and away-ish variety. Pearce lined out to Lorenzo Cain.

At this point, there was probably some game theory coming into play.

Pearce: "I'm not very good against the low and away pitch, so that's where I'll look for the ball and attempt to hit it the other way or something."

Royals: "Pearce isn't very good against the low and away pitch, so that's where we'll pitch. Except he probably expects that, so throw other places, too!"

Pearce: "Not every pitch is low and away...SWING!"

Royals: "Pearce is swinging a bunch! Throw the junk low and away!"

Etc. Etc.

Ahem. Even though I have done this for only Mike Trout and Pearce, it appears that the Royals identified a weakness in each player seemingly by using some PitchF/X type data. They then strategized around that weakness and executed near to perfection. Now, the Royals have several days to identify the weaknesses of either the Giants or the Cardinals.

And break them.