On a blustery, hazy Thursday afternoon where the only thing that burned hotter than the myriad of North Texas grassfires was the Rangers' searing offense (which keyed a three-game season-opening sweep, has now plated 29 runs through three games and is batting a scorching .346/.405/.654), oft-maligned right-hander Brandon McCarthy equipped the alluring new "slurve" that pitching coach Mike Maddux green-lighted earlier this spring and toed the Arlington rubber in search of what would have been just his second major league win since July 31st, 2007.
It was back on March 2nd that Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram first disclosed McCarthy's abandonment of his one-time "plus" curveball and embracement of a new slider, prompting this lengthy exposition on the potential ramifications of the switch and later inciting ESPN.com's Keith Law to describe the "not finished" secondary offering as a "hard slurve around 82-83 mph that is unusual for an in-between breaking ball in that it has power and an accelerating break."
Staked to a 9-1 lead after two innings, McCarthy brandished both the quality off-speed pitches that have rendered him so intriguing and the inconsistency that has rendered him so maddening en route to a five-inning, three-run performance that was just long enough to secure his first win of the 2009 season. Displayed below is a pitch-by-pitch dissection of his 105-pitch outing, which utilizes a slightly modified of Kevin Goldstein's personal pitch-tracking system:
Basically, each notation has three pieces on information: TYPE-VELO-RESULT. Under Type, FB is fastball, CU is curveball, CH is changeup; Velo is simple enough. Under Result, 'b' stands for ball, 's' for swinging strike, 'c' is a called strike, 'f' a foul ball, and 'x' is a ball in play. So, an 81 mph slider taken for a strike is SL-81-c.
All pitches labeled as "XX-XX" were evidently not picked up by the Pitch f/x cameras installed at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington; the bulk of these 14 mystery pitches were amassed during the game's first two innings.
Grady Sizemore: FB-86.1-b, FB-86.5-b, FB-89.0-c, FB-88.8-s, SL-80.3-s (strikeout swinging)
Mark DeRosa: FB-87.9-b, FB-88.9-b, XX-XX-b, XX-XX-c, XX-XX-f, SL-79.5-c (strikeout looking)
Victor Martinez: FB-87.4-c, FB-87.6-b, XX-XX-b, FB-88.9-f, CU-80.2-b, XX-XX-f, FB-87.2-b (walk) see photo
Travis Hafner: XX-XX-f, SL-79.9-b, FB-88.5-c, CH-77.3-f, FB-89.4-c (strikeout looking) (very borderline strikeout pitch up and in)
Notes: Home plate watchdog Phil Cuzzi makes the case for an expansion of QuesTec Zone Evaluation in appraising major league umpires:
Pictured is Pitch f/x's visual interpretation of the aforementioned Victor Martinez plate appearance; pitch No. 5, clearly designated as a strike both here and on Thursday afternoon's FOX Sports Southwest telecast, is obscured by pitch No. 6 (a foul ball strike), and I would love to hear Cuzzi's justification for deeming pitch No. 7 as a ball. McCarthy was neither tenacious nor efficient on the bump in his first start of the 2009 regular season, but being robbed of clear strikes certainly didn't aid matters.
McCarthy notched consecutive 2-0 counts to begin his afternoon against Sizemore and DeRosa, but successfully baffled both with utterly devastating slurves; his full-count slurve to DeRosa was fired down the heart of the plate, but the ex-Ranger was clearly geared up for a heater and was effectively frozen in his tracks.
Jhonny Peralta: FB-85.7-b, FB-86.1-f, CU-77.7-c, XX-XX-b, FB-87.4-x (fly out, 9)
Ben Francisco: FB-87.3-c, FB-86.7-b, FB-88.0-f, XX-XX-f, SL-79.5-f, FB-88.7-b, FB-89.9-x (fly out, 9)
Kelly Shoppach: FB-88.8-b, FB-89.4-s, CU-77.3-b, FB-88.9-x (home run)
Trevor Crowe: FB-88.3-b, FB-88.5-c, FB-88.7-c, SL-79.2-x (ground out, 5-3)
Notes: Lackluster velocity and dubious command began to take their toll on McCarthy in this frame; the Shoppach home run was a veritable monster, traveling an estimated 458 feet according to Hit Tracker Online and landing near the back of Section 51 to the immediate right of Greene's Hill, and was belted on an up-and-away heater with little movement.
Asdrubal Cabrera: FB-85.3-b, FB-87.3-b, FB-87.0-b, FB-88.4-c, FB-89.1-b (walk)
Grady Sizemore: FB-87.0-b, FB-88.9-x (home run)
Mark DeRosa: FB-88.6-x (ground out, 6-3)
Victor Martinez: XX-XX-b, XX-XX-f, SL-78.3-c, FB-89.6-x (single, 9)
Travis Hafner: CU-79.0-s, CH-77.5-s, FB-89.8-c (strikeout looking)
Jhonny Peralta: CU-78.7-c, CH-77.4-b, FB-89.2-b, FB-90.2-b, FB-90.9-x (single, 9)
Ben Francisco: SL-78.4-b, FB-90.1-f, FB-90.3-c, FB-90.7-b (hit by pitch) (visit to mound)
Kelly Shoppach: SL-79.6-x (ground out, 6-3)
Notes: Elevated fastballs equate to big trouble. McCarthy registered above 90 mph for the first time of the afternoon versus Jhonny Peralta (albeit to little effect, as he unsympathetically laced an up-and-in fastball into right field), but the inconsistency of his fastball command ultimately prompted a Mike Maddux visit after the Ben Francisco hit-by-pitch, and the response was clearly a good one.
Trevor Crowe: FB-89.0-c, CH-77.0-b, FB-89.4-s, CH-77.7-b, FB-90.0-f, FB-90.6-s (strikeout, foul tip)
Asdrubal Cabrera: FB-88.7-c, CH-76.9-b, SL-92.7-f, CH-76.7-b, FB-90.0-f, FB-88.8-f, SL-79.9-b, FB-90.4-b (walk)
Grady Sizemore: CU-79.5-c, CH-78.4-s, CH-78.7-b, FB-91.7-s (strikeout swinging)
Mark DeRosa: CU-79.3-c, FB-90.3-b, SL-79.0-c, FB-91.5-f, CH-80.6-b, FB-89.5-c (strikeout looking)
Notes: After sitting at 86-89 mph through the ballgame's first 2½ frames, McCarthy's velocity inched upward to a consistent 89-92 mph in the top of the fourth inning; notice that Pitch f/x classified his 92.7 mph offering -- which was actually his fastest pitch of the afternoon -- as a slider, illustrating one of the inherent imperfections of Pitch f/x. That same fallibility is applicable to the curveball/slider issue -- if he's employing a pitch that resembles a hybrid of those two offerings, obviously the algorithm will slip up now and again.
Unfortunately, all the velocity in the world can't compensate for shoddy fastball command that leads to elevated and extremely hittable pitches, and McCarthy was lucky to not get smashed in this mouth in this inning. The 78.4 mph change-up to Sizemore that he buried in the dirt was one absolutely filthy pitch, however.
Victor Martinez: SL-79.4-c, FB-89.6-b, CH-77.5-x (fly out, 9)
Travis Hafner: FB-89.9-b, FB-90.0-b, FB-88.6-b, XX-XX-b (walk)
Jhonny Peralta: XX-XX-c, FB-89.3-b, XX-XX-b, XX-XX-x (fly out, 8)
Ben Francisco: FB-88.8-c, SL-78.8-x (fly out, 8)
Notes: If you've noticed by now that McCarthy didn't induce all that many swinging strikes, you're not alone.
Final Pitching Line: 105 pitches (61 strikes), 5.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, ground-to-fly ball ratio of 3-to-5
It's impossible to surmise to what extent the velocity readings on those 14 mystery pitches might have altered this graph; curiously, of the 60 fastballs that were properly tracked by Pitch f/x, only 34 went for strikes (or 56.7 percent), while 15 of his 20 curves/slurves/sliders went for strikes (or 75 percent). Seems a tad backwards, does it not?
You may recall that general manager Jon Daniels stated late last year in an ESPN.com chat session that the first thing the organization's talent evaluators look for in minor league pitchers is fastball command. To assume that trait would be held in much lower regard at the major league level would be silly; if anything, this organization has placed a clear premium on pitchers capable of consistently pounding the strike zone, and as enormously intriguing as McCarthy's secondary pitches might have appeared to my admittedly untrained eye on Thursday afternoon, 105 pitches in five innings won't cut it anymore than an unpredictably located heater will -- something that the 25-year-old right-hander fortunately seems cognizant of:
"As the game went on, I started thinking too much and trying to do a little too much. So that's something I've got to work on and get back under control. Again, that's something I've got to work on -- pitch command and pitch efficiency."
Quick Hits: Texas hasn't scored 29 runs in a three-game series since Aug. 21-22, 2007 at Baltimore, and hasn't swept a three-game series at home since Sept. 24-26, 2007 against the Angels ... Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (inner ear infection) is expected to start today in Detroit ... Right-hander Willie Eyre (strained right groin muscle) tossed two-thirds of an inning for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Thursday; right-hander Dustin Nippert (strained right rhomboid muscle) will start for Double-A Frisco on Saturday.