Felix’s masterpiece the other night was well-documented by many, including our own Joel Condreay. Over at Fangraphs, Bradley Woodrum wrote a good read about how John Jaso and Felix Hernandez reacted to the Rays aggressive approach and seemingly audibled the gameplan. As noted in the article, the King generated 5 swinging strikes in the first 61 pitches, and 19 whiffs over the final 53 pitches, likely due pitching outside the zone more often later in the game.
This got me thinking. Do most teams adjust their approach when facing Felix? Is that a league-wide strategy? Or were the Rays trying something new? Some things to consider are the general aggressiveness of Felix’s opponent and how often Felix worked in the zone during the start.
Woodrum notes that the Rays are “a typically patient team—almost to a fault.” I might not go that far, but Tampa Bay is indeed on the more-patient side of most stats. The Rays are 1st in walk rate, and they have the 8th lowest swing rate while seeing a league-average number of pitches in the zone—so more patient than average, but not saint-like.
Here’s how I’m going to do this. I’m going to look at each team’s swing rates in and out of the zone to control for how often Felix is pitching strikes. A team that wants to be more aggressive against Felix should be swinging more often, especially at balls outside the zone.
Here’s the King’s gamelog with opponent, opponent’s season swing rates, opponent’s game swing rates, and then Felix’s zone percentage and number of pitches. Outside-the-zone (O-Swing) and zone (Z-Swing) swing rates are highlighted to show which teams were the most aggressive. Red is the most aggressive, followed by yellow, then green is neutral, and the blue colors show that the team was less aggressive that usual against Felix.
You’ll notice that the only team that was significantly more aggressive (red) than usual outside the zone was the Rays, and they got perfecto-ed. Overall, teams swung at pitches outside the zone 2% more often than their season averages, but they swung at pitches inside the zone about 2.5% less often. Though it’s impossible to determine causation, I think the oppositions’ swing patterns have more to do with Felix being able to induce swings on bad pitches, and freeze batters on deceptively curvy pitches, rather than a specific league-wide gameplan. 2-3% in either swing category implies just a one-or-two swing difference per game.
It’s probably not a league-wide plan, and it seems the Rays were trying something new. I would say decidedly that it did not work.
*Thanks to Fangraphs.com for data