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o strike zone, where art thou?

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here's a quick programming note: if you're into amateur baseball, head on over to john sickels' Minor League Ball and sign up to represent the cardinals in the 2d annual mock draft. it was a big success when they did it last year -- lot of fun, and some pretty accurate drafting to boot. for example, last year the mock st louis drafters (i wasn't one of them) selected tyler greene with one of the cardinals' two first-round picks -- exactly as it later happened in real life. the draft will only run five rounds, a manageable number; prob'y take most of a day. if you're interested, head on over there and sign up to be part of the st louis drafting team. all the rules, dates, times, etc are posted at sickels' site.

something clicked for jason marquis after the 4th inning yesterday:

inns pitches balls strikes
1-4 70 31 39
5-8 38 10 28

this appears to be part of a pattern, not just a one-game phenomenon. in innings 1-3 so far this season, marquis has walked 17 guys and hit 4 in 122 plate appearances. that's 21 free passes to first base -- one out of every six batters. but from the 4th inning on, marquis has walked only 6 guys and hit 0 in 117 plate appearances -- one free pass for every 20 batters. this tendency has persisted throughout his career as a cardinal; his walk+hp rate in the 1st three innings is 1 per 8 hitters; from the 4th on, it's only 1 per 12 -- a 50 percent improvement over his early-inning rate.

i did a quick check on the cardinals' other starters to see if perhaps this isn't as freaky as it seems. turns out it's pretty freaky; the other pitches' walk+hp rates are all constant from the early innings to the late ones, which is what i would expect. might there be a rational explanation for marquis' split? let's try a few on for size:

  • it's the fatigue factor: in the early innings his arm is too fresh; the sinker rides, the fastball sails, and nothing arrives at the intended target. once jason's arm is warmed up and worn down, he has better command.
  • it's psychological: it takes marquis a few innings to clear his head of all the impulses that have built up in it during the four days since his previous start. eventually the flow of a game quiets his mind, and instinct takes over; marquis thinks less, pitches more, and his command improves.
  • it's an illusion: the stats are distorted by marquis' occasional implosions. he only gets to the 5th/6th/7th innings when he's having a good game, so those innings disproportionately represent jason at his best. the split is an illusion and means nothing.
i'd be more inclined to believe the last one if at least one other pitcher on the staff exhibited a tendency that was even remotely similar to jason's. maybe if i looked at a larger sample of pitchers, i'd find that this kind of split isn't uncommon. but i think it's more likely i would find that it's not uncommon among below-average pitchers. . . .given what we know about marquis, i think #2 makes the most sense. but i'll entertain other ideas -- and i'll accept that there's no explaining it, that it's just part and parcel of this player's consistent inconsistency.