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Will Grichuk and Holliday power the Cardinals to victory in Game 1?

My magic eight ball filled with nerdy heat maps says: Yes.

Justin K. Aller

Yesterday, Joe had an excellent breakdown of NLCS Game 1 starter Madison Bumgarner -- if you haven't read that post, I suggest you head over there for a bit of a primer before digging into this one: You'll thank Joe later for that.

This morning I'm going to take a look at which hitters are likely to perform well against Bumgarner given the breakdown of pitch locations where he tends to work the most and where he is most effective. Diving into the weeds over at, I was able to put together this quad-heat-map to get a good idea of how the Giants' ace tends to attack hitters in a general sense:

Let's break this down just a tad so we know what we're looking at:

  • The top left hand corner is the raw number of pitches thrown into each zone by Bumgarner so far this year.
  • The top right corner is the percentage of whiffs that Bumgarner gets in each specific location -- this gives us a good idea of where he likes to go with the ball when he's trying to put a hitter away.
  • The bottom left hand corner is the batting average against pitches in each of those zones.
  • Lastly, the bottom right is the ISO for each zone, telling us how much extra base damage was done on hits in those zones.
One thing really sticks out to me when I look at the overall chart:

How in the world does any starting pitcher throw so many middle-middle pitches and not get crushed?

This is what I would deem the "threat of the cutter"..  As Joe pointed out yesterday:

His most-used pitch, the fourseam fastball, has held hitters to a .194 batting average and a .321 slugging percentage in 2014,

And that's while only throwing that pitch for strikes around 46% of the time - odd for a guy who rarely issues a walk. His secret, of course, is that he is able to hide his cutter so well and his fastball moves so much in the other direction that he creates a lot of foolish looking swings at balls tailing or cutting out the strike zone, and that movement allows him the ability to make mistakes in the middle of the plate because the hitter isn't sure whether the ball is going to cut in on his hands or tail toward the outer half at a much greater velocity.  In a word: sneaky.

The other thing to notice is that Bumgarner gets tuned up pretty good on pitches in the lower half of the strike zone, with opposing batters hitting nearly .300 on all pitches and hitting especially well on pitches near the corners: An even .333 batting average in each spot.

Joe mentioned that Bumgarner liking to work up in the zone with his four seamer would reward the Cardinal hitters who hit the high hard stuff well (Jhonny Peralta being the prime beneficiary in that instance), but I actually think that he's more susceptible to the low ball hitters in the Cardinal lineup, namely Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk, provided that they can lay off the high fastball and get into hitters counts.

Holliday takes a lot of extra bases on pitches down in the zone from lefties, especially down and away, where Bumgarner likes to work against right handed hitters. Matt's also very good on pitches middle-in, so perhaps he can neutralize Bumgarner's cutter a bit more. As locked in as Holliday has been of late, this is certainly a matchup to watch, preferably with popcorn.

If Matt Holliday swings a hot bat against low strikes, Randal Grichuk is supernova.  Yes, the sample size is smaller, but I can tell you from having watched Grichuk in AAA this year he is a deadly fastball hitter in the lower half, much in the way Holliday has been for most of his career (minus the ability to make above average contact).

The other reason I like Grichuk's matchup is that Bumgarner doesn't really throw his offspeed stuff other than as a show me pitch. He changes speeds with his fastball and cutter, and does have the ability to throw his cutter as more of a hard slider at times, but that would generally end up right in Grichuk's wheelhouse if he misses in the strike zone with it.

For hitters on both sides of the plate, he goes to his fourseam fastball over half the time on the first pitch. As I stated when I discussed Kershaw's tendencies, this is particularly beneficial to Cardinal free-swingers like Matt Holliday (first pitch: .381/.393/.692), Jhonny Peralta (.371/.368/.559), and Yadier Molina (.313/.320/.456)...

That's Joe from yesterday and I agree: I do think that the Cardinals will be looking for hard stuff early in the count.  We don't have major league data on Grichuk that is of a significant sample size, but in the 9 MLB PA's where Grichuk has put the first pitch in play he has four hits: A single, a double, and two home runs (and a sacrifice bunt -- dammit Mike!).

Not bad. Not surprising either given his aggressive nature at the plate.

Dave Righetti has to know this, so watch for Grichuk to get that slider-looking cutter on a lot of first and second pitches, followed up by a change running away.  I don't think that strategy will work against Matt Holliday, who will sit back and foul off stuff until he gets a pitch to his liking, but I have a feeling Bumgarner will work him up in the zone as much as possible with the four seamer. I think that's a dangerous play given Holliday's solid eye on pitches up in the belt and letters area, and dangerous given how much Bumgarner misses with that pitch in the heart of the strike zone.

Either way, I expect Grichuk and Holliday to tee off against Bumgarner if he makes any mistakes early in the count near the lower half of the zone.  Happy hunting guys -- and leave the high hard stuff for Jhonny, will ya?