Breaking Down Peavy and Kuroda

After five months of waiting, it's finally gameday again. Today, Hiroki Kuroda and Jake Peavy will be squaring off in what should be a great opening day. Let's take a look at how each pitcher pitches and how they might do during the game. Here's the career statistics for the projected starters against Peavy and Kuroda.

Dodgers vs. Peavy PA AVG/OBP/SLG
Martin 30 .148/.233/.185
Loney 20 .263/.300/.684
Hudson 27 .292/.246/.417
Furcal 44 .286/.318/.667
Blake 5 .500/.600/.750
Manny 5 .250/200/.250
Kemp 2 .000/.500/.000
Ethier 33 .138/.212/.138

Because Peavy is a pretty darn good pitcher, these guys haven't had a lot of success off of him. Manny and Blake spent their whole career until July of last year in the AL, so they haven't faced Peavy much. Kemp hasn't hardly faced him because Kemp wasn't allowed to start against "tough righties" much. Of the group, only Loney and Furcal have ever hit a home run off of Peavy. Loney's got 2 doubles and 2 bombs in 20 PA while Furcal has 3 doubles, 2 triples, and 3 homers in 44 PA. Ethier seems to struggle the most against Peavy, with no extra base hits and 9 K's.

Padres vs. Kuroda PA AVG/OBP/SLG
Hundley 3 .667/.667/.667
A. Gonzalez 11 .250/.455/.750
Eckstein 0 --
L. Rodriguez 6 .250/.250/.250
Kouzmanoff 11 .300/.364/.700
Headley 6 .500/.500/.667
Gerut 3 .333/.333/.333
Giles 12 .333/.333/.917

There's not really much to learn here because nobody has faced Kuroda enough. Brian Giles hit 2 home runs off of Kuroda last year, the only player in the league to hit more than one. Both of Adrian Gonzalez's hits off of Kuroda were extra base hits, and he had 3 walks and no strikeouts, so he seems to see Kuroda well.

 

Peavy, the 2007 NL Cy Young Winner, is 3-0 on Opening Day and 13-1 with a 2.32 ERA in 22 starts against the Dodgers for his career. Obviously, he's had their number. He's got a lifetime 2.77 ERA at Petco and holds batters to a .613 OPS there.

Hopefully Kuroda will play better on the road this year. Last year he was only 3-8 away from Dodger Stadium and his K/BB ratio dropped from 4.43 to 1.93. Also note that while Kuroda has never started on opening day in the MLB he has started opening day in Japan five times. After the jump we'll use Josh Kalk's PITCHf/x tool to look at why each pitcher is effective.

 

Hiroki Kuroda pitched better than expected last year even with a 5.7 K/9 because of his great control (2.1 BB/9) and strong groundball tendencies (51.3 GB%). His home run rate should regress somewhat to the mean but this should be offset by the improvement of the infield defense. Kuroda was economical last year, averaging only 3.53 pitches per plate appearance compared to the MLB average of 3.80. Here we have a chart showing the speed and outcome of each of his pitches.

type Speed (MPH) Break x (inches) Break z (inches) Balls Strikes Called Strikes Swinging Foul/Foul tip In play outs Singles Doubles Triples Home Runs
Fastball 92.74 -5.45 8.2 380 157 64 252 174 58 14 0 5
Sinker 88.3 -5.4 2.58 178 22 64 55 62 16 6 0 3
Slider 84.28 0.5 2.92 233 95 110 82 67 32 5 0 4
Cutter 92.8 -8.35 6.48 193 110 26 146 141 34 9 1 4

Kuroda has a 4 pitch repertoire. He's got a fastball, cutter, sinker (which I think is actually a shuuto), and a slider. Breaking it down even further:

Pitch Strike% Whiff %
Fastball 65.5 11.3
Sinker 56.1 31.1
Slider 62.8 36.7
Cutter 63.1 7.2

We can see from this chart that while Kuroda throws fairly hard, he can't get people to miss when he throws fastballs (this includes cutters). Only the shuuto and slider have any kind of consistency in getting strikeouts, so he should throw these whenever he is up 0-2 or 1-2. Like most pitchers, Kuroda throws more strikes with fastballs than other pitches so he must use the fastball to get ahead and keep from walking batters. However, he also has very good control of the slider and can throw this pitch in any count. The difference between a good and bad slider for Kuroda is mostly in the location. This is a chart of the hits allowed off of Kuroda's slider:

Kuroda_hits_slider_medium

And these are the sliders that resulted in a swing and miss:

Kuroda_outs_slider_medium

The misses are about half a mile per hour harder on average and break more down and away, but the key is the location. Most of the hits catch way too much of the plate whereas the swing and misses are usually not even going to be strikes. If Kuroda wants to be successful, he must bury this pitch low and away to righty batters and then use the shuuto to keep the lefties (Gonzalez and Giles) off balance.

Jake Peavy is a similiar pitcher to Kuroda. They both throw about the same speed and use a fastball-slider combination as their main pitches. What sets Peavy apart from even someone as good as Kuroda though is the absurd amount of movement he generates.

type Speed (MPH) Break x (inches) Break z (inches) Balls Strikes Called Strikes Swinging Foul/Foul tip In play outs Singles Doubles Triples Home Runs
Fastball 93 -7.75 7.26 385 216 67 175 114 37 9 2 7
Curveball 78.23 9.47 -3.45 38 7 19 14 19 2 0 0 1
Slider 83.91 4 1.71 396 144 173 197 122 44 8 1 7
Change 84.27 -5.7 2.3 26 6 13 11 5 4 0 1 1
Splitter 92.16 -4.45 8.03 191 130 41 120 54 16 7 0 2

 

He's got a 5 pitch repertoire, although he throws either fastball or slider at least 3/4 of the time. His curve and change-up are just show me pitches used to steal a strike. You'll notice during the game that his fastball has wicked movement. You can see in the chart that it breaks more than 2 inches more than Kuroda's fastball on average even though they throw about the same speed. HIs slider also breaks hard away from righties and averages about 3.5 inches more break than Kuroda's. These subtle differences help to generate Peavy's huge strikeout rate.

Jake Peavy got batters to chase pitches more than anyone else in the MLB last year, getting swings on 32.4% of his pitches out of the strike zone. He also ended up with the third lowest strike percentage, 47.6%. Peavy is able to do this because his pitches move so much. This fools hitters and makes them swing at pitches that are much more difficult to hit. One of the keys to the game for the Dodgers will be to lay off his pitches out of the zone, particularly his nasty slider, and force him to throw something they can hit. Because of  Peavy's tendency to throw a lot of balls, he averaged 4.03 pitches per plate appearance last year, much higher than the league average. If the Dodgers can grind out at bats they could force the Padres into their relatively weak bullpen early in the game, giving themselves a huge advantage.

I would look to these two aspects of these pitchers to see how the Dodgers fare in the game. Peavy is always a huge challenge for any team, but if Kuroda can locate his slider and the Dodgers can lay off (or at least fight off) of some of Peavy's better pitches and get Peavy out of the game then the Dodgers should be able to notch their first victory of the season.

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