Opposing Pitcher Preview: 5/25-5/27 Harrell, Norris, Happ

This weekend the Dodgers (30-14, First Place NL West) will face two new righties and a familiar lefty. First, the Astros (21-23, 3rd Place NL Central) will throw out Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris, finishing with J.A. Happ.

Friday, May 25: Lucas Harrell (R):

Drafted by the White Sox in the 4th round of the 2004 draft, Harrell has had a long road to the majors. Once protected from the Rule V draft by the White Sox, he was claimed on waivers a year later by the Astros, his current team. In 2009, Baseball America ranked Harrell as the White Sox's 9th best prospect. He was never ranked as high again. Now making his 15th Major League start, Harrell has shown an inability to strike hitters out (5.63K/9 career), instead choosing to pitch to the edges of the plate, which has led to his high career walk ratio (4.47) and unacceptably low K:BB ratio of 1.33. However, what Harrell is able to do, is get ground balls.He does this by throwing a hard 92mph fastball 70% of the time, in tandem with a slider, changeup and curveball. Each of his offspeed pitches is between 82-85mph, used about 10% of the time each. What's odd is his two-seam fastball shows over 10 inches of horizontal movement on average, but only four inches of depth. Even with that incredible lateral movement, without much sink it's simply shifting from one part of the barrel to another.

What to Watch For: Harrell has an odd ability to keep the ball to the extreme outer part of the plate against lefties, but against righties loses his control. He'll attack primarily with the four-and two-seam fastballs, using the curveball as his primary out pitch. Watch for our lefties to try to work the count, but for our righties to get something they can drive.

Saturday, May 26: Bud Norris (R)

Bud Norris has been a revelation for the Astros. Now 27, Norris has maintained his high strikeout totals (8.87 per 9)while limiting his walks (career low 2.83BB/9 so far in 2012) for a career best K:BB ratio of 3.22. He does all this with predominantly four-seam fastball (92mph, 47%) and slider (85mph, 37%) mix. He also throws a two-seam fastball and changeup. What's interesting to note is that over the last four years, the velocity on his fastball and slider have dropped 94mph and 88mph, respectively, to just the 92 and 85 mentioned above. This could be a bad sign in the future, but for now he's doing just fine.

What to Watch For: Norris is a fly ball pitcher. Expect him to get the ball up in the zone to our hitters and give them the opportunity to drive the ball. His stuff is very good, however, so they may be tempted to swing at pitches that aren't as hittable as they seem. Norris is 6th in MLB in swinging strike percentage, as you can see in the chart below, taken from Fangraphs (current as of 5/21/12). In case you were wondering, no Dodger pitchers are in the top 10.

Name K% SwStr%
Jeff Samardzija 25.5% 13.3%
Edwin Jackson 22.8% 13.1%
Cole Hamels 26.9% 13.0%
Shaun Marcum 21.4% 11.8%
Justin Verlander 26.6% 11.7%
Bud Norris 23.6% 11.7%

Sunday, May 27: J.A. Happ (L) Act II

This is what I had to say about Happ before we faced him on April 20:

Best known to Los Angeles fans as the reason Roy Oswalt doesn't wear Dodger Blue, J.A. Happ has had a nice start to his age 28 season. Through two starts, Happ is striking out more hitters while walking fewer than his career averages. Happ uses a pretty standard rotation, throwing his 90mph fastball (65% of the time), 82mph changeup (5%), 84mph slider (18%) and 76mph curveball (11%). Occassionally, he'll turn his fastball over and give it some sink, but it maintains the same velocity as his four-seamer. When he does go with the two-seam fastball, it has an average of 10 inches of horizontal and vertical movement! It's really a wonder why he doesn't throw this pitch more. Happ will throw all of his pitches away from both right and left-handed hitters due to his lack of velocity. What's interesting here is how similar in velocity his offspeed pitches are. He should be able to generate some poor contact on his curveball because the velocity differential is high enough, but he needs to make sure he locates his other pitches to be successful.

What to Watch For: Watch for Happ to pitch aggressively to both right- and left-handed hitters. Both his curveball and slider break pretty close to 12-6, so I don't think our lefties will have any sort of additional issues. I expect the Dodgers to have more success against this soft-thrower.

Pick to Click: AJ Ellis

What Has Changed: You may remember, in that April 20th start Happ pitched 6 innings, allowed three runs, four walks, and three strikeouts. Oh, and a two run home run to Matt Kemp in the first inning that proved to be the deciding runs. Happ is probably a little irked to have pitched so well (outside of the walks) and lost the game by the third batter he faced. Since that start, Happ has made six starts and opposing hitters have a .853 OPS against. Over those six starts, he has gone 33.1 IP (5.55IP avg), with 37 hits, 18 earned runs, 13 walks, 32 strikeouts and 7 home runs. Outside of the strikeout total, it's been a rough five weeks for Happ. Hopefully the Dodgers can make it six weeks.

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