Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Deconstructing Radke

Earlier in the season, after a "hard luck" loss in which Brad Radke had staked yet another team to a 1st inning lead (the Royals, no less), I criticized Radke for his inability or unwillingness to make adjustments to solve his most chronic problem. Foremost, batters seemed too comfortable and apparently were sitting on pitches over the outside half of the plate, yet he did nothing to move batters off the plate or alter his patterns to put some doubt in their minds. Everyone knew exactly how he would start off the game, and he kept delivering to their expectations as if that wasn't a problem.

Radke is a fine pitcher, perhaps even one of the better #2-3 starters in the league, but he has a maddening tendency to coast through stretches of a game with "get it over" fastballs with nothing on them but a prayer that they might be hit right at a fielder, and there isn't a less intimidating figure on the mound in the American League. He is the embodiment of passivity, in demeanor and act. Sometimes the passive state can be a strength, as Zen masters from the Ancients down through Jamie Moyer have shown us. However, sometimes it just invites others to trample us underfoot. I'd like to look at the 7th inning of last night's game, particularly the way he dealt with the rookie Brian Anderson, as another case in point.

Entering the bottom of the 7th, Radke was protecting a 3-2 lead, facing the bottom half of the White Sox order: Aaron Rowand, Juan Uribe, Joe Crede, and Anderson. All righty bats. Radke had the advantages in his favor for finishing his evening strong and handing a lead to Rincon and Nathan. Yet, he was knocked out of the inning with his team trailing on the scoreboard.

Here's his pitch sequence for the inning:

#6 Aaron Rowand, RHB
Fastball, down the middle. Swing, in play.
Flyout to Leftfield.

#7 Juan Uribe, RHB
Fastball, down the middle. Strike.
Fastball, low and outside. Ball.
Curve, outside corner. Strike.
Fastball, middle-high. Ball.
Fastball, middle-low. Ball.
Change-up, low and outside. Ball.

#8 Joe Crede, RHB
Fastball, high-outside. Swing, in play.
Flyout to Rightfield.

OK, at this point, I want you to notice a couple things. One, that six of eight pitches have been 88-90 mph fastballs. Two, that his two off-speed pitches to Uribe were off the outside corner. Three, he hasn't thrown an inside pitch in the inning. Even when he had Uribe behind on a 1-2 count, then walked him by throwing three balls, he never once showed the batter something inside to bust him on the handle or move him off the plate. Remember, we're talking about a righthanded pitcher throwing to righty batters.

Still, he got a couple flyouts, there's only a runner on 1st base, and here comes the #9 hitter, a rookie named Brian Anderson, making his major league debut. The Ace of the Staff should feast on this baby, right?

Here is how Radke approached him the first two times Anderson came to bat in the game:

3rd inning, 2 out, none on
Fastball, middle-low. Ball.
Fastball, down the middle. Strike.
Change-up, outside corner. Swinging strike.
Curve, low and outside. Ball.
Fastball, down the middle. Foul.
Curve, outside corner. Foul.
Fastball, down the middle. Swinging strike.

5th inning, 1 out, runner on 1st.
Fastball, middle-low. Ball.
Fastball, outside corner. Strike.
Fastball, inside corner. Swinging strike.
Fastball, middle high. Swing, in play.
Groundout to SS.

Notice that Radke struck out Anderson in the 3rd by mixing up his pitches; but, he also established a pattern of working from the middle of the plate with fastballs, to the outside corner with off-speed pitches. In the 5th, he threw four fastballs. One on the inside corner, at which Anderson offered a healthy cut. The location pattern is a simple, slight variation on what he did with Anderson in the 3rd, mainly working from the middle-away. He still hasn't even tried to move the rookie off the plate, welcoming him to the big leagues with something to think about.

Now here is their 3rd meeting in the 7th:

#9 Brian Anderson, RHB
7th inning, 2 out, runner on 1st.
Fastball, down the middle. Strike swinging.
Fastball, outside corner. Strike swinging.
Fastball, low and outside. Ball.
Fastball, middle-high. Foul.
Fastball, outside corner. Foul.
Fastball, tailing inside at the waist.

Now let's stop here a moment. Do you recognize a pattern developing?

I think Anderson saw it. He didn't look at all uncertain. He's up there taking his cuts. The sixth pitch was an obvious waste pitch; and although it moved Anderson's feet, he looked the ball into the glove and had no trouble getting out of the way. If the pitch had a message, it was nothing more than, "Guess which pitch comes next in the pattern, kiddo."

Radke had already shown Anderson, along with everyone else in the lineup, that he likes to work away from the batter. In the 3rd inning, he showed the rookie his favorite move a couple times: the off-speed pitch painting the outside corner. On a 2-2 count now, should Anderson have any reason to look for another location but middle-away? It's just a question of whether the pitch will be a fastball over the middle or a slow pitch off the corner. As long as the kid reviewed the charts with his hitting coach or looked at video before coming to at-bat, he should be ready. He looked ready. And he was.

The next pitch, Radke threw a change-up off the outside corner. Anderson started forward as the ball left Radke's hand, but then he recognized the pitch, stayed back, and reached down to pull the ball into Leftfield for a single, moving Uribe to 2nd base.

Up came Timo Perez, a lefty bat who had doubled to lead off the 4th inning. Radke started him with a fastball, thigh-high and just off the inside corner. Ball. The next pitch, he immediately went back outside with the fastball--and Perez extended his arms and pounced on it, oh, like he knew exactly what to expect or something. Another double for Timo Perez--a guy who came into the game hitting .214/.270/.302. Both runners came in to score, putting Chicago up, 4-3.

As Radke walked off the field, Dick Bremer mentioned the walk to Uribe as if that had caused all the trouble. No. Radke blew the lead because he couldn't stay one step ahead of a #9 hitter making his big league debut and Timo "My OPS is worse than Luis Rivas" Perez. It's not that Radke really fell apart. He's just prone to falling back on predictable, passive approaches, and he lets batters get too comfortable.

Sometimes his timing is good enough to compensate. Sometimes he's saved by his defense or balls get hit right to a fielder. Sometimes balls in play find a gap or get raked out of the yard. There is usually one or two points in the game when the batters clue in to him and the hits find holes, producing the classic "pretty good game except for a few mistakes" Brad Radke start. And that is why Brad Radke may be a fine second banana, but no matter how often Dick & Bert proclaim their man-crushes for him, he is not and never will be a true Staff Ace.


At 8/17/2005 10:27 PM, Anonymous bjhess said...

Excellent post!


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