Batter versus Pitcher matchup data is flawed at best. While sabr-types scoff at the minuscule sample sizes from which to draw conclusions, there can be an element of truth to numbers. Batters often swear they “see” certain pitchers better than others, though early success is sure to cloud that perception.
To say any one hitter “has success” against Stephen Strasburg is unfair. Only four hitters have as many as 10 plate appearances against the Nats phenom so there isn’t a great pool of hitters with multiple looks against him. Oddly, the player with the most career plate appearances against Strasburg is also the man with the greatest success against him: Dan Uggla.
Uggla is the only hitter to take the mighty Strasburg deep twice in his career. Unsurprisingly, Dan Uggla is known as a hitter who loves to crush fastballs. Stephen Strasburg throws a very, very good fastball. It makes for a great individual matchup, as you will see below the jump.
The numbers above include two recent battles between Strasburg’s Nationals and Uggla’s Braves. The division rivals faced off twice in a week, once in Atlanta and once in DC. The first start was a rocky one for Strasburg, who lasted just five innings and battled command issues throughout. Using Pitch F/x data from Joe Lefkowitz, we can track the plan for attacking Uggla and how quickly the young hurler adapts.
May 26th, Atlanta GA
As mentioned above, this outing in Atlanta was not Strasburg’s finest. Allowing four runs and walking four against six strikeouts is what constitutes a bad outing for a pitcher of this calibre. Hey, it’s Stephen Strasburg. The bar is set pretty high.
Strasburg started out well enough in this game but really struggled to command his fastball in the later innings. His first at bat against Dan Uggla lead off the second inning after Strasburg worked around a first-inning single.
A few notes on the pitch charts below – red is for fastballs, blue is curves and grey is changeups. The larger the pitch, the harder it was thrown. The green box is the strike zone as described by Gameday. All images are from the catcher’s perspective, meaning the right-hand batting Uggla stands on the left side of the image. The scale of the diagrams shifts slightly to accommodate the particular pitches thrown in each PA. Any unlabelled pitches were called balls and strikes as indicated by their position inside (or outside of) the strike zone.
Strasburg’s struggles started in the second inning but against Uggla he was on point. He missed with a few fastballs and earned a few defensive swings as Uggla fought off a tough change and boring fastball. With Uggla geared up for a 2-2 fastball, Strasburg throws a just plain filthy changeup under his hands. A diving changeup that clocks in around 90 miles per hour. Uggla waves over the pitch. Gross.
A beautiful job of setting up a hitter with superlative stuff. During this at bat, the Atlanta broadcasters praised Uggla’s ability to turn around anybody’s fastball and how, in the past, Strasburg refused to admit that Uggla could catch up to his best heater. He doesn’t need to in this battle, throwing that unfair change to a hitter eager for the old number one.
Fast-forward to the third inning. After missing with fastballs and surrendering a run in the second, Strasburg gets two Ks in the bottom of the third before walking Martin Prado, bringing Uggla up once again.
A fastball down and away for strike one gets Stras ahead but two poor curves and two fastballs that aren’t close put Uggla on first base with a walk. Strasburg got out of the inning but his pitch count is rising on a hot day in Atlanta and the command just isn’t there.
Uggla’s next AB comes in the fifth inning. Strasburg allowed two more base runners in the fourth inning then repeats his third frame: striking out the first two hitters before allowing Martin Prado to reach via a solid single to left. Up steps our hero Dan Uggla.
Strasburg is nearly out of gas and seems unwilling to offer anything soft to Uggla after his changeup misses down in the dirt. Strasburg throws a fastball at the knees for a strike but then misses away twice in a row. 3-1 count with a tiring/struggling pitcher. Cookie watch! Merry Christmas, Mr. Uggla. Enjoy your tasty treat.
The Scene Shifts to Nationals Park – June 2nd
Stephen Strasburg was not bad at all on this day, he was downright nasty. This outing ranks as one of the best of Strasburg’s career, cruising through seven innings with just 90 pitches. Nine strikeouts with thirteen swinging strikes, no walks. A great outing.
With all his pitches working, Strasburg was ready for Uggla. He didn’t have to pound away with his fastball, his secondary offerings would be the key to success against Dead Red Dan Uggla (note: I just made that name up.)
Note: the pitch f/x calibrations are slightly different at Nationals Park, assigning Uggla a much smaller strikezone than the system gives him at Turner Field. In case you wondered why the green strikezone seems to have shrunk.
The first at bat between Uggla and Strasburg was better than the five-pitch strikeout indicates. It also shows that sometimes the most important pitch of an at bat isn’t the final one. Here, a close call in a crucial count makes all the difference for Uggla.
As noted above, Steven Strasburg was dealing on June 2nd. He struck out the side on fourteen pitches in the first, bringing Uggla up to lead off the second. Uggla spits on a fastball for strike one then Strasburg attempts coming inside with two straight fastballs that miss. Then the fateful pitch.
Stephen Strasburg’s changeup has a lot of movement. It is confounding to hitters and umpires alike. The 2-1 change that Strasburg throws Uggla looks borderline through the magic of pitch f/x. This screen cap shows just how close it was. The diving, arm-side movement might have caught the bottom corner of strikezone (as pitch f/x indicates) but it sure looks marginal on the replay.
That is a very, very big pitch. Rather than facing a juicy 3-1 count, Uggla now faces the uncertainty of 2-2, where Strasburg can delve deeper into his bag of cruel and usual tricks. Which he does, in completely unfair fashion. Prepare for devastation.
Strasburg doesn’t have to give in to Uggla and throw him a fastball, the pitch which Uggla wants and needs to badly. Great execution by Strasburg, taking advantage of a borderline call to swoop in for the kill.
Welp. That’s patently unfair. Knees buckle, heads shake, Ks registered. Thanks for coming out, Dan. Everything about your reaction is amazing.
Now completely flumoxxed, Uggla steps in for his second at bat of the day against a very, very sharp Stephen Strasburg. One can only imagine the thoughts running through the Popeye-armed second baseman. Will I ever see a fastball again? No, Dan. No you will not (with an assist from Mr. Mike Krukow.)
First pitch curve then two straight unfair changes. The final pitch is featured at the :40 mark of the highlight pack below. Poor Dan Uggla doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going at this point.
It is a lot of fun to watch Strasburg and the Nats develop a new plan of attack against a guy who, ever so briefly, had his number. Who makes the next adjustment? I know that I’ll be watching closely the next time Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to start against Uggla’s Braves. Adjusting to adjustments, the name at this, the highest level.