MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Arizona Diamondbacks

I know what you’re thinking – who on earth is Kevin Siegrist? The Cardinals rookie reliever is hardly a household name. Not many 41st round draft picks are. As a testament to the Cardinals incredible scouting and player development model, they plucked Siegrist out of Palm Beach Community College in Wellington, Florida in the 2008 draft and, lo and behold, have themselves a fireballing left-handed reliever some five years later.

Siegrist slowly climbed the minor league ladder, starting from short-season rookie ball all the way to the big leagues in 2013, where the 6’5″ fireballer finds himself logging important innings for the best team in baseball.

Last night, Siegrist checked in for the Cardinals with his team clinging to a 3-1 lead. Manager Mike Matheny presented his young hurler with a very tall task – get through the top of the Reds vaunted lineup. Kevin Siegrist was certainly up to the task.

Matheny sent Siegrist to face Shin-Soo Choo, Todd Frazier and Joey Votto. Two of those four hitters rank in the top four in baseball for on-base percentage. They are all very good hitters in their own right. With a two run lead, Siegrist had his work cut out for him.

Against left-handed pitching, Joey Votto is one of the best game, posting a .913 OPS since the start of 2011, best in baseball for left-handed batters. Shin-Soo Choo is much more vulnerable to arm-side pitchers, posting below-average numbers for his entire career without the platoon split. Todd Frazier, a right-handed batter, does very well against lefties as one would expect.

The first two at bats of this inning went very, very well for the Siegrist. He struck out Choo, who homered in his previous plate appearance against starter Joe Kelly, and then blew Frazier away on three pitches. Siegrist fell behind Choo 3-1 but consecutive fastballs poured in at 95 mph plus did the job, the deciding pitch locking Choo up down and away on the black at 98 mph. Frazier got the “good morning, good afternoon, good night” treatment, sitting down after three straight lethal fastballs.

Up stepped Joey Votto. Kevin Siegrist greeted him in a very neighbourly way – with a 97 mph fastball on the inside half.

Having throwing nothing but fastballs to this point, Siegrist opted for a different look against Votto, throwing a hard slider that missed up for ball one. Cardinals catcher Yadi Molina called for the slider again and this time Siegrist dropped in for a called strike. Not the sharpest breaking ball but a decent change of pace from the fireballer.

Now in the driver’s seat, Molina and Siegrist reached for the unhittable fastball down and away. Pitches thrown in this location are nearly impossible for batters to make anything of – left-handed hitters have managed just a .137 batting average while slugging just .154 when fastballs are placed in this location. Votto fares a little better but his .250 average is well below his normal excellence. Siegrist misses off the plate to even the count at 2-2.

Once again, Molina calls for the same pitch in the same spot. This time Siegrist delivers a strike at the knees. Votto watches helplessly and the inning is over.

Joey Votto strike outs are not exactly the rarest of creatures but it is unusual to see him look this uncomfortable in a given at bat. This isn’t the first time Siegrist has had his way with Joey Votto, they faced off in two different games earlier this season. The result? Two more strikeouts.

Three career plate appearances, three strikeouts for Joey Votto against Kevin Siegrist. Their first encounter, on June 8th, ended just as the one featured above: Votto swung through a first pitch fastball then, after a brief battle, froze on a fastball on the outside corner at the bottom of the strikezone. It is interesting to note that, according to the pitch fx system in Cincinnati, Siegrist only sat around 94 mph in June, rather than the 97 we saw yesterday in St. Louis.

They met again the next day, this time in the 10th inning of a game the Cards blew open with a seven-run rally in extras. Siegrist showed Votto his breaking ball for the first time, eventually striking the Reds slugger out with that same fastball on the outside corner. Interesting that Votto did not swing at a single pitch in their second meeting.

votto seigrist times 2

The first pitch fastball giffed above (and Votto’s max effort swing at it) represents the most hittable pitch Siegrist offered the former MVP in their three matchups. It is fair to assume the extra oomph Siegrist gained in his fastball caught Votto by surprise, having seen him 92-94 earlier this year.

Joey Votto will learn how to hit Kevin Siegrist – he’s Joey Votto! Hitting and learning are the two things that he does best. His aggressive hack on the first pitch last night points to some gained knowledge after seeing him twice before.

The next time, Votto will be ready. Just as Yadi Molina will be ready, perhaps to call for a first pitch slider to bust Joey Votto inside after a steady diet of fastballs away. It’s a chess match featuring two of baseball’s best minds and one of its most promising young arms.

Some stats and numbers courtesy of Brooks Baseball, Fangraphs, and ESPN Stats & Information.