Now that's how you want your closer to pitch


I know it wasn't a save situation. It wasn't even a particularly high-leverage (aka "clutch") situation, not with the Tigers up 9-4 over the A's headed into the ninth inning. According to Fangraphs, the Tigers already had a 99% win expectancy at that point. Still, it was the perfect environment to get K-Rod -- who hadn't pitched in seven days, and whose last outing was extremely shaky -- re-acclimated to pitching the ninth.

Coming into this game, the two things you really wanted to see from K-Rod were 1) limiting the walks and 2) getting some whiffs. In his previous seven outings, he was averaging 0.63 walks per inning, a number much, much higher than the 0.19 walks per inning he averaged in 2015. He cut down the A's in 1-2-3 fashion without issuing a walk, and earning two swinging strikeouts in the process.

That'll put the "K" back in "K-Rod."

But enough words! You came here for the fancy graphics!

Let's break down K-Rod's easy-breezy outing against the A's.

Josh Phegley



What I like about this at-bat is that he mixed his pitch speeds and locations very well. Three fastballs moving outside, inside, and outside again set up 1-2 count, and only then did he throw his offspeed pitches -- a curveball and a changeup, again moving low-outside to high-inside again.

Three more fastballs, high to low-outside to low-and-further-in (in a spot where Phegley has had trouble), and he had himself a swinging strikeout.

The only bad pitch in that at-bat was pitch #7, a fastball in a 2-2 count that I think he intended to throw on the outside corner and missed by quite a bit. The fourth-pitch curveball was also a fair bit outside, but on a 1-2 count when the batter has only seen fastballs to that point, that's a decent "waste pitch."

Marcus Semien


If K-Rod can pitch like this on a regular basis, we have absolutely nothing to worry about.

He hit the low edge of the strikezone with an 89 MPH fastball where Semien couldn't do anything with it, then dropped a 74 MPH curveball "on the black" where Semien could only foul it off. That 15 MPH differential is nice.

Only then, in the 0-2 count, did K-Rod go to the changeup, and it was filthy.

Coco Crisp


Coco Crisp may not have a super-sexy batting average, but there's a reason he has a career .328 on-base percentage with a career .731 OPS to go with it. His walk rate is usually above-average, and so far this year he's walking at an 11 percent rate, while the league average is only 8 percent.

Translation: he's a patient hitter who can hit for a bit of power, and he's a certified Tiger-killer (his career slashline against Detroit is .314/.354/.450, with an .804 OPS).

Here, K-Rod fed him a fastball in a spot where Crisp isn't as successful, and it resulted in a one-pitch flyout to right field.

The difference one game can make

It's early enough in the season that a good outing like this can heavily impact the statistics. With this ninth inning, K-Rod improved his K/9 rate from 4.3 to 6.1, and dropped his BB/9 rate from 5.7 to 4.9 -- which I suppose just means that some of these stats should be eaten with several pounds of salt until they've had time to stabilize.

But a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts and no walks from your closer? That's a beautiful thing no matter how early in the season it is.
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