Orioles Think Tank

Orioles Coverage for the Information Age

Mark Hendrickson?

Posted by Mike on April 6, 2006

I'm sure a lot of you out there have noted that the Orioles seem to struggle against soft-tossing lefties; Mark Hendrickson in particular.  I can imagine that Hendrickson is an awkward pitcher to face- he's 6'9'' and can't crack 90 mph.  The thing is, major league hitters seem to disagree.  Up until today's game, Hendrickson's career totals were as follows:

  IP       H      HR    BB      SO    ERA    ERA+   WHIP

556.7  670    70    147    273    5.21     86       1.47

Against the Orioles, Hendrickson has posted the following numbers:

 IP       H      HR    BB    SO    ERA    ERA+   WHIP

87.3   95      12    19     44    4.02     111     1.31

And that was before tonight's game:

 IP       H      HR    BB    SO    ERA    WHIP

9.0      3       0      1       5     0.00     0.44

So, exactly why was Hendrickson so successful?  Let's explore a few theories.

1) He threw strikes.  In fact, 69 out of 106 of his pitches were strikes.  That's 65%.  Compare that with Tampa Bay's strike efficiency in the past two games, where the Orioles scored a combined 25 runs: 201 strikes / 345 pitches = 58%.

2) The Orioles helped him out.  Maybe you're not so convinced by what amounts to seemingly moderate difference in strike efficiency.  Intuitively, it does seem like a bit of a stretch to attribute all of Hendrickson's success to his ability to throw a strike 7% more often than the guys who gave up 12.5 runs/game directly before him.  So, let's re-visit something I wrote a month ago in The Orioles vs. The AL:

  • P/PA (Pitches per plate appearance): Bal- 3.65/ AL- 3.74

Only Tampa Bay saw fewer pitches per plate appearance than the Orioles in the AL. The average AL team had 38.3 PA’s per game, the Orioles- 37.9. With some pretty easy math, it becomes apparent that opposing pitchers were able to throw about 5 less pitches per game against the Orioles than the average AL team; and 844 fewer pitches on the season.

Often times, people can see the value of taking pitches for the intrinsic value of a base on balls. Here, we see an example of a team that hurt itself by not taking pitches and allowing opposing starters to pitch deeper into games.

Coincidentally, only TB was less efficient at working deep into counts.  For a pitcher like Hendrickson, who pitches for TB, the Orioles should be his best chance to work deep into a game.  For their part, the Orioles made it as easy as possible for him to do so. 

In today's game, an Orioles batter came to the plate 31 times.  In those appearances, they averaged 3.42 P/PA.  That may not seem like it's particularly poor, but remember that the O's were 2% below average in P/PA in 2005 and were the second worst team in the league.  Tonight, they were 9% below the 2005 average.

Simply put, the O's have to allow themselves to work deeper in counts.  That will let them see better pitches, put more runners on base, and make the opposing starter work harder to retire the same amount of batters.   Somehow, Hendrickson is capitalizing on their inability to do so.  Perhaps he paints the corner well with what look like juicy pitches, I don't really know. 

3) The Orioles don't hit lefties well.  Last year, the Orioles posted a .762 OPS against righties, which was good for 6th out of 14 AL teams.  They posted a .760 OPS against lefties, which was good for 7th in the AL. 

OK, maybe this theory doesn't hold water.  But I should point out that Luis Matos posted a platoon advantage for the first time ever last year and is likely to regress against lefties this year; new Oriole Kevin Millar has a reverse platoon advantage over the past three years (hitting for .50 points higher in SLG against righties); and new Oriole Corey Patterson doesn't seem to be able to hit anybody.

4) The Orioles don't hit lefty soft-tossers well.  Providing an objective statistical base for this proved to be quite difficult.  What I ended up doing is looking at each AL rotation and picking out the left-handed starters that immediately jumped out (to me, anyway) as hard-throwers.  Below are each pitcher's ERA vs. the Orioles in the past three years, followed by their total ERA in that same timeframe.

Name- ERA vs. O's/ERA

Scott Kazmir– 3.33/4.06

Randy Johnson– 2.12/3.38

C.C. Sabathia– 2.21/3.91

Johan Santana– 3.04/2.83

Admittedly, I have created an arbitrary selection process, so feel free to  comment as to how I could better illustrate this point.  Nevertheless; if anything, this data shows that Orioles hit hard-throwers particularly poorly.  More likely, this data shows absolutlely nothing- which means that my original assertion that the Orioles consistently struggle against soft-tossing lefties is unlikely to be true.  Maybe I just think that way because of Hendrickson.

Well, that's all the theories I am going to run out there today.  In my opinion, the Orioles' struggles against Hendrickson are due in large part to theory #2, with a little help from #1.  I'm sure some of you have your own theories.

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8 Responses to “Mark Hendrickson?”

  1. Jay said

    Look at Moyer’s career stats against the Orioles:

    16-3 with a 2.95 ERA

  2. Ben said

    The irony of last night is that, in the first two games, the Orioles succeeded by taking more pitches (they took 14 walks in the first two games), specifically from the starters.

    Opening Day: Kazmir threw 104 pitches to 22 batters (4.72 per batter), the entire TB staff threw 169 pitches to 41 batters, 4.12 per batter.
    Opening Night: McClung threw 95 pitches to 21 batters (4.52 per batter), the entire TB staff threw 176 pitches to 50(!) batters (3.52 per batter–and from my POV, the last few batters were simply swinging at the first non-ball to get the game over with).

    Anecdotally, I concur with the soft-tossing-lefty-mojo theory. The O’s sometimes remind me of Pedro Cerrano from Major League. “Straight ball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid…”

  3. Jay said

    Good thing we don’t have to face our own Bruce Chen!

  4. Sam said

    More specifically, I think we just suck against soft tossers who throw strikes in general. We were shutout 5 times last year. Here are the starting pitchers, pitches per AB, and strike percentages:

    Kirk Saarloos: 4.2 pitches/AB, 61% strikes
    Matt Clement: 3.53 pitches/AB, 68% strikes
    David Wells: 4.14 pitches/AB, 66% strikes
    Josh Towers: 3.89 pitches/AB, 71% strikes
    Josh Towers 2.97 pitches/AB, 71% strikes

    Admittedly, only looking at the shutouts is somewhat arbitrary, but I don’t have all day to do this. The number of pitches/AB isn’t glaring. What is glaring is the percentage of strikes thrown and the people who threw them. Excluding Matt Clement, you have 3(4 games) soft tossing control artists, one of which is left handed. It appears that our problem may be generally against soft tossers who throw strikes, and not just left handers. Basically, what I’m trying to say is, who gets shut out by Josh Towers twice in one season?

  5. Mike said

    Ben and Sam-

    Excellent research. Saarloos and Towers? Wow.

    Let's try to construct an all-time "Shut-down the O's" pitching staff without actually including any good pitchers. Right now we have:

    Hendrickson
    Towers
    Saarloos

    I'm suggesting we add

    Ottawa's own John Halama
    Kirk Rueter
    Joe Mays

    Any others?

  6. Jay said

    Jamie Moyer is the clear ace of that staff…

  7. Ben said

    Well, let’s see. Here’s some career ERA comparisons for relatively soft-tossing LHP (Player, starts vs. BAL, ERA vs. BAL/career ERA, WHIP vs. BAL/career WHIP).

    Jamie Moyer: 26, 2.95/4.16, 1.11/1.31
    Mark Hendrickson: 15, 3.64/5.12, 1.22/1.45
    Joe Kennedy: 8, 3.83/4.89, 1.22/1.46
    Mike Maroth: 6, 2.76/4.80, 0.94/1.40

    Not a soft-tosser, but since he relies on a good curveball…
    Barry Zito: 12, 2.72/3.55, 1.10/1.23

  8. Mike said

    I’m convinced. Add Maroth and Kennedy to the team. Zito and Moyer are probably too good to qualify…

    Good work guys.

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