After having Sunday off, the ALCS starts back up again tonight in Kansas City. With the Orioles down 2-0, it’s not exactly how anyone drew it up before the series began. While Baltimore found themselves within striking distance of a win in both games, the bullpen eventually ended up allowing the go-ahead run(s) to score in the 9th inning or later in each contest.
One of the key moments in the Game 1 loss occurred in the top of the 10th inning, when Kansas City left fielder Alex Gordon led off the inning against Darren O’Day. After taking a sinker well off the plate and swinging through a slider on the inside corner, Gordon deposited a sinker over the right field wall for a home run. Gordon’s home run against O’Day delivered the big blow against the chances of Baltimore ultimately winning this game, at least in terms of Win Expectancy (resulting in a 35.5% change). I hate to do this to our readers, but here it is again.
The first thing I thought while watching that ball leave the yard was, “How the hell did he yank that out of the park to right field?” Based on what I thought I was initially looking at, it appeared that O’Day made a pretty good pitch up on the outside edge of the plate. Looking at the pitch f/x data (see figure on left), it confirms that the pitch was literally on the very edge of the upper and outside part of the strike zone. It’s difficult to hit a pitch in that location, let alone for a left handed batter to pull it out of the park for a home run.
However, that’s not the interesting part. The interesting thing about it is how the hits are distributed. You’d expect the heat map above to be associated with a lot of opposite field home runs, but as one can see in the figure below, that’s not the case with Gordon.
What you will see is that Gordon has no problem taking a fastball opposite field for doubles, but he won’t hit many of them out of the park. It’s not as if he has difficulty hitting home runs on those pitches though, as it appears he has the unusual ability to yank them over the fence to center field and right field, which is not what what one would expect, especially for someone like Gordon, who is not thought of as being a prolific home run hitter. As the figure shows, only 2 of his 12 home runs on fastballs up and away (since 2009) have not gone to right or center field.
While at first glance it may have appeared that Gordon hit a good pitch from O’Day, further examination tells us that it was a good pitch, just not a good pitch to throw to Alex Gordon. There’s a good chance that O’Day and the Orioles knew that as well, based on where Hundley called for the pitch, and where O’Day ended up throwing it. Mistakes in pitching location happen all the time, and sometimes those mistakes don’t amount to anything. In this instance it did. And since the Orioles now find themselves down by 2 games in the ALCS, they’ll need to limit mistakes like this more than ever.