Last season, Scott Baker was the owner of one of the American League’s best fastball. According to fangraphs.com, his fastball was 21.9 runs above average, seeding him third in the league behind such pitching nobility like the Cy Young award-winning Zack Greinke (25.8 runs above average) and Justin Verlander (25.1 runs above average). This season, however, is a different story as the Fabulous Baker Boy has seen his fastball obliterated across the summer sky. Instead of soaring with the big guns at the front of the leaderboard, Baker’s fastball is residing toward the bottom of the league at -5.1.
His success with the heater was geared around pinpoint location. Baker exercised an uncanny ability to place his fastball all over the strike zone as well as just outside of it thereby enticing opponents into making contact into less favorable pitches. At the same time, this kind of ownership of the strike zone can invite some unwanted contact. And this season, it appears that teams have figured that out.
1st Pitch Strike%
There is little evidence of Baker making any changes to his fastball. The velocity is still in the 91-mph range and he delivers it around 62% of his total offerings. Yet, instead of the allowing a manageable .259/.309/.433 batting line like he did in ’09, teams have hit .317/.364/.538 off of his number one pitch this year.
For some reason, the wheels fall off altogether for Baker after his 50thpitch of the night. Prior to that number, Baker has held opponents to a .246/.272/.357 batting line while allowing four home runs with a decent 5.6 K/BB ratio. Anything after pitch number 50 and Baker might as well be chucking pure gasoline out there. The opposition has tagged him for 11 home runs as well as a .331/.366/.631 line and a slightly depressed 3.45 K/BB. Perhaps Baker’s pitch pattern is too recognizable by the third time through the lineup.
In order to work past an outstanding Tampa Bay Ray lineup – one that contains some very good fastball hitters, fifth-best in the AL (21.9 wFB) – Baker needs to be more precise with his heat, using the corners and the fringe to his advantage.