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Cardinals now embracing elevation

Apr 14, 2013, 11:15 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers v St. Louis Cardinals Getty Images

The Cardinals have, for a while, been known as the ground ball team. Many a pitcher has joined the pitching staff, told to induce grounders, and enjoyed immense success as a result. Joel Pineiro is one example; Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia others. Since 2009, the Cardinals have ranked second, first, first, and and third in ground ball rate by starting pitchers, according to FanGraphs. The ground ball approach was implemented by former pitching coach Dave Duncan and continued by new manager Mike Matheny.

Derrick Goold reports that the Cardinals are evolving, focusing back on the upper part of the strike zone for some of their pitchers.

But during spring training and already during the regular season, manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist have asked several starters to explore a neglected area of the strike zone — the high-rise, where strikeouts happen.

A few are being encouraged to embrace elevation.

“We still preach (low). We’re still all over that,” Matheny said. “But part of that philosophy is when you get two strikes how do we put the guy away right now? What do you do when you’re throwing at the bottom of the zone all the time? You’ve got to have something to put somebody away with. That elevated fastball can help with that. It’s an art. Because you’re flirting with danger. That’s why it’s effective. It’s something they have to practice.”

Last year, the Cardinals threw the fewest percentage of pitches in the upper part of the strike zone with two strikes, under 21 percent. The league average was 28 percent. The Cardinals led in two-strike pitches in the lower part of the strike zone with two strikes at 51.5 percent. The league average was 45 percent.

  1. sfm073 - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:05 AM

    Hopefully they pick and choose the right players. There’s no need for their young power arms to change the way they’ve pitched their entire lives.

    • paperlions - Apr 15, 2013 at 7:48 AM

      This is the change. Duncan insisted on everyone pitching down in the zone no matter what. As an organization, they’ve been trying to adopt an approach that allows each pitcher to use his strengths to be as effective as possible, and if there are guys that can climb the ladder to get outs, they’ll now let them do it. I know it seems like a simple concept (i.e. letting each pitcher use his best weapons to be effective), but stubbornness can be a tough obstacle to overcome.

      • forsch31 - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:46 PM

        Of course, the Cardinals have never really had the right kind of pitchers to through high-hard ones. Not even Wainwright (who’s curve is his out pitch) and Carpenter. Neither one have the velocity of the young pitchers now coming through. Matheny’s able to make this change because the pitchers he have do have the ability to execute it successfuly.

      • paperlions - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:52 PM

        Completely agree. Getting guys that can’t live in the top of the zone to avoid it is a very good idea.

        Now, what they need to do is convince Boggs and Rosenthal that they don’t need to throw the ball through the catcher, just execute pitches….and that no matter how hard you throw, a belt high FB down the middle isn’t that hard to hit.

  2. unclemosesgreen - Apr 15, 2013 at 5:18 AM

    “Hey Mike, I notice that Shelby Miller has been getting a lot of strikeouts by climbing the ladder with his four-seamer. Is this a new organizational decision for all your pitchers or just the young guns who can do that without getting taken out of the yard 2-3 times a game?”

    Matheny – “Just Shelby. Jake Westbrook knows that we have snipers perched at every park, and if he ever throws another four-seamer it will be his last.”

  3. whitdog23 - Apr 15, 2013 at 7:53 AM

    sfm…. it doesn’t change HOW they throw. just the location. no extra wear and tear on any young arms. geez!

  4. sfm073 - Apr 15, 2013 at 9:16 AM

    Where did I say they were changing mechanics? Reading comprehension jeez.

  5. whitdog23 - Apr 15, 2013 at 10:47 AM

    smf..”there’s no need for their young power arms to change the way they’ve pitched their entire lives” BOOM you’ve been lawyered on reading comprehension. explain what you mean better next time

    • kevinbnyc - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:06 PM

      He was clearly referring to the manner in which they are pitching, not their mechanics.

      BOOM you’re an idiot.

      • whitdog23 - Apr 15, 2013 at 2:54 PM

        kevin, yes, the write was CLEARLY referring to the manner in which they are pitching, not their mechanics. i don’t believe the FIRST comment in this thread grasps that though. i was referring to amf’s post. DUH throwing is throwing….whether high or low in the strike zone

      • kevinbnyc - Apr 15, 2013 at 4:44 PM

        And I was saying that smf wasn’t talking about mechanics, which is pretty clear.

        What is clear is that you may just be being a douche for douches sake.

  6. ghstmnnfrst - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    “Shelby Rules”

    Glad to see this happening. Especially after seeing Lynn’s results this spring while he was trying out a sinker for the sake of the Duncan philosophy.

  7. therealtrenches - Apr 15, 2013 at 7:49 PM

    Man….percentage of pitches in the high strike zone? I was never a stat guy and I know I’ll look like a dinosaur for saying this, but there are some days when it looks like the stat geek culture of baseball is swallowing baseball talk whole.

    Oh…and “strikeouts happen” all over the strike zone. Maybe they happen more frequently up there, according to a mincing stat, but that’s not the only place where guys chase balls.

  8. anxovies - Apr 16, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    It’s good that the Cards are now embracing elevation but the Mississippi school system still doesn’t allow it to be taught in the classroom.

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