If you’ve read any of these articles of mine before, you know that one of my favorite things is watching to see not just how a pitcher attacks a hitter (or vice versa) within the course of an at-bat, but how their plan of attack evolves — or stays the same — against that same hitter the second or third time they see each other, as the advantage naturally moves towards the hitter. That third time through the order is what can separate a good starter from a great one, and it’s always fun to consider the mental side of pitching that isn’t always apparent in the moment.
That brings us to Randy Vásquez, and his outstanding 5.2 inning spot start against the White Sox on Thursday. I was impressed by the way that Vásquez moved through the ChiSox lineup nearly three times, especially after scuffling just a little bit in the first inning. That’s a good place to start, actually. I don’t want to overload you with GIFs, so just take a look at the pitch chart for the eight pitch walk to Clint Frazier that started the game:
It was a pretty standard approach to start the game: Attack with fastballs early in the count — that’s what those four-seamers and sinkers over the plate are — and try to bait the hitter into strike three with sweepers off the outside corner.
There were just two problems: That sinker at the top of the zone? Very clearly in the zone? It was called a ball. And those two sweepers off the plate, thrown with two strikes? Just too far off the plate to get Frazier to bite. When he finally missed with a fastball down and out of the zone, Frazier got first base.
Fast-forward two innings, to Frazier’s second plate appearance. Now we have a little bit of insight into Vásquez’s mindset. He’s feeling himself a little bit, having retired five consecutive Chicago hitters after allowing two baserunners in a shaky first inning, but now he has to get the former Yankee out again after having shown him eight pitches just two innings prior. Now that he’s in a rhythm, he’s going straight to the point: No more messing around with sweepers out of the zone. Make him beat you on a fastball:
Guess what? Frazier couldn’t beat him on a fastball.
All right, we’re at the third time up: GIF time. This is where things get real.
By this time, Frazier has seen enough fastballs that trying to sneak a 12th one by him probably isn’t a great idea, even if he hasn’t beaten in yet. So how do we start? With the slow stuff, of course, even if Frazier still isn’t biting on it:
This is where the wheat gets separated from the chaff. It’s a fastball count, and Frazier is probably very eager to prove that he won’t miss another good one if he gets it. Does Vásquez let up and give the hitter what he wants? No, he breaks out a pitch that Frazier hasn’t even seen yet:
Vásquez gets the benefit of a generous call, but nonetheless, he’s clearly adjusted his plan of attack towards Frazier, even though it worked well his last time up. Even count. Frazier is still waiting to see a fastball, but Vásquez refuses to give it to him. And this time, he actually manages to get the sweeper over the plate, but Frazier, who to this point has only seen them break way off the outside edge, can’t square it up, even though it’s not a great location in a vacuum:
This is the part where I should say that it’s not often you see a pitcher work through a lineup like this when they’ve only got a single MLB start under their belt. I’m not saying Vásquez is anything special, but this kind of poise and ability to execute a gameplan is a strong indicator that in spite of his bloated Triple-A ERA, there might well be a solid major league pitcher to be found in here.
Anyway, in spite of all the pitches Frazier has seen, he’s yet again in a 1-2 hole. What the heck, why not try one more sweeper, just to see if he’ll bite?
Ah, well, it was a good try! Anyway, there’s still the fact that Frazier never actually beat Vásquez on a fastball. And even though he might have been looking for one to start the at-bat, all his seen is slow-slow-slow-slow. That being the case, when Vásquez finally reaches back for 95 at the top of the zone, Frazier has no chance whatsoever to catch up to it:
And that, folks, is how you work through a lineup multiple times.
Clint Frazier isn’t a world-beater, nor are most of the White Sox hitters, at this point, but as a call-up starter for the back half of a doubleheader, you hope a guy like Vásquez can get you through four or five innings while limiting enough damage to let the offense keep them in the game. Instead, Vásquez showed that he has the range of arsenal and approach to be more than a pitcher you pull after two times through the order. If he can flash this form with any kind of consistency — and perhaps the benefit of an MLB staff’s gameplanning helps — then he has a chance to be a valuable contributor to what’s already sure to be an intense stretch run.