Here’s part I of the interview, let’s jump right into this one.
I got to sit down with Chad Billingsley today and speak to him about pitch sequencing. This is the best conversation I’ve had about it yet and special thanks to Chad for being so open in discussing this.
This is the second or third pitcher or pitching coach I’ve spoken to about sequencing, please click the “pitch sequencing” tag to find the other ones.
Let’s start with the basic: tell me what you know about pitch sequencing.
Well, first, there’s a lot of luck involved. The hitter knows what you have, as far as the pitches and what your tendencies are.
Everyone knows who Don Mattingly is; not many know, I guess, that he’s a very intelligent baseball guy. I was taken aback when he just opened up this conversation with me about what makes Kershaw so effective.
Here’s what he had to say about Clayton Kershaw’s performance, and skill set, tonight and for his career since coming up.
[Clayton] can use his breaking ball, he used his change up tonight, and his curveball is always there.
How much of Kershaw’s efficiency tonight was because of the line-up he faced?
These guys were pretty aggressive, but you still gotta throw the ball in the strike zone. That’s really the biggest difference, is establishing fastball counts all the time and now Kershaw is at the point as much as he throws a slider for a strike, he throws a slider for a chase (when the batter swings at a ball); he throws a breaking ball for a strike, he throws a breaking ball for a chase. He works both sides of the plate and to me that’s the evolution for him. Coming up, watching him as a young kid, he was one side of the plate and now he’s both.
He went from being a fastball-curveball guy to being a fastball-curveball-slider-change. When you’re [on the receiving end] of four weapons as a hitter, you have to start picking sides of the plate, you’re gonna try to eliminate pitches, but with Kershaw, you can’t do it.
I wish I asked more questions, guess I’ll have to settle for this and wait ’til my next interview.
More from Kershaw coming tomorrow.
Here’s some more comments from Donnie Baseball:
Seems like usually with good pitchers you have to get to them early. If you don’t, they get settled. The Cubs had their chance and Kershaw was able to get the big out in that first and then basically stopped them from there.
When you get to [their pitcher] early with Kershaw it helps too. You know, they get the run early and from there he pretty much stopped them. We were able to get back in the game. Ivan’s hit down the line with two outs … he gets that hit and then Jerry’s big hit there too so it kind of opened it up.
What does pitch sequencing mean for pitchers and how effective is it when a given pitcher is dealing with a batter?
Pitchers either get hitters out with the location of pitches and messing with a batter’s timing. They mess with timing by mixing their pitches up, mixing the sequence up. Some batters you get out by attacking a certain part of the strike zone. Other hitters, you have to mix your pitches because they look for what you’re throwing. If you get the sequence right, you can mess up their timing.
Certain batters [look for you to pitch to a certain area] and so mixing up pitches becomes really important, especially sequencing. The sequence has to get the batter off his timing.
How important is the speed differential between a fastball and a breaking ball?
Your curveball is usually your slowest compared to the fastball. Your change-up is next slowest, then slider. The guys that have curveballs can work with the fastball only, but if they throw sliders, they have to have change-ups–I’m talking starters here, bullpen is a different animal. You have to change your speeds 10 to 12 miles per hour and that’s where the curveball comes into play, moreso than a slider. Sliders usually sit 6-8 off (of the fastball). Then you need something slower and a curve or change throws them off a bit more.
When would you throw a slider, then?
You want to go hard then slow. Some guys have sliders, it really depends on the pitcher’s repertoire of pitches. Most relievers have sliders. They come in, they’re facing three or four hitters; they want to come in with a little more power. Whereas your starters, they have to go 6-7 innings. They’ll have more off-speed pitches in their repertoire.
Are you going to be paying attention to the pitch sequences of other teams to see what’s effective? What about Kershaw’s pitching tonight?
I’ve seen Kershaw pitch before, when I was in AA with the Cubs’ affiliate.
What’d you see from him then?
Fantastic breaking ball, great velocity; he’s learned how to command his pitches much better and how to pitch to hitters. I saw him in AA, he was a sure shot. He came up at the end of that year.
How about the Cubs? What are you looking for tonight against the Dodgers?
We know what we have with each pitcher, and each pitcher is different. Even though hitters have weaknesses, each pitcher is going to attack the batter in a different way, based on what pitches they have.
Are there certain match-ups in this series that you’re looking at that may prove crucial to the series?
Nah. Everybody’s gonna face everyone at some time this series. In the match-ups, I’m looking for our starters to get out there every 5 days and pitch their game no matter who it’s against. We’re not trying to match-up certain guys in certain serieses.