Zach Duke made his final start of the 2007 season on September 28 against the Cardinals at PNC Park. It would prove to be one of his most effective starts of the year, as he allowed only one run in seven innings. He struck out four, did not walk a batter and threw 59 of his 91 pitches for strikes. It was a fine finish to an otherwise miserable season for Duke.
First, let us consider how Duke looked during this game. He did a solid job of consistently hitting his spots, a fact that was evident by his efficient pitch count and zero walks. He struggled a bit in the first inning, allowing his only run. However, he settled down and set down the Cardinals methodically from that point. His pitch counts per inning were 25, 14, 9, 7, 14, 11, 11. From watching this start, Duke seemed to have quite a bit of success pitching away from right-handed hitters. The Cardinals never appeared comfortable against that pitch, repeatedly pulling harmless groundballs to the left side of the infield or popping it up. This may have been a result of Duke pitching more effectively inside. In search of an answer, let us look to the PITCHf/x data.
The Cardinals stacked the lineup with right-handed batters against Duke, with Rick Ankiel being the only lefty to face him. Accordingly, 86 of his 91 pitches came against righties. Of those 86 pitches, 47 were on the inside half of the plate and 39 were outside. With this being the first game I have studied, I have nothing to compare these numbers with. However, I did not expect to see Duke throwing that many pitches in on right-handers. Based simply on my perception from watching him pitch, he seems to stay away a majority of the time. Once opposing hitters recognized this, they became extremely aggressive against Duke. I have wondered if the key to his success is keeping batters off balance by pounding them inside. If this game is any indication, that very well might be true. I will definitely keep an eye on this while analyzing other games.
There are countless other pieces of PITCHf/x data to examine from this game, such as his average fastball velocity of 88.07 mph. However, I will hold off on that, as I want to explore data from other games so that I have something to compare. In future games, I will definitely watch for his ability to stay inside on right-handed batters, as well as his velocity and pitch movement.