May 4, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; MLB umpire John Hirschbeck (17) between innings of the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates MLB contest at PNC Park. The Washington Nationals won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

NLDS - Scouting the Umpires

Aug 25, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Nick Swisher (33) reacts after being called out by second base umpire John Hirschbeck while trying to stretch a single to a double in the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

From the relevant MLB press release:

[John] Hirschbeck’s crew is assigned to the Los Angeles Dodgers-Atlanta Braves NLDS and is comprised of Laz Diaz, Marvin Hudson, Bill Miller, regular season crew chief Tim Welke and Hunter Wendelstedt.

Interestingly, Sam Holbrook will in St. Louis this weekend, so beware all Infield Fly calls.

The above list will be the umpires assigned to the best-of-5 series between the Dodgers and Braves, beginning tonight in Atlanta at 8:30pm EDT on the TBS network.  Friday’s game will be started at 6pm EDT.  The weekend game times in Los Angeles are (as yet) unannounced.

Update:  Mark Bowman tweets that Game 3 will begin in Los Angeles at 8:07pm EDT Sunday/5:07PM local time.  [3:20pm THR]

The umpiring assignments are always an interesting part of the scouting for these games, and thus we’re gonna spend a little time looking at them in the run-up before tonight’s first contest.  During the regular season, John Hirschbeck led a crew consisting of (Balking) Bob Davidson, Jim Reynolds, and James Hoye.  As you can see, none of those crew members were assigned to him for this series.  In fact, none of these men worked with one another during the regular season.  Here is a list of their major league experience levels:

  • John Hirschbeck – 29 years
  • Laz Diaz – 5 years
  • Marvin Hudson – 3 years
  • Bill Miller – 14 years
  • Tim Welke – 19 years
  • Hunter Wendelstedt – 14 years

Best guess is that as lead crew chief, Hirschbeck will draw home plate for the first game.  After that, it’s uncertain, though if seniority prevails, Welke would go on Friday, then Miller or Wendelstedt… we’ll see how that goes.

In looking at the pitching matchups vs. Hirschbeck for tonight, let’s start with a couple of chart that pretty much underline a couple of points I made yesterday:  first, Clayton Kershaw‘s tendencies (all of these charts are via BrooksBaseball.net – a wealth of resources there!):

KershawChart

No matter who is batting, this is pretty consistent:  he works the ball toward the catcher’s left side, and “North and South” through the zone.  However, with 3 ball counts… if you can actually get Kershaw into one of those… he tends to “give in” to the hitter:

KershawChart_3Balls

Yes – you see that right:  lots of pitches right smack in the middle of the zone.  That’s why he is actually hittable with 3 ball counts.  Expect Braves’ hitters to go after any/all 3-ball pitches they see tonight.

Meanwhile, here’s Kris Medlen‘s charts… and I’ll separate these by Lefty and Right hitters, with the RHH’s first:

MedlenChart_RHH

Now the Left-handed hitters (and Medlen is a right-handed himself):

MedlenChart_LHH

In both cases, Meds works the hitters down and away…. consistently.  Note that he likes to go just outside the strike zone, too.

So now let’s check John Hirschbeck’s charts.

I don’t have a nice composite of all the calls he makes, but I checked several, and this one below is pretty representative of his tendencies for calls with lefty hitters at bat:

HirschbeckLHH

Interestingly enough, this chart is from an August 19 game in Miami with Jose Fernandez pitching against Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers… which is kinda similar to Kershaw vs. Medlen in a roundabout sort of way.  But here’s the things to notice:

  • Hirschbeck will allow pitchers the freedom to ‘earn’ the outside strike… and the low strike.  This plays well into Medlen’s game.
  • He does not call the high strike (you’ll have to take my word on this – not many examples of that on this chart).  That tends to work against Kershaw.

Let’s check the calls vs. Right-handed hitters:

HirschbeckRHH

This one is pretty typical, too:  again, no high strike calls, but he will allow a pitcher a wider zone… in this case, on both edges of the plate.  Again, this plays better for Medlen than Kershaw, though if Kershaw keeps the ball down, then he will ‘earn’ the low strike call as well.

 

Summary

Kris Medlen earned pitcher-of-the-month honors for September, chiefly because his control was dialed in.  If he can continue that tonight, then Dodger hitters will be lunging a lot to hit outside pitches that are being called strikes.

If Clayton Kershaw does his own usual practice, then Braves hitters would do well to recognize high strikes and lay off them… working the count to a position in which they can hit something in the middle of the plate.  They do need to watch out, though:  many of the Braves tend to ignore pitches just off the plate – inside or outside (Justin Upton especially).  While their eyes are very good at this, Hirschbeck will call strikes on them.  But Kershaw’s fastball doesn’t work because of movement or sheer velocity, it works on location.  If that’s taken away from him (reducing his effective N-S range by hitters not swinging at ‘balls’), then this fastball-hitting team could have a decent night.

 

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Calyton Kershaw John Hirschbeck Kris Medlen Playoff Preview

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