Last Tuesday was Brandon McCarthy's worst start as a Yankee. Against a weak Texas lineup he didn't have good command of his stuff and got hit around for 9 hits and 4 ER in 6 innings. The Yankees eventually won that game, as they've won all 5 games he's started since being acquired. The 5th win came last night, when McCarthy was back on the hill and back in full command of his entire fastball arsenal. He featured all 3 in different situations against different hitters and completely held the Detroit Tiger lineup at bay with the way used them. Before we get to that, just a quick counting stats recap for those who either missed the game or didn't fully appreciate how good McCarthy was last night. He threw 116 pitches, his highest pitch count of the year and the 3rd straight start in which he threw 108 or more, and pumped in 81 strikes (69.8%). He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of the 25 batters he faced and had 11 swinging strikes (13.6%). Of his 8 strikeouts, 7 of them were swinging, and of the 9 other outs he recorded, 8 of them were on the ground. McCarthy got the exact results you expect a pitcher to get when he's got his sinker and cutter working in unison.
And how did he work them? By featuring them heavily to whatever side of the plate the opposing batter was standing on. Check the pitch location plot for Detroit's right-handed hitters:
That's a heavy dose of sinkers down and in, boring in on the hands of those righty hitters. McCarthy threw 42 of his 55 sinkers to righties last night, almost 80%. The cutter and 4-seamer were mixed in away on the opposite corner to get guys guessing and hopefully thinking about covering that outside corner, and the sinker was driven in where guys either fouled it off or beat it into the ground.
Here's how things looked for left-handed hitters:
That's a lot more cutters in and far fewer sinkers away. 16 of McCarthy's 24 cutters thrown last night were to lefties, with the same goal in mind as the use of the sinker against righties. Work the pitch inside, let the natural movement of it bore in on the hands of the hitters and force them to either foul the pitch off or hit it into the ground. McCarthy didn't command the cutter on the inside corner as well as he did with the sinker to righties, but he had great movement on the pitch. That late movement made up for some of the missed locations.
The best part of this strategy may have been McCarthy's even mixing of his 4-seamer and curveball. He threw 11 4-seamers and 9 curves to righties and 10 hooks and 7 heaters to lefties. Those offerings made up a shade over 31% of McCarthy's total pitches thrown and yet they were responsible for 8 of his 11 swinging strikes. Going back to the strikeouts, 6 of the 7 swinging ones came against the 4-seamer and curveball.
That was the beauty of McCarthy's game last night. He knew he had a great sinker and great cutter and both he and Brian McCann were on the same page when it came to using it to matchup with righties and lefties, but he didn't try to do too much with those pitches. He wasn't trying to overthrow them and get guys to whiff on them. He was simply throwing them where they needed to go, letting the natural movement of the pitches work the way he wanted it to, and then when he got to 2 strikes and had hitters thinking, he surprised them with the 4-seamer or got them hacking at the curveball.
Give kudos to Big Mac too, because he called and caught an excellent game for McCarthy. They both seemed like they were really in tune with how they thought each at-bat should go. There wasn't a lot of shaking off pitches at all. About the only thing that didn't go well for McCarthy last night was the high number of foul balls, but sometimes that's going to happen. Looking at the pitch plots, I'd say that high foul ball count was a testament to how good his sinker and cutter were last night. Guys just couldn't put them in play.
McCarthy said he was excited about getting back to using his cutter more when he came to New York and last night he put on a clinic for how to make that cutter/sinker combo work for you when you're commanding them. The Tiger hitters may have forced him out of the game early, but they really couldn't do anything with his stuff. Anytime you can outduel Max Scherzer you know you're doing something right, and that's exactly what McCarthy did last night.
(Pitch plots courtesy of Texas Leaguers)