03/19/10 8:23 PM ET
Acta's sabermetrics sermon paying off
After seeing numbers, Tribe hurlers pounding strike zone
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
2010 Spring Training - Major League Baseball
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Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
The favorite set of numbers in Acta's dossier, and the one that elicited the most wide-eyed reaction, showed that of the first-pitch strikes put into play, only seven percent resulted in hits.That's seven percent, as in a batting average of .070. Powerful incentive for pitchers to not start off batters by pitching away from them, afraid of making too good a pitch too early in the count. "And [it's] a good way to conserve pitches," Acta said. "You stay longer in the game. You help out the bullpen arms. But it's not enough to keep telling them that. You have to show them the numbers." After having heard the advice throughout his pitching career, Masterson finally had the printout proofs in his hands during Acta's sermon. "Numbers can get skewed," Masterson said, "but in one sense, it was cool, seeing the results laid out. "I mean, you know that with the count 1-and-0, the hitter has extra confidence. Hitting is hard, and if they get in a situation where they feel better, they get more comfortable. But if you're ahead of them, they're more likely to swing at a pitch in the dirt." That's straight out of Pitching 101, of course. But to get his hurlers into that strike-throwing mindset, Acta suggests some advanced approaches. "I try to get them to sit behind the screen during batting practices," the manager said. "They'll see the batting-practice pitcher throwing 50 [mph], and every ball still doesn't get hit out. It's not that easy." Through 13 exhibitions, the eight pitchers competing for the five spots in the Indians' rotation have logged 41 strikeouts versus 15 walks -- a ratio considerably different from last season's 986-to-598. Even after being hit hard -- a stumble he attributed to sliders that broke too late and necessary work on his changeup -- Masterson remained the best practitioner of the Indians' new, aggressive mindset. One walk and four strikeouts Friday gave the 25-year-old right-hander three walks and 16 strikeouts in his 10 1/3 innings. Acta expects him to keep showing the way once the whistle blows and games count. Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona have more extensive resumes that they are trying to revive, but Masterson is fresher ace timbre. "I expect a lot from him," Acta said. "He can be that workhorse-type of guy." And Masterson wants it, both the role and the responsibility. "Being the workhorse is the coolest thing," he said. "You can be the one who starts to set the tone, and that can lead only to good things."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.