As we countdown to the start of the 85th MLB All Star Game, baseball’s brightest stars will once again take to the field united by their respective leagues to decide who will get home field advantage in the World Series. As the hitter’s prepare, our own Ryan Wallerson was able to catch up with former Atlanta Braves ace and eight-time All Star John Smoltz, who will be a featured analyst on the MLB Network’s “MLB Tonight” All Star coverage, to talk about how this year’s crop of All Star pitchers should go about attacking the hitters in the starting lineups for each league.
First up, the National League hitters.
Yadier Molina, C: .287/.341/.409, 7 HR, 30 RBI *
I had a chance to pitch against him. Since I retired he’s improved more than any other hitter in the league. You can’t pitch to him one way. You have to pitch him showing him different looks. My outside sliders used to get him, but he uses the whole plate so it’s so simple. I’d still set him up with a fastball away and then attack him with a slider away, but his eye is so good now that you can’t throw a ball because more times than not, he won’t swing. His plate discipline is what has taken his hitting to another level. Execute tight sliders that stay inside the zone until the very end, moving away from the batter to finish him.
* We’d discussed Molina prior to his removal from the game’s starting lineup due to injury. Jonathan Lucroy will start in his place.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B: .308/.400/.549, 16 HR, 61 RBI
Paul couples great plate coverage with a strong, quick bat. Because of that it’s tough to continually stay on the outside part of the plate. One will eventually have to go inside with a pitch to open up the outer half of the plate. Right on right I would usually have the advantage, but when a right-handed bat takes away that advantage like Paul does, he being a .300+ hitter, one has to go to Plan B. If I was pitching, it would be a sequence of fastballs in, then away, to setup an outside slider. If he fouled it off, I’d go with a splitter or high curveball to try and finish him off.
Chase Utley, 2B: .293/.349/.445, 8 HR, 46 RBI
He’s gone from a perennial MVP candidate to an ageless wonder at second base. Chase is pretty amazing. A hitter with a unique swing, he still maintains tremendous power down and in. Contrary to his name, Chase never chases. His keen batting eye persists. Like most lefties, I’d set him up with fastballs away and then I’d attack him with split fastballs, which I had success against him with when I faced him. You have to pitch him pretty much exclusively away because of his inside power. Occassionally a high pitch would be effective, but that’s not a well you can return to often because once he sees it, he’ll get on top of it before long.
Troy Tulowitzki, SS: .345/.435/.613, 21 HR, 52 RBI
Troy is one of the guys I’m glad didn’t come around until the end of my career. One of the great pioneering offensive shortstops that are continuing to help the game progress. Tulo is a guy that you have to change location a lot to, so all four quadrants – up, down, in, and out – have to be at a pitcher’s disposal, otherwise they are at an immediate disadvantage. One must force him to hit a good slider or curve, which he is able to hit. He’s simply too good at mashing the fastball, wherever it is. Making him think off speed and then throwing a well placed heater is really the only way to use it against him. As expected of a .345 hitter, it’s tough to throw a pitch to him in the same quadrant twice, no matter the quality.
Aramis Ramirez, 3B: .288/.336/.459, 11 HR, 43 RBI
Ramirez was a hitter I played against a lot in my time. To get him out, what I would usually do is get him to go after the slider. As tremendous a hitter as he has been throughout his career, he’s an aggressive hitter, under the right circumstances he will chase. That makes him susceptible to any pitch once he’s behind in the count. when he is cornered in the count, he will swing to make contact on any pitch. Bad ones will not come back.
Andrew McCutchen, OF: .324/.420/.575, 17 HR, 61 RBI
Like Yadier Molina, I’ve watched McCutchen make great adjustments to his swing. His bat speed makes it tough to try and pump fastballs by him. His plate coverage and ability to attack fastballs of all speeds is amazing. Any mistake fastballs thrown inside to him will be smoked. I’d want to make him go the other way, but to do so, one has to set him up by pitching inside. I’d go fastball away, setting up a split finger fastball with McCutchen to give him a different look. With MVPs, you’re always hoping for the best.
Carlos Gomez, OF: .304/.370/.510, 14 HR, 48 RBI
Gomez has raw speed and power. Though he’s fast approaching veteran status, he’s still very aggressive and excitable. He seeks the fastball. Make him swing at sliders and other off speed pitches. If he survives them, he’ll be perfectly setup for a finishing fastball high and away.
Yasiel Puig, OF: .309/.393/.522, 12 HR, 52 RBI
Puig has made the one year adjustment that I didn’t think he would be able to manage. He had a pretty sizeable hole up and in last season, but he’s worked to eliminate it, and has been largely successful in that effort. His quick bat and tremendous power are still his trademarks. He’s a good enough hitter to use the opposite field. It’s about sequence with Puig. Find the right time to go up and in on him with a fastball, do not leave it anywhere near the middle of the plate. His hole has closed greatly, but every hitter has a weakness.
Giancarlo Stanton, DH: .295/.395/.538, 21 HR, 63 RBI
No pitcher wants to hear this, but when things are going well for him at the plate it really doesn’t matter what you throw him. When they aren’t, expand the zone on him. When he’s struggling at the plate he can get home happy and in going for homers his swing can get long. When he is seeing the ball, he’ll take the walk. Any pitcher would prefer that to a 400 foot bom or two run double. Test his plate discipline.