(Editor’s note: Rick Sutcliffe will provide analysis of the Division Series for ESPN Radio and the ALCS and World Series for MLB International)
In the “Year of the Pitcher,” as many have termed it, ESPN MLB analyst and 1984 NL Cy Young winner Rick Sutcliffe has noticed a common theme among baseball’s elite pitchers. “You have to surrender to succeed,” Sutcliffe said.
“When you get the first out or two of an inning, and no one is on base, the game’s best pitchers have learned to throw their cutter, two-seam fastball or changeup early in the count to get the next at-bat over quickly. Pitchers don’t try to locate pitches as much as place emphasis on late movement on the pitch to keep the ball off the barrel of the bat.
“The pitchers are essentially conceding the bid for a strikeout. They are throwing the surrender pitch, if you will, to get out of an inning quickly. The best pitchers use this approach to throw fewer pitches and go deeper in games.”
Sutcliffe says Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay is the master.
“Halladay is the same pitcher as Greg Maddux, and I never thought I’d say that about anyone. He has so much movement to both sides of the plate and batters are overwhelmed by him.
“Hitters could pick the pitch they want Halladay to throw and still not hit it. He has the coveted ability to get quick outs, and he can throw every single pitch with movement.”
San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum and the New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia have also caught Sutcliffe’s eye.
“Lincecum does it with his changeup, due to the movement and the variation of speeds. The velocity of his changeup can be close to his fastball, but with added movement, which tempts hitters to swing but seldom make good contact.
“Sabathia was always a power guy, but he’s developed his changeup and it has made a big difference.
“One of the keys to being a No. 1 pitcher is to eat up a lot of innings to save the bullpen and to position your team to win two out of three games you’re on the mound.”
Some additional observations from Sutcliffe:
On organizational focus on pitching
“The good organizations which consistently win have really good pitching instructors and coordinators. If they are going to overpay anyone, it should be minor league pitching instructors.”
On the Phillies’ starting rotation
“It’s hard to imagine anyone being able to slow down the Phillies. They have three legit No. 1 starters. Ruben Amaro Jr. has done a phenomenal job assembling that rotation. He filled the hole left by Cliff Lee with Roy Oswalt, who has pitched very well for them.”
On the Tampa Bay Rays
“I like to watch Tampa Bay because they play spectacular defense every single night.”
On the Yankees’ lineup
“When you have Lance Berkman hitting seventh, I don’t care who you are…I wouldn’t be excited to face their lineup.”