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Paul Konerko's Last 11 HR

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The first incarnation of these went over better than I expected and since someone in the last comment thread asked, I figured I'd oblige and investigate Paulie's HR.  It's the last 11 this time because he just so happened to homer twice against the Rays, for which he earned a curtain call.  I was interested to see exactly how well his fastball hitter reputation holds up, especially compared to Alexei.  But I was also looking to see if there were any real weaknesses.

On to the HR sequences:

  • 6/6 - Michael Pineda - Back to back sliders, the last one left the yard.  Neither had much bite, but the first was lower in the zone.  The second was right down the middle, thigh high. 85 mph slider.
  • 6/1 - Jonathan Papelbon - Splitter low and away, then fastball just on the inner half above the kneecap.  95 mph fastball.
  • 5/30 - Jon Lester - Fastball on the inside corner, belt high for a strike.  Change away off the plate.  Backed up with another change off the plate.  2-1.  Fastball up but not as far in this time.  You can put it on the board.  93 mph fastball.
  • 5/14 - Tyson Ross - Slider on the corner for a strike followed with a sinker off the plate, low and away.  Sinker on the inner half, a little up and then gone.  93 mph fastball.
  • 5/10 - Joel Pineiro - Sinker away, off the plate.  Sinker away, on the corner just above the knee.  Gone.  87 mph sinker.
  • 5/2 - Jeremy Guthrie - Fastball low and away for a strike.  Slider low and away, off the plate.  Fastball up and away, fouled off (first time he's swung before a HR).  Fastball up an away, again fouled off.  Slider away, also fouled off.  1-2.  Slider in and off the plate.  Fastball up and in, fouled off.  Fastball up and in, gone.  93 mph fastball.
  • 4/26 - Rafael Soriano - Fastball low and in, called strike right at the knees.  Paulie doesn't like it, pfx says he's wrong.  Fastball low and away, just off the plate.  Fastball just above the knee and in.  Bomb.  94 mph fastball.
  • 4/22 - Justin Verlander - Curve right there.  Change low and in gets a whiff, 0-2.  Another change, same spot, Paulie fouls it off.  Then a curve stays up and doesn't bite, ball 1.  Slider away chopped foul.  Change up and in, ball. 2-2.  Heater low and away sliced foul.  Fastball inside fouled off.  Change low and in, fouled off.  Still 2-2.  Fastball more to Paulie's liking up and somewhat in, but 99 mph so fouled back.  Then loses another one, more on the plate and lower.  Hits the pole and gone.  98 mph fastball.
  • 4/16 - Rich Thompson - Slider low and away for a strike.  Fastball at the letters, gone.  91 mph fastball.
  • 4/10 - Andy Sonnanstine - Slider in the dirt, curve splits the plate for a strike, 1-1.  Curve way away and low.  Slider inside at the thigh and gone.  84 mph slider.
  • 4/10 - Jeff Niemann - First pitch fastball splits the plate above the knee and then gets launched.  92 mph fastball.
That's 11 HR, 9 off fastballs and 2 off hanging sliders.  If there's anyone in the league right now who embodies the Hawkism "cover the fastball", it's Paul Konerko.  Of the 9 HR off fastballs, 7 came on heaters that were above league average in velocity.  Just 1 southpaw in the group to 10 righties, so he's even doing it without the platoon advantage. Paulie is dialed in right now and nobody is sneaking much of anything past him.

Also of note: other than the Guthrie and Verlander at bats, the HR were off his first swings of the respective plate appearances.  That is, he's not a guess hitter.  He's clearly sitting on a fastball in a particular location and he recognizes not just fastballs that aren't in his spots, but sliders and curves as well.  I've always thought that Paulie struggled more with changes than sliders and curves and this seems to bear that out.  I'm sure part of that is just terrible memories of Johann Santana, but between the lack of lefties on the list and the way Verlander started him off, I think that's a reasonable conclusion.

At first glance it doesn't seem like the scouting reports have caught up.  Verlander has obviously gotten the message, but Paulie is seeing about as many fastballs as he has for his career so far in 2011.  And that number is actually up from what he saw last year.  What I think this actually suggests is that his pitch recognition has been very good.  When he lays off early count offspeed stuff, pitchers are forced to come back with fastballs over the plate.  Often enough, they leave them up.

So how do you attack this guy?  I think even if you're a righty, you shouldn't be too afraid to mix in your change if you've got some confidence in it.  And for the love of God, stay away with the fastball.  He can still reach it if you stay away, but you've got a much better chance.  The fastball in has to be on the black or off the plate unless you really like to live dangerously.  He recognizes sliders and curves well, but he'll give them up for strikes early in the count and then try to take them to the opposite field later if he has to.  Stay away and you have to worry a lot less about his power.

But really what it comes down to is being able to make your pitch.  Command is vital, because you know he covers your fastball.  He prefers it in, from the belt to above the knee.  So you can waste a high one up and in and then go back to the outside corner to keep him from zoning in on that outside corner.  If you get him in a hole, you can force his hand and make him go after a slider he'd rather not take a cut at.  But if you can't keep making pitches?  Good luck.

I don't know how long he can go on with this kind of domination, but I love watching it.  Aesthetically, it's as high art as baseball gets.