Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 9/12/12
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Jake Peavy put together a good start Tuesday for the White Sox in the middle of a massively important series with Detroit on Tuesday. The veteran righty went just 5.2 innings but struck out nine, allowing three runs on six hits and two walks. Although not a “Quality Start” by the typical measure, it was according to his 52 Game Score. Such denotations as “quality,” though, will always be subjective and open to debate.

If it weren’t for Peavy’s struggles in the fifth inning, any discussions surrounding Tuesday’s start would be unnecessary. Peavy cruised into the frame, allowing just three singles and a walk while striking out five throughout the first four innings. Of 59 pitches, Peavy faced just 14 counts with more balls than strikes; half came on full counts and five came in two at-bats (both resulting in outs).

But then came the fifth, and Peavy stopped getting ahead.

Observe, counts faced by Peavy in the first four innings:

Each box represents an at-bat going through a count — balls denoted on the top, strikes on the bottom.

Peavy constantly enjoyed 0-1 and 1-2 counts. Although two hitters singled on 0-1 counts, the general point stands. Peavy largely dominated by completely avoiding hitters’ counts like 2-0 and 3-1, through which he allows wOBAs of .372 and .452 respectively. Instead, he racked up desirable 0-1s (.235), 1-1s (.258) and 1-2s (.219).

Not so much in the fifth:

Peavy faced six batters, opening two with strike one and finishing both with strike three. Things were less smooth with the other four batters — the only one not to reach base was Alex Avila, who served up an adventurous deep fly ball to left fielder DeWayne Wise. Omar Infante worked a 2-1 count, eventually leading to a 2-2 single. That set the table for Austin Jackson‘s game-tying two-run home run, and two batters later Miguel Cabrera put the Tigers on top with his own blast.

The 36-year-old Peavy managed just fine in the few hitters’ counts he faced in the first three innings when he had his fastball at its strongest — he sat between 90.6 and 93.1 throughout the game’s first third. He survived a velocity drop in the fourth against the bottom of the Tigers’ order — he averaged just 91 MPH and topped out at 91.3. Then, in the fifth, the top of the Tigers’ order took its third crack at Peavy, and facing 91 MPH fastballs instead of 92 or 93 in their 1-0 counts, both Jackson and Cabrera took advantage.

Getting ahead and staying ahead is key for pitchers, especially late in games when the bite and velocity that can carry a starter early starts to disappear. Jake Peavy on Tuesday serves as the prime example: he fell behind four Detroit hitters and just like that, three runs were on the board and the Tigers were en route to closing the AL Central gap to a mere two games.


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