Jhoulys Chacin on Ground Balls, Curve Balls, and Colorado

Jhoulys Chacin hasn’t thrown a curve ball yet this season. Don’t think he hasn’t noticed. “That was my strikeout pitch,” he said, while agreeing he hasn’t thrown it. But he used it more before the four-man rotation, before the team decided to emphasize ground balls, before he injured his pectoral muscle, and before he learned the benefits of contact. This year, he hasn’t thrown a curve ball.

The curve ball thing has been going on for a while. He threw the pitch 15.6% of the time in his debut and then that whittled away gradually to 6.7% last season. His strikeout rate fell from over 20% (and above average) to 14.3% last year, too. But as he threw the pitch less, he got more ground balls, too. At least until last year.

Last year, the Rockies tried a four-man rotation with a 75-pitch limit. “I really didn’t like it,” Chacin admitted. The 75 pitch limit was strict, and it was hard for the pitchers to compete with that number hanging over their heads. “But I learned,” said Chacin, “I learned that you have to pitch to contact, too.”

With a hard ceiling of 75 pitches, Chacin had to simplify. “Even with two strikes, I had to focus on getting a ground ball,” he said. “I have to get it done,” he remembers thinking. He couldn’t afford to keep trying to get the whiff. You had to go after the hitters and get “quick outs.” So now it’s the fastball, the sinker, the slider and the changeup. Everything down.

He’s cut pitches from his plate appearances with the approach. The first two years in the big leagues, he averaged 3.99 pitches per batter. Since, he’s whittled that number down to 3.77. Over the course of a full season, that could make a difference. Face 800 batters, and you’d save 176 pitches, for example. Every pitch counts.

But the curve ball can get grounders, too, if you throw it low, and Chacin took care to point that out. The biggest predictor of batted ball trajectory is location, and he was well aware of that fact. Dave Allen once produced a very simple graph that depicted the situation:

whiff_ground_byy

If he’s throwing the curve ball — his erstwhile strikeout pitch — less often, but not necessarily because of the team’s emphasis on the ground ball, or because of something that happened while they were experimenting with the four-man rotation… why is he throwing the curve ball less often?

“It’s hard to throw a curveball in Colorado,” said Chacin. He likes to throw more sliders in Colorado. It’s hard to get that break, that bite in the dry, thin air, perhaps. Here, in San Francisco, Chacin said “you can throw your breaking ball and get the strikeouts.” But in the mountains? “Just throw a ground ball, whatever, get the out,” he said.

Chacin is not alone in avoiding the curve in Colorado. Take a look at all pitch types everywhere, and then the pitch types in Colorado, courtesy Jeff Zimmerman:

Type Non-CO CO only
Change 11.00% 9.80%
Curve 9.40% 8.10%
Cutter 5.40% 5.00%
Four Seam 36.60% 42.70%
Split 1.20% 1.40%
Two Seam 11.10% 6.40%
Sinker 9.20% 7.50%
Slider 15.30% 18.50%

The story of Jhoulys Chacin is the story of the everypitcher, it seems. The curve actually suffers the most, when it comes to pitch selection in Denver, a finding that Dan Rozenson recently described and explained — the atmosphere robs the pitch of much of its effectiveness. Pitchers throw more four-seamers and sliders in the thin air, and the slider had the most comparative advantage in Rozenson’s study.

Jhoulys Chacin seems to have figured out how to pitch for his team. They’re lucky to have him for two more years, but even after that time is over, teams should remember — now he knows how to pitch both ways: “I’ve still got my curveball.”



Print This Post



Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
tahititaco
Member
tahititaco
3 years 1 month ago

Do most pitchers aim for strikeouts? I’d always thought the aim was strikeout OR weak contact, regardless of where the ball goes.

Krog
Member
Krog
3 years 1 month ago

Strikeouts are the best possible result, but there is a school-of-thought that trying for strikeouts increases the pitch count and prevents starters from going deeper into games.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
3 years 1 month ago

Maybe they start an at bat willing to take whatever they can get, but if they get into a 0-2 or 1-2 count, then they’ll try to get the strikeout. I think earlier in the count they mainly want to throw strikes, because it will either generate contact or put the count in their favor.

alecthegreat
Member
alecthegreat
3 years 1 month ago

Good article and good reference, so the magnus effect is less at altitude- breaking pitches are generally less effective. As a Rockies fan I’ve been wondering for a while if our pitching would be better off going with guys that throw the ball hard can rely less on the breaking stuff.
A problem I have with the “pitch to contact” mantra in Coors is that you want the batter to hit the ball in a place where it goes farther… It seemed like for every start Aaron Cook only allowed 1 Run at Coors (with 1-2K’s), he would get shelled twice.

96mnc
Guest
96mnc
3 years 1 month ago

The ideal Colorado SP would have a heavy sinking FB in the mid-90s, a fading change up in the mid-80s, and a slider or splitter. A great curve is a waste in Coors field as Darryl Kile showed us.

Andrew T. Fisher
Guest
Andrew T. Fisher
3 years 1 month ago

Worth noting Kile was entirely pre-humidor. Curves are still functional pitches at Coors with the humidor. They are just less effective than they would be at sea level.

Dan Rozenson
Guest
3 years 1 month ago

Not only are they less effective in Coors, they lose effectiveness more than any other pitch type. Even with the humidor, and even with steroids testing, Kile wouldn’t have been the same pitcher at Coors that he was in Houston and St. Louis.

Tommy
Guest
Tommy
3 years 1 month ago

no pitcher is going to be as good in Colorado as he is in STL, Ubaldo threw in the high 90s with a 4-5 pitch mix and managed a 3.38 ERA over 300ip there 2008-10. Chacin is second only to Ubaldo in franchise history for effectiveness.

Boomer
Guest
Boomer
3 years 1 month ago

I remember back in 1992 before Colorado got the Rockies…a buddy and I went on a road trip to Kansas City…we played catch before one of the games and just throwing my typical curve ball was like “where on earth did that pitch come from?” I threw it with the same velocity and follow through that I’d throw in Colorado at 4500′ – 5000′ in elevation and get a little break…I thought I ought to go to a tryout camp at a lower elevation and for sure I’d make the major leagues. (Yea, I know…in my dreams)

Billy Swift, Brett Saberhagen, Mike Hampton, Darryl Kile, Aaron Cook…Good to above average pitchers at sea level – but at the mile high rarefied air of Coors Field – just average.

Greg Maddux – average at Coors Field (maybe one game that he pitched great, all the rest he got some wins, but his ERA took a beating), and this was when he was winning the Cy Youngs.

The best ones at elevation are the pitcthers that change speeds effectively and get the hitters timing off and out on their front foot…they are the ones who win at Coors Field. Hideo Nomo is the only one to have a no-hitter at Coors and that night he effectively changed speeds and the weather helped him out as it was damp and dreary that night.

wpDiscuz