Q&A: Roy Oswalt, Evolution of a Career

Much like the old gray mare, Roy Oswalt isn’t what he used to be. That doesn’t mean the 35-year-old right-hander is ready to be put out to pasture. He can still be an effective pitcher, he simply can’t be ridden as hard as he was from 2001-2010. During that period, Oswalt was a 200-innings-a-year workhorse who twice won 20 games, captured an ERA title, and represented the Astros three times in the All-Star Game.

Now a member of the Texas Rangers, Oswalt finds himself working out of the bullpen as well as the rotation. In 12 games, he has a record of 4-2 and a 5.85 ERA that is well above his career mark of 3.28.

Oswalt talked about his evolution as a pitcher when the Rangers visited Fenway Park in August.


Roy Oswalt: “When I first started out, I had four pitches, like I do now. My main two pitches were my fastball and my curveball. I probably threw 75 percent fastballs, 20 percent curveballs, and mixed in a slider and changeup. Later, in 2009 and 2010, I started throwing a changeup a lot more. I finally learned how to actually throw it the right way, I guess you might say.

“When I first started throwing it, I never really had the right feeling of the ball coming off my index finger. No one ever explained it, they just said to throw it like a fastball. Well, the way I throw a fastball versus another way a guy throws a fastball can be totally different. A lot of guys think about being on top of the ball; I think about staying behind it. When they explained to throw a changeup like a fastball, I was staying behind it instead of on top of it. I never really got the concept of it until probably 2010.

“The grip is somewhere between a fosh and a circle change. Everyone has a little different way of throwing it. Some guys throw a circle and some guys throw a fosh, and I kind of modified it. When I threw a circle changeup, I kind of threw it too hard. Throwing a fosh, I didn’t quite have the location that I wanted. I kind of modified between the two.

“Velocity has been a big part of what I do. When I first came up, my velocity was mid 90s and it would sit there for most of the game, through 100 pitches. I could get away with some pitches in the middle of the strike zone. Now, I have to be a little finer on the edges. Having a changeup also allows me to not throw as hard and still get productive outs.

“I think that a lot of guys get away from the fastball, especially in the American League. In the National League, you get to see first hand how hard it is to square up a 92-93 mph fastball that’s moving around. In the American League, you only get to see it from the mound. My career kind of turned for the better when I got to Double-A and started hitting. In high school, you face a lot of guys who thrown 70-75 mph with that middle-in fastball. Once you get in the big leagues, that middle-in fastball is sinking down toward you, and is a lot harder to hit at 95 than it was at 75.

“Something I benefit from is… I talk to hitters here and there, and ask them what they see when they face me. Every one of them says that the ball looks low when it’s a strike. I’ve had the ability to throw the ball at the bottom of the zone and have it carry the last five feet. The pitch would normally be low, but my ball starts carrying and stays on a sustained plane. Everyone always complains — ‘that ball is low’ — but then you go back and look at the tape, and it’s right there. My catchers tell me, and the hitters tell me, that the ball stays true flight the last five or six feet.

“I’ve gotten a lot of strikeouts working up and out of the zone. It’s often the best pitch for me to throw to a guy who is sitting on a fastball. If I throw it high, a lot of times he’ll swing and not catch up to it. Same thing with a curveball. He’s sitting on it, and I throw it short. He sees it coming out of my hand and figures that he guessed right, so he reaches for it.

“I throw both a curveball and a slider. The good thing about having two breaking pitches is that if one‘s not on, you can go to the other. If the slider’s not working that night, you can go to your curveball, or the other way around. I started throwing both for that reason. You’re not going to have every pitch working every night.

“The difference between the two is that one is really slow and the other is harder. My curveball goes from the low 60s to 70 and my slider is 80 to 85. A good thing about my curveball is that even if I don’t have the snap on it — and often I don’t — the speed difference usually gets them. I’m going from 93 to 70, or even 63, so it might be a 30-mph difference.

“I probably had my best curveball early in my career. I felt like I could actually tell them it was coming and they still couldn’t hit it. Later, after they learned me — and the speed difference — it became a little different. My velocity isn’t 97 anymore. It’s 93, so they have a little more time to react. But early in my career — probably the first five years — I could go to it any time and felt that I could get anybody out with it.

“I’ve been pretty satisfied with my career, at least up to now. My goal was to get up here and have 10 productive years, and I feel like I’ve had that. I’ve done some things that I couldn’t have imagined, growing up. Even so, I’ve started for 12 years. That’s still what I want to do.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA

18 Responses to “Q&A: Roy Oswalt, Evolution of a Career”

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  1. El Vigilante says:

    Can anyone provide a good reason for why he hasn’t reclaimed the 5th spot in the rotation?

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    • Mitchell says:

      Maybe they want to use him out of the ‘pen in the playoffs?

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      It’s crazy. Oswalt has a 3.40 xFIP this year – he’s arguably the Rangers best starter.

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      • elijah says:

        You obviously haven’t watched any of his starts.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Oh you’re saying that a pitcher who gives up a bunch of hits looks bad? Well duh, but that’s what xFIP is trying to strip out.

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      • snoop LION says:

        so if a pitcher just throws the ball down the middle at 70mph in every 3 -1 or worse count but has a good FIP is he a good pitcher? People that just claim FIP or another ‘advanced’ term in a one sentence response and snark and sneer at others who do not share the same opinion really goat me.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Really, does Oswalt do that? I highly doubt it as that same pitcher wouldn’t also magically have the ability to strikeout out 8.5 and walk 2 per 9.

        People who aren’t able to realize that poor luck will bias your “scouting” really goat me. As do people who think that because they watched him pitch they are suddenly a quality judge of his talent.

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      • NeverJamToday says:

        The various and sundry DIP stats are fine and dandy, but they are still flawed. Pitching to contact is necessary unless you are a short reliever. And the true artists at pitching to contact will often be penalized by DIP stats. For example, after well over 4,000 innings pitched and retirement from the game, we’re still waiting for Tom Glavine’s ERA to balloon to his FIP or xFIP because, damn it, that’s what these advanced metrics predict. Ditto Tim Hudson, who’s approaching 3,000 IP.

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      • snoop LION says:

        did I mention anywhere there that that is what I thought Oswalt did? I was merely pointing out the weakness in you’re argument relying wholly on a model that is not close to being completely accurate. I actually do think he should be in the rotation at the moment. But for you to just pass off “BUT HE HAS A 3.40 XFIP HE SOOOO GOOOD” as a broad sweeping statement is just as stupid.

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    • Ross says:

      Feldman was pitching very well for a while. Don’t pay attention the local media, Roy is fine here. The media railed him once and now instead of defending himself over and over Roy just ignores them or gives them nothing. Feldman and Oswalt have been very similar for the Rangers, low walks, decent to good Ks, they are just getting hit. Feldman just happens to give up all his hits in the same inning and he’ll give up 2-4 runs that inning and maybe 1 the rest of the game. Oswalt has been very good, but he’ll get up 0-2 or 1-2 and then he’ll groove as FB in the middle or up in the zone and it’ll get crushed. I think the Rangers should go to a 6 man rotation for 2-3 turns to give the guys some rest before the playoffs and allow Roy to get stretched out and more comfortable, but what do I know.

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  2. Man0warr says:

    Scott Feldman was pitching well, and when he started to falter, Roy O was no longer stretched out for starting.

    At that point you might as well keep him in the pen as a long man, since he won’t be on the playoff rotation anyways.

    It’s not like starting Oswalt over Feldman would increase the Rangers expectancy of winning said start.

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  3. CJ in Austin, TX says:

    As an Astros’ fan and long time fan of Oswalt, that’s some amazing stuff in this interview. Oswalt usually comes across as reserved or taciturn in interviews, giving minimal answers. Great job getting him to tell us about how he pitches.

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  4. Chris From Bothell says:

    Great interview. Not only on its own merits and insights, but because it compelled me to look up what a ‘fosh’ is. I’d never heard of that term before.

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  5. Nathan Nathan says:

    Weir is Roy from, again?

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  6. Nathan Nathan says:

    I infer that Oswalt throws a fastball with an unusual grip (so he’s “behind the ball” instead of “on top of it”) and apparently gets more lift/rise out of it, causing hitters to judge that it will be low when it’s not.

    I presume his grip produces more backspin than usual.

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    • jj says:

      That’s exactly how I read it. I bet PitchFX can verify that for us – it would be interesting to see a comparison going back a couple years to see if when he was getting better results (2010) if the fastball has more rise than it currently does.

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  7. Delirium Nocturnum says:

    Love these – great interview as usual. Keep ‘em coming!

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