Author Archive

The Change: This Year’s Wide Arsenals

In pitching, you have your Matt Cains and you have your A.J. Burnetts — there’s no one way to be a good starting pitcher. Sometimes you have a wide arsenal of representative pitches, sometimes you have one excellent pitch and you find a way to keep throwing it over and over again.

Today, let’s give some love to the Matt Cains and find pitchers with many good pitches. Maybe we’ll find an undervalued guy or two.

First, we’ll use the “above-average” benchmarks set up here, with a low minimum to allow for short-sample pitchers to get into the list. If you’ve thrown your pitch 20 times so far this year, that pitch is eligible for this list. Then, the simple question is, is your pitch over the benchmark? Let’s sum the starters for swinging strikes first.

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The Change: New Pitching Mixes

Hitters have to be jealous of pitchers in at least one respect. A pitcher can add a new pitch — maybe by fiddling with the grip or the release — and that new pitch can make them into a totally different guy. Hitters can fiddle with their mechanics, but it’s rare that there’s a readily available obvious and easy change they can make that rises to the level of a New Changeup.

Speaking of new changeups, check out Carlos Martinez.

The Change: Manny Machado, Billy Burns, & Batted Ball Mixes

There is no ideal batted ball mix for all players. Run the numbers, and there’s no strong correlation between things like pull, opposite-field, ground-ball and fly-ball rates and weighted on base average or similar production stats.

That said, there is at least one “bad” batted ball type, the infield fly. And there is a decent relationship between fly balls and power, and between oppo% and BABIP. So you can feel your way to the ‘right’ mix for each player type.

And the players do themselves, as well. In general, they hit fewer ground balls as they approach their peak, which is a way for them to increase their power. And there are plenty of anecdotes from hitters about either leveling their swing plane to get on base more, or trying to hit more fly balls in order to hit for more power.

It’s clear that batted ball mix is a source for improvement in younger hitters, and that — if you’re careful — you can use it to try and figure out the future for a young player. So let’s turn this spotlight on two very different players, Manny Machado and Billy Burns, to see what we can learn.

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The Change: Collin McHugh and Bad Fastballs

Where have Collin McHugh‘s strikeouts gone? Only Shane Greene, Jesse Hahn, Alex Wood, and Phil Hughes have seen a sharper decrease in strikeout rate since last year without a change in role. We’ve covered most of those guys in one way or another over the last few weeks at The Change. Now it’s time to focus on McHugh, to see what we can learn.

McHugh is still top 30 in swinging strike rate. He’s 65th in strikeout rate. Something is amiss here.

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The Change: Average Movement For Each Pitch Type

When I comment on the shape of a pitch, I try to put it into two pieces of context: the league average movement on a pitch like that, and the rest of that pitcher’s arsenal. More on the second bit later.

Today, let’s look at some young pitchers with small track records — guys like Eduardo Rodriguez, Chi-Chi Gonzalez, Vincent Velasquez, and Lance McCullers — up against the average movement of the league’s pitches. Because we may not know a ton about outcomes right now, but the movement of a pitch probably only takes a few games to stabilize. It’s an aspect of the pitch, much like velocity, which stabilizes in three games.

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The Change: Standout Pitches

Most of you know that I love tracking pitches as if they were players. Jeurys Familia‘s slider just got overtaken by the one by thrown by Sergio Santos in whiff rate! David Robertson‘s knuckle curve is now number one in the game by whiffs, not Craig Kimbrel‘s! With at least 20 balls in play, no pitch has a bigger grounder rate than the sinkers by Javier Lopez, with Chad Qualls, Charlie Morton, Brad Ziegler and Brad Hand rounding out the top five.

Anyway, I fired up my favorite query for you, and thought I’d point out some notable pitches.

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The Change: Hughes, Shoemaker, and The Limits of K-BB

Yes, the best in-season ERA estimator is strikeouts minus walks. You can use that tidbit to find a few sleepers in season, for sure.

But when you look at Matt Shoemaker and Phil Hughes right now, you realize there are perils when it comes to using the stat in the offseason. And really, you may start to see some of the limits of the stat even when it comes to in-season work.

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The Change: The Pop-Up, And When To Start Worrying

It’s tricky to write about batted ball mix changes, for the most part. If you’re talking push and pull, adding the ability to go the other way can increase your batting average, sure. But it can also decrease your power output. Ground balls and fly balls act the same way — there’s really an ideal mix for each hitter, and we’re trying to figure out just as much as they are which is the best way forward.

There’s one batted ball type that just plain sucks, though. The pop-up. The infield fly.

98.5% of the time, that’s an out. It’s a bad idea, plain and simple.

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The Change: Jorge Soler and Adjustments Past and Future

A stat that we don’t talk about much just hit the stabilization point, meaning it’s offering us more signal than noise. Pull percentage! It only takes about thirty balls in play to stabilize, and so it’s fairly easy to quickly see if a player has changed their approach at the plate in this way. Even opposite field percentage, which takes 65 balls in play, is pretty much stable for most hitters by now.

A player we do talk about a lot is Jorge Soler. Dripping with upside, the slugger hasn’t performed quite to expectations this year, whiffing more and looking a bit lost at the plate sometimes. As a consequence, he keeps showing up in trades, as some look to use the remaining promise to cash in, while others see this as a last chance to buy an emerging slugger.

Let’s look at the player through the lens of the stat.

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The Change: Hutchison, Greene, Lincecum, Soft% and Edge%

For all the Anthony DeSclafani and Chase Anderson love I’m getting in my inbox and Twitter feed, there’s equal parts consternation when it comes to Drew Hutchison and Shane Greene. Rightfully so. The point with the deep sleepers is to hit the lottery, but that holds a hidden second moment, just as important as the first: cutting bait before it’s too late. Have we reached that moment with the two early season duds?

First, it’s tempting to see every pitcher through the new stats on the website. Shane Greene is top 15 in Soft%! Anthony DeSclafani is top 20! Drew Hutchison is almost exactly league average in soft, medium, and hard contact allowed!

But we shouldn’t.

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