Author Archive

The Change: Scouting With Pitch Type Whiff Rates

fortune

We know, not only because of Taylor Jungmann, but also from the Brewers’ starter, that not all pitches thrown seldomly with good results will remain as successful when thrown more often. Sometimes pitches are successful because they are rare and unexpected. Any batter can hit an eephus if you tell them it’s coming, but your average eephus gets 7% swinging strikes, mostly because they are surprising.

That said, we have some research on what makes curves and changeups good in terms of movement. So if we combine a pitch with elite results in a small sample with an appraisal of how good the movement and velocity on the pitch, we should be able to say with some confidence that the pitch is good.

In order to find our subjects, I merely set the filter low for pitch types (40 pitches) and looked for starters with elite results on changeups, curves, and sliders. It takes 150 plate appearances for strikeout rate to be stable, so this is probably a small sample even for pitch type ‘strikeout rate’, but we’re scouting here, trying to find the elite before they are actually elite.

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Is Mike Trout Playing Hurt? (With Batted Ball Velo Leaders)

Mike Trout hurt his wrist in late July. Since then, in the 101 plate appearances headed into his game last night, the Angels outfielder has hit .224/.347/.388 with two home runs and a caught stealing. He’s been 11% better than league average, but that’s like 50% below average on the Trout scale. Is he still hurt?

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The Change — Velocity Gainers and Losers

Here’s the saddest thing about velocity changes in pitchers: it looks like you’re screwed either way. Velocity is mostly good for results, but Tommy John pitchers both a) threw harder across pitch types when they were healthy and b) showed velocity loss the year they had surgery. So, either way according to Jon Roegele’s research at least, it could be seen as a negative even if you show up as a velocity gainer on our lists today.

On the other hand, it’s probably better to combine velocity loss with things like a drop in zone rate and an inconsistent release point — things that Josh Kalk put into his injury zone work — and not just rely on velocity loss alone.

That said, a tick on the gun is still worth something in run prevention. And so let’s look at which pitchers are happy or hurting on the radar gun.

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The Change: Kang, Yelich and Batted Ball Changers

Ground-ball rate stabilizes fairly quickly. Usually, you’ll hear this factoid in the first month of the season as we look at April stats and try to render prognoses on the rest of the season. Of course, ‘stabilizing’ means that there’s about a 50/50 chance the data is meaningful in that small sample.

Hidden in that fact is the key to today’s look at the player population. Players change. They change their batted ball mixes in season, too, not just in April. And if you look at month-long samples, you’re pretty close to that stabilization point again. You want about 30 games to believe in ground ball numbers, and your qualified batters typically play around 25 games in a month.

And, since we’re now comparing July to June instead of April to all of last year, and we’ve already admitted that players change their mixes, it’s useful to remember that this is not some sort of skeleton key that will figure it all out for us. Still, we need to know which players are altering their batted ball mixes, because it might stick, and it might mean something going forward.

And for Christian Yelich, Adam Eaton, Brandon Crawford and even Jung-ho Kang… we could be seeing the future.

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The Change: Severino, Gray, Owens, Norris & Rookie Pitchers or Rookie Hitters?

Rookie hitters are performing better this year than they ever have in the free agency era. Right now, rookie non-pitchers have a 93 weighted runs created plus, one better than in the second-best year for rookie hitters (2006). That’s also impressive because there are only four years in which rookies have managed a wRC+ over 90.

We spend so much time drooling over rookies that this might be a sobering result. The best rookie class of all time is still 7% worse than league average with the stick. You *could* use this to argue that rookies are a bad scene in redraft leagues.

Of course, that number is an overall number. If you focus on the rookies that have done well, they were almost all well-regarded, right?

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The Change: The Pitches That Have Changed the Most

The short answer for why we missed on Jacob deGrom on the way up was that he improved each of his pitches as he ascended through the minor leagues, often by changing the grip. He’s back to his old tricks, as only Anthony DeSclafani‘s slider has gotten harder this year, and the other guys throwing the Dan Warthen-branded Mets slider are all doing pretty well with that pitch.

So let’s look at movement and velocity changes on pitches and see if we can spot the next deGrom, hopefully in time to have him on our roster before the true breakout.

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The Change: Time to Punt? Time to Sell?

Dynasty leagues are great. In a time of year where standard leagues are losing interested members by the bushel, dynasty leagues have one last big question that keeps everyone at the table. Is it time to sell? Do I look to the future right now, or do I buy? What should the buying look like?

These things are hard to prove with numbers, but maybe some recent experience, and some help from our readers, can flush these out better for those of staring at that very decision. It’s really a look at two essential questions that face us when we’re not in the top three slots in our league, in the end.

For those of you not in dynasty leagues, the first part will still be useful — we’ll look at what sort of numbers you’ll need to show in your rate categories if you want to undo the terrible that you have done so far. If you can’t push that boulder, maybe you should re-focus on other parts of your standings.

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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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