Remember Kelvim Escobar? The last time the Venezuelan and his expansive arsenal of pitches took a big league mound was September 29, 2007 against the Oakland A’s. Escobar picked up the win that day (his 18th of the year), a fitting end to his finest season in the rotation. Escobar posted a tidy 3.39 FIP, befuddling batters with any of his six pitches. Unfortunately, Kelvim was damaged goods by that point. Shoulder surgery wiped out his entire 2008 campaign.
After continuing his rehab during the first two months of the 2009 season, Escobar was back on the bump last night against the Detroit Tigers. While the now-33 year-old righty came up on the short end against a rapidly improving Edwin Jackson, Escobar’s stuff was not lacking.
According to 2007 pitch data, Escobar kept hitters up at night wondering whether they would get his 94 MPH fastball (thrown 51.7% of the time). Or his 86 MPH slider (11.3%). Or 88 MPH cutter (4.1%), 81 MPH curve (9%), 85 MPH changeup (12.5%), or 87 MPH splitter (11.4%). You get the point: he had plenty of tricks in his bag.
Courtesy of the Brooks Baseball Pitch F/X Tool (an amazing resource that slices and dices Pitch F/X data for each appearance), we can take a gander at what a post-surgical Escobar offered the Tigers. According to Pitch F/X, he displayed a 93.9 MPH heater (thrown on 55 of his 92 pitches, or 59.8%), an 84 MPH changeup (32.6%) and a 78.7 MPH curveball (7.6%). In all probability, the Pitch F/X algorithm classified some splitters as changeups and some sliders as curves, but this gives us a decent idea of what he had last night.
Working 5 innings, Escobar punched out 5 batters while showing a highly consistent release point (graph from Brooks Baseball):
However, he also struggled to hit his spots, issuing 4 free passes and tossing 51 of his 92 pitches for strikes (55.4%). Escobar’s hopping fastball had 5.18 inches of horizontal movement in on the hands of righty batters, with 10.28 inches of vertical break compared to a pitch thrown without spin. For reference, the average righty fastball in 2009 has shown 6 inches of tailing action and 8.8 inches of vertical break. Maxing out at 95.5 MPH, Escobar tossed his fastball for a strike 32 out of 55 times (58.2%).
Escobar’s changeup showed similar horizontal movement to his fastball, while dropping a little more than 2 inches further in the zone. His control of the pitch came and went, as he tossed 16 of 30 for a strike (53.3%). Judging from this movement graph, Escobar threw a handful of splitters, with nearly a half-foot of difference in vertical drop compared to his fastball (similar to his numbers from 2007):
Escobar didn’t throw many breaking pitches, with 3 of his 7 breaking balls going for a strike (42.9%). The pitch didn’t show very much horizontal break (0.7 inches away from righty batters), with about three and a half inches of vertical drop.
Overall, the Angels and fantasy owners have to be pretty pleased with Escobar’s first outing. While subsequent starts will tells us whether or not he can sustain his stuff, Kelvim’s fastball showed plenty of bite. His changeup and splitter displayed similar movement and velocity to his 2007 campaign, if not the same level of control and command. That’s a big plus, given that those off-speed pitches play a prominent role in his pitch selection: while Escobar’s fastball has been worth -0.80 runs per 100 pitches since the 2002 season, his change (+2.02) and splitter (+2.40) have often left opponents looking silly. If Escobar happens to be available in your league, snatch him up. It’s anyone’s guess if he can remain healthy, but his stuff has come off the operating table none the worse for wear.