What Drabek has shown so far

Kyle Drabek has now thrown six starts in the big leagues—three in 2011 and three in 2010 after his September call-up. While 36 innings (actually, a little bit less) isn’t a ton to go off of, it’s enough to know that Drabek has great stuff. What’s more, Drabek is mixing his pitches much differently this year than he did last September.

In his major league games (for which we have PITCHf/x data), Drabek has thrown five different pitch types: a straight four-seam fastball, a sinking two-seam fastball, a cut fastball, a changeup, and a hard curveball.

When Drabek was coming up through the Phillies’ system, he considered himself to be a fastball/curveball guy with a developing changeup; his curveball had been touted by scouts as a plus strikeout pitch. So, it came as no surprise when Drabek used his curve as his offspeed pitch of choice in 2010, picking up eight of his 12 strikeouts on it.

The column graph below shows how Drabek attacked hitters in different count situations over his three 2010 starts (see legend below).


“Ahead”: 0-2, 1-2, 2-2 counts; “neutral”: 0-1, 1-1, 2-1, 1-0; “first”: 0-0; “full”: 3-2; “behind”: 2-0, 3-1, 3-0

In Drabek’s three starts last year, both righties and lefties saw about 40 percent curveballs with two strikes. Take note that Drabek’s cutter, which was not part of his repertoire in 2009, was not shown much—it was most frequently used behind in the count to righties.

Let’s flash forward to 2011. Apparently, Drabek has continued to develop his cutter. Take a look at the difference:


Drabek has pretty much replaced his power curve with the cutter in strikeout situations—lefties, in particular, have seen more cutters with two strikes than any other pitch this year. If you look at pitch selection to both righties and lefties and across all counts, cutter usage has increased from 11 percent last year to 25 percent this year, and curveball usage has decreased from 17 percent to 10 percent.

To get a feel for what Drabek’s pitches do, I’ve included the table below, which shows some generic pitch results from Drabek in his first six major league starts (small sample caveats apply, but it’s probably large enough to get a pretty good feel for how he uses his pitches):

mph # % RHB% LHB% Swing Whiff Zone Chase Watch Ball GB Rate xRV/100
Fastball 93.4 207 .360 .356 .361 .324 .164 .353 .187 .425 .469 .720 -0.08
Sinker 93.3 152 .264 .231 .277 .513 .167 .309 .410 .255 .388 .556 +0.73
Cutter 90.8 103 .179 .231 .159 .427 .273 .388 .254 .300 .427 .450 -1.59
Curveball 82.9 62 .108 .175 .082 .548 .559 .306 .488 .316 .339 .375 -2.95
Changeup 85.6 51 .089 .006 .120 .412 .429 .137 .341 .143 .490 .500 +0.63
577 .425 .261 .324 .310 .337 .426 .564 -0.42

Swing rate is swings/pitch; Whiff rate is misses/swings; Zone rate is pitches in the strike zone/pitches; Chase rate is swing rate on pitches out of the strike zone; Watch rate is pitches not swung at/pitches in the strike zone; Ball rate is balls/pitches; GB rate is ground balls/balls in play; xRV/100 is expected run value per 100 pitches. (Especially with this sample size, I prefer the regressed run values, with league averages based on batted-ball types instead of actual results, rather than the regular ones. Here are some league averages by pitch type for these metrics.)

When looking at both the aggregated data and the 2010 to 2011 comparisons, a few things caught my eye:
{exp:list_maker}Drabek throws a *lot* of pitches out of the zone (all pitches below league average at being in the strike zone). So far, he’s also gotten a lot of swings out of the zone, which is a good thing.
The curve has been incredible so far, which makes Drabek’s decreased reliance on it a bit curious. When comparing 2010 to 2011, he’s thrown more curves in the strike zone. It was in the dirt a lot last year; it looks like he’s also using it to pick up called strikes.
Yes, the groundball rate on his four-seam fastball is 72%, higher than his other pitches. I’d doubt it will stay nearly that high. {/exp:list_maker}
So, basically, Drabek is nasty with his ability to miss bats and get ground balls, though his control has been somewhat suspect. The curveball looks great so far, but the cutter keeps him around the zone more.

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