Archive for September, 2015

No batting gloves: Is it superstition, science … or something much simpler?

Whether you credit longtime major leaguer Bobby Thomson — who is most famous for his Shot Heard Round the World — for first wearing batting gloves, or whether you remember the more iconic appearance of Mickey Mantle wearing a single white glove in a 1960 episode of “Home Run Derby” as the start of the trend, it’s common knowledge by now that a high percentage of pro baseball players wear batting gloves.

There are a few no-gloved hitters out there, however, and when asked why they don’t wear them, the answers usually include some blend of superstition and mechanical explanation. While we could easily dismiss both of those replies as ballplayers just being ballplayers, it does hit upon the interesting relationship ballplayers have with their psyche (superstition) and hands (mechanics).

Let’s take a closer at both sides of the explanation.

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Carlos Martinez is More Than Just a Fastball

The first thing you might notice when you watch Carlos Martinez throw are the numbers on the radar gun: 96, 97, 98. The Cardinals’ young righty throws the fifth-fastest four-seam fastball among starters in the big leagues, after all.

For all that velocity, though, the four-seamer might be his worst pitch. Among his pitches, it’s the only one that is not above-average by whiff rates, and it’s also allowed the highest slugging percentage on balls in play this year. “All the hitters who face me are looking for the four-seamer,” Martinez laughed when I pointed out that the pitch has his worst homer rate.

The pitcher’s response? Tighten up the rest of his pitches, one by one. That’s how he’s become a top-20 starter this year by strikeout rate, ground-ball rate, and ERA.

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How Marco Estrada and his modest fastball are succeeding in a fireballer’s league

Once a pitcher’s average fastball drops below 90 mph, pitching in the major leagues gets a lot more challenging. For instance, a pitcher is 16 percent more likely to give up a home run on a fastball clocked at less than 90 mph than one at more than 90. As such, continuing to pitch in the major leagues is more challenging as well, as teams just don’t hand the ball to these guys very often. Of the 146 pitchers who have thrown 500 or more four-seam fastballs this year, only 14 of them have averaged less than 90 on the pitch.

The league’s throwing harder every year, and it’s getting harder to live on the edges. Just look at how all fastball velocities are distributed this year.

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Jaime Garcia, Improved by Injury?

Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia has never thrown 200 innings. He’s had three major surgeries. He’s now 29 and was an afterthought going into the season, not mentioned at all in some team previews, and viewed as a bonus if he ever got healthy.

It’s been a tough time, and even the pitcher admits as much: “I’ve been through so much, with so many injuries, and it’s been tough,” he told me before a game against the Giants.

Is there a chance, though, that he’s come out of all of this improved as a pitcher? He’s currently showing the best ground-ball rate of his career, a number that would make him second in baseball if he had enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, and he’s slated to pitch a big September game against the second-place Pirates this weekend.

He credits the struggle to get here as a learning process that taught him more about his mechanics, his stuff, and his approach.

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