Fluke Watch: first update of the regular season – Papelbon, Myers and Kershaw

As the season goes on, this column is going to be used to look at pitchers who are having unusually good (or poor) seasons and to see if things have changed. But we’ve only had three games so far for most teams, so we can’t really get a good read on such right now. In addition, there are quite a few problems right now with some of the PITCHf/x data at the moment that are really strange.

So in this post, lets take a look at some of the pitchers we’ve looked at over the offseason, shall we?

Clayton Kershaw

Kershaw had a pretty impressive debut for the Dodgers on opening night. He also, as noted by the commentators in the game, seemed to be throwing a “harder slider.” Dave Allen took a look at this at fangraphs and, indeed, you could see a few of these pitches (I counted six or seven), which were thrown to right-handed batters.

However, it seems quite possible that at least a few of these pitches are in fact a DIFFERENT PITCH ENTIRELY from Kershaw’s slider—potentially a cutter—as they seem to have less “drop” and “tail” in addition to being faster. In fact, one or two of them are closer to the fastball in movement than the slider (one of them is basically right in the middle of the fastball cluster). This could simply be a fluke, and it is quite possible that this is just a harder slider that has less time to break.

Of course, Kershaw did use the pitch only sparingly (seven out of 96 tracked pitches), but this bears watching for future starts. A new pitch could change the results of Kershaw for better or for worse.

Brett Myers

Brett Myers pitched on Friday to mixed results. On one hand, he didn’t show any strikeout-recording ability: he struck out none and only got a single swinging strike. On the other hand, he kept ball mainly on the ground. Still, it’s really not what you wanted to see if you thought his results from last year were sustainable, albeit in a clearly tiny sample size.

Pitch-wise, all of his pitches appeared to be down about two MPH from last year, but this would seem to be an illusion caused by a slow gun at the stadium, as Halladay’s pitches were this much slower, as well. The other characteristics of his pitches seem more or less the same as last year.

More importantly, Myers has, to some extent, continued his trend from last year of relying upon his sinker/two-seam fastball more often instead of the four-seam pitch. Against left-handed batters this was clearly true, as the two-seam pitch was his dominant pitch. Against righties, oddly enough, the four-seamer appears dominant.

What does this mean? Well, remember, the two-seam fastball was essentially completely superior to the four-seam variety last year, and his switch to it was seemingly a big boon to his results. Thus, by keeping this change, Myers should be able to perform at a higher level than he did in Philly.

BUT, remember, the trend doesn’t appear in this one start with right-handed batters. I’m not going to read too much into this just yet, but it bears watching: If Myers decides to use the two-seamer mainly against LHB and the four-seamer against RHB, this could result in some interesting splits. This is once again something to keep an eye on as the season goes on, and we’ll do that.

Jonathan Papelbon

Last year, Jonathan Papelbon made a massive change in his pitch usage in August. He started to decrease his fastball usage drastically in favor mainly of his splitter, but also a little bit in favor of his slider. The end result was a ton of strikeout, but an increase in walks. Also, he had some bad luck on balls in play.

The question thus became for fantasy players: Which Papelbon would he be next season? The question wasn’t helped when Papelbon made a comment during spring training stating that he was going to increase his slider usage.

Now we only have one inning of major league PITCHf/x on Papelbon. But it was a crazy inning: three K, one IBB, and three hits, all in 27 pitches (four going to the intentional walk)! Yikes. So what did he throw to get this line?

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

Well, it seems that, to some extent, Papelbon is continuing his trend from last year. He threw 13 of 23 non-IBB pitches as fastballs (56.5 percent), a similar rate to Aug. and Sept., 2010. But instead of throwing the splitter more heavily, Papelbon threw more sliders than usual (six of the other 10 pitches). This is an odd move: Papelbon’s splitter was far better than his slider last year.

Obviously, this bears more watching, but if the trend continues, you can expect more walks from Papelbon, just like in Aug./Sept. of last year. However, if he continues to favor the slider over the splitter, he might not get the Marmol-like K rate he needs in order for this to be a viable pitching strategy.

In other words, this is potentially very worrisome.


Once again, these are all tiny sample sizes and deserve out attention in the future. We’ll continue to check in with these pitchers as the season goes on. If you’d like to do so yourself, try using texasleaguers.com, but please be careful: For some of these pitchers (Myers, particularly), the pitch classifications are not very good. For Papelbon, however, they seem spot on so far.

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