Pitch F/X Audit: Seattle Mariners

Last week marked the introduction of my year in review series using the tremendous Pitch F/X data to examine the splits and frequencies of pitchers in different situations.  Since Pizza Cutter and I decided to base our order on reverse Pythagorean wins, we began with the Nationals.  Just like last week, you will see Pizza’s year in review on Monday, with my Pitch F/X audit of that same team today.  While we began with the Washington Nationals, who play in Washington, DC, we now move to the state of Washington, to take a look at the Seattle Mariners, one of the most disappointing teams of 2008. 

They spent the off-season trading the farm for Erik Bedard and inking Carlos Silva to an absolutely ridiculous contract in an attempt to build upon their success in 2007.  Unfortunately, Bedard missed half of the season while Silva produced one of the worst pitched seasons in all of baseball.  Add in a poor season from the washed up Jarrod Washburn and extremely poor performances from Miguel Batista and there was not too much production out of the rotation after Felix Hernandez. 

A big problem with the Mariners rotation can be found in some pitiful strikeout to walk ratios.  King Felix posted a solid 175/80, but Washburn (87/50), Bedard (72/37) and Batista (73/79) walked too many in relation to their punchouts.  On top of that, even though Silva’s K/BB rose above 2.0, he fanned just 69 in 153.1 innings, a K/9 of 4.05.  I discussed at Fangraphs last week how, of the five worst bullpens via controllable skills, the Mariners relievers were actually somewhat solid at fanning hitters, with a K/9 above 7.0, and they finished tied for fourth with a 0.78 HR/9, but they, just like the starters, struggled with walking hitters.  Ryan Rowland-Smith, Sean Green, and Mark Lowe all produced K/BB ratios below 2.0, and JJ Putz chimed in at exactly 2.0.  The only standout in this regard amongst their relievers was Brandon Morrow, who was groomed into a starter at the end of the season.  Let’s get into the Pitch F/X data and frequency splits.

Overall Velocity
First up, let us take a look at the overall velocities for the ten most prominent pitchers on the Mariners staff this season.  I decided not to include the overall frequencies of pitches because it is much more interesting to see how they are broken down in specific situations, which we will see later on.  To view the velocities, click here.

King Felix still has a very lively fastball, in the 94-95 mph range, and throws his offspeed pitches at least seven miles per hour less, which helps with regards to differences in relative velocity, or how another pitch looks due to the velocity of the preceding or subsequent delivery.  Washburn has never thrown particularly hard, but has been able to stick around this long due to movement and a somewhat nice mixture of offspeed pitches.

We see a nice mix of velocities amongst the relief corps, as Morrow, Putz, and Lowe all through fastballs at 94+ mph, while Rowland-Smith and Green average below 90 mph.  They exhibit a bigger dropoff in velocity from fastballs to offspeed pitches, though, which could make their heaters look much faster.

Frequency Splits by Hitters
Next up, we will take a look at how the frequency and percentage of certain pitchers differs to left-handed and right-handed hitters.  To view the spreadsheet, click here.

Felix Hernandez was consistent with fastball usage, but threw more curves and changeups to lefties, significantly more sliders to righties.  Washburn jumped from 57% to lefties to 68% fastballs against righties, simultaneously decreasing his usage of curves and sliders to those same right-handed hitters.  Against righties, he basically became a fastball-changeup pitcher, whereas he was much more balanced against those on the left side of the batters box.  Against lefties, Silva was a fastball-changeup pitcher, but when the batters went to the opposite side, he replaced half of his changeups with sliders.

Bedard was primarily a fastball-curveball pitcher regardless of who he faced, though he did throw a higher percentage of heaters to lefties.  Batista threw just 47.8% fastball to lefties and remained below 50% against righties, relying much more on offspeed pitches than anyone else on the staff.  In fact, against righties, he threw his slider 42.3% of the time.  Rowland-Smith, who we previously established does not have a very lively fastball, also hovers around the 50% mark to both lefties and righties, but Sean Green is actually the opposite: he threw fastballs 79% to lefties and 72% to righties, despite failing to break 90 mph in average.

Morrow was a fastball-changeup pitcher to lefties and a fastball-slider guy to righties.  The same can be said for Mark Lowe and JJ Putz: they primarily threw fastballs, but their offspeed frequencies shifted from the secondary changeup to righties to the slider against lefties.

Bases Empty vs. Runners On
One aspect of the pitch frequency splits that always piqued my interest was how someone’s repertoire changed with runners on base.  To view the spreadsheet of frequencies with runners on vs. bases empty, click here.

In case you do not view the spreadsheet, Felix Hernandez was virtually identical in frequency with or without runners on base.  He didn’t increase offspeed usage or rely more on the fastball.  The same can be said for Jarrod Washburn.  Carlos Silva threw a higher percentage of changeups, but nothing earth-shatteringly drastic.  Bedard tended to rely more on the curveball with runners on than the bases empty, increasing his usage from 30% to 37%.  Miguel Batista, however, showed some very drastic splits.  With nobody on, he threw 53% fastballs, 3% curveballs, 32% sliders, 10% changeups, and 2% cutters.  With ducks on the pond, he threw 41% fastballs, no curveballs, 49% sliders, 5% changeups, and 5% cutters.  Essentially, he became a different pitcher when runners reached base.

Morrow, Green, and Lowe were all fairly consistent in their approach with runners on vs. bases empty, but Putz and Rowland-Smith had interesting shifts.  With nobody on, Putz threw 14% sliders and 12% changeups, however this shifted to 6% sliders and 15% changeups when runners reached base.  Likewise, Rowland-Smith dropped from 59% fastballs with nobody on to 48% fastballs when runners reached base, replacing the lost fastballs with an increased dosage of curveballs and changeups.

Progression Splits
Lastly, how did the repertoires of the Mariners starting staff differ as the game progressed?  As in, did the percentage of offspeed pitches for, say, Jarrod Washburn, increase from innings 4-6 compared to the first three innings?  To view the progression splits for Felix, Washburn, Silva, Bedard, and Batista, click here.

King Felix, as Dave Cameron pointed out last season, relied heavily on the fastball in the early stages of the game, throwing it upwards of 80% in the first three innings.  This frequency dropped to 71% through innings 4-6, and 63% from that point on, as his usage of curveballs and sliders gradually increased.  The same results can be found in the frequencies of Erik Bedard: he gradually reduced his fastball usage throughout the game from 66% to 57%, replacing them with curveballs, which rose from 31% to 40%. 

Washburn, Silva, and Batista all fell into a similar boat, one which involved a pretty big dropoff in fastballs from innings 1-3 to 4-6, but a regression after that point.  Unfortun
ately, the data is not really significant at this level due to the rarity of their starts lasting longer than six innings.

Moving Forward
Morrow will be in the rotation next season, giving King Felix some adequate help.  Though his results during the five starts at the end of the season were less than stellar, his “stuff” is too good not to succeed on some level.  He might not be an ace pitcher, but there is really no reason why he could not be the Matt Cain to Felix’s Tim Lincecum, an ironic analogy given the fact that Morrow was drafted before Lincecum… sorry, Mariners faithful.

Bedard is going to miss half of the season, and it will be interesting to see if their new general manager Jack Zduriencik opts to move him or keep him around.  Unfortunately, Silva, Washburn, and Batista are all signed through 2009, and while Silva and Batista could not possibly be worse than they were this past season, this triumvirate is not what a team trying to rebuild itself wants in their rotation.  It will be interesting to see what Trader Jack does with the rotation, but if the bullpen can reduce their walk rates and sustain the solid strikeout and home run rates from 2008, the M’s might have at least one bright spot moving forward.

As always, if there is anything specific with regards to pitch frequency splits that piques your interest, write me and let me know so I can add to this review, or incorporate into future audits.

  

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One Response to Pitch F/X Audit: Seattle Mariners

  1. Cal Stewart says:

    Is it a sure thing that Bedard misses any time at all to start 2009, let alone half the season?
    I’m pretty sure I read where the Mariners think there is a chance he’s ready for spring training, which would lead one to believe that he’d at least be back pitching by April.

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