Quick F/x: Jorge Sosa is back

Do you remember Jorge Sosa? He was a pitcher for the Devil Rays and Braves back in the day. He has recently spent time with the Mets, Mariners and Astros, before joining the Nationals. Oh yes, the Nationals are desperate for bullpen help.

Now is the perfect time to debut the newest version of my Pitch F/x flight paths. Thanks to Harry Pav for creating the first template, and answering my questions last night when I was updating it.
sosa_fp_8-02-09.pngThe plate/strike zone are for reference, and should not be treated as perfect. However, they should be pretty close. Click on image to enlarge.

The fastball/slider combo is solid, and he’s still throwing in the low 90’s. He has never been much for controlling his pitches, so it’s no surprise the pitches are over the plate. However, the slider stayed low, so it’s not too bad.
Congrats, Nationals, you have yourself an average pitcher.

Pitch F/x: Chris Tillman’s Debut

Orioles prospect Chris Tillman made his debut last night, so let’s take a look at how he did. First, his line from his outing:


Baltimore IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Tillman 4.2 7 3 3 1 2 3 5.79

Now, let’s go to the Pitch F/x, in all its glory. Click on image to enlarge.
tillman_flight_7-29-09.png
Fastball - 60 at 93.35 MPH
Changeup - 18 at 81.07
Curveball - 15 at 79.38
Now, he has some good movement on his curveball, and his changeup is ok. His fastball is a little straight for my liking, but he may be able to get away with it if he continues throwing it at 93 MPH.
Expect to see plenty more from Tillman this year, as he seems to be up in the bigs for good. He’s already proved himself in the minors (posted a FIP of 2.95 in AAA this year), so the majors are his next task.

Pitch F/x: Chris Tillman's Debut

Orioles prospect Chris Tillman made his debut last night, so let’s take a look at how he did. First, his line from his outing:


Baltimore IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Tillman 4.2 7 3 3 1 2 3 5.79

Now, let’s go to the Pitch F/x, in all its glory. Click on image to enlarge.
tillman_flight_7-29-09.png
Fastball - 60 at 93.35 MPH
Changeup - 18 at 81.07
Curveball - 15 at 79.38
Now, he has some good movement on his curveball, and his changeup is ok. His fastball is a little straight for my liking, but he may be able to get away with it if he continues throwing it at 93 MPH.
Expect to see plenty more from Tillman this year, as he seems to be up in the bigs for good. He’s already proved himself in the minors (posted a FIP of 2.95 in AAA this year), so the majors are his next task.

Pitch F/x: Clayton Mortensen

Earlier today, Matt Holliday was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for three prospects, one of which was pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Mortensen has actually pitched 3 innings in the bigs, so he has pitch f/x data to his name. Let’s take a look, and as always, click on the image to enlarge.

mortensen_move_6-29-09.png
Mort (I’m calling him Mort, deal with it) has a solid sinker with good sideways movement, and an inconsistent moving changeup. His slider is also highly inconsistent, and doesn’t move much anyway.
mortensen_loc_6-29-09.png
His location is his biggest issue, as the sinker stays up in the zone too often. He needs to pull it all together and become more consistent with his sinker and changeup location.
Resources
Thanks to Brooks Baseball for making the data really easy to find, and Harry Pav for tips on pitch types.

Zito Gaining Speed?

Warning: Low(ish) Content

When running some pitch f/x numbers for an upcoming piece, I noticed Barry Zito’s fastball has been rising in velocity.
When Zito was having success with the A’s, his fastball was around 87 mph. It had dipped before he got to the Giants, but it has started to rise again.
Average lines are calculated approximations (if that makes any sense).
zito_fa_speed.png
Click on image for a larger picture.

The numbers:
2007: 84.8 mph
2008: 85.1
2009: 86.3
One thing to note, is that the velocity of his fastball has been consistently dropping over his last few starts. Not a lot, but it is there. 
Not sure if this even really means anything, but with all the talk about Zito today, it’s a cool thing to look at.

Another straight, effective fastball

If you don’t know him already, you should try and learn a thing or two about Mark DiFelice. In a nutshell, he’s a reliever for the Brewers who, after a long career in various levels of the minor leagues, has been mowing down hitters with nothing but an 82-mph fastball. No knuckleball or gyroball or anything like that, just batting practice fastballs that make guys like Hanley Ramirez look foolish.

In a post at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron presents this pitch f/x graph from one of DiFelice’s games:

difelice.jpg
Gameday classifies those pitches as sliders and changeups because, well, major league pitchers just don’t throw nothing but fastballs at 82 miles per hour and get away with it. DiFelice isn’t just getting away with it, he’s been more than 2 linear weights (LW) runs above average per 100 pitches with it despite throwing it almost every single time. The average horizontal movement of that “thing” is between +1.4 and -2.9 inches, so it’s pretty straight. But part of what makes it effective is that, compared to the average major league fastball, it’s not straight at all. Major leaguers have fastballs that, on average, tail about 5 inches to the arm side. Don’t believe me that it’s a fastball, DiFelice says so himself in that Yahoo link above.

I’m not going to go further in analyzing DiFelice, because my pitch f/x abilities are severely limited in that regard, and Dave Cameron already did a good job of it. What I noticed today was that there is another mostly unknown pitcher who has a similarly puzzling fastball.

That pitcher is David Robertson, a reliever for the Yankees. Robertson was known in the Yankees system as a guy with a devastating curveball and an average fastball. Radar guns confirmed this in the major leagues, when people saw the 90-91 mph fastball and his big looping curve racking up the strikeouts. I checked out his player card today and was surprised to see that 80% of his pitches this season have been fastballs. Not only that, his fastballs are registering 1.47 LW runs above average per 100 pitches. That puts him in the same company as Jonathan Broxton. Take another look at that graph above for DiFelice, and then look at this graph for Robertson’s game on June 12th against the Mets:

8241_P_0_200906120_game.jpg
Ignoring the colors, look at the cluster of dots in the middle of the graph. Yes, I realize that DiFelice’s ball drops a lot more than Robertson’s, but the horizontal movement is almost exactly the same. Robertson’s fastball is more like a cutter than anything else, and that’s probably why it has been so effective at around 90 mph, despite throwing it 4 out of every 5 pitches.

Ask any Yankee fan how Robertson has been able to have a strikeout rate of over 13 per 9 innings this year and over 11 per 9 innings in his career, and he’ll probably tell you it’s because of that curveball. And it might be because of it–after all, that huge curve might be in the back of a hitter’s mind, causing him to miss the fastball. If you want to surprise him, tell him just how effective Robertson’s “just average” fastball has been, and you’ll end up looking real smart.

Chien-Ming Wang was broken. Did they fix him?

Chien-Ming Wang returned to the major league mound on Friday night in relief of the struggling AJ Burnett. In three innings of work, he allowed 2 runs on 6 hits (one home run) and one walk. That outing lowered his season ERA by 9 1/2 points… to a cool 25.00. Yikes.

Wang had been rehabbing what was diagnosed as essentially weakness in his hips, which reportedly resulted from a foot injury he sustained last season in Houston while running the bases. He had been doing relatively well in rehab starts in AAA, and the Yankees needed a long reliever for the game after burning the bullpen the night before. I mentioned above Wang’s results for the night, but let’s take a look at how he got there, through the eyes of pitch f/x.

His average fastball was a strong 92.5 mph, averaging about 10 inches of horizontal movement and 6.8 inches of vertical “rise.” How does that compare to the beginning of this season, when he was getting bombed, and to 2008, when he was pretty good? Here’s a grid, for easier comparison:

Game    Avg. Velocity     Max. Velocity     Horiz. Movement (in.)   Vert. Movement (in.)
2008            91.8                  ~95                          11                                  4.9
2009            90.7                  ~93                         9.3                                  5.7
Tonight        92.5                    95                          10                                  6.8

Alright, so we see that his velocity tonight was back where it should be, and his horizontal movement is creeping back up. But what’s up with the vertical movement? He’s a sinker-ball specialist, remember. The lower the value of the vertical movement, the more the ball is “sinking.” Curveballs, which have a sharp downward break, are in the negatives. Tonight, 50% of his balls in play were groundballs, might that have been a fluke?

Let’s look at some individual games and find out. One of his best games in 2008 happened on May 2nd against the Mariners. He had 5 K’s, 2 walks, in 6 innings, allowing one run. More importantly (for our purposes), the M’s had 10 groundballs versus only 2 flyballs. In that game, Wang had 14.5 inches of horizontal movement, which is just fantastic, and 4.5 inches of vertical movement, which is also great. Going back a month earlier to opening day (which I was at), Wang threw 7 innings with 16 (!) groundballs, versus only 3 flyballs. In that game, the numbers were almost identical to the gem against the Mariners. He had 13 inches of horizontal movement and 4.5 inches of vertical movement, both of those of course being fantastic for a sinker/2-seamer.

So it would seem that it’s the vertical movement that’s causing him problems. here’s the part that completely threw me when looking into this: Chien-Ming Wang’s vertical movement on his 4/8 and 4/18 starts of this season were 5 inches and 3.5 inches, respectively. Remember, in those games he got absolutely bombed to the tune of 5 innings and 15 runs. His ball was sinking, but it was still getting rocked. Here was my reaction upon seeing this.

My next stop was the location graphs available on Brooks Baseball. If you look at Friday’s game, you’ll see that there were very few balls just below the strike zone. Compare that to his opening day start from 2008, and you see some difference. The Friday start isn’t nearly as down in the zone. These two starts, both from earlier this season, are even worse. Ok, so that was a lot of links all at once. If you got confused with keeping track of what’s what, or you just don’t want to click through, here’s what it means: Wang isn’t keeping the ball down this year nearly as well as he did in 2008. While his ball is sinking, it’s not being thrown down in the zone enough to be effective.

Finally, here is what I believe to be the main reason for his problems. There are 5 links below, all of them are from games already referenced in this post. What the images show is release point data, from pitch f/x. Simply put, the 2008 release points are from good games, the 2009 release points are from bad games. Try opening each one in a different tab and switch back and forth to more clearly see the difference.

4/1/2008   5/2/2008   4/8/2009   4/18/2009   snippet from beat writer Pete Abraham on April 14th, after Wang allowed 8 runs in an inning of work the day before: “Wang seemed stunned. He said the issue was where he released the ball, which was off to the side instead of over the top. A
sinkerball pitcher wants to stand tall on the mound and throw the ball
on a downward plane. Otherwise the ball floats over the strike zone and you see what happens
.” Despite having success in 2008 with a lower release point than he had in the early stages in 2009, he wanted to raise his release point even more.

To answer the question in the title, “did they fix him?” As it stands right now, I don’t think they did.

Chien-Ming Wang’s release point has been discussed previously at River Ave. Blues.
–Thanks to Brooks Baseball and FanGraphs for pitch f/x data.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.