As I was flipping channels last night I managed to stumble on the Padres – Dodgers game. Andrew Werner, a 25 year-old rookie making only his third career start, was on the hill for the Padres. It only took me a few pitches to determine I should stick with the game for a little while.
Although the Dodgers would eventually win the game in extra-innings, Werner pitched a great game as his final line can attest to (6 IP, 8Ks, 1BB). And although he posted an equally dominant performance in his previous game against the Atlanta Braves (6 IP, 7Ks, 0BBs), the way he went about shutting down the Dodgers was quite different.
In his previous two starts, Werner only managed a swinging strike rate of 3.5%. During last night’s game, that rate jumped to 14.1%. Of his 85 pitches, 12 were swung on and missed by the Dodgers. Oddly enough, the Dodgers as a team sport the fourth-lowest swinging strike percentage in all of baseball (8.1%), while the Pirates (9.9%) and the Braves (9.7%) sport the third- and eighth-highest respectively.
In looking at what was different in last night’s start the most interesting thing is that the swings and misses were entirely induced on pitches either in the zone or right on the border.
Here are Werner’s swinging strikes from his previous two starts:
And here are the swinging strikes he induced last night:
The difference is stunning. In his first two starts, Werner had a contact percentage on balls in the zone of 100%. Last night, that percentage dropped to 66.7%. Werner not only induced more swings and misses on balls in the zone, but he pounded the zone more than in his previous two starts by almost 6% (54.1% versus 48.3%).
So what accounts for the difference?
At first glance, it appears Werner did a better job of changing speeds on pitches in the zone.
I took the PITCHf/x data from Werner’s three starts and coded each pitch on whether it was located in the zone. Then, I calculated the average absolute difference in velocity for each pitch in the zone and the pitch that preceded it.
Here are the results:
First two starts: 4.80 mph
Last night’s start: 5.21 mph
For a guy with an average to below-average fastball to induce that many swings and misses in the zone, Werner had to create some serious velocity variation between pitches. He did exactly that, adding nearly half a mile per hour difference per pitch in the zone last night.
I don’t know whether Werner can continue to live in the zone and induce that many whiffs, but last night was indeed fun to watch.
PITCHf/x charts and raw data courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz
Bill leads Predictive Modeling and Data Science consulting at Gallup. In his free time, he writes for The Hardball Times, speaks about baseball research and analytics, has consulted for a Major League Baseball team, and has appeared on MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential as well as several MLB-produced documentaries. He is also the creator of the baseballr package for the R programming language. Along with Jeff Zimmerman, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @BillPetti.