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Pineda’s Pitches

Michael Pineda is coming to New York, as the Yankees and Mariners were able to swing a four-player deal Friday evening that also sent 19-year-old pitching prospect Jorge Campos to the Yankees’ organization in exchange for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi.  Pineda, who will turn 23 years old next Wednesday, is a pure power pitcher.  He relies mainly on a hard four-seam fastball and a slider, though he’ll show some changeups to lefties as well as the rare two-seam sinker.

Below are some generic pitch results for Pineda in 2011.  Ball% is balls per pitch, whiff% is whiffs per swing, and gb% is groundballs per ball in play (excluding bunts).

          mph   #     LHB%   RHB%  ball%  whiff%  gb%
Fastball  94.7  1602  62%    60%   32%    20%     26%
Slider    84.1  831   26%    37%   32%    38%     48%
Changeup  87.7  162   11%    2%    49%    14%     54%
Sinker    94.2  23    1%     1%    35%    18%     75%

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Milone Goes To Oakland

One of the pitchers going from the Nationals to the Athletics in exchange for Gio Gonzalez is soft-tossing lefty Tom Milone.  Milone, who will be 25 in February, was a 10th round draft pick by the Nats in 2008 and has gotten by with excellent control (only 4.4% free passes throughout his MiLB career).  What might be turning some heads is that his strikeout rate, unspectacular in 2008 and 2009, has jumped up to one per inning over the past two seasons.  Considering that Milone got five starts in the big leagues last September, we can look at PITCHf/x data to get a feel for his repertoire.

Milone showed four pitches in his stint with the Nationals:

           n    mph
Fastball   212  87.9
Changeup   90   79.4
Cutter     67   84.9
Curveball  33   74.2

Milone, whose four-seam fastball typically sits in the high-80s, has similar velocity to fellow lefty starters Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano, and Randy Wolf.  His cutter can blend in with the four-seamer both in terms of movement and velocity, but on average is 3 mph slower with ~4 more inches of cut and ~3.5 more inches of vertical sink.  His change is a fairly typical 8 mph off of his fastball and also gets 4 extra inches of movement away from a right-handed batter.  His curve doesn’t drop too much, generating only 3 inches of topspin.  (The biggest hooks in the majors – Barry Zito’s and Tim Collins’, for example – get over 10 inches.)

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Craig Kimbrel Is Nasty

Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel is the National League’s 2011 Rookie of the Year, becoming the 10th relief pitcher to win the award in either league. And though his season had a sour end, Kimbrel had an absolutely spectacular year. Getting past his blown save in the 162nd game, we see that he had one of the more impressive relief seasons in recent memory:

(minimum 50 innings pitched)

K%      6th*
FIP     4th*
xFIP    2nd**

*Since 1900
**Since 2002, when BIS batted ball data first became available

Perhaps looking at Kimbrel’s pitches through PITCHf/x will make his year look even more impressive.

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Carpenter’s Pitch Selection

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci chronicled Chris Carpenter’s transformation this season in an article published during St. Louis’ World Series run. In it, the Cardinals’ ace credited pitching coach Dave Duncan with his professional turnaround. The premise of Verducci’s story was a simple one: Carpenter — then with Toronto — began his career as a hard-thrower with a four-seam fastball, curveball and not much in the way of command. But after arriving in St. Louis prior to the 2004 season — voilà! — Carpenter learned a two-seam fastball and Duncan showed him how to command the bottom of the strike zone. In Carpenter’s words:

The classic Dunc game: keep the ball at the bottom of the strike zone and you’re going to make it harder for the other team to score. It’s not so much about trying to hit corners as it is pounding the bottom of the zone with movement.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that, for 2009 and 2010, Carpenter threw almost all of his fastballs with a sinker grip. He also threw a cutter, a curveball and a change — but we won’t deal with the curve and the change much in this post. The images below show spin-deflection charts for his fastballs and cutters from some of his 2009 and 2010 starts so that we can see his pitch movement, on a game level.

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Saving Dotel for Righties

A huge part of the Cardinals’ postseason success thus far can be attributed to their bullpen. In particular, journeyman right-hander Octavio Dotel, who was picked up by St. Louis at the trade deadline, has looked dominant during October; as of Sunday, he has thrown 9 innings over 9 games, allowing three hits, two runs, a walk, and a hit batter while striking out 11.

Dotel has two pitching characteristics that have helped make him more effective against right-handed hitters than against lefties: for one, he throws from a ¾ angle, which typically makes it easier for opposite-handed batters to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. Also, Dotel does not utilize a changeup or splitter in his repertoire, so he does not have a pitch that moves away from lefties to complement his fastball/slider/curveball arsenal. Dating back to 2002, Dotel has stellar against right-handed hitters and less-so against lefties:

    PA   ERA   K%  BB%
LHB 1013 3.92  23% 13%
RHB 1380 2.95  34%  8%

And if we look at some PITCHf/x stats, for which we have data back to 2008, we have some more strikeout-related metrics to back up this claim:

     Fastball#  Fastball Whiff%  Breaking Ball#  Breaking Ball Whiff%
LHB  1213       22%              234             28%
RHB  2323       31%              530             37%

This has made Dotel’s managers (and there have been plenty of them) more willing to throw him against righties, to varying extents (data below are since 2008, and all are for regular season games except for the last row):

                PA    RHB%
Chicago         537   68%
Pittsburgh      170   55%
Los Angeles     77    64%
Colorado        28    71%
Toronto         112   60%
St. Louis       96    63%
'11 Postseason  33    79%

Note that Dotel served as the Pirates’ closer at the beginning of 2010, so he faced a higher percentage of lefties than he has in his standard setup role.

Tony La Russa, never afraid to make a pitching change, has used Dotel against a right-handed hitter in 26 of 33 total plate appearances this postseason. While it may not be necessary for all relievers, La Russa’s short leash with Dotel against opposite-handed batters seems to be a good strategy.

Holland’s Gem

Last night in Arlington, Derek Holland threw the game of his life.  With the Rangers down 2-1 in the series, Holland threw 8 1/3 shutout innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out seven along the way.

He went after the Cardinal hitters with five different pitches: a sinking two-seam fastball that he used as his primary heater yesterday, a straighter four-seam fastball, a tight curve, a slider, and a changeup.  The table below shows the pitch breakdown, along with average pitch speeds, for his 116-pitch masterpiece.

           #     mph
Sinker    40     94.2
Fastball  32     94.7
Slider    24     76.6
Curveball 15     83.9
Changeup  5      85.5

Speaking of pitch speed, Holland was able to throw smoke both early and late.  He took his foot off the pedal a little bit during the middle innings, but kicked it up again once he sensed the finish line:

Returning to pitch selection for a moment: facing a righty-heavy lineup (only six of Holland’s pitches were against lefties), Holland only used a handful of changeups and instead relied on his slider as his primary strikeout pitch.

“Behind” is for 3-0, 3-1, and 2-0 counts.

Of the 19 balls put in play against Holland on Sunday night, 13 of them were on the ground.  7 of those grounders were courtesy of his two-seam fastball, which yielded a total of 10 outs on the night.  Holland also garnered nine swinging strikes in his start: one apiece on his two-seamer and four-seamer, two on his slider, and five on his curve.

Holland’s performance produced a Game Score of 84, the highest mark in any World Series game since Josh Beckett also had an 84 in his Game 6 win against the Yankees in 2003.  On a day where the Rangers desperately needed a win, they got a huge performance from one of their underperforming starters.

Scherzer’s Sliders

Max Scherzer has looked pretty good in his first ever postseason. He’s flashed some serious heat — bumping his fastball as high as 99 mph in his relief appearance last week — but there’s another pitch that’s been quietly killing opposing batters: his slider.

Despite being thrown less often in the past two seasons than his four-seam fastball and his changeup, Scherzer’s slider is his best pitch when it comes to inducing swinging strikes. On a per-swing basis, the swinging-strike percentage is right around 40%, going back to 2010. The league average for sliders is 33%. And there’s more, when it comes to Scherzer’s slide-piece: looking at the pitch more closely, we can see that it’s undergone a significant transformation since the beginning of this year:

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Some Matt Moore PITCHf/x

Matt Moore has pitched in two major league games.  Considering the fact that came into the year as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, his debut garnered plenty of interest.  A four-inning, 85 pitch sample isn’t much, but it still should be able to tell us some things about the Rays’ young southpaw.

First, let’s start with what Moore himself says.  This is taken from an interview with SUN Sports that aired on Wednesday before his debut:

“Right now, I just throw a four-seam fastball, a circle-changeup, and a curveball.  My gameplan, basically, is probably the same as 90% of the pitchers out there: get strike one over, and attack the zone and attack the hitter until you need to make adjustments otherwise.”

With that in mind, we can take a look at the PITCHf/x data we have on him.  Moore has used all three of his pitches in his two major league appearances at Camden Yards and Fenway Park; the scatter plot below shows their horizontal movement (pfx_x in the PITCHf/x columns) and velocity.  Be mindful of the fact that Camden’s pfx_x measurements are shifted positive by a few inches, while Fenway looks pretty accurate.

Moore’s fastball looks like it gets about 8 inches of armside movement, once you compensate for the miscalculation from the Baltimore game.  That’s a lot more movement than the average four-seamer (the natural tailing action comes from Moore’s ¾ arm angle).  Also, the 96 mph he’s averaging on his fastball this year is harder than any lefty not named Aroldis Chapman.  As for his secondary pitches: his changeup is fast but still has 10 mph separation from his fastball.  The curveball is in the mid-80s and gets more than two-and-a-half inches of topspin than would a spinless pitch – that might qualify as a “tight” curveball; the “biggest” curveballs have about ten inches of topspin.  At faster than 84 mph, it’s faster than the average lefty slider AND it has a few inches more movement; if he can command it down in the zone, it looks like it could be a lethal strikeout pitch.

In his eight plate appearances against lefties and eight plate appearances against righties, here is how Moore has mixed up his pitches in some different count situations (not meant to be predictive since our sample is small):

      First (10)     2 Strikes (13) Behind (8)
FF    90%            69%            100%
CH     0%             0%              0%
CU    10%            31%              0%
      First (10)     2 Strikes (10) Behind (1)
FF    80%            50%            100%
CH    20%            40%              0%
CU     0%            10%              0%

“Behind” in this case is for pitches thrown in a 2-0, 3-1, or 3-0 count.
The parenthetical numbers indicate the total number of pitches thrown in that count situation.

So far, he’s been comfortable using the curveball in a put-away spot against lefties and the change against righties.

And finally, some pitch results (sample size caveat applies here more than ever!).

      vs LHB     vs RHB     Ball       Called     Whiff      Foul           In Play
FF    40         23         24         11         7          10             11
CH     0         11          4          1         3           0              3
CU     9          2          8          1         1           1              0

This is just a brief look at what Moore has to offer.  As the Rays have inserted themselves into the thick of the playoff chase, we’ll likely get to see him handle quite a few meaningful innings down the stretch.

Contemplating A.J. Burnett, Relief Pitcher

What’s there to say about A.J. Burnett?  He’s having an incredibly tough time right now, and this after looking like he’d made improvements from his career-worst 2010 campaign. These days, his ERA and FIP are both within a tenth of a run of his 2010 totals.  The Yankees’ “too many starters” dilemma has been a theme for a month now — since Phil Hughes returned from the DL and Ivan Nova came up from the minor leagues. On top of that, the Yankees get starts from ace CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. So while some untimely weather and a finger injury to Garcia has put off Joe Girardi’s decision about whom to bump from the rotation, it looks like Burnett is still lined up to pitch against the Red Sox on Thursday. After his next start, it might not be a bad idea to try him out as a short reliever.

It feels like we’ve been saying it for a while, but one can’t help but wonder if Girardi has to pull the plug on Burnett if he has another clunker. After his disastrous nine-run outing against the Orioles on Friday, his August ERA is now at a tick under 12 and his FIP has been at 5.50 for the month. His normalized 4.16 xFIP is more reasonable, telling us that opponents have been smacking homers off of him at (probably) an unsustainable rate. So yes, he’s probably seeing some bad luck, but he’s still been pitching quite poorly.

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Jerome Williams Returns to the Majors

After a hiatus of over four years, Jerome Williams is back in the majors.  After coming up with the Giants as a 21-year-old in 2003, he’s bounced around to the Cubs, Nationals, Twins, Dodgers, and Athletics organizations, putting up unspectacular numbers.  He also had a 2010 stint in Taiwan. The Angels brought him back to the U.S. before this season, and he had some success at Triple-A Salt Lake, posting a 4:1 K/BB ratio in 73 2/3 innings. He got the call to the major leagues last week, making a three-batter relief appearance on August 17th before being slotted into the rotation for a Sunday start against the Orioles.  He impressed, allowing one run in seven innings while striking out six and walking nobody.  Since his last appearance in the major leagues, he’s made some adjustments to his pitching style: first, he’s throwing harder.  As Williams noted in a interesting post game interview with The Orange County Register’s Sam Miller, he used to conserve his fastball velocity but now prefers to go right after hitters.  Consider the velocities for his different pitch types:

| Pitch                  | 2007                    | 2011                    |
|Two-Seam Fastball       | 89.4                    | 91.5                    |
|Four-Seam Fastball      | 88.7                    | 91.5                    |
|Slider/Cutter           | 84.6                    | 87.9                    |
|Changeup                | 82.2                    | 83.5                    |
|Curveball               | 78.0                    | 79.1                    |

It’s important to note that we have extremely little PITCHf/x data on Williams from before his 2011 return – in fact, there’s just one 2007 start (that was the first year with any regular season f/x data) at which we can look pitch by pitch, so, basically, we’re just comparing one 2007 start to one 2011 start.  Not my favorite thing to do, but it’s necessary when the samples are so small. 

Essentially, he’s throwing his fastballs ~2 mph faster, his change and curve ~1 mph faster, and his slider more than 3 mph faster. According to his interview with Miller, he started tightening up his slider in 2009 and he nows thinks of it as a cutter.
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