A Baseball Weblog

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What to make of Harden? Updated

In July, before Rich Harden's last start against the Yankees, I briefly examined his 2011 whiff rates compared to his previous seasons.  After a terrible 2010, his fastball was back to its normal excellence, but his changeup remained at/slightly under the league average after being one of the best bat-missers in the league in 2008 and 2009.  The same chart is shown below, updated:

It looks like he's on the right track, as the changeup has climbed to just under 40% - not quite his peak, but that kind of rate is still more than 20% better than league average.  As it was earlier in the season, his fastball is looking great.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Athletics vs Yankees, game one: Brandon McCarthy

Taking the mound for the Athletics tonight against the Yankees is righty Brandon McCarthy.  You might remember him as a top prospect with the White Sox about seven or eight years ago or so.  Back then he was a power pitcher with a four-seam/curveball combination, but he's completely made himself as a sinker/cutter groundball guy with much better control (career low 3.7% walks per plate appearance, fourth best among pitchers with 100+ innings pitched).  Dave Allen had a good look at McCarthy a few weeks ago, so I'll make this brief.  The charts and metrics that you often see on this site are applied below to McCarthy's pitches.




*non-swing called rate; called strikes divided by called strikes plus balls
The four-seamers are rare, and some may be misclassifications.  The ones I identified were often thrown in two-strike counts.

Strikes with everything but the changeup.  McCarthy's not a bat-misser, but that's just fine.  His sinker looks like a pretty good groundball pitch, as does the curve.  

The next graphs show plate locations split up into 5 by 5 quadrants (OZ = out of zone, IZ = in zone).

The sinker, cutter, and curve stay low, while the four-seamer is elevated.  The cutter stays in on lefties and away from righties, while he's shown a propensity to keep the sinker away from both lefties and righties.  

This post wouldn't be complete without a mention of McCarthy's Twitter feed.  He seems like a really nice and thoughtful guy (with a sense of humor).  He's been kind enough to respond to my questions/comments when they've come up, so I certainly appreciate that.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hit graphs

This is presented without much explanation.  Below is a chart of the Yankees' starting lineup (and some prominent part-time players) in hit graph form.

Derek Jeter's obviously the king, as he reached 3,000 hits earlier this year. At 2,762 for his career, Alex Rodriguez looks like he's got a handle on entering the 3K club as well. Two guys who have really leveled are Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones, who were on the fast track before being hit by injuries/general ineffectiveness. Robinson Cano is a hit-machine, though he he's not quite at Jeter's pace through his age 28 season. Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson are similar in their hit profiles and aren't on any sort of special pace.  Jorge Posada is notable here as a good player who's been able to cut it for a long time (notice the slight bump at 2007, when he got a career best 171 hits).  I put Eduardo Nunez on the graph since he's played a lot this year, but he's no more than a blip on the radar here as a second-year role player.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Who is Garrett Richards?

Honestly, I don't really know.  The Angels' rookie is set to make his major league debut against the Yankees tonight, coming straight up from Double-A.  The 23-year-old has seen his strikeout rate drop from over 1 per inning to about 6 and a half per 9 this year, but he should be a big-time ground ball guy.  We actually have a little bit of PITCHf/x data on him from the 2010 Cactus League; Harry Pavlidis covered it for The Hardball Times last year.  In short, Harry found a 93 mph sinker, 93 mph cutter (maybe it's a four-seamer that gets natural cutting action), 87 mph slider, 85 mph changeup.

I asked Sam Miller, who writes about the Angels for the Orange County Register, if he could provide any further scouting on Richards:

"4-seamer in mid/upper 90s to righties; 2-seamer to lefties gets tons of grounders; occasional plus slider; so-so curve and change ... strikeout rate nothing special, but he can get in a strikeout roll and do double-digits.  Very loose comp: Chatwood w/control."

Tyler Chatwood, by the way, is set to make the start on Thursday against Bartolo Colon.  As for Richards, his stuff looks pretty nasty.  I'll probably have a post on THT Live tomorrow with a PITCHf/x recap of his debut. 

Also, read Miller's post on Richards from this morning.  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pitch breakdown from Nova's gem

Fair to say that Ivan Nova doesn't want to go back to the minor leagues?  With his back against the wall in a battle with Phil Hughes for the last rotation spot, Nova turned in the best start of his career.  Over 7 2/3 innings, he allowed 1 run on 6 hits.  Even more impressive is that he struck out 10 and walked not a single batter.  Some quick math tells me that's a 73 game score.

As he did in his two other superb 2011 starts (6/20 against Cincy, 7/30 against Baltimore), Nova relied on his new slider today.  He threw 25, which was the most of any start aside from the start against the Reds, in which he threw 26 sliders.  Pitch results for all of his four pitches are in the table below. 

mphvs LHBvs RHBBallCalledWhiffFoulIn Play


For some more reference, I've included a color-coded chart of Nova's spin deflection (pitch movement) from tonight's game.  His slider gets unusual movement (it actually moves armside or "backs up"), and because of this, Gameday often labels it as a fastball, change, or cutter.  It really is looking like a typical cutter, since it has plenty of velocity and not a whole lot of break.  Nova calls it a slider, so I'll stick with that label for now.  

Remember that these are from the catcher's perspective and are in inches of movement relative to a theoretical spinless pitch. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Another new curveball from Hughes

Phil Hughes had what was probably his best start of 2011 yesterday, throwing six shutout innings while walking none and striking out four.  If it hadn't been for the rain during the seventh inning, Hughes certainly would have pitched more, since he only had 66 pitches in his outing.  In addition to hitting 95 mph, something that we had not seen this year, Hughes unleashed a new variation on his curveball, which he seems to be constantly tweaking.  The first one he threw was a nasty one with two strikes to A.J. Pierzynski that registered at 82 mph, which is harder than Hughes has ever thrown his curve in the majors. Hughes confirmed after the game that it was indeed a hard curveball, as opposed to the slider he incorporated in March and ditched after two starts.  This is already the fourth time there's been some detectable change in Hughes' curveball:

  • During Hughes' dead-arm period in April, he was using the same spike grip on his curve that he had in 2010, but his lack of arm strength only allowed him to throw the ball in the low-70s, more than 4 mph softer than his 2010 average.
  • After his reinstatement from the DL on July 7th, Hughes started throwing his curveball harder, though not as hard as he did in 2010.
  • Before his July 17th start against the Blue Jays, Hughes announced that he would be switching to a new grip without a spiked finger in order to get a tighter break and more velocity, though the velocity didn't change a whole lot over his next three starts.
  • Yesterday, Hughes showed a pitch that looks more like a power curve, averaging around 80 mph.
This chart shows the vertical spin deflection (the number of inches the ball drops relative to a spinless pitch) plotted against velocity for Hughes's curveball this year.  You can see that the new grip (starting July 17th) gave the pitch less movement without much added velocity until yesterday.

What's strange is that the pitch he was throwing yesterday looks like what he was trying to throw since the 17th, but the velocity spike didn't come until now.  My guess is that Hughes sticks with this new variation of the curve, since he's said that he's been trying to add velocity to it.