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Rubby De La Rosa's Gem of a Fastball

Little has gone right for the Los Angeles Dodgers this season. The club is periously close to last place in the NL West standings, has uncertain finances and has featured more marital acrimony than an episode of Judge Judy. But one bright spot for L.A. is the pitching of rookie right-hander Rubby De La Rosa.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2007, De La Rosa once sat in the high-80s with his fastball and was Dee Gordon-level skinny. But, as Baseball America's Jim Shonerd explained in the 2011 Prospect Handbook, De La Rosa's velocity has since shot through the roof:

De la Rosa weighed 130 pounds and threw 89-91 mph when he signed for $15,000 as an 18-year-old. Since getting on a proper diet, he has added 40 pounds of quality weight and fueled his breakout with a fastball that lights up radar guns. He pitches at 95-96 mph and registered as high as 102 mph at Great Lakes. He's capable of holding that velocity deep into games and finding an extra gear when he needs it.

True to the scouting report, De La Rosa's fastball is lighting up the radar guns in the majors. The 22-year-old has thrown his heater at an average of 95.2 MPH, besting Justin Verlander by the slighest of margins for the highest velocity among starting pitchers. And that extra gear? De La Rosa has topped out at 99.8 MPH.

That high-octane fastball has produced plenty of swings and misses. Here is De La Rosa's opponent contact rate against his fastball by pitch location, compared to the league average:

 De La Rosa's fastball contact rate by locationLeague average fastball contact rate by locationGood luck making contact with a fastball thrown high in the zone.  De La Rosa's miss rate with the fastball is 21.8 percent, trailing just Brandon Beachy and Brandon Morrow among starters.

When opponents aren't whiffing on De La Rosa's fastball, they're chopping it into the grass: his ground ball rate with the pitch is 54 percent, compared to the 43 percent league average. Overall, batters have a .213 batting average, a .310 on-base percentage and a .307 slugging percentage against De La Rosa's cheddar. That's miles ahead of the .270/.349/.423 league average.

De La Rosa still has work to do to become a more well-rounded pitcher: he has thrown his fastball nearly 80 percent of the time, and his slider and changeup haven't especially effective. But if he can pair one of the game's most dominant fastballs with improved secondary stuff, the Dodgers could have a right-handed complement to lefty Clayton Kershaw at the front of the rotation.


Karstens Gets that Sinking Feeling

Jeff Karstens of the Pittsburgh Pirates starts the week with the second best ERA in the National League.  His pitching improvement helped put the Pirates in contention in the NL Central.  Karstens changed his pitching philosophy in 2011.  In the past, he threw mostly fastballs:


Totals 0.348 100
Fastball 0.381 46
Change Up 0.306 15
Curveball 0.249 16
Slider 0.343 15
Cutter 0.564 2
Sinker 0.402 6


Let me point out that PITCHf/x classifies that last pitch as a sinker, but given the velocity and spin, the pitch is more likely a two-seam fastball.  In 2011, Jeff features that as his main pitch:


Totals 0.290 100
Fastball 0.318 23
Change Up 0.299 12
Curveball 0.176 14
Slider 0.266 17
Cutter 0.000 0
Sinker 0.319 34


Note that the fastball and hard sinker still present batters with the best chance for offense.  Batters are no longer able to sit on the fastball; Karstens has them guessing more.  In addition, Karstens uses the pitches in different situations.  In hitters counts, Jeff goes to the fastball.  During previous seasons, he would also feature the fastball in pitchers counts, but this season, he features the sinker when he's ahead.

Karstens isn't throwing his pitches any differently.  My changing the mix, however, he's forcing batters to learn new patterns, and while that happens Jeff thrives on the mound.



The Bard of Boston

William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, may have been a terrific wordsmith but I doubt he could hold his own coming out of the bullpen like the Bard of Boston, the Red Sox' Daniel Bard. For Sox manager, Terry Francona, Bard has been pitching like a midsummer's night dream. Since May 27, Bard has held opponents scoreless in 20 appearances covering 21.2 innings over his last 20 games. According to Elias, Bard’s 20 straight scoreless outings match the all-time club record, previously accomplished by Ugueth Urbina from 4/26-6/26/2002.

Let's take a look under the hood....

Bard's scoreless streak since 5/27

Bard has faced 77 batters and thrown 278 pitchesOverall, batters in this streak are hitting .113 (8-for-71), .132 against his fastball and .063 against his slider.

Placement of Bard's fastball

His fastball is his pitch-to-contact pitch. While he has recorded 10 whiffs in 58 plate appearances against the fastball, batters have swung and missed 19.6% of the time.

71.1% of his fastballs are for strikes

Placement of slider

His slider is his strikeout pitch. He has recorded 12 whiffs in 17 plate appearances using the slider. Batters have swung and missed 54.2% of the time.

Coming out of Bard's hand, the slider looks like a fastball, but the difference in its break is significant.

Batters are 1-for-16 with 12 whiffs

These two pitches, mixed with an occasional changeup, are the reasons why Bard has the longest active scoreless streak in the majors and longest by a Boston pitcher this season. Bard’s is the longest for a Sox reliever in a single season since Jonathan Papelbon’s 22.0-inning streak, 5/4-6/26/06 and the quality of Bard's pitching is why Papelbon may already be expendable for GM Theo Epstein because we all know that a closer by any other name may still smell as sweet...maybe even sweeter.