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Johnny Cueto's Unusual Changeup

Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds throws a very unusual change up.  The uniqueness of the pitch stems from the spin he imparts to the ball.  The following graph shows the relationship between the spin on his fastball and the spin on his change:

Johnny Cueto, spin by velocity, fastball and change up, 2011.Notice that there is much overlap between the fastball and the change.  That's good, as a pitcher want his change to look as much like his fastball as possible.  What's different is that Cueto's change breaks farther away from his pitching hand than his fastball, in this case, away from a right-handed batter.  If you look at most pitchers, the change up is identifiable by the speed and the bigger break toward the pitcher's throwing hand.

The type of movement seen in this change up suggests a slider, but Johnny throws a very good one of those:

Johnny Cueto, spin by velocity, slider and change up, 2011.The slider exhibits the spin that moves it away from Cueto's throwing arm.  There still is some overlap with the change up, however.

Cueto throws his change the least, and it is also his least productive pitch.  He records weighted On Base Averages (wOBA) of .167 on his slider, .275 on his fastball and .291 on his change.  Those are all very good, but it's clear he gets much better results on his slider, which is why he throws it 2.5 times more than his change.

Given the spin of the pitch and batters ability to hit it, I wonder if his change ups are really poorly thrown sliders.  A slider that didn't move much would explain why batters get more offense out of the pitch.


Jonathan Sanchez Missing Wide

San Francisco's Jonathan Sanchez has never been known as a control pitcher, but the 28-year-old lefty is having serious problems finding the strike zone in 2011. Sanchez has issued 5.6 walks per nine innings pitched, by far the highest rate among starters qualified for the ERA title.

Sanchez's control woes stem from his fastball. He's not locating the pitch in the zone as much as he did last season. Instead, he's missing off the plate to his arm side more often:

Frequency of Jonathan Sanchez's fastball location in 2010 (left) and 2011 (right)

Sanchez located 52.1 percent of his fastballs within the strike zone in 2010. In 2011, that rate has fallen to 49.5 percent (the MLB average is about 52 percent).

Considering that hitters are chasing fewer of Sanchez's fastballs this year (21.5 percent, compared to 22.7 percent in 2010), that has translated into fewer strikes thrown. Sanchez got strikes with his heater 63.1 percent of the time in 2010, but just 60.3 percent in 2011 (64 percent MLB average).


Sanchez's fastball velocity is down, too: he averaged 90.6 MPH with the pitch last season, but he's averaging about one MPH less in 2011. During a rocky June in which Sanchez has walked more batters (19) than he has struck out (15), he's sitting at 89.2 MPH with the pitch.

Despite a wheezing offensive attack, the Giants sit just a half-game back of the Diamondbacks in the NL West standings due to superb starting pitching. If Sanchez is going to help the defending world champs moving forward, he'll have to cut out the Oliver Perez impression.


2011's Best Bad-Ball Hitters

We praise hitters who lay off pitches thrown out of the strike zone, and for good reason: hacking at out-of-zone offerings leads to pitcher's counts and easy outs. Batters have a collective .194 Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) when swinging at pitches thrown out of the zone, compared to .335 when taking a cut at in-zone pitches.

But, as anyone who has ever seen Vladimir Guerrero gulf a curveball at his shoetops over the fence or drive an eye-high fastball into the gap knows, some hitters can do damage on junk pitches. Here's a list of the top 10 bad ball hitters of 2011, sorted by wOBA on pitches swung at out of the strike zone:

  1. Victor Martinez, .383 wOBA
  2. Travis Hafner, .375 wOBA
  3. Casey Kotchman, .374 wOBA
  4. J.J. Hardy, .366 wOBA
  5. Ike Davis, .355 wOBA
  6. Juan Miranda, .348 wOBA
  7. Jamey Carroll, .342 wOBA
  8. Jose Bautista, .338 wOBA
  9. Albert Pujols, .334 wOBA
  10. Matt Holliday, .317 wOBA

Given the small sample sizes involved here and the overwhelmingly lousy performance of most hitters when swinging at off-the-plate pitches, this is more of a fun list than one with predictive value. That said, check out V-Mart's in-play slugging percentage on pitches thrown out of the zone (left), compared to the league average (right):

   For those wondering, Vlad has a .225 wOBA when swinging at out-of-zone pitches. He's still hacking, but no longer impaling.