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Two Strike Rockies

One of the missions of Jim Tracy this spring was to coax better performances out the Colorado hitters with two strikes.  At either end of the Rockies spectrum were Ryan Spilborghs and Ian Stewart.  Ryan ranked 21 out of 343 batters with a .309 wOBA with two strikes in 2010.  He accomplished this by keeping his plate discipline in the situation:

Ryan Spilborghs, swings with two strikes, 2010.Ryan Spilborghs, taken pitches with two strikes, 2010.Except for pitches on the low corners, Spilborghs did a good job of recognizing pitches, swinging at strikes and taking balls. 

Ian posted a .156 wOBA with two strikes, 335th on the list.

Ian Stewart, swings with two strikes, 2010.Ian Stewart, taken pitches with two strikes, 2010.So Steward goes fishing a lot farther outside than Spilborghs, and takes way too much on the inside part of the plate.  Few batters are going to hit well with two strikes, but there's no reason to be as weak as Stewart in that situation.


Can Jonathan Broxton Bounce Back?

Kevin Kennedy thinks Jonathan Broxton's pitching problems last season could be attributed to mental issues rather than anything physical.  Here's a comparison of his last two seasons:

Jonathan Broxton - 2009

Jonathan Broxton - 2010

Broxton's fastball lost more than two miles per hour of velocity in 2010, and his slider lost more than one mile per hour. Perhaps a mental component played a part, but when a pitcher loses a significant amount of velocity on his two main pitches in one season, it points more towards a physical problem more than anything else.

Broxton's slider had the worst dropoff between his two pitches, with opponents wOBA increasing .181 versus it last year. Opponents were also making much better contact on the pitch, and his k-rate dropped a bunch. A higher BABIP might suggest he was somewhat less lucky with his slider in 2010. However, in 2009 he yielded all of two fly balls on the pitch, and no HRs. But the following year, 25% of the balls in play off his slider were fly balls, two for round trippers. With opponents' averages increasing fairly equally on line drives and ground balls against Broxton's slider, I'm more inclined to believe they were squaring up the pitch better last season, rather than just getting lucky with hit ball location.

Broxton was also leaving his slider over the heart of the zone more last season, especially against RHB who accounted for much of the damage.

Jonathan Broxton's Slider vs. RHB
(Click to enlarge)

The small increase in sliders hitting the center of the plate accounted for a good deal of the overall damage down by RHB. They produced an .800 slugging percentage on sliders over the middle of the plate last season, compared to a .231 SLG% when they ended up hitting the outer 3.5 inches of the plate or further.

I wouldn't totally discount that Broxton's problems could partially be a product of mental lapses. But there is enough evidence from pitchFX data alone to suggest that his pitches didn't have the same bite as the year before. Keep an eye on his pitch velocity early in the season. If he's back to 2009 levels, it could be a sign that he's regained his form.


Losing Velocity

Reports today indicated that Phil Hughes lost velocity off his fastball.  Interestingly, he showed a decline in overall velocity as the 2010 season progressed:

Phil Hughes timelines, 2010.His fastball, however, was fine:

Phil Hughes fastball timelines, 2010.His fastball was consistent throughout the year, peaking a bit in May.  His loss of velocity was due to two factors related to his curveball.  Phil threw more curves and fewer fastballs as the season progressed, and his curveball velocity fell off.

Phil Hughes curveball timelines, 2010.Note that the slower curve resulted in more swings and a lower batting average when the ball was put in play.  In other words, the slower curveball was an improvement.

If Hughes's velocity is really down this spring, there's no evidence in the 2010 season data that anything went wrong.  I suspect this is an artifact of spring training games, where sometimes pitchers work on mechanics and new pitches in games.  I'd love to see the readings on his fastballs when he throws bullpens.