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Entries in Arizona Diamondbacks (25)

Monday
Feb102014

Bronson Arroyo Stretches the Strike Zone, Survives Gopheritis

Admit it: you have no idea how Bronson Arroyo's still doing this. He's a wisp of a human being by starting pitcher standards, he slings more slop than a school lunch lady, and he coughs up home runs worthy of their own frequent flyer program. He was cut loose by the Pirates over a decade ago, back when their ace was...Kip Wells? A few years later, Boston swapped him to Cincinnati for prolific out-maker Wily Mo Pena. Yet, Arroyo keeps logging 200 innings a season and cashing checks: The Diamondbacks just signed the soon-to-be-37-year-old to a two-year, $23.5 million deal that includes an $11 million club option for the 2016 season.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Arroyo's unlikely longevity is how often -- and how epically -- he allows batters to take him deep. During his 14-year career, Arroyo has served up 314 home runs in 2,278.2 innings pitched (about 1.24 homers per nine frames). Pitchers who get blasted that often don't stick around the big leagues, much less perform well and pull in nearly $100 million in career earnings. Just five pitchers in MLB history have thrown 2,000-plus innings while allowing at least 1.2 homers per nine (Steve Trachsel, Brad Radke, Pedro Ramos, Arroyo and Woody Williams). And just three of those guys (Radke, Arroyo, and Williams) have managed to compile an above-average ERA once you account for park factors and leaguewide run-scoring levels.

Like Radke and Williams, Arroyo has overcome his severe case of gopheritis by displaying exquisite control. And the older he gets, the stingier he becomes with the free passes: Arroyo has lowered his walk rate in each of the past six seasons, from 3.1 per nine innings in 2008 to a mere 1.5 per nine in 2013. He nearly gave up more homers (32) than walks (34) last year, a bizarre feat that Arroyo actually accomplished back in 2011.

In his mid-to-late-thirties, Arroyo has become a devout follower of the Radke approach to pitching: Fill up the strike zone, walk no one, and learn to live with the solo and two-run bombs. Arroyo has steadily thrown more pitches over the plate (from 44.3 percent of his total offerings in 2008 to 53.8 percent in 2013), and he's getting more calls on the edges of the zone. Take a look at his called strike rate by pitch location back in '08, and then in 2013. Pay especially close attention to pitches thrown up around the letters, and at hitters' knees.

Arroyo's called strike rate by pitch location, 2008

 

Arroyo's called strike rate by pitch location, 2013

Arroyo has stretched the strike zone vertically, getting the benefit of the doubt from umps on both high and low pitches. His overall called strike rate, which sat at 33 percent back in 2008, climbed into the mid-to-high-thirties over the years and then shot all the way up to 41.4 in 2013. The only qualified starter with a higher called strike rate last season was Cliff Lee (42.2 percent).

Last year, we found that there's a connection between velocity and called strike rate: the slower you throw, the more calls you get from the ump. Arroyo certainly seems to be benefiting from this phenomenon. Never one for lighting up radar guns, Arroyo has become shown even less zip lately. He threw his seldom-used fastball an average of 86.8 MPH last year, down from 88.3 MPH back in '08. Arroyo's soft stuff is softer, too -- he averaged 75.1 MPH when lobbing a slider, curveball or changeup in 2013, compared to 76.3 MPH during his higher-walk days in '08. 

Despite Arroyo's durability and control, there's plenty that could go wrong over the next two years. His body could finally break down as he approaches 40. His receding fastball could enter Jamie Moyer territory. He could become even more homer-prone. But Arroyo has succeeded thus far by throwing his pedestrian pitches over the plate, benefiting from calls on the edges of the zone and tolerating the fireworks displays at his expense. It's not glamorous, but the D-Backs would gladly take another 400 innings of league-average slop-tossing from Arroyo.  

Saturday
Sep072013

Petit Nearly Perfect vs. D-Backs

Giants starter Yusmeiro Petit just missed becoming the 24th pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game last night, as Eric Chavez's two-out, two-strike looper to right field in the ninth inning dropped mere inches in front of a sprawling Hunter Pence. Instead, Petit joined a lonely hearts club of hurlers -- Yu Darvish, Armando Galarraga, Mike Mussina and Dave Stieb among them -- who lost their bid for perfection with two outs in the ninth frame.

Petit, 28, might have gone down as the most improbable pitcher to sit down 27 consecutive batters, aside from maybe Philip Humber. Once a Mets prospect who puzzled talent evaluators by dominating minor league hitters with dime-a-dozen stuff, the squat righty has been battered for a five-plus ERA in the majors while passing through Florida, Arizona, Seattle and now San Francisco. Any team could have grabbed him as recently as late July, when the Giants designated him for assignment to make room on the roster for Guillermo Moscoso.

How did Petit go from disposable to nearly immortal (for one night, anyway)? Here's a breakdown of his nearly perfect outing.

  • Petit was content to paint the outside corner against the D-Backs, throwing 67 of his 95 total pitches (70.5 percent) away to Arizona's batters. He stretched the strike zone horizontally, getting hitters to chase 45 percent of his pitches thrown away outside of the strike zone. Overall, MLB hitters have chased about 24 percent of pitches thrown away this season.

Petit's pitch location vs. Arizona's lefty hitters, 9-6-13 

  

Petit's pitch location vs. Arizona's righty hitters, 9-6-13 

  • He averaged a modest 88.5 MPH with his fastball, reaching 90 on the radar gun just seven times. Petit threw a nearly equal amount of "heaters" and off-speed stuff: 52% fastballs, 21% curveballs, 11 percent sliders, nine percent cutters, and seven percent changeups.
  • Petit's curveball was his main strikeout pitch, as he got Aaron Hill, Martin Prado and Chris Owings to swing and miss at the sweeping, mid-to-high 70s offering. D-Backs hitters whiffed on eight of the 10 Petit curveballs that they swung at.
  • Petit threw a first-pitch strike to 21 of the 28 batters that he faced (75%). He fell behind in the count in just five of those 28 plate appearances.
Saturday
May182013

Go Upstairs vs. Goldschmidt at Your Own Peril

Last night, Miami pitcher Kevin Slowey discovered that throwing Paul Goldschmidt a high pitch is a good way to test whether the retractable roof at Marlins Park can withstand a meteor strike. Goldschmidt ripped a hanging curveball deep into the Little Havana stands, and then later fended off 12 pitches from Slowey before pummeling an elevated fastball over the fence. The D-Backs' first baseman, who ranks behind only Justin Upton in home runs (12) and Chris Davis in slugging percentage (.656), has emerged as an elite slugger by mauling pitchers who dare to climb the ladder against him.

Goldschmidt's slugging percentage vs. high pitches, 2013

Goldschmidt has blasted eight home runs on high pitches this season, tops in the majors by a wide margin. His closest competitors are Nelson Cruz, Mark Reynolds and Chris Carter, with five. He also boasts the highest slugging percentage versus high stuff among MLB hitters, besting the likes of Davis, Cruz and Ryan Braun:

Highest slugging percentage vs. high pitches, 2013

Goldschmidt was a prodigious high-pitch slugger in both 2011 (.595) and 2012 (.604), but he has taken it to another level this year by improving his pitch recognition. When opponents throw him high stuff, he's swinging at more strikes and chasing fewer pitches off the plate:

Goldschmidt's swing rates vs. high pitches, 2011-13

 

Arizona recently signed Goldschmidt to a five-year, $32 million contract extension with a $14.5 million club option for the 2019 season. That could end up being one of the most team-friendly deals in the majors, considering that Goldy's career OPS+ so far through age 25 (135) is similar to first base luminaries like Eddie Murray (136 OPS+), John Olerud (137 OPS+), Joey Votto (139 OPS+), Orlando Cepeda (139 OPS+), Jeff Bagwell, and Prince Fielder (140 OPS+). Goldschmidt's track record isn't as long as those guys (he's just closing in on 1,000 career plate appearances, while most of the players mentioned above had 2,000-3,000 trips to the dish at the same point; Votto had the fewest, at 1,222). But still, talk about stellar company.