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Entries in Florida Marlins (11)

Monday
Sep122011

Javy Vazquez Finds His Fastball

This past spring, Javier Vazquez looked cooked. The well-traveled 35-year-old, coming off a mediocre second stint with the Yankees, was battered for a .500-plus slugging percentage in April while walking more batters (19) than he struck out (14). With Vazquez's fastball struggling to hit the upper-80s, some called for the Marlins to simply eat their rest of their $7 million free agent investment by booting him off the roster.

Fast forward to September, and Vazquez looks every bit the innings-munching starter with quality control that we've come to know since his debut with the Expos in the late '90s. Take a look at Vazquez's performance by month:

April: 25.1 IP, 0.74 K/BB, 6.42 Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP)*

May: 27 IP, 2.0 K/BB,  4.70 xFIP

June: 31 IP, 4.83 K/BB, 3.70 xFIP

July: 31.1 IP, 3.86 K/BB, 3.44 xFIP

August: 40 IP, 5.71 K/BB, 3.18 xFIP

September: 13 IP, 7.0 K/BB, 2.48 xFIP

*xFIP is an ERA estimator that gauges a pitcher's performance based upon strikeouts, walks and a normalized home run per fly ball rate; learn more about it here.

Vazquez's resurgence has coincided with a major uptick in his fastball velocity. He sat at 88 mph in April. Since then, his heater has gained zip each month: 88.8 in May, 90.4 in June, 90.8 in July, 91.3 in August and 91.4 in September.

Perhaps realizing that he now has a fighting chance against hitters with his fastball, Vazquez has dramatically increased his usage of the pitch. After throwing a fastball less than 50 percent of the time in April and May, he reared back and fired 56 percent of the time in June, 61 percent in July, 64 percent in August and has thrown fastballs 71 percent so far in September.

Vazquez's fastball sat low in the zone in April and May, and he had an especially hard time keeping pitches from running too far off the plate to the armside:

Vazquez's fastball location, April-May 2011

 And hitters just about never whiffed on Javy's Triple-A caliber fastball:

Hitters' contact rate by location vs. Vazquez's fastball, April-May 2011

Since June, however, Vazquez has climbed the ladder and peppered the zone with his fastball:

Vazquez's fastball location, June-September 2011

That approach has led to far less contact:

Hitters' contact rate by location vs. Vazquez's fastball, June-September 2011Vazquez's fastball had a miss rate under eight percent and got strikes 60 percent of the time that he threw it in April and May. Since June? A miss rate over 18 percent, and a strikeout rate slightly over 71 percent (the MLB averages for right-handed pitchers are 15 percent for miss rate and 65 percent for strike rate).

The current version of Javier Vazquez is entirely different than the punching bag that took the mound in April and May. He's throwing 3-4 mph faster, and while Vazquez has typically relied upon his fastball less than just about any starter in the game, he's challenging hitters to turn on his letter-high heat. So far, they haven't been able to.

Vazquez is reportedly considering retiring after the 2011 season, and he has said in the past that he prefers to pitch on the East Coast to be closer to his native Puerto Rico. If he's up for another year, though, he'll have plenty of suitors.

Sunday
Sep112011

Sanchez Fools Batters and Computers

Anibal Sanchez of the Florida Marlins threw the fourth low-hit game of his career on Saturday.  Sanchez raises an interesting question based on how PITCHf/x classifies his throws.  If a pitcher can fool a computer, does he also fool batters?

The following graph shows the spin of Anibal's pitches in the 2011 season:

Anibal Sanchez, spin by velocity, 2011.The big orange spots represent his fastballs.  The green spots below are the slider and change up, the slider moving toward left-handed batters, the change up toward right-handed batters.  The blue blob at the lowest point on the chart represents his curve ball.

PITCHf/x has trouble with the slider, however:

Anibal Sanchez, slider spin, 2011.Does Sanchez throw a hard and a soft slider?  Probably not:

Anibal Sanchez, slider and cut-fastball spin, 2011.There is a fastball that the computer model doesn't identify well.  It mostly looks like a cutter, but supposedly, Sanchez does not throw a cut fastball:

Sanchez throws five pitches:
A four-seam fastball that has a good deal of cutting action but doesn't sink like many other cutters.

Compare that to his four-seam and two-seam fastball, the latter called a sinker by PITCHf/x:

Anibal Sanchez, fastball spin, 2011.Notice that there is some overlap between the fastball and what is called the cutter.

So are batters fooled? They are a combined 61 for 254 on the slider-cutter combination, a .240 BA.  They hit .252 overall against Sanchez, so that combination does seem to fool them a bit.  Batters slug .378 on the pitches, versus .402 overall, so they drive these pitches less as well.  Finally, they strike out 29% of the time on the slider-cutter, 24.2% of the time overall.  The pitches that are fooling the machines are fooling the humans as well.

Thursday
Aug182011

Stanton Killing Them Softly

Mike Stanton launched a home run in his fourth consecutive game last night, giving him 29 for the season and putting him just one behind Albert Pujols for the National League lead. While Stanton creamed an Aaron Cook sinker into the Coors Field stands last night, he has hit for even more power this year than during his rookie season by killing the soft stuff.

Stanton's 13 homers this year against "soft" pitches (breaking balls and changeups) ties Jose Bautista for the second-most in baseball (Carlos Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz both have 14). Stanon misses often on breaking and off-speed stuff -- his 45 percent miss rate places him in the same company as Miguel Olivo, Adam Dunn and Russell Branyan -- but he's pummeling pitches that he does connect on:

Stanton's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location vs. breaking balls and changeups

Overall, he's slugging .534 versus soft stuff, up from .452 in 2010 (.361 league average).

Stanton's 29 bombs tie him with Joe DiMaggio and Frank Robinson for tenth-most among hitters during their age-21 season, according to Baseball-Reference. While he'd have to go on an absolute tear to reach Eddie Matthews' all-time best of 47 homers, Stanton stands a good chance of passing the likes of Jimmie Foxx (33), Miguel Cabrera (33) and Pujols (37) to move into second place. I shudder to think what this guy's peak will look like.