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Entries in Houston Astros (16)


Brett Myers' Regression

During the offseason, we took a look at Houston Astros' starter Brett Myers and his success in 2010.  First, his success against right handed batters jumped tremendously.  And second, one of the major contributing factors to this success was how he located his pitches, as well as his improved slider.  Myers was keeping the ball away from the middle of the zone.  Meanwhile, batters were hitting nearly one hundred points lower against his slider in 2010 compared to a year earlier.

This season, however, many of the reasons for Brett Myers great 2011 season have faded.  Let's take his pitch location to start.  Compare his pitch location from 2010 to his current location:

Brett Myers 2011 Pitch Location
(Click image to enlarge)

Myers' is back to throwing to the middle of the zone again.  Opposing RHB aren't hitting Myers much better than last season.  Their weighted on base average is basically the same as it was for the 2010 season.  However, lefties are  crushing Myers this season.  Opposing LHB have a wOBA 87 points higher than last season.  They have hit 10 home runs against him already; last season lefties hit all of 8 against Myers.

And how about that slider? Overall, opposing batters have a .307 wOBA on the pitch this season, compared to .264 from last.  The majority of the damage has come against lefties, who hold a .425 wOBA versus his slider, up from .298 in 2010.

Lastly, Myers has had a rough time pitching at Minute Maid Park this year.  Batters are hitting .270/.332/.540 against him at home compared to .259/.309/.391 on the road.  As evident by the jump in slugging percentage, Myers has yielded more home runs at home; his 6.9% home run rate at home is nearly double that on the road. 

Minute Maid Park ranks fairly high this season on the HR friendly park list.  However, Myers' did fairly well at home last season, as we noted in a previous post.  His location issues are probably more to blame for his troubles this season.  Unless he can begin to locate like he did in 2010, he'll likely continue to struggle.


Pence Learning Pitches

Hunter Pence of the Houston Astros currently holds the longest hitting streak in Major League Baseball.  He remains hot after a good start, and is finally living up to the promise of his rookie season of 2007.  He greatly improved his ability to make solid contact with the change up compared to his three down years.

From 2008-2010, Pence hit the pitch for power, but made many outs doing so.  His slash line of .249/.301/.464 on the pitch was good for a .327 wOBA.  Pence made contact with the pitch, but failed to square it up:

Hunter Pence, line drive rate on changeups, 2008-2010.In 2011, he makes solid contact:

Hunter Pence, live drive rate on change ups, 2011.With Hunter making better contact, his slash line on the change in 2011 stands at .360/.385/.600 a great .418 wOBA.

The whole point of the change up is to throw off a batter's timing.  It looks like a fastball, so he swings early, and makes poor contact with the ball.  Pence appears to have learned to recognize this pitch better, and his batting statistics improved with it.


Which Pitchers are Really Getting Squeezed?

Earlier in the week we took a look at which pitchers have been squeezed the most based on total pitches called balls within the PitchFX established strike zone.  While it appeared that pitchers like C.J. Wilson (TEX) and Jon Niese (NYM) have been getting a tight strike zone, the truth is that these pitchers tend to stay around the strikezone with the majority of their pitches.  In fact, C.J. Wilson leads the league in called strikes within the strike zone:

(Data from all 2011 games through May 10th)

So in reality, while pitchers like Wilson do lose a lot of called strikes on the borders, it's mostly a product of the volume of pitches they locate there.  In fact, through Tuesday, Wilson was leading all pitchers in total called strikes, regardless of location, with 194.

If we really want to see which pitchers have had a tough time getting calls from umps, we need to look at the percentage of called strikes out of all taken pitches within the strike zone.

 (Data from all 2011 games through May 10th - Min. 40 taken pitches in the strike zone)

Wilson still cracks the top 50, but he's far from the most squeezed pitcher in the league.  Mariners' closer Brandon League is not getting the majority of close calls so far this season.  The league average for called strikes in the PitchFX defined strike zone has been around 77%, meaning umpires have called 23% of pitches in the zone balls.  Of course, the majority of these are borderline pitches as the following graphic shows:

All MLB Called Balls in Strike Zone
(Click to enlarge)

League's missed strikes consist of 18 pitches, the majority of which were thrown to the bottom of the zone.  Batters have taken only 42 total strike zone pitches against him, so his "squeeze rate" is mostly a product of small sample size.  However, when we filter the list down to starters....

(Data from all 2011 games through May 10th)

Among starters, Wilson and Niese still near the top of the list of pitchers getting squeezed. And perhaps Nelson Figueroa would still be pitching in Houston if we had robot umpires.

So we've seen which pitchers have not gotten the majority of close calls so far this season.  In an upcoming post, we'll look at pitchers that have benefited most from expanded strike zones.