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Entries in MLB return (2)

Friday
Jun212013

Oswalt's Fastball a Feast-or-Famine Pitch in MLB Return

During his halcyon days with the Astros and Phillies, Roy Oswalt generated impressive velocity by hurling every bit of his 6-foot, 190 pound frame toward home plate with a drop-and-drive delivery. As Oswalt aged and his body betrayed him -- he's got a degenerative disc condition in his back -- those 93s and 94s on the radar gun became 90s and 91s.

Oswalt showed his old zip for the Rockies last night, however, striking out 11 Nationals while making his first major league start since September of 2012. The 35-year-old pounded the strike zone with his fastball, getting most of those Washington whiffs with the pitch. But Oswalt also left plenty of those heaters belt-high, which helps explain why he was tagged for four runs in five innings pitched. Here's more on Oswalt's feast-or-famine fastball:

  • Oswalt practically forgot he had secondary stuff, throwing 80 fastballs out of 101 total pitches. He averaged 92.5 MPH and topped out at 94.3 MPH. Last year, Oswalt averaged 91.3 MPH as a starting pitcher with the Rangers.
  • Nats hitters missed 15 of the 45 fastballs they swung at versus Oswalt (33%), well above the 20% whiff rate that Oswalt managed in 2012 and the 15% MLB average for starting pitchers. Oswalt got ten of his 11 Ks with his fastball, mostly on pitches located on the corners.

Location of Oswalt's Ks with his fastball vs. Nationals

  • He threw 56% of his heaters over the plate, north of the 53% average for MLB starters. He wasn't nibbling, either, challenging hitters to square him up in the middle of the zone. Forty-three of Oswalt's 80 fastballs (54%) were thrown belt-high. Overall, MLB starters throw about 36% of their fastballs to the middle of the zone.

Oswalt's overall fastball location vs. Nationals

  • Oswalt's "here it is, try and hit it" approach did backfire at times, as Washington batters went 8-for-22 (.364) against the pitch. Five of those eight base knocks came on belt-high fastballs.

Oswalt showed enough stuff to earn more MLB starts, enjoying radar gun readings not seen since he was still a 200-inning-a-year horse. But he's not in Tulsa anymore, so he's going to have to show finer touch with his fastball to forge a successful comeback. Throwing belt-high heat at mile-high elevation is a dicey proposition, no matter how much zip you have.

Monday
Jul162012

Sheets Gets Whiffs in MLB Return

The Atlanta Braves' seven-strong starting rotation quickly crumbled in 2012, with Arodys Vizcaino and Brandon Beachy getting matching Tommy John scars and Julio Teheran coming down with whiplash from all the homers given up at Triple-A Gwinnett. Enter Ben Sheets, the one-time Brewers ace whose career has been short-circuited by back, shoulder, finger and elbow injuries, including his own Tommy John procedure in August 2010.

Sheets, who sports the 12th-best strikeout-to-walk ratio among starting pitchers tossing at least 1,000 frames during the new Millennium, was sharp yesterday versus the Mets in his first MLB start since July 19, 2010. The now-33-year-old righty threw six scoreless innings, allowing two hits while striking out five and walking one. Sheets got Mets batters to whiff at 10 of the 40 pitches they swung at (25 percent), missing bats with both his fastball and sweeping curve.

Sheets averaged 90.9 MPH on the gun with his fastball, topping out at 93.3. That's still down a couple of ticks from his halcyon days with the Brew Crew, but he did manage to get David Wright to swing through a pair of high heaters. Josh Thole, Ike Davis and Kirk Nieuwenheis also came up empty against high fastballs:

Location of Sheets' fastball whiffs vs. Mets, 7/15/12

By contrast, Sheets kept his high-70s curveball low, getting whiffs on the pitch from Davis, Thole, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada and Andres Torres:

Location of Sheets' curveball whiffs vs. Mets, 7/15/12

While Sheets has never had a problem avoiding lumber with his curve, he had one of the 15-lowest fastball miss rates among AL starters when he last pitched with the Athletics in 2010. With so much contact being made, opponents slugged .583 against the pitch (third-highest among AL starters). If Sheets can miss more bats with his fastball while still snapping off quality curves, the Braves could have a low-cost solution to the club's unexpected rotation woes.