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Entries in New York Mets (15)

Monday
Dec162013

How is Bartolo Colon Still Doing This?

Absolutely nothing about Bartolo Colon screams longevity. His right shoulder is a science experiment, he's an ardent follower of the Body by Boomer Wells fitness plan, and he lobs not-so-fast fastballs almost exclusively. His body failing him, Colon appeared on the verge of retirement eight seasons ago. By looks alone, you might think he did hang 'em up and just decided to dust off his glove for a beer league softball start.

Colon still looks imposing to hitters, though. He's coming off one of the greatest age-40 seasons in history, posting a park-and-league-adjusted ERA 41 percent above average. Among quadragenarians qualifying for the ERA title, only Nolan Ryan (142 ERA+ in 1987), Pete Alexander (160 ERA+ in 1927) and Randy Johnson (176 ERA+ in 2004) were better. Colon's superb work with the A's just earned him a two-year, $20 million free agent deal with the New York Mets.

What makes Colon's late-career resurgence all the more confounding is that his stuff seems so ordinary, so predictable. He doesn't possess Ryan's heat, Alexander's hard curve or Johnson's wipeout slider. Colon practically doesn't even have secondary offerings, throwing his fastball a major league-high 85 percent of the time. It's not fast, either, with an average velocity (89.9 MPH in 2013) nearly two miles per hour under the MLB average for right-handed starting pitchers (91.6 MPH).

How can a one-pitch hurler with below-average zip nonetheless contend for the Cy Young Award? Here are three reasons why Colon is still getting it done with his fastball.

1.) He pounds the strike zone

Colon returned to the majors in 2011 following a year spent rehabbing and getting stem cell treatment for his then-shredded shoulder. Colon's ailments cost him some velocity, but he has compensated with improved control. Since 2011, he has thrown the ninth-highest percentage of fastballs (54.9) within the strike zone among AL starting pitchers (minimum 3,000 pitches). The league average over the past three seasons is just 49.1 percent. By attacking hitters, Colon surrendered the fewest walks (1.6 per nine innings pitched) among all Junior Circuit starters from 2011-13. A younger, harder-throwing Colon wasn't this stingy with walks (his career average is 2.8 per nine frames).

Highest percentage of fastballs thrown within the strike zone among AL starters, 2011-13

 

2.) He gets favorable calls on pitches thrown around the edges of the plate

If there's one advantage to being a soft-tosser, it's that umps are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt on close calls. Colon is a prime example of this phenomenon, enjoying a higher called strike rate than the average MLB starter both on pitches thrown inside of the strike zone and off the plate:

Colon's called strike rate, 2011-13

 

Compared to the average MLB starter, Colon has received an extra 86 calls on pitches taken by hitters over the past three years. That's essentially one extra strike per start. It might not sound like much, but that close call can be the difference between a big inning and another spotless frame.

3.) He rarely gives up long drives on fastballs hit in the air

Overall, batters loft fastballs an average of 266 feet when they hit the ball in the air. Against Colon, however, hitters drove the ball just 259 feet from 2011-13. That puts Colon in the same rarefied air as power pitchers like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander (255 feet apiece). Hitters just don't square up Colon's heater, resulting in more cans of corn and warning track shots instead of three-run homers.

By peppering the strike zone, benefiting from umpires' generosity on borderline calls, and limiting hard contact, Colon allowed a .400 opponent slugging percentage on his fastball from 2011-13. That's about 40 points below the MLB average, and bests youngsters with humming fastballs like Stephen Strasburg (.409) and Chris Sale (.413). Colon's no super hero, but he should be able to anchor the Mets' rotation as the Dark Knight of Gotham plots his return in 2015.

Wednesday
Dec112013

Matt Harvey's Heater Will Be Missed

When it was announced that the Mets would shut down Matt Harvey for the remainder of the 2013 season with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow at the end of August, a part of every baseball fan's soul dissolved ever so slightly. Well, maybe that was too much. The point is, Harvey was arguably the most exciting pitcher in baseball before the injury, having posted a 2.27 ERA that ranked best among qualified righties at that juncutre to go with a National League-best 27.7% strikeout rate.

But the basic numbers themselves weren't the only thing that made the 24-year-old phenom so intoxicating. Wielding an easy 80-grade changeup that held batters to a .208 batting average (and didn't allow one extra-base hit all season) and two breaking pitches that combined for a 36.3% strikeout rate was impressive, but what arguably most attracted the masses was Harvey's electrifying fastball.

Harvey's Fastball Ranks Among Qualified Starters, 2013

As we can see, Harvey's fastball was ludicrous last season in several respects. The pitch ranked first in opponent slugging percentage against, allowing only 14 extra-base hits in 377 plate appearances. It also induced a major-league best 33.9% chase rate, which was considerably higher than Homer Bailey's 31.6% rate that ranked second-best it the NL. Tim Hudson (.151) was the only NL pitcher to induce a lower well-hit average on his fastball than Harvey, and Shelby Miller (24.8%) and Yu Darvish (25.6%) were the lone right-handed starters to garner higher swing-and-miss rates than Harvey.

Of course, some of Harvey's fastballs were more captivating than others. More specifically, I'm talking about heaters of 98 MPH and above -- such pitches that opponents had little hope for success against last season.

Harvey's 98 MPH+ fastball pitch frequency, 2013

Opponent in-play rate vs. Harvey's fastball 98 MPH+

Results and averages comparison against Harvey's 98+ MPH fastball

No qualified starter last season threw more fastballs at 98 MPH or above last season than Harvey's 187, and as such, batters struggled mightily against the offering. Over 49 plate appearances, opponents posted a .070/.184/.070 slash line against Harvey's 98+ MPH heater to go with a .047 well-hit average. They also placed just 18.4% of such offerings in play and swung at 37% when located out of the strike zone. As the pitch frequency map above shows, Harvey pumped those fastballs in the upper half of the zone at a 70.6% rate -- a region of the zone where opponents put a resounding 11.1% of such offerings in-play and struck out at a 63.6% clip.

I've included opponents' results and averages on Harvey's fastball when clocked at 90-96 MPH and 97 MPH and above to show how dominant his fastball was when at least 98 MPH. While the pitch was dominant regardless of velocity, it seems his fastball was most nasty at that speed. Opponents' well-hit average decreased by .088 from 97 MPH and above to 98 MPH and up, missing at nearly 5% more with the 1 MPH increase.

While we should take into consideration that only 6.9% of Harvey's fastballs last season were 98 MPH and above, we can still easily conclude such offerings were ridiculously difficult for batters to handle. As is the case with all starting pitchers, Harvey's velocity will progressively decrease from here on out, and it remains to be seen how Tommy John surgery will have either adverse or favorable affects on his velocity in 2015.

But one thing is for certain: Harvey's fastball was pretty darn dominant last season. And we're going to miss it.

Monday
Dec092013

Mets Bet $60 Million on Granderson's Bat Speed 

The New York Mets received precious little production from their outfielders in 2013, as the likes of Eric Young Jr., Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares combined for a .685 On-Base-Plus-Slugging Percentage (28th among major league clubs) and 50 home runs (24th). To add some thump to a mostly anonymous, anemic group of fly catchers, GM Sandy Alderson just added a guy who nearly hit that many homers by himself in recent years -- Curtis Granderson.

Granderson, inked to a four-year, $60 million deal to change buroughs in New York, went deep 40-plus times in both 2011 and 2012. But the soon-to-be-33-year-old's park-and-league adjusted OPS has dropped three years running, from a career-best 42 percent above average in 2011 to 15 percent above average in 2012 and three percent below average last year, when he missed a big chunk of the season after getting hit by pitches that broke his right wrist and left pinkie. His strikeout rate has climbed steadily over that time frame, from 24.5 percent of his plate appearances in '11 to 28.2 percent in '13.

For the Mets' latest free agent gamble to pay off, Granderson will need to prove that his uptick in whiffs and decline in power are more the product of aching hands than a slowing bat. His contact and slugging woes been especially glaring against fastballs.

Granderson's contact rate vs. fastballs, 2011

 

Granderson's contact rate vs. fastballs, 2012

 

Granderson's contact rate vs. fastballs, 2013

Granderson missed just 15.3 percent of the fastballs that he swung at in 2011, comfortably below the 16-17 percent average for MLB hitters. That whiff rate reached 23 percent in 2012, and spiked to 33.3 percent during his injury-shortened 2013 campaign -- highest among all batters seeing at least 400 fastballs.

Even when Granderson has managed to connect, he's rarely ripping fastballs down the right field line. He pulled 54.2 percent of fastballs put in play in 2011, by far the highest rate among left-handed hitters (Ryan Howard was second, at 40.6 percent). But Granderson's pull percentage dipped to 38.3 percent in 2012, and 34.7 percent in 2013. Hitting weaker shots to center and the opposite field, Granderson's slugging percentage against heaters has plummeted from .704 in 2011 (a mark bested only by Matt Kemp) to .456 last year.

Granderson's most comparable players on Baseball Reference through age 32 don't bode especially well for his chances of raking as he reaches his mid-30s. A group of outfielders including Ron Gant, J.D. Drew, Jose Cruz and (gulp) Jason Bay posted a collective OPS that was eight percent above average during their age 33-36 seasons (Bay, 35, is mulling retirement).

If you're optimistic about Granderson, you could say that 2011 was a career year, 2012 was more along the lines of what we should expect from him moving forward, and last year was an injury-riddled mulligan. If you're a pessimist -- there may be a few Mets fans in this category, I'm told -- then Granderson can't turn on fastballs anymore and his contract could turn into another Bay-esque money pit. Alderson and the Amazin's have staked $60 million on Grandy crushing fastballs in Queens.