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Entries in Pitch types (3)

Monday
Jul292013

Clayton Kershaw's Curveball is to Die For

Don't look now, but Clayton Kershaw is having himself another Clayton Kershaw-type season. What with being stingy on the walks (35), liberal with strikeouts (156) and keeping his WHIP (0.837) at a microscopic level, not to mention leading the league in fun old-school stats like ERA (1.96), and neutralized new-school stats like ERA+ (182), Kershaw is either on par with, or performing better than he did in 2012.

Maybe he's mad about losing the Cy Young Award to R.A. Dickey last season.

Meet his curveball

So, for those of you who don't know him, say hello to Mr. Clayton Kershaw. And while you're at it, say hello to his curveball.

His curveball?

Yes. His curveball.

Turns out, the 25 year-old's curveball is as devestating as his minor league scouting report said it would be. And it had a lot of hype to live up to.

The hype didn't come right away mind you. Coming into the 2006 draft, one scouting report gave Kershaw's curveball a future grade on the 20-80 scale of 55. But by the time he got to Spring Training in 2008, the common comp for the young man from Dallas, TX was Sandy Koufax.

I can see how they would make that comparison.

Sandy is a lefty. Clayton is lefty.

Sandy was a Dodger. Clayton was in the Dodgers system.

1+1=2. Etcetra and so forth.

But here he is in his sixth season (fifth full season) and his curveball is drawing praise from ESPN's Buster Olney in the form of a few placed tweets.

No way.

Cue the hit chart.

Damn, he's right. 

MORE THAN 800!?!

Well, he has thrown 849 since the start of the 2011 season. And that start that Olney is referring too was his fourth of the season. So, yeah, more than 800 sounds about right.

Check this out

Overall, hitters are hitting .061/.061/.061 against Kershaw's curveball this season.

Lefties are hitting .080/.080/.080 and righties are hitting .055/.055/.055. How is it that lefties have a higher batting average against that pitch than righties? I don't know. Maybe they are all warlocks.

And it's not as if he never throws the pitch.

He's thrown 277 curveballs so far this season out of 2,356 total pitches. Good for 11.8% of the time.

Maybe he could stand to throw it more, but considering Kershaw hasn't had a full season with an ERA north of 3.00, who am I to tell him what to do?

Why isn't there more buzz around Kershaw?

Maybe I don't watch enough ESPN.

Or maybe the MLB Network isn't doing enough to showcase ace pitchers on the west coast.

Or maybe I don't watch enough TV. I probably don't watch enough TV.

But I don't hear as much about Kershaw as I do Justin Verlander. And Verlander, in my opinion, isn't in Kershaw's league with consistent better-than-any-pitcher-on-the-planet production. 

When Clayton Kershaw was a minor leaguer, he developed into a pitcher who's common comp was Sandy Koufax, which is probably the highest level of praise you can give to a young left-handed starter. In time though, they may have to switch the roles, and compare Sandy to Clayton.

Monday
Jun102013

Matt Moore is Getting Hit. Hard. What Gives?

The Tampa Bay Rays are the team that every other team wants to be.

OK, maybe not this year judging by their spot in the standings (which shouldn't matter anyway because who knows what kind of tricks wacky Joe Maddon has up his sleeve. What? No one calls him that? So noted), but no other team in recent memory has had so much success while spending so little money. Maybe the Angels, Blue Jays and Dodgers should have been paying closer attention. 

High draft picks for a decade yielded a stockpile of top-shelf talent, all of which seemed to flood the big league team at the same time: Evan Longoria, David Price, the list goes on. 

Their latest and greatest minor league graduate wasn't a first round pick. But, judging by his "stuff," Matt Moore looks more like an overall first choice, then an eighth-round selection.

Matt Moore

After laying the groundwork for his legend with a stellar ALDS performance in 2011 against the Rangers, Moore put together a fine season in 2012. Nothing spectacular, but good for a rookie. Too many walks, a strikeout per inning, an ERA under 4.00, a good start.

Moore then came barreling through the gates in 2013, firing on all cylinders and rendering any hitter that stepped into the batter's box helpless. He posted a 5-0 record in April with a 1.13 ERA and a 10.7 K/9. He went 3-0 in May, but his ERA was nearly three times what his April marking had been. His K/9 also fell to 5.7 for that month. He was winning, but pitcher wins are silly, and his peripherals suggested that hitters were adjusting.

Or were they?

Matt Moore is a three-pitch pitcher (which is kind of necessary if you are going to be a successful major league starter). He relies mostly on his wicked fastball and wipeout slider. He has a change-up, but has always used that sparingly compared to the other two. And in the first two months of this season, Moore stayed with that approach. In June, well, not so much.

He used his change-up 14.4% of the time in April.

In May, he used it 15.6% of the time.

In June (over the super-duper small sample size of seven innings), he has used his change-up 25.3% of the time. He's still throwing his fastball more than 60% of the time, but his slider is the pitch that is getting shelfed in favor of his change-up. And hitters are teeing off on it. 

And by "teeing off," I mean "torching."

Hitters are posting a  .462 batting average against the pitch this month (which he has thrown 47 times already) and slugging a robust .615 against it. Probably because, well, he's throwing it too much. To illustrate how much the pitch is getting smacked around.

Here's a heat map of his changeup.

Yup. That's a lot of red.

Normally, Matt Moore's change-up is a decent out pitch. His slider is still his bread and butter though. Hitters hold a career OPS of .478 against that pitch. But a .674 OPS against on his change-up, is nothing to be ashamed of. It's just not a pitch that is meant to be thrown over and over and over and over...yeah, you get the point. 

So, Matt, Pedro Martinez you are not. If we hope to see your crazy, two-feet-of-movement fastball hang around in the big leagues for a long time to come, keep the change-up in your back pocket. For your sake, and for ours.

Friday
Apr222011

Why is Offense Down?

Three weeks into the major league season, scoring dropped half a run per game through the same point in the previous season.  What caused this drop?  It could be the umpires, but looking at heat maps of called balls and strikes, there is no discernable difference in the frequency of strikes called outside the strike zone and balls called inside the strike zone.  The same errors exist in the same locations.

Batter selectivity then came into question.  Again, looking at heat maps, the only bit that looked different was that maybe batters were taking more strikes down the middle of the plate, and maybe they were taking more high strikes.  These were minor differences at best, probably accountable due to the sample size early in the season.

Combing through the data, the one thing that stood out was a change in the frequency of certain pitches:

 

Through the first 22 days of the season.
Pitch Type20102011
Fastball 51.4% 46.4%
Change 12.5% 12.3%
Curve 9.5% 9.5%
Slider 14.6% 14.9%
Cutter 4.7% 5.5%
Sinker 6.3% 9.7%

 

Fastballs are down, and pitchers are replacing them with cutters and sinkers.  Batters are chasing those pitches out of the strike zone.

Batter swings at cutters and sinkers outside the strike zone, 2010 on the left, 2011 on the right.This season, when batters swing at pitches outside the zone they produce a .191 wOBA. When they swing at pitches inside the strike zone, their wOBA jumps to .323.  Pitchers as a whole changed the way they approached batters, and that caused them to swing more at pitches with a low probability of success.

The changes hold up across the two leagues as well, although the AL is substituting more sinkers and the NL more cutters. 

Batters are seeing a different mix of pitches than usual, and they'll need to adjust if offense is to recover.