Thursday, April 24, 2014

Shift in Pitch Selection Works well for Drew Smyly

The Tigers bullpen, specifically right hander Evan Reed and southpaw Ian Krol, blew a lead late and the Tigers lost to the White Sox 6-4 last night.  However, starter Drew Smyly's performance was a positive as he allowed just two runs on six hits in six innings while recording seven strikeouts.  That was good to see after a rough first outing last Friday versus the Angels.

The biggest difference for Smyly between first start and last night's outing was the increased use of his slider.  In his first start, he threw 23% cut fastballs and 17% sliders, but last night it was 13% cutters and 31% sliders.  According to Brooks Baseball, the Tigers left hander recorded a linear weights value of -2.24 on his slider (negative numbers are good) and a 0.49 on his cutter (positive numbers are bad).  In fact, his slider was the only pitch giving him positive results last night.  So, it made sense that it became his primary breaking pitch.  

The most interesting thing about his pitch selection though was timing.  In the 30-pitch first inning where he allowed both runs, he relied mostly on his four-seam fast ball and cutter throwing only 5 sliders (17% of his pitches).  In the final four frames, 24 out of of 62 (39%) of his pitches were sliders.

The shift in pitch selection actually seemed to start with the final batter of the first inning.  Smyly threw two sliders to pale hose shortstop Alexei Ramirez including a swinging strike three to end the inning.  In the last five innings, he allowed just three hits total and registered six strikeouts including four on sliders.   

To whom do we give credit for the move to more sliders? Smyly? Manager Brad Ausmus? Pitching coach Jeff Jones?  Since it was an in-game or even in-inning adjustment and probably not a pre-game plan, I think a lot of the credit can go to the pitch calling of catcher Alex Avila.

At any rate, the slider made Smyly's game last night and its' use and effectiveness is something to observe going forward.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What Went Right for Rick Porcello Today?

After Rick Porcello's previous start at San Diego, I used Brooks Baseball's Pitch f/x data to touch upon what he did wrong.  In particular, he threw too many balls up in the zone, especially to left-handed batters who went 6 for 14 against him.  The result was five runs allowed on 10 total hits in a 6-0 loss to the Padres.

Today, Porcello was much better allowing just one run on five hits in seven innings against a powerful Angels line-up which has beaten him up badly in the past.  As is the case in most of his good starts, the 25-year-old right hander kept the ball on the ground getting 12 outs of ground balls to go with four strikeouts.

Porcello generally struggles versus left-handed batters, but today he held them to just 2 hits in 13 at bats. Figure 1 below shows that he did a good job keeping the ball either down or just off the outside edge. Contrast that to his previous start (Figure 2) where he located to many bitches in the middle of the zone.  

Figure 1 

Data source:

Figure 2
Data source:

In his San Diego start, Porcello relied more on his slider than his generally more effective curveball.  Today, he went back to his curve using it 17 times as opposed to 9 sliders.  He used 11 curves and no sliders versus left handers, an approach with which he he had some success last year (at least more than in his previous years versus lefties).

Finally, Porcello had a little better stamina this afternoon lasting 103 pitches and throwing three 91 MPH fastballs in his last inning of work (See Figure 3 below).  He typically runs out of gas between pitches 60-70, but was still throwing consistently at 92 MPH in that range and beyond today.

Figure 3
Data source:

So, Porcello had a positive outing versus a strong-hitting team team day and hopes to carry the momentum into his next start at Minnesota next Friday.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Starter Drew Smyly Versus Reliever Drew Smyly

Drew Smyly rejoined the Tigers rotation last night (Photo credit: Scott Rovak/ U.S. Presswire)

Tigers left hander Drew Smyly made his first start since 2012 last night and did not fare too well in a 11-6 loss to the Angels.  He was pounded for four runs on six hits including four of the extra base variety in just four innings of work.  Not much can be made of a single start especially one where he pitched for the first time in nine days.  So, let's not scream about his needing to return to the bullpen just yet, but I will examine what happened.

First, let's compare the 2012 and 2013 versions of Smyly.  Pitching mostly as a reliever in 2012, Smyly had the following breakdown of pitches according to 54% four-seam fastballs, 13% cut fastballs, 28% sliders and 5% change-ups.  In 2013 strictly as a reliever, the breakdown was: 56% four-seam fastballs, 29% cut fastballs, 15% sliders and <1 change-ups.="" nbsp="" p="">
So, the big difference between the two years was that he threw more sliders in 2012 and more cutters in 2013.  The slider was his best pitch in 2012 as he held opponents to a .339 OPS.  In contrast, he had an .858 OPS against on his cutter.  In 2013 his slider was still an effective pitch (.578 OPS), but his cutter was even better (.417).  

Pitchers often throw harder as relievers than as starters since they face fewer batters in relief.  Smyly however had an average fastball velocity of 92 MPH both years.

Tonight, Smyly was less reliant on the four seamer than usual using it on just 40% of his pitches.  He threw 34% cutters and 26% sliders which is an indication that his increased use of a cutter last year was not just a bullpen adjustment but rather a pitch that he now feels more comfortable throwing in any role.

Tonight, none of Smyly's pitches were working well.  He had a 25% whiff per swing rate on his slider compared to 40% lifetime.  For the cutter, it was 10% versus about 25% for his career.

As for velocity, Smyly had his typical 92 MPH average fastball tonight.  The biggest concern about the 25-year-old Tigers pitcher might be durability since he pitched as a reliever last year and has never pitched as many as 120 innings at any level.  There was not a major problem in terms of in-game stamina last night as his last pitch (number 82) was thrown at 91 MPH after peaking at 93 MPH in the early going (see figure 1 below).

So, the problem was not lack of speed or stamina, but rather too many fat pitches in the middle of the zone.   He'll get a chance to fix that next week versus the White Sox.

Figure 1: Pitch Speed by Pitch Number for Drew Smyly, April 18, 2014
Data source:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mark Fidrych Book Contest Winner

We finally have a winner in the Mark Fidrych book contest.  Since Miguel Cabrera only got two total bases versus the Padres, nobody came very close to guessing his total correctly.  The closest was seven by OPUS and Eddie (who entered his guess on Facebook).  The tie breaker was strikeouts by Tigers pitchers in the series - they got 30.  Eddie guessed 25 while OPS had them for only 22, so Eddie is the winner of Doug Wilson's book: "The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych"..   TSE guessed 30 strikeouts on the nose, but had Cabrera getting 10 total bases. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Analysis of Rick Porcello: Game 2

After a good first start last weekend versus the Orioles, Tigers right hander Rick Porcello was much less effective in his second second start last night in San Diego.  He pitched 6 1/3 innings allowing five runs on ten hits in a 6-0 loss to a masterful Andrew Cashner and the Padres.  What went wrong?

According to Brooks Baseball, Porcello threw a lot of sliders last night - 18 of them compared to just 11 curve balls.  His curve is better than his slider, so you may wonder why he would throw more sliders.  It might be because his slider was effective last week versus the Orioles - a linear weights value of -1,10 (negative numbers are good).  Last night, he was 2.90 (positive numbers are bad) on his slider.  He had favorable results on his sinker and change-up in both outings.

Porcello needs to keep his pitches down to be effective and he was unable to do that last night.  After getting 12 outs on ground balls in his first start, he he had just 7 on Saturday.

Last night, his location was off versus left-handed batters in particular.  The strike zone plots below indicate that he located fewer pitches in the middle of the strike zone versus left-handed batters on April 5 (figure 1) than he did last night (figure 2).  The result was that lefties went 6 for 14 against Porcello last night compared to 2 for 11 in his first start. 

Figure 1: Rick Porcello's Strike Zone Plot Versus LHH - April 5, 2014
Data source: Brooks Baseball

Figure 2: Rick Porcello's Strike Zone Plot Versus LHH - April 11, 2014
Data source: Brooks Baseball

So, there you have it.  Like many of Porcello's poor starts, he couldn't keep the ball down and couldn't get left-handed batters out.  Next up, he'll face the Indians on Thursday

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