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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mark Fidrych Book Contest: Part 2

Nobody won last's week's contest, so I'm still trying to give away my extra copy of Doug Wilson's book: "The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych".   Last year, I wrote a review of this book and I still highly recommend it.  It is a great read for all Tigers fans whether you remember seeing him pitch or not.

Here is the new question:

How many total bases will Miguel Cabrera get in the Padres series from Friday through Sunday? 

The tie breaker question is:

How many strikeouts will the Tigers pitching staff get in the same series?

The winner gets a free copy of the book.  Please put your predictions in the comments section.  You have until 10:00 PM EST on Friday, April 11 to submit a guess.  I will announce the winner once he/she is determined and we'll arrange to get the book sent.  The person who won last year's Mark Fidrych book contest is not eligible, but he is free to guess.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

One Week In The Books


The Tigers are off to a strong start but Phil Coke and the bullpen has some fans worried.
(Photo Credit: John T. Greilick, Detroit News)
After one week of play, the Tigers are 4-1 giving them the best record in the American League.  They could very easily be 1-4 as there have been three one-run victories including two walk-offs in the first two games.  Those three wins can't be taken away though and they count just as much in the standings as they would in September.  Some observations on how they got where they are and where they could be going follow.

The Tigers starters have posted a 2.20 RA (using runs rather than earned runs) and have allowed no homers and just 20 hits in 32 2/3 innings.  Surprisingly, they have just 18 strikeouts which makes one wonder if they are holding something back.  At any rate, it's not a concern.  The strikeouts will come. 

The bullpen, on the other hand, has been a mess with a 6.08 RA in 13 1/3 innings.  Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain have looked especially awful and may not stay on the roster through May at this rate.  The biggest disappointment so far though has been closer Joe Nathan who has not been sharp at all.  He was the only supposedly reliable reliever entering the season, so seeing him struggle early is a bit concerning, although not too alarming yet.  On the bright side, journeyman Evan Reed is looking as if he could be an important piece of the bullpen puzzle. 

Don't blame the bullpen struggles on the  Bruce Rondon injury.  That was a tough loss but he was far from a guarantee to lock down the setup role - not with less than 30 MLB innings and a season-ending injury (I'm talking about the 2013 season here) under his belt.  The bullpen was very questionable even before than injury.  During the off-season, they lost Joaquin Benoit,  Drew Smyly and Jose Veras from an already shaky pen and added just Nathan.  That's the one area I really wish they had addressed further during the winter.

The shortstop situation is about as unsettled as the bullpen.  Alex Gonzalez is showing that he has something left with the bat, but his defense has been awful so far.  Not only does he have limited range, but he also appears to be unsteady with poor judgement.  I don't think he'll last more than a few weeks.  Andrew Romine will last longer, but he's not a full-time player.

Other than the starting staff, the other thing that has carried the team so far is the offense.  They are fourth in the league with 4.8 runs scored per game.  Moreover, they lead the AL with an .825 OPS.  Rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos and center Austin Jackson have looked particularly promising thus far and could exceed expectations.

So, it's been a mixed bag so far, but they have four wins in the bank already and that's important.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Thoughts on Porcello's First Start

Did Rick Porcello do anything different in his first start of the year today?
(Photo Credit: Associated Press)
Over analysis of Rick Porcello has been a favorite pastime of  internet fans and writers for five years now and year six will be be more of the same.  I'll start with some thoughts on his first start of 2014, one which saw him allow just one run on three hits in 6 2/3 innings versus a good hitting Orioles club.  The 25-year-old right hander allowed one run in the first inning on a walk, a steal and a single, but  held the Orioles scoreless after that.

Porcello generally does well when he keeps the ball on the ground and today he recorded 11 outs on ground balls.  He had just three strikeouts, all on swinging strikes.   

Last year, Porcello improved, in part, because of less reliance on his sinker and adoption of the curve as his primary breaking pitch.  According to Brooks Baseball, Porcello used his sinker on 43( 44%) of his 94 pitchers which is similar to his 42% sinker rate of 2013.  However, he used he slider almost as much as his curve (12% versus 15%).  Interestingly he seemed to have more success with his slider today posting a whiff (swing and miss) rate of 46% (versus just 7% on curves).  It's just one game and might mean nothing, but it's something worth watching in his next start.   

Porcello has always had trouble with durability shown in dramatically reduced fastball speeds and results as the game progresses.  Table 1 below shows that today was no exception as far as losing zip on his pitches.  He threw as hard as 94 MPH in the first inning, was down to 90-91 on pitches 60-70, the interval where he traditionally starts to lose it and 88-89 by the end of the game.  He often gets hit hard once he loses his velocity, but today he was effective until the end.  Perhaps, we can credit manager Brad Ausmus with having the foresight to remove him before the hits started coming. 

Table 1: Pitch Speed by Pitch Number

Data source:

Another Porcello theme is his extreme lefty/righty split.  Last year, left-handed batters hit .300 against him whereas right-handed batters hit just.239.  Today, a lefty-heavy Orioles line-up hit just .182 against him. Again, it's way too early to make conclusions, but that's a good early sign.

Over thinking Rick Porcello's performance continues next weekend when he faces the Padres in San Diego. 


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