The Reds begin their second half run tonight with Mike Leake sixty feet from home in Yankee Stadium. I wanted to look back and update some of the topics we’ve discussed in this Friday morning column.

In Throwing Smoke we discussed how fastball velocity stabilizes early in the season and can be a predictor of future success. Here is the key chart from that article:

Table1

And here we are at the halfway mark:

Name Fbv 14
Cueto 92.9
Simon 93.7
Bailey 94.2
Latos 90.5
Cingrani 91.2
Leake 91

Three notable takeaways on this updated table:

First, fastball velocity does appear to stabilize early in the season. Alfredo Simon’s change in fastball speed (-0.6 mph) is the largest change in the entire table. Aside from this, Cueto’s improvement (+0.5) mph is the second largest change in fastball velocity. Largely, the fastball you bring to opening day is the fastball you’ll have at the All-Star Break.

Second, Simon’s decline in fastball velocity is concerning. For several reasons, including weather and strength, pitchers generally improve their fastball velocity as the season progresses. From fangraphs, average league FBv is 91.5 mph, but finishes the season at 92.3 mph. Since Simon is quickly reaching his recent high water mark for innings pitched, its important we keep tabs on his fastball velocity.

Third, As you can see from Cingrani’s early numbers, low FBv can be an indication of an injury. Mat Latos is the other pitcher on this list that is posting an unusually low fastball velocity. Over six starts, his fastball velocity is down two MPH (90.5) from last year (92.5). On every pitch, Mat Latos is throwing at career-low speeds (well, there is one exception: his changeup is faster than last year. I’m not sure that’s either relevant or a good thing).

Latos is also posting his highest career contact rate, up almost 3% from last year. His swinging strike percentage has dropped off this year (7.5%) from last year (10.3%). I hope he rested over the All-Star break and comes back with the old fire he had last year because he has won the lottery with BABIP (.188). No matter what you think about BABIP, we can all agree that number can’t last forever.

In Walks Will Haunt we broke down why the Reds starters were off to a slow start. It turned out the starting five was struggling with their location. At the time, the Reds were walking 3.97 BB/9 (14.7% BB rate). We predicted that number would decline back to a normal rate.

At the halfway mark in the season, the Reds entire pitching staff is posting a 3.01 BB/9 (11% BB). This is still higher than the 2013 Reds (2.66 BB/9, 9.8% BB), but is still good for middle of the league (14th overall in walk percentage).

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In Right Down K Street we talked about the “age of the pitcher.” Over the past decade, pitchers have started throwing harder. This has contributed to the historically low run-scoring environment in MLB today.

In early April, the league was averaging 91.6 MPH FBv. Starters were throwing at 91.3 (28% K) while relievers were averaging 94 MPH (34.6 K%).

At the halfway point, the league is up to 91.7 FBv and 28.5 K%. Starters have maintained their early numbers 91.3 FBv, (27.2 K%) while relievers have seen their strikeout numbers drop off slightly (31.1 K%).

Overall: Strikeout numbers are higher than last year, so the balance of power between hitters and pitchers continues to shift in favor of pitchers.

In Who Ya Gonna Call? we discussed relief pitcher leverage. A few weeks into the season, Sam LeCure was Brian Price’s “relief weapon of choice.”

gmLI exLI
Sam LeCure 1.6 1.35
Jonathan Broxton 1.51
Manny Parra 1.38 1.14
Logan Ondrusek 1.34 1.31
J.J. Hoover 1.32 1.4
Nick Christiani 0.66 0.52
Trevor Bell 0.62 0.97
Sean Marshall 0.59 0.42

So who has Brian Price turned to in times of need? Here are the updated numbers (For simplicity, I removed a few pitchers who saw only a few innings):

Name gmLI exLI
Nick Christiani 0.62 0.44
Trevor Bell 0.62 0.97
J.J. Hoover 0.9 0.91
Logan Ondrusek 1.09 1.05
Sam LeCure 1.16 1.62
Jumbo Diaz 1.31 1.58
Manny Parra 1.52 1.59
Jonathan Broxton 1.65 1.81
Aroldis Chapman 1.92 1.84

Just a refresher: gmLI is how dangerous the situation is when the pitcher enters the game, “exLI” is how dangerous the situation is when the pitcher leaves the game. From this table, Chapman gets the call when the game is on the line (although this is not surprising given his role as the closer).

Since the beginning of the season, LeCure and (thankfully) Ondrusek have not seen as many dangerous situations; their roles filled in by Diaz, Parra, and Broxton. No surprises here: Hoover, Christiani, and Bell are not on our roster to put out fires.

In Hoover-ville we looked at J.J. Hoover’s disastrous beginning of the season. The bottom line: Hoover was unlucky (.345 BABIP) and walked too many batters (34% BB).

In the past two months, Hoover’s numbers in these areas have returned to normal. In May, his BABIP was .263 and only walked 16% of batters (still not great, but an improvement). In June, those numbers were .222 and 15%. The feeling around here is that Hoover was finally starting to turn the corner, and these numbers indicate he has overcome his early season demons. He still is plagued by a ridiculous 13.6 HR/FB rate (almost double his career rate), but his K% (39.1) is keeping him in games. He is heading the right direction.

Finally, we looked at swinging strike rates in the creatively named Swinging at Strikes. This was published under a month ago, so an update doesn’t seem all that helpful. That article looked at relievers, so let’s take a look at our starters’ numbers.

SP

Here is where I wander into the treacherous territory known as “writing about Homer Bailey.” He has a high O-Swing%, low Z-Swing%, and the lowest contact rate of our starting pitchers. His BB% (7.6) is a little high, but not awful (for reference, Cueto, 6.2; Simon, 6.0). Yet his BABIP (.312) is not exactly doing him any favors. For a refresher, O-Swing% is how often batters swing at pitches outside the zone while Z-Swing% is how often batters swing at pitches inside the zone.

The recent news on Bailey is good, though. His BABIP in May (.291) and June (.275) is back in line with what we have come to expect from Mr. David Dewitt Bailey (.300). His K% in May (23.6%) and June (31.7) are more in line with his career mark (27.8).

Small sample size and all (79.1 IP in May and June), but the recent news on Homer is good. I’m bullish on our 28-year old Texan and say we can expect good things from him in the second half.

We covered other topics in Sixty Feet From Home: We analyzed batting average on balls in play and the role of the quality start. We looked at the Reds shift to high strikeout pitchers and how important it is to have aces on your pitching staff. I also wrote about how awesome Tony Cingrani is, followed shortly with an analysis of how his season had fallen apart.

Here is my question to you: What topics would you like me to research and write about in future SFFH columns?

Finally, thank you for reading and sharing your Friday mornings. It’s been a fun first half of the season and talking baseball. I’m looking forward to the second half, sixty feet from home.

Join the conversation! 32 Comments

  1. I hate the all star break.

  2. Oh boy. The war is about to continue…

  3. As for future articles, after reading the Grantland piece on Mark Buehrle it would be interesting to look at how our guys match up in the defense and run game department. Especially given how overall this might be the best defensive Reds teams ever. There’s also been some talk about sequencing in the past that always seems to end up in conjecture. Might be interesting to go beyond the raw big picture numbers and look at how individual guys approach specific AB’s or game situations.

  4. Homer has such great stuff, his season continues to perplex me. I too think he’ll have a better second half. I think it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to have a dominant second half of the season, in fact.

    My friends and I often voice the complaint that Homer is mentally weak. We see a cheap hit, or HBP with two outs and next thing you know it’s a run or two. It’s obviously anecdotal but I believe their would be some type of statistical measure to capture that.

    • I know a no hitter is mostly luck but I wouldn’t consider a pitcher with two of them mentally weak. Carlos Zambrano was mentally weak. David Ortiz is mentally weak. I don’t see Homer carrying on like those nuts.

      • Maybe I should say, he seems like too much a perfectionist.

        • I think Homer, because of his pitch arsenal, is hampered more than any of our other starters by inconsistent strike zones or getting squeezed.

  5. Simon’s FBv is concerning! I wonder how much longer the Reds can ride him as a starter before reducing his IP. I can’t imagine he lasts the season. With little word on Cingrani and the Reds refusal to give Wang a spot start, I am scared to death thinking Holmberg gets a call up for several appearances.

    • Wang opted out of his contract. He signed with the White Sox…And then we traded a player to be named later to the White Sox for another minor league RHP.

      • Yup, I was just insinuating that he left b/c we passed him over for start despite a solid AAA performance.

        • That’s exactly why he left. What’s odd to me is that we couldn’t just trade him for Axelrod straight up. That’s basically what we did, only we’re going to have to give up someone else now too.

    • The Reds have signed a journeyman Scott Diamond from the Twins and traded for the White Sox’s Axelrod the day before yesterday to put at AAA. You know how Jocketty likes having a journeyman veteran at AAA for insurance. I don’t think we’ll see Holmberg again this year, even in September.
      We’ve been hearing that Latos’ velocity is down this year. And Michael’s FBv graph bears that out. That might be the bigger concern than what to expect from Simon’s 2nd half.

      • I agree. Latos is clearly not 100%. I was hoping he just wasn’t stretched out and the velocity would increase. It hasn’t. That is a real cause for concern. Hopefully the staff can confirm it’s not long term and the Reds can capitalize on the ‘off year’ to lock of a more favorable long term deal . . .

    • Yes, it is a leading indicator. Hopefully a couple extra days off will help. I believe he can afford to lose some velocity off the fastball but not too much. We have zero depth in starting pitching We need a better plan then Diamond, IMO.

      Great right up, Mike.

      • Being the town skeptic, it would be nice to see average fastball velocity by game to see if it is a true trend or a couple of games where he didn’t have it. Mike, is there anyway to qualify this?

        • I agree with EricNYC — looks like he is all over the place this year. Yet he is below his career average, which I think is more meaningful. From his start against PHL (seven starts ago) it looks like a (slight) general trend downward with one outlier (@SF). Once again, too weak a trend to declare the wheels are coming off, but we should keep an eye on it.

          To add to the mystery, I went ahead and ran a simple model just to see what the relationship is between Simon’s FBv and ER per start (then re-ran the model with K/9).

          There doesn’t seem to be a discernible relationship between his FBv and K/9 (R^2 of only .03) and a positive relationship between his FBv and runs given up (R^2 .289).

          Given the omitted variables (for example: opposition, ballpark, defense) and the small sample size, I wouldn’t let these numbers do too much for you (not to mention that the numbers are pretty misleading: you never expect the same pitcher to give up MORE runs if they throw harder).

          Its probably safest just to watch his FBv for a general trend post-all star break. I’ll be sure to watch this in future SFFH columns.

        • I love statistics. That much should be obvious. It is how I employ them that is the break point. Objective measurements like pitch speed, etc. fascinate me, in particular.

          Thanks Mike & Eric for the research and link.

          Mike, the rough spell Simon had in May did this coincide with the rape allegation becoming public? My memory is poor but it seems to me it did.

        • Mike & Eric

          After reviewing Eric’s link, can we really say that he is losing velocity? First time I have looked at that particular table so I could be way off base here.

        • Well I think Mike’s original point was that you should expect a fastball pitcher’s velocity to IMPROVE over the first half, and we haven’t seen that which means he’s likely got nowhere to go but down from here. But that should have been expected what with the whole transition to starter thing.

        • Mike, a layman’s POV: do we expect a 33-year old to be able to maintain his career average FB? What I’m looking at here is the 2014 season only and is he showing any signs of wear within this season? Is he maintaining the velocity over the first 3-1/2 months of the season with some exceptions?

          Sorry to be a pain but I’m trying to get down to the base of the whole thing. Every stat has a story/stories behind it and many times it will not be a straight line.

  6. I’m not sure I understand gmLI and exLI numbers. Don’t we want to see exLI lower than gmLI? Wouldn’t that show that the reliever came into a dangerous situation and is leaving it less dangerous? Or, wait, if the bases are loaded (dangerous) and they surrender a grand slam, is it now considered “less dangerous”?

    Signed, Confused.

    • I would imagine it’s measured in terms of win probability. Come into a game in the 7th inning of a game with the bases loaded and your win probability is X. Give up a grand slam and your win probability is now WAY LESS than X, meaning you’re in more danger of losing the game meaning the situation is now more dangerous.

  7. Bailey has such a straight FB that if he has poor control in the strikezone then it gets hit. I dont think he has any mental issue (Latos maybe does but I digress) but when he gets frustrated the FB seems to get straighter and right down the middle. When he is relaxed, it seems to stay on the upper inner to LH batters and down and away to RH. He just has a finer line than Cueto who has ridiculous movement on the FB

    • IN the end we are paying Homer for 8 really great starts a year, and hoping 1 or 2 are in the playoffs. He has never been and may never be a consistent 15-20 game winner.

      • Agree, not unless something changes. Maybe a marginal increase in success or as likely a decrease.

        I saw a Bailey quote where he said he curses after each hit and sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a hit. To me, that is weighing each setback well more then it’s worth. I’m pulling for this guy as much as can be pulled for, but IMO, he has to start to let things go. The previous batter means zero, the next one means everything. Not a headcase, an extreme perfectionist and this is hard profession for that make up. All this is my opinion and subject to being very wrong.

  8. For a future article idea, perhaps a then and now type thing. I’m in my 30’s and to me, this is the best pitching (the last two years?) I’ve ever seen in a Reds uniform. Most of my memories are of barely serviceable pitching staffs backed up by a lineup full of guys with some thump. So to me, seeing all this great pitching even with our sometimes lackluster offense is a real treat and has me very appreciative. I’d love to know how they stack up against other staffs from the past eras though, to see if my appreciation is as warranted as I think it is.

    Not sure if all that is the type of suggestion you’re looking for but I know I’d read it and enjoy it.

  9. at kurt frost — david ortiz, likely going into the hall of fame, one of the greatest clutch hitters ever, certainly the best DH ever, is “mentally weak?” please explain.

    • I think he was joking, at least I hope so.

    • You should check out Edgar Martinez’s career numbers. He played a little over 15 years in the bigs (2061 games), which is comparable to where Ortiz is now (2055). Ortiz: 47.1 oWAR, Martinez, 66.4.

      The different (19.3 oWAR) is almost three of Joey Votto’s 2010 seasons (6.6 oWAR), combined.

      I don’t want to imply that Ortiz is a bad hitter, he is obviously a very good one. I think people forget how great a hitter Martinez was, though.

    • This goes back to that clutch not being a repeatable skill thing.. go look at Ortiz’s career line vs his late and close, RISP, etc. numbers. It’s very revealing and this is exactly the argument.. over enough time (big enough sample size) they normalize towards the batter’s career stats. Ortiz it’s easier to see than most because he’s played so long and had so many at bats in all the various situations.

      He actually bats a tiny bit worse in some of the situations (and better in others, as you’d expect with variance) and overall his late and close avg dips from .285 to .263. So if you were looking for a guy to declare as clutch, Ortiz isn’t it. He’s just been a very very good hitter for a long time in basically all situations.

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