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:
And here we are at the halfway mark:
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).
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.”
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):
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.
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.