CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe
Strength of Schedule Report
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Perspective... (08/25)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (08/25)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (08/26)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Future Shock: Org Watc... (08/26)

August 26, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Breakout Bud

by Craig Brown

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.

a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Here are the four starting pitchers who were born in 1985 or later who have whiffed more than a batter an inning this year.  See if you can spot the interloper:

Yovani Gallardo - 9.8 K/9
Clayton Kershaw - 9.5 K/9
Bud Norris - 9.3 K/9
Mat Latos - 9.1 K/9

Three of those pitchers have ERAs under 3.30.  Then, there’s David Stefan Norris.

When Norris hit the disabled list in late May with bursitis and bicep tendinitis, he was the owner of a gaudy 6.80 ERA and a 1.76 WHIP.  Horrible, dreadful numbers.  He wasn’t the worst fantasy starting pitcher over the first two months of the season (Attention Charlie Morton, your prize has been dropped in the mail.) but he was pretty darn close.  

A little rest, a cortisone injection and a handful of minor league rehab starts later and Norris was ready to return.  Apparently, the time away was beneficial as he has posted a 3.91 ERA and 1.22 WHIP since rejoining the rotation at the end of June.  The following table gives you an idea how he recovered:

Three things leap off this table.  To start, his pre-injury BABIP was astronomically (pardon the pun) high. If he was healthy, there was just no way that would (or could) continue.  Overall, Norris carries a .325 BABIP this year, which still seems a bit on the high side.  We may think there is still some room for improvement, although his history says that may not be the case.  Norris has always been one of those pitchers for whom a BABIP greater than .300 seems to be a fact of life.  He posted a .318 BABIP last year in Houston (in a smaller sample size) and owns a .318 BABIP in over 370 innings in his minor league career.

The second thing that catches the eye from the above table is Norris’ elevated BABIP led to an extremely low strand rate.  With his current strand rate at 64%, he’s still recovering from the early season woes.  However, unlike his high BABIP, Norris’ strand rate for this year is low compared to his past performances.  Beginning in high A ball in 2007, Norris has never posted a strand rate of less than 73% at any of minor league stops.  Plus, his rate last year was a healthy 78%.  His 3.67 SIERA underscores just how unfortunate Norris has been - especially early in the season.

Finally, there’s the reduction in walk rate.  While Norris was blowing hitters out earlier in the season, he was clearly channeling Ebby Calvin Laloosh.  (Maybe Norris’ eyelids were jammed, too.)  Sure, he was firing that heater an average of 93 mph, but more often than not, he had no clue where that ball was traveling once it left his hand.  

So, why the improvement?  Would you believe it could be something as mechanically simple as changing his arm slot?

From Texas Leaguers, take a gander at his release points from his first nine starts of the season (pre-injury):

Nothing remarkable here.  He was coming over the top for the majority of his pitches and occasionally going about three-quarters.  

Now look at his release points since returning from the DL:

His over the top release point has become even more pronounced.  Plus, he’s ditched the semi-three quarter stuff.  Norris has basically flopped that outlying cluster of pitches so he is at times now coming from almost the midpoint of the rubber.  

The result of this alteration in release point is more pitches are ultimately being put in play.  That may sound like a negative, but in Norris’ case, it’s the opposite.  Those balls put in play are staying on the ground (mostly) and going for outs.  Here are his top five plate appearance outcomes from the first two months of the season:

Strikeout - 26%
Single - 17%
Walk - 13%
Groundout - 10%
Flyout - 10%

Compare that to his top five outcomes since his return from injury:

Strikeout - 21%
Groundout - 21%
Flyout - 16%
Single - 14%
Walk - 7%

Quite a turnaround.

The pitch that’s been most affected by this new release point seems to be his change-up. (Norris is a three-pitch pitcher: Fastball, slider, change.)  Here is his top pitch visualization from before his injury:

Now the top pitch visualization from after his return:

While the track of the fastball and slider are basically the same, there’s no mistaking his change-up is now catching more of the plate with greater regularity.  As a result 20% of his change-ups are being put in play since his return from the DL.  Compare that to a 10% in-play rate off his change-ups from the first two months of the season.  Again, it may sound strange to point out an elevated in-play rate as a reason for improvement in a strikeout pitcher, but in Norris’ case, the proof is in the results.  That change-up, while catching more of the plate, is a difficult pitch to hit.  Norris is using it to record outs.

As Marc Normandin noted earlier this week, Norris’ team will continue to hold him back when it comes to overall fantasy value.  The Astros currently rank 29th in Defensive Efficiency and they are one of the weakest hitting teams in the league.  In nine of Norris’ 20 starts this year, the Astros have scored three or fewer runs.  If he could get out of Houston, his attractiveness to owners would certainly increase.   

Although his value will continue to lag due to his team circumstances, I’m enthused by his newfound control, continued high volume of strikeouts and in his recent uptick in ground ball rate. However, the Astros are really working him down the stretch.  He's thrown over 100 pitches in each of his last four starts, including a career-high 123 pitch effort last week against the Mets.  If Norris can remain consistent over the season's final month (especially with his contol), I will be adding Norris to my shortlist of potential breakout candidates for 2011.

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

Related Content:  Bud Norris,  Year Of The Injury

3 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Perspective... (08/25)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (08/25)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (08/26)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Future Shock: Org Watc... (08/26)

Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: A Few of My Favorite Dyna...
BP En Espanol: Confesiones de un falso manag...
What You Need to Know: Best of the Best
Short Relief: Our Large Retired Sons
BP Toronto
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: Half-Truths and Collision Cours...
Baseball Prospectus News: Subscription Price...

Squawking Baseball: Despite The Screams, Rev...
Premium Article Prospectus Perspective: Acting Like Thieves ...
Premium Article Changing Speeds: Hindsight is 81-81
Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: NL: Down The Stretch Th...
Premium Article Future Shock: Org Watch: Angels, Athletics, ...
Premium Article Overthinking It: Wondering About Wandy

2010-09-02 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Reimold's Shot At Redemption
2010-08-31 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Waiver Plays for September
2010-08-27 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Weekly Planner #22
2010-08-26 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Breakout Bud
2010-08-23 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: The Yunigma
2010-08-20 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Weekly Planner #21
2010-08-19 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Steal This Post - Stretch Run ...

2010-08-27 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers
2010-08-27 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Weekly Planner #22
2010-08-26 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spots: Relief Pitchers
2010-08-26 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Breakout Bud
2010-08-25 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spots: Outfield
2010-08-25 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Manny In The Other Sox
2010-08-24 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Bas...