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Chat: Mike Fast

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday May 23, 2011 1:00 PM ET chat session with Mike Fast.

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Chat a little faster with the grapher of all things pitching, Mike Fast.

Mike Fast: I'm excited to do my first chat here at BP. My interests include the physics of baseball, PITCHf/x data, pitch grips, pitching mechanics, the interplay and strategy between batter and pitcher, the Kansas City Royals, and batted ball tracking, but I'm happy to talk about almost anything today. Let's go!

paulbellows (Calgary): Is Ryan Raburn even worth holding onto in AL leagues at this point?

Mike Fast: You can gauge my fantasy expertise, or lack thereof, by the fact that I traded a $20 Jon Lester for a $5 Ryan Raburn in my 12-team AL-only league this spring. I'm still holding onto him and hoping for the best, but I'm doubtful he's going to see anything close to the 500 ABs I was hoping for in spring. I still believe he has hitting talent. He's not going to hit for a great average, but his power is good enough, and his glove will help keep him in the field. However, Boesch is pushing his playing time, and Detroit is in a position in the division where they may be less likely to be patient with Raburn's early struggles.

BL (Bozeman, MT): Hi Mike, thanks for the chat. Do you see anything from Joakim Soria that is worrisome, or do you think he's still fine-tuning his mechanics early in the season?

Mike Fast: I haven't studied his mechanics in any detail, so I can't comment on that, but in general I think Soria is fine. He's just not as dominant as he was a couple years back when he could throw that killer curveball with two strikes.

I wrote more about Soria here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=13719

OaklandAs (Orange County, CA): Has there been a study looking at the correlation between BABIP and pitcher's stuff using Pitch/FX data? That is, if a pitcher's throws have less movement, do they get hit harder and have a higher BABIP?

Mike Fast: Dave Allen had a good article a couple years back on BABIP and location:
http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2009/07/can_pitchers_co.php

He also looked at run value by movement:
http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2009/04/the_breaking_an.php
http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2009/05/fastball_and_ch.php

Neither one exactly answers your question, but both are very helpful articles.

Teenwolf (Vancouver, BC): Josh Tomlin has been incredible, with a 2.41 era, 0.82 whip, 4.5 K/9, and 1.5 BB/9. How is he doing it? Any chance he continues to be a useful starter?

Mike Fast: His cutter and curveball have been very effective pitches that he has been able to throw for strikes. That certainly helps a lot when you have an 89-mph fastball.

Continues as a useful starter? Yeah, I think so. He doesn't walk many, and that's a good thing. The batters are going to get more hits off of him than they have been, though, and the lack of strikeouts will definitely hurt him. You really continually live at the margin of major league usefulness with a K-rate that low.

krissbeth (watertown, ma): Do you think Lackey's struggles are due to his wife's breast cancer struggle, something physical, something mechanical, or aging?

Mike Fast: Dan Brooks noted that he was losing fastball speed throughout games this year, and that doesn't seem good, but finding a definitive link between that and injury or mechanical issues is something that's still a matter of open and ongoing research.

I actually find those kind of questions very intriguing. I hope in a few years I'll be able to answer them a lot better. Right now I feel like I only have pieces of information rather than enough to paint a picture.

garik16 (New York): Mike, how much would you think a pitching coach should be tinkering with a pitcher who's moderately successful? Mets Pitching Coach Dan Warthen for example has been trying to get Jon Niese to increase his sinker usage (actually occurring) and his change-up usage (which hasnt actually occurred) despite both having been poor pitches in the past. At what point should a pitching coach just let be with what works?

Mike Fast: Josh, you know a lot more about Niese than I do, and IIRC, you've not been happy with the changes Warthen has made with Niese. I'd be inclined to defer to you there.

Certainly I imagine sometimes players ought to listen to their coaches, and I know nothing about Warthen's techniques or philosophy in general, so I'll plead ignorance in this specific case.

Bob (Seattle): Has anyone tried to calculate an estimated Runs Allowed or other stats, like HR/FB, based on location and expected run values by location? Since pitches up or above the strike zone are less likely to be hit out, maybe individual pitcher's HR/FB variability is due to not only whether they're a GB or FB pitcher, but how they work batters. It seems like guys like Maddux and Glavine, who work low on the outer half (or off) the plate, would be much more likely to have lower than expected BABIP.

Mike Fast: I have done some of this while tinkering on my own. Nick Steiner published something over at THT a year or two ago attempting this for one of the Braves pitchers (Hanson?). It's definitely doable and valuable, but it doesn't differ from the mean as much as you might think. You have to include a lot of variables, like Nick did, for it to start to pay off.

I'm not a big fan of HR/FB, btw. It has a lot of issues.

BL (Bozeman, MT): Any concerns with usage patterns of the Royals bullpen, particularly young guys like Tim Collins?

Mike Fast: Yes, and I think Brewers fans had those concerns about his bullpen usage, too. Apparently he finds favorites and rides them. I don't have any data or studies to quantify the level of concern, though.

tsq3373 (CT): When should we expect to see some of the more advanced prospects that seem to be ready such as Desmond Jennings, Brandon Allen, Lorenzo Cain called up?

Mike Fast: The talk I've heard from the Rays guys has been that Jennings should be up in July after Super Two is safely past, since he has some service time already.

In general, I'm probably not your guy for prospect questions, but I'll try to answer if I know anything.

Lucas Apostoleris (Massachusetts): When looking at PITCHf/x data, which pitchers can you think of that are really "fun," for whatever reason, to work with?

Mike Fast: Hi, Lucas. Sidearmers are always fun. Studying the forkballers was a kick. Anyone who has a trick pitch like that. The knuckleballers, too. Guys who throw a grab bag of pitches, like Freddy Garcia, are fun in a masochistic sort of way.

It's also fun to look at the guys who have really good stuff (Strasburg, Joba in the early days, David Price) to see how they carve up hitters.

JRM (Springfield): Mr. Fast, your columns seem to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?

Mike Fast: I don't know, but what I do want to know is who does Denzel Washington play in this scenario?

Lucas Apostoleris (Massachusetts): Would you be able to elaborate on your issues with HR/FB?

Mike Fast: There are issues with classifications of fly balls for one thing, and ballparks play differently, and very few people or published stats account for either of those.

The other big issue that I have is that directionality of air balls matters a lot, and pitchers have been shown to have a repeatable skill for this. Pulled air balls go out of the park quite frequently, and opposite field air balls almost never do.

seth (OP,KS): Is Danny Duffy here to stay? (assuming no more retirements)

Mike Fast: I think he is. He's got the stuff to play in the majors. I'm sure he'll have rookie struggles, but I see no reason why the Royals would want to keep rolling out the current cast of clowns every five days. There has to be a continuing spot for Duffy in there, I would think.

BL (Bozeman, MT): What would be your preferred way to break in a wave of young starters, such as the Royals will be doing over the next couple of seasons?

Mike Fast: I imagine it will sort itself out to some extent based upon injuries and struggles, both of the existing rotation members and the young starters coming up.

Other than that, I don't have a particular preference, as long as the Royals get good and start winning some games again.

garik16 (New York): At what point will pitchers stop pitching anywhere not outside to Jose Bautista? Why are they giving him things to pull?

Mike Fast: Excellent question. They are pitching him down at increasing rate, but that doesn't seem to stop him hitting home runs.

I haven't looked to see if there is any trend for the frequency with which they are pitching him inside/outside. Have you?

mmaurer016 (FLA): whats wrong with Latos? He couldnt even beat the mariners at Home.

Mike Fast: Last I checked, which was a couple weeks ago now, his fastball speed is still down from last year. I don't know if that means the injury is still nagging him, or whether something else is wrong.

soxfan2005 (Boston): Josh Tomlin? Keep waiting for the wheels to fall off. Will it happen? BAbip against seems less than sustainable.

Mike Fast: I addressed most of this in my response to Teenwolf earlier, but yes, definitely, a BABIP below .200 is unsustainable. Even the .278 mark he posted last year is at the low edge of the MLB talent spread for starting pitchers.

As I mentioned earlier, the cutter and the curve help him there somewhat. The cutter is a great pitch inside to lefties, with a BABIP in the .260 range when used that way, and outside to righties is also better than average.

Bob (Seattle): What's the reason why Robinson Tejeda was not considered more seriously for a rotation spot? He performed quite well at the end of the 2009 season. Is it purely due to durability concerns? Control issues?

Mike Fast: I've not kept up with the skinny on that from the KC media. He and Farnsworth and several others could probably do about as well as several of the guys in the current rotation. I don't know why management made the choices they did. Of course, this spring he was dealing with an injury.

Teenwolf (Vancouver, BC): Looking at CJ Wilson and Alexi Ogando, I'm curious which relievers out there do you feel have adequate secondary stuff to succeed as starters?

Mike Fast: I was a big fan of the C.J. Wilson switch to the rotation, as you know. In general, I fall with the camp that likes to see good pitchers in the rotation where they can maximize their value.

However, as a way of ducking your very good question, one thing near the top of my research list is learning what it really takes for pitchers to succeed at the relief-to-starting switch. There are so many sample biases that it makes for a difficult to study to undertake.

kcboomer (kc): How dare you, sir, to refer to the Royals rotation as a "cast of clowns". Speaking for clowns everywhere I am offended.

Mike Fast: I'll ask Matt Klaassen to MSPaint me a photo of Bruce Chen in clown garb, tout de suite.

Milby (The City): As a lefthander, I always felt slighted that I never got to play SS growing up. Are there any Southpaws in the big leagues that could handle SS if only they had been born throwing with their right hand?

Mike Fast: Don't know. The one place I have trouble answering questions, even moreso than prospects or fantasy baseball, is in the arena of things that require actual organized baseball experience.

Looking back now, I wish I'd at least gone through T-ball and Little League as a kid. It's fun getting to do that now with my son, who is 5. Even some of the drills he's doing in T-ball are things that make a lot of sense but that I never encountered playing baseball in the back yard with my brother or bouncing a ball endlessly against the back porch steps.

Marissa (Las Vegas): Which team are you picking to win the Stanley Cup?

Mike Fast: The Sharks! They're not eliminated yet, are they?

:Stanley Cup knowledge exhausted:

Ds (LA): Brad Peacock of the Nationals has been incredible in AA this season, having thrown 48 IP so far with a 66/9 k/bb ratio and 31 hits allowed and a 2.05 ERA. He is listed as 6'1", but I keep reading that he is undersized and didn't get good downhill plane on his fastball, which probably explains why it was described as being too straight...at least until this year. The Nats apparently made some adjustments to his delivery. How difficult is it for shorter pitchers to stick as starters in the majors as opposed to being consigned to the reliever bin?

Mike Fast: Downhill plane matters. That's why pitchers tend to be taller than batters, for one thing. It matters on all the pitches, not just fastballs, but it doesn't occur to me at the moment why that would make it more difficult to start rather than relieve. Perhaps it's a stamina concern.

Roy Oswalt says hi, of course, but anecdotes of one don't make good studies.

Rob (Alaska): Thoughts on the enigmatic Charlie Morton?

Mike Fast: I recommend Josh's article at Beyond the Box Score:
http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2011/5/20/2180560/going-to-ground-the-transformation-of-charlie-morton

Killbahn (NJ): La Noire thoughts? I've only gotten thru the bank robbery at the beginning

Mike Fast: Should I know what this is? My favorite robbery book is the Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton.

drmorris (San Fran): Do you have a pet theory on Matt Cain and his consistent BABIP sorcery?

Mike Fast: My pet theory on Cain is that it's a lot of things working together, both on the BABIP and HR/FB fronts.

As an aside, and returning to an earlier question, one of the reason I'm not wild about the current BABIP and HR/FB approaches that are in sabermetric vogue is that I like to view HR as part of the spectrum of normal contact. I don't like to separate them out and try to talk about things in two buckets. If batters hit the ball hard and pull it, some of them are going to go out of the yard.

Okay, returning to Cain. Some of it's ballpark. Some of it's that he doesn't allow batters to pull the ball as much as other pitchers do. Some of it's that contact against him is legitimately weaker. Some of it is the defense behind him. Maybe I'm leaving something out. Probably there are things that we don't understand, too, of course.

MGwiz22 (Florida): Has any other player, that you know of, ever broken out like Jose Bautista has in their 30's?

Mike Fast: Not that I know of. He seems to be surpassing the improvement even that guys like Ken Caminiti or Luis Gonzalez had.

I'd love to know more detail about what he changed mechanically with his swing in late 2009. And I'd love to have the HITf/x data to study him further.

daniel (sf): How worrisome is Billy Hamilton's early slump at Dayton?

Mike Fast: Sliding Billy's seventh spot on the all-time batting average leader board is certainly in jeopardy if he doesn't pick up the pace.

Seriously though, if I should know this player, I don't. As an AL-only fantasy player, NL minor league batters often don't hit my radar until they hit the national stage. Unless they're Cubs and Harry Pavlidis is tweeting about how they're throwing the ball into the first-base dugout or something, that is.

Joe (St. Louis): What's your gut feeling on Ryan Jackson ceiling?

Mike Fast: Looking at his numbers, nothing strikes me as a star, but as mentioned to the previous question, I'm ignorant here.

Terry (NJ): Is there any hope the AL Fans don't elect Jeter to the All-Star game?

Mike Fast: Oh, I would hope not, but there aren't any worthy long-time stars in the AL at shortstop any more, are there? I would expect that Asdrubal Cabrera would get some love from the fans with the Indians leading the division, and maybe Alexei Ramirez. Peralta, Aybar, Andrus. Surely the voters will find someone other than Jeter.

Bob (Seattle): Any guesses on who FIELDf/x will love and hate that's counter to either sabermetric or gold glove group think?

Mike Fast: I doubt the FIELDf/x data will ever be public to tell us, but I'd say anyone who plays alongside a really bad fielder, e.g., Robinson Cano.

wayne (philly): got any good Philly puns for us today?

Mike Fast: Good ones? No. But don't get mad, son. Don't go out on a lidge and threaten to jump. Contreras to what some bastardo may have told you, baseball isn't life.

Rob (Alaska): Can Ryan Vogelsong keep this up? He has to be better than Barry Zito, no?

Mike Fast: I guess I'm not on the Vogelsong bandwagon. I don't see anything is his repetoire that gets me excited. Zito's serviceable; I'd rather have him.

Vogelsong is getting swings and misses with his fastball. I don't see how that continues. It's not particularly fast, it doesn't have unusual movement, and he's not doing an exceptional job of spotting it to the corners like Mo Rivera. He's in a good ballpark, but other than that, nothing about Vogelsong screams "turnaround" to me.

Lucas Apostoleris (Massachusetts): I've certainly asked this before, but whiffs per swing or whiffs per pitch? I much prefer the former.

Mike Fast: I've come around to whiffs per swing. You guys have convinced me. Swing rate is interesting in its own right, but I've become convinced that whiffs per swing is a better measure of nastiness of stuff.

PadresOnTop (san diego): Is Jonny Gomes toast? Is Russell Branyon?

Mike Fast: It's 157 plate appearances (for Gomes), 7 of which have ended in home runs. I think it's way too early to use the .171 batting average as a sign he's done. His strikeout rate is up a little bit, but not way up from his career rate.

With Branyan you have to worry about his career-long struggles to have a healthy back. As such, his lack of power this year concerns me. But I haven't been following him closely enough this year to emphatically tell a GM (like the Rays, for instance) that he isn't worth a look.

Whiffs (SF): Speaking of whiffs per swing, does it stand to reason that a pitcher who throws breaking balls that start in the zone but break out of the zone are going to get more swinging strikes? Conversely, a pitcher whose breaking balls start out of the zone and break into it are going to get more strikes looking...? Is there anything to this line of reasoning? Jus' speculatin'

Mike Fast: Yes, I love a curveball or a slider that just drops under the outside corner. Those tend to get tons of whiffs. Your reasoning makes a lot of sense to me. I'd have to check on the part about breaking balls starting out of the zone and breaking into it getting called strikes, but it makes some sense.

Patrick (DE): What numbers do you expect from Hosmer for the balance of the season? Does he move into elite 1B territory as soon as next year? Also, tell me anything worth hearing about my Twins.

Mike Fast: The PECOTA projection was for .272/.326/.439, but PECOTA isn't told about his struggles with eyesight in 2009, so I expect better. I am hopeful for elite 1B territory at some point. Hmm, next year...as a Royals fan it's incredibly tempting to say yes. I'm not sure the evidence is there yet, though, if I try to be objective. I really want to say yes, though.

Something worth hearing about your Twins? Ouch. Let's see...Jeremy Greenhouse found Carl Pavano had the straightest fastball in the Hardball Times Annual last fall...no wait, that's probably not the kind of thing you wanted to hear.

How 'bout this: I really like Brian Duensing. He seems to be an under-the-radar guy who has decent stuff and good control. I like Scott Baker, too.

MrBennettar (SD): Have you seen (or started) any studies on the engineering and biomechanics of different pitching deliveries? I wonder if it's possible to create an efficient and powerful delivery using dynamics and engineering analysis...

Mike Fast: I haven't started any such studies, but that is definitely the direction I would like to head. The guys at ASMI and Rick Peterson have done a lot of good studies in this arena. I'd love to see what could happen when the biomechanical data is paired with pitch tracking data like PITCHf/x or TrackMan.

Kyle Boddy is also someone who is working in this area at an amateur level at his Driveline Baseball place up in the Seattle area. And Doc Schoenhals at Scientific Baseball in Oklahoma.

So, the research is happening, and I think it will only snowball.

Mike Fast: Okay, thanks to everyone for the thought-provoking questions. I had a good time, and I hope you did, too. I'll sign off until next time, and Fred White will be back after commercial with one last look at the out-of-town scores.


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