Searching for the source of the struggles of Matt Cain and Jeremy Hellickson this season.
Matt Cain and Jeremy Hellickson are similar pitchers, with a likeness that extends to stuff, mechanics, and stats. Both pitchers have fastballs that average 91-92 mph on the gun, with plus command of great off-speed stuff to keep opposing batters off-balance. Each uses a 77-mph curveball around 12 percent of the time, but while Hellickson uses an 80-mph changeup at a 30 percent clip, Cain is a 15 percent cambio guy whose off-speed pitch comes in at a heavy 86 mph on average. He also adds a slider with the same frequency and velocity as his change. I have touted both pitchers for their excellent balance and strong posture, the underlying ingredients of top-notch pitch repetition, although the hurlers also share an affinity toward slow momentum.
Hellickson might be lower on the totem pole and several years Cain's junior, but the negative connotations associated with his profile are eerily reminiscent of those that Cain endured early in his own career. Armchair analysts who choose to focus solely on certain stats and eschew batted-ball numbers due to their inherent volatility have screamed “luck” in a reach to explain the consistently low BABIPs of both pitchers, with constant calls for regression to the league mean. Those same analysts can now be found basking under a cloud of smug, as both Hellickson and Cain are currently in the midst of the worst seasons of their respective careers.
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Jason outlined some of the statistical differences in Masterson's 2013 performance, particularly noting his split stats versus left- and right-handed batters. Left-handed batters have accounted for 43 percent of all plate appearances league-wide since 2011, yet they tend to receive the majority of the attention when it comes to pitching strategy. Lefty hitters enjoy multiple advantages, ranging from the head start toward first base they get out of the box to the lesser gloves that typically populate the pull side of the infield (one of whom is tethered to the first-base bag).
Bryce Harper's supernatural baseball gifts have been evident since before he could drive. Today he’s a 20-year-old super-freak who is slugging over .700 in the majors. His rare combination of competitive intensity, Las Vegas moxie, and otherworldly talent has set the stage for a legendary baseball career as the next lightning rod in the game. His raw power grades out as a pure 80 on the scouting ledger, and though such elite marks are extraordinarily rare, the legit five-tool player also has a throwing arm that ranks at the top of the 20-80 scale.
What role have mechanics played in the Nationals' strong starting staff?
The ingredients of success for a Major League Baseball team are rooted in scouting and player development, where carefully-crafted strategies dictate the growth patterns of in-house talent. Converting draft picks into major-league production is the engine of a successful franchise in today's game, and the pressure to develop players through the organizational pipeline has intensified due to the league-wide trend for teams to lock down homegrown talent for the long term.
The new-age baseball market features a thin free agent pool, which places additional emphasis on player evaluation, as teams assess trade targets and identify the select free agents whose flaws are perceived to be correctable. Pitching mechanics can play a major role in a team's approach to the acquisition and development of players, whether through the draft, free agency, or trade. As we saw in last month's breakdown of the mechanical trends of the Rays and Brewers, the on-field habits of a big-league staff can provide a window through which to glimpse an organizational approach to pitching.
Eight starters who combine top-flight results with suspect mechanics.
One of the coolest parts of this job is the interaction with the readers of Baseball Prospectus, who consistently drive the discussion with in-depth questions and insightful observations. Half of my articles have been inspired by reader comments, and I greatly appreciate the creative spark provided by the BP audience. One of the most frequent questions that I receive relates to good pitchers with poor mechanics, and though a basic tenet of pitching is that the best pitchers have excellent mechanics, occasionally there are players who find success in spite of an inefficient delivery.
When a top-flight pitcher has a major flaw in his delivery, the player typically compensates for the deficiency with plus grades elsewhere on his mechanics report card. For example, a pitcher with heavy torque might struggle to maintain posture during the high-energy phases of the delivery, and the extra zip that results on his fastball can serve to cover for the corresponding shortcoming in pitch command. Occasionally, a pitcher will find success despite a laundry list of mechanical flaws, but these pitchers are fighting an uphill battle to succeed at the highest level of competition.
Timing issues held Yu Darvish back in his first big-league start, but sound underlying mechanics suggest that he'll soon put those struggles behind him.
Monday night in Arlington featured the most anticipated pitching appearance of 2012, with Yu Darvish taking the mound in his stateside debut against the Seattle Mariners. The right-hander came to Texas preceded by a $111 million price tag, scouting reports that told of a seven-pitch arsenal, and a reputation as Japan's greatest pitcher. The Rangers held him back until the fourth game of the season, unveiling their hired gun at home against a light-hitting Mariners club that just happens to have a legion of Japanese fans, cranking up the media hype for Darvish's first start.
Darvish wore the stoic mask of a Man with No Name as he took the mound, though he must have been saturated with adrenaline once he toed the rubber. He walked leadoff batter Chone Figgins on four consecutive pitches, the last three of which missed badly outside the zone as his throwing arm failed to catch up to the rest of his body. Darvish came back to strike out Dustin Ackley on a nasty slider, surviving a seven-pitch battle and setting up the ultimate face-off of Japan's legends, with Ichiro striding to the plate to face the phenom. Darvish took the opportunity to show off multiple variations of his fastball, chucking six consecutive heaters that ranged from 92-96 mph with assorted levels of sink, cut, and run through the zone.
Roundtable discussion of the pressing questions facing the NL East teams as we approach the start of the season
1) After a disappointing sophomore campaign, what can we expect of Jason Heyward going forward?
MJ: Jason Heyward had an injury-riddled sophomore season in Atlanta, but there is a lot to like about his chances at a rebound campaign in 2012. His offensive line was deflated by a .260 BABIP, but his peripherals were once again stellar. His 11.6 percent walk rate represented a regression from 2010 but cannot be considered poor, and his .162 ISO likewise dropped from the previous year but did not experience a precipitous fall.
In the wake of the Matt Moore extension, revisit Nate's discussion of the perils of counting on pitching prospects and his remarks on the most promising southpaws.
While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.
Last week, the Rays signed young lefty Matt Moore to an extension that should prove to be team-friendly if he stays healthy, but as Nate discussed in an article which originally ran as a "Lies, Damned Lies" column on April 12, 2007, it's never safe to assume that a young pitcher's arm will remain intact.
The former top prospect discusses his rocky road in the majors, how he has overhauled his pitching mechanics, and his mental approach to the game.
Andrew Miller is an enigma getting another chance. Just how many more he’ll get, or needs, remains to be seen, but it is notable that the flame-throwing southpaw is only 25. Given all he has been through, you’d be excused for thinking he is older.
Few pitching coaches ever get the opportunity to become major-league skippers.
The Blue Jays unquestionably chose wisely when they named Jay Jaffe GM, but the jury remains out on their signing of Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell to a three-year managerial contract. That’s not to say that Farrell doesn’t seem qualified; on the contrary, the newly minted manager’s resume makes for an impressive read. Farrell spent all or part of eight seasons pitching in the majors—giving him the apparently all-important cultural acclimation to major-league clubhouses that other first-time managers have lacked—before serving as the Indians’ player development director for five years, an experience which, at least in theory, should have imparted the rapport with rookies and appreciation for the bigger picture that some field generals lack.
More recently, he returned to the dugout, earning his first—but, his new employers hope, not his last—World Series ring in his inaugural season as Boston’s pitching coach. In three subsequent seasons spent in that capacity, he presided over the development of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, which made him an attractive candidate to oversee Toronto’s talented young rotation. In addition to his work experience, Farrell is well regarded on a personal level throughout the game, and considered media-savvy (a quality that should serve him well in the, um, bustling Canadian baseball media market), which earned him some serious buzz as a managerial candidate well before the Blue Jays’ extended hiring process got underway.
A conversation about analysis and the game with the former skipper and present-day talking head.
Buck Showalter is in many ways an old-school baseball man, but that doesn’t mean the former Yankees, Diamondbacks, and Rangers skipper doesn‘t value data -- or that he hasn’t for more than three decades. He unmistakably understands the mechanics of the game. Currently an analyst for ESPN, Showalter offered his thoughts on a variety of subjects, including how the game has (and hasn’t) changed, why Paul O’Neill could hit southpaws, why switch-sliders make good switch-hitters, and what makes the Twins the Twins.
Proponents saying throwing at long distances builds pitchers' arm strength and increases velocity.
Major League Baseball is more or less a standardized industry. Everything a player does can be quantified in some manner. Since the dawning of the information age, teams have trended toward statistical analysis as it gives more definite, calculated answers rather than general feelings that can often lead to overvaluing a player. Unfortunately, that precision hasn’t translated to on-field performance, as gut instincts still rule when it comes to pitcher conditioning. For pitchers, those gut instincts have led to an epidemic of pitching-related injuries. According to statistics compiled and confirmed by Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll, Major League Baseball has spent more than $500 million in salary on injured pitchers the last two seasons. It is apparent that the majority of teams are just following the herd rather than researching methods to keep pitchers healthy. The result of this lack of exploration has led to the epidemic that Carroll describes.
Allan Jaeger, of Jaeger Sports, believes he has the program that can save pitchers from injury while increasing their velocity. Jaeger’s program is rooted in a traditional baseball exercise, long tossing. Since the early days of baseball, players have been long tossing. Most performed long tossing because they believed it strengthened their arm. Jaeger agrees. "If muscles are inactive for a long enough period of time, or aren't used close to their desired capacities, the life is taken out of them. When muscles are given proper blood flow, oxygen, and range of motion, they are free to work at their optimum capacity. A good long-toss program is the key to giving life to a pitcher’s arm."