When our colleague Mike Gianellaupdated the starting pitcher tiers in early June, Danny Salazar barely clung to the bottom in the three-star tier. At the time of the ranking, it’s quite possible it was even a couple spots too high. The flame-throwing righty was striking everyone out, sure, but he also was giving up almost two homers and five walks per nine innings and had a 5.40 ERA. Not great. Salazar was coming off the first of two bullpen appearances, a measure the Indians hoped would help him get things straightened out. After his second outing from the pen, he made another move, this time to the DL. The 27-year-old came off the DL on July 22 and has been HOT FLAME EMOJIS ever since. In 20 innings, Salazar has fanned 28 batters, walked only five, and has surrendered only eight hits en route to a 1.35 ERA. As Paul Hollywood might say while standing over a perfectly baked Genoese sponge cake with raspberry jam, “I like that.”
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Earlier this week, Zack Greinke opposed Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson in his Angels debut. Doug reviews each player's approach to pitching.
The Angels showed off their new prize last Sunday, as deadline acquisition Zack Greinke made his Anaheim debut in a face-off with 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. Greinke returns to the American League after a year and a half spent taking swings in the senior circuit, arriving via a July 27th exchange for three Angels minor leaguers, including Futures Game LVPAriel Pena. Hellickson made a comeback of his own on Sunday with a return from his first trip to the disabled list, a 15-day hiatus to rest from shoulder fatigue. Greinke and Hellickson are advanced students of the game, and Sunday's throwdown between the two pitch-sequence savants did not disappoint.
Sunday was a clinic for pitcher target practice. The two starters yielded just a single free pass between them, with excellent mechanics contributing to masterful pitch execution on both sides, though each player employed his own unique gameplan. The young Helix posted the superior stat line, allowing just a pair of singles while showing off his penchant for inducing weak contact. Hellickson was also the beneficiary of an opposing lineup lacking Mike Trout, who gave way to out-machine Vernon Wells in a swap that cost about 900 points of OPS.
In his fifth Asian Equation column, Michael looks at the relievers who have enjoyed modest success--and failure--making the move from Japan to America.
The last group in my analysis of the player’s who have migrated to MLB from Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) are the relievers, the least appreciated members of a successful baseball team. Yet, of all NPB imports, they have been the most numerous (explaining the length of this article, for which I apologize in advance) and the cheapest. Diminished quality is the most obvious reason for these extremes, since starters who don’t meet MLB standards get shifted to the bullpen, and lesser talents also keep salaries down. Additionally, the typical NPB pitcher’s arsenal matches well with an MLB reliever’s skillset.
As I discussed in my last Asian Equation article, NPB is a breaking ball league, which translates better to relief than starting. A good breaking ball might fool major league hitters the first or second time they see it in a game, but it probably won’t the third or fourth time. As an illustration, here’s how batter OPS rises against two of the biggest NPB starting-pitcher busts as compared with three current MLB pitchers: the best, the most mediocre, and an old junkballer. While MLB batters’ performance improves against each pitcher the more times they see him in a game, the change is far more dramatic with Matsuzaka and Kawakami.
Honing his slider has helped make the Braves' right-hander one of the top young pitchers in baseball.
When Tommy Hanson faces the Giants tonight in Game One of the NLDS, one of the Braves' right-hander's biggest weapons will be the slider. According to PITCHf/x, Hanson threw his slider 27.8 percent of the time this season, up from 18.7 last year, and one of the highest percentages in the National League. Just how that impacted his performance is a story for another day; the focus here will be the development of his slider, which was reintroduced to his repertoire just two years ago.
PITCHf/x shows that Tim Lincecum is in the midst of making a transition.
On the first day of September, Tim Lincecum dominated the Rockies, allowing just one run over eight innings. He walked one batter and tallied nine strikeouts. This was the prototypical Lincecum game in the previous two seasons and one that would produce more, “yeah, that looks about right” reactions than anything else. After all, Lincecum was a strikeout machine with impeccable control and a devastating fastball-curveball-changeup repertoire that kept hitters off-kilter. He won, and deserved, two straight National League Cy Young awards and was presumably not even at what would normally be considered a pitcher's peak. The 2010 season has been of a different variety for “The Freak,” however, and his great performance against the Rockies elicited a different reaction—a collective sigh of relief from the Giants’ faithful. See, at a very crucial juncture with the wild card within reach and the NL West seemingly up for grabs, Giants fans were more worried than confident that their ace would deliver the goods.
Brett Myers has put together an interesting string of starts in his first season with the Astros.
When the Astros signed Brett Myers to a low-risk contract as a free agent in the off-season, the type of reward that could potentially be had was unknown. Though the actual signing itself was about as predictable as the Nationals selecting Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick in the amateur draft a few months earlier—Astros GM Ed Wade seems to religiously sign ex-Phillies or Phillies farmhands—Myers was coming off of a few fairly enigmatic seasons. From 2003-06, he seemed like the future of the Phillies' rotation, a big-framed and durable righty who threw hard and also featured nasty breaking stuff. He could miss bats and remain accurate with each of his offerings but was yet to overwhelm the opposition. He would not get a chance to take a step forward the following season, either.
Because of his bulldog attitude and nasty repertoire, as well as an injury to Tom Gordon, he spent the better portion of the 2007 season as the Phillies' closer, helping them reach the playoffs for the first time since 1993. The next season Myers returned to the rotation and produced league-average numbers across the board, before falling prey to the injury bug in 2009 and splitting time in the starting rotation and the bullpen. Suffice to say, inquiring minds were not sure what the future held for Myers, who had proven himself successful in both roles. All told, he entered the 2010 season as a 29-year old pitcher who had come nowhere near reaching his vast potential. Heck, Myers himself probably didn’t even know what interested suitors had in mind. In our 2010 Baseball Prospectus annual, we even derived a term to describe pitchers similar to Myers:
Discussing Jonathan Papelbon's decision to go year-to-year on his contracts rather than sign a long-term deal.
Marc Normandin:Jonathan Papelbon once again waited until the last minute to avoid arbitration and signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox. His reasoning for delaying the proceedings has been pointed out in the past, by Papelbon himself-it boils down to the fact that Paps, a closer, feels monetarily slighted after being removed from a career path as a starting pitcher. The following quotes come from early in the 2007 season, his second full campaign as a reliever, and the first in which it was guaranteed by the Red Sox that it was his role for the future:
With a tip of the cap to a tip from the beat, an expanded series preview of a key mid-week matchup.
As each of his On the Beat columns draw to their close, John Perrotto highlights a short list of three- or four-game sets worth keeping an eye on. The series are not chosen at random, and tend to boast either compelling storylines or intriguing pitching matchups. In an attempt to be synergistic, I thought it would be fun every now and again to pick a series touted in his column and go to town creating series previews, in essence scouting the series as a whole as opposed to a key player or two. The Phillies and Cubs showdown that will be contested from tonight through Thursday serves as the perfect starting ground, as it features both storylines and intriguing matchups, with the former largely encompassing the latter. In fact, the storylines surrounding the pitching matchups were so topsy-turvy that I wrote this entire piece on Sunday and had to drastically revise it Monday afternoon in light of developments.
Javier Vazquez has driven lesser men to madness, but staring too long need not blind us to his virtues.
Remember the movie Weird Science, where Anthony Michael Hall and a friend engineered the perfect woman with the help of an outdated computer? Imagine for a moment if that movie were to be remade, and the two main characters were general managers of baseball teams, seeking the ideal pitcher rather than the dream girl. This pitcher would have to possess some incredible characteristics, like being consistently capable of logging a high number of quality innings each and every year. He would exhibit solid control and command, fanning lots of batters while walking very few. He wouldn't get hit around much either, as the combination of velocity and movement on his pitches would elude the opposition, leading to quality WHIP rates. Above all, he would have supreme confidence in his repertoire and an ability to throw a variety of pitches in any given count. Place this pitcher in the major leagues, and he would appear in numerous All-Star games, place perennially on Cy Young Award ballots, and find himself on the fast track to Cooperstown.
Dissecting a day at the office for the Mets' Johan Santana.
Due to local blackout rules and the lack of a land-line phone capable of proving that my Penn State University residence was not in Philadelphia, I relied on MLB Gameday instead of MLB TV for a good chunk of the 2007 season. The application had been around for a while, but I soon noticed strange terminology and new data accompanying each pitch. Why are there two velocity readings? What does 13" of pFX mean? And what the heck is BRK? A little research soon made sense of the information, and within a few months I became hooked on the data set known as Pitch-f/x. Fast-forward two years, and Pitch-f/x continues to evolve, revolutionizing baseball research in the process. Unfortunately, with updates to system configurations and the amount of information offered, too many readers and baseball fans experience confused reactions similar to mine when they first encounter the data. In an attempt to quash this issue, it seemed prudent to explain some of the more commonly used numbers, discussing what they mean as well as how they should be used. Instead of merely defining terms, the system will be explored in action, with periodic discussions of its inner workings, much as Dan Fox did back in May 2007.