Never let it be said that this author lets a challenge go unanswered. So when Will called me out this morning I felt it was my duty to crunch a few numbers to satisfy his curiosity.
For those who haven’t read UTK today, the topic is Billy Wagner and the dead-arm, no dead-arm question and its relation to the news that came out of spring training that he was working on a “split-fingered changeup” that he could use to increase his efficiency and induce a few more ground balls.
It turns out that Wagner is not a great candidate for the kind of analysis using PITCHf/x data that has been done on other pitchers since the system started to be used in Shea Stadium only five days ago. That said, we do have 157 pitches spanning nine appearances from May 23rd through last Thursday at Shea.
When we look at his pitches graphed by horizontal and vertical movement as well as velocity we see the following.
As you can see there appear to be just two groupings in the picture which, one would think, correspond to his fastball in the upper right which accounts for 69% of his pitches and his slider in the lower left accounting for 31%.
You’ll also notice, however, that the pitches in the lower left fall on either side of the 0 point on the x-axis where values less than zero denote pitches that move away from a left-handed hitter and values greater than 0 being pitches that move in to a lefty. A slider from a southpaw like Wagner should typically move away and so have horizontal values less than 0. This leaves the possibility open that some of the yellow pitches are in fact changeups although the generally tight grouping (typically if a pitcher has fastball, curve, and changeup there are three distinct groups) and the fact that these are still pitches thrown in excess of 85 miles per hour (and therefore harder than his slider) argue otherwise. In fact, it seems that perhaps he’s not throwing the changeup at all which tracks with what ESPN’s Inside Edge is showing as it has him at 27% sliders and 0% changeups.
The other interesting aspect of this graph (if indeed the lower grouping contains exclusively sliders) is it’s indication that his slider has very little lateral movement although it does sink a good deal. An example of this profile can be seen in his 1-2 pitch (reported as a slider) to Khalil Greene last Thursday in the eighth inning which was thrown at 85.8 mph and which Greene hit for a double.
In fact, this pitch moved back over the plate slightly (1.4 inches) allowing Greene to pull it down the line past a diving David Wright.
Although Wagner’s performance this year has been Wagner-esque overall (57 IP, 43 H, 69 K, 18 BB, 4 HR), it’s possible he’s not getting as much movement on the slider recently as in the past. It would be nice to have some data for previous years to determine this and so I’m hesitant to draw any conclusions.
And for record, that would be an example of the kinds of interesting comparisons that can be made once the system stabilizes and more data is accumulated.