I'd look a lot more prescient if I'd posted this five days ago. The data was there, but I didn't have confidence it. Apparently, I should have.
Joel Pineiro missed two months of the 2010 season with an oblique injury but returned from the disabled list to pitch three strong starts in September. Since Pineiro happens to be a potential keeper for my fantasy team, I was interested to check on his spring training start last Tuesday against the Padres at Peoria. The Peoria ballpark has PITCHf/x cameras installed, so I was eager to see Pineiro's PITCHf/x data.
I was quite surprised to check in during the third inning of his start to find him throwing 83-84 mph fastballs. Since Pineiro usually throws a fastball around 88 mph and since spring training fastball velocities are usually within a mph or so of typical seasonal velocities, I was a bit concerned. I even tweeted that the last time I'd seen a fastball velocity drop this big was with Erik Bedard's shoulder injury. It turns out that I had remembered Bedard's injury incorrectly. His big velocity drop occurred with his oblique injury that ended his 2007 season. Nonetheless, I was correct about a five mph velocity drop indicating problems.
I should have had confidence in that, but because Pineiro was able to induce a popout from Jason Bartlett with a 79-mph fastball and strike out Orlando Hudson with a 84-mph fastball to end the fourth inning of his start last week, I convinced myself that there was a PITCHf/x calibration issue rather than a real velocity drop. Surely Pineiro wasn't striking out major league hitters with fastballs in the low 80s. Well, it appears he was.
I went back and looked at the PITCHf/x data for other pitchers who threw in the same game. The other eight pitchers from Tuesday's game averaged fastballs that were 0.2 mph slower than their average fastball speeds from 2008-2010. The Padres starter, Wade LeBlanc, who was pitching the other halves of the innings from when Pineiro was throwing, had a fastball that was 0.4 mph slower than his average. That would seem to rule out PITCHf/x calibration issues.
Compare Pineiro's pitch velocities from his final start of the 2010 season to his velocities from his start last week.
In his September 29, 2010, start, Pineiro threw 88 mph, around his typical average. In the March 15, 2011, game, he started out at 85-86 mph in the first inning. That's a little low but probably not horribly concerning. But in the second inning his fastball dropped to 84 mph and to 83 mph in third inning. That's not good at all. By the fourth inning, his average fastball dropped to 81 mph.
Moreover, his release point changed slightly in the fourth inning. Had I not been looking for it, the difference would have been nearly imperceptible, but it's there. His arm angle was higher in the fourth inning, by about 1.4 inches on average. I don't have much context for whether that's a big arm angle change within a game, but in concert with the large velocity drop, it adds to the picture of what may have been causing the problem.
Today Pineiro had to leave his start because of tightness under his right shoulder blade. Count me as officially concerned.
Thanks to Harry Pavlidis (@harrypav) and Dave Duncan (@daveduncan, not the pitching coach) for their conversation on this topic on Twitter.