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Let’s jump straight into the notes this week!

Carlos Carrasco

In last week’s edition of the weekly pitching notes, we profiled a pair of Indians who are tearing up the league right now, and the presence of yet another Cleveland hurler on this list (for positive reasons no less) is a good indication of how well things are going for the best rotation in the AL. Carrasco was pitching well before going down with the leg injury in late April, with a 2.45 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 22 innings; the return was also respectable, though the ERA slipped to 3.93 over his first four starts back on the mound, he still struck out 22 batters against seven walks and mixed in a couple of 19-point outings prior to his latest explosion.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

June 30

7.1

1

3

1

2

14

113

June 25

9.0

0

4

0

1

7

117

Carrasco came back a month ago from a hamstring strain that had sidelined him for the entire month of May, and though the fact that he was shelved by a non-arm-related ailment is a positive for his overall prospects, an issue with the lower half can compromise a pitcher’s momentum, timing and pitch command. He had been solid if unspectacular thus far in 2016, whether looking at his performance over the first month of the season or since he came back from injury, that is until the past week. In his last two starts, Carrasco has been absolutely dominant, prompting articles to be written about whether the right-hander is the best pitcher in the American League right now. Are those articles premature, or do they have some merit?

Carrasco was throwing his hardest fastball of the season, on average, checking in with 95.6-mph heat, but it was not the fastball that kept batters swinging and missing; it was the changeup. The change was actually coming in pretty hot, with a 91.3-mph velocity on average that would qualify as a fastball for many other pitchers, but it was the movement on the pitch that had opposing batters waving. Carrasco went to el cambio relentlessly, throwing 44 of the off-speed pitches on the game (according to Brooks Baseball), and the pitch was responsible for finishing eight of his 14 strikeouts. He was going to the change against lefties as well as righties, whether ahead in the count or behind, and the only thing that he didn’t really do was throw changeups on the first pitch of an at-bat; which makes sense, since the idea of a change of speed is that a pitcher has a velocity established on the first pitch from which to make a change.

The 44 changeups nearly doubled his previous single-game high, and he basically abandoned the slider with only two of them thrown in total. On the season, the change is a 17.6-percent pitch and the slider is a 14.6-percent pitch, and though he has shown a willingness to lean one or the other on a start-by-start basis, he hasn’t been so blatant about his lean in any other game this season. Maybe the changeup was just on this day, or maybe he didn’t have a feel for the slider (or both), in which case the usage pattern might be a single-game aberration. However, the possibility also exists that Carrasco makes an adjustment after the success of this game, and the changeup becomes a more featured part of his repertoire moving forward.

He typically throws the off-speed twice as often against left-handed hitters than same-side bats, a typical preference, but his use of the pitch against all bats really opened up the gamut of possibilities in the chess match that he was playing with opposing hitters. The pitch has been absolutely devastating this season, with a .167 batting average against and a mere .048 ISO, having surrendered just two doubles and no homers in the 42 at-bats that ended on the change.More than half of his season strikeouts via changeups occurred in Thursday’s game (he has 13 total on the campaign), but one gets the feeling that we’ll be seeing more of the pitch in the very near future.

Finally, I’ll leave you with his pitch plot. Another way to dominate the opposition is to simply keep the ball down, making it more difficult for hitters to elevate. Salazar did that as well as a pitcher possibly can while still utilizing the entire vertical space of the strike zone.

Insert Pic, (Salazar pitch plot from 6/30): http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/cache/location.php-pitchSel=471911&game=gid_2016_06_30_clemlb_tormlb_1&batterX=&innings=yyyyyyyyy&sp_type=1&s_type=2&league=mlb&pnf=&zlpo=&cache=1.gif

Trevor Rosenthal

Rosenthal entered the season as one of the most reliable closers in baseball, and the exits of Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel put on Rosenthal on the short list for best foreman in the National League. But he has fall on hard times, with the wildness that has been percolating for years exploding like a volcano over the past few weeks, taking with it his stat-line as well as his closer job.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

June 24

0.0

3

2

1

1

0

12

I could have broken down Rosenthal last week, just as he was on the precipice of losing his job after a following a couple of brutal outings, but his game last Friday night was the outing that sealed Rosey’s fate (it was an interleague game against the Mariners). His most egregious outing was actually at the beginning of the month, when he came into the game, walked three Giants and left, only to watch from the dugout as all three free passes came around to score. He’s had a few late-inning appearances since the June 24 blowup, but none with a save on the line, and though he hasn’t walked a batter across 3.0 innings relief he has walked the tightrope with multiple hits allowed in two of the three appearances.

Rosenthal has long issued too many free passes, including a walk rate of 5.1 BB/9 (13.6 percent) in 2014, but this season he has reached new heights – 21 walks in 27.0 innings for a 15.9 percent walk rate (7.0 BB/9). The strikeouts are higher than ever from a per-nine standpoint, but the bump is more modest from a rate standpoint because he is facing so many batters. Indeed, hits have been a major part of the problem as well, and his 32 hits allowed combines with the walks to fuel an atrocious 1.96 WHIP.

Walks weren’t a problem in the first month of the season, but from May 7 through his outing on June 24, Rosenthal walked 18 batters in 15.0 innings of work. This was not the case of a single-game blowup putting a manager on tilt, but rather a gradual shattering of loyal manager Mike Matheny’s confidence. I often talk about the distinction between pitch command and control, with the latter being more heavily related to walks but the former being more indicative of a pitcher’s skill level at the time. In this case, however, the two elements match up pretty well, because Rosenthal has neither command nor control at the moment.

Rosenthal has always had heavy spine-tilt, an element which allows him to miss targets but still generate strikes thanks to missing high or low yet having the stuff to coax empty swings regardless. This means that his pitch command has long been worse than his walk rate might indicate, which is scary enough on its surface, but it also means that he has little control of where those 97 mph bullets are going when his trigger of rotation is off and his timing suffers. One late trigger can mean a fastball in the ear-hole of an unsuspecting right-handed batter. Rosenthal’s timing has been especially bad of late, such that he overcompensates between under- and over-rotation on a pitch-by-pitch basis, and the wildness has become so egregious that his tendency to miss high or low can no longer cover for the wayward pitches that he throws.

Michael Pineda

Pineda has been an enigma the past couple of seasons, with one of the game’s best ratios of strikeouts-to-walks (which is typically a pretty good indicator of relative skills) yet a pervasive tendency to get barraged by hits and runs, to the extent that he has been dubbed the Pinata from yours truly and others. He has stirred Twitter battles and debates due to his violation of sabermetric tenets and the frustration involved with watching him pitch, such that whenever there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel, there are folks ready to announce the forthcoming of his breakout.

His last two starts have been his best of the season, so the tunnel feels shorter and the light shines brighter. The question: has Pineda really turned the corner or is that just the headlight of an oncoming train?

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

June 30

6.0

1

2

1

3

12

92

June 25

6.0

1

2

1

1

8

94

You know things are rough when you can toss a pair of gems and still be carrying a 5.24 ERA. The strikeouts obviously stand out, particularly the dozen punchouts that he registered in his latest turn (a season-high), but of equal interest is the low hit count that he generated in each turn. The party line says that hit rates are unreliable and outside of a pitcher’s control, but I have long believed that this noise just clouds the data, but that hit rates can be revealing at the extremes. Considering that Pineda gave up 96 hits in his first 77.7 innings this season, I find it interesting that he has surrendered just four total safeties in his last dozen frames. Maybe it’s just random variation, or maybe it’s simply chalked up to the vagaries of balls in play, but the numbers stand out enough to warrant further inspection.

Everything that Pineda throws has movement, with his pitch classifications consisting of a cutter, a changeup and a slider; he lacks any four-seam or two-seam fastballs on his PITCHf/x resume, according to Brooks. The cutter has fastball velo, averaging 94.6 mph this season, and the average velocity difference between the changeup and slider is just over two mph, putting the onus on the direction of movement to fool opposing batters.

To be honest, the story behind his sudden success is a bit of an enigma for me as well. There are no indicators that I can find among his velocity measures, his release-point charts or his pitch plots. There’s nothing that has changed massively with his patterns of pitch usage, his release-point height is the same over the past two starts as it has been all season, and his delivery seems unchanged, complete with the leg-spin after release point that has been present for years. So I don’t see indications of improvement anywhere in his mechanics, his stuff or his PITCHf/x metrics. Maybe I’m missing something, or maybe it has something to do with his opponents (Minnesota and Texas), but without any clear sign of change I’m apt to chalk it up to a pair of good starts that aren’t necessarily indicative of what’s to come.

Thank you for reading

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Lonerhy17
7/03
Around a month ago, somewhere on the internet (might have been on here), I came across an article talking about the glove arm of Pineda. They were pointing out that during his struggles in 2016, his glove arm was pointing towards the sky when he released the pitch. They then went back to when he was pitching good in another year (probably 2015) and showed his glove arm being more horizontal during his release. Now, I have not seen him pitch since he has came around in the last two starts because he sure can raise a persons blood pressure so I have no idea if he has lowered his glove arm. Have a good weekend.
tombores99
7/04
Great notes, and I'll definitely check it out. Thanks!
BPKevin
7/04
Do you think Rosenthal has a chance to win the job back from Oh, or do you think it's pretty much Oh closing for the season?
tombores99
7/04
I think that it will be a serious uphill climb that will require Oh to falter as well as Rosenthal getting back on track. I think that both of those things could take awhile to happen, and you've got Siegrist there to scavenge. I don't know that Oh will be the guy, but my guess is it will be awhile before we see Rosenthal closing games.