Archive for June, 2016

Bryce Harper Looks Average

Bryce Harper is in a slump. Not a daily, weekly, or monthly slump, but a slump that has been going on since the beginning of May — nearly two months. Coming off a breakout season in 2015, Harper seemed poised to be even better this year. In April he had a .714 slugging percentage, a 1.121 OPS, and a 181 wRC+ (creates 81% more runs than the average hitter). No pitcher wanted to pitch to him. On a day during the first week of May, Harper went 0-0, with six walks and one hit-by-pitch. Since then, it seems like walking is the only thing he’s done well. In May, he hit .200/.363/.785 with a 105 wRC+. In June, he’s hit .262/.369/.720 with a 95 wRC+(though he did post OBPs of .422 and .351 in May and June, respectively). In essence, Harper has produced like an average major-league hitter over the last two months. The only problem with that is that Harper is widely regarded as not an average MLB hitter, but one of the best (if not the best) hitters in all of baseball.

Sure, hitters go into slumps all the time. It’s no reason to get worked up about a bad spell here and there. Remember, baseball is a game where a hitter fails 70% of the time and is considered a Hall-of-Famer. There are going to be 0-4 days.

But two months seems like an awfully long time. And it’s my job here to find out why. So let’s take a look.

The first thing that stands out when examining Harper under the microscope of a computer is his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). He’s hitting .257 in said category — well below his career average of .323 and well below the 2016 MLB average of .300. BABIP does reflect the ability of the hitter, but it also depends significantly on defense and luck. A batter whose BABIP is well below his career and league average may just be getting unlucky — whether that is from hitting the ball directly at defenders or defenders making spectacular plays.

So, is Harper hitting the ball with the same authority he did last year (which would confirm the idea that he’s getting unlucky)? Not quite. In the following table you can see that the number of line drives he’s hit (LD%) is down 7% and number of balls he’s hit softly (Soft%) is up 12%. He’s hitting fewer line drives and more fly balls (FB%) — but those fly balls aren’t turning into home runs, as his HR/FB% is down from 27% to 17% (i.e. last year for every 100 fly balls that Harper hit, 27 of those were home runs. This year he’s hitting 17 home runs for every 100 fly balls).

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.53.23 AMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.54.42 AM.png

So, Harper is hitting more soft fly balls that are getting caught by outfielders, and fewer line drive that find gaps. Could this be a result of his discipline at the plate — his ability to differentiate strikes from balls and to swing accordingly? There are two things I want you to look at: Z-Swing% and O-Contact%. They sound confusing but they’re simple to understand. Z-Swing% is the percentage of strikes the batter swings at. O-Contact% is the percentage of balls outside the strike zone that the batter makes contact with.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 12.06.25 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 12.06.42 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 12.06.50 PM

You can see the difference between last year and this year. Harper is swinging at fewer strikes (5% less) and making contact with more balls outside the strike zone (5% more). That would explain why he’s hit more balls softly this year — he’s making weak contact with pitches outsize the zone. It’s much harder for a batter to hit a ball well outside the zone because it’s farther away from him. You can see the truth in this statement from the following graph (all qualified hitters from 2012-2016).

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 12.46.55 PM

The graph shows the relationship between isolated power (ability to hit for extra bases) and O-Contact%. It’s pretty clear that the more often a batter makes contact with a ball out of the zone, the less likely that ball with result in a double, triple, or home run. In 2016, Harper is somewhere right smack in the middle of all the dots (0.65 O-Contact%, .225 ISO).

Before I end, I just want to make it clear that Harper isn’t by any means a bad player. He’s a superstar, an All-Star, and probably the face of MLB — oh, and he’s 23. But, for lack of a better term, he’s performed like an average player the majority of this season, so I set out to find why. I think it’s mostly due to being unlucky with his deflated BABIP, but I’d also be cognizant of plate discipline if I were him. Pitchers do try to pitch around hm — just being a little more patient and swinging at more strikes and fewer balls wouldn’t hurt.

John Lackey Has a New(ish) Slider

Read any article on the Cubs and you’ll find praises on pretty much everything they’ve been doing this season. Rightfully so. Their MLB leading 49-26 record deserves some praise. The national spotlight has been focused on their young talent for the first couple months of the season, and even more so recently with the call up of top catching prospect Willson Contreras, who hit a home run on the first pitch he saw in the majors. That sums up how the season has been going so far for the Loveable (No Longer) Losers. But what about the vets? Not many people outside of Chicago have noticed just how good the second-oldest Cub, John Lackey, has really been this season. The 37-year-old has complemented the 1-2 punch of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester very well this year and is quietly having one of the best seasons of his career: (courtesy of and

John Lackey K% BB% SwStr% BA against SL
Career Avg 18.9 6.7 9 0.229
2016 26.6 6.6 12 0.109

His strikeout rate and swinging-strike rate are up (a lot), his opponents batting average against is down (a lot), and his walk rate has virtually remained the same. Plus there’s the fact that his slider has been pretty devastating this year. According to the wSL (weighted Slider) metric on FanGraphs, which uses run expectancy to evaluate the effectiveness of a pitch, he’s had the third-best slider in the league to date. Surprisingly, Lackey’s slider has been more effective than some of the most well-known sliders in the game, including Jose Fernandez, Justin Verlander, and Madison Bumgarner. It’s pretty incredible considering his slider has been nowhere near this good in the past. In case you were wondering what it looks like, here’s a clip courtesy of


That’s some nasty break coming in at around 87 MPH, according to MLBAM. Some nasty vertical break, to be specific. Taking a look at seasonal data from, Lackey’s had an increase in average vertical movement this year.

(FanGraphs primer for those who aren’t familiar with Pitch F/X: Pitch F/X movements are based around a hypothetical pitch that has absolutely no spin, so when a pitch breaks “up”, it means that it does not fall as much on the way to the plate as a spin-neutral pitch would.)


For the first time in his career, he is averaging negative vertical movement, without changing the horizontal movement or velocity on the pitch. That’s a borderline curveball. Typically, most breaking pitches with negative vertical movements are curveballs, but Lackey’s slider teeters right on the edge. Surprisingly, It’s not something he hasn’t done before. His minimum and maximum values for vertical movement have been pretty similar the last few years according to Brooks Baseball. And it’s not like he’s throwing in a different spot to righty hitters. His heat maps for his slider for his career and in 2016 look virtually identical:



He loves throwing it low and away. It does look like he’s been getting his pitch more in the dirt this year though. That’s a byproduct of how he’s been maxing out his vertical break this year, and without sacrificing anything else. How’s that, you might ask? That’s a difficult question.

Here’s one interesting theory. There’s only one other pitcher on that leaderboard that averages negative vertical movement. I’ll save you the suspense: it’s teammate Jason Hammel, who has a pretty effective slider himself. And according to the Pitch F/X data from, their sliders are eerily similar:

2016 Slider Averages Vertical Horizontal Velocity
John Lackey -0.6 3.2 84.2
Jason Hammel -0.7 3.3 85.2

Hammel has had one of the best sliders in the past few years. Maybe he’s helped guide Lackey into using his slider more effectively. Purely speculation, but an interesting thought nonetheless. Regardless of his new(ish) changes and whether or not they’re here to stay, hitters better start adjusting to Lackey’s slider.

We’re In a Golden Age of the Lefty Fastball

The 2016 baseball season is well underway and we’re seeing an even more drastic version of the trends that we saw last year: There are more strikeouts, more home runs, and more challenges. And, notably, there has also been a steady increase in velocity across the league, assisted by the guys I’ll be highlighting here.

A “steady increase in velocity” might not be reason to stop the presses, but just soak in this Tweet real quick:

We’re basically seeing twice as many pitches thrown 95+ as we were in 2008. ¡2008!

Even left-handers, typically a step behind (always a bit of a quirky species, lefties), are chucking it. Across the league, lefties are throwing the ball 95+ mph just around 7.5% of the time. That’s way more often than the stereotype of the Tom Glavine-y, soft-tossing corner-nibbler would have you believe, but it’s 2016 and elite velocity isn’t just left to the elite pitchers anymore (Chris Sale is joined in that 95+ lefty fastball club by some guy named Buddy Boshers out of the bullpen for the Twins).

So…I’m not just interested in guys that throw hard; I want guys who throw hard and make the ball move, and I want them to be left-handed. (Truth: that lefty requirement is mostly an excuse so I can hopefully talk about Danny Duffy more, James Paxton for the first time, and because I already covered the right-handed side of things with my Charlie Morton post from the start of the season (The Unbelievable Emergence of Charlie Morton), and basically because lefties are more fun.)

A common refrain among pitching coaches is that movement is just as important as velocity. Velocity can get you to the majors, but big-league hitters will turn around 95+ fast if it’s straight. But when combined with some movement (and even better, control/command) 95+ is a high value commodity.

I’m after what I want to dub the best lefty fastball. Let’s start with the simple stuff: Who out there is throwing it 95+ most frequently? Note that the percentages here are for all pitches thrown, including the off-speed stuff.

Player Name Number of Pitches 95+ % of Pitches Thrown 95+
Zach Britton 152 93%
Sean Doolittle 118 84%
Aroldis Chapman 125 80%
Jake Diekman 111 73%
James Paxton 332 64%
Justin Wilson 81 62%
Josh Osich 58 57%
Enny Romero 86 54%
Tony Cingrani 102 53%
Jake McGee 32 51%
Danny Duffy 211 49%
Ian Krol 68 45%
Robbie Ray 208 41%
Felipe Rivero 61 35%
Sammy Solis 51 30%
Andrew Miller 52 30%
Andrew Chafin 6 26%
Carlos Rodon 90 23%
Blake Snell 45 23%

There are a number of relievers in there that I should probably get to know better. Zach Britton, Sean Doolittle, and Aroldis Chapman have all been flame-throwers for a while now; somehow their gas no longer brings the flicker to my eye that it once did. But Josh Osich and Enny Romero? Those are new guys that throw quite hard and are likely on their way to relevance.

The starters on the list are the most fun for me. James Paxton is there. Danny Duffy, too. But so are Carlos Rodon and Blake Snell. I’m not going to anoint any of these young guys just yet, but I’d venture that it’s been a long time since we’ve had four lefty starters out there throwing 95+ mph heaters at least 23% of the time. But…Carlos Rodon has a 4.16 ERA, and the other three all have fewer than 10 starts on the season. Let’s see if movement has anything to do with it.

We’re in search of the best lefty fastball and the best lefty fastball must move sideways, while also moving quickly. 10 inches of run seems like a pretty good place to set up camp.

Player Name Number of Pitches 95+
& 10+ inches of run
% of All Pitches
Jake Diekman 90 59%
James Paxton 171 33%
Josh Osich 24 24%
Cody Reed 18 20%
Chris Sale 90 16%
Sammy Solis 22 13%
Robbie Ray 58 11%
Brad Hand 26 11%
Clayton Richard 7 11%
Mike Montgomery 22 9%
Martin Perez 42 9%
Steven Matz 23 6%
Ian Krol 8 5%
Andrew Miller 9 5%
Ashur Tolliver 3 5%
Enny Romero 8 5%
Tony Cingrani 7 4%
Zach Britton 6 4%
T.J. McFarland 3 3%
Aroldis Chapman 4 3%
Sean Doolittle 3 2%
Carlos Rodon 8 2%

Look at that: Mr. Rodon and his 4.16 ERA bring up the rear, while Snell and Duffy dropped right off. But man, James Paxton is still up top there just behind Jake Diekman. Diekman is a very good reliever, who seems to be realizing his potential since his trade to Texas. Basically, by exclusively pounding the zone with that hard, running fastball, he’s posted an ERA below 2.00 since getting out of Philly.

Oh! Chris Sale, how did I forget to include him in my love fest of the young lefty starters in the league? Sale has thrown 110 pitches at least 95 mph, and of those, 90 have moved at least 10 inches. That’s nuts. His stuff is incredible.

We also see Steven Matz creep in there as 6% of his pitches are these 95 mph fastballs that move an unfair amount. Matz and his 2.96 ERA definitely belong in that quartet of young insanely talented left-handed starting pitching that I talked about before. He’ll be the fifth member of that group, and we instantly have to expand our Mount Rushmore of tantalizing excellence.

This is starting to feel a bit like the NBA where so much Amazing is happening. But it’s true: there’s a lot of amazing happening across the MLB landscape right now. These lefty fastballs are but one, tiny iota of all that is going on.

Let’s refine the batch of fastballs once more to include only those that have at least 10 inches of vertical movement, too. This admittedly feels like a laughable exercise. There’s no way that pitchers are actually throwing pitches that go 95 mph, while also running and rising that much….

Player Name Number of Pitches 95+
10+ inches of run
10+ inches of rise
Robbie Ray 15
James Paxton 14
Enny Romero 5
Rest of League 25

Oh. Damn. I see you Robbie Ray, James Paxton, and Enny Romero. I also see you Rest of League. That group included Danny Duffy, Sean Doolittle, Aroldis Chapman, Matt Moore, and Chris Sale. But really this is about those top three guys.

Ray was once a prospect known more for his feel and pitchability than a premier fastball. He’s starting for the Diamondbacks now and he’s striking out over 10 per game. His ERA sites at 4.59 and his WHIP is over 1.50, which are both significantly worse than his 2015 campaign, but still, if that pitchability from his earlier career outlook meets with his clearly impressive fastball, things could turn around quickly for the 24-year-old. I’m frankly surprised to see him here.

As for James Paxton, we know he’s throwing way harder now that he’s dropped his arm slot. I’ll save my full review of his stuff for the lengthier look that it deserves.

Then there’s Enny Romero. Romero isn’t well known in baseball circles just yet. He started a single game as a 22-year-old for the Rays back in 2013, spent 2014 throwing a 4.93 ERA in Triple-A, and hasn’t exactly torn things up in the majors since then. But he’s a young player, with a solid baseball name and a clearly electric fastball. He’s 25 and capable of figuring it out just like any other 25-year-old.

To be totally honest, I’m not entirely sure what to do with this group of pitchers. The guys atop this 95/10/10 club clearly have electric fastballs, but the electric fastball has not equated to big-league success so far. I guess that’s OK, and feeds back into the last bit of the the old pitching coach refrain: Velocity is nothing without movement…and control. But control is not sexy.

Speed is sexy, and all these guys throwing 95 are great, but Aroldis Chapman is the only one guy who’s ever thrown it 105 mph. He keeps the crown of best fastball. (All this talk of horizontal and vertical movement was really just an attempt to crown the best non-Chapman lefty fastball.)

So what is the takeaway?

This discussion mostly serves as a friendly reminder that we’re in the midst of a great revolution of left handed pitchers — all of whom make Clayton Kershaw old by comparison. These guys are throwing fastballs harder than we’ve ever seen before and there’s so many of them doing it.

Stat of the Day: I feel like I should also note that I unearthed an insane Andrew Miller pitch where he effectively threw a 95 mph slider on June 6th to some poor soul.

MLB’s Qualifying Offer: A King’s Ransom

With the MLB draft just past, I thought it would be appropriate to examine one of the most controversial topics surrounding the draft: the qualifying offer. Essentially, the qualifying offer intends to reward teams — presumably the small-market, low budget ones — that lose players in free agency. This reward comes in the form of an additional first-round draft pick for every player that signs with another team.

Only it isn’t that simple. Once a player reaches the end of his contract, the team can decide whether or not to offer the player a 1-year extension known as the qualifying offer. This new contract is equal to the average of the highest 125 salaries in MLB ($15.8 million in 2016). The player then chooses to either accept the qualifying offer or decline it — and thus, enter free agency with the assumption that he can earn more than a 1-year, $15.8 million contract. Once the player signs on with another team, his former team is awarded a first-round draft pick (to go along with the one(s) they already have, assuming they do) as compensation. Additionally, the player’s new team loses their first-round pick in the draft so long as it is outside the top 10 (in which case their second-round pick would be forfeited).

So, one would assume that, more often than not, a small-market team with a low payroll would benefit from this system. A budding star player reaches the end of his contract and commands a new contract worth hundreds of millions and spread over 5+ seasons. His current team does not have the financial resources to resign him, and another big-market team does. The cash-strapped team receives an additional first-round pick as compensation, while his new team willfully forfeits its first-round pick in exchange for his services over the next half-decade. And that’s that.

Not quite. I went back over the draft order for every year since 2013 (when the qualifying offer was first introduced) and summed the number of draft picks gained and lost. Results are shown below. I sorted the teams by their average payroll over the span in descending order. As you can see, the compensation is not in line with the assumption I presented above. In any way you shape it, the high-payroll teams are the ones benefiting from the current system. The 10 highest-payroll teams have received 19 additional draft picks over the four seasons — highlighted by the Cardinals who have gained four and lost none. The 10 teams with the lowest payrolls have received eight additional picks. The high payroll teams have a net draft pick gain of four, while the low payroll teams have a net loss of two.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 5.27.18 PM

Now, I’m not coming up with any revolutionary solutions here — I’m not that smart and I don’t get paid enough. I am simply presenting data that supports that MLB’s current free-agent compensation system doesn’t benefit the teams that need it the most. In fact, this seems to be a story of “the rich are getting richer” — big-money teams are receiving the extra draft picks that were seemingly meant for the low-budget ones. Maybe MLB scraps the compensation system altogether, maybe they extend the time frame for when a player can accept the qualifying offer (they currently have seven days), or maybe they come up with some other solution. In any case, the current CBA ends after the 2016 season so us fans will likely know the answer before next year’s draft.

Buying or Selling Carlos Gomez

What are you to do with a former fantasy superstar who hasn’t lived up to expectations? For some, the answer’s easy; Carlos Gomez has already been dropped in over 25% of leagues on both ESPN and Yahoo.

Now that I’ve driven half my audience away with my use of a semicolon, let’s start the real analysis. Gomez certainly disappointed his owners through the first month and change of the season, sporting a minuscule .486 OPS through May 15 before being placed on the DL. For reference, out of 324 batters with at least 100 plate appearances, just two (2) have a lower OPS as of June 24. Both are on the Braves (one hit fifth in the lineup as recently as June 21, while the other has batted second 13 times this season).

So yes, one could see why owners would have lost patience with Gomez. But this was also a player who hit 66 home runs and stole 111 bases while hitting .277 between 2012 and 2014. If anyone deserved patience, it was him.

So when he hit two home runs in his first six games back from the DL, it was hard to be too surprised. Since then, he’s put together five multi-hit performances, and has brought his season line back up to at least non-Atlanta-ish numbers.

While it’s obviously a small sample size, Gomez’s 76 plate appearances in 19 games since his return have shown immense improvement over his horrendous start to the season. To demonstrate this, take a look at each of the different areas in which he’s bounced back:

Plate Discipline
2012-2014 April 5 – May 15 May 31 – June 24
BB% 6.2% 5.3% 10.5%
K% 22.8% 34.8% 30.3%
BB/K .27 .15 .35
SwStr% 13.9% 19.4% 16.7%
O-Contact% 59.5% 42.4% 45.9%
Z-Contact% 84.4% 74.4% 80.5%
O-Swing% 37.4% 32.1% 35.7%
Z-Swing% 79.3% 79.9% 65.8%

I could bring up more player comparisons and show you just how bad the Atlanta Braves are this year, but that’s not the point of this article. Instead, let’s just focus on Gomez’s numbers and how they compare to earlier in the year and during his prime years. He’s nearly doubled his walk rate while striking out more than 10% less often than before, leading to a BB/K that is no longer painful to look at. He’s missing less frequently on pitches he swings at, both in and out of the zone, and has fewer swings-and-misses as a result. The one worrisome spot here is his swing rates, where the trend is the opposite of what we’d generally expect when we see favorable results. However, his O-Swing% is still lower than it was between 2012 and 2014, and it seems as though swinging less at pitches in the zone is leading to more walks and less bad contact, so it’s not truly a terrible result.

Batting and Power
2012-2014 April 5 – May 15 May 31 – June 24
AVG .277 .182 .294
BABIP .329 .293 .405
OBP .336 .238 .368
SLG .483 .248 .471
ISO .206 .066 .176
OPS .819 .486 .839
wOBA .356 .216 .364
wRC+ 123 28 129
HR/FB% 14.6% 0.0% 33.3%

I already referenced Gomez’s OPS above, but it’s still almost unbelievable to see that his post-injury slugging percentage is nearly as high as his OPS once was. Besides that, there’s improvement across the board. His average is up over 100 points, as his OBP, SLG, ISO, OPS, and wOBA. He’s gone from being 70% worse than the average hitter to 30% better. What’s good to see her is that he’s not outpacing any of his career stats by a noticeable amount — an indication that his current run is very much sustainable. Okay, maybe not the .385 BABIP, but as you’ll see next, keeping it over .300 shouldn’t be an issue.

Batted Ball Breakdown
2012-2014 April 5 – May 15 May 31 – June 24
GB% 39.3% 47.1% 44.2%
FB% 40.6% 35.7% 20.9%
LD% 20.1% 17.1% 34.9%
Pull% 42.7% 36.4% 62.2%
Cent% 33.9% 41.6% 13.3%
Oppo% 23.5% 22.1% 24.4%
Soft% 16.7% 29.9% 31.1%
Med% 48.0% 45.5% 28.9%
Hard% 35.3% 24.7% 40.0%

Let’s take this one at a time. First, Gomez has seen a drastic increase in his line-drive percentage, unfortunately at the expense of hitting fewer fly balls. While it’d be better to see him hit fewer ground balls and get some more balls in the air, he’s certainly making this approach work for him right now. He won’t hit 30 home runs with this approach, but with the increased line drives, he should have no problem continuing to hit for extra bases.

Then comes the confusing part. He’s increased both the percentages of balls he hits to the pull side and opposite of the field, now hitting just 13.3% of his balls to center. He was definitely spraying the ball better beforehand, although the bloated Pull% will undoubtedly help him to put up some better power numbers. If the numbers stay in this region, I’d definitely expect his BABIP to regress, but it’s more likely that they regress closer to his career norms. A lot of those pulled balls will end up going to center field.

Finally, there’s the stuff that’s easy to analyze. Hit the ball harder, get better results. Gomez apparently believes in that approach as well, now hitting the ball hard over a third of the time and showing over a 50% increase from his previous rate. He needs to work on hitting the ball soft less often, which should happen if he continues to be selective and wait for his pitch.

Statcast Data
2015 April 5 – May 15 May 31 – June 24
Exit Velocity (mph) 88.5 84.8 86.4
Exit Velocity on Line Drives and Fly Balls (mph) 92.7 91.2 96.4
Fly Ball Distance (feet) 315.2 309 359

Ah, Statcast. What would we do without your infinite wealth of knowledge? The data here was obtained through Baseball Savant, and confirms that Gomez is indeed hitting the ball harder than he was before his injury. His overall average exit velocity remains low, but his velocity on line drives and fly balls is actually higher than it was last year. He can hit all the slow ground balls he wants and still be successful, provided he can keep up this increased velocity on balls in the air. Of course, he’s not going to continue hitting his fly balls over 350 feet — that’s reserved for people like Byung Ho Park (and apparently Tyler Naquin?). But he’s at 323 feet for the season now, and which should easily suffice for him to begin putting up some rejuvenated power numbers.

If you’re looking for a tl;dr, here it is: Carlos Gomez is performing much better than he was earlier in the season. He’s taking more walks, striking out less, making more contact, and hitting the ball harder and farther (further?). It’s obviously a small sample size, and he may not put up another 20/40 season, but he’s more than capable of hitting 10 home runs and stealing 15 bases the rest of the way. While it’s not elite production, it’d be better than he did last year, which would be quite an achievement after his start to the season.

A (Robbie) Ray of Hope for the D-Backs?

At this moment, the Arizona Diamondbacks, those same Diamondbacks who went into “win now mode” this offseason, currently sit in fourth place in the NL West division. A few weeks ago, Dave Cameron wrote an excellent article about what direction the D-Backs can go from here. The D-Backs’ pitching has specifically underwhelmed this year. However, one starter on their roster stands out to me, one who was not much more than an afterthought on their staff at the beginning of this year. That man is Robbie Ray.  He has a 10.4 K/9! That’s good enough for ninth in the majors among qualified starting pitchers — ahead of Madison Bumgarner, David Price, and Jake Arrieta (to name a few). He struck out eight guys in five innings his last time out. But, his ERA sits at an unimpressive 4.59. What’s up with Robbie Ray? Let’s take a look.

Let’s start with his four-seam fastball. Its velocity has risen each season since he first came up in 2014. He’s topped out at 97.6 this year — great for a lefty. He averages 93.6 on the heater, which is harder than all other qualified lefties this season. Its swinging-strike rate has gone from 7.1% last year to 8.3% this year — a very high SwStr% for a fastball. The pitch even has a bit of arm-side run and added backspin, giving it a “rising” appearance. He throws his fastball 59.6% of the time (third-highest in the majors), and for good reason.

His slider is solid. Hitters are managing a meager .570 OPS against it. It has an 18.4% SwStr%, up 0.3% from last year. Here is a wonderful gif of Ray striking Andrew McCutchen with the slider. And him striking out McCutchen again. Not to mention, the pitch is generating a whopping 68% groundball rate this season.

So both the fastball and slider are solid pitches. But here is where Ray runs into some trouble: his two-seamer is mediocre and his changeup is awful.

He throws the two-seamer hard, and consequentially, it has less movement than average. It has slightly more movement than his four-seamer, but otherwise, it’s just a slower version of the four-seamer with much less “rise”. Last year, it did generate a solid 54% GB%, but this year, that number has dropped to 45%. Hitters are mashing it to the tune of a .962 OPS this season, though last year they only managed a .729 OPS in a similar sample size. That being said, the SwStr% of the pitch has jumped from 6.1% last year to 7.1% this year, probably because his improved fastball and slider help to set it up better.

The changeup is awful: hitters currently have a 1.437 OPS against it this year. But, last year, hitters only had a .662 OPS in a similar sample size. He has trouble commanding this pitch, especially: he throws it for a strike only 53% of the time. However, there is some good news: the SwStr% has almost doubled, going from 4.6% to 8.5%.

Having examined Ray’s repertoire, I have a couple of predictive theories. Firstly, his HR/FB ratio is an exceedingly high 16.7%. This is well above the league average and his career rate of 10.9%. According to park factors on ESPN and FanGraphs, Chase Field is at least in the top five in terms of worst parks for pitchers, so that could explain some of this. He also over-performed with a 7.3% HR/FB rate last year, and maybe this is just regression coming in. Either way, I think that this rate should certainly improve through the rest of the season, settling in closer to his career average rather than 16.7%. Unsurprisingly, the changeup is the main culprit here; it has a 100% (!) HR/FB rate. This should almost certainly regress, which would bring his “OPS against” on the changeup back down.

Something else of note is that the changeup and two-seam fastball are weapons primarily deployed against batters of the opposite handedness, as they would move away from the batter. Since these are Ray’s two poorest pitches, it makes sense that he struggles to get right-handed batters out. They have a .875 OPS against him, compared to the meager .590 OPS that lefties manage. The changeup and/or two-seamer need to improve for Ray to start getting right-handers out. These two pitches have been hit hard, and have thus helped to make Ray’s BABIP climb up to .350. The BABIP against his changeup is .476, and against his two-seamer it’s .421.

One last thing that should not be discarded is that Ray’s walk rate has risen this year. Poor command of his pitches has resulted in him leaving a few meatballs over the plate. The fact that he only throws his changeup for a strike 53% of the time is specifically a major detriment to his control; the rest of his pitches are at least at 60% or higher.

So, Ray’s HR/FB rate should at least regress a bit, and I think that he can get his ERA under 4 for this reason alone. Roll with the Steamer projections for the rest of his season over ZiPS, but keep in mind neither projection system knows everything of Ray’s velocity increase and improved SwStr%, so it’s entirely possible that he can do even better, maybe even sustaining a 10 K/9, especially if he can improve his command and work on his changeup and two-seam. To sum it all up, the SwStr% has improved on all of Ray’s pitches, and there’s room for improvement yet; he’s only 24 years old.

Jake Fishman On His Draft Process, Gaining Velocity, and Spin vs. Location

The MLB draft was about two weeks ago and the Blue Jays selected a lefty out of Division 3 Union College in the 30th round. At first blush, a pick like this sounds like when a team selects a notable name like football star Russell Wilson for some good publicity. The selection might lead you to believe that Jake Fishman is a little crafty lefty who tosses batting-practice fastballs.

Well, not exactly. Jake Fishman was the top pitching prospect in all of Division 3 heading into the year, and he finished his 2016 collegiate season with a 0.41 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 66 innings, while regularly running his fastball up into the 90s. The 6’3 lefty was heading to play in the Cape Cod League this summer before the Blue Jays plucked him, signed him, and started him down a whirlwind that hopefully ends in big-league success.

Over the last few days, Jake has been kind enough to exchange emails with me. We covered his draft process, adjusting to pro ball, some of his theories on pitching, and tardigrades. I’ll be rooting for Jake, even as a proud Vassar Baseball alum. He’s a nice guy, a good story, and clearly a hard worker. Enjoy the interview.


SM: I saw that you just signed, so Congrats! Vassar coach Jon Martin is probably happy with that decision. How did that process work? Can you walk me through the decision making that lead to signing and foregoing your senior year? Union College is a good school with a good reputation.

Jake:  Thank you! The draft process is definitely hectic. For me, it was difficult to understand because I come from a family with no professional athletes and I went to a school where nobody has been drafted for baseball. Everything was new for us. So when scouts started to come around, my family and I started reaching out to anybody we could talk to that had gone through the process to get info on it. Eventually as the season progressed, a lot more teams reached out and watched me pitch. This went on until my season ended and we accumulated a hand full of teams that we could tell were more interested than the rest. I was invited to a few pre-draft workouts so I drove out and pitched for a couple teams before the draft.

When we finally reached the draft, we were waiting to hear (from) anybody. At the beginning of day 3 we got two phone calls from the Reds and the Blue Jays. I could have gone as early as the 10th round, but rounds 10-20 flew by very quickly and we hadn’t heard anything. I knew from the start that you can’t trust what the scouts tell you, but after round 20 hit I started to get really nervous.

The Blue Jays reached out again and said I was still on their draft board and they were thinking of taking me, while the Reds told us I would be a very late pick if they were to take me, and then they would watch me pitch in the Cape League to see how I did. Finally, when I was at the point of thinking I wasn’t going to get taken, the Blue Jays took me in the 30th round. It was the best feeling in the world.

Even though I went in the 30th round, they gave me a very reasonable offer for a kid like me. I expressed to the Blue Jays how important school was to me, and they offered to pay for my entire senior year of school. Tuition for next year is $65,000. If they didn’t offer to pay for school, I wouldn’t have signed. That was my biggest requirement. Before the draft, I spoke with my Dad so we could agree on a number. If push came to shove, I would accept a $50k signing bonus and all of school.

In the end, I was beyond happy with the offer they gave me because I had a lot of friends who are phenomenal players that didn’t get selected in the draft. I also think for the best opportunity to make it to the major leagues, I should start my career as soon as possible. As a deceptive lefty, there’s a chance I can move up the ranks fast, so if I have a great year in the minor leagues, they may look at me and say “let’s challenge this kid” and I would move up fast. And of course the Blue Jays were encouraging about getting me back to school in the fall to work towards finishing my degree. They might send me to a fall instructional league, but if they don’t then the timing works out perfectly with Union’s trimesters for me to get a fall term in before spring training starts.


SM: Okay that all seems to make a surprising amount of sense. I know that’s a nerve-racking process. I had a friend who actually went undrafted following his senior year after thinking he’d be picked up, and then wound up signing with the Yankees and has worked his way to high-A and is pitching well there, so draft position really isn’t all that important.  My buddy Max actually wrote about Yankees’ farmhand Matt Marsh here and I did a follow up about the success he’s enjoying so far in 2016

Anyway, your approach to the draft seems to align with the analytic approach I gleaned from your blog on pitching mechanics. You seem to have some strong opinions on pitching that have definitely helped you improve velo. So I guess two questions:

1) How’d you go from 84-86 as a freshman to 92 as a junior? A whole lot of us never make that jump.

2) You’re going to have a whole lot of new coaches and new perspectives. The Liberty League and [Union Head Coach] Paul Mounds are used to your kind of “heady” player. How are you going to handle it if the Jays make some adjustments to your mechanics or repertoire that don’t really make sense to you?

I tend to take an analytical approach with most things (except when I’m on the mound). But you’re definitely right about me having some strong opinions about pitching. I think that if somebody finds something that works for them, they should stick with it.

1) The big jump I made was from freshman to sophomore season in velocity. I put on 20 pounds and my strength shot through the roof. I’d always been a pretty fast kid, but I was scrawny. When I put on the weight I got bigger, stronger, faster and the velo followed.

I was around 88-90 my sophomore year (as long as it was warm), but I was a little shaky on the mound. It felt almost as if I had hit another big growth spurt and I didn’t have pinpoint control of my body. It took me until the summer, where I pitched for the Brockton Rox (of the collegiate summer league FCBL), to figure out my mechanics again. From then I’ve maintained my weight and kept my control. It’s been smooth sailing ever since then and I picked up a mph or two just from adding strength over this year.

2) It’s funny to me that you bring that up. The past three years, Coach Mound has accepted that I have my own philosophy behind the stuff I do and he was very open to letting me follow my routine. High school was the same way. The commonalities between the two is that I was pitching well. As long as I do well, my coaches have stayed away from changing me mechanically and philosophically. From what I can tell, the Blue Jays follow the same approach. After listening to our pitching coordinator here, he has been discussing a lot about his philosophies and what the ideal pitchers have done to make it to the big leagues. He’s been making suggestions to us that he thinks will help us. He doesn’t expect us to change, but if we start pitching poorly those suggestions are gonna have to be worked into our routine. So my take on that is I’ll just keep pitching well and there shouldn’t be an issue.


SM:  It should be interesting to see how that plays out. I know different organizations tend to have different philosophies on how their pitchers should conduct themselves. Was it Daisuke Matsuzaka who threw 300-foot long toss between starts? That got shut down quickly by the Red Sox.

I also noticed that you had 5 unearned runs this year. How many of those were legit unearned? Did your ERA benefit from some friendly scorekeeping?

Yeah they shut down a lot of the stuff Matsuzaka did that seemed unusual for baseball in the United States. For now, they are just encouraging us to just go out there and pitch our game so they can see what we have and make adjustments from there.

Thinking back, maybe one of those unearned runs could be scored as an earned run. But at the same time, one of my earned runs could have turned out as unearned, so I think in the end it’s balanced itself out.


SM:  Yeah, it’s just interesting to think about the difference between really good and great. I guess that difference gets that much tighter in affiliated ball.

I saw an awesome interview with Lance McCullers that really felt like a new-age way of thinking about attacking hitters. I’d love to hear your reaction to his theory of emphasizing spin over movement and velocity.

Jake: It really does. We got to see some big leaguers a couple days ago who were recovering. They threw an inning to our drafted position players and you could tell there was a difference but it’s such a small one. Everything’s just a little bit tighter.

I like his approach. As a former hitter in college, I can relate to what he’s talking about in terms of picking up the spin on the ball. Not being able to see the spin was what beat me most. It’s definitely new-age now that we can pick up spin rates of the ball and I think it can be an extremely useful tool to use.

I like his view on a lot of things he mentions in his interview like adjusting to the hitters’ mentalities whether they are being aggressive or patient at the plate and his changeup (because that’s how I throw my changeup). But at the same time, I think location of the pitch is just as important. Or maybe I should say it’s another way to fool the batter in combination of spin. I can see having spin rate as a priority though, because if you can’t see the spin you don’t know where the ball is going.


SM Exactly. Well I’m sure the Blue Jays will get some spin reads on you and you can start to use that information to your advantage.

Thanks so much for the exchange of emails. We’re definitely be looking out for you and I will likely reach back out in the offseason to see how things are going.

Now, it’s time for the rapid fire all-important questions. You must answer honestly and you’re only allowed to provide explanation for 2. No clarification from me of any kind will be provided.

  • Which Pokemon game was the best: red, blue, gold or silver?

Gold. Because you can go back to the Kanto region and Ho-oh is badass.


  • Who wins in a fight to the death, assuming both parties are savage, LeBron James or 1,000 kindergardeners?

1,000 kindergardeners




  • How tall is the average tree?

20 feet.


  • True or False: Vassar’s coach Jon Martin resembles a Tardigrade.

I love this. True.


  • Would you ride a polar bear if it asked you to?

Depends. What kind of drugs am I tripping on?


  • Why are you afraid of heights?

I’m not.


  • What’s your favorite flavor of chocolate ice cream?

Chocolate chip cookie dough


  • In a game of horse against a horse, don’t you automatically win?

Ah here we go again. The classic horse vs. a horse example.  Everybody makes this mistake: you actually automatically lose.


  •  Is a hot dog a sandwich?

It has bread.  And meat in the middle.  Gotta say yes.

Lineup Construction is Changing

Lineup construction is a topic that comes up far more often in proportion to how important it is. But if you can save a few runs in a year by using the proper lineup, it’s worth it. Put your OBP up top, not your steals. The #2 hitter should be better than your #3.

With 14 going on 15 years of lineup splits available on FanGraphs, are any trends clear? Yes, actually. In regards to the two specific issues above, managers do seem to be getting better. Let’s explore. (Note: All “league averages” are non-pitchers. Pitchers aren’t real hitters, after all.)

The on-base percentage of leadoff hitters vs. the league average has climbed. In 2002, the league average OBP was .336 whereas it was just .332 for leadoff hitters. Ten years later, in 2012, league average was .324 but leadoff hitters hit .344. The gap has begun to decline since then, but the trend is still apparent, and in 2016 leadoff hitters have a .332 OBP vs. the league’s .324. Overall, here’s a simple chart of the league’s leadoff OBP minus the overall average OBP for each year since 2002:

Not everyone has caught on; either Dusty Baker or Ben Revere really need to figure things out soon for the Nationals, for example. But leadoff hitters are getting better at getting on base.

Meanwhile, managers have a longer way to go in their understanding of the fact that a #3 hitter will most often find themselves batting with the bases empty and two outs which, naturally, is not a good situation for scoring runs. However, just by comparing the wRC+ of the league’s #2 and #3 hitters shows that some teams are learning. In the dark days of 2002, #2 hitters had a wRC+ of 92, compared to 128 for #3 hitters. Since then, #2 hitters haven’t been that bad, but they haven’t been great, either. However, the last three years have been #2 hitters’ most productive since 2002: they had a 102 wRC+ in 2014, 107 in 2015, and currently a 105 in 2016. Teams haven’t moved their best hitters out of the three hole (this will be #3 hitters’ seventh straight year with a wRC+ of 120 or better), but they are starting to see the value of a good #2 hitter. This has led to the wRC+ gap between #2 and #3 hitters to exhibit a clear downward trend since 2002:


Even if you take out that 2002 season, the trend holds. It is still basically due to a change in the past two years, but the more hitters like Andrew McCutchen or Manny Machado, Corey Seager or George Springer bat in that second spot in the order and have success, the more we can expect out of the two hole. A lot of these #2 hitters, you might note, are young guys with a lot of career ahead of them with their current teams. It’s up to managers to keep them at #2 instead of moving them to #3 as these players continue in their careers. They may not, leaving 2015 and 2016 as anomalies so I can be wrong again. (Actually, I’m never wrong, because where’s the fun in that?)

But next time you lament the general failures of managers to put out the correct lineup, remember, things are getting better. Maybe it’s just your favorite team’s manager.

Hardball Retrospective – What Might Have Been – The “Original” 1984 Giants

In “Hardball Retrospective: Evaluating Scouting and Development Outcomes for the Modern-Era Franchises”, I placed every ballplayer in the modern era (from 1901-present) on their original team. I calculated revised standings for every season based entirely on the performance of each team’s “original” players. I discuss every team’s “original” players and seasons at length along with organizational performance with respect to the Amateur Draft (or First-Year Player Draft), amateur free agent signings and other methods of player acquisition.  Season standings, WAR and Win Shares totals for the “original” teams are compared against the “actual” team results to assess each franchise’s scouting, development and general management skills.

Expanding on my research for the book, the following series of articles will reveal the teams with the biggest single-season difference in the WAR and Win Shares for the “Original” vs. “Actual” rosters for every Major League organization. “Hardball Retrospective” is available in digital format on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, GooglePlay, iTunes and KoboBooks. The paperback edition is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and CreateSpace. Supplemental Statistics, Charts and Graphs along with a discussion forum are offered at

Don Daglow (Intellivision World Series Major League Baseball, Earl Weaver Baseball, Tony LaRussa Baseball) contributed the foreword for Hardball Retrospective. The foreword and preview of my book are accessible here.


OWAR – Wins Above Replacement for players on “original” teams

OWS – Win Shares for players on “original” teams

OPW% – Pythagorean Won-Loss record for the “original” teams

AWAR – Wins Above Replacement for players on “actual” teams

AWS – Win Shares for players on “actual” teams

APW% – Pythagorean Won-Loss record for the “actual” teams


The 1984 San Francisco Giants 

OWAR: 42.9     OWS: 294     OPW%: .508     (82-80)

AWAR: 27.7      AWS: 198     APW%: .407     (66-96)

WARdiff: 15.2                        WSdiff: 96  

The “Original” 1984 Giants ended the season with a winning record but merely earned a fifth place finish, 9 games behind the Astros. Gary “Sarge” Matthews established a career-best with 101 runs scored while pacing the circuit with 103 walks and a .410 OBP. Chili Davis contributed a .315 BA and merited his first All-Star invitation. Dave “Kong” Kingman walloped 35 four-baggers and knocked in a personal-best 118 baserunners. Bob Brenly achieved his lone All-Star nod with a .291 BA, 20 dingers and 80 ribbies. Jack Clark supplied a .320 BA with 11 long balls prior to a season-ending injury in mid-June. Dan “Dazzle” Gladden ignited the offense following his recall from the minor leagues in late June, posting a .351 BA and swiping 31 bags.

Jack Clark is ranked 27th among right fielders according to Bill James in “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.” “Original” Giants teammates listed in the “NBJHBA” top 100 rankings include George Foster (34th-LF), Gary Matthews (46th-LF), Garry Maddox (56th-CF), Chili Davis (64th-RF), Chris Speier (68th-SS) and Dave Kingman (98th-LF).  Al Oliver (31th-CF), Manny Trillo (49th-2B) and Dusty Baker (54th-LF) make the register for the “Actual” Giants. 

  Original 1984 Giants                              Actual 1984 Giants

Gary Matthews LF 2.68 22.93 Jeffrey Leonard LF 2.38 20.37
Dan Gladden CF 2.81 16.46 Dan Gladden CF 2.81 16.46
Chili Davis RF/CF 4.19 21.58 Chili Davis RF/CF 4.19 21.58
John Rabb 1B -0.14 1.01 Scot Thompson 1B 0.35 6.89
2B Manny Trillo 2B 0.76 8.83
Johnnie LeMaster SS -0.47 7.23 Johnnie LeMaster SS -0.47 7.23
Chris Brown 3B 0.31 2.26 Joel Youngblood 3B -0.89 9.5
Bob Brenly C 3.58 21.32 Bob Brenly C 3.58 21.32
Dave Kingman DH 2.49 21.48 Jack Clark RF 2.01 11.84
George Foster LF 1.16 18.27 Dusty Baker RF 1.19 8.81
Jack Clark RF 2.01 11.84 Al Oliver 1B -0.85 6.56
Bob Kearney C 0.26 8.63 Steve Nicosia C 0.79 4.99
Garry Maddox CF 0.53 6.67 Brad Wellman 2B -0.45 3.74
Chris Speier SS -0.24 2.96 Chris Brown 3B 0.31 2.26
Rob Deer LF 0.28 1.24 Fran Mullins 3B 0.24 2.08
Randy Gomez C -0.02 0.18 Gene Richards LF -0.04 1.92
Tom O’Malley 3B -0.5 0.03 Rob Deer LF 0.28 1.24
Jose Morales -0.19 0 John Rabb 1B -0.14 1.01
Casey Parsons -0.01 0 Duane Kuiper 2B -1.06 0.82
Randy Gomez C -0.02 0.18
Joe Pittman SS -0.17 0.12
Alejandro Sanchez RF -0.4 0.08
Tom O’Malley 3B -0.29 0.01

Bob Knepper rebounded from an 11-28 mark in the previous two campaigns to achieve a 15-10 record with a 3.20 ERA and 1.190 WHIP. Gary Lavelle notched 12 saves and fashioned a 2.76 ERA as the primary closer. Frank Williams collected 9 victories in a long relief role during his rookie year.

  Original 1984 Giants                                   Actual 1984 Giants

Bob Knepper SP 2.16 12.43 Bill Laskey SP -0.02 4.8
Pete Falcone SP 0.91 5.33 Mike Krukow SP -1.04 3.94
John Montefusco SP 0.58 3.27 Jeff D. Robinson SP -0.67 2.84
Jeff D. Robinson SP -0.67 2.84 Atlee Hammaker SP 0.96 2.28
Mark Calvert SP -0.39 0.22 George Riley SP 0.19 0.98
Gary Lavelle RP 1.78 7.85 Gary Lavelle RP 1.78 7.85
Frank Williams RP 0.43 5.7 Greg Minton RP -0.02 6.29
John Henry Johnson RP 1.22 4.39 Frank Williams RP 0.43 5.7
Scott Garrelts SW -1.13 0 Randy Lerch RP 0.11 2.58
Gorman Heimueller RP -0.7 0 Bob Lacey RP -0.07 1.51
Mark Grant SP -1.1 0 Renie Martin RP -0.09 0.99
Mark Calvert SP -0.39 0.22
Mark W. Davis SP -1.91 0.18
Jeff Cornell RP -1.25 0
Scott Garrelts SW -1.13 0
Mark Grant SP -1.1 0

Notable Transactions

Gary Matthews

November 17, 1976: Signed as a Free Agent with the Atlanta Braves.

March 25, 1981: Traded by the Atlanta Braves to the Philadelphia Phillies for Bob Walk.

March 26, 1984: Traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Porfi Altamirano and Bob Dernier to the Chicago Cubs for Bill Campbell and Mike Diaz.

Dave Kingman

February 28, 1975: Purchased by the New York Mets from the San Francisco Giants for $150,000.

June 15, 1977: Traded by the New York Mets to the San Diego Padres for Paul Siebert and Bobby Valentine.

September 6, 1977: Selected off waivers by the California Angels from the San Diego Padres.

September 15, 1977: Traded by the California Angels to the New York Yankees for Randy Stein and cash.

November 2, 1977: Granted Free Agency.

November 30, 1977: Signed as a Free Agent with the Chicago Cubs.

February 28, 1981: Traded by the Chicago Cubs to the New York Mets for Steve Henderson and cash.

January 30, 1984: Released by the New York Mets.

March 29, 1984: Signed as a Free Agent with the Oakland Athletics.

George Foster

May 29, 1971: Traded by the San Francisco Giants to the Cincinnati Reds for Frank Duffy and Vern Geishert.

February 10, 1982: Traded by the Cincinnati Reds to the New York Mets for Greg Harris, Jim Kern and Alex Trevino.

Bob Knepper

December 8, 1980: Traded by the San Francisco Giants with Chris Bourjos to the Houston Astros for Enos Cabell.

Honorable Mention

The 1906 New York Giants 

OWAR: 65.9     OWS: 361     OPW%: .591     (91-63)

AWAR: 50.8       AWS: 287      APW%: .632    (96-56)

WARdiff: 15.1                        WSdiff: 74

The New York Giants secured the organization’s fourth consecutive pennant in 1906 with a record of 91-63, placing three games in front of the St. Louis Cardinals. Third-sacker Art Devlin pilfered 54 bases and delivered a .299 BA. Harry H. Davis topped the leader boards with 12 big-flies and 96 ribbies. Converted outfielder Cy Seymour nabbed 29 bags and drove in 80 baserunners while “Wee” Willie Keeler batted .304 with 23 steals. Christy Mathewson furnished 22 victories along with a 2.97 ERA. Left-hander Hooks Wiltse recorded 16 wins with an ERA of 2.27 and a WHIP of 1.143.

On Deck

What Might Have Been – The “Original” 2004 Royals

References and Resources

Baseball America – Executive Database


James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York, NY.: The Free Press, 2001. Print.

James, Bill, with Jim Henzler. Win Shares. Morton Grove, Ill.: STATS, 2002. Print.

Retrosheet – Transactions Database

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at “”.

Seamheads – Baseball Gauge

Sean Lahman Baseball Archive

Taking a Look at David Price’s Turnaround

After signing a massive seven-year, 217-million-dollar contract with the Red Sox this past offseason, David Price got off to a slow start. After his May 7th start against the Yankees in which he gave up six earned runs in just 4.2 innings, Price’s ERA stood at a whopping 6.75 yet his peripherals remained strong. He had a 2.98 FIP and 11.5 K/9. However, he was giving up hard contact over 41 percent of the time. The immediate fix was a mechanical issue noticed by Dustin Pedroia that was limiting Price’s leg lift and diminishing his velocity. Frustrated with his failures, Price vowed to be better.

And better he has been. After throwing a gem in Sunday’s win over the Mariners where he went eight innings allowing his only run on a solo shot by Franklin Gutierrez, Price lowered his season ERA to a still high 4.24 and had his eighth straight quality start. Over those eight starts, Price has been much better, allowing 16 runs over 58.1 innings for an ERA of 2.47. During this stretch, he has a 3.88 FIP and 8.6 K/9 and has only allowed hard contact around 27 percent of the time. Although his strikeouts have gone down and his FIP went up due to his decrease in strikeouts to go with an increase in home runs allowed, Price has limited the amount of hard contact he has given up. This can be seen in the BABIP over the two stretches. In his first seven starts, his BABIP against was around .370, while in this current eight-start stretch it is hovering around .230.

This in turn, has allowed him to be very successful while pitching to contact. His biggest issue remains his ability to keep the ball in the park. Over his last eight starts, Price has allowed at least one home run in seven of them. So while he has limited hard contact against him, the few mistakes that he makes each game are punished. Despite this increase in home runs allowed, he continues to pitch well and go deep into games, allowing the Red Sox bullpen a chance to recover after the consistently shaky starts from their 4th and 5th starters.

There are a few main reasons to this improvement. The first was his ability to regain his velocity. Looking at his velocity each month thanks to data from Brooks Baseball, there is a small but steady increase in his average four-seam and sinker velocity. Before May 8th, his velocity was low by his standards. Typically a pitcher averaging 94 to 95 MPH with his fastball, he had been sitting 93 MPH.

Year Fourseam Sinker Change Curve Cutter
2016, Before May 8th 93.2 93.0 84.3 78.8 88.8

Although just a small dip in velocity, it made him much more hittable.

Since May 8th, his velocity has been back on the rise.

Year Fourseam Sinker Change Curve Cutter
2016, Since May 8th 94.2 93.4 85.0 78.3 89.0

After the mechanical change, his four-seam has been averaging around 94 MPH and his sinker has been averaging around 93 MPH, but still slightly up from what it was before. Although it is a small increase, this added velocity has helped Price dominate hitters, gain confidence, and re-establish himself as an ace.

Another key factor in this improvement has been his pitch usage. Using pitch data from Brooks Baseball, I was able to look at Price’s pitch usage. In his first seven starts, Price relied on mixing different types of fastballs with his main offspeed pitch being a change-up while also displaying the occasional curve.

Year Fourseam Sinker Cutter Curve Change
2016, Before May 8th 27.6 22.6 19.8 6.6 23.4

His four-seam was used around 28 percent of the time yet it lacked the movement displayed by his cutter and sinker. The high four-seam usage to go with decreased velocity spelled trouble for Price.

However, since May 8th, Price has made an adjustment displayed by the fact that he is now using his sinker as his primary pitch while also using his four-seam far less frequently.

Year Fourseam Sinker Cutter Curve Change
2016, Since May 8th 9.0 36.1 22.4 8.3 24.3

His sinker is now used around 36 percent of the time compared to his four-seam being used around nine percent of the time. With this added movement and velocity, Price has been able to be more effective while keeping the use of his curve, cutter, and changeup around the same. This simple switch from a four-seam to a sinker has allowed him to go on a tear.

Looking forward, the Red Sox need Price to continue to be the pitcher that he has been over his last eight starts. They are paying him ace money and he is expected to pitch like one down the stretch as Boston hopes to continue their great turnaround year. If Price continues to have outings like these, the Sox should like their chances come October with him taking the mound with their season on the line.