Jays Try To Regroup After Streak Snapped

The Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Seattle Mariners 10-2 on Sunday afternoon. They were unable to build on the consistent results against Seattle and Boston early in the week, and scored early and often.

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Manager John Gibbons was victimized by unexpected efforts from bench players Rajai Davis and Mark DeRosa, both of whom contributed on the offensive side well beyond expectation. Melky Carbera also threw off the team’s plans, homering for the first time this season. Gibbons was asked about the end of the four game losing streak in the post game scrum. He was subdued, as usual. Continue reading

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Brandon Morrow: Fan Mail

I must confess, my original thought was to call this ‘Brandon Morrow, a Love Letter’. Then I rolled that around my head for thrity seconds and became uncomfortable with it. I don’t love Brandon Morrow. I don’t know the man, really, so it would be presumptuous of me to say whether I really loved him or not. I am a fan, that’s for certain. A fan, specifically, of what he has been doing with baseballs lately. He has been throwing them very effectively. The Brandon Morrow of the last two years is beginning to fade into the distance. That’s ok, we all change, and it seems that Brandon has changed into a better version of his pitching self.

This was written after a wonderful pitching clinic that Brandon conducted in Chicago. He shut out the White Sox for 9 innings, allowing 2 hits and 2 walks. He ended the game with a swinging strikeout. He’s been doing the complete game thing a lot this year, or at least a lot for him. He had one in his career before this year, and he blew through the 130 pitch mark to get there. He has 3 this year, which ties him with Justin Verlander for the league lead, he has completed all three without breaking the 120 pitch mark. All of those games are shutouts, the most in MLB.

Continue reading

WPA: A stat for everyone (except Francisco Cordero)

I understand a lot of the resistance from old-school baseball people and fans to advanced stats. I really do. Advanced stats can be confusing and, because of both their naming and the math that goes into them, intimidating. There’s also the problem that, dammit, I just want to talk baseball and not what somebody might theoretically do over the next so many years, especially considering this or that park factor.

Can’t we just talk about what happened last night?

Can’t we just talk about where our team is in the standings and how they got there?

If the above describes how you feel, I sympathize. I’m not in total agreement, but I do share your feelings to a certain degree. And I have good news — if you’re like me and seeking a middle ground, at least — there is an advanced stat just for you! Continue reading

Start of June, AL East : Where my starters at?

The AL East is regarded as a very tough division to play in. In all of Major League Baseball, the two teams with the deepest pockets, the Yankees and Red Sox, inhabit the same division. In the same group of 5 teams, there are also the Tampa Bay Rays, arguably the most efficiently run team out of all 30 in the league. They have made the playoffs multiple times on a limited budget. The fourth team in the group, the Blue Jays, is run by the most aggressive GM in baseball, widely credited with knowing more about every player available than anyone else in his position, willing to angle any deal he can to improve his team. The division’s traditional doormat, the Orioles? Still in first place at the start of June.

With a high stakes game being played in this division every year, it all comes down to the players on the field, and how they stack up against one another. It is a simple fact that 72 of the 162 games each season are played against opponents in one’s own division. I  looked at the offensive production within the AL East in my previous post. Now I’ll take a look at the pitching side of the equation. Who are the dominant starters of the AL East, and which pitchers are taking it on the chin by being in the best division in baseball? Continue reading

Fastballs Illustrated

I like baseball on TV. Not that going to a game isn’t a thrill, because the arc of the ball, as viewed from field level, is unique to me. There is something special about the tumbling seams on a pop-fly, or the rapidly receding circle of a double into the gap. I think that those views are special to me because I only go to a few games a year, at most. My season tickets are with my LCD tv.

Pitching, on television, is nothing like pitching live. I know, because I umpired minor (kids and teenagers) baseball for three years. It is the closest you can possibly get to pitching and catching, and not be responsible for touching the ball. There is a very real hiss to a baseball coming in at anything over 50mph. The impact into the mitt of a 60 or 70 mph fastball is something that reverberates in your ears. You can feel it when it hits the mitt. To lean into that at MLB game speed would make me flinch.

I know that my eyes and ears could not tell me the whole story as an umpire. All I had to focus on was where the ball was when it hit the front edge of the plate. That isn’t really hard to do, with a little practice. Measuring what happened before and after that never really entered my head at the time.

I also know that the single outfield camera does not convey or measure what is going on at home plate. It just isn’t in the right place, or at the right distance to really tell how and where a pitcher releases the ball.

Combine these methods with the play-by-play and colour announcers on TV, and everything gets jumbled up. Some fastballs have ‘late life’, some have ‘hard sinking action’, some are ‘backdoor cutters’. Cute, but how do you tell which of those descriptions is anywhere near accurate? None of the guys in the booth has crouched down to catch the pitcher in question, they are relying on a story from someone else. And if you’ve ever tried to convey a story through two or three people, you know how any description can get jumbled up.

Pitch f/x to the rescue. If you are not familiar with pitch f/x, there is a primer here. All of my data comes from the very comprehensive data at brooksbaseball.net. Very briefly, 2 cameras are positioned in each park to give accurate data about the behavior of every pitch thrown in the Major Leagues.

I have 2 charts to compare the fastballs of the current five members of the Toronto Blue Jays rotation. As of this writing, they are Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison.They are identified by their initials in the charts.

Behold, Chart 1

Speed and Spin Direction

Taken as an average from all pitches thrown in 2012. This is pretty much just speed differences. I was hoping, when I input the data for spin direction, that the sinkers would cluster apart from the four seamers. Not so lucky. And can you tell I haven’t made any charts since my second year at community college? But enough about me. Four seamers are blue data points, sinkers (usually thrown with 2 seam grip), are in red. Kyle Drabek is the only one who throws enough cutters to be of any note. That’s the yellow diamond. Notable points, Henderson Alvarez is the hard thrower of the bunch, not Brandon Morrow, as you may have guessed. Drabek next, then Morrow. These are all above 94mph and are very good fastballs, especially for MLB starters. The other odd thing is Drabek’s two data points are very close together in the MPH, unlike a typical pitcher, changing to the sinker grip doesn’t cost him even 0.5 mph.

Behold, chart the second.

Movement, including gravity.

This chart shows us movement from the catcher’s perspective. It tells us that Rickey Romero may, in fact, be left-handed. I’ll check into that later. Also, the two purple circles are Romero’s and Alvarez’s sinkers. Getting ground balls happens naturally, as even mistakes are carried down under the bat quite often. The green circle is Morrow’s ‘rising’ fastball, and it makes it easy to see why he’s a natural fly ball pitcher. Here we can cross-check if Drabek’s sinker (which we saw him throwing extremely hard, above) has had any of its movement cancelled out by his extra velocity. I would have to say no. The distance between his straight and sinker data points is similar to both Morrow’s and Hutchison’s. Also, Drabek’s cutter does, in fact, cut its way back across the middle of the chart with a little reverse break.

So, next time somebody tells you who they think throws the hardest, now you’ve got some pictures to back up your own arguments. This also gives an idea of how far from straight even a ‘straight’ four-seam fastball can be.

If anybody would like to see any other pitch types broken down this way, or two pitchers and their pitch mixes put head-to-head, put it in the comments, and I’ll try to cook something up.