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Speed bump?

CINCINNATI – Prior to yesterday’s game, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle noted an issue plaguing the Pirates’ starting pitchers early this season.

“We’re not getting away with mistakes on the mound. Every fastball that was up in the zone got covered the Brewers,” Hurdle said. “Wandy’s mistakes haven’t been missed to date.”Rodriguez’s mistakes weren’t missed last night as some middle-of-the-plate, high-80s fastballs were launched for home runs on Tuesday. The Reds touched up Rodriguez for three two-run home runs  in last night’s suspended game.

This is troubling for the Pirates as Rodriguez had pitched well this spring and they are counting on quality innings from him to help absorb the losses of AJ Burnett and Jameson Taillon.

Before he was injured last season, Rodriguez had excellent command of his fastball, moving it ease to various quadrants of the strike zone. While Rodriguez got ahead in the count and threw strikes last night – he began with strike one to the first 13 batters he faced – but he also missed out in the middle of the plate. But every pitcher is going to miss with location at times so perhaps part of the problem is Rodriguez has less margin for error as his velocity is down 2 mph early this season.

According to this Fangraphs article, Charlie Morton and Volquez have seen two of the biggest velocity drops among NL starters this April.

Tyson Ross 91.6 94.3 -2.7
Taylor Jordan 90.0 92.0 -2.0
Wandy Rodriguez 87.5 89.4 -1.9
Charlie Morton 91.1 92.8 -1.7
Jenrry Mejia 90.5 92.1 -1.6

Now it should also be noted that Rodriguez has struggled his entire career when pitching on the road. That might be tied to the fact that road pitchers are less likely to get borderline calls and Rodriguez is the kind of pitcher who needs such calls. If the strike zone shrinks and Rodriguez is forced to more often attack the center of the strike zone that’s a big problem for an arm with an 87 mph fastball.

I suppose it’s possible Jeff Locke gets a chance to take Rodriguez’s rotation spot but the Pirates are also paying Rodriguez a significant portion of payroll dollars, so I think Rodriguez gets a chance to iron out his issues. Toward that end, a big first step would be improved fastball command and a 1-2 mph bump in fastball velocity.

POSTCARD FROM NORTHERN KENTUCKY

So, I’ve finally made it:

… which was in reference to this tweet:

It should be noted my hotel is within walking distance to not only a White Castle but a Waffle House and  Skyline Chili. Trifecta.

- TS

Comments

  1. Leo Walter says:

    Last night it looked to me like the Rodriguez fastball velo was a rather insignifcant part of his problem. Poor pitch selection and lousy command were the largest part of the equation,at least to my eyes.

  2. NMR says:

    Any idea where those velocities are coming from, Travis? I thought PITCHf/x was the standard at this point, and they disagree with those values.

    Regardless, one number matters right now with Wandy, and that is his 28.6% HR/FB rate. 17.3% over his career average.

    If you believe that Wandy Rodriguez is a true-talent 28.6% HR rate pitcher, then sure, get worried. Otherwise, look at the calendar and remind yourself we’re two weeks into the season.

  3. Travis Sawchik says:

    NMR, Those velos are from Fangraphs, which is PITCHf/x data. Brooks Baseball’s data is a little bit different because they take PITCHf/x data and put in another calculation. Where are you seeing the different values?

  4. Nate83 says:

    I’m pretty confident the Homer Bailey’s isn’t going to give up 120 HR’s this year.

    I think you hit it right on the nose over the past few weeks with your comment regarding Wandy. With Wandy the dip in velocity doesn’t matter unless it is more drastic then what it’s been. He has never thrown it hard enough to make a difference. It is all about location and there is no reason to believe that shouldn’t get better. He obviously has had some unfortunate luck with most if not all his mistakes being hit hard as well. 3 starts isn’t enough to discredit an entire career of being an accurate pitcher. At least not for me.

  5. In 2011 season, Wandy Rodriquez had an ERA of 7.41 after 3 starts,exactly like now. He ended the year at 3.49.

    Wandy has 7 straight seasons of ERA in the 3′s. Let’s be a little patient.

    Who’s that guy always insisting that “it’s just a small sample size!”?

  6. NMR says:

    Ah, did not know that. Thanks for the lesson! Any idea why/how? Sorry to beg for info, but couldn’t come up with much in a quick google search.

    http://www.brooksbaseball.net/velo.php?player=434643&b_hand=-1&gFilt=&pFilt=FA|SI|FC|CU|SL|CS|KN|CH|FS|SB&time=year&minmax=ci&var=mph&s_type=2&startDate=03/30/2007&endDate=04/15/2014

  7. Pig Legs Robinson says:

    I remember reading an article many years ago in a scientific journal that said home runs are more likely on a rainy, humid night than any other time. I don’t remember the specifics of it, but I have noticed ever since that the article has rung true. It sure rung true last night.

    It might not have mattered who was pitching, the weather may have had more to do with all those homers than anything else.

  8. NMR says:

    +1

    “Wandy” is so far from “Travis” that I suspect some reverse name bias. We all know Ish and Snider are Travis’ boys. ;)

  9. NMR says:

    I mean, didn’t he do just fine in his first start as well?

  10. Andrew says:

    I have seen differences in the Brooks Baseball and the Fangraphs Pitch/Fx data, they might have subtle tweaks in the algorithm, I know the pitch classification do not always lineup, in addition to velocity.

    Brooks states the velocity are assumed from 55 feet, the gameday standard, what you would see on MLB’s gamecast, and possibly Fangraphs, is measured from 50 feet. Not sure if this is the reason but I know that disclaimer is listed on Brooks’s website when you look at individual games.

  11. Andrew says:

    I was thinking the same thing last night, I have not read anything specific about how weather patterns effects the ball flight but some of those balls just flew. It is not just the fences, I was developing off the cuff theories about low pressure systems and humidity because they were a homerun away form the NL record and two off the MLB.

  12. NMR says:

    Thanks, Andrew.

    Still trying to figure how Fangraphs came up with one FBv when Wandy and most other pitchers throw multiple versions. Digging deaper, both average velocities for 2seam and 4seam versions on his player page are higher than what they list in that article.

    Probably splitting hairs, regardless. Guy has been about a mph off.

  13. JuniataKid says:

    Hmm. Could be wind? Weather moves west to east (generally). Lefty pitcher is southpaw, so batter is west, wall is east.

    Before you debunk me, remember that I graduated from one of the finest science universities in the world. With two writing degrees, but the point is, I was there. Osmosis or something.

  14. Andrew says:

    NMR is looks like the author is using the Pitch Type which comes from Baseball Info Solutions, and must average all fastballs. There is a consistent, velocity decline for Wandy of at least 1.0 mph everywhere I have looked, and around 1.0 mph for Morton. Like everything in April it could be something it could be nothing.

  15. I do not want to over-simplify or make excuses for pitchers (Pirates as well as opponents), but I have a theory that cold weather is affecting pitch location as well as velocity. I know it is harder to hit in cold weather, but it is also harder to get loose and get a secure and comfortable grip on the baseball. It would be interesting to see stats from cold weather and warm weather games this Spring.

  16. Cisco Kid,

    Yeah, but since you graduated they have determined the world is round, not flat.

  17. Vic says:

    You have a number for everything but you believe old wives tales like road pitchers don’t get close calls? LOL.

  18. Steelkings says:

    I’m going to suggest that Wandy’s velo is down and his location is a little wonky because he didnt throw a baseball for 9 months.

    Now that we have talked about Wondys fastball, lets talk about the sliders………..

    Sliders! …… Yum!

  19. NMR says:

    Oh, there’s most certainly a decline. Just a matter of how much, and how much is actually appreciable.

  20. NMR says:

    Ha, there you go with crazy theories again… ;) Well said, buddy.

  21. Jim S. says:

    I am hopeful Wandy is still kicking off the rust and regaining his sharpness from the lengthy inactivity. If he is still getting hammered after 5 or 6 starts, then Locke has to be an alternative.

    The HR were not good in Cincy on Monday, but some of that had to be out of his control, I think. Bailey is a good pitcher, and it looked like he was pitching on a Legion field also. Same with Morris, and pretty much everyone who threw that night. I’m not saying throw out Monday, but I think something weird was going on.

    It does concern me, however, if he doesn’t at least close that fastball velocity gap vs. last year a bit in the next few starts.

  22. Andrew says:

    In defense of my fellow theorists, Wandy only gave up 3 of the 10 homeruns.

    And it could be worse.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfxo.aspx?playerid=3340&position=P&pitch=FA

  23. NMR says:

    I think at some point we have to remember he’s 35 years old.

    It is natural to see some drop in velocity.

  24. Jim S. says:

    For sure.

  25. Steelkings says:

    ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
    Marte entered day with a .259 average, a .348 on-base percentage, 3 doubles, 1 triple and 1 home run. He also had 23 strikeouts, second-most in the majors behind former Pirates and current Miami Marlins first baseman Garrett Jones.
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    WELL….THERES THAT!

  26. NMR says:

    But at least he hit .350 in spring training!

  27. Steelkings says:

    HA!

    Ironically the Pirates finished a half game behind the marlins for the National League Spring Training title.

  28. NMR says:

    How bout a Steelkings Starting Nine to get conversation startd today?

  29. Steelkings says:

    By Request – Uncle SK’s Starting Nine

    LEADING OFF :
    Jeff Locke opened his 2014 AAA season by pushing out a virtual stink bomb giving up 5 earned in 5 innings pitched. 2 dingers 5 hits 2 walks 2 strike outs and for good measure he hit a guy. I think he is channeling his inner AJ Burnett.

    BATTING 2ND:
    On the other hand out of no where comes Casey Sadler, who has pitched a Indianapolis team high 13 innings only giving up 3 earned while striking out 8 and walking 2. Keep an eye on this young 24 year old.

    BATTING 3RD:
    Our Dominican hero has cooled a bit. An 0-4 night brought his 2014 average down to a pathetic (.426) The largely forgotten Andy Lambo is raking to the tune of (.324) without a dinger. That will come in good time.

    BATTING 4TH:
    Oh by the way, In case you didnt notice, Vin Mazzaro landed on his feet in Indianapolis. He’s looking really good. 2 innings pitched 3 k’s 1 hit. Uncle SK is still baffled that he cleared waivers. Especially with all the arm injuries in the MLB early going. I can only speculate that April is for gassed GM’s mental vacations.

    BATTING 5TH:
    Giancarlo Stanton is on pace for 215 RBI’s. He is an unbelievable talent that Ole Uncle SK would have sent Taillon and Polanco to Miami for without blinking. What Taillon and Polanco bring to Pittsburgh would be hope. What Stanton would bring is a World Championship. He’s that good!

    BATTING 6TH:
    The Pirates were man handled by Johnny Cueto yesterday. Cueto was quoted as saying” How do you like me now?” Johnny Cueto over the last 3 years has an ERA 2nd only to Kershaw. You know??? The latest Billionaire to the planet, Clayton Kershaw. 2015 is an option year for the Reds. The Reds have the option to keep Cueto for one more season if they want to part with 10 million. Hummmm? I wonder what they will do?

    BATTING 7TH:
    Speaking of the Reds, I’ll bring up Votto and a NMR-ISM. Votto started the season in the 3rd spot in the line up where he hit (.257) with 0 HR’s and 1 RBI’s. Since moving to the 2 spot Votto has hit .471 with 4 HR”s and 7 RBI’s. Someone care to explain that to me?

    BATTING 8TH:
    Chicken or the Egg?
    In the early going 9 of the starters the Pirates have faced are in the statistical top 25 in baseball.

    BATTING LAST:
    The Pirates have given up 19 dingers. Alone in 4th but only 4 off the lead. HR’s are game changers and the high amount is an ugly trend. Combine that with being in the middle of the pack in both walks and strike outs, and with the fact that the Bucco’s have committed 11 errors (Tied 14th but only 5 from the most to date) meaning several of the things the team counted on for success are alluding them in the early going.

  30. Andrew says:

    NMR I was typing up a spot start, (not going near the DK’s blog today), but like Eric Bedard I was breaking down in the 5th and Steelkings posted his.

    1) Agreed, Locke with a Burnett like performance, go back and look at some of the rehab starts by A.J. and Lirinao before being called up, not good. But Locke is going to be in AAA, unless there is an injury. Speaking of which, Wandy’s velocity is actually right around his average prior to injury last year. The concern with flexor mass injuries is they lead to elbow problems.

    5)Sorry no player guarantees a championship, playoffs are random and prone to chance, you can improve your odds but there is nothing close to a guarantee, (something hockey fans cannot understand).

    6) I’ll take the Wild Card victory every day.

    7) I would not make too much of 22 and 43 PAs, but Votto has said that when hitting behind Hamilton he has seen more fastballs, of course that is when Hamilton is on base, which is not very often.

    9)I have 8 of 25 in the NL, by FIP, Pirates offense by wRC+ is 11th in the NL.

    Pirates starting pitching, 0.0 WAR, main culprit like Steel says, home runs, 16, only the Diamondbacks and Mets starters have surrender more. Rank in the NL, ERA 4.25(12th), FIP 4.68(13th), xFIP 3.57(6th). Pirates starters have pitched 6.1 innings/start (5th), last year 5.7 (14th).

  31. Steelkings says:

    Ehh, Thanks Andrew! Err, Wait? Um…Whatever….

    #5:
    If I were to say; 2014 NL MVP: Bet your paycheck: Do you take Stanton or the rest of the league? Right now thats tough.
    But you are right, injuries can happen at anytime to outfielders. They can twist their ankle stepping on home plate. Or, Run head first into the outfield wall. Or, get hit in the face with a fly ball.

    Did I mention Stanton is on pace to drive in 215 playing for the putrid Marlins?

    #6:
    Good thing Cueto wasnt on that day , huh?

    #9
    I counted Smargisilashga twice

  32. Andrew says:

    We might have to agree to disagree about Stanton, the guy is a beast and his early number look more like 2012 than last year’s down year. I think the RBIs is due to the Marlins OBP being 2nd in the NL. But from a value standpoint Polanco by himself is more valuable than Stanton, I mean value not performance, Stanton is in arbitration and HR, RBI guys get paid in arbitration.

  33. NMR says:

    Great work, gents!

    5) No way Giancarlo is nearly that good without the Great Casey McGeehee’s “lineup protection”.

    Speaking of narratives, can somebody explain how Billy Hamilton forced Liriano to throw two wild pitches yesterday and willed Joey Votto to hit a homerun?

    Hamilton will stick around far longer than he should because of balogna like that.

    7) Joey Votto is good at baseball. He’s good at baseball hitting 3rd. And he’s also good at baseball hitting 2nd.

    9) Pirate starters have a league worst HR/FB rate of 20.8%. Last season they finished at 9.4%.

    Pirate starters will be performing better before long. That regression thingy works both ways.

  34. NMR says:

    EXTRA INNINGS:

    Jordy Mercer cannot hit RHP, and is barely an adequate fielder. Alen Hanson has gotten eaten up by AA pitching.

    Ruh roh.

  35. NMR says:

    Also, I’m done questioning the Pirates evaluation of their own players after seeing how worthless Tony Sanchez has looked behind the plate.

    So thaaaat’s what they were worried about…

  36. Steelkings says:

    Ok, here is a question for those smarter than me. I understand the penalty for signing Drew. But whats the Penalty if you sign Drew and Morales?

  37. Steelkings says:

    HOLY FRIGHT!

    The Pirates havent has a combo of a defensive shortstop and catcher that can hit since Kendall and Wilson. Neither were MVP canidates but they both had a few years where they hovered around (.300). Doumitt could hit, but he was also a train wreck behind the plate. Thats why he is now an outfielder. I think eventually you will see Sanchez at 1st or in RF…….For someone else.

  38. Andrew says:

    If they signed both prior to the draft the Pirates would loss their 1st round and 2nd round picks. Orioles did this with Jimenez and then Cruz, Indians last year with Swisher and Bourn. Qualify offer system is dumb and hopefully goes away.

    I think Drew and Morales will be treated like deadline deals for contending teams, I cannot see the Pirates outbidding other teams post-draft or giving up picks to sign them now.

  39. Steelkings says:

    Every so often i forget who I root for

  40. Steelkings says:

    Agreed! Thanks for reminding me who I root for.

  41. NMR says:

    No reason, what-so-ever, the Pirates shouldn’t have more money than any team in the National League available to sign either of those players.

    None at all.

  42. Andrew says:

    Sorry, the first thing I think about when considering baseball moves is economics. On a positive note if the Pirates wanted Stanton they have the assets to get him, not too many teams can say that. Also the Pirates paid Morneau $3 million for less than a month of plate appearance and four doubles. So they could sign Drew, but I really have no idea what is going on with them both, I think they have been offered some Cruz or Santana like deals but rejected them because of Boras.

  43. NMR says:

    I think Stanton is a Red Sock by August.

  44. NMR says:

    And one positive about signing either of those guys in June is that you don’t have to worry about either of them holding up over a full season.

  45. Andrew says:

    I understand the idea in terms of available money but when the Dodger’s Dee Gordon experiment goes bad I don’t think the Pirates can outbid them.

  46. Steelkings says:

    No but they could sign Dee Gordon. Sadly he would be an upgrade.

    My prediction is that the Pirates will trade for Starling Castro at the deadline. That is if Castro is still interested in baseball.

  47. NMR says:

    Wouldn’t make sense for Boras to sign Drew as a 2B in his three month tryout before hitting the open market.

  48. NMR says:

    But I still think the Yankees end up with Drew, fwiw.

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