In the previous part of this study, we saw where each of the pitchers in the Rangers rotation was releasing their pitch. Here in part two, we’ll see if we can determine what pitches they’re throwing.
First up, Kevin Millwood. Searching online, various sites say that he has a fastball that runs 91-93, a slider, a 12-6 curve and some say a changeup. Let’s look at his charts from Gameday:
This first chart shows how his pitches break horizontally (blue) and vertically (red) in relation to speed. There are three basic clusters, all fairly well differentiated. The top pair are his fastball, which is running at 90-95 mph, breaking a little horizontally and not very much vertically (the vertical is kind of hard to understand, it’s actually how much it is breaking vs a “normal” pitch, in this case it is staying up. See this Hardball Times article for more explanation than I can give). His second pitch, at 85-90, breaks less in both directions. I’m going to guess this is his slider. His third pitch, running 72-77, is moving in the opposite direction to the others, and this is his curve.
This next chart shows why the bottom one is his curve. It is breaking much more than the others, between 16-20 while the others are from 2-10. Here you can see the slider breaking slightly more than the fastball.
The third chart for Millwood shows his horizontal and vertical breaks again, this time the horizontal is left to right and the vertical is up and down (as they should be). These pitches are colored by speed. This is how the pitches would look to the catcher if they were all thrown at the same spot. The fastball would stay up and to the left, the slider would be closer to the middle, and the curve would be down and to the right. Actually that’s a simplistic explanation of how they would look to the catcher, but it should suffice to give a general idea. If anyone can explain it better, please leave a comment. The chart does show a clear progression of pitches according to speed, with the slow curves in blue at bottom left, the fastballs in red at top right and the green sliders in the middle.
Next is Brandon McCarthy. Online seems to agree that he has a fastball from 87-93, a changeup at 77-81 and a curve from 74-77. Let’s see:
A clear cluster at the top is his fastball, as noted it’s about 87-93. His curve at the bottom is about 71-75 and his changeup is about 75-78. It appears there might be something in the middle, in about the 77-85 range, where the red is crossing to the center and the blue is a little right of it. It’s pretty spread out, and hard to tell if it’s another pitch or just noise in the data, maybe other pitches that were thrown a little off, for example a curveball that failed to curve because it was thrown a little hard. If I were to imagine really hard, I’d also see a small group of blue pitches out to the bottom left of the fastballs, with the associated red group out to the bottom left of the red fastballs too.
This doesn’t clarify that extra pitch, although it does add a little more data. The fastball is clear at top left, the curves are clear at bottom right. The cluster that is the changeup is middle left, off to the side a bit, at the 10 inch break point in the 75-77 mph range. It’s the path of dots between the curve and the fastball that are interesting. Are they another pitch, or just the noise as described above? There is just not the cluster that you’d want to see to truly define it as a pitch.
In here we see the fastball in red, and the curve in dark blue at bottom right. The lighter blue of 75-79 mph changeups appears up and to the left, just next to the fastball. The dark green is the 80-84 pitches, a smattering of them just above the curves, and a few more mixed in with the rest of the fastball/changeup group. It really does seem like another pitch, doesn’t it? There are at least semi-distinct groupings in all three charts, and I’d call it something like a slider maybe. The fact that there are so many variations leads me to feel there is something there, maybe he’s been trying something out? Of course, he pitched pretty badly for a few starts, maybe those are just pitches that didn’t work. Later I will go look at the game by game data and see what I can isolate.
Kameron Loe reportedly throws a fastball in the high 80’s, which is a sinker, and has a changeup and a curve to go with it.
Here’s a large cluster of fastballs, thrown 87-93. That’s quite a bit faster than the reference I found which said he throws high 80’s. I don’t remember how old that reference was, so it’s possible he’s gained speed in the meantime. I do know there have been several comments that he relies too much on his sinker, and looking at this you can see how much he’s thrown it compared to the other pitches. The grouping below 80 with the red on the left and the blue on the right is the curve, so in the middle at 80-85 is his changeup.
This one is just about what you’d expect, although there’s really no big gap between the curve and the changeup, but there wasn’t in the previous chart either.
His curves are all slow, under 80, and blue. The rest are very mixed together, and I’d probably say show the same pattern, kind of kidney shaped. I’m not sure why that would be. Millwood and McCarthy also clustered their pitches better, look at the red dots on them and they are very close, whereas Loe is quite spread apart. Is it lack of consistency, or control?
I saved Vicente Padilla until after the first three, because I wanted to present them as kind of similar, with clusters of each pitch type, although somewhat spread apart in some cases. Padilla shows something completely different. He reportedly has a low-90s fastball, a curve, slider and changeup.
First, notice that this chart drops down to 55 mph, whereas the others didn’t go below 70. Padilla has a significant number of pitches down there, and they are presumably curveballs. Why he is so slow with them, I don’t know. But also notice that after the group of fastballs, the rest is a wide mish-mash, there is nothing grouped about these pitches at all. It looks like a waterfall. Is this his problem, lack of control, or lack of ability to throw it where he wants? It seems to me that apart from his fastball, the rest of the pitches he’s just throwing and hoping, without knowing where they will go. That would explain why he has been pummelled this year.
Okay, look a little closer. Between about 72 and 80 mph there is a group of blue dots on the left, in the middle of the red, and vice versa on the other side. That is probably one of his other pitches, but is it the slider or changeup? Too hard for me to tell from this. If the rest of them are curves though, then he’s throwing his curve anywhere from 55 to 80 mph, and I don’t believe that. It would be such a wide range to be throwing one pitch in. Also, note that his fastball is running from about 88 to 98. That’s serious heat. But just like Loe, it appears he is relying on it too much.
Now look at this one. Big cluster of fastballs at the top. Long tail of curves at the bottom. But right there in the middle, in the 75-80 mph range, you can see two distinct groups. One could be the top of the curves, but the other, to the left, is something else. Slider or change?
Almost all the blue pitches are at bottom right, those are curves. Almost all red pitches are at top left, those are fastballs. But there’s the little group of green in the middle, that’s the third pitch. Now, going back to the previous pitchers, Millwood throws a slider while McCarthy and Loe throw changeups. Millwood’s slider is down and to the right of his fastball, and in green. Both Loe and McCarthy don’t have that clear distinct group, their changeups are mixed in with their fastballs in their versions of this graph. So, on the basis of that, I’m going to say that Padilla is throwing a slider for his third pitch. Is there a changeup anywhere? Not that I can see.
Our final man in the rotation is Robinson Tejeda. In various places, I read that he has a quality 96 mph fastball, a plus changeup, an average slider and is developing a curveball.
Not so fast. Actually his fastball is that fast, in fact it has touched 98, but he’s throwing it anywhere from about 92-98, averaging about 95, and that is quality. But he’s only showing one other pitch here, from 80-87, and it’s definitely not a curve. It’s either a slider or changeup.
This doesn’t show us much of anything. Still two clusters, nothing outstanding about them. The only thing I’d say is that the two guys we decided are throwing sliders had that grouping down and to the right of the fastball, which is what this shows.
Uh-oh, another mish-mash. Fastball is clear, and the green grouping shows just like Millwood and Padilla, so I’m going to call this one a slider too. But the question remains, where’s his third pitch? A starter can’t get by in the big leagues with only two pitches, once the opposition has seen them enough they know what they’re looking for. And especially since his slowest pitches are around 80, that means they don’t need to look for the slower curve and don’t have to adjust as much. If you’re only looking at a range of 80-98, that’s easier than looking at 70-95. This shows in his career stats: First time through the order, the opponent has an 88 OPS+ against him. Second time it’s 99, and third time it’s 128. Yes, most pitchers show this sort of movement, but I’d say it’s harder to fool them the third time through when you only have two pitches. My guess, it won’t be too long before he moves to the bullpen. I also think that he’ll be a star in the bullpen, because with a 98 fastball he’s got closer written all over him.
Well that’s enough for this post. That’s a lot of information to read and absorb at once. A bunch of pretty pictures, a little analysis of what they mean, and a few questions left here and there. Next time, I’m going to dig a little deeper into the numbers, see how often they’re throwing each pitch, what their average speeds and breaks are, things like that. After that I want to see why they’re choosing to throw a particular pitch, on what counts and against lefties or righties, maybe even what the score is and who’s on base. But all that is for another day.