The Loe-down on Kam’s Saturday night

So what happened to Kam Loe on Saturday night?  After a string of successful games, five wins in a row, he struggled mightily and couldn’t do anything against the Angels.  Not only did he get the loss, he walked more than he’d walked all year, he gave up almost as many runs (5) as he’d given up in those last five starts (6), and ended with a game score half of what he’d been pitching.  His ERA, which had been tumbling down, from a height of 7.40 down to 5.36, didn’t gain much, only sneaking back up to 5.49.  It wasn’t really the hits, because the five he gave up was as few as he’d given up in the last five games, so it was, as they say, the walks that killed him.  Why was he so wild?  Was it the extra rest from the All-Star break, in fact the first time he’d had seven days rest since the season started?  Was it just time, that he was due, that he ran into a hot team?

I ran a bunch of numbers today, produced some pretty graphs, and ended up throwing out a lot of stuff that I’d generated.  In fact, I did come to some conclusions, but I’m not 100% sure what they mean.  The biggest problem is the way Gameday is measuring things.  As I mentioned before, they’ve been tinkering for a while with the way they measure some stuff.  Today, they were measuring the release point 40 feet from home plate.  At the beginning of the season they were at 55 feet, in early June at the Ballpark in Arlington they moved to 40 feet, then in late June and early July went back to 50 feet.  So direct comparisons are difficult, because the small differences between these measurements can end up meaning large differences later on.  So in the numbers today, I’m going to try and compare to previous starts that may accomplish removing some of the differences.  In particular, I’ll look at Loe’s previous start, at TBIA, at 50 feet, and his start prior to that, on June 20, which was measured at 40 feet.  I’ll do the same with the comparison pitches, McCarthy and Millwood, looking at both distances for Millwood but only the last game for McCarthy at 50 feet (he doesn’t have a 40 foot game this year).

A second problem is comparing the two different ballparks; as I and others have discovered, the measurements appear to be slightly different in each park, where one park is a little faster, and measures a little higher, than another.  Some of it may be weather conditions, but it also is the way it is measured.  Having said that, let’s get to some of the numbers.

Speed:   I’m concerned primarily here with the fastball of Loe.  He throws a sinker, and every time he pitches you’ll hear how well he is throwing it.  Without getting into detailed analysis of every pitch, basically I’m throwing out any slow pitches, and looking at the rest, both for Loe and the other pitchers I mentioned.  In each case, they have a clear distinction between their curves and their faster pitches, whether sliders or fastballs or something else, and I’m taking that distinction line and removing everything below it.

On Saturday night Loe threw 46 “fast” pitches, averaging 86.7 mph with a max of 90.4 and min of 83.1.  On July 6 he had thrown 71 pitches at 88.4 mph, max 90.9 and min 85.3, while on June 20 he had 58 pitches at 88.1, max 90.9, min 85.6.  The first thing to note is how similar the previous two starts were, in all three categories (ave, min, max) the largest difference was 0.3 mph.  On Saturday, he was about 1.5 mph slower on average, his max was 0.5 mph slower, and his min was about 2.4 mph slower.  These are significantly slower, but are they real, or is it a ballpark effect?

Compare it to Millwood and McCarthy:  Millwood on 6-22 averaged 87.8, on 7-8 averaged 88.8, and on 7-13 averaged 88.5.  I would say there’s little difference there, his Friday start being between the other two and all within 1 mph.  McCarthy on 7-7 averaged 87.9 and on 7-15 averaged 88.4.  Slightly faster on Sunday than a week ago.  For both of them, you’d say that they were within reason, and the differences were due to the way they pitched rather than any systemic difference between Arlington and Anaheim.  If all three dropped a little this weekend, I’d say that would be something, but the variations are enough (on this simple level) to say that Loe was throwing slower on Saturday than in his previous starts, by about 1.5 mph.  A difference, not big, but perhaps big enough at the big league level.  The cause, I don’t know – could have been arm tiredness, or rather lack of use, or since I didn’t separate out his pitches other than to call them “fast” or “not fast”, he simply might have thrown more of the slower “fast” kind than the faster “fast” kind (did you get that?).

Horizontal movement:  Movement across the plate can be very effective in getting batters to swing and miss, or at least to get them to hit it off the end of the bat or the handle, which will induce weak grounders and shallow flies.

On Saturday Loe averaged -7.66 inches of horizontal movement, compared to -8.83 inches on 7-6 and -8.71 inches on 6-20.  With the two Arlington dates being almost the same, he lost about an inch of horizontal movement in Anaheim.  Curiously enough, both his maximum and minimum movements were all very similar, within half an inch of each other, so it wasn’t extremes causing this difference but rather the average pitch.  McCarthy and Millwood both moved back and forth on their averages, again no ballpark difference, but their recent starts were still within about 0.3 inches of each other.  So in this case, Loe was a slightly bigger difference, but I’m not sure how much of an effect an inch would have on a batted ball, horizontally.

Vertical drop:  As mentioned, Loe is a sinkerballer.  There is at least some correlation between how far the ball drops and how hard it is hit.  Being a sinkerballer, when Loe is on he can be very effective, but when he is not he can get in trouble.  I believe vertical drop is much more important than horizontal, because as mentioned, if you miss by an inch horizontally, the batter is still going to hit it almost the same, but if you miss by an inch vertically, it’s often going to be the difference between a ground ball and a fly ball.

On Saturday Loe’s average “fast” pitch had a vertical movement of 4.28 inches.  On 7-6 it was 2.98 inches, and on 6-20 it was 2.29 inches.  I would say that’s quite a difference, an inch and a quarter over the 7-6 start and two inches over the 6-20 start.  Systematic?  Millwood in his three starts we mentioned scored 7.13, 7.97 and 9.87, while McCarthy went 12.54, 12.07 and 11.89.  Millwood keeps going up, like Loe, but McCarthy actually went down.  I am tempted to say, without deeper analysis, that perhaps McCarthy’s drop was due to him being more effective, given the sporadic nature of his recent starts.  Possibly he is trying to pitch lower, and succeeding slightly.  I want to say that Millwood comparing to Loe actually lends more credence to the idea that it was the ballpark, not what Loe did.  Millwood has been fairly consistent in his last three starts, stats-wise, so to suggest that both he and Loe jumped a couple of inches just by coming to Anaheim is a little too coincidental for me.  I’ll leave the idea that their pitches jumped alone, at least until I can go back and take a look at the Anaheim pitchers and see how they fare in their own ballpark.

All the other usual suspects in these stats, break length, break angle, and so on, ended up showing little or no differences, certainly not enough to sustain an argument that they were the cause.  What it comes down to is mostly the speed and the vertical movement.  The vertical movement is a little suspect, although two inches is enough to mean a batter centering the ball versus beating it into the ground, or simply missing it.   The fact that they didn’t beat him on hits tends to rule that out a little too.  The fact that his walks jumped to five may be a clue, although a two inch change in vertical movement shouldn’t be enough to make that many pitches be balls.  Speed is certainly an issue, as mentioned 1.5 mph slower which may be due to the extra time off leaving him a little less strong, although they should be compensating for that between starts.

So, what was wrong?  Everything is inconclusive, until you read the news reports:

“I just struggled with my command,” Loe said. “I just wasn’t locating it very well. I wasn’t on top of my pitches. I felt a little rusty. It came down to fastball command.”

“He didn’t have his sinker working, which is his bread-and-butter pitch,” manager Ron Washington said. “I didn’t see the good bite on it. He just couldn’t keep it in the strike zone. If he has his command, I think it would have been a different story.”

“He just wasn’t putting the ball on the plate. He was trying to go to the corners,” Washington said.
There you go.  They knew exactly what was wrong all along: command.  He wasn’t able to put the pitches where he wanted to, and that caused him to walk people, and that caused him to lose.  Now, how do you measure that in Gameday numbers?  You can measure where it crosses the plate, but you don’t know where he intended to put it.  You can assume he’s trying to throw strikes, but they don’t try and do that on every pitch, because sometimes they want a guy to chase something outside the strike zone.  You can see Ron’s comment about his sinker not having bite, but we have already seen that it was only a couple of inches, and that may have been ballpark noise, not reality.  As for not keeping it in the strike zone, again, two inches is not going to move it out of the strike zone enough for the umpire to tell, is it?

I think I’m going to take a look at the numbers a little more closely.  If the aggregate doesn’t work, maybe the individual will.  Keep reading and I’ll see what I can come up with.

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