Switching on a lightbulb

Before you get carried away by Edinson Volquez’s two games this year (and yes, it is Edinson with an N in the middle, not Edison as half the media outlets would have you believe), remember that it is just two starts, just eleven innings. Having said that, he’s had an excellent 2007, from being demoted to A ball and working his way back to the bigs. One minor disciplinary misstep a few weeks ago, but otherwise he’s doing well. A few weeks ago I talked about the Rangers’ 2008 rotation, and in it I put Volquez in the “not yet” category, and said he’s a year or more away. Well, I don’t mind admitting I’m wrong, but with the caveat of just eleven major league innings this year, I think he might be a candidate for the last slot in the rotation. There are other stronger contenders, but if he goes on to have a good September, does everything well in spring training, and doesn’t have any more troubles off the field, he might just make it. At worst he’ll be starting in AAA, waiting for whichever of the rotation breaks down first next year. He could also be a long man in the bullpen, but you’d think someone like Rheinecker would be ahead of him for that job too.

Even with just the two starts, and two wins this year, I thought I’d take a look at how he’s been pitching in Gameday. For a guy with a career 1-10 record (who was rushed to the majors and potentially ruined two years ago), he’s been doing some interesting stuff. Here’s how he charts, these are all the pitches he threw in both games (9-1 at Anaheim and 9-7 vs Oakland):

Volquez Speed HV

Three pitches, and actually with the fastball (in blue) I was on the verge of deciding there were actually two pitches in there when I was looking at the other charts my program generates, but finally decided to leave it at one (at least until I have more evidence). The three are the fastball (blue), curve (green), and change (red). A clear and distinct gap between the fastball and the others in terms of speed. His fastball is from 90-96, averaging about 93, but a little high vertically at about 9.2. The other two pitches are very close together, from 77 to 85 mph, but note that the change breaks left while the curve breaks right (the horizontal is the darker color of each pair).

Overall from Gameday I have 107 fastballs, 52 changeups and 21 curves, so he’s not trusting the curve very much at the moment. The fastball is of course his bread and butter pitch, throwing about 60% of them, which you’d expect since he throws it 95. In the first game he threw 94 pitches, 60 strikes, in the second game he had 87 pitches with 52 strikes. Right around 60% of strikes in both games. The pleasing thing is that with 94 pitches in Anaheim he got through five innings, but with seven fewer pitches today, he got an extra inning. He was apparently pulled because of a blister on his thumb, which the Rangers experienced earlier this year with McCarthy, and (I have to get a dig in here) perhaps with a better pitching coach we wouldn’t have to deal with that kind of thing, because the pitchers would be better prepared.

There is one little worry that popped up in the charts I ran. Take a look at his release points:

Volquez Release Point

We saw this pattern once before, with Millwood when he was being pounded earlier in the year (I haven’t checked recently to see if that has changed at all). In this case, he is throwing the changeup from a point below the other two pitches, in this case about half a foot below the others, and that is something that major league scouts and hitters will pick up on. Again, something for a pitching coach to work on, or at least to be aware of. Again, it will be interesting to see how this changes over time.

So another nice start and another win for Volquez. He was helped in a big way by Frankie Cat, who was pulled in a very surprising move by Ron Washington. Postgame quote from big Ron: “I was only concerned about winning the ballgame.” Ron, you have to look at the big picture. Your team has a 3 run lead in the bottom of the 8th. You bring out Sammy Sosa to lead off, the thought being that it was a lefty and Cat doesn’t hit against lefties (10 at-bats this year) while Sosa does. But that’s not the big picture. The big picture is that you had 22,000 fans in the ballpark tonight, best crowd for a while (I believe yesterday it was 17,000, second worst crowd since 2000), and you could have made them very happy, as well as all the folks like myself watching on tv. You could have gotten a little exposure for the team on the news, instead of us having to watch 10 minutes of high school football and something about some Cowboy being injured.

And more importantly, to steal an idea from Gregg Easterbrook, you’re a 66-74 team! You’re not going to make the playoffs! Do something that you wouldn’t normally do! Remember back when Scott Sheldon got to play all nine positions, because Johnny Oates thought it would be something fun for the team? Yes, wins are nice, but Cat could have entered the exclusive club whose membership is just Oddibe McDowell and Mark Teixeira, and given this team something good to talk about. C’mon, Ron, break the mold, stop being a push-button manager and think about what you’re doing, and what your position is.

As it was, CJ tried to throw it away again. I’ve been saying that he should get the one run games and Benoit should get the rest, because CJ is too intense to pitch with a multi run lead (in this case five runs). I think now that Jack should be the closer, and CJ should be used in the earlier innings when the game is on the line. There’s a lot of debate online about when your best pitcher should be used, in the 9th to end the game or earlier, say in the 7th when there’s trouble. CJ would be a perfect guy to try this on, use him when he’s most needed, and save steady Jack for the 9th.

Finally, I reported less than a month ago that this blog had hit 1,000 page views (not counting feed readers), and I was happy about that. I’m even happier to report I just hit 2,000, doubling the views in under a month. A large part of that was due to a mention in an article in Slate, but it’s very gratifying to know that people are reading. There’s an old saying that it’s better for people to think bad of you than not to think of you at all. I’m pleased you all are reading, and hopefully you don’t think bad of me. Either way, I’ll keep writing it, so you can keep reading it.


7 Responses to “Switching on a lightbulb”

  1. Enhanced Gameday analysis cataloged by date « Fast Balls Says:

    […] September 8, Steve West published “Switching on a Lightbulb”, an article about pitcher Edinson […]

  2. Enhanced Gameday analysis cataloged by pitcher « Fast Balls Says:

    […] September 8, Steve West published “Switching on a Lightbulb”, an article about pitcher Edinson […]

  3. Enhanced Gameday analysis cataloged by author « Fast Balls Says:

    […] September 8, he published “Switching on a Lightbulb”, an article about pitcher Edinson […]

  4. Mike Fast Says:

    Steve, I see pretty good evidence for two separate fastballs in my graphs for Volquez.

    There’s a four-seamer 91-96 mph, with a spin direction of 200-220 degrees, a spin rate of 1900-3000 rpm, a vertical break of +8 to +13 inches, and a horizontal break of -3 to -7 inches.

    Then there’s a two-seamer 90-95 mph, with a spin direction of 220-245 degrees, a spin rate of 1700-2500 rpm, a vertical break of +5 to +9 inches, and a horizontal break of -7 to -11 inches.

    A two-seamer should be slightly slower, with a lower spin rate and more sidespin, with less vertical break and more horizontal break, so I think I’ve identified the pitches correctly. The speed vs. spin direction graph shows the two clusters of fastballs most clearly.

    This site also claims that Edinson Volquez has four pitches:

  5. How many seams are you holding? « Fast Balls Says:

    […] while by the analysis that Steve West does of the Rangers’ pitchers using PITCHf/x data. His recent article about Edinson Volquez made me eager to try out my new spin rate toy on Volquez’s […]

  6. Steve West Says:

    Excellent stuff, Mike. When I read Dr Nathan’s article I thought it would be useful, but I hadn’t managed to get round to writing the calculations for myself. The fact you could use this to split out the fastball for Volquez tells me I should go back to some of the other Rangers and try and differentiate them some more.

  7. Can we classify every pitch? « Fast Balls Says:

    […] Next, I applied the first rule to separate Edinson Volquez‘s four-seam and two-seam fastballs, again something that clustering algorithms based on break have trouble doing (Kalk, West). […]

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