Thursday, April 17, 2014

Masahiro Tanaka: Start Three

Masahiro Tanaka's third start of the season for the New York Yankees was his best so far, as he went a season high eight innings against the Chicago Cubs, and gave up no runs, striking out ten and walking just one. He kept the ball in the park and only gave up two hits, though his groundball rate was his worst out of the three starts. Here is his speed and spin chart from the start, labelled with MLBAM tags:

His splitter has two different spin modes, one cluster that spins more than any other pitch, and another than spins like the slider. This may not mean anything, but to make sure, let's look at the speed and spin chart with only the pitches labelled as splitters, and labelled with results.

Clearly Tanaka was having a lot of success with his splitter no matter the spin and speed, though the harder ones in velocity seems to have been the most successful. In previous starts, Tanaka left a few pitches up and got hurt, so let's look at his average pitch locations to see if he did a better job of keeping the pitches down:

Again Tanaka couldn't get his curve down, and he couldn't get it glove side enough to be a strike most of the time. We see the same classifications that we saw in his last start, and I mentioned I didn't like the sinker tag, and according to the MLBAM tags, this was more common than the four seam fastball. The four seam and sinker/two seam fastball are both traditionally located, with the latter being lower and arm side. The slider location is still sketchy. He couldn't get it as low as you would want it, nor as glove side on average. His splitter location was great, and that seems to be what carried him in this start. Next, let's take a look at his result locations:

When he got the ball low and glove side, that is when he was most successful, while the further arm side or higher he got, the less successful he was. This really speaks to the curveball and sinker not being effective, while the splitter being extremely successful. Using average release point data, let's see if he is releasing each pitch in the same spot, or if he is being consistent.

There aren't huge differences in his release points, but there are some subtle differences that don't necessarily support a simple narrative. His curve was released closer to his body, and higher, but the closest one to it was his best pitch, the splitter. One interesting way to look at how a pitcher progresses through the game is to look at the average release points by inning:

Tanaka was more consistent from inning to inning than from individual pitch, with his biggest differences being the first and seventh inning, which were very similar to each other.

Moving on to the subject of the fewer groundballs, let's look at the average locations of the pitches that were hit in the air versus the ones that were hit on the ground.

Strangely, the pitches he got groundballs on were more arm side, while his flyballs were more gloveside. Not surprisingly, the lower pitches were the groundballs. Keeping on the subject of location, let's do a couple of things we did last time and compare them to his last start, starting with how he located pitches to left-handers and right-handers.

This time, Tanaka didn't pitch lefties and righties much differently. Instead of keeping the ball away from both, he kept the ball inside to righties on average. Like last time, let's look at his location by pitch count, but this time I'll break it up into two graphs, the first being the ones with strikes in the count, followed by one with balls in the count.

Not surprisingly, he was more likely to go glove side with two strikes, though Tanaka pitching lower on average with one strike was surprising.

The more balls Tanaka threw, the more likely he was to throw high in the zone.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Yuki Matsui: Start 3

Yuki Matsui made his third start of the season on Wednesday April 16th, facing 26 batters in five innings and 101 pitches, giving up three runs, while striking out four and walking six against the Softbank Hawks. Like usual, let's start with the graphs and start with his velocity chart.

Unlike the last two starts, Matsui's velocity peaked in the middle of the outing instead of around the first of the outing. His slowest pitch overall was a curveball early in the outing. His fastball velocity dropped a little toward the end until his last start. Here are his average pitch velocities from the outing:

At least compared to his first start, his fastball velocity is down over a full kilometer, and his change is down about two kilometers. His slider and curveballs were actually faster though. Whether or not that is a classification error or not is tough to say.

Here is a pie chart that shows his pitch selection:

We still see a relatively low fastball usage, and it has actually been decreasing compared to his other two starts. He really fell in love with his slider in this particular start.

Again, Yuki Matsui struggled to throw pitches in the zone, as this chart shows:

 Since he struggled again to throw pitches in the strike zone, let's see where he located his pitches:

Once again, Matsui was very heavy to the glove side and low. Armside and high was his second favorite spot. He kept the ball out of the very middle of the plate though, even though he still gave up five hits.

Here are the results of each of Matsui's pitches broken into a pie chart:

His whiff percentage was pretty impressive, though his called strike percentage wasn't. To get a better look at pitch results, let's bring the velocity chart back up but instead of labelling each pitch with pitch type, let's label them with the results.

When he was throwing his hardest in the middle of the outing, he was throwing balls, which probably means that he was overthrowing. His breaking balls at the end of the game were also almost all balls, except for the one whiff. He got a couple of called strikes with early breaking balls, just like the early fastballs.

Here are the pitch locations for the balls put in play off Matsui:

As you can tell, things were pretty balanced, but his increase in pitches thrown arm side and high seemed to hurt him, as that is the location where most of the balls were put in play.

Here are the pitch types that were put in play off Matsui:

Not surprisingly, a plurality of them were fastballs, but his slider and change had higher percentages of contact than pitches thrown, meaning they were more hittable than the curve and fastball in this start.

For comparison, here are the pitch types that Matsui got whiffs with:

The slider was a risk-reward pitch for him in the outing as he gave up more contact than he should have with it, but it got him half of his whiffs.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Masahiro Tanaka: Start Two

Masahiro Tanaka followed up his solid debut with the New York Yankees with a strong second start, throwing seven innings and striking out ten, walking just one, and giving up three runs to the Baltimore Orioles. There was a key difference in the start; he didn't get grounders.

Like last time, let's look at the home run at-bat first:

The whole graph is the strike zone, and the splitter (notice how MLBAM has fixed the tags by calling it a splitter instead of a changeup) is what was hit for a home run. The slider was actually called a ball despite being in the traditional strike zone, though clearly no one wants to throw a slider there. Now, let's look at how he pitched the same batter (Jonathan Schoop later in the game (both at-bats), with the results as the labels this time.

You can see that Tanaka was able to lower his pitches the next two times he faced him, though he worked both sides of the plate. While we are on the subject of location, here is where he located his pitches on average (using MLBAM tags).

The MLBAM tags have changed all of his 2-seamers and cutters to sinkers, which I don't think is right, though he kept it arm side like a 2-seamer. His slider control was horrible, as he couldn't even get it glove side enough to be in the strike zone on average. His curve also stayed high and arm side, though his fastball was glove side and in a decent spot. His splitter remained low, with the home run a big exception. When looking at his pitch selection via the spin and speed chart, we see that he really didn't use the slider much, perhaps because he was struggling so much to locate it:

Here is what Masahiro Tanaka's release points looked like from a relatively normal view:

Just for curiousity's sake, I wanted to look at a closer view of the release points labelled with the MLBAM tags:

Going back to location, I wanted to look at all of his pitches, labelled with the results:

For a cleaner look, here are the average locations of the results:

Tanaka also pitched extremely away from left-handers, but kept the ball away from right-handers as well, as this average location graph shows:

Lastly, let's look at how Tanaka pitched by count:

It seems that you can see a general trend of him staying extremely arm side with no strikes in the count, and going glove side with two strikes.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Yuki Matsui: Start Two

Yuki Matsui made his second career official NPB start for the Rakuten Golden Eagles on Thursday, and packed 86 pitches into three and one thirds of an inning. Out of the 17 batters he faced, he struck out 7 and walked 5, with 2 runs and 3 hits. Similar to his last start, what follows will be a few charts and graphs on his start. Like last time, let's start with his full velocity chart from pitch to pitch:

While he threw less pitches, it does appear that he maintained his velocity a little better, though again, he peaked out early in the outing. When only looking at fastballs (all Matsui throws is the 4-seam fastball, or at least that is the only classification he has through two starts), I think we see this exaggerated a bit.

His fastball averaged about 87.48 MPH in the outing, between Dan Haren and Jason Vargas in the Majors in 2014. How does his pitch selection compare to his last start? Here is the pie chart from start two:

All three off-speed pitches saw increases, with him throwing less fastballs overall. The slider is what increased the most. The pitch actually lost about .2 kilometers per hour on average from his last start, slightly less than the fastball (.7 kilometers per hour on average). Here is how he located the pitch:

Low and glove side, where you want a slider to be, was the most common place, but too many of them stayed high or in the middle. Surprisingly, more than half (13 of 23) were actually thrown in the strike zone. Perhaps this is why he threw it so much, as he had problems throwing in the strike zone overall:

So the slider may have been the only pitch that Matsui could actually get over, and since it wasn't hit (his problem was walks not hits), then he had no incentive to go away from it. So where did he locate the majority of his pitches?

Because of the slider, low and glove side was the most common location, though he threw more pitches in the middle and arm side in this outing. A simpler chart:

He didn't throw hardly any pitches low and arm side or middle and arm side, which made me curious about his changeup locations, which you can see here:

Weirdly, he throws the pitch to the glove side, or at least he did in this start. Just one of the seventeen changeups turned out to be in the zone, so it is easy to see that he doesn't have much feel of the pitch.

Now, let's take a look at Matsui's results:

The higher volume of balls from last start isn't surprising, though he increased his whiff percentage and called strike percentage. When he threw strikes this time, he was more effective than his first start, as there was even a lower foul percentage.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Masahiro Tanaka: Start One

Masahiro Tanaka made his much anticipated debut for the New York Yankees on April 4th, pitching seven innings with three runs allowed, striking out eight and walking none against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto. Tanaka got twelve groundballs versus six flyballs, but famously gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Melky Cabrera, a switch hitter (so in this case, batting left handed). I thought I should start the post by looking at that at-bat.

The pitches are labelled by the MLBAM tags and by the pitch number in the at-bat. Tanaka obviously attempting to keep the ball away from him at all costs, and kept the first two pitches low in the strike zone, with the slider staying far enough arm side that it was a ball. Tanaka then hung the splitter in the strike zone, and even though it was away, it turned into a home run. However, I thought it was interesting what Tanaka did to Cabrera the next time he faced him, when he struck him out.

This time, Tanaka stayed high in the zone on the first four pitches, even with a curve and a slider, which were both balls, and both probably mistakes. However, he went inside with a fastball and got a foul, and then went away with a fastball and got another foul. Tanaka finished the at-bat with his patented splitter, keeping it arm side (away from Cabrera) and low in the zone. 
Before taking a closer look at his stuff, let's take a look at his release points:

So his release point seems to be a little lower and more out than I had thought in my original scouting report. The original scouting report gives us an idea of his stuff, but here is his speed and spin chart from his first Pitch F/X start:

 We see five real clusters here, suggesting about five pitches. The curve is the pitches on the far left and bottom, the slider in the middle and low, the splitter around the 88 MPH mark and high, with two clusters of fastballs, suggesting a four seamer and a cutter or moving fastball (the MLBAM tags have a little of both, and he threw both in Japan). I don't want to focus too much on velocity in these posts, because that is something someone can easily find elsewhere, but I thought it would be interesting to compare his velocity in Japan according to the data in my original scouting report and his velocity according to the general MLBAM release point (for these posts, I will be using the modified Brooks Baseball data, but this part will be the general pitch velocities you can get on FanGraphs and other places). So here is the difference, with the plus or minus compared to what his pitch velocity numbers were in Japan.

FF: + .8
SL: + 2.1
FT: + 2.1
Splitter: + 1.7
CU: 3.54

So as I predicted, thanks to better pitch tags, and a cold gun in Japan (and perhaps some adrenaline since it was his first start), he is throwing harder in the Majors.

When it comes to pitch movement, it is hard to see clear classifications, so speed and spin is probably better to classify pitches for him, or at least easier:

 But what about location? We saw that it was important when it came to the at-bats against Cabrera, so how did he generally locate his pitches? This first graph is all of his pitches, labelled by whether they were strikes (s), balls (b), or put in play (x).

 The biggest cluster seems to be mid strike zone in height and on the arm side, with a couple of other major clusters, such as low in the zone and arm side, and mid zone and glove side.

Breaking down the average locations by pitch type (with the average release point for reference) looks like this (using MLBAM tags, I combined the non four seam fastballs into one pitch):

I think his slider location left something to be desired, as it stayed up more than his other pitches and didn't get glove side. His splitter stayed low, as did his moving fastballs, and his curve was a glove side curve (though it stayed high as well). When you look at his average locations by pitch result, it looks something like that:

Strangely, his foul balls were the highest pitches on average, but not surprisingly, his whiffs were the lowest. Notice how everything is arm side. There also isn't much difference between his called strikes and his pitches that resulted in contact. Here are all 19 pitches that were put in play by Blue Jays hitters:

Most are really arm side, and the home run was the furthest up, but he got a lot of grounders on pitches low and arm side (though he got two groundouts just slightly lower than the home run).

I plan to have a post like this after each of Tanaka's starts, and if you have any ideas at what I should look at each start, then let me know in the comments or on twitter.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Yuki Matsui: Start One

Yuki Matsui, the first pick in the 2013 NPB draft, made his NPB debut for the Rakuten Eagles on April 2nd against the Orix Buffaloes, pitching six innings, giving up three runs, striking out six and walking five over 112 pitches. Below is a short summation of his start using graphs and charts.

First, let's take a look at the velocity of his pitches by his pitch count (note, there a few blanks because the velocity of the pitch wasn't posted, as all data was copied from Yahoo, though all the charts are mine).

It seems that Matsui's velocity peaked early, and never returned to that peak, though he still threw a few pitches over 140 kilometers at the end of his outing. It also appears he used more slower breaking balls late. The next graph shows how his fastball velocity fared throughout the outing:

 Again, we see that his velocity was the best after his first few fastballs. However, there wasn't a real sharp decline, and stayed steady from the middle of the game to the late part of the game. Here are the average velocities of the four different pitch types he used:

As expected, Matsui isn't a hard thrower, though that level of velocity from the left-hand side in the NPB should play pretty well. His slider was faster than his changeup on average, and his curve and slider velocity difference is pretty normal. The following is his usage breakdown, showing how much he used each pitch.

His fastball usage is about normal (at least by American standards), and the change more than the slider usage could be explained by the right-handed heavy lineup of the Buffaloes. Here is how his pitch results broke down:

A less than 60% strike rate is not something to be desired, and his whiff and called strike percentages were a tad low, and the percentage of pitches he threw in the strike zone was a little low as well:

So we should dig a little more into location, and the following pie chart shows where each pitch was generally located.

As you can see, he was very heavily glove side, working across his body the majority of the time. As the next chart shows, this hurt him when it came to hits.

He was actually more likely to get whiffs when he stayed arm side.

One reason that he may have been working so glove side is the way he releases the ball:

As you can see, he is leaning quite a bit to the right when he lets go of the ball. This may cause him to crossfire, and throw in to right-handed hitters, something you usually don't want to do when you are not throwing especially hard.