Mid-Season Review: Starting Pitching

Continuing our mid-season review we now feast our eyes upon the starting pitchers. The Rays have so far used eight different starting pitchers with only Jake Odorizzi seeing time  as both a starter and a reliever. I have separated out his relief appearances so everything contained herein represents what the Rays starters have amassed so far. You won’t find a traditional breakdown here as I’ll be focusing on run values and pitch-level figures. I would recommend Fangraphs if you want to see the normally showcased stuff. Let’s start with pitch usage:

Altogether, the Rays starters thrown more change ups than breaking balls and lean on the heater just under 60% of the time to lefties. Odorizzi was the only guy to not use the change up, but Matt Moore is also right there with him neglecting a solid weapon. Cobb and Hernandez both use the change nearly a third of the time, while Hellickson is also using it more than a quarter of the time. Nice to see that Colome is using his change to opposite-handed hitters, but he’s doing so at the expense of his breaking ball. I’d always advocate using all of your pitches in order to get through an order more than once or twice and he could easily do so not throwing the fastball almost three-quarters of the time. To that end, I love Cobb’s mix while several of the other guys are showing the capability and confidence necessary to be an effective starter. On to right-handed batters:

The Rays have an overall similar breakdown to righties as how they attack lefties and nobody exemplifies this better than Alex Cobb who throws nearly the exact same mix to both types of batters. It’s pretty rare to see this and it would be interesting to see further study on pitchers that operate in this way. Archer doesn’t have the confidence in his third offering yet to righties as detailed by Tommy Rancel, but he’s on an island as every other pitcher throws the change at least 10% of the time with Hellickson leading the charge at 32%. The same can be said for these guys and the breaking ball as only Colome uses his as more of a show-me pitch with everyone else over 15%. Colome is very fastball-heavy against same-siders with only fellow rookies Archer and Odorizzi bringing ched over 60% of the time. We’ve seen what they throw now let’s look at how effective it has been:

First I want to show the table that you should recognize as pretty familiar if you’ve been reading me of late. This is a good way to get a feel for the sample sizes we’re talking about (on the left) and the run values for each pitcher and pitch (on the right). In smaller samples the run value per 100 pitch statistics can push out to the extremes, so bear this in mind when you see someone that appears to be performing off the charts. In the previous charts I have used the % of Pitches portion of the tables and in the following I will be using the Run Value per 100 table:

Zero is considered average so anything less than zero is good and anything north of zero is bad. The further away you get the larger the impact. These run values encompass all pitches and adjust for count. Pitchers throwing strikes and not giving up hits are good things, while conversely, giving up homers and throwing a ton of balls is bad.

Overall, the Rays have accrued around .28 and .35 runs worse than average for the breaking ball and the fastball, respectively, BUT they’re change ups to lefties have been pure TNT. That pitch has been worth 1.25 runs better than average every 100 they thrown making it a truly devastating pitch and certainly speaks to the philosophy round here. This isn’t to say that everyone has a good change or a bad breaking ball because, in fact, every single pitcher on here has at least one of these pitches as better than average. Unfortunately, only Alex Cobb has both secondary pitches flexing better than average and his change up is just ridiculous at almost 2 runs better than average per 100 thrown. He even mixes in a very good fastball giving him the total package.

Matt Moore, Alex Colome, and David Price each have two better than average pitches, though Moore barely throws the change to lefties and his breaking ball has been, ahem, not good. Then we see some guys that have had really poor results so far. That would be Price’s breaking ball to lefties, the change ups from Colome, Archer and Odorizzi, and Roberto Hernandez’s fastball. It’s hard to put lipstick on these pigs when they’re kind of important pitches that haven’t been anywhere near what you would classically call good, so far. Let’s look at the vs. righties:

Finally we find a chink in Cobb’s armor as his breaking ball to same-handers hasn’t been good, but his fastball has been really good and his change to a lesser extent, as well. Moore has really shined against righties despite his fastball getting battered a bit, and so has Roberto Hernandez and Jeremy Hellickson if you can overlook some breaking ball struggles, moreso for the former than the latter. Colome has only thrown 17 non-fastballs to righties, hence the cutting off of his change up, and Archer’s secondary stuff to righties has been impressive, as well. The single worst pitch here, however, is David Price’s fastball which just doesn’t seem possible coming off his 2012 season, but really goes to show how different of a pitcher he was before succumbing to the injury. Overall, we see that the Rays starters have featured a slightly better than average fastball to righties and again we see just how devastating the change up has been. The Rays have also thrown decent enough breaking balls coming in slightly worse than average, but the overall package is very appealing. Let’s delve into that some more:

I don’t want to linger here too long since we’ve already seen this itemized, but it really goes to show just how ridiculously well Alex Cobb was pitching before his season was cut short due to fluke injury for the second time in three years. All of his pitches grade out as well above average, and you can see that Matty Moore is in the same boat, though not nearly to the same magnitude. Hellickson has had poor grouping due to being left in games too long, but he’s grading nicely and same with Hernandez and his best pitch on the Rays change up. That’s right, per 100 pitches Roberto’s change up has had the best results of any pitch, which makes up for a barely above average fast ball and the lousy breaking ball.

Odorizzi is bad and I’m not really a fan, I’m encouraged by Archer’s change though I don’t put a ton of stock in any of the rookie’s data so far due to such limited samples, but how about David Price coming in as worst starting pitcher on the Rays this year, so far?  I doubt anyone would have guessed that coming into the season and it says a lot about what this staff can do if he can come back fixed. If not it’s not like they’ve had a good version of him all year. Overall, the Rays breaking balls are basically league average, the change up is really good, and the fastball is in between.

Now the concept of run values can be difficult to contextualize so I want to try something here. Across all of MLB there has been 6,964 runs scored on 229,356 pitches. This equates to 3.04 runs per 100 pitches, or R100. We can use that as our baseline and then add or subtract which Rays have been better or worse than average to get an idea of what they’re R100 might be. That would look like this:

I’ve subtracted the overall RV100 that is the bottom-right column of the tables above from the 3.04 league average and I’ve also indexed this with R100+ which gives an idea of what percentage each pitcher has been better than average. Holy mackerel does Alex Cobb jump off the page now. By this metric we see that for every 100 pitches he has thrown this year we would expect just over two runs to be scored against him. This means he’s around 31% better than the average pitcher which is just off the charts. Other pitchers have been better than average, too, but not nearly to that level. Moore has been our second best around 9% better than league average and you would expect around 2.75 runs to be scored per 100 pitches. Then we see Hellickson at around 6% better than average, Hernandez at 4% better than average, and Colome around 1% better than average.

After that we get on the other side of the coin and find Archer allowing 3.16 runs per 100 pitches, Odorizzi at 3.59, and Price’s disastrous early season leaving him around 27% worse than the average pitcher thus far. It’s not just your eyes or tricky memory, he’s been pretty bad. Overall, the Rays starters have been around 6% better than average while hypothetically allowing around 2.86 runs per 100 pitches. Certainly, they’ve been effective, but the bar is just so dang high here, and the division just so tough that it certainly feels a lot worse.

We’ve looked at run values ad nauseum thus far so now I want to switch gears and look at a couple of other things. First off, we’ll look at something I commonly like to delve into and that’s pitch outcomes and then we’ll move on to a couple of different rates that I find important. First the outcomes:

These are the five outcomes that can happen on any given pitch. Starting with called balls we see that Colome has had difficulty pitching in the zone to lefties, while Cobb is on the other side of that fence with everyone else in between. Hellickson is a little surprising because he’s gotten such a label as a nibbler, but he’s only throwing a ball to lefties around 35% of the time. Cobb and Price lead the way when it comes to called strikes at 22% of all pitches, while we see Colome again being the worst at garnering called strikes, though not a whole lot worse than fellow rookies Archer and Odorizzi.

Moving on to when a batter actually swings we see Hellickson and Hernandez both having around 20% of all pitches put in play with Colome leading the way with only 15% of pitches ending up between the chalk. Lastly, we can look at the all important swing strike rate. Colome, Cobb, and Hellickson have been inducing a ton of empty swings while Odorizzi’s lack of a put away pitch is clearly on display. Let’s repeat this, but look at how they’ve done versus righties:

Starting again with umpire decisions we see Hernandez throwing the fewest balls to same handers with Price and Colome nipping at his heels. I’m starting to really gain an appreciation for what Colome has done so far in his trial by fire, and though there’s certainly things to work on I’m much more encouraged by what he has been able to do compared to his rookie brethren. Archer and Moore have had the most trouble locating in the zone and this is also reflected in their called strike rates being the lowest on the team at 15%, though Odorizzi joins them in that regard. The best at getting called strikes are Price and Hernandez.

Switching over to swings we can see that Colome leads the team in balls in play rate, though Price and Hernandez aren’t all that far behind. Moore and Archer have been difficult to square up allowing 15% and 16% of all pitches to righties ending up in the field of play, respectively. I was a little surprised to see Cobb having a worst among starters swing strike rate of only 7%, but it does make a bit of sense when we recall that his breaking ball has been rather lousy against righties. Everybody else has a very respectable swing strike rate, though Hellickson, Moore, and Hernandez lead the way at 11%. These rates are based on all pitches thrown which may not be the best way to think of swing strike rate since if a guy isn’t swinging at all why should he be punished. To that end let’s look at a couple of different rates I like to look at:

Take rate refers to the batter not swinging which includes balls and called strikes per all pitches thrown. Whiff rate refers to swinging strikes on just pitches that were swung upon and Strike refers to called strikes plus swinging strikes per all pitches thrown. Hellickson leads the way with batters “only” taking 54% of all of his pitches. Cobb and Odorizzi are right there, though at 55% showing that batters are a bit aggressive with these guys. Lefties are being more patient with Colome and Price each at 59% Take rate, but Moore and Hernandez also see a larger proportion of pitches coming down to umpire judgement.

Moving on to Whiff rate we see how much trouble lefties have had with Colome. He has induced an empty swing on 28% of all swings to lead the team and then we see Cobb at a very respectable 22% Whiff rate. These guys pace the team with Hellickson and Hernandez also flummoxing southpaws, but to a lesser extent. Again, we see that Odorizzi really doesn’t fool anybody as he’s only getting a ball past a lefty on 9% of his swings, while the rest of the guys hover around 15%. When we bring called strikes into the fold and expand our denominator to include all pitches we see that Cobb has done an incredible job of getting a strike on 31% of all pitches. It should be noted that foul balls are not included here. Odorizzi is only getting a strike on 21% of pitches, which is easily the worst on the team. It’s awfully hard to beat a batter when you can’t even get a strike on him, relatively. Lastly, let’s take this same lens to right-handed batters:

Righties are showing an extreme level of patience with Archer as they’re only swinging at 40% of his pitches, while we can say the opposite of Colome and Hernandez as they’re taking just under half the pitches these guys throw. Moving along to Whiff rate we see that when batters do swing at Archer’s pitches they’re missing nearly a quarter of the time to lead the team. He shares that plateau with Matty Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson is right there, as well. We see that Cobb is not inducing many whiffs with only 15% of his swings leading to a ball in the mitt, while everyone else is closer to 20%. When we add in called strikes Roberto leaps to the head of the class with 30% of all pitches to righties being a strike. David Price barely trails at 29%, but again we see that Jake Odorizzi is really struggling to get ahead when he’s only getting a strike on 24% of all pitches.

The Rays starting pitchers have been better than we might like to think, but there are definitely some kinks to be worked out even amongst those that have performed the best. Going into the second half I’m really curious to see which David Price shows up and am crossing fingers and toes that Alex Cobb can not only come back, but pitch at the extremely high level he was at before falling victim to the wanton violence of a line drive with eyes. The rookies Archer and Colome have had some bright spots and if they can iron out some difficulties they could prove to be solid additions to the rotation going forward, but I hold less hope for Jake Odorizzi to put it together. Jeremy Hellickson has been much maligned, but he’s actually pitched pretty well and if he can do so going forward I think he’s going to prove to be the solid middle-of-the-rotation guy that we need him to be. Lastly, Matty Moore has shown that he has the potential of an ace, but he’s going to need to either improve his breaking ball or start throwing the change up more to lefties. Where we’ve come from is fading in the distance, and where we’re going no one knows, but I sure like our chances to have a solid better than average starting staff the rest of the way. Time will tell if that’s more like the steady 5% better than average or a much more solid 10% better than average that this difficult division requires.

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About Jason Hanselman

Rays fan.
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One Response to Mid-Season Review: Starting Pitching

  1. Pingback: Mid-Season Review: The Bullpen |

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