Reviewing the Starters in 2013 at the Team Level

It’s time to review the starting pitchers from the prior season using the same microscope that’s been applied to the hitters. I want to start off at the team level before diving into each pitcher’s repertoire over the course of the season. So let’s quit talking about it and start being about it starting with the pitches each guy threw:

You can see a larger version of this by opening in a new tab. You can see the limited start(s) that were given to Alex Colome, Enny Romero, Jake Odorizzi, and Jamey Wright. I’m not going to spend much time on them, but feel free to pick their bones. I found it surprising that Jeremy Hellickson led all starters in pitches thrown last year. All of this despite a demotion and a relief appearance, which is not factored into any of this. This fact is a reflection of all pitchers other than Roberto Hernandez seeing some time on the DL for varying stints.

The color-coding on the charts gets a little out of whack on the extremes due to the small samples of our spot starters, but I think they still make for a quick reference. All analysis will be restricted to those that threw at least 2,000 pitches. Let’s start with Alex Cobb at the top and work our way down. We see that 63% of his pitches thrown were to lefties and he pitched mostly backwards leaning heavily on both of his secondary pitches while throwing the lowest percent of fastballs to lefties. Against righties, he’ll jack that fastball percentage up some, but it’s still the lowest on the team, but he does tend to mix in more change ups and fewer breaking balls.

Chris Archer was strictly fastball/slider against righties, but he would mix in the occasional change against lefties to keep them honest. David Price gets by almost solely on the fastball against lefties, but will mix in the occasional breaking ball. He ramps up the usage of his change up against righties while throwing a similar percent of breaking balls at the expense of his fastball. We can see that lineups really stack righties against him as only 25% of all of his pitches were to same-siders.

Jeremy Hellickson throws a similar mix to each batter, but will mix in a few more breaking balls and fastballs against lefties while increasing the usage of the change against righties. Same-side change ups tend to be rare for most teams, but not on the Rays as we see both Helly and Cobb being unafraid to use their best pitch. Lastly, Roberto Hernandez led the team in change up percentage to lefties using the pitch about a third of the time. Against righties he would switch out the breaking ball for more fastballs with a slight dip in the use of the change up.

Let’s move on to Zone rates to get an idea of how willing these guys are to come into the strike zone:

Again, starting at the top, Cobb does a good job of moving in and out of the zone against all batters. He’s basically team average with the breaking ball and fastball, but he gets away with throwing the change out of the zone more often. We saw that Archer throws the change around 11% of the time, but he rarely throws it for a strike making it the definition of a show me pitch. His fastball is also thrown for a strike at a below-average rate against both batters. David Price really filled up the zone last year and this show’s itself on all of this pitches, but especially the change up and fastball to righties.

Hellickson’s breaking ball catches the zone at a below-average rate to both types, but against lefties he’s willing to fill the zone a bit more with his other offerings while being around average against same-handers. Moore really struggled to throw strikes to lefties with his seldom-used change rarely being in the zone with his other two pitches being closer, but still below, the norm. He shows a similar tale against righties. Roberto Hernandez really pounded the zone with his breaking ball to both and his fastball/sinker to righties with the other stuff being near the baseline. We’ve seen the pitcher-side so let’s take a look at the batter-side by peeping at swing rates:

Probably my biggest takeaway from this entire thing is Cobb’s swing rates, particularly when viewed in conjunction with his zone rates. Batters rarely offer at his breaking ball or what some consider his pedestrian fastball. Cobb makes up for that by getting incredibly high swing rates on his change up. He ends up baffling batters into taking his fastball/breaking ball and then chasing his best pitch all over the place. This is incredible to see play out in the numbers, though no comparison to watching him work over batters at the plate.

Archer sees a high swing rate from lefties on his breaking ball, though it’s difficult to parse whether that’s because they’re aggressive or being fooled. This is a note to bear in mind throughout this analysis. For what it’s worth righties also seem to have a higher than expected swing rate on the breaking ball with everything else looking pretty normal. We’ve seen that Price doesn’t use the breaking ball that much against lefties, though maybe he should work it in a bit more since they almost never swing at the pitch instead preferring to take healthy hacks against the heater. Righties are pretty normal against Price, though they have a higher than average swing rate on the breaking ball.

Lefties swing a ton at Helly’s change up, though much less often against the breaking ball and Ol’ Number One which profiles him similarly to Cobb. He doesn’t quite match Cobb against righties, but we still see batters chasing the change. The breaking ball seems to be the differentiator between these two somewhat similar pitchers.

Moore’s swing rates against lefties are aligned with the average though there is a small uptick on the fastball, but against righties we see a big difference on the change. Unlike everyone else Moore actually sees a pretty low swing rate on the change up which makes this author wonder about it’s deception. Of course when you’re not throwing strikes as often as the other guys we should probably expect fewer swings.

Roberto Hernandez showed a decent split with lefties taking all of his pitches more often than the baseline, but righties jumping all over every fastball they could get their hands upon.

To tie these two concepts together I’ve plotted the total zone and swing percentage for each pitch from each pitcher to see if there is anything to be gleaned. You be the judge:

Each pitcher gets their own color with each shape denoting the pitch as follows: squares for breaking balls, triangles for change ups, and circles for fastballs. The intersecting arrows in the middle show the average for both swing and zone percentage for all pitches thrown from all starters. There’s a couple of interesting things here to point out. First off, check out the upper-lefthand quadrant. This shows when a batter is being overly-aggressive swinging (much) more than he’s seeing strikes and it’s completely dominated by the change up. Cobb’s ability to get swings without having to throw a ton of strikes sets him apart from all of the others here. This is a great zone to be in because it shows that you don’t need to throw easy-to-drive pitches in order to get batters to either leave their comfort zone to make contact or to whiff completely.

In the opposite corner we see where batters are being too passive. Pitchers are able to steal strikes by going into the zone without being punished as much. Interesting that Cobb shows up here again for his fastball, but we also see him joined by the fastballs from Jeremy Hellickson, David Price (barely), and both the fastball and breaking ball from Hernandez.

The next two quads are the gray area. In the bottom-left we have below-average rates for both swings and strikes. Batters are perfectly content to take these pitches so we shouldn’t be too surprised to see the breaking ball from Helly, Moore, Price, and Cobb as most batters aren’t going to the plate with a plan to sit on the breaking ball. Every strike you can steal here is great, but they’re not coming at an above-average rate. Archer and Moore’s fastballs also make an appearance which tends to show that each has a big of a control issue on their very good fastballs.

The final quadrant is the upper-right where we see high rates of both pitches in the zone and swings. You can think of this as the lack of deception zone as batters see hittable pitches so they engage with regularity. Archer’s change and breaking ball can be found clumped closely together here as well as Price’s change up. Let’s finish up by checking out each pitcher’s Run Values:

I’m going to stick to the per 100 pitches table on the right-hand side as it adjusts for the number of pitches thrown and instead of going pitcher-by-pitcher let’s go pitch-by-pitch. Against lefties, it should be no surprise that Price’s seldom-seen breaking ball is a really good pitch. He doesn’t throw it much and it’s a good pitch so when batters see it there’s not much they can do. This contrasts starkly with Matty Moore who should be seeing similar results, but just doesn’t despite using the pitch about twice as often as Price. Cleaning that up should be a priority. Cobb and Archer both come in at better than average while Hernandez and Hellickson were on the other side of the coin, though nowhere near as bad as Moore.

On the other hand, Moore’s change up is really good against lefties despite throwing it less than 10% of the time. An alternative to improving the breaking ball might be to just throw the change more often which is something we saw later in the year. Cobb also saw a ton of success against lefties with the offspeed (sorry for all the drool Alex Cobb is probably my favorite pitcher in baseball and he has been climbing that ladder for a while) and Hellickson wasn’t on that level, but he did have quite a bit of success, as well. Hernandez was basically league average, and I’d love to fawn over Price’s ridiculous RV, but he only threw the pitch 2% of the time to lefties so, meh. Use it more and you’ll win my heart, ya big stud. Archer soundly rounds out the bottom of this ranking as the pitch was abysmal even with the surprise factor of throwing it only around 10% of the time.

On the fastball to lefties is where we really see how good Moore and Price are despite using the pitch in different ways. Both were extremely effective, though we’ve already seen Price demonstrate that he can get it by batters even when they have a pretty good idea that they’re going to get one. Hat tip to the big feller, here, but great to see Moore hanging with him. Archer’s was below-average and Hellickson’s was worse, but Cobb somehow managed to be above-average despite the reputation for that pedestrian fastball. Roberto Hernandez is dogshit. You can rank the effectiveness of each of these guys, in total, against lefties as such: Price, Moore, Cobb, Archer, Hellickson, Dogshitnandez.

Flipping over to the breaking ball to righties we see that Archer is basically unparalleled. His slider just eats righties for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Moore was also quite a bit above-average and crosses into below-average land for the first and only time. Then we’re left with Price, Helly, and Hernandez all having pretty horrible success against righties with their breaking balls. This is somewhat surprising in the case of Price, but I think those other two are less so. Hellickson really needs to get his curveball back to being an average offering, at a minimum, if he wants his other pitches to play up.

Price’s change up makes up for the lack of luster on the breaking ball as he posted the best value per 100 pitches of our entrenched starters. Those other guys aren’t just lumps, either as every single one of these guys threw a better than average change to righties with the exception of Chris Archer who almost never threw this pitch. Cobb and Hellickson posted essentially the same score and Hernandez slightly edged them out, but then we come across Moore who uses this pitch as a real weapon which certainly helps as you’re about to see in the next section.

Moore’s fastball is a little below-average against righties so it’s a good thing his secondary stuff is quite good, but the best fastball to righties on the staff belonged to Chris Archer. So far he’s showing very wide splits which means he’s absolutely mowing down righties. He’s been so good, in fact, that he’ll probably see even more lefties than the 61% his pitches saw this year. Cobb and Hernandez come in next and are pretty close and were very good and David Price follows them as above-average. Hellickson was ever so slightly worse than average, but let’s just call him neutral.

Against righties we can rank these guys, in total, as Archer, Cobb, Hernandez, Price, Moore, Hellickson and overall against all batters we get something like Cobb (-0.91 RV100), Price (-0.89), Archer (-0.88, really much better than I thought), Moore (-0.59), Hernandez (0.18), Hellickson (0.23). That’s right, Jeremy Hellickson was worse than Roberto Hernandez in 2013 on a per pitch basis. Maybe it’s a good thing the Rays will be forced to scrounge for an alternative while the young righty heals up.

In the coming week(s) you’ll be able to find pitch-by-pitch breakdowns that will be similar to the batter analysis for each starter and then we’ll move on to select relievers. I hope you enjoy.

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About Jason Hanselman

Rays fan.
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