Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ben Sheets' 3rd Start: Changeup Edition

Ben Sheets is a new Pitch f/x analyzer's dream. The vast majority of the time, he throws a 93-94 MPH fastball and a hard, 12-6 curve. No fancy algorithm is needed to identify either. Well, he had to go and mess that all up by throwing a bunch of changeups during Saturday's 5-3 win.

Sheets has always dabbled with the changeup but this is the first time that I'm aware of that he's ever used it so prominently in a start. It made me actually have to dig into the pitch f/x data and not just rely on Pitch f/x's new pitch identification algorithm. That's probably a good thing, since it's apparently not quite ready for prime time, anyway. As it turns out, even with the changeups, Sheets is a pretty easy pitcher to analyze.

First things first. Let's look at that fastball velocity once again:

Fastball Velocities

Two steps forward, one step back. The average velocity was down and the trend was.... well, there really wasn't one. His velocity usually takes an inning or two to max out but it's odd to see it also spike at the end. Did Sheets decide to give a little extra that last inning? Pace yourself, Ben. It's a long season!

Now, let's look at his velocity for every one of his 116 pitches (click for a larger image):


Sheets threw nine changeups in 7-2/3 innings of work. In contrast, I'd be surprised if he's ever thrown more than two or three in any other start in his career. Here's a summary of the velocities by pitch:

                 MPH    #
Fastball 91.2 70
Curveball 78.4 37
Changeup 86.0 9

A 5 MPH difference between a pitcher's fastball and changeup isn't anything to boast about but how were the results? Let's take a look:

1: 1-0 84.9 Ball to Delgado (could have been called a strike)
2: 0-0 86.8 Flyout by Church
3: 1-2 86.8 Swinging Strikeout of Beltran
4: 1-0 85.6 Groundout by Delgado
5: 1-0 83.4 Foul ball by Church
6: 1-2 87.7 Ball to Church
7: 2-2 85.6 Flyout by Church
8: 1-1 87.5 Ball to Schneider
9: 2-2 85.5 Swinging Strikeout of Anderson

Hard to argue with those results. The nine changeups resulted in four outs, including two swinging strikeouts. Hopefully, this won't be the last time Sheets has this much success with his 3rd best pitch.

For each pitch, Pitch f/x shows you the distance the ball deviates from the path that it would have traveled with no spin. Using that, it was relatively easy to figure out which pitch was which. There was a total of seven pitches that were misidentified by Pitch f/x by my calculations. Two of Sheets' more mediocre changeups were identified as fastballs (honest mistake) and five of his changeups were identified as curveballs (not so honest). Here is the deviation chart with my pitch identifications:


The view is from behind the catcher, so this chart is showing us that Sheets' changeup rides in on a right handed hitter a bit more than his fastball does, which is typical. Each of Sheet's pitches has a very distinct movement. For other pitchers,it's not quite that simple, though. I guess I lucked out that my favorite pitcher likes to keep things simple, even if he did just make it a little less simple.

I haven't even touched on Sheets' release point yet, which he's supposedly adjusted this year. I have to save something for next time!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Pitch f/x and Sheets' Second Start

Another start, another great perfomance. But you don't come here for recaps, you come here for silly graphs, right?

In my previous post, I looked at Sheets' fastball velocity from his first start of the season and how it changed as the game went on. Let's repeat the exercise for his second start. Fist, the basics:

Fastball Velocity [MPH]
1st Start / 2nd Start:

AVE: 92.4 / 94.5
MAX: 94.6 / 96.2
MIN: 87.5 / 92.4
MED: 92.6 / 94.6

Significantly more velocity in his second start, which is exactly what I was hoping for. Let's see how his velocity changed as the game went on:

What if we remove those first two, offensive fastballs?

A marked improvement over his first start, where it took him two full innings to really get warmed up. As the season goes on, which will be the exception and which the rule? I guess we'll see.

Looking at pitch locations, Sheets was REALLY getting the benefit of the doubt on outside pitches to LH hitters. While that's not uncommon, it seemed especially pronounced on TV. Here are all the called strikes against LH batters:

More than a couple of those called strikes occurred in the first inning, so it's not like the Giants didn't have chance to adjust. :)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Sheets' Fastball Velocity

I was curious where Sheet's fastball was during his first start and how it might have been affected by the rain delay. I am using what Pitch f/x (the company that provided pitch information for MLB) calls the starting velocity, which is really the velocity of the ball when it's 50 ft from homeplate. I don't know how that compares to what a radar gun typically picks up. It seems to be in the same ballpark (the ending velocity is significantly lower).

Sheets threw 62 fastballs over 6+ innings on Monday. Here are the basics:

Ave: 92.4 MPH
Max: 94.6 MPH (third pitch after rain delay)
Min: 87.5 MPH (first pitch of the game)
Median: 92.6 MPH

Here's his fastball velocity over the course of the game. The white vertical lines show the start of a new inning. The yellow line is the rain delay (click for a larger picture):

Everyone knows that it usually takes a little while for Sheets to get his velocity up and this game was no different. I wonder if that's typical for starting pitchers or just Sheets?