So listen. Smyly didn’t have his best day, but that’s okay. It wasn’t a bad day or anything. In times like these, we should take comfort in the parts of the game that are fun, even if the sum of their parts didn’t go our way. I’m obviously talking about Jose Altuve. Particularly, a pitch Smyly threw to him in the fifth inning.
Altuve is short. We get it, but one of the fun things we can see at Brooks Baseball is where Pitchf/x draws his strike zone. For Altuve, the top of the zone is 2.97 feet off the ground. Which is kind of amazing. That had my attention all week. Then, Smyly threw a really high pitch and it made me wonder if that was the highest pitch anyone has ever thrown to Altuve!
Here’s the pitch:
It’s 5.1 feet off the ground, according to Pitchf/x. Graphically:
Based on data available at Baseball Savanat, we can find 15 pitches in Altuve’s career that were higher. Several were intentional walk/pitchouts, which don’t count. The highest real one came on April 12, 2013. It was 5.985 feet off the ground! So Smyly didn’t break a record, but he was close. Enjoy:
Drew Smyly was a starter and then a reliever and now he’s a starter again. After spending a couple of weeks in the pen, Smyly makes his second start of the season tonight against the White Sox, so let’s take a quick look at how he performs as a starter compared to as a reliever.
We all know that Smyly was better on an inning by inning basis in 2013 while pitching out of the bullpen. That’s pretty common. When you’re only asked to go one or two innings, you do better than when you have to throw five to seven. Smyly increased his strikeout rate, decreased his walk rate, allowed fewer runs, got more ground balls, got batters to swing more often, and got batters to make less contact when they swung.
In pretty much every way, Smyly performed better as a reliever. But something that’s very curious about the whole thing is that Smyly didn’t throw harder out of the pen. Pitchf/x (per the classifications at FanGraphs) has Smyly throwing about a mile per hour softer on every pitch (four seam, two seam, cutter, slider, and change). That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it’s strange that he would move to the bullpen, throw softer, and get better. That’s not a typical progression at all.
Now it’s not as if this velocity change was dramatic or worrisome, but normally we think of guys moving to the bullpen and throwing harder because they don’t need to save as much energy for later innings, and as a result, they tend to pitch a little better. That isn’t how Smyly improved. It also doesn’t seem like he got much more bite on his pitches.
One potential explanation is that he did a better job in 2013 of releasing his fastball and breaking ball from the same spot, meaning it was harder for the batter to distinguish between them, but even those differences are slight.
Another explanation is that Smyly killed lefties in 2013 to the tune of a .212 wOBA against compared to .304 for RHH. The 2012 gap was .293/.327. In 2012, he faced lefties 31% of the time and saw them 43% of the time in 2013. That can explain some of the basic results because he had the platoon advantage more often, but it doesn’t explain why he got way better against lefties and only a little better against righties.
Perhaps we can turn to the times through the order penalty (TTOP). In 2012, Smyly allowed a .282 wOBA the first time, .359 wOBA the second time, and .315 wOBA the third time. In 2013, he was almost never asked to face batters multiple times in one game.
*If someone notices an error in that calculation, let me know. Used a shortcut. Could be a rounding error here or there.
Unfortunately, this isn’t super encouraging. The TTOP is a very real phenomenon and it appears that Smyly isn’t immune. He didn’t really get better, he just didn’t let guys get multiple looks against him. Pitchers have to struggle with this constantly and it will be important for him to mix his pitches and give different looks as he tries to pitch deep into games. He was still a solid starter in 2012, but we probably shouldn’t expect his 2013 gains to carry over.
So for a long time, Rick Porcello’s biggest issue was that he couldn’t quite figure out his breaking ball. He was using a slider, but it wasn’t working for him at all and he famously shifted to a curveball in 2013 which worked really well. Porcello used it to improve his strikeout rate significantly and when paired with his solid changeup and dynamite sinker, he took the leap for which everyone had been waiting.
A funny thing happened on Saturday. Porcello pulled out the slider and it generated some swinging strikes.
If you’re not well-versed in the parlance of the game, pitchers who strike batters out are more likely to be successful, which seems obvious. But beyond that, pitchers who get batters to swing and miss are are more likely to get strikeouts. Apply the transitive property and you have Swings and Misses = Success. It’s obviously not perfect, but it’s a good sign. Porcello was already way better in 2013 without the slider (he threw one about 5-6% of the time). If this becomes something he can tap into on occasion (he threw 10 out of 93 today, including five swinging strikes), things could get very, very interesting for the 25 year old right hander.
Anibal Sanchez missed a little time this spring with a minor shoulder injury and had some bad fortune with respect to the weather over the last couple of weeks, which meant he had a short leash going into Friday’s start. He had some issues early, but settled in quite nicely during innings 2-4.
Last year, Sanchez had the highest swing and miss rate of his career, due in part to his ability to generate more whiffs with his changeup. On Friday, he threw a “changeup off his changeup” as Dan and Jim put it, taking some extra off the pitch to make Adam Jones look silly. You’ll notice that pitch way down there at about 75 mph.
This is a nice weapon. Not only does Sanchez throw a changeup around 83-84 mph to go with his 92-95 mph fastball, he occasionally breaks out a low to mid 70s version that works quite nicely. He averaged about one a start last year depending on how you divide up the velocity. They weren’t more effective than his normal changeup, but it’s a nice option to have in the ol’ arsenal. Plus, I mean, look at it.