I ordered mlb.tv this year, which means that for the first time since 1996, I will have the access to watch (by my wife's reckoning) an absurd number of Reds games. One of the things I'd like to do with that subscription is to learn a bit more about pitchers and pitches. So, I thought it would be fun to do a small "scouting" breakdown series on important Reds pitchers, based on pitchf/x information (all garnered from TexasLeaguers and Joe Lefkowitz's PitchF/X Tool, which are wonderful resources).
Today, I'll begin with the Opening Day starter, Edinson Volquez. I'm going to focus on starts from September/October 2011 for graphs to reduce the "clusterfudge of dots" issue, but will go with full-year stats to describe pitch outcomes.
Also, one quick note... I highly recommend reading John Walsh's pitch identification tutorial for help interpreting and understanding the graphs below. It's old, but still one of the best ways to get up to speed. It's worth the time. If you haven't already gotten into it, pitchf/x can open a whole new world when it comes to understanding pitchers.
In the upper left are Volquez's four-seam and two-seam fastballs (i.e. his sinker). He also has an excellent change-up that he uses often, which you can see in the cloud to the lower-left. His curve ball is in the lower right. In 2008 he was also using a slider, but there's only one instance of a pitch classified as that by pitchf/x in 2010--and I think it was probably just a change-up. I don't see any indication of mis-classified sliders in this plot either, so I think he (at least for 2010) scrapped it.
Volquez's fastballs range into the upper-90's, even post-surgery, and average 93 mph. His change-up averages 82 mph, however, which is a 12 mph difference. A lot of pitchers only have 6-8 mph difference between those pitches, and that difference is part of what makes his change so effective. His curve arrives in the upper 70's.
Overall, Volquez throws about 60% fastballs (favoring the four-seamer over the sinker 2:1), along with a substantial number of change-ups and curves, and last year he got them all over at the same frequency. His sinker and especially his curve induce a lot of ground balls, which helped him post a fine 54% GB% last season.
The big key, however, is that he gets lots of whiffs on his pitches. All except his curve have above-average swing-and-miss %'s, and his change-up is particularly amazing (almost double the typical whiff rate of the other pitches). And that curve is substantially improved, up from 7% in 2008.
|vs. RHB||Opening Pitch||Two Strikes||Full Count||Behind|
First time I've done this table, so here's a glossary: opening pitch is what he throws in 0-0 counts. "Two Strikes" are 0-2 or 1-2 counts (I'm just averaging), whereas Full Count is (obviously) a 3-2 count. Behind is 3-0 counts only. I'm ignoring the others for simplicity.
Against righties, Volquez favors starting with a fastball or his curve. His curve was much better last year compared to 2008 based on whiff %, shooting from 6% to 11% (11% is about league average, so maybe it's a "50" pitch at this point?).
Once he gets two strikes on a righty, he brings in his change-up. It got an absurd 23% whiff % last year (league average is 13% for change-ups), and is clearly his out pitch. I haven't checked, but I'd guess that his frequent use of the curve ball in two-strike counts is as a pitch that he tries to use to get them to chase a ball low and out of the zone and either ground-out or strike out. In a full count, Volqeuz backs away from the curve (too hittable?) and instead uses primarily fastballs or his change-up. If he absolutely has to throw a strike, he throws one of his fastballs.
|vs. LHB||Opening Pitch||Two Strikes||Full Count||Behind|
There's a different story against lefties. He debuts with the fastball most often, but uses his curve far less in favor of his change-up. The change-up has been recognized increasingly among sabermetric circles (and probably for far longer in scouting/pitching circles) as a pitch that is effective against opposite-handed batters. And Volquez seems to use it in that fashion, as is a major part of his arsenal against lefties regardless of the count. Once he does get two strikes on lefty batters, he increases his use of the change-up even more--really, it looks like a similar approach to how he deals with righties from that point on.
Thoughts? Suggestions? Corrections? I'm pretty green to this whole "scouting" thing, but I'm having a good time playing with this stuff.