Going into Spring Training, the starting rotation was one of the biggest question marks for the Cardinals. Although the 1-4 of Wainwright, Carpenter, Penny and Lohse looked solid enough, the 5th starters role was very much up in the air. The early favorite seemed to be Kyle McClellan, with guys like Rich Hill in the periphery. I, among others, clamored for the Cardinals to bring in John Smoltz who was very good for us last year and would have cost a pittance. Nobody seemed to entertain the idea of Jaime actually winning the job out of Spring Training as nobody thought the Cardinals were crazy enough to put a pitcher just coming off of Tommy John surgery and with little experience in the high minors in the rotation of a contending team. However, the Cardinals apparently were crazy enough to do just that and so far it has worked out.
Through 85.1 innings pitched Jaime, and his shiny 1.79 ERA, has legimately been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball and easily the most promising left handed starter to pitch for the Cardinals since Rick Ankiel. While Ankiel was successful by putting up absurd strikeout numbers, Jaime has been able to keep the ball down and avoid hard hit balls. While Ankiel possessed a 95 MPH fastball and a kneebuckling curve, Jaime has an assortment of moving fastballs and offspeed pitchers (as well as his own kneebuckling curve). Today, I'll like to go a bit more in depth as to how Jaime has been so successful this year.
So far in 2010, Jaime has thrown exactly 1275 pitches* that were captured by the Pitch f/x cameras. Based on some scouting reports and quotes from Dan 'n Al, I figured that Jaime threw 6 different pitches: a fourseam fastball (FF) a twoseam fastball (FT), a cut fastball (FC), a changeup (CH), a curveball (CU), and a slider (SL). Using those pitch types and a K-Means clustering algorithm, I was able to classify each pitch Jaime threw this year. I then plotted each of them out by their vertical and horizontal movement relative to a pitch without spin.
*Before his last start
These are from the catchers point of view, so from a lefty, curveballs move towards the third base bag and sliders move towards the first base bag.
The most interesting thing I can say about Jaime's stuff is the incredibly wide range of movement it gets. His fastballs all are thrown with roughly the same velocity and vertical movement but vary greatly in horizontal movement. Some of that variation is due to park calibration errors in the Pitch f/x cameras, but a lot of that is real. The pitch that I'm labeling a cut fastball (which might just be a variation of the fourseam fastball) averages around -1 inches of movement. The average fastball from a left handed pitcher moves about 6 inches towards the first base bag and Jaime's fourseam fastball moves around 4 inches, so his cutter has 5-7 inches of cut - if that makes sense. The other variations of his fastball have pretty typical movement for a lefty. In addition, all pitches are above average velocity wise, which is always a good thing.
His curveball is the pitch that we always hear about as being Jaime's best, and for good reason. The average curveball from a lefty has about -4 inches of horizontal movement and -5 inches of vertical movement. Jaime's curveball also averages around -4 inches of horizontal movement, but nearly -10 inches of vertical movement, making it a real 12-6 hammer. Surprisingly, he's only thrown that pitch around 10% of the time.
The pitch he goes to most frequently (after the different variations of his fastballs) is that slider we hear about so often about. According to Jaime himself, it's a cutter, but looking at velocity and movement, it's acts very much like a slider. There are some sliders that he throws a little bit harder and with a bit more rise, so perhaps those are his cutters and he also throws a slider.
The changeup is the more inconspicuous part of his repertoire. There is nothing special about it really - the velocity and movement of the pitch essentially mirrors that of the average left handed changeup, but at the very least it makes a good "surprise" pitch to throw the righties.
At any rate, the one thing that is obvious is that Jaime has a wide range of stuff, having multiple variations of the fastball in addition to at least three quality offspeed pitches.