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reyes and RISP

the winless anthony reyes has his best shot at a victory tonight, pitching at home against the punchless nationals. reyes' best outing of the year came in just such a start --- at home against a weak-hitting team (the rockies) on may 7. the nats are scoring only 3.6 runs a game, worse even than the cardinals (3.64), and they're nearly as bad on the road (3.7 rpg) as they are in their run-stifling home ballpark (3.4).

a few of us were discussing reyes recently, mulling over an article about reyes' incredibly low rate of stranding runners. when guys get on base against him, they score. not surprisingly, reyes has a pronounced situational split: he gets hit much harder when there are men on base against him, and especially when they're in scoring position.

men on w/ RISP
avg .196 .319 .318
obp .255 .372 .360
slg .324 .580 .682
ops .579 .952 1.042

so we were wondering: what gives? could it be that reyes loses some juice off his fastball when pitching out of the stretch? maybe he's tipping his pitches? i offered another possible explanation: "i wonder if he starts nibbling with his off-speed stuff when there are men on base, falls into hitters' counts and has to groove fastballs. we're compiling our pitch-selection charts for the first 1/4 of the season, and if that pattern exists we should be able to spot it."

the pattern exists --- most emphatically. as you all may recall, a group of devoted volunteers have been dutifully charting every pitch thrown by a cardinal pitcher this season: coding for pitch type, speed, location, and about a gazillion other factors. our pitch-charter for anthony reyes' starts is Solanus (who you probably recall from his front-page post on tuesday about the Challenge Rating System). i aggregated his charts this morning and did a little quick analysis in Excel, breaking down reyes' pitch selection by situation. have a gander --- these are percentages:

men on w/ RISP
fastball 74 63 59
curve 17 21 21
changeup 9 15 20

with nobody on base, he pumps that fastball in there 3/4 of the time --- but when guys get on base against him he turns increasingly to his off-speed stuff. the trend is even more pronounced on the first pitch of the at-bat:

men on w/ RISP
fastball 75 60 53
curve 19 27 26
changeup 6 13 21

when pitching with men in scoring position, reyes starts nearly half of his at-bats with an off-speed pitch --- and, curiously enough, is more apt to throw a first-pitch curveball (his 3d-best pitch) than a first-pitch changeup. reyes had one of the most effective changeups in baseball last season. the heavy reliance on the curve to start out those critical at-bats is all the more curious because he struggles to throw that pitch for strikes --- just 53 percent of the time in 2007, according to our charts. that helps explain why reyes throws a first-pitch strike only 55 percent of the time --- below the league average --- with men in scoring position. with the bases empty, reyes is an above-average strike-thrower (62 percent).

when reyes does go to the fastball in RISP situations, he apparently relies more than ever on his four-seamer. since the 2-seamer and 4-seamer can be difficult to distinguish on tv, we're not even trying to code them differently --- a fastball gets coded as a fastball, never mind the grip. however, we are charting pitch speed and location, and therein lies the tale. pitch location gets coded on a 5-tier vertical scale --- zone 1 is a ball high, zone 2 is a high strike, zone 3 is at the waist, zone 4 is at the knees, and zone 5 is a ball low. looking only at reyes' fastball, here are the zone percentages in each situation:

men on w/ RISP
zone 1 4 6 6
zone 2 12 20 19
zone 3 43 35 35
zone 4 30 31 31
zone 5 11 8 8

with men on base, reyes is more prone to elevate his fastball into zones 1 and 2 --- that's the 4-seamer. consistent with this finding, reyes' fastball gains velocity with men on base:

men on w/ RISP
90+ mph 66 73 78
89- mph 34 27 22
avg speed 90.2 90.6 90.8

with the bases empty, only 66 percent of reyes' fastballs are above 90 mph, but with RISP that proportion rises to 78 percent --- and the average speed is more than half an mph faster. faster fastball, higher fastball --- 4-seamer.

so let's put this all together. with nobody on base, reyes pounds the strike zone with his fastball and gets batters out. when he gets into trouble, he ditches the fastball and turns to his off-speed stuff, which causes him to fall behind in counts; when he does throw a fastball, it's more likely to be a) a 4-seamer, and b) a hitter's count.

what to do? a few possibilities right off the top:

  1. stay with the same pattern, but execute it better. just get the curve over; hitters aren't looking for it, so the pitch doesn't have to be perfect.
  2. attack with the 4-seamer early in the count. match strength against strength: hitters will be up there looking for a fastball, so give them one and see what they do with it. reyes locates that pitch very well; the onus will be on him to hit the corners and keep hitters from squaring that pitch up.
  3. attack with the 2-seamer. hitters are looking for a fastball, but not that fastball; if reyes can get it over and keep it down, he may keep guys off-balance. the danger, of course, is that if he throws a sinker that doesn't sink, the ball's apt to be hit a long way.
personally, i'd like to see them take option 2: when in danger, go to your best pitch. the cardinals have reyes taking the exact opposite approach --- they have pitching away from hitters' strengths (avoiding the fastball) but also pitching away from his own strength. when he finally does go to the fastball, he can't be as fine with the pitch because he's already behind in the count.

i'll be paying attention to his pitch selection tonight when men get on base against him.

as long as we're on the subject of young pitchers with good fastballs, derrick goold has an interesting article up today about adam ottavino and the two-seamer. you may recall that i talked to adam about that very subject last year, in a piece i titled "the indoctrination of adam." it sounds as if ottavino, like reyes before him, is not swallowing his medicine very cooperatively.