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For Kevin Siegrist, it’s not just a velocity problem

Compounding issues are plaguing Kevin Siegrist in 2017.

Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images

When a pitcher struggles — as Kevin Siegrist definitely has through 19 team games this season — velocity is often turned to as the starting point when trying to dissect the problem. For most pitchers, velocity can begin to tell the story, but rarely does it lead to a comprehensive diagnosis. Before looking closer into the makings of Siegrist’s struggles this season, let’s first take a look at his not so pretty 2017 stat line, via FanGraphs:

Kevin Siegrist, 2017 statistics

7 6.1 11.4% 28.6% 20.0% .167 68.2% 9.95 10.95 -0.4

Frankly, the only thing “good” about Siegrist’s 2017 is that we are still only talking about seven appearances. Subsequently, he has plenty of time to turn things around, but in the process, he probably shouldn’t be working to get back on track in high-leverage situations. The statistic that jumps off the screen is his gargantuan walk rate (28.6%). Heck, it is the very highest among MLB relievers thus far. Sure, we are nowhere near the stabilization point for walk rate (170 batters faced), but the statistic trails only strike out rate (70 batters faced) in the smallest sample required to stabilize. While we’re on the topic of strikeout rate, Siegrist again finds his name on the wrong side of the leaderboard at 11.4%, leading to a disastrous, indisputably league-worst K-BB% of -17.1%.

Well, as you’ve probably already heard, Siegrist’s fourseamer velocity is down so far in 2017. And unless we see a preserved, rather unlikely velocity spike going forward, 2017 will be the fourth consecutive season in which Siegrist has experienced a velocity decline on his most-frequented pitch. Sure, velocity declines with age, but it tends to occur at a slower pace in relievers (as compared to starters), and Siegrist hasn’t yet turned 28 years old, so it still feels slightly early to begin worrying about velocity. That being said, I’ve long been worried about his arm health, especially once “nerve irritation” was reported by Derrick Goold back in 2014. Either way, here’s a chart — via — of Siegrist’s fourseamer velocity since entering the big leagues:

One must remember that due to the Y-axis starting at 92 MPH, the decline looks much steeper than what is actually represented in the velocity drop. It’s not like Siegrist has completely lost his ability to reach above 90 MPH. However, since topping out at an average of 96 MPH in 2013, Siegrist has essentially lost an average of one MPH per season. As I mentioned earlier, we are talking about a 27-year-old reliever here, not a 35-plus year old starter, so it is indeed a worrisome development.

With a decline in velocity often comes an increase in movement, and sure enough, Siegrist has experienced more movement on each one of his pitches this season. This, by and large, can be seen as a positive, and from Siegrist’s point of view, it’s probably something worth latching onto (given all of the negatives thus far), but there exists a difference between useful movement and detrimental movement. If the pitcher is unable to harness the increase in movement, what good does it provide? Take 2017 Carlos Martinez as an example. His movement, too, has been greater than previous seasons, but as Bernie Miklasz wrote for 101 ESPN, he is having a difficult time finding the strike zone. The same can be said for 2017 Siegrist, and I have more than just his walk rate to prove it:

Fastball Location

Offspeed Location

I have been writing pitch analysis posts for more than four years now, and never once have I seen a pitcher with all of his core pitch locations landing outside of the strike zone. Technically, Siegrist’s changeup location to right-handed hitters is perfect, but when hitters simply aren’t expanding their zones — Siegrist’s out-of-zone swing rate is 8.5% (again, at the wrong end of the leaderboard), down from his career average of 22.7% — he isn’t going to get strikes on these borderline pitches.

At the end of each pitch analysis post, I do my very best to come up with something the pitcher can do to improve — however minor it may be. I honestly don’t have a legitimate suggestion for Siegrist on this one. Throw harder? If it was that easy, Siegrist wouldn’t already be consistently trending downward. Throw more strikes? Of course, that’s always a good idea, but with a diminished repertoire, the net result could be frightening. I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom, especially after a successful four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers, but it is hard to be positive about the state of Siegrist — no matter the sample size. Oh, and none of this can be attributed to bad luck considering his .167 BABIP against and the fact that he’s gained more strikes (11) than he’s lost (0).