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Extreme Pitch Ratios & What They Mean for the Offense

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The Cardinals have seen some extreme pitch-type ratios in this early season. Will they continue? How are they affecting the offense?

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago White Sox - Game Two Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Before I launch into the heart of this article, I want to provide a brief disclaimer: the information I am about to share might not be entirely accurate.

There are three problems with this data. The first is that there are possible errors in the database at Baseball Savant. As I was working through the types of pitches faced by Cardinal batters – the subject of this article– fellow VEB’er John LaRue discovered that data included 384 pitches thrown by Pirates starter Joe Musgrove. Needless to say, Musgrove did not throw 384 pitches in his lone start against the Cardinals. After sorting that out, the pitch ratios presented on the Cardinal player pages still did not agree with those acquired through a traditional sorting search. The number of pitches faced were the same but the ratios were slightly different.

The third problem is that the data from Wednesday’s doubleheaders will probably update about the same time that this article posts. If anyone checks this data, it will look off. As of writing this, the pitching data from both of Wednesday’s games are not included.

These obstacles almost made me punt the article entirely. However, I think there is still a lesson to be learned. Statcast data is proliferating. Fox Sports Midwest is even including some of the info in their broadcasts. While Baseball Savant is generally excellent, the data can change, especially live and shortly following games.

My advice? Don’t get caught up in the actual number. Look for trends in the small, ever-changing sample sizes and avoid making sweeping judgments.

This is certainly true of pitch-type ratios that we will examine today. My eyes tell me that some Cardinal batters are seeing breaking and offspeed pitches at a very high rate. Is that true? What will that mean for the offense? Let’s take a look at pitch-type ratios for Cardinals regulars and see what the trends suggestion for the offense.

Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt Pitch-Types - 8/19/20

Goldschmidt FB% Br% Off%
Goldschmidt FB% Br% Off%
2019 58 30.9 11.1
2020 57.9 30.1 12
Difference -0.1 -0.8 0.9

Paul Goldschmidt is the one constant in the Cardinals lineup. His pitch ratios haven’t changed much over the last three years. As such, he provides a baseline – the types of pitch ratios a batter with no glaring weaknesses will see: 60% fastballs, 30% breaking balls, and 10% offspeed, give or take. Goldschmidt, seeing the same types of pitches as always, has performed as always. His wOBA (what he’s actually done) is .412. His xwOBA (what he was expected to do) is .380. The difference probably lies in his decreased exit velocity this season, but the sample size is not enough to be concerned yet. Goldschmidt is still a great hitter.

Tyler O’Neill

Tyler O’Neill Pitch-Types - 8/19/20

O'Neill FB% Br% Off%
O'Neill FB% Br% Off%
2019 55.1 34.1 10.8
2020 43.4 47.1 9.6
Difference -11.7 13 -1.2

O’Neill is currently sporting a .351 wOBA with three home runs. Would it shock you to hear that none of his production has come against fastballs? His fastball percentage is one of the lowest in the league at just 43.4%, down 11.7%. His breaking ball percentage is up 13% and he is now seeing those pitches more frequently than fastballs. That trend has backfired for the league. TON spent much of his offseason downing spinach Popeye style (he’s a vegetarian now) and working against breaking balls. The result? He brought a .923 early-season slugging percentage off breakers into yesterday’s games. Though he entered the game with a .000 wOBA on fastballs, that changed yesterday when TON smacked a double down the left-field line. O’Neill hasn’t hit fastballs well, but he surely will. He hasn’t historically hit breaking balls well, but now he is. All of that is good news for the Cardinals. As O’Neill’s pitch types begin to even out, so will his production. He is primed to be one of the team’s best offensive producers.

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader Pitch-Types - 8/19/20

Bader FB% Br% Off%
Bader FB% Br% Off%
2019 52 37.2 10.8
2020 51 45.1 3.9
Difference -1 7.9 -6.9

Bader’s chart sheds light on how tentative these stats are. On 7/28, Bader’s fastball percentage was just 37% and he was seeing close to 60% breaking pitches. That has shifted back in Bader’s favor – 51% fastballs and 45.1% breaking pitchers – but his ratio remains higher than it was in ‘19. What hasn’t changed is his ability to hit breaking pitches. His wOBA against curves/sliders is just .144 (down from an abysmal .163 last year). To make matters worse, Bader hasn’t connected on fastballs either. The damage might already be done. With Carlson’s arrival, Bader has seen a decline in playing time. He’ll have to figure something out against breaking pitches and do so quickly if he wants to fend off the rookie and hold on to his job.

Tommy Edman

Tommy Edman Pitch-Types - 8/19/20

Edman FB% Br% Off%
Edman FB% Br% Off%
2019 62.8 23.2 14
2020 55 27.2 17.8
Difference -7.8 4 3.8

As a rookie, Edman saw nearly 63% fastballs. Likely this was because the league wanted Edman – who was not a real power threat in the minors – to prove he could do damage against fastballs. Well, he did, producing a .196 ISO in 349 MLB PAs in ’19. This year, Edman is seeing more breaking and offspeed pitches and that’s likely to continue until he proves he can adjust. Should fans be concerned? Not really. While Edman has struggled against breaking pitches this season – .000 wOBA – he hit all three pitch types relatively well last year and his batting approach does not seem overly vulnerable extreme pitch-type ratios. The issue with Edman is that fans should expect an offensive decline from him anyway. Let’s be honest, does he look like the kind of batter who can support a .500 slug%? No. He’s a speedster who can slap the ball around the field and occasionally get into one. Edman’s pitch ratio will sort itself out and, in the end, he’ll be a fine player at 3b or SS.

Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter Pitch-Types - 8/19/20

Carpenter FB% Br% Off%
Carpenter FB% Br% Off%
2019 57.6 24.7 17.7
2020 51.3 22 26.7
Difference -6.3 -2.7 10

Carpenter’s fastball rate continues to decline. His offspeed rate continues to increase. His production remains down overall. All of that is bad. However, instead of forecasting doom and gloom, I want to point to a few signs of hope. During game one of Wednesday’s doubleheader, Carpenter barrelled a 91 mph fastball for a grand slam to left-center. That type of up-the-middle and opposite-field power disappeared with his loss of strength in ’19. He’s flashed it this season and the results are starting to come. Equally encouraging is his solid production against breaking pitches. The concern in his chart is the crazy number of offspeed pitches he is seeing. Those have always been Carpenter’s Achilles heel. The good news is that pitchers just don’t throw offspeed as much as other pitches. Carpenter’s offspeed rate will drop as he sees more pitchers who don’t even throw a change. A pending drop in offspeed rates, plus his improved power the other way leads me to believe that Carpenter can recover some (though not all) of his lost production from last season.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler Pitch-Types - 8/19/20

Fowler FB% Br% Off%
Fowler FB% Br% Off%
2019 57.7 24.3 18
2020 50.8 34.1 15.4
Difference -6.9 9.8 -2.6

Like Carpenter, Fowler’s fastball percentage has been in steady decline over several years. This year, the difference is extreme. He’s dropped 7% in fastballs and climbed almost 10% in breaking pitches. That has resulted in improved production overall but some areas of real concern. The increasing breaking balls are troublesome – Fowler has just a .158 wOBA against them. While his overall .367 wOBA (as of Wednesday afternoon) is nice, there’s little to support such a number. Fowler has the second-lowest exit velocity in the league. Fowler’s declining exit velocity is particularly concerning because it’s part of a consistent trend – 85.3, 85.5, and 82.3 mph from ’18-‘20. I hate to say it, but with the increasing breaking ball percentage and the decreasing exit velocity, Fowler might already be at the high point of his production this season.

Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong Pitch-Types 8/19/20

Wong FB% Br% Off%
Wong FB% Br% Off%
2019 58.9 24.3 16.8
2020 61.2 27.6 11.2
Difference 2.3 3.3 -5.6

Like Goldschmidt, there is little about Wong’s current pitch types to make note of. The -5.6% drop in offspeed pitches would be concerning if it made any sense. Wong’s worst pitch type in ’19 was offspeed –.212 wOBA. It’s even worse this season. None of that explains why he’s seeing fewer of them. I would expect Wong to see more offspeed pitches as the season progresses. As he showed in the last few games, however, Wong is fine offensively and still amazing defensively. He’s one of the few steady points on the roster.

Dylan Carlson

Dylan Carlson Pitch-Types - 8/19/20

Carlson FB% Br% Off%
Carlson FB% Br% Off%
2020 49.4 24.1 26.4

Since we’ve gone this far, we might as well finish the article out with the newest Cardinal regular. Dylan Carlson has started every game since his callup. What is he seeing? It is hard not to notice that the league is refusing to throw him fastballs. The stats back that up. Yesterday, Carlson only saw 11 fastballs in 28 pitches, and that includes 3 split-fingers. Meanwhile, his changeup percentage is Matt Carpenter high. Still, Carlson has held his own with an expected slash line of .319/.387/.571 (xBA, xwOBA, xSLG). All of that points to production coming, but until it does, expect these extreme pitch ratios to continue.