- Carlos Zambrano is on a pitch count
- Jose Ascanio expected to be sent down
- Sean Gallagher to the bullpen
- Sean Marshall staying in rotation
- Carlos Marmol is a "concern"
This isn't much of a surprise. Zambrano should be handled with care, Ascanio needs to work on his command, and Lou Piniella has a stated preference on lefties.
Lou likes to run left-handed pitchers out as starters, forcing all the opposing righties into the line-up. That way, he can come back with power righties out of the bullpen. This forces the opposing manager to either empty the bench or deal with some tough match-ups.
I've said Marshall should be a starter -if not with the big team, then with Iowa, so he stays stretched out. At this point, I have mixed feelings about Gallagher in the bullpen. His value is as a starter, but he needs better command of his full repertoire to stick there.
Ascanio is not ready for prime time, so Gallagher does fit the bill of middle/late relief as a hard throwing righty. Plenty of successful starters came up and spent time in the pen, so I won't worry about Gallagher - well, maybe a little.
Carlos Marmol is struggling, so maybe some help in the bullpen is what the Cubs need. The worry with Marmol is that he's fatigued/injured or he's tipping his pitches. This is an idea that was hinted at in the Tribune, but the Sun Times came out and said it.
Now I'll drill into the PITCHf/x data around all this news (and speculation).
- Carlos Zambrano - Pitch Count Effects
- Jose Ascanio - Bad Location In and Out of the Zone
- Sean Gallagher - Reliever vs. Starter
- Sean Marshall - Reliever vs. Starter
- Carlos Marmol - Fatigued or Unlucky or Tipping
#1 - Carlos Zambrano - Pitch Count Effects
Carlos is back, and ready to go. His velocity isn't the most important thing, and he sometimes is a better pitcher when he throws a little slower. He seems to be more consistent in that regard this year, so it may not be as much of an issue anymore. Even so, using max pitch speed by inning is not the best way to judge his stamina, but it does appear Carlos dials it down after the 4th.
Here's my submission for Worst Labeling in a Bar/Line Graph Combo
Translation: Carlos has 33 starts in my PFX database (plus 19 more without PFX data), and he rarely throws his fastest pitch after the 4th inning. 78% of them coming in the first half of his game (no 9th innings in the PFX dataset for El Toro). The line shows you how many times he reached an inning, the bars show how many times that inning had his fastest pitch. Crude measurement, poorly charted. Where's my trophy for that?
Knowing Zambrano slows it down after four, I want to use his pitch speeds for the early innings to see if they are impacted by the # of pitches thrown in his previous start. I'll throw in days of rest, too. First, what constitutes a high pitch count for Carlos? Using all his starts, even those with no PFX data, I'd say 115 is his line.
So, using starts that had PFX data, and were followed by starts with PFX data, here's how fast Zambrano's pitches were when he did or didn't throw 110 - just to give me some better samples. A lot of those 115+ games were in 2007 and have no PFX data.
This is an incomplete history, looking at games, qualified by the number of pitches in the previous start, having PFX data, and in Wrigley, on four days rest. I look at max speed and average fastball speed across the first four innings.
So far, nothing to be really concerned about. It may be how I'm slicing and selecting the data, and it doesn't look at command, movement or effectiveness. Still, I'll be moving on. Hopefully Carlos will be healthy and back to his old self, not having an issue throwing 110-120 pitches in a game.
#2 - Jose Ascanio - Bad Location In and Out of the Zone
The hard throwing Ascanio hasn't shown the command needed to stick in the bigs. He's got the stuff, so he'll keep getting chances. Plus, he's only 23.
Here's a refresher on his stuff.
Impressive, but not all that effective. Notice the non K SLG and the HR rate on the fastball and slider. They're also the only thing he can, or will, throw to a lefty.
Ascanio only made two appearances during his most recent call-up. He was only credited with two outs, yielding four earned on four hits, a walk, a hit batter, and a homer. Jose didn't strike out a single hitter in those two outings, and was all over the place. I'm going to leave out his appearance in San Francisco in the following charts - only one pitch was recorded by PFX (73 mph, probably a curveball). So, this is just from June 29 in Chicago, US Cellular Field.
Wow, that's a lot of fastballs out of the zone. And, those that are in, are up and in. One of which, despite being 97 mph, was turned around for a home run. He's got the stuff, he's young, he'll be back.
#3 - Sean Gallagher - Reliever vs. Starter
Sean Gallagher, just 22 years old, is moving to the bullpen to make room for Carlos Zambrano. Sean Marshall has secured the 5th spot on the rotation, and there's more on him in the next section.
As I write this, Lou's pre-game interview for Game 1 in St. Louis was just aired on WGN radio. He talked about the problems Sean has locating his breaking stuff (down, but in the zone) and how he's able to get guys out with this fastball and change-up. The change, BTW, is not a pitch he used out of the bullpen in the past. I suspect that will change, based on Lou's remarks. Lou also noted the likelihood of improved velocity when working out of the pen.
Sean does have a decent fastball, but I'm not sure which breaking pitch Lou is complaining about - the curve or the slider. I suspect it's the slider, but that is one of his favorite pitches.
That slider does get rocked. He'll have to learn to throw the curveball in more counts, or learn to throw the change to righties (not likely). This is Sean's pitch selection by appearance. Keep in mind, he worked from the bullpen last year and has started 10 of the 12 games he's played in 2008. I'm excluding his first two 2007 appearances, since they combined for five pitches recorded by PFX.
He did sneak out a change-up in September of 2007, but that's the only time I've got him using it out of the bullpen. It stayed in his pocked until his first start of 2008, on May 11.
Moving Sean Gallagher to the bullpen will be a challenge. I don't think he can get by as a two-pitch pitcher, and he'll have to learn how to get that change-up going on a nightly basis, instead of every 5th day.
#4 - Sean Marshall - Reliever vs. Starter
Marshall as a starter vs. Marshall as a reliever is not a new question. I just reviewed his stuff on June 21, and a quick look in April showed he might use more sliders when facing lefties as a LOOGY. I don't have much to add, other than I think this is a good move, and he'll continue to do well, especially considering he's a back of the rotation guy. Most teams would kill for a guy like Marshall to be the #5.
#5 - Carlos Marmol - Fatigued or Unlucky or Tipping
Marmol has given up a home run in each of his last three appearances. In the PFX database, I have 12 homers off of Marmol, inlcuding seven from 2008. Hit Tracker has six of the 2008 homers, missing one in San Diego.
With the exception of two in 2007, all of Marmol's home runs allowed have been off of fastballs. Here's the pitch speed, and count from PITCHf/x, and the launch data and distance from Hit Tracker. The horizontal launch angles run from 45° (right field line) to 135° (left field line). Dead center is 90°. True distance is how far the ball would've flown if it hadn't hit something during flight. Standard distance is the same idea, but with atmospheric conditions removed. That's how far it would fly in a neutral setting.
|Date||Hitter||Park||B||S||Pitch MPH||Horiz. °||Elev °||Hit MPH||True Dist.||Std. Dist.|
Rich Aurilia's shot in AT&T park is the only really legitimate knock of off Carlos in the list. McClouth's second homer was pulled down the right-field line, so it was a good shot, too, but nothing like Aurilia's. From the perspective of home runs, the fact that he's allowed three in three games doesn't concern me by itself, since two were lucky (Quentin's in particular).
Spin Movement (inches) and Plate Location (feet) - catcher's perspective.
So, with the exception of last night's bomb, the homers have really been unlucky. How about the rest of the hits? The sample sizes are painfully small, but let's split his 2008 batted ball type before and after June 1 and June 15. June 15th was his last outing before the melt-down in Tampa.
June 1-15 .143
June 19 -> .200
Keep in mind, no one put the ball in play on the 19th of June. And, the samples for the early/late June are 12 pitches and 10 pitches, respectively. Not enough to go by, but, even with a small sample, I see something that is worth keeping an eye on. Pop Fly to Line Drive ratio.
June 1-15 4:2
June 19 > 1:2
It's probably meaningless, but he's not getting pop-outs like "he used to". If it becomes a trend, it would be something to take note of. For now, just store the four-fold drop in PF/LD ratio away.
So far, the home runs aren't a real concern, and the balls in play aren't ending up any differently, despite a slight, short-term, decrease in pop flies. So, the home runs, with one exception, were lucky, he's not yielding an excessive amount of line drives, and hits aren't dropping more or less frequently. This leaves the question of stuff and command. Are his pitches any faster or slower lately (i.e. is he overthrowing the slider) and has his movement changed? A look at release points is also in order.
These numbers are confounded by park effects (just look at the home/away numbers) it becomes nearly impossible to make sense of them. There are games in parks that run high on the MPH in Toronto, for example, and a big difference in the mix of home games. Even with all that noise, the numbers are so close, with the measurement error, I'd have to (a) correct all the park and weather factors and (b) run an ANOVA; neither of which will happen before BBQ and Fireworks, if ever.
Another quick-and-dirty trick is to look at difference between pitches. So, here are the speed and movement differences between fastball and slider. PFX_X and PFX_Z are in inches.
I'm hard-pressed to believe his stuff is any different. Location, however, is another story.
Usually, I show plate location in feet. To make this a clearer, this is in inches. For horizontal (px), zero is dead middle of the plate, negative 8.5 is on the insider corner to a righty, positive 8.5 on the outside corner. Vertical (pz) is from the ground up. This first set of #'s are averages, take with a grain of salt. We'll look at pictures and charts next, that will help.
Slider Plate Location
April/May 4.8 28.3
6/1-6/15 4.0 27.5
6/19 -> 0.8 27.9
Fastball Plate Location
April/May 2.1 33.5
6/1-6/15 3.3 30.3
6/19 -> 0.0 34.7
That 0.0 for px in that recent fastballs is actually -0.05. Point is, the fastball is up a little, and both pitches are more over the middle. On average. What do they actually look like?
To my eye, he's missing with the slider in a place he normally doesn't - up and in on righties; fastballs do look a little up, and I see more sliders clustered around the middle of the plate lately. In early June, the slider in the zone was usually up, and he hit that lower inside corner on lefties a lot more.
Now, I'm thinking his movement is fine, his stuff is good, but he's missing spots. That could be the early signs of fatigue and/or injury, or just sloppy, inconsistent mechanics. I'm prone to believe fatigue leading to erratic mechanics, since he has thrown very well at times, even in this bad stretch. I think I declared his mojo as "back" a little early, but, with the All Star break coming up, Carlos will get some rest, come back not as sharp as we'd like, but I believe he'll get it back together for the second half.
So far, 1-0 in St. Louis, thanks to Kosuke's homer off of Looper.