Don’t blame Pedroby John Walsh
November 01, 2007
Lost in the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that followed the Mets' distastrous 4-13 collapse to finish the 2007 season was the return of Pedro Martinez. As you know, Pedro missed most of the year after undergoing shoulder surgery last off-season, and in fact did not pitch until Sept. 3, when he faced the Reds in Cincinnati. Pedro was decent that day, but not as good as the next day's newspaper accounts would have you believe. He pitched five innings, giving up two earned runs and getting the win in the Mets' 10-4 victory. But he also allowed eight baserunners (including three walks). He did record his 3,000th career strikeout in that game, so the mood afterwards was definitely upbeat. Pedro was back.
But, how was he throwing? Was the shoulder back to full strength? How hard was he throwing? I had heard reports from his minor league rehab starts that Pedro was throwing in the high eighties, 87-88 mph. My Pedro-fan friends (not that I'm not a Pedro fan myself, because I am) thought that was fine for rehab starts, that Pedro would certainly build up arm strength and throw harder once he was back. So, I was very curious about how much speed Pedro could muster on his return.
I managed to catch some of that first start on the tube and the radar gun generally had Pedro's fastball right around 87 or 88 mph. Oh boy, I thought, this is not good. Not that you can't succeed with an 87-mph fastball, you can. But it's hard to be Pedro Martinez when you throw as hard as, oh, Josh Fogg, maybe.But you know what? When you look at the bottom line, Pedro did a reasonable imitation of himself in his five starts this season. No, we can't blame Pedro for the Mets' woeful finish. His 2007 numbers:
GS W L IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA WHIP Martinez, Pedro 5 3 1 28 33 11 8 0 7 32 2.57 1.43This is a small sample size, of course, but that does not mean there aren't some nuggets of truth to be mined from it. The first thing that jumped out at me was the 32 strikeouts in 28 innings pitched. That comes out to 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Now I know he only did it for a few games, but that strikeout rate was better than any other ERA qualifier in the NL this year. And he's doing it with an 87-mph heater. Curious.
His control looks fine: the seven walks work out to 2.1 per nine innings, which is typical Pedro command. What sticks out as un-Pedro-like in the above line are the hits and home runs allowed. If we translate those into rates and compare to Pedro's career numbers, here's what we get:
Martinez, Pedro H/9IP HR/9IP 2007 10.6 0.00 Career 6.9 0.72In other words, in 2007 his hit rate was way up and his home run rate was way down. Both of these measures, hit and home run rates, are particularly susceptible to large fluctuations when the sample size is small, so it would probably be best to take the 2007 numbers with a grain of salt. Pedro's FIP, which estimates what his ERA would have been given an average batting average on balls in play (BABIP), was only 1.84.
However, FIP doesn't account for the (likely) downward fluctuation in home run rate, so we can turn to xFIP, which does. This latter stat takes FIP a step further by assuming that a pitcher's home run rate depends only on his fly ball rate, an assumption that that is controversial. Nevertheless, xFIP may give us the best estimate for Pedro's "true talent" level in 2007, due to the small sample size. Pedro's xFIP in 2007 was 3.76, roughly a run worse than his actual ERA.
Ok, that's what he did, how did he do it? We have lots of detailed information on Pedro's pitches, thanks to the pitch-f/x system. I already mentioned that Pedro was throwing his fastball around 87 mph, but let's have a deeper look. On the right you see what I call the speed/movement plot—each point represents a pitch thrown by Pedro Martinez in 2007. The vertical and horizontal positions of each point, show, from the catcher's viewpoint, the vertical and horizontal movement on the pitch. The color shows you the speed. Have a look at my Pitch Identification Tutorial for lots more info on these kinds of plots.
The first thing to note about the plot is the absence of red points, i.e., pitches thrown above 90 mph. Well, perhaps you can't tell from the plot, since the points tend to pile up on top of each other, but of the 414 pitches recorded by the pitch-f/x system, only one broke the 90-mph barrier.
The curveballs are easily spotted—they are the cluster of blue points in the lower right part of the plot. At first glance, the rest of the points appear to be a chaotic jumble, but if you look closely you can see a cluster of light blue points toward the left side of the plot: those are change-ups, thrown around 75 mph.
It's a bit hard to tell what's going on with the rest of the pitches, so let's separate out the different speeds. As you can see on the graphic on the right, I'm now plotting the movements in a separate plot (let's call them panels) for each speed group.
Now you can clearly see the fastballs in the first two panels, although in the second panel (orange points), you see a bigger blob: some pitches are drifting over to the right (cutters?) and others downward (2-seamers?). In the third panel, the 80-84 mph pitches, we see mostly pitches with moderate vertical movement and horizontal movement ranging between minus five and five. These are some sort of cutters/sliders, although it's hard to give these pitches a definitive label, since they really aren't very distinct.
In the 76-80 mph group the change-up starts to show up (clump on the left), plus there are still some sliders at this speed. The last two panels show the rest of the change-ups, plus the curveballs.
We can use something called a clustering algorithm to classify each of Pedro's pitches. A clustering algorithm is just a method for taking a bunch of data and grouping all the data points into distinct groups or clusters. In our case, each resulting cluster is a different type of pitch. The particular algorithm that I have used (kmeans, for you statistical types) requires that you tell it how many clusters to form.
So how many different pitches does Pedro throw? Well, after various trials, I believe the answer is six. The plot on the right shows the results when asking for six pitches. Of course, the clustering puts the pitches into groups, but it doesn't tell you which group corresponds to which pitch. The legend on the plot shows my attempts to classify the pitches—here's a handy table that you can refer back to, if need be.
FB - fastball sFB - sinking fastball (2-seamer) cFB - cut fastball SL - slider CU - change-up CB - curveball
Here are the average movement and speed measures for the six different pitches, along with the number thrown (and percentage of total thrown) of each type.
Pitch Horiz Vert Speed NP Pct FB -8.3 9.6 86.8 102 .25 sFB -10.7 5.8 85.8 106 .26 cFB -3.5 7.1 84.4 59 .14 SL 1.9 5.2 79.9 61 .15 CU -10.7 3.1 76.7 56 .14 CB 7.6 -5.4 70.9 30 .07So, while you will hear that Pedro can "reach 90 mph" with the fastball (technically true&mdash he did it once), the average speed of his fastest pitch is actually a shade below 87 mph. In any case, he used his fastball (including the sinking variety) about half the time, threw the cutter, slider and change-up around 15% of the time each, and mixed in a curveball only rarely.
It would be interesting to break down Pedro's pitch selection according to count, opposing batter and a number of other factors. Another thing to look at would be how batters fared against the different pitch types. But with only around 400 total pitches, we can't really slice and dice the data as much as we'd like, not yet anyway. One split we can look at, though, is batter-handedness. The following table shows how Pedro varied his pitch selection according to batter-handedness.
Pitch RHB LHB FB .28 .20 sFB .30 .19 cFB .11 .18 SL .16 .13 CU .05 .26 CB .09 .04When facing righties, Pedro throws predominantly fastballs (2- and 4-seamers), with few curveballs and even fewer change-ups. When lefty swingers are at the plate, though, Pedro relies heavily on the change-up, in fact, he throws it more than any other pitch. He also goes to the cutter more often against lefties.
But, what I really want to know about is the strikeouts. How did Pedro manage to strike out more than a batter per inning, with a very average, at least in terms of speed, fastball? Well, let's have a look.
The following table shows each of the 24 strikeout pitches (that were captured by pitch-f/x) thrown by Pedro in 2007.
Pedro Martinez Strikeout Pitches +-----------------+------+------+-------+--------+-------+ | Batter | Bats | Type | Speed | Strike | Count | +-----------------+------+------+-------+--------+-------+ | Cairo_Miguel | R | FB | 89 | S | 2-2 | | Ross_Cody | R | FB | 88 | C | 3-2 | | Pineiro_Joel | R | FB | 88 | C | 0-2 | | Werth_Jayson | R | FB | 88 | S | 3-2 | | Werth_Jayson | R | sFB | 88 | C | 0-2 | | Harang_Aaron | R | cFB | 88 | S | 0-2 | | Uggla_Dan | R | FB | 87 | S | 3-2 | | Pineiro_Joel | R | FB | 87 | S | 0-2 | | Pineiro_Joel | R | FB | 87 | C | 0-2 | | Burrell_Pat | R | FB | 87 | C | 1-2 | | Harang_Aaron | R | cFB | 87 | S | 1-2 | | Dobbs_Greg | L | SL | 80 | S | 1-2 | | Lee_Carlos | R | CU | 79 | S | 0-2 | | Dobbs_Greg | L | CU | 79 | S | 3-2 | | Berkman_Lance | L | CU | 78 | S | 2-2 | | Biggio_Craig | R | CU | 78 | S | 1-2 | | Schumaker_Skip | L | CU | 78 | S | 1-2 | | Rowand_Aaron | R | CU | 78 | S | 2-2 | | Rollins_Jimmy | L | CU | 77 | S | 2-2 | | Schumaker_Skip | L | CU | 76 | S | 2-2 | | Olivo_Miguel | R | CB | 73 | C | 0-2 | | Ludwick_Ryan | R | CB | 72 | S | 2-2 | | Amezaga_Alfredo | L | CB | 71 | S | 2-2 | | Ludwick_Ryan | R | CB | 69 | S | 0-2 | +-----------------+------+------+-------+--------+-------+ Strike - S means swinging, C means calledI could probably write a thousand words just on this table (don't worry, I won't!), but let me just point out a couple of things. Pedro struck out 17 of 63 right-handers (27%) in this sample and seven of 43 left-handers (16%), so he's punching out righties much more often. Given that, you might think he's getting the righties with breaking balls—sliders and curves—which might be supposed to work better against same-handed batters.
You'd be wrong, though, as you can see in the table above. Pedro is getting most of his strikeouts against righties with the fastball. The slider, for many pitchers a strikeout pitch, is hardly to be seen—Pedro dispatched only one batter with a slider, the lefty-swinging Greg Dobbs.
Summary of Strikeout Pitches +------+------+----+-------+ | Bats | Type | NP | Speed | +------+------+----+-------+ | R | FB | 8 | 88 | | R | CU | 3 | 78 | | R | CB | 3 | 71 | | R | cFB | 2 | 87 | | R | sFB | 1 | 88 | | L | CU | 5 | 78 | | L | CB | 1 | 71 | | L | SL | 1 | 80 | +------+------+----+-------+
Another thing to note is the relatively large number of punch outs on change-ups. Martinez is justly known for his superior slow-ball, but I wondered if the change-up would lose effectiveness as the fastball dropped in velocity. Apparently not, based on this admittedly small sample. Note the the speed difference between fastball and change-up is around 10 mph, which is pretty typical of a good major-league change-up.
Note that every single change-up strikeout was of the swinging variety. In fact, all of the off-speed pitches that notched a strikeout were swung at, except the curveball to Miguel Olivo.
This information is summarized in the table on the left, where I've totaled the number of strikeouts achieved on the various pitch types to left- and right-handed batters. Now you can easily see the dominance of the fastball in striking out right handers and the change-up against lefties.
Before wrapping things up, I wanted to take a look at the location of Pedro's strikeout pitches. I've been focusing on movement, speed and pitch type, but location may be more important than anything in determining how effective a pitch is.
The graphic to the right shows the location of the strikeout pitches as they crossed the front of home plate. This is from the catcher's viewpoint (as always), so a right-handed batter would be standing toward the left side of the plot. The different pitch types are color-coded, as above. Furthermore, the shape of the plotted symbol indicates the handedness of the batter, circles for righties, triangles for lefties.
The main things to observe here is that Pedro kept his change-up down and away to lefties and his fastball on the outside part of the plate to righties. Pedro was helped out a bit by Miguel Olivo, who looked at a hanging curveball on the inner half that went for strike three and Craig Biggio, who swung and missed, not surprisingly, at an ankle-high change-up.
You know what'd be really interesting? Having pitch-f/x data on Pedro from his great late-nineties seasons and then more from the years 2002-2005, a period that followed a 2001 shoulder injury (treated with rest and rehab, rather than surgery). We could see how Pedro adjusted to the 2001 injury (he lost a few mph from his fastball then, too) and then examine his subsequent transition to the Pedro of 2007. Alas, pitch-f/x was born this season, there is no such data from previous years. In any case, given Pedro's post-injury performance in 2002-2005—65-25, 2.83 ERA, 820 innings—I would not be at all surprised to see him make the necessary adjustments to stay one of the top pitchers in the National League.
John Walsh dabbles in baseball analysis in his spare time. He welcomes questions and comments via e-mail.