Two American League newcomers

We’re about three months into the season now, so it is certainly not premature to begin thinking about who might pick up some postseason hardware. The American League Rookie of the Year is one that is particularly intriguing to me.

The only American League rookies with more than one win above replacement (Fangraphs’ implementation) are pitchers: Michael Pineda, Alexi Ogando, Zach Britton and reliever Jordan Walden. Pineda and Britton are pitching in the big leagues for the first time in 2011, while Ogando and Walden appeared for some time in relief during the 2010 season. Today, I would like to dedicate some time to Pineda and Britton, the two “newbies” in the league.

Michael Pineda

Michael Pineda is currently (as of Tuesday) your American League rookie leader in wins above replacement at 2.0. He would undeniably be defined as a power pitcher, going to work primarily with a 95-mph four-seam fastball and a mid-80s slider. He will throw an occasional changeup and maybe some two-seam sinking fastballs (I counted six for this year), but over 90 percent of his repertoire consists of the four-seam fastball and slider.

The charts below are included as reference for how Pineda’s pitches move. The one on the left is spin deflection, or the number of inches that the pitch moved relative to a theoretical pitch without spin. It’s from the catcher’s perspective, so pitches on the positive side of the horizontal axis, for example, moved to the catcher’s right (and away from a right-handed batter). The second chart is of spin direction in degrees and velocity in miles per hour.

image

As you can see, the slider gets a lot of velocity variation, sometimes thrown in the low 80s and other times up near 90. His fastball doesn’t have a ton of movement; as we’ll look at in a moment, it yields a ton of both fly balls and whiffs. The changeup is usually in the upper 80s, similar in velocity to his teammate Felix Hernandez‘s (though Pineda gets more velocity separation due to his harder fastball).

Below are some qualitative metrics for Pineda’s fastball, slider, and change-up.


























































Velocity # LHB% RHB% Swing Whiff Zone Chase Watch Ball GB%
FF 95.3 847 .652 .616 .514 .205 .501 .326 .300 .308 .245
SL 84.5 407 .248 .359 .522 .376 .483 .422 .371 .299 .486
CH 88.8 76 .096 .019 .467 .143 .413 .205 .161 .507 .550

Pineda is significantly above average at getting swinging strikes on his fastball and slider (compared to league averages here), which can explain his high strikeout rate (8.6 per nine innings, third-best in the American League). As I mentioned, he’s an extreme flyball guy, getting only a quarter of his fastballs in play on the ground, though the rate is near 50 percent on sliders.

Judging from these metrics, his changeup is clearly Pineda’s worst pitch and could be described as being “in development.” He can’t consistently throw it for strikes, and when he does, it usually results in contact.

Given his flyball tendencies, it’s unsurprising that Pineda usually pitches up in the zone with his heater. For up and down, I’m only using three little zones today: “Down” is anything below the middle third of the strike zone, “middle” is the middle third of the strike zone, and “up” is anything above the middle third of the strike zone (look back here and here for more on this topic). Over half of Pineda’s fastballs are located above the middle of the zone.


























Low Pitch% Middle Pitch% High Pitch%
FF 17.4% 31.8% 50.9%
SL 50.4% 31.4% 18.2%
CH 67.1% 17.1% 13.8%

Doing the same thing with horizontal locations (in, middle, out) shows that he likes to keep the ball away from both lefties and righties.


























LHB Inside Pitch% Middle Pitch% Outside Pitch%
FF 17.5% 27.8% 54.7%
SL 33.7% 33.7% 32.5%
CH 22.2% 33.3% 44.4%

























RHB Inside Pitch% Middle Pitch% Outside Pitch%
FF 21.0% 27.9% 51.1%
SL 16.4% 28.7% 54.9%
CH 23.1% 7.7% .69.2%

Hopefully, this paints a fairly accurate picture of the kind of pitcher Pineda is. He’s a power pitcher who’ll throw lots of strikes, make batters miss and keep the fastball elevated. Let’s not forget that he’s only 21, and I think it’s fair to say that he has quite a future ahead of him.

Now, let’s switch gears and look at our other rookie pitcher.

Zach Britton

At the beginning of the season, Britton wasn’t even supposed to be in the Orioles’ rotation; he was added after an injury to Brian Matusz and has remained in the rotation. He’s rewarded the team with an impressive rookie campaign, leading the Orioles’ staff in ERA, FIP, xFIP and wins above replacement. He doesn’t have great strikeout numbers, but he doesn’t walk a ton of guys and prevents homers by keeping the ball on the ground. Graphs for his sinker, four-seam fastball, changeup, and slider are below.

image

You might not think of Britton’s velocity as being overpowering, but a 92-mph sinker is well above the average of about 89.5 for a left-handed starter. He’ll get guys to miss on his slider, which he throws the least, but overall he allows a lot of weak contact on the ground, especially with his sinker and change. Pitch metrics for Britton are below; notice that he is willing to throw some changeups inside to lefties.








































































Velocity # LHB% RHB% Swing Whiff Zone Chase Watch Ball GB%
SI 91.9 482 .373 .406 .473 .127 .488 .255 .298 .376 .573
FF 92.1 397 .384 .301 .348 .101 .423 .166 .405 .438 .391
CH 86.4 261 .092 .268 .552 .299 .487 .366 .252 .322 .736
SL 83.7 77 .151 .025 .364 .607 .234 .305 .444 .481 .429

So far, we have a guy who’s pretty much the opposite of Pineda—a pitch-to-contact, groundball-inducing lefty. As you might imagine, he stays down in the zone a lot more than Pineda.
































Low Pitch% Middle Pitch% High Pitch%
SI 47.7% 28.2% 24.1%
FF 36.8% 30.7% 32.5%
CH 55.6% 25.7% 18.8%
SL 51.9% 20.8% 27.3%

It’s interesting that despite throwing a lot of sinkers that would naturally tail into a left-handed batter, Britton likes to stay away with his sinker and change against lefties (the “back-door” pitch).
































LHB Inside Pitch% Middle Pitch% Outside Pitch%
SI 21.7% 34.8% 43.5%
FF 8.5% 17.6% 73.9%
CH 14.7% 35.3% 50.0%
SL 5.4% 14.3% 80.4%































RHB Inside Pitch% Middle Pitch% Outside Pitch%
SI 30.2% 36.0% 33.7%
FF 50.6% 28.2% 21.2%
CH 23.8% 44.1% 32.2%
SL 71.4% 19.0% 9.5%

Britton won’t be 24 until December, so he also has a lot of time to improve. Britton’s strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) is around 1.7 for the year. He’s never had incredibly impressive minor league zone dominance numbers, typically having a K/BB between 2.0 and 2.4 in his minor league seasons. He’s going to get most of his value from limiting loud contact, which he has done this year with his mid-50 percent groundball rate.

***

Both of these guys are very exciting young pitchers with plenty of differences in their respective pitching styles. They’re both giving a big lift to their clubs, as Pineda has formed a tough triumvirate with Hernandez and Erik Bedard atop the Mariners’ rotation, and Britton has been the Orioles’ best all-around starter.

References & Resources
The PITCHf/x data in this post are from MLB Advanced Media’s Gameday. They are here courtesy Joe Lefkowitz’s site. Also thanks to Harry Pavlidis for running some league-average velocity numbers.

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