Back in September, Corinne
Landrey at Crashburn Alley wrote about Vince Velasquez’s exciting 2016. In the piece, Landrey seeks to find why
Velasquez left so many games before the 6th inning when his stuff was excellent.
We learn only 19 starters threw more pitches per at bat, in addition to the fact that he was in the top 15 for fastball usage among pitchers with 2,000 pitches and top 3
for heaters thrown in two strike counts.
Particularly encouraging about
Landrey’s findings is Velasquez seemed to adapt as the season went on. She
suggests that finding an off-speed pitch he can trust in pitchers counts will
help reduce the amount of pitches he throws per at bat because they naturally
get more whiffs, and that his changeup – highly regarded through the minors –
was emerging as his favorite.
The results didn’t necessarily
show right away, but it’s reassuring that Velasquez appears at least curious
about adding more nuance to his repertoire. His fastball usage still made me
want to examine it more, though. It seems bizarre that he’d throw his
straightest pitch with such frequency when in the most advantageous spots because it’s the easiest to follow.
So Velasquez threw a fastball
in a two strike count 67.6% of the time, as Landrey notes. Specifically, that’s
67.6% of 633 pitches, totaling 428 fastballs thrown when he had a batter with
his back against the wall. All told, these accounted for 19.3% of his 2,213
pitches. Of pitchers who threw at least 2,000 pitches, that percentage is neither high nor low.
Now let’s look deeper. Instead
of just two strike counts in general, I’ve splintered Velasquez’s fastballs
thrown in all possible two strike counts in a table below.
380 of his 428 two strike fastballs were four-seamers. That’s an astounding 88.8% of those pitches. And if he was ahead in the count, there was a 90.5% chance the next fastball would be a four-seamer. It’s not just that breaking pitches would have likely missed more bats, but that Velasquez made it easiest on hitters when it should have been hardest.
Let’s check out what happened on all those four-seamers. The pie chart below (mmm, pie) shows the result from each. Specifically, focus on the orange and blue.
Yes, Velasquez got the third strike nearly 26% of the time when he threw a four-seamer in a two strike count. But between balls and foul tips there was more than a 2:1 chance he would have to throw another pitch in just that at bat. Those aren’t odds you want to take when trying to put hitters away.
Velasquez was clearly confident throwing the heat in 2016 but in the scope of his whole approach it seems to indicate a lack of awareness. A 24 year old lacking awareness isn’t necessarily worth sweating but this information shows where a major ache in his game was. Whether or not he’s near the top of the league in fastball percentage, being more situationally mindful could make Velasquez a bigger difference maker in 2017.