Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pavano's Adjustments Pay Off in KC

Based on how poorly Carl Pavano pitched in his last start (1.0 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 9 ER), I said it would take a miracle for him to come up with a quality start against Kansas City. Well, Pavano must have gotten whatever was ailing him out of his system because he looked like a completely different pitcher in his second start with Cleveland. Pavano finished with 4 ER, 8 H, 0 BB, and 8 K over six strong innings. That may not seem like much, but if he can provide those kinds of starts on a regular basis I think Cleveland will be very pleased with him. Plus, Pavano proved that he's not just damaged goods and actually has some gas left in the tank.

The guy's arm seemingly came back from the dead in the span of a week, although I'm still not sure where on this spectrum of extremes Pavano will eventually settle. Maybe all he needed was a wake-up call after a gruelingly long spring, but whatever the case Pavano bought himself a "get out of jail free card" by bouncing back against Kansas City.

I was curious as to what type of adjustments Pavano made between his first and second starts. To do this required more than just the typical box score stats. I wanted to track any changes in velocity, movement, and location on Pavano's pitches between starts. Fortunately, archives the results from its Gameday application over the course of a season, allowing fans to access Pitch f/x data for every batter a pitcher faces.

I've ventured into more detailed Pitch f/x analysis on occasion, but I'd like to take a new approach today and try to glean some insight from only a small sampling of individual at-bats. I decided to keep the number of batters from each start down to three this time in order to keep the presentation and workload simple. I did review the data from the entire start before drawing any conclusions, so any analysis tends to be within a broader context. The idea is to key-in on specific pitches and see how their velocity and break may have changed, in addition to how effective they were (like if a certain pitch was thrown for a strike more consistently than before). If you haven't seen MLB's Gameday application before, this link offers a basic explanation of what's displayed in the images below.

4/9/2009 at Texas: TEX 12 - CLE 8

Michael Young - 1st Inning

M. Young 1st 1 87 3" 17" FB Called K

2 88 5" 14" FB Foul

3 88 3" 16" FB 2B

Pavano's approach to Michael Young is pretty typical of his pitch selection to the 12 batters he faced. With the exception of an occasional changeup or slider, Pavano rarely went to anything other than an 86-88 MPH fastball. This allowed Texas to get comfortable early and just sit on the same type of pitch the entire time Pavano was on the mound. Five of Pavano's six hits came off that bland 86-88 MPH fastball. Pavano also did a poor job of locating his pitches. He took an overly cautious approach throughout the game, nibbling around the edges of the strike zone (this trend appears in all three featured at-bats). It didn't take long for Texas to realize that Pavano wasn't going to challenge them, so they started hacking away at anything that crossed into the zone.

Marlon Byrd - 1st Inning

M. Byrd 1st 1 79 8" 8" CHG Ball

2 87 3" 13" FB Ball

3 87 4" 13" FB HR

Pavano continues to skirt the strike zone against Marlon Byrd due to either a lack of control or a lack of confidence in his pitches. Here, Pavano fails to establish himself in the count by getting behind 2-0. When he does manage to find the zone, it's with a nearly identical, flat, 87 MPH fastball which Byrd launches into the stands for a two-run homer.

Ian Kinsler - 2nd Inning

I. Kinsler 2nd 1 86 3" 17" FB Ball

2 88 5" 14" FB Ball

3 86 5" 16" FB HR

At this point, Pavano had already given up five runs and just walked Omar Vizquel to start the second inning. He's really got nothing to lose in being more aggressive and trying to throw something other than a fastball (although honestly, I'm not sure how big a role Shoppach played in the terrible pitch selection). Instead, he goes to the exact same type of pitch that got him hammered in the first and gives up another two-run homer after falling behind 2-0.

There's really no excuse for going to the exact same type of pitch and watching it get hit every time. I knew Pavano had to realize what was going on, yet he made little to no adjustment in his approach even after heading to the dugout for half an inning.

4/14/2009 at Kansas City: KC 9 - CLE 3

Coco Crisp - 1st Inning

C. Crisp 1st 1 88 5" 12" FB Ball

2 88 7" 13" SNK Foul

3 82 9" 6" CHG Ball

4 82 6" 13" CHG Ball

5 79 14" 10" CRV Pop-up (out)

You can see a difference in Pavano's approach against Kansas City from the very first batter. Note the variety of pitches that he uses against Coco Crisp here. Pavano starts out with a nice combination of fastballs and off-speed pitches. The subtle difference between his sinker and standard fastball (both are thrown at similar speeds, but the sinker has more bite to it) fools Crisp and causes him to foul off a pitch that probably looked like another outside fastball before breaking.

Pavano also does a good job of using the entire plate, giving Crisp multiple locations to worry about in the at-bat rather than clustering all his pitches in one quadrant like he did against Texas. I really like the way Pavano started out Crisp with the fastball before gradually decreasing his velocity and ramping up the break of each consecutive pitch. He eventually gets Crisp to pop-out on a 79 MPH curveball.

He may not be pounding the strike zone in this particular example (there was plenty of that later on), but he gives the batter a reason to protect the plate and actually swing at a few pitches outside the zone as opposed to just giving them the exact same look every time.

Alex Gordon - 2nd Inning

A. Gordon 2nd 1 92 5" 17" FB Swinging K

2 81 8" 11" CHG Ball

3 91 6" 15" SNK Swinging K

4 83 8" 13" CHG Swinging K

Pavano is very aggressive against Alex Gordon, striking him out on four pitches. This approach resulted in Pavano throwing 70% of his pitches for strikes against the Royals, which is excellent given the stuff he had on display that night. Check out the two 91-92 MPH fastballs Pavano serves to Gordon (he hit 90 MPH on a regular basis throughout the start). I didn't even know Pavano could still throw that fast, let alone nail the inside corner with it. Pavano gives Gordon a tempting look inside with a legit heater, inducing a swinging strike. He then moves down and away with another heater before cutting 8 MPH off the previous pitch with a breaking changeup for the strikeout (this time he would have struck out Gordon whether he swung or not).

It was clear early on that Pavano wasn't going to give the Royals batters any room to breathe.

Mike Jacobs - 6th Inning

M. Jacobs 6th 1 90 6" 15" FB Called K

2 89 5" 13" FB Foul

3 82 8" 5" CHG Called K

Jumping ahead to the sixth inning, Pavano is faced with home run-threat, Mike Jacobs. The set-up for this at-bat is similar to what Pavano faced in Texas. He knows Jacobs can easily take him out if he makes a mistake and there are already two runners on base ahead of him. Unlike with Texas, Pavano chooses to go right after Jacobs with a called strike up and in on the hands. Pavano doesn't allow Jacobs to get his arms extended on the swing and tries to jam him up and in for a second time. This does a great job of setting up the changeup which completely catches Jacobs off-guard after fighting off the last pitch inside. The changeup is located right along the border of the strikezone, but away from the barrel of the bat as Jacobs takes the bait for the strikeout.

This is another example of Pavano setting up his pitches and effectively changing speeds, something sorely lacking in Texas.


Normally, I wouldn't be so interested in a 6.0 inning, 8 H, 4 ER day by the team's third starter. However, Pavano's outing against Kansas City is significant because it answers the question of what Pavano is still capable of in a Major League game. The fact that he racked up 8 strikeouts while walking none leads me to believe that he has the potential to be even better in the future. He displayed the ability to command multiple pitches for strikes, change speeds, set-up his pitches, and get out of jams. Pavano could have easily gone seven innings in this game (he only threw 80 pitches), but Wedge probably decided to sit Pavano in case trouble found him again (a similar approach was taken with Paul Byrd, who was notorious for his late inning breakdowns, although this isn't necessarily the case with Pavano).

Granted, this was all against a struggling KC offense, but a start like this could really boost Pavano's confidence and encourage him to continue this aggressive, varied approach. He may have even validated some mechanical adjustments between starts, as evidenced by the additional 2-4 MPH on his fastball the second time out.

With the pitching staff still sorting itself out, any quality starts from Pavano will give Cleveland some much needed stability in the starting rotation as they struggle to get their season back on track following a 2-7 start. I still have no idea which Pavano will show up in New York on Sunday, but the flash of potential in KC is reason enough to be at least a little more optimistic about his future with the Tribe.

All Pitch f/x images were generated by MLB's Gameday application.

No comments: