Reader DavidC posits this nugget about Ricky Nolasco.
It seemed like Ricky was using his change-up more often than he usually does, and I don’t see that he used his big breaking ball at all. His change-up sinks very well, which probably explains all the ground balls. He’s been using it a lot lately; maybe he’s trying to develop it to use on a regular basis, and is toying with it in different scenarios to see how best to use it. That’s my take, anyway.
I promised I’d take a look at it, and the Maniac doesn’t go back on his promises. David said to use data starting from the second Houston Astros start, the one in which Ricky dominated the Astros, going nine innings and striking out 10 batters while walking none and surrendering a homer. It’s worth noting that during this span from that game to yesterday night’s struggle against the St. Louis Cardinals, Ricky has struck out 36 batters, walked eight, and given up four home runs. Unfortunately, teams have a 24% LD% against him, which has likely something to do with his 39 hits and 22 earned runs allowed.
Well, despite the small sample that this is (he only faced 156 batters in these six games), I still checked out Ricky’s changeup to see if anything good was coming out of it. First off, the amount. Ricky threw 72 changeups according to Pitch f/x during these six games, out of 609 total pitches. That comes out to a percentage of 12% changeups thrown. According to Ricky’s FanGraphs page, Pitch f/x has him throwing his changeup 8.1% of the time in total, including this six game stretch. So in that sense, David is right, Ricky is using more changeups in this six game set. David also said that Ricky is throwing his big curve less, which is true; Ricky threw the curve 71 times, and as you’ll see in the movement chart, some of those curves probably were sliders.
Let’s look at his movement chart and see what he’s throwing in general.
Get used to the picture, because I like it for Ricky. In any case, you can see that there’s good separation between each of his pitches. The irregular moving fastballs are definitely faster than the changes, so those are OK. There are some curves that straddle the line between curve and slider, and some that are most certainly sliders. Ricky throws most of his breaking pitches at an equal amount, but the slider gets thrown the most of the three.
Now let’s look at the changeup. The first chart has the ones that did not go in play, the second has the batted balls that did go in play.
Let me tell ya. There’s a definite reason why many of those pitches are on the left side of the plate. Ricky has to use the change and fastball primarily versus lefties, as he can’t throw his slider against them. It’s imperative that the pitch be somewhat effective, because we’ll definitely be facing lefties and switch hitters, especially in our division with the Philadelphia Phillies, and Ricky needs to be able to work efficiently against them.
In any case, when you see the changeups not in play, the first thing that pops out are the good whiff counts. Thouhg it’s a small sample size, Ricky’s gotten 10 whiffs out of 50 swings, a decent 25% whiff rate on the pitch. Compare that 17% whiffs for his curve, 11% on his fastball, and 28% on his slider. You can also see that he’s gotten those whiffs out of the zone, with a few more swings out of the zone getting just contacted for balls. That’s one of the reasons Ricky can rack up the strikeouts, because he can use the changeup when he’s ahead to put out lefties if necessary. He’s also been able to place it in good locations for the most part, with nothing inside to left handers.
Something else that David pointed out was Ricky’s ability to get grounders out of the changeup. So far, so good in that regard. Of the 18 balls in play off the changeup, half of them went for ground outs, with a few others that went through the hole base hits via the ground ball. So if there was one pitch for Ricky to get grounders on, it’s this one.
That being said, this was a small sample, so we can’t get too excited; it could just have been a nice streak for his changeup. FanGraphs has his change valued at -0.4 runs total, but it’s data set seems to think some of Nolasco’s changes are actually splitters, which they have valued at 5.6 runs total an 2.53 runs per 100 pitches. I think the two are one and the same and there may be some merit to Ricky trying to mix more of them into his gameplan. They seem like they might be able to get more ground balls and help him perhaps limit his use of a below average fastball (FanGraphs values it at -1.21 runs per 100 pitches). It hasn’t helped his luck any, but the results seem pretty good so far. Let’s keep an eye on Ricky’s approach.
Oh, and good job spotting that DavidC. I believe you were right on all points within the sample.