Thank you, Hanley.
Last night’s game was a nail-biter until Hanley Ramirez lit the fish in the eighth. Our defense perked up in the home-stand opener, turning four double plays and making no errors (unless you could count Omar Infante’s base running brain freeze as an error).
Ryan Dempster threw well, giving up four hits and one run in his six-inning outing. Solis…not so much.
The change he observed was that he had stopped tapping the ball in his glove right before separating his hands. The effect accelerated his delivery. The telecast compared similar videos of his delivery from last year and this year. This Year Josh was releasing the ball before Last Year Josh started his arm forward. What that means is that he lost the time necessary to fully load his legs and keep his weight back, both of which contribute to increased inertia going forward, which in turn increases velocity. Let’s take a look at a couple of spray charts, courtesy of Fangraphs:
The two charts above depict his release point. The first graph is from before he realized he’d forgotten a step in his delivery and the second is from last night. They show that he hasn’t changed anything that would affect his release point. Not arm angle, elbow height, follow-through depth, stride angle or stride length.
Next, let’s look at the effect on velocity:
While the change in raw speed isn’t more than 1-2 MPH, the difference in vertical movement is clearly visible. A ball that moves more is harder to hit, and last night’s performance confirmed that theory, and the Cubbies tended to hit more ground balls than the Phillies or the Cardinals.
So, Josh is pitching a tad faster, but with considerably more life in his pitches. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. I also suspect that as long as he doesn’t blow out his elbow or shoulder, his velocity will continue to pick up as the season progresses. I would look to see him pitching 94-95 by the All-Star break.
After watching his outings so far this year, there are two things that I think would contribute to making him a more effective pitcher. First, I’d like to see his location tighten up a bit. He’s still missing a fair number of pitches at the corners of the strike zone. To date, the umpires haven’t been sympathetic. Ignoring the 0-2 and 1-2 teasers intentionally thrown out of the zone to draw a swinging strike three, he’s been a ball-width or two off. I’d also like to see him start throwing more popup and ground ball pitches by increasing the delta-V between his fastball and his off-speed pitches. Where Ryan Dempster was dropping 10 MPH or more between his four-seamer and his sinker, Josh is only dropping about five MPH. He’s just not getting batters to bite on his slower speed stuff.
Heath Bell came in late to close things up, and did his job. I’ll save my analysis of his mechanics for another article, but in order to stop leaving pitches up in the zone, he needs to finish out in front a little more.