Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Drabek Watch: Overanalyzing His First Start

WARNING: Everything in this blog post must be taken in to context as it will be discussing the smallest of sample sizes, therefore any over or under-excitement that may be experienced through reading this blog post is not the fault of the writer, you were warned.

If you didn't already know from my overenthusiastic assessment of Drabek in the Projecting Performance series or the plea I made for him to become relevant among Jays discussion in February, I'm a pretty big Kyle Drabek fan. As such I was sure to attend his first start of the season last night and to say the least I had mixed feelings.

As a fan and observer, it seemed to me like he was keeping his composure better than he had last year, not reacting when things didn't go quite as planned and generally having a better presence on the mound. By this I mean he seemed like he kept a more consistent delivery, keeping on line with the plate, and not getting out of his mechanics when he gave up hits or runs.

As well from a very very amateur scouting standpoint (if you can even call it that), in terms of his actual pitches, they "looked" a lot better than last year. The key in that previous sentence being the vision aspect as any fan can attest to, when you're at the game you tend to get a little googly eyed and fandom can get in the way of your objectivity. This ultimately brought me to do the little bit of extra research after the game.

The reason I questioned my initial feelings about the game is though Drabek "looked good", from a stats point of view it didn't seem like there was too much change. After his first start Drabek has put himself at much improved 1.69 ERA and 2.86 FIP, but his 4.49 xFIP was more remeniscent of the 2011 season. It is true however, that number is influenced by his apparent luck as evidenced by the .200 BABIP and 83.3% strand rate, which in small sample sizes can be very iffy. Moreover when getting to the raw statistics, Drabek still walked 3 batters in his 5.2 innings of work and only struck out 4. Astonishingly to some that strikeout to walk rate is higher than last season, but it could not have gotten any worse and there is not nearly enough change to be evidence of any true change.

Furthermore despite the apparent change in mechanics and pitch choice that the Jays had done with Drabek in Spring Training and over the offseason, Drabek's Pitch F/X information showed mixed results. On Monday's Baseball Today Podcast Keith Law mentioned that in Spring Training the Jays had Drabek throwing more two seamers and cutters rather than four seamers, because Drabek was lacking movement on the four seamers in 2011.

However as per Texas Leaguers Drabek actually threw 47.3% four seamers in Tuesday's game, where as he only threw 34.8% four seamers last year. Beyond that the percentage of two seamers thrown was relatively similar and it seemed like Drabek threw quite a bit more curveballs and far less cutters. Of course this could always be an issue with pitch mislabeling and pitch choice would depend on the type of situation that Drabek is in so there is quite a bit of room for error per say.

Last, but not least one last "analysis" if you will would be of the pitch F/X variety. Last year if you looked at some of Drabek's pitch locations and release points (both graphs directly below) you can see that they a little bit scrambled. The pitches Drabek threw were very wild and his release point greatly varied not only form start to start, but from pitch to pitch.
Drabek's 2011 Release Points
Drabek's 2011 Pitch Locations
Then if you look at the pitch location and release point graphs for Drabek's start on Tuesday, they are much more condensed. The release points all look much more consistent than they were in 2011 and his pitches appear to be much less "wild" and more of where he would want to put them. The changes in the Pitch F/X results could be attributed to the mechanical changes that the Jays apparently did in Spring Training and are similar to those described by Keith law.
Drabek's 2012 Release Points
Drabek's 2012 Pitch Locations
In summary Drabek's first start looked pretty good through the simple stats and in person. Some of the luck stats suggested that his performance was helped by the luck gods and some of peripheral stats suggest he may not have been as good as advertised. However in terms of mechanical change rather than production, it appears he may be a bit of a changed pitcher. He is hitting his spots and getting a consistent release point, which could very easily result in better peripherals and game results than he had in 2011.

Though remember this is one game we're talking about here. In one game a terrible hitter like Jeff Mathis can hit 1.000 and a terrible pitcher like Armando Gallaraga can pitch a perfect game. Despite that, how Drabek produced in his first start of the season is intriguing to say the least and definitely pushes towards my hopes and predictions that he will be what we thought he would be when he was the Jays No. 1 Prospect only a year ago.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Texas Leaguers, ESPN


  1. I'm growing more and more wary of trusting PitchFX classifications, as if I have my computer open while watching the game, I always notice some pretty huge (and obvious errors). Drabek was definitely still throwing 4-seamers, but he definitely didn't throw 43 of them. I didn't chart the game but I'd have to guess it was in the 15-20 range. He definitely threw a lot more 2-seamers, which are sometimes hard to discern at the park unless you have a seat behind home plate. They were definitely kicking in on the hands of right handed batters, and he got a killer called third strike on Saltalamacchia to end the second inning.

    I noticed a lot more curveballs than the 5 it suggests, but as I mentioned in an article over at Jays Journal, I feel like PitchFX has a tendency to classify some of Drabek's curveballs as sliders. When you look at velocity, movement, and spin, they're pretty similar, and it may simply be the case of him elevating the curve and its full vertical break not being realized.

    All in all though great article, and I'm glad you share my optimism on Drabek this year. He probably made himself a few more fans with his start, but there were very few of us still in his corner during the offseason and spring training.

  2. Also, wow, I said definitely a lot in that first paragraph. I blame it being 1 am.

  3. Yeah I was a little wary of the readings as well, but even brooks baseball who have their own set of pitch identification numbers, so the jury is out on that one.

    As for you being a Drabek fan, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one right now because with the way everything has gone with him, it seems there aren't much of left.

  4. It happens to the best of us