After the Cincinnati Reds’ home run derby at Miller Park not 10 days ago, the Brewers’ rotation produced a complete turn around. Since that 7 IP, 5 R outing by Marco Estrada, no Brewers starter has worked fewer than 6 innings, and each starter has allowed 2 or fewer runs in each outing. In a depressed offensive environment such as the 2012 National League, that type of outing is a true quality start, allowing the Brewers’ offense ample chances to stay in the game (ultimately, the team is 4-3 during this stretch of quality starts).
My brief question this morning is, “what changed?” How did Brewers pitchers change their approaches during the last 7 games?
Fresh off his masterful 8 inning duel with Johnny Cueto, the Brewers’ ace-in-waiting pitched another strong outing last night. Greinke spurred the Brewers’ 8-0 victory with 7 scoreless innings. He hasn’t walked a batter since May 4, maximizing the value of his strike outs and allowing him to stay out of trouble with whatever hits he does allow.
During his first six outings, Greinke threw his fastballs nearly 70% of his deliveries, specifically going to his newfound cut fastball in 18% of his deliveries. Otherwise, he swapped his brands of moving or riding fastballs with his slider, curves, and change.
Over his last dominant 15 innings, Greinke basically shelved the cutter, moving his curveballs and slider to a more prominent position in his repertoire. Greinke’s fastballs came in just under 92 MPH, according to TexasLeaguers, during his last two starts, and his curves and slider give him multiple velocity levels behind his fastballs.
By throwing either a slider or one of his curves in more than 34% of his selections, Greinke provided more variations in his deliveries than his cutter supplied. Suspenseful narrator’s voice: is this the end of Greinke’s cut fastball? Tune in next week to find out!
2012 is really a tale of two pitchers for Gallardo. His overall performance is skewed by two whippings at the hands of the St. Louis nine, but when he’s not facing the Redbirds, Gallardo boasts 39 IP and 11 R — that’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination (of course, the Brewers’ bats only scored 17 runs over Gallardo’s top 6 starts, resulting in a mere 3-3 overall record during those ballgames).
Gallardo’s overall pitching approach morphed to a fastball/slider preference as the years advanced, and early this season, it was the same story for the righty: during his first six starts, Gallardo threw a fastball or slider in 82% of his overall deliveries. Beyond that, he favored his curveball over his change up, practically eliminating his change-of-pace from his arsenal.
Whereas Greinke’s success over his last two starts corresponded with a rather extreme change in his pitch selection, Gallardo’s recent success accompanies a solidified fastball/slider approach. The only notable shift in Gallardo’s last two starts is that he hardly threw his change whatsoever (1 delivery in two starts), exclusively working his curveball when he wasn’t throwing a fastball or slider.
The Brewers’ crafty southpaw boasted 24 runs allowed during his first 32 innings this season, but he put together his first truly great outing of the season against the Cubs at Miller Park.
Wolf claimed early on that his stuff was good, but he just was not being aggressive enough. Oddly enough, his first six starts feature fastball selection above 60%, including his cutter and his primary fastballs. Wolf’s favorite off-speed pitch was his Bugs Bunny curve (nearly 18% of his selections), followed by nearly equal usage of his change and slider.
Against the Cubs, Wolf further emphasized his fastballs, going to his cutter 21 times (against 23 riding fastballs and 19 rising fastballs. Pitch f/x classified one of his fastballs as a two-seamer, but it’s not clear that he was attempting to use that offering as a sinker, even though his “two seamer” moved in on lefties more than his primary fastball). Beyond his fastballs, Wolf worked his curveball more, pocketing his change and slider somewhat.
After allowing 12 runs during his first 24 innings, Marcum put things together during his first three May starts. Although Marcum blanked the Padres over 7 innings to open May, his start against the Cubs was arguably stronger, as the slow-throwin’ righty struck out 6 Cubs while walking 2 (over 7 innings).
One of the interesting things about Marcum’s 2011 campaign was that he slowly shelved his signature change up, in favor of his cutter, as the season wore on. To open 2012, he selected his cutter and change up at almost the same rate, adding in a couple of other fastballs, as well as a slider (more than 17%) and curve (more than 10%).
Marcum’s primary fastball cooked against the Cubs, and the righty stayed with that 87 MPH offering nearly 30% of his deliveries. Behind that selection, Marcum worked his change up and slider equally (36% of his total selections), and he also emphasized his curveball much more than his cutter and secondary fastball.
If you compare Marcum’s 2012 approach to his entire career, his identity as a pitcher is truly changing. Perhaps this is the ultimate change up from one of the few card-carrying junkballers in the MLB, but Marcum is no longer a change-up first pitcher. Instead of selecting his change up more frequently than any of his other fastballs or off-speed pitches, Marcum is now working his cutter, slider, and curve more frequently.
Oddly enough, his slider is also much slower in 2012 than in previous seasons, which leads me to believe that he’s using a different pitch this season (or focusing on the pitch in a different way). If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that Marcum was setting up his slider to be a change of speeds from his cutter, while using his signature change up as a variation off his main fastballs.
One of the things I love about Marco Estrada is that he is a straightforward pitcher. No gimmicks, no tricks, no nothing — just fastball, curveball, and change up, thank you very much.
During his first three starts, Estrada threw his primary fastball more than 61% of his deliveries (with a secondary fastball appearing in nearly 2% of his deliveries). Otherwise, Estrada favored his curveball over his change up, throwing the breaking ball nearly 21% of the time (against 16% for his change).
Not unlike Gallardo, Estrada solidified his earlier approach during his strong start against the Cubs. That curveball jumped to 22% of his selections, that change up appeared 17% of the time; the rest were fastballs, coming in at 90 MPH. Three pitches, no waiting.
Baseball-Reference. Sports-Reference, LLC, 2000-2012.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2012.