Obviously, LaTroy Hawkins’s appearance in last night’s series finale against the Dodgers was very disappointing. Rob Neyer claimed that he seemed “lost out there” in last night’s Baseball Tonight Live chat. He ended up allowing two hits and a walk to load the bases for Andre Ethier. After falling behind 2-0, Hawkins found himself needing to find the strike zone, and he found it a little too much on the 5th pitch of the at bat, which Ethier deposited behind the center field wall for a walk off grand slam.
Adam McCalvy blogged today about how Hawkins’s velocity has dropped since his first start of the season.
Trouble is, Hawkins’ best pitch has not been very good of late. He was pumping 96 mph fastballs with ease during his four scoreless outings to begin his Brewers career, but on Thursday he didn’t top 91 mph.
Hawkins’s lack of velocity was in issue last night, but it’s certainly not the only culprit, nor is it a reason to panic. Pitch F/X Data actually had Hawkins topping out at 92 MPH. That is low for him, but as we can see from his velocity chart over the years, that’s not uncommon for Hawkins to have periodically.
Hawkins’ last appearance is not yet included in this graph. What we can see here, however, is that one appearance with a low fastball velocity doesn’t necessarily indicate that Hawkins won’t find his velocity and return to the 93-95 range in the next one. Hawkins certainly won’t be at his best when he’s only averaging 90 MPH on his fastball, but this one outing isn’t yet cause for alarm. We’ve seen jumps from an average MPH of 90 to 94 at times in his career, and there’s no reason that couldn’t happen again. If we see this lack of velocity for multiple appearances in a row, that’s when we should start worrying about his velocity.
Still, it certainly didn’t help last night when he put himself into a situation in which he needed to throw a strike against Andre Ethier, a power hitting left hander. However, what really put Hawkins into that bind – first allowing three baserunners in front of Ethier and then behind 2-0 in that at-bat – was an inability to locate the curveball. He threw six of them, and only managed to throw one in the strike zone. The other five were so far out of the strike zone that there was virtually no chance at inducing a swing, much less a swing and a miss. Here’s the Pitch F/X chart, courtesy of Brooks’ Baseball
Hawkins had no trouble finding the zone with his fastball. However, when he couldn’t find the zone with the curveball, he was left with no choice but to throw fastballs in the zone to avoid walking batters. Possibly, if his velocity had been there, he could have compensated by blowing 95 MPH gas by hitters, but that just wasn’t going to happen with his 90 MPH fastball, especially not with how much of the zone he caught with it.
What happened to Hawkins last night wasn’t simply a drop in velocity. It was a perfect storm of missing in the zone with the fastball, having absolutely no control of the curveball, and a lack of the velocity needed to compensate. Hawkins has still pitched well this year according to his peripheral stats – he’s getting a ton of ground balls and still has a K/9 of 11.57. That has him at an FIP of 3.42 and an xFIP of 3.60 – above average for a reliever. Three performances – at least one of which can be blamed on poor defense behind him – have killed his ERA. Despite how poor his early surface results have been, it’s not yet time to give up on Hawkins.