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A Look at Hisashi Iwakuma’s Home Run Problem


Hisashi Iwakuma has been a very good pitcher with the Mariners, with one fatal flaw, the long ball. Despite pitching most of his games in a pitcher friendly ball park, he has given up 17 homers in both years in the Majors so far. So looking at data from both 2012 and 2013, I wanted to look at his home runs and see why Iwakuma is so home run prone and whether or not he can fix it.

Here are the locations of the pitches he has given up homers on, labelled with the MLBAM tags:

Hisashi Iwakuma Homers

There are a lot of arm side fastballs here, both high and low, along with some hanging sliders and sinkers. There are a few splitters, but perhaps even more alarming than all the fastballs hit out of the park are the sliders hit out of the park, especially the well located sliders (perhaps you could argue that they aren’t glove side enough, but there are several low ones).

But how do his home run locations compare to his other average locations. Here Iwakuma’s average locations, based on result, labelled with average velocity

Hisashi Iwakuma Average Locations

Not surprisingly, even though he keeps the ball low on average, it is the highest pitches that are being hit for home runs. His average contact is a little higher than all his pitches on average, and also more arm side (even though the home runs are a little more glove side). The contact plays are a little harder in velocity than the average pitch, so the higher and harder pitches (read fastballs and sinkers) are the ones that are hit. His whiffs come on glove side pitches that are a little slower (there really isn’t much deviation in velocity) and lower (read the splitter).

More of the homers have come against right-handed batters (4.4 % to 2.6 % against lefties), probably because of the splitter neutralizing lefties (his OPS against both is about equal). We see this come out in the spray chart of batted balls Iwakuma has given up (via Katron.org, just 2013 at Safeco)

Hisashi Iwakuma Spray

Despite facing more left-handers than righthanders, Iwakuma is giving up a lot of balls to left field, suggesting righties pulling the ball. So I thought it might be helpful to see how he is pitching right-handed batters:

Hisashi Iwakuma RHB

So Iwakuma is able to keep the ball glove side, away from right-handed batters on average. He doesn’t throw a lot of curveballs, but he isn’t getting them down. When he gives up homers, not surprisingly, especially considering the spray chart, he is keeping the ball arm side and high in the zone. The sinker is getting somewhat down, and the fastball is getting glove side, but when he is getting in trouble, it is with these pitches against right-handers.

In a previous article this year, I noted that Hisashi Iwakuma was throwing pitches basically right down the middle without great velocity and getting away with it. Now, it doesn’t appear he is. He still has a solid strikeout rate, and he isn’t walking very many batters, but he has a home run problem that I think is directly related to his fastball velocity. Unless he is willing to throw more pitches out of the zone (he is 14th in zone % out of 93 qualified pitchers) and walk more batters, this is just going to be a problem for Iwakuma. Of course, this would have undesired side effects as well. Despite the good splitter, his stuff isn’t overpowering on the whole, and he is just going to be hittable at times (the low BABIP aside). If he keeps the walk rate low and keeps missing some bats, then you can live with the home runs, as there won’t be many runners on base when the home runs are hit.

A Look at Nick Franklin So Far

nick franklin

In 99 plate appearances (as of Sunday morning) since being promoted by the Mariners, Nick Franklin has been a very effective hitter. Franklin has been walking, not striking out very much, and hitting for power. He is swinging through pitches a lot less than average, making more contact than average, and not chasing pitches, in fact, he is not swinging at much of anything at all, showing a very discriminate approach.

Franklin is, of course, a switch hitter, so we have to evaluate him from both sides of the plate. Below are his average locations as a left-handed hitter:

Nick Franklin as a Lefty

This is obviously his most used side, since there are more right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers. Pitchers are trying to keep the ball low and away from him, almost at an extreme, which isn’t that unusual for a rookie. For the most part, he isn’t going to swing at the pitches that are that far away, evidenced by both his whiffs and contact (which are in pretty standard spots, the contact being higher and the whiffs being lower) being closer to him.

More: Mariners Prospect Report

Here are his average locations as a right-handed hitter, a smaller sample size:

Nick Franklin as a Righty

Clearly his weaker side (with some really bad splits) in the minors, his contact is coming almost exactly where his average pitch seen has been located, which is good news. The whiffs are on balls that are down and in on him, which is a little weird (because you would expect, since he has the platoon advantage, he should see arm side changeups more often than glove side breaking pitches). He only has 5 swinging strikes against left-handed pitching, a very good ratio, with one being a change, a sinker, a curve, and two sliders. Only one of the contact plays as a right-hander has been on a slider, which seems more like an oddity than something predictive (as we will see, he isn’t having problems with breaking balls).

Via Brooks Baseball, here is Franklin’s spray chart as a right-handed hitter

Franklin Spray as LH

He seems to have a little power to center and right-center, with pull power, but an overall balanced spray chart, meaning he will use all fields.

Here is his spray chart as a left-handed hitter:

Franklin Spray as RH

While there is some balance to left-field, he is mostly a pull to right-center hitter. A lot of ground-outs to 1st and 2nd, with not many of them going through. He is hitting fly-balls and line drives all over the field.

More: Russell Wilson a Top 5 NFL QB?

Overall, Franklin has seen 44 pitches over 94 MPH,  made contact with 7 of them, with 3 swinging strikes. So he seems to be handling velocity okay. As for breaking balls, he has seen 41 pitches below 80 MPH, 3 in play pitches, with just 1 swinging strike. Basically, pitchers have not exposed any glaring weaknesses in Franklin’s approach or abilities at the plate. That obviously doesn’t mean there aren’t any, but he is showing he can hit at the big league level and hit well. He will have to keep making adjustments as pitchers make more adjustments and start pitching him differently, but he doesn’t look like the guy I watched struggle making contact in Tacoma last season. Franklin’s defense is another question, and I don’t think Dustin Ackley provides much value as an outfielder, especially when he was plus defensively in the infield, but if Franklin is going to hit like this, then I think the Mariners don’t have to worry about offense from the 2nd base position.

Aaron Harang’s Success and Failure With the Fastball

Aaron Harang

Against the Angels last night, Harang had another bad start for the Mariners, giving up 4 runs in 5 innings (settling down and at least giving the Mariners a couple of innings when it looked like he might not get out of the 3rd). He wasn’t getting any help from his defense, and he didn’t walk anyone, but he was hittable again. His peripherals for the season are okay, and one would expect him to regress and get better as the season goes along (assuming he keeps getting chances, which as of right now, there isn’t many alternatives for the Mariners’ right now), but he has been hittable, with a pretty monstrous home run rate.

So far, Harang’s worse pitch has been the pitch he throws the most, the 2-seam moving fastball (labelled as FT by MLBAM Pitch F/X). According to the traditional automated pitching tags, this has been the pitch Harang has used the most (at least since 2010, when MLBAM separated the fastballs after calling 2-seam and 4-seam fastballs the same to begin the Pitch F/X era) and has been probably his worst pitch overall according to wRC + (the changeup was technically worse in 2012 and so far in 2013, but he throws it very rarely). Pitches labelled as a 4-seam fastball have been much more successful, about league average in 2012, and better than league average in 2013 (though I wonder if just using raw/non park adjusted park numbers would be better when looking at the Mariners this season, as the park dimensions have changed, and the numbers haven’t adjusted to that). By comparison, the moving fastball has been twice as bad (or half as good) as league average.

While I can’t vouch for each individual classification (Brooks Baseball, which uses manual classifications, has roughly the same breakdown, calling it a sinker instead of a moving fastball, or FT, which may be more accurate), they are different pitches. The 4-seam fastball is 89.77 MPH on average, and the moving fastball is 90.27 MPH on average, with more horizontal movement, but less vertical movement. Here is how he locates the two on average (with the average of all pitches thrown included for reference)

Aaron Harang Average Strike Zone

Harang is a little odd in that he is a glove side pitcher on average. He is right-handed, but he throws more pitches in the left-handed side of the batter’s box. Some of this could be because of a lack of a changeup that he throws often, but he clearly likes to work high and glove side with the 4-seamer. Remember, this is the pitch that is effective, so high, even with slightly below average velocity, is good for Harang. The moving fastball, his bad pitch, stays on the arm-side, again, the opposite as you would expect. It would seem, that since it has more horizontal movement, it would move to the glove side part of the plate, which is not the case. I think a lot of the problems have to do with usage, which i think helps explain the location difference. The 4-seam fastball is usually used against right-handers, when he has the platoon advantage, while the moving fastball is usually used against left-handers, which is when he does not have the platoon advantage. This leads to a bias in the numbers, as if two pitches are exactly the same, but one thrown with the platoon advantage, and one without, then one will look artificially better. This also helps explain the location difference. With the 4-seamer, Harang keeps the ball up, but also away. With the moving fastball, he keeps the ball lower (more in the middle of the plate) and away. Either way, he is going to throw the ball away.

The moving fastball takes place of Harang’s changeup, a pitch he doesn’t throw much, by being an arm-side pitch he throws without the platoon advantage. So perhaps it is only a bad pitch because he doesn’t like to throw his changeup (which, we can assume, is worse). Taking out BABIP and comparing the pitch against the 4-seam and only looking at right-handers may actually tell us if one pitch is better than the other.

Of the 89 moving fastballs that I count against right-handers, he has 8 swinging strikes and 23 contact plays. Of the 204 four seamers he has thrown to right-handers, he has given up 32 contact plays and gotten 16 swinging strikes. Against lefties with the 4-seam fastball (which he has thrown 71 times), Harang has 10 swinging strikes and 14 contact plays. This means the pitch is more effective against right-handers than the 2-seamer, but also more effective against left-handers. So it would seem to mean that Harang should just throw the 4-seamer more. The 4-seamer shouldn’t be harder on his arm than the 2-seamer (at least, I have no idea why it would be) and I don’t think he has a problem throwing either for strikes.

Of course, we aren’t including things like sequencing and counts, which could play a role in the difference, and pitching up as much as he does works, but if he did it more, maybe it wouldn’t work as well. It is possible that Harang’s stuff is not good enough for him to have really any one tendency, whether it is relying heavily on the 2-seamer against lefties or relying on the 4-seamer heavily against lefties. With that said, you would like to know if that is the case. It would be nice to see him at least try to use the 4-seamer more and use the moving fastball much less frequently. With that said, he is 35. To ask a pitcher to reinvent himself at 35, when he has been able to stay in the big leagues for so long, with some really successful seasons mixed in, might be a difficult task for the Mariners. Harang might instead ask them to fix the defense, especially after a game in which Triunfel, Franklin, Morse, and Saunders all made poor defensive plays (and Harang himself is not immune to the defensive blunder). But for now, Harang is operating with two fastballs, using the one that is worse the most.

Michael Saunders’ Struggles With Changeups

Michael Saunders

2013 has not been kind to Michael Saunders. Saunders was successful in 2012, hitting better than league average after a horrendous start to his MLB career. This year, he has just a 75 wRC + (76 OPS +), meaning he has been roughly 25% worse than league average. His strikeout rate has crept back up (it was high last year, but not it is higher, above 28%), though he is actually walking more. His BABIP is a little down, and he has a lower GB % and IFFB%, his swinging strike percentage is actually down on a whole, but pitchers are throwing more balls in the zone than they did last year and he is making less contact.

He had a shoulder/collarbone injury in April that put him on the DL after he ran into the wall, so I thought maybe the problem was that his bat speed hasn’t come back yet. So far this year, he has seen 28 pitches over 95 MPH, and has 5 whiffs, with just 4 balls put in play, all for outs. The fastest ball he has put in play for a non out is 94.2 MPH, and that was a throwing error by the 2nd baseman. The fastest pitch he has an actual hit on was 93.7 MPH. On pitches 91 MPH (about an average fastball), he has 19 swinging strikes and 37 contact plays, so it seems he is doing okay on fastballs, especially average to good fastballs (but maybe not plus fastballs). In fact, he is preferring the hard stuff so far, with the average swinging strike being 86.25 MPH, and the average contact play being 87.29 MPH.

In his average strike zone, we see that he is neither struggling with the inside ball, nor excelling with it.

Michael Saunders Strike Zone

Here is what his 2012 average strike zone looked like

Michael Saunders 2012 Strike Zone

It seems that his problems with lower pitches wasn’t something he had in 2012. That is, the difference between the average pitch he saw and the ones he hit or swung and missed at was much smaller in 2012 than it has been in 2013. In 2012, his average contact play was on 87.94 MPH,  with an average swinging strike of 86.39 MPH, both harder than his 2013 numbers so far. Again, seemingly suggesting that he is having a little bit of problems with top end velocity, but his struggles are mainly with slower pitches.

Also this year, he is swinging and missing at, on average, pitchers with slightly lower release points, and further out right-handed. The left-handed hitter has had the platoon advantage roughly the same amount of the time in 2013 as he did in 2012, so this suggests that maybe he is struggling with changeups. So far in 2013, I count 89 pitches that have been designated as changeups by the MLBAM tags. 22 of them have been swinging strikes (24.7%), just 8 of them for contact plays (8.99%), just 3 hits. In 2012, Saunders 192 changeups with 27 swinging strikes (14.06 %) with 37 contact plays (19.3 %). So it went from a pitch that Saunders excelled against in 2012 to a pitch that he has really struggled against this year. The average location of the changeups have been slightly lower and a little more away, and while that might explain a little bit, there is no reason to think that the slight location difference turned Saunders from a good changeup hitter in 2012 to one that just can’t do anything with changeups in 2013.

There are several possible explanations we could use that we would have no evidence for (it could be a mental problem, it could be him missing bat speed and him having to guess to catch up to fastballs, or any number of things). It is probably best not to speculate. The contact problems, along with the lack of power compared to last year, is concerning, and makes you wonder if Saunders was a one hit wonder, collapsing back into his former self.

What Just Happened to Tom Wilhelmsen


On Saturday, the Mariners were up 4-2 against the Twins with Tom Wilhelmsen coming in to pitch the bottom of the 9th. Wilhelmsen would walk the first three batters he faced, record his only out on a sacrifice fly before giving up a walk-off triple to Ryan Doumit on a low fastball. It was such a horrible outing to watch from a pitcher that is usually dominant that I thought it might be helpful to see whether or not the Pitch F/X data shows what happened and whether or not it is a symptom of a larger problem with Wilhelmsen that may affect him in the future.

The most natural thing to wonder about after such an epic meltdown is release point. Wilhelmsen’s average vertical release point this year has been 6.31. In the game against the Twins, if you adjust for the park (which tends to artificially lower the release point a little), it was 6.23. So it does seem that it was a little lower. It was also further out as well, 2.03 feet from the center of the rubber, even though his average fastball (for example) this year has been -1.93 feet from the center of the rubber (with the rest of his pitchers even closer to the center). So there was a different release point for Wilhelmsen in the game. It doesn’t seem like, at least in the following graph form, that it was too inconsistent:

Tom Wilhelmsen Release Point

I would really hesitate saying that the release point repetition was his problem in the outing. Velocity may have been a problem though. It obviously doesn’t explain the walks, but the last pitch he threw was pummelled. He was still throwing pretty hard, but his average fastball was over 2 MPH slower than the average fastball he has thrown this year. Wilhelmsen’s pitch selection was also bizarre. Usually a Fastball pitcher with a devastating and finishing curveball, with an occasional changeup, Wilhelmsen threw just 1 curveball, and 4 changeups to go with his 18 fastballs. Why wouldn’t he throw his curveball more? Was he uncomfortable on the mound? The diminished velocity and changed release point suggests that this is the case. I don’t want to speculate that there was some kind of injury, because we don’t know that, but his release point and his velocity dropped. Something was wrong with Wilhelmsen. Whether this is something that will affect him in the future is to be seen and we can’t, at least not responsibly, say anything about whether this is predictive or not. But clearly, this was not the Wilhelmsen we are used to seeing, not just by results, but by his pitches and releases as well. In an attempt to see how this was affecting him, here is where Wilhelmsen threw his fastballs on Saturday:

Tom Wilhelmsen Strike Zone

Getting the ball down didn’t seem to be a problem for Wilhelmsen, but the locations were pretty binary, either low and glove side or high and arm side. It doesn’t appear he had a real problem “finishing” his delivery on anymore than a couple of pitches. So, the strike zone doesn’t really help us a lot, other than making us wonder why he threw so many low fastballs when he has a dominant fastball that should be thrown high.

Baseball players are humans, so he could have just been having a bad day. Wilhelmsen’s next outing may be a dominating 1-2-3 inning with his normal velocity, pitch selection, and release point. To predict that this data means something is really wrong with Wilhelmsen would be somewhat foolish, but it is something to keep an eye on, especially the next time he is on the mound.

What Went Wrong With Dustin Ackley


Dustin Ackley was demoted by the Mariners after almost two months of offensive futility. While he hit enough in 2012 that his defense and baserunning still made him a worthwhile MLB player (though not the possible star that many suggested he could be, especially after his 90 games in 2011), his 2013 numbers were so bad that no amount of baserunning or defense could justify playing him, and there was no reason to keep him on the bench since he has options left and you could still consider him in the “development phase”. In this post, we will just look at the 2012 data, seeing which kind of pitches he is seeing, and where he is being pitched, and attempt to see what happened to Ackley and whether or not his problems are fixable.

Here are all the pitchers he has faced, labelled with results (Swinging strikes are overlaid on top intentionally on these graphs, with out and no out plays also showing up towards the top), via release points:

Dustin Ackley Opposing Release Points

Here are all the pitches he has seen so far via the spin and speed chart:

Dustin Ackley Spin and Speed

It seems like he was struggling with top notch velocity according to the graph, but really has just 4 whiffs on the 58 fastballs he saw over 95 MPH (and 92-95 MPH fastballs give similar results). He also swung and missed at just 5 of the 82 pitches he saw below 80 MPH, suggesting he was handling most curveballs (and knuckleballs) pretty well, or at least, he wasn’t swinging and missing at a ton. Swinging and missing wasn’t a problem for Ackley, as he did it just 4.5 % of the time, the lowest in his career and half of league average. The problem then, was either weak contact or batting average on balls in play luck (or a mixture of both).

Looking at Ackley’s spray chart (via Texas Leaguers), he made a lot of outs to 2nd, just like last year, rolling over on balls, and most of his hits seemed to come from up the middle or going the other way, with no real power at all (the only power he really had were on a couple of pulled balls).

Ackley spray chart

On pulled balls, Ackley has an OPS less than half of league average OPS (for left-handed batters). His BABIP on pulled balls is also over .100 lower than league average. It is hard to imagine that this is all luck, and when you adjust the BABIP, Ackley’s OBP and OPS is still well below league average on pulled balls. When you look at Ackley’s infield batted ball OPS and outfield batted ball OPS, it is still below league average, but he still has an OPS over 1.000 on balls hit to the outfield. Even if there is some batted ball luck going on there, it doesn’t explain all of it. Ackley has a higher percentage of balls staying in the infield than going out to the outfield, while league average is opposite (because of the nature of recorded batted ball data, if a hitter smokes a line drive right at the first baseman, it counts as staying in the infield, so there could still be some batted ball luck bias, but I don’t think there is a lot of evidence that Ackley has just been hitting a ton of line drives right at infielders). He just doesn’t seem to be hitting the ball very hard.

What does this say about the way pitchers are pitching him? Let’s look at his average locations:

Dustin Ackley Average Locations

Nothing too unusual here, though the average locations seem to be a little more outside than you usually see. His hits and runs scored are a little higher than most of the pitches, and it seems that he makes just general contact on high pitches as well. The swinging strikes is a little below the rest of the pitches, which is also normal.

There does seem to be a school of thought that Ackley had gotten too passive, that he wasn’t swinging at enough pitches (though, as the data suggests above, when he does swing, he is making a lot of contact but none of it very hard). This season, he was swinging at less pitches than average, both in the zone and out of the zone, and he was seeing more pitches in the zone than the average pitcher as well. Here are all pitches he swung at, along with the MLBAM tags:

Dustin Ackley Swing Chart

His take chart:Dustin Ackley Take Chart

He was just not pitched inside and up very much at all, and is getting a whole lot of pitches thrown outside to him, many of them far outside, some of them he is swinging at, but most of them not. This means that nearly anything he did try to pull turned into easy outs. Clearly though, the problem was not perceived bat speed, as he wasn’t jammed inside. The problem may have been approach though, as teams could throw it outside and he would still try to pull it, thought that is not what the splits say (in 2013 Ackley went 25.2 Pulled %, 54.3 Middle %, 20.5 Opposite %, versus league average 27.9 Pulled %, 54.8 Middle %, 17.4 Opposite %, meaning he was relatively balanced, pulling a little less than league average). Instead, it seems like he was taking a lot of inside pitches in the strike zone, only feeling comfortable (or seeing) swinging at pitches on the outside part of the plate. Ackley’s odd swing mechanics have been discussed quite a bit, and I don’t feel a need of show screenshots of his swing that regular viewers of the Mariners would already be familiar with anyway. Maybe it is approach and a mental thing, or maybe the Mariners will have to rebuild his swing mechanics. Their doesn’t seem to be an easy answer to fixing Ackley, but perhaps the best approach is to emphasize slap hitting abilities and teach him to reach for balls better (easier said than done), at least until pitchers start coming inside on him again. It just seems like it would be really difficult to hit the ball with authority when pitchers have no reason to come up and in. A chicken and egg/causation question is raised of course, as perhaps his passive approach lets pitchers throw on the outside part of the plate all day and Ackley never swings and causes them to throw the ball inside. Or alternatively, pitchers never come inside and Ackley never swings because when they throw the ball on the outside part of the plate and Ackley does swing, he just hits it weakly.


Checking On The Mariners Defense

Raul Ibanez

In the off-season, it was clear that the Mariners had taken a route in which they emphasized power over defense. Their new acquisitions on the hitting side were all hitters with power (but often low OBPs) and little or poor defensive value. Whether these were just the players the Mariners targeted in the off-season, or whether or not it was a clear shift in focus by the front office is a little unclear, but it was a clear sacrifice that most could see from a mile away.

While defensive metrics have their problems, it is usually understood that 3 years of data is a good sample size of defensive statistics. If we assumed a player played 150 games in a year, that would mean 450 games over 3 years. If we wanted to look at a team, we would assume that 50 games would be a decent sample size (450 divided by 9). At the time of writing this post, this is where the Mariners are at this season. So let’s compare the 2012 data to the 2013 data. Let’s see if we can measure the actual sacrifice the Mariners made this off-season by using a variety of defensive metrics.

We must note that things like BABIP may also be driven by the new park factors that will come with the new Safeco. The new Safeco may turn more balls into homers, which would lower the BABIP, or more balls into hits off the wall, etc. The point is, all variables should be considered and these numbers don’t come in a vacuum.

[table id=38 /]

By every single metric and measure, the Mariners are a worse defensive team this year. They went from being in the top 5 of 11 of the metrics, to only top 5 in the crudest of all metrics, fielding percentage. The team was top 10 in 10 of the 11 metrics in 2012, and this year, they are top ten in just two, the other being double play runs (which isn’t that surprising, as it has still been mainly Brendan Ryan and Dustin Ackley up the middle so far, we will see how the Nick Franklin/Ackley swap changes this, most likely making them worse defensively). They went from a team that helped their pitchers defensively, to a team that is very clearly hurting their team defensively, going from an average rank of 6th to an average rank of 20th. The team is now, as was projected in the off-season, a bad defensive ball club.

But has the tradeoff been worth it? So far the Mariners have still been a below average team overall, giving up much more runs than they have scored. Overall offensively, according to wRC +, the Mariners have went from 27th in 2012, to 19th in 2013. They have clearly improved offensively, but they are still below average. Even when looking at power, the team is 18th in Isolated Slugging. They went from a good defensive team and bad hitting team to a bad defensive team and slightly below average hitting team. The trade-off, at least so far, isn’t working if you believe the data, and certainly is not helping the already struggling Brandon Maurer, Aaron Harang, and Joe Saunders.

Is There Something Wrong With Lucas Luetge?

Lucas Luetge

Lucas Luetge was a rare successful Rule 5 draft pick in 2012, proving to be a serviceable LOOGY, getting lefties out at a very good clip and having a nice year until the last two months of the season, where he struggled enough that it made him replacement level for the season. However, 2013 has been less kind, as he struggled in spring training, struggled in the short sample size in the Majors, and has even been in the minors some this season. One big problem I think, is that Eric Wedge has used him in less of a strict platoon manner than last year. In 2012, he faced lefties in 55 percent of his at-bats.  This year, he is facing lefties just 30 percent of the time. Luetge is clearly not a guy who can get righties out (one reason we will see, is that his changeup is almost never thrown), as his minor league splits show he can’t get out righties, and last year showed he couldn’t get out righties. So Wedge and company don’t seem to be giving him or the team the best shot to succeed (perhaps out of necessity, perhaps not), but I wanted to see if Luetge is pitching differently, and whether we could pinpoint anything he is doing differently, or whether the difference in effectiveness is just because of usage. I looked at his Pitch F/X data from 2012 and 2013 (including his spring training outings in Pitch F/X parks in both years).

Let’s compare his stuff from 2012 to 2013 to see if the problem lies there.

Lucas Luetge 2012 Spin and SpeedLucas Luetge 2013 Spin and Speed

It actually looks like he is throwing harder this season than last, with fastballs that reach, or are at least close to, 95 MPH. His curveball (the pitch with above 300 spin and the slowest pitch) also seems harder. So if anything, the stuff is better for Luetge. Why this is the case is unclear. He is 26, pitchers usually start losing velocity and stuff at this point, and it seems like too much of a difference for it to be a Pitch F/X error.

His release point looks the same (it looks a little cleaner, but that is probably just because the sample size is smaller, and the more parks a pitcher pitches in, the more different his release point looks as some parks are slightly off when measuring release point, distorting the data somewhat):

Lucas Luetge 2012 Release PointLucas Luetge 2013 Release Point

The data does suggest, and you can see it in the graph, that he is releasing the ball slightly higher and closer to the center of the rubber this season. This would most likely be considered better, even though the results aren’t there.

What about where he is throwing the ball? His average location charts, with MLBAM tags as labels:

Lucas Luetge Average Pitch Locations 2012Lucas Luetge Average Pitch Locations 2013

While we saw some differences in release point and stuff, the differences in location is even more dramatic. He has turned from an extreme glove side pitcher to an extreme low ball pitcher. Why would this be? The new release point? Something he is doing on purpose? If I was forced to make a judgment, I would probably say that he is pitching differently because he is facing less lefties. Luetge succeeded against lefties last year by keeping the ball away from them. It wouldn’t make sense to approach righties this way as he would be hurt badly, so instead, there are more balls in the middle part of the strike zone and down.

To me, the data suggests that Luetge is a better pitcher than he was last year. However, he is being used differently. The more traditional relief role doesn’t play into his strengths and emphasizes his weaknesses. The Mariners already have Charlie Furbush and Oliver Perez (with Bobby Lafromboise and perhaps even Brian Moran waiting in the wings), so they really don’t need a LOOGY, and Luetge’s role is somewhat redundant. Maybe this makes him trade bait, or more likely, a guy they can just stash in the minor leagues for a while, but pitching him in a traditional relief role helps no one.

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