Pitchf/x in the AFL: Brad Holt, Eric Niesen, and Nicholas Carr

Yesterday in the Arizona Fall League, three Met pitchers threw an inning of relief: Eric Niesen, Brad Holt, and Nicholas Carr.  This would normally not be notable except once again the pitchers were pitching in Peoria, which has Pitchf/x cameras installed.  Naturally one inning per pitcher results in a tiny sample size for each, but it’s better than nothing, so let’s take a look at the three pitchers today.

Brad Holt has been a very frustrating pitcher.  In Brooklyn, and even part of last year his fastball was said to hit 94-95 and be a pitch that at worst made scouts think he might be a good reliever.  This year however, his results fell off a cliff and his velocity dropped.

Looking at his pitchf/x results, we can see this drop for ourselves:

Figures 1 and 2: The Movement and Velocity of Holt’s pitchesThe Graph is shown from a catcher’s point of view.

Vertical Movement: the amount of inches the ball drops or “rises” as compared to how we would expect gravity to make a pitch drop.  So a Fastball with Positive 10 Vertical Movement “RISES” 10 inches more than it should if gravity was the only force acting on it and a curveball with -10 Vertical Movement drops 10 inches more than a pitch thrown that is just acted on by gravity.

Horizontal Movement: The Graph is from the view of a catcher or umpire behind home plate.  So a pitch  on the left side of the graph (and has “negative horizontal movement”) moves in to righties and away from lefties.  A pitch on the right side of the graph moves in to lefites and away from righties.

Legend for these graphs
Fastballs = Red Dots
Change Ups = Yellow Dots
Cutters/Sliders = Blue Dots
Slurves=Purple Dots

 Pitch Type #  Of Pitches Thrown Average Velocity (MPH) Average Horiz. Movement* Average Vertical Movement Change-Up 4 83.25 -11.57 +4.05 Fastball 15 91.19 -8.47 +9.41 Cutter/Slider 2 88.05 -2.74 +4.52 Slurve 5 78.62 -0.12 -2.51
*Potential Note of Caution: Tuesday in Peoria the horizontal movement readings were all clearly off due to a calibration error and thus were showing movement 3-5 inches more towards a right-handed batter than what was probably happening.  These results are once again from Peoria, though the results look more correct this time.  So take the horizontal movement readings with a slight grain of salt and know they could (but may not) be overestimating the movement toward a right-handed batter.
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Holt threw 3 or 4 different types of pitches yesterday:  A Fastball, a change-up and a slider/curve-ball-like pitch (which I’ve labeled as a slurve).  In addition, he threw two pitches (in a row) which appear to be a cutter or slider (slutter?), but could in fact be just a slip out of the hand (this is the problem with small sample sizes).
The fastball is very disappointing: it had always been talked of having not great movement but of having once great velocity…now it doesn’t even have that (he topped out at 93.1MPH).

The other pitches aren’t great either:  The Change-Up has a decent sinking action, relative to the fastball…but in yesterday’s performance, 3 out of the 4 change-ups that Holt threw to batters were located REALLY HIGH (as in one was at the top of the regulation strike zone, and the other two were over a half a foot higher than that).  This kind of location would tend to negate the sinking benefits of the pitch.

The Slurve is slower than a slider should be but has slider-like movement instead of curveball movement, and as such is not very impressive (Holt’s breaking stuff has always been considered a work-in-progress, and this just shows that).  The Cutter/Slider, if it is indeed a real pitch, actually isn’t bad at all, with decent cutting motion and a good velocity (only 3MPH less than the fastball).

All in All, if Holt is to make a comeback and stay a starter, he’ll need to either regain his lost velocity (unlikely), improve and feature the cutter/slider as a feature pitch along with the change-up, or somehow wind up with a decent curveball.  Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.  It looks like his best outcome may be a fastball-slider-change-up throwing reliever, which is a shame.

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Eric Niesen

 Pitch Type #  Of Pitches Thrown Average Velocity (MPH) Average Horiz. Movement* Average Vertical Movement Fastball 10 91.56 +5.61 +6.14 Slider 5 82.78 -5.05 +0.76

Niesen, unlike the other two pitchers, had a quick inning yesterday, throwing only 15 pitches.  While that’s good for his results, it’s kind of a bummer when you’re trying to look at him with Pitchf/x.

Niesen only threw a fastball and slider in his outing, though Toby tells me that he used to use a change-up when starting.  The Fastball’s velocity is nothing special (average for a lefty, really), but it has less rise than the usual four-seam fastball.  It doesn’t have as much sink as we’d think of for a sinker/two-seam fastball, but one would think the vertical movement would help him hit lower in the strike zone and thus get some ground balls.  However, Niesen has never had a good ground ball rate and his fastballs on Wednesday were located from medium height to high (with only one fastball being located “low” in the strike zone).  This is something you’d think he should work on with the pitch.

The Slider’s movement on the other hand is not terrible.  The speed isn’t great, but the pitch clearly moves the opposite direction as the fastball and thus could be a decent strikeout pitch.  That said, Niesen located all 5 of his sliders in the strike zone on Wednesday rather than at the corner or out of the zone, like you’d expect from a breaking pitch.  This is of course a tiny sample size, but for it to be a good out pitch, the pitch should be more off the plate.

Overall, Niesen is clearly heading toward a bullpen role, and his stuff might be good enough to make him a decent reliever, if he can fix his location problems (Of note is that he had walk issues in AA this year which probably indicate that his accuracy is more of a problem than these 15 pitches suggest).  Mind you, Niesen is NOT young (25 already), so his time as a potential relieving prospect is probably running out.

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Nicholas Carr

Figures 3 and 4: The Movement and Velocity of Carr’s pitchesThe Graph is shown from a catcher’s point of view.

Vertical Movement: the amount of inches the ball drops or “rises” as compared to how we would expect gravity to make a pitch drop.  So a Fastball with Positive 10 Vertical Movement “RISES” 10 inches more than it should if gravity was the only force acting on it and a curveball with -10 Vertical Movement drops 10 inches more than a pitch thrown that is just acted on by gravity.

Horizontal Movement: The Graph is from the view of a catcher or umpire behind home plate.  So a pitch  on the left side of the graph (and has “negative horizontal movement”) moves in to righties and away from lefties.  A pitch on the right side of the graph moves in to lefites and away from righties.

Legend for these graphs
Fastballs = Red Dots
Sliders = Blue Dots

 Pitch Type #  Of Pitches Thrown Average Velocity (MPH) Average Horiz. Movement* Average Vertical Movement Fastball 22 95.81 -8.59 +8.19 Slider 11 85.04 +2.17 +1.15

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Carr is the youngest of the 3 pitchers and might be the one with the most potential (oddly enough), simply because he clearly has a pitch that could be characterized as a plus pitch: his fastball.  Carr averaged 95.81MPH on his 22 fastballs and hit a high of 97.6MPH.  It should be noted that it’s possible that we’re dealing with two different fastballs here, a two-seamer and a four-seamer, but it’s hard to tell due to the small sample size and is probably just one fastball with a decent amount of variation among its movement.  Carr also has a slider at 85MPH with okay movement, but his fastball is really the pitch that is going to get him into the Show as a reliever.

The problem with Carr, as seen in this appearance where he walked 3 guys in a row, is that he has accuracy issues (aka walk issues).  Check out this plot of the locations of Carr’s pitches in the strike zone on Wednesday:

Figure 5:  The location of each of Carr’s pitches on Wednesday.  The graph is from a catcher’s point of view, so pitches on the left side of the graph (more negative) are inside on a right-handed batter and away from a left-handed batter.
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You’ll note that every pitch, including his fastball as well as his slider, is located from the middle of the strike zone on down (and that the pitches all seem to be aimed in toward a right-handed batter or away from a left-handed batter).  This is pretty odd for his fastball really….whereas Niesen should be throwing his fastball low to try and use his “sink” on his fastball to get ground balls, Carr should be throwing his fastball UP, particularly on 2 strike counts!  This is because a fastball with a lack of sink is best used to get swinging strikes high in the strike zone, or just above the strike zone.  This is especially true for those pitchers who actually have good velocity on their fastball, like Carr does.  (In case you’re curious, Carr got 0 swinging strikes on his fastball in this appearance, probably for this very reason).  So these low pitches are very odd and one would hope Carr would work on locating his pitches higher in the strike zone in addition to getting his overall accuracy down.

That said, if I had to pick one of these three pitchers as the most likely to make the Majors and to make an impact, and I didn’t know anything about the rankings of any of these 3 as a prospect, I’d pick Carr right now for sure.  He reminds me a bit of Bobby Parnell, and I see no reason why he couldn’t serve the Mets in a similar role in a year or two (probably two).