AA Pitchf/x at Fenway: A look at the pitches of Collin McHugh and Josh Stinson

On Saturday, the Bingamton Mets played the Portland Sea Dogs in a special minor-league game – the game was in Fenway Park as part of Boston’s annual special “Futures at Fenway” event.

Why does this concern us?  Well, just like in the MLB Futures Game, the Futures at Fenway games are played with Pitchf/x, the pitch-tracking camera system that tracks every pitch thrown in the major leagues, TURNED ON.  The data from these games is publically available for anyone to look at, just like the data from normal MLB games.  Which gives us a nice extra look at the pitches of the BMet pitchers who pitched in the eleven inning game.

Five Met Pitchers pitched in the game: Collin McHugh went 6 effective innings, Ricky Brooks then pitched two poor innings, Rhiner Cruz pitched the 9th and 10th innings, Eric Turgeon got the first two outs of the 11th inning but ran into trouble – giving up two runs, and Josh Stinson struck out the final batter of the game.  This post will examine the pitches of the two of those five pitchers: Collin McHugh and Josh Stinson.

NOTE: The pitchf/x system for the Futures game was a bit miscalibrated.  Fortunately, the Portland starter was knuckleballer and former LA Dodger Charlie Haeger who pitched in the Majors in 2009-2010. By comparing the data on his fastball and knuckleball on Saturday to his MLB data in 2009-2010, we can adjust for the pitch tracking miscalibration to try and estimate more accurately how each Met pitcher’s pitches really moved.  

Collin McHugh

The Movement and Velocity on each of Collin McHugh's PitchesFigures 1 and 2: The Movement and Velocity of McHugh’s pitchesThe Graph is shown from a catcher’s point of view.
To Read:

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
Four-Seam Fastballs = Red Dots
Two-Seam Fastballs/Sinkers = Orange Dots
Change Ups = Dark Yellow Dots
Sliders = Blue Dots
Curves =Purple Dots

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Collin McHugh threw 101 pitches that were tracked by pitchf/x over 6 innings, and did reasonably well.  Overall, he threw five pitches:
A four seam fastball averaging 90.9 MPH with roughly 6-8 inches of tail in on right-handed batters and positive 8 inches of rise.
A two seam fastball, or sinker, which averaged 91.5 MPH with roughly 9-11 inches of tail in on right-handed batters and positive 5-6 inches of rise.
A slider that averaged 84.8 MPH with basically no tail and little vertical break.
A change-up that averaged 83 MPH with roughly 9-11 inches of tail on right-handed batters, but only 2-3 inches of rise.
A curveball that averaged 73 MPH with around 5-7 inches of tail AWAY from right-handed batters and a good 6-9 inches of additional drop than would be expected due to gravity.

*By Rise, we don’t mean that the pitch actually went upwards.  But what we mean is that the pitch should have fallen X inches further on its way to the plate due to gravity, but due to the pitches’ spin, the pitch didn’t fall this amount.

The pitch measurements above should be taken with some caution, as they are the result of the actual pitchf/x data and myself attempting to correct for the errors in how the pitchf/x was calibrated – particularly when it comes to the “rise/sink” on each pitch.

So what do the numbers above really mean?
Well the four-seamer appears to be ordinary – the break isn’t special in either direction, and the velocity isn’t special either.  It’s not a bad pitch – the velocity is fine and the movement is fine for a major league pitch, but it’s not special in any way.
The two-seamer, or sinker, probably has at least an okay amount of sink in addition to a good amount of tail.  I say “probably” because I still feel uncomfortable making clear judgments on the sink of the pitch – but in essence the pitch is okay for a sinker but not great – it doesn’t have great velocity or sink, which means it probably won’t be a huge GB pitch.

Note that both fastballs seemed to be thrown over 90 a good bit of the time, ranging from 89.1 to 93.6 MPH, which is apparently harder than McHugh typically throws.  I’m somewhat confident in these readings though – the gun doesn’t seem that hot, if at all.

The Slider, which seems to be McHugh’s primary non-fastball offering, doesn’t have great velocity or movement on its own, but the large difference between its movement and his fastballs could make it effective if McHugh had a good deal of control on the pitch.
McHugh’s curveball would seem to have a lot of potential movement wise – the pitch seems to have a good amount of drop or sink on it.  The pitch’s velocity is nothing special but it’s not slow either (averages 73 MPH), but it may come from a different release point than the rest of his pitches.  How noticable this is is another matter and I wouldn’t make too much of a big deal over it.
McHugh rounds out his pitches with a change-up, which runs 7-8 MPH different from his fastballs and has additional sink that the fastballs do not have.

McHugh threw 25 Four-Seam Fastballs, 28 Two-Seam Fastballs, 30 Sliders, 9 Change-ups, and 9 Curveballs in his start.  His control over these pitches – see Figure 3 below – doesn’t seem insanely sharp – none of the pitches are clearly located in one location (even though the slider and curve are clearly aimed away and low from righties, both pitches also landed in the middle of the zone and have a wide span of locations).  Mind you, it’s hard to judge a pitcher’s ability to locate from a single start like this, so take this with a grain of salt.

The location of McHugh's pitches as they crossed the plate.Figure 3: The location of each of McHugh’s pitches on Saturday.  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.  The black rectangle represents an approximation of the strike zone.

Overall there’s nothing special about Collin McHugh, which should be no surprise to anyone here, but he’s got several pitches which are decent enough to give him a shot to make the show in some capacity.  One would suspect that if he’s to succeed, he’ll need to have great control over his pitches, which he didn’t show in this start, despite the lack of walks.

 

Josh Stinson

Figures 4 and 5: The Movement and Velocity of Josh Stinson’s pitchesThe Graph is shown from a catcher’s point of view.

Legend for these graphs
Four-Seam Fastballs = Red Dots
Two-Seam Fastballs/Sinkers = Orange Dots
Sliders = Blue Dots

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Josh Stinson threw only five pitches on Saturday, so there’s not much to analyze here, admittedly.  In addition, one of those pitches wasn’t tracked by the pitchf/x system, so we really only have four pitches to analyze.  But they are interesting pitches.

Stinson’s four pitches consist of 3 fastballs and a slider.  Each of these pitches had GAS: The slider hit 88.8 MPH, while the three fastballs hit 94.5, 94.6, and 95.7 MPH.  Stinson may have thrown two different types of fastballs in his outing: the 95.7 MPH fastball had a more sink and tail, like a two-seam fastball, than his other two fastballs (which looked like four-seamers).  This could in fact just have been an accident – a look at Stinson’s release points shows that all four of these pitches weren’t released from the same release point – though they’re close – and this could simply be the result of an inconsistent delivery.  Three fastballs is too small of a sample to say for sure, of course.

If the “two-seamer” wasn’t an accidental pitch caused by an inconsistent delivery, it’s a very interesting pitch – one which would certainly have the potential to get a good amount of ground balls.

Regardless, the story for Stinson from this data is simple: velocity.  If he can actualy throw an inning of pitches that consist of 94-95 MPH fastballs and 88-89 MPH sliders, then he has a chance of being a useful bullpen arm (provided he can control his pitches), particularly if that is in fact a two-seamer which he can use to keep the ball out of the air and on the ground.