Monday, June 28, 2010

Johan Santana- A PitchFX Odyssey

By Mike

After reading Kelson's great post about Johanna, I was interested in to see how dramatic this drop off in velocity and pitching performance has been. In true geek form, I went back and analyzed his fastball velocity from 2007 to today, as well as analyzing his pitching performance from his last start on June 20, and his start one year preceding that date, June 20, 2009.

This graph indicates that the average velocity on his fastball has declined not only this year, but has been dropping since 2007. Here are his fastball averages over the past 4 years in MPH: 2007-91.8, 2008-91.0, 2009-90.6, 2010-89.4. A 2.4 MPH drop in average velocity is a statistically significant decrease. This year, he's had 4 starts where his average velocity was below 88, and all but 2 of his starts this year had his peak velocity lower than his average velocity from 2007. Yikes.

If I compared a start from 2007 to today, there really wouldn't be anything groundbreaking in that, at least little that could interpreted from the above graph, for our purposes. Instead, I looked at starts from this year and last, about a year apart from each other, since the velocity dropoff between years was greatest between 2009 and 2010. Aside from natural variation in these years, the results were similar, so I'll stick with his most recent start that the pitchFX data is available. Santana's statistics from the games are an irrelevant variable, but for curiosity's sake, here's his lines for both games.

6/20/2010 vs Yankees: 6IP, 8H, 4ER, 1BB, 3K
6/20/2009 vs Rays: 7.1IP, 3H, 2ER, 3BB, 3K

The graph on the top is Johan's pitch release point in 2009, the bottom being 2010. There isn't to much here at face value, except that he moved his release point from about overhead to slightly to the left of his head this year. It may not mean much at all, but I'll explain in my subsequent charts why I hypothesize this may be affecting his pitches.

Here's more graphs, this time for the overall movement for his pitches. Again, 2009 on the top and 2010 on the bottom. He has lost a ton of horizontal break on his pitches this year. Also it looks like he had trouble controlling his slider (red dots), so I further looked into this to see if that is the case. He has cost himself about 1/2 of a run overall this year, his only pitch that has him given up more runs than he has saved this year. The biggest red flag for me is the loss of horizontal movement on his changeup (yellow dots), his best pitch. In years he's pitched well, his change up saves over 20 runs over the season, a crazy amount, including 23.7 in 2008. This year, it's only 5.4. This is really alarming, indicating this is the pitch he's getting clobbered with.

So does his release point have anything to do with this? Fangraphs has PitchFX data through 2007, and this year is the only year where his release point is this far to the left. I do thing this could be be hurting his horizontal break, since he's not releasing pitches as "high" as he could be. Plus there are reports he may be tipping his changeup. Couple that with the fact there's less break on the pitch, making it easier to hit, he's become Johanna. With a xFIP of 4.67, it indicates he's pitching worse than his current statistics indicate. If he doesn't fix things soon, he could be Johanna for quite a while.

Chad Perrone - Wanting More


  1. This is weird. I know I posted a comment here, but it's not coming up!

  2. Great piece! I love the 2nd and 3rd graphs, comparing his release point in the games exactly 1 year apart. Great analysis!

  3. I'm in awe...or I'm having a statistics 201 flash back

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. And this would be why I wanted to deal him badly in your league, Kelson. Well not exactly, but I felt Lee was a better long term bet at this point than Johanna.

    Is this a form of sabermatrics because if so, I am proud that the SDEE embraces statistical analysis.

  6. How has no one commented on the greatness of that picture? Is it weird it makes me think of Robert Downey Jr. from Tropic Thunder?