No one is happier than I am that it's getting easier than ever to grab Pitch f/x data; when we see the result of pitching performances visualized it can at least let us know what it looks like when a pitcher is going strong versus what it looks like when a pitcher is in trouble.
The pitcher I'm looking at today is Vicente Padilla. Through three starts, Padilla has been meh once, bad once and awful once. In his bad and awful starts, he has looked like he is one mistake pitch away from being in Josh Rupe territory.
On May 7, 2008, Padilla had one of this best starts of the season against the Mariners with a 7 inning, 2 hit effort with no earned runs and 8 strikeouts. Padilla threw 91 pitches, 57 of them for strikes. Fast forward to yesterday against the Royals where Padilla scattered 8 hits over 5 innings giving up 5 earned runs while striking out 5 batters. Padilla threw 94 pitches, 58 of them for strikes.
I accept that it is somewhat unfair to take an exemplar from last season and compare it to one of three starts this season, but I think when you see the graphs, you'll see what the big difference between Padilla in May 2008 and Padilla in April 2009: Velocity.
Padilla release point chart, May 7, 2008 vs. Seattle:
Padilla release point chart, April 19, 2009 vs. Kansas City:
Not only do Padilla's pitch-strike numbers match one another almost perfectly, but his release point for his pitches is also a very close match between yesterday's shelling and last May's gem, although there's more horizontal deviation in yesterday's release points than in the tight cluster from last May's game. This next series of graphs shows the bad news for Padilla and for those of us in the seats and watching at home:
Padilla velocity all game pitch graph, May 7, 2008 vs. Seattle:
Padilla velocity all game pitch graph, April 19, 2009 vs.Kansas City:
It's not a technical or medical term, but those velocity charts show an arm that's gassed. To be more exact, I expect that they show a shoulder problem for Padilla. Control issues are usually correlated with elbow issues and velocity issues are usually correlated with shoulder issues.
We all know Vicente Padilla lives and dies by the fastball. When a guy like that moves from a low- to mid-90s fastball that he can dial into the upper 90s when necessary to an across-the-board decrease to a low-90s to upper 80s fastball that he can't even dial into the mid-90s, he's probably in trouble on the mound and, I'd guess, is not fessing up to some shoulder stiffness or shoulder soreness.
I hope my hunch is wrong, but I expect to hear about Padilla skipping a start or going on the DL before May rolls around.
(A big Texas thank you to www.brooksbaseball.net for his great Pitch f/x web tool.)