Top 30 Starts of 2009 - Part 6

This is it, for those of you that have been patiently waiting to see the best Rays pitching performances of the year.  If you read through the last installment, then you noticed that I have moved to a scoring system.  Let's take a look at the standings:

Shields    104
Niemann      61
Price      60
Kazmir      40
Garza      29
Davis      17
Sonnanstine      14

James Shields has been running away with it based on the quantity as well as the quality of his starts.  Jeff Niemann has also had a lot of starts in here, but less so of the top-tier quality.  Wade Davis has had a few appearances, which is surprising since he only had a few total on the year, but when we think of great performances we think of Matt Garza.  So far he has had three starts looked at (7, 28, & 29).  I found this somewhat surprising, because as some of you know I track game-to-game FIP and wOBA for pitchers to reach an estimate of deserved wins.  Matty tore up the wOBA wins approaching 20 and was a tick behind Shields on the FIP-side.  Well, if you're a fan of The Crane, then you won't be disappointed as he comes on like gangbusters here.  First up however...

5) James Shields at New York Mets on June 20  Box  Highlights  Pitch F/x

 IP  H BB SO HR HBP BF 2B 3B 1B  FIP   wOBA  R ER
   7.00 3 0 4 0 0 24 3 0 0        2.01      0.155 1 1

This was before the Mets became a full blown AAAA team so you can't chalk it up totally to that, but only allowing three guys on the bases is quite the achievement over 7 full innings.  Broken record alert, but when James keeps the ball in the yard, he is as close to an ace as we've ever had.  He needed to be on that day as he was facing Johan Santana, whom is a certified ace and bound to give the Rays fits being weird-handed with a great change.  After giving up the run in the 2nd he would mow down 16 of the next 17 before being yanked for Mountain Man Dan Wheeler to start the 8th.  I like that Shieldsy only threw 5 cutters on the night, only one of which was in the zone:

Location_php_medium

via brooksbaseball.net

He was basically 2:1 on the fastball:changeup and closer to 3:1 on the fastball:curve/slider.  This is what I like to see out of James.  He was able to work ahead throwing 66% strikes on the night with his change leading the way in whiffs.  See the highlights link above for grown-men looking like little leaguers. 

4) Wade Davis at Baltimore on September 17  Box  Highlights  Pitch F/x

 IP  H BB SO HR HBP BF 2B 3B 1B  FIP   wOBA  R ER
   9.00 4 2 10 0 0 31 2 0 2        1.59      0.185 0 0

Wade was told that if he threw strikes that it would come, so as he eased their pain, he was able to go the distance.  He didn't have a catch with his ghost of a father after the game, but Wade did give us a glimpse of the future in an absolute gem of a performance.  Coming off a brilliant debut, and a thorough thrashing in his sophomore start, most folks weren't sure what to make of Big Nasty (Yes, I am coining this nickname for Mr. Davis).  They were rewarded with a CGSO.  The fastball sat at 92 while issuing 5 whiffs (10 total on 124 pitches).  He threw a ton of fastball, both in, and out of the zone, but his curve, slider, and cutter he had great control of throwing a combined 34 strikes on 44 pitches with 5 whiffs.  The video above shows just how filthy his breaking ball is.  I like his fastball, because when it's on it has that same ride that Garza gets off the plate to lefties.  They can either leave it there and take the occasional strike or foul it off and then get fooled on the breaking ball. 

Speed_php_medium

via brooksbaseball.net

That speed chart is absolutely gorgeous.  I want to make babies with it.  Big Nasty's hardest pitch came in the low 120's while maintaining velocity throughout the game.  Granted it was his 3rd start, but he had pitched all year at Durham, so it's not like he was completely fresh.  At the moment, he compares very much to Matty Garza, in my mind.  A little bigger, the fastball isn't quite as good, but the bendy stuff brings women to their knees.  Wade reminds us that with the death of one season comes the hope and promise at the birth of the next.  Personally, I can't wait to see him next year. 

3) Jeff Niemann  vs. Kansas City Royals on June 3  Box  Highlights Pitch F/x

 IP  H BB SO HR HBP BF 2B 3B 1B  FIP   wOBA  R ER
   9.00 2 1 9 0 0 30 0 0 2        1.48      0.084 0 0

The Big Nyquil barely had to break a sweat in earning his 1st CGSO of the season on a two-hitter.  He threw his fastball and slider for strikes, while dropping his curve out of the zone on his way to garnering 12 whiffs.  In his 9 innings of work, the most pitches he threw in an inning was 14 in the 5th with 4 separate innings of 9 pitches.  That is straight dominance averaging 11 pitches/inning against a Major League ballclub (OK the Royals.)  I love the following chart:

Niemann6-3_medium

via i273.photobucket.com

I have shaded the inner-part of the plate because you can see that Niems was just pounding fastballs in there.  He threw a couple of back-door sliders, and two curves, but for the most part he was blowing it by righties on the inner 1/8 of the plate.  Speaking of the fastball, he threw 3 of his first 10 pitches over 94 MPH, before settling in to sit at 92.  Congrats on a phenomenal start, Jeff, let's see more of these in 2010.

2) Matt Garza at Toronto on July 24th  Box  Highlights  Pitch F/x

 IP  H BB SO HR HBP BF 2B 3B 1B  FIP   wOBA  R ER
   9.00 5 0 9 0 0 31 2 0 3        1.15      0.167 2 2

Here's a Matt Garza performance that shows why I'm not a fan of looking at R/ER as the sole indicator of a great performance.  Yes, he gave up two runs.  After retiring the first six batters, in the bottom of the 3rd, Garz gave up a lead-off single to Rios whom managed to get to 2nd on a throwing error by Longo.  Garza induced a flyout to center and then one to right, in which, Rios moved over to 3rd.  A 2-out single by Scutaro brought the run in and a double by the next batter, an on-fire Aaron Hill, led to the second run coming in. 

Now think about this for a minute.  Garza gave up two singles and a double in the inning and in the other 8 he only gave up another single and a double with no walks on the entire game.  My point is that I don't think 8 brilliant innings should be completely thrown out because of one inning where he got a little nicked.  This same thing can be applied to James Shields.  In a typical 7 inning performance from James he will have 4-5 outstanding innings, 1 clunker, and 1-2 where he has to work himself out of trouble.  Major League hitters are so good at making adjustments that virtually every pitcher will get touched here and there.  The good ones find ways to minimize the damage and then keep their pitch counts down in other innings, as Matty did throwing 13 COMBINED pitches in the 5th and 6th. 

How pretty is this:

Speed_php_medium

via brooksbaseball.net

From pitch 90 on, he through all but 4 fastballs while virtually linearly increasing his velocity until the end.  Garza is a stud because this is a common theme with him.  He can bring ched whenever he wants including late in the game.  On the game, he got 10 whiffs throwing mostly the fastball (72%) and the slider (16%).  If you watched the video above, then you saw that his change was a devastating weapon, despite only being thrown 6 times.  I saw two guys just frozen by it's unexpectedness and another trying to cool off the fans with his mighty swing-and-miss. 

A Longo two-run double in the top of the 10th allowed Maddon to turn the ball over to the Iceman.  Garza's day was finished, but he still picked up the win.  I found this pretty interesting:


Garza7-24_medium

via i273.photobucket.com


I count 5 K's in the upper-left hand portion of the quadrant, while there is a double, a single, a lineout and most of the other decent contact in the overlap of the 2 zones.  Not surprising that when you throw it down the middle guys are going to get wood (on it).  I really like all the contact (or K's) that he got on the fringes of the strike zone.  Even the best stuff means nothing if you can't control AND COMMAND it.  It looks like on this day, Matt Garza had great stuff and knew how to use it.

1)  Matt Garza vs. Boston Red Sox on April 30  Box  Highlights  Pitch F/x

 IP  H BB SO HR HBP BF 2B 3B 1B  FIP   wOBA  R ER
   7.67 1 1 10 0 0 24 0 0 1        0.93      0.068 0 0

This shall forever be known as the "Jacoby Ellsbury's Parents Should Never Have Met" game.  Garz faced one over the minimum due to a nifty double play, that a certain elf-like second sacker didn't appreciate, against one of the best offenses in the Majors that was running on pure ethanol at the time.  The video shows guys whiffing, guys getting rocked to sleep, and a bunch of grown men taking half cuts and check swings, the ultimate white flag.  Matty didn't throw a change, relying on the fastball (75% usage, 7.4% whiffs), slider (15% usage, 25% whiffs), and curveball (10%). 

Garza4-30_medium

via i273.photobucket.com

Now I'm no artist, so the ovals aren't exactly a bench-marked size to match with all these other graphs, but I see one pitch, YES ONE, that's in the overlap area of this chart.  Interestingly, using the outcomes chart below, it looks like that lone slider was a strikeout.  Perhaps this is an example of game theory, in that, he hadn't gone to that well all day, and the batter was stunned when he saw a beautiful slider nestle it's way right in there.  Stumbling upon this way to look at pitches just today, I can't confidently say anything broadly, but my guess would be that if you stay out of that center diamond, you're going to find great success.  Brooks has Garza's fastball moving right-to-left 2.69 inches and riding 11.55 inches up, compared to a normal ball.  That can help explain all those fastball in (to righties) and up in that upper-left hand quadrant.  I only see two fastballs in the zone below the 2 foot line (Pedroia's eye-line if it helps you to visualize) with many curves out of the zone.  Though he didn't get any whiffs, using these two starts I think you can see a pattern where Garz throws the slider for strikes and tries to get whiffs with the curve out of the zone.  This has to create a synergistic reaction where the batter sees bendy stuff and can't form an opinion on whether it'll be in the zone or not, just based on pitch type.

Without the shading this time, you can see that The Crane was living on the fringes of the plate for the deciding pitch of most PA's:

Location_php_medium

via brooksbaseball.net

Much like the #2 start on the countdown, Matt had over-whelming stuff on this night, but he also used it correctly.  He won't always sit at 92.7, touching 95 with the heater, but if Matt can throw to the corners and live on the fringes of the plate (assuming competent umpiring, always a crapshoot there) he can take that next level in 2010.  We've seen absolute brilliance from Matt Garza on many occasions, but his good numbers have kind of stagnated in the good range.  Looking at starts like these last two, he has all the weapons to get himself into the great level of starters.  For the team's sake, I hope that this upcoming season is the one where he takes that step forward to become the borderline ace that we've only seen glimpses of in the past. 

This concludes the top-30 starts of 2009.  I hope you enjoyed my labor of love.  Here are the final standings for our pitchers:

Shields
Niemann
Garza
Price
Davis
Kazmir
Sonnanstine
   130
     89
     88
     60
     44
     40
     14

 

Pretty clear who our number 1 starter is, whether you agree with his performance or now, James Shields is a baller of the highest order.  In 2009 Niemann and Garza appear to be competent #2's with Price a clear #3 starter.  Kazmir and Sonnanstine were pretty much a drag on the entire pitching staff, but luckily one's gone and the other is already pumping iron and running steps.  The WILD CARD! here is Wade Davis.  We saw some awesome stuff, albeit in a small sample.  If he can match what Niemann or Price gave us in 09, while the other two continue to progress, we're looking at a pretty filthy starting rotation. 

As always, thanks to Baseball-reference.com, brooksbaseball.net, and MLB.com, now that we are into the worst part of the calendar year, something that I find interesting is to go on MLB.com and watch some of their videos.  Find a player you like and they will run one-after-another throughout the season.  So many games get played that it's easy to forget about some of the better plays that were made.  It's free-of-charge, and I've only seen about one advertisement per 100 videos.

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