Is Pitch Selection an Issue for the Rays?

In case you were wondering, Niemann's fastball and curve were a bit better than they have been:

Type All Season Last Night
Break (in)
H V H V
Fastball -3.5 9.3 -4.12 11.57
Curve 2.9 -5.1 2.88 -5.98
Change -4.6 7.2 -2.81 4.61
Slider 4 1.7 1.67 0.7

Basically Niemann's fastball broke in to righties and 'up' more and his curve broke 'down' more. Oh, and his change-up and slider were moving less. Not sure how to feel about that. Small sample does apply here though. Niemann used his fastball 75% of the time. 9 changes, 9 sliders, and 5 curves.

The results were good, but the lack of pitch distribution is a bit unsettling. Niemann was getting whiffs with the combination all night and a quick glance seemed to reveal that as the game progressed, Niemann generated whiffs on non-fastball pitches. Perhaps Jim Hickey is beating the "establish your fastball" drum because Niemann's first 10 pitches were all heaters. In his start versus Seattle the first 12 pitches were all fastballs. His start versus the White Sox saw only his first three pitches. It would be easy to take the results-based analysis look at this say, "Well hey, these last two starts have been his best, and he's throwing his fastball early and often, so A+B=C." I mean, look at this:

MIN SEA CHW BAL
FA FA FA FA
FA FA FA FA
FA FA FA FA
FA FA CU FA
FA FA SL FA
FA FA FA FA
FA FA FA FA
FA FA FA CU
FA FA FA CH
FA FA FA CH

Major league hitters can hit just about any pitch if they know that it's coming, and opening every game with a run of heaters is a good way to fall behind on the scoreboard early. Another reason not to dismiss this as a non-issue is the lineups he's faced the last two times out. The Mariners have the second lowest team slugging percentage in the majors and the Twins are only a handful of points away from those dubious honors. The Orioles and White Sox are middle of the pack, and Niemann didn't do too poorly against the latter, so maybe that's a bit reassuring, although he also snuck two breaking pitches in there early on.

So, is it just a Jeff Niemann problem?

James Shields

 

SEA CHW BAL BOS
FA FA FA FA
FA FA FA FA
FA CH FA FA
FA CH FA FA
FA CH FA FA
CU FA FA FA
CH FA SL FA
CU FA FA FA
FA FA CH FA
CU FA SL CH

Scott Kazmir

 

OAK CHW NYA BOS
FA FA FA FA
FA FA FA FA
FA FA FA SL
FA FA CH FA
FA SL FA FA
FA FA FA FA
SL FA FA CH
CH FA FA CH
SL CH SL FA
SL FA SL SL

Matt Garza

 

OAK CHW NYA BOS
FA FA FA FA
FA FA FA FA
FA FA FA FA
FA FA FA FA
CU FA FA FA
CU FA FA FA
FA FA FA CU
SL FA CH FA
SL SL FA SL
FA FA FA FA

 

Those are your four big fastball throwers -- Sonnanstine uses cutters/curves.

 

Pitcher FB Overall First 10
Shields 44 75
Kazmir 65 65
Niemann 72 68
Garza 71 80
Total 63 72

 

A quick glance at the Rays first inning splits reveals that the team is 25% worse than league average in first inning OPS (thanks to 1.000+ OPS against Shields and Niemann, Kazmir is average and Garza is well above average.)

Perhaps we know why.

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