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Cardinals Notes: Martinez rare power, pitching concerns, and refusing to swing

Photo taken by Kat Allen (@kat_allen311)

Over the last few days, I’ve been digging around on FanGraphs and Baseball Savant searching for a topic to write about. However, I haven’t come up any observations that have led to another and pushed me toward a conclusion. Some notes, though, are at least worth putting on the radar in a place that won't be lost behind my daily barrage of tweets. They might be trends worth tracking or statistical oddities. They may mean nothing, but they might mean something. Anyways, here we go.

Jose Martinez is showing his elite hit tool

There’s been enough written about Jose Martinez breakout last year and how it’s carried into 2018. While I’ve written about him a few times, he garnered national attention this offseason when he caught Mike Petriello’s eye and picked up more mainstream momentum last week, courtesy of Joe Trezza.

On Tuesday night, Jose Martinez blasted four more hard hit balls with exit velocities of 106.6 mph, 107.5 mph, 106.0 mph, and 109.8 mph. Some nuggets:

  • There have been two games by a Cardinals hitter this year where a player hit four batted balls over 100 mph. Jose Martinez has both of them (April 12th, April 24th).

  • There have been four games by a Cardinals hitter where the player hit three batted balls over 100 mph. Jose Martinez has all four of them (April 1st, April 22nd).

  • Only two other players have games with four batted balls of at least 106 mph this year – Manny Machado and Nelson Cruz. Machado went 4-for-5 in the game he accomplished this feat, while Cruz went 3-for-5 in his. Martinez went an unlucky 1-for-5.

  • Speaking of unlucky, Jose Martinez has hit into outs on balls batted at least 100 mph fourteen times so far this year. Only Ryan Zimmerman and DJ LeMahieu have more (17 each).

  • In case you thought Martinez might just be beating his hard hit balls into the ground, his xwOBA (expected wOBA based on contact quality) on those hard hit outs was .823 – the highest among 24 players with at least 10 outs on batted balls hit 100+ mph.

Going back to last year, Jose Martinez is the sixth unluckiest hitter with at least 250 at-bats between 2017 and 2018, as measured by the difference between a players wOBA and xwOBA. Usually, some “unlucky-ness” can be attributed to speed - the average sprint speed of the five players with worse luck than Jose Martinez is about 24.4 feet per second; Jose Martinez is at about 27.5 ft/s, which compares favorably with a league average between 27.0 and 27.5 ft/s. Martinez isn’t slow. He’s terribly unlucky.

Early concerns for the pitching staff

Michael Wacha

After returning from the UCB weekend at Busch Stadium, I began searching for ways a pitching lab could benefit the St. Louis Cardinals. Looking at year-over-year changes for the 203 pitchers who met my pitch qualifications for both 2017 and 2018, I noticed the following:

  • Michael Wacha’s fourseamer spin rate is down 96 RPM, the 14th biggest drop. A decrease in spin rate is considered, potentially, to be a leading indicator of injury. Wacha’s spin rate has also dropped on his cutter, and changeup.

  • Wacha’s fourseamer velocity is down about 1.7 mph, the 26th biggest drop. According to Brooks Baseball, Wacha’s fourseamer velocity of 93.7 mph is the lowest of his career and only the second time he’s averaged less than 94 mph (2016). Overall, his velocity is down on across all pitches.

  • The decrease in velocity has not led to any noticeable changes in movement across his pitches.

  • According to Pitch Info data available on FanGraphs, Wacha is throwing pitches in the strike zone at a career low rate of 47.2%. His career average rate is 50.3%.

Luke Weaver

When I want a quick-and-dirty summary of plate discipline for pitchers, I look at the gap between a pitcher’s zone swing rate (Z-Swing%) and chase rate (O-Swing%), which I call Z-O%. For example, if pitcher induces swings on 65% of his pitches in the strike zone and a swing on 30% of his pitches outside the strike zone, his Z-O% is 35%. For pitchers, the smaller the gap, the better – a smaller gap implies that hitters are chasing more outside the zone and swinging less inside the zone.

So far this year, including his latest start against the Mets, Luke Weaver is inducing swings on 72.7% of his pitches in the zone and only 23.3% on his pitches outside the zone, putting his Z-O% at 49.4%. That’s the second largest gap among all starting pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched.

Since 2011, there have been 378 instances when a starting pitcher tossed at least 100 innings in a season. Only one player has completed a season with a Z-O% greater than 45%. Only 29 players have completed a season with a Z-O% of 40% or more – the average ERA among those pitchers was 4.77 with a 4.81 FIP. Luke Weaver’s 2018 ERA to date is 4.85 with a 3.83 FIP but 4.55 xFIP.

Luke Weaver has shown some early promise in his Cardinals career. However, if he’s going to be much more than an average pitcher, he needs to start fooling hitters inside and outside the zone.

Bud Norris

With Bud Norris unavailable for Tuesday night’s game, Mike Matheny opted for Matt Bowman in the tenth inning. Bowman promptly gave up a dinger to Jay Bruce, leading many to wonder why Norris wasn’t available for use. His recent velocity trend might give an explanation:

In Norris’ last appearance on April 22nd, his fastball velocity was the lowest it’s been all year. His spin rates, however, appeared to be fine. Maybe just chalk this one up to regular fatigue, but it's worth tracking where he's at the next few times out.

The offense isn’t swinging the bat… but is that a bad thing?

Through Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals hold the lowest swing rate in the entire Major Leagues at 42.0%. Among non-pitchers, they’re last at 41.6%. I, personally, have criticized Matt Carpenter for not swinging enough. But is their hesitance to swing holding the offense back? Consider the next four teams with the lowest swing rates among non-pitchers:

  • Houston Astros (42.1%)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers (42.7%)

  • Arizona Diamondbacks (42.9%)

  • New York Yankees (43.3%)

That’s great company. Last year, seven of the eight teams with the lowest swing rates made the playoffs. In an era where attacking the “strike zone is going out of style,” maybe swinging less is the key.

Thanks for reading! Credit to FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, and Brooks Baseball for their contributions to this post.


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