07 June 2008
Radhames Liz 2008 Debut and Pitch f/x
Posted by Jon Shepherd
On June 3, Radhames Liz was recalled from AAA Norfolk where he is 1-5 with a 4.05 era in a pitcher's park. His peripherals there are actually quite good with a 0.6 HR/9, 8.7 K/9, and a 3.8 BB/9, but his WHIP is at a pedestrian 1.35. When he is not striking people out, he seems to be quite hittable. His groundball rate is 34%, which isn't great. In the game against the Twins, he basically did the same as he was doing in Norfolk. He threw into the sixth, struckout guys at a decent clip (4Ks), walked one, and did not give up a homerun. One thing he did that has been different from his Norfolk norm is that he actually took in a win. To see if we can squeeze a little more out of his 2008 debut, we'll turn to Pitch f/x data.
Liz throws three different pitches: fastball, changeup, and slider. They could each be quality pitches, but there is some control issues that need to be iron out before he can become a top end of the rotation kind of pitcher.
Liz' fastball covers a wide range of speeds, hovering between 90 and 98 mph. Typically on the slightly higher end as he average about 94.4 mph. He relies on this pitch over two thirds of the time and it often sets up his change up and slider. He throws his change up 10% of the time and it runs in about 85 +/- 2 mph. It may be the result of a small sample size, but it appears that he almost exclusively uses this pitch on two strike counts. He throws his slider 20% of the time and will throw this pitch on any count occasion. Based on this one outing, it does not appear that he uses different pitches for different handed batters.
He gets a lot of tailing movement off his fastball, which suggests he is throwing a lot of two-seamers. The way you should read this chart is as if you are facing the pitcher. You will see the fastball tails into right handed batters and away from lefties. What is unusual about his change up is that he gets so little tail on it in comparison to his fastball (one less inch on average) It drops 5.5 inches more than the fastball, so that helps with deception. In terms of trajectory, these two pitches look identical except for speed, which is probably why it is a two strike pitch. It doesn't look like that good of a change up, so he may have been utilizing it in places where they were completing looking to catch up on his hard, tailing fastball. The slider looks like an average slider, but it is all over the place.
A consistent release point is also key to being able to deceive the batter. Pitches that are thrown from the same slot give the batter less time to make a correct identification. What you will notice is that there is a great deal of variation in the release point. Fastballs are typically thrown from a diagonal oval about 3 inches side to side and 5-6 inches in height. Variation going from top left to bottom right is more of an issue with timing in the release. Variation from right to left in a downward movement is a result of a changing arm slot. You can see how Liz' slot differs on his slider. He throws it at a slightly lower slot than his fastball. I'm not sure if the difference in throwing pattern is discernible to the batter. The change up looks to be all over. Just eye-balling it, he seems to have only thrown three change ups properly.
On his fastball, he seems to be overthrowing a bit or opening himself. The reason why I write this is that he is locating high in the strike zone. He did not throw much of anything in the 18-24 inch slot, which is typically the bottom quarter of the strike zone. I'm not sure why a pitcher would choose to do that, so I assume he just couldn't hit his marks down there. That is usually due to overthrowing or a mechanical flaw. He only threw three of his change ups for strikes, but he really only threw it with a two strike counts and I imagine he was trying to get a batter to chase one. For the most part, it did induce a swing. He throws his slider reasonably well in terms of location. It seems to hit about where he would want it to the majority of the time. Still, as with all of the pitches, I am confused why he repeatedly did not hit the bottom fourth of the strike zone. I took a look at other pitchers the night and where balls and strikes were called. The data looks right.
The only thing I can really comment on is that Liz did a great job staying ahead in the count. The Twins are know for having a hack first philosophy when it comes to hitting, so I am unsure to what extent this game played out differently than if Liz went against a more patient lineup (i.e. Yankees). To remind everyone, I defined the count as to proximity to an end. For instance two balls and one strike was considered an even count in my analysis because the pitcher is two balls from a walk and two strikes from a strikeout.
Batted Ball Data
There really isn't enough data for me to put together a graph as it would most likely imply more than can really be said about his performance the other night. His batted ball data does cause some concern. Sixteen balls were hit into the field of play. Only three (19%) were ground balls. This is a bit extreme. I think he will settle in probably around 35%, so this should improve even though I doubt with his current style he will be a groundball pitcher. He was lucky with his flyballs (50%) as none were hit over the fence. On average, about one out of every eight to ten flyballs will be hit for homeruns. The rest were line drives and he was benefited by a slightly depressed BABIP for line drives (.600). I think the key thing to take home from this is that this sort of trajectory data completely fits in with the location chart. His pitches were ignoring the bottom of the zone and you should see more line drives and flyballs. That is what happened.
Liz has a great fastball. He throws it hard and it has a very good tail to it. His change up looks a little weak. His slider looks slightly above average. His release point needs more consistency. It isn't horrible, but he does seem to need to tighten his release vertically in order to improve command and lower his pitches in the zone. By ignoring the bottom quarter of the strike zone, he is putting himself in a dangerous position when he faces a team that is slightly luckier and has more power potential. He needs to figure out how to induce groundballs or at least use all of the strikezone. Liz can be a very good pitcher, but I do not think he is there yet.