After some time away from the confusion and hysteria that the Winter Meeting can impart, I thought it might be good to go back and focus on the Orioles' acquisition of Dana Eveland. There was some disappointment when the trade went down as the Orioles acquired a player who has an uneven career that has been entirely unimpressive at the Major League level for two minor league players who some refer to as prospects. The merits of Jarret Martin's prospect-dom can be somewhat argued. He is likely at best a middle relief arm if he ever makes it to the majors. Tyler Henson's prospect status unfortunately left him long ago. It appears to be a not much for not much kind of deal.
Dan Duquette spoke highly of Dana Eveland after the deal. Duquette mentioned that Albuquerque (where Eveland pitched 150 innings last year) and that is true. Albuquerque is the least friendly ball park for pitchers in all of the minors. It increases run production by about 18%. Eveland's ERA was 5.40 at home and 3.33 on the road. However, as well as he pitched in AAA it must be said that he was a 28yo in AAA. Duquette also mentioned that Eveland had some bone chips cleaned out from his elbow in 2010 and that he likes Eveland's fastball. In this post, I wanted to dive into the Pitch f/x data a little bit and look at Eveland's fastball and how it has looked over the years.
Velocity and Movement
With his elbow cleaned up, one might expect that his fastball would look a little different. The graph below shows some of the highlights.
You can see that in the data available, fastball velocity has decreased over the last three years. Movement has also changed where his fastball has more run to it than it used to have by about half an inch. Vertical movement actually is about half an inch more than it used to be. To some extent, this is a function of decreasing speed. It may be with this greater horizontal movement along with slightly more drop results in a fastball that is more difficult to square up on, inducing poor contact.
To see how the above change in movement has affected batted balls, I have compiled fastball events below.
The first thing to notice is that Eveland was throwing more strikes last year (remember that this is a pretty small sample size). The increase in strike throwing correlates with an equal increase in the batter swinging at his pitches, so it seems like the batters are responding to an increase in strikes. Even though they swing more and the swing and miss rate has not increased, balls put into play (fair territory) has not increased. What has increased has been the number of balls hit into foul territory.
Is inducing foul balls a skill?
I would think it would be, but it is not something that seems to have been specifically assessed. Mike Fast published two pieces on how pitchers can affect batted balls. However, it appears that the main variable he focused on (horizontal velocity of a ball coming off a bat) is related to strikeout rate. Eveland is not a high strikeout pitcher, but it may be that groundball pitchers may affect contact differently than your average pitcher. It would follow reason that a pitcher who is able to induce a great deal of foul balls is messing with the batters' timing a great deal.
None of this is definitive. The data is on the thin side, but it appears to depend on a slight difference in how Eveland's fastball moves and whether or not a pitcher can hone a skill that significantly increases foul ball rates. I think it is prudent to be more conservative about this and attribute last year's success more to luck than skill.