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  • Decrease in velocity should be a concern for Pavano

    The Twins recently announced that Target Field would be a smoke-free facility starting in 2012. Apparently, they were not referencing tobacco products but rather Carl Pavano’s fastball.

    Minnesota’s inning-eating stalwart of the past several seasons entered Opening Day in Baltimore and was not impressing any radar gun enthusiasts by tossing his fastball a touch over 85 miles an hour. On Saturday, Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan reported that there were some organizational staffers who were “alarmed” at this development.





    At Baseball Prospectus, former analyst and current Houston Astros’ staffer Mike Fast found that pitchers’ velocity is a bell curve over the course of the season:

    “Fastball speed for an average major-league pitcher starts at its lowest point in early April, rises by about 1.0-1.5 mph to a peak in the month of July, and declines gradually thereafter. These trends apply similarly to starting pitchers and relief pitchers.”

    As you can see from the chart above, like Fast’s research which showed velocity increased throughout the season, Pavano also had a gradual climb in velocity as the season progressed. In 2009 and 2010, he added roughly 2 miles an hour to his fastball. Last year, however, he was only able to dial up his heat 0.2 miles an hour. Meanwhile, this year, he has begun at his lowest starting point in the past four years. At 36 years old and coming off of two straight seasons of throwing over 222 innings -- not to mention a failure to ratchet up his fastball in 2011 like he did in 2009 and 2010 -- this may be an early indication that he could be wearing down indefinitely.

    To be fair, Pavano, who has never been a hard thrower even in the early stages of his career, has always relied on his fastball’s command and movement over power. Because of its pedestrian nature in comparison to the rest of the league, when he misses his spots over the plate opponents have been able to lacerate his fastball (such as what happened when Nick Markakis launched a two-run home run off of him in the first inning of Friday’s contest). For instance, in 2009, the year in which the Twins traded for him at the waiver deadline, Pavano’s fastball was valued at -23.8 runs below average by Fangraphs.com – the worst rate in baseball among qualified starters. The following year it came in at -7.2, a fair improvement but still near the bottom of the league. Last season his fastball finished at -25.6, second only to A.J. Burnett’s -34. Despite all of that, Pavano has managed to remain a pitcher who has turned in consecutive seasons of 3 wins above replacement since 2009.


    What allowed him to succeed despite the sheer obliteration of his heater was guile – throwing a decent combination of a slider and changeup that incited plenty of opponents to expand the strike zone and swing at less than favorable pitches. Between 2009 and 2011, he was able to get hitters to swing at 34.4 percent of out-of-zone pitches – the second-highest amount in baseball. In short, opponents were less likely to square up on a ball that is off the plate leading to more outs for Pavano in spite of chucking a lackluster fastball.

    But here’s another factor that should be considered as his velocity declines: the differential between his fastball and his off-speed pitches is eroding. Along with his command and movement, the secondary pitches provided Pavano with a change of speed that disrupted the opposition’s timing. Baseball researcher Dave Allen discovered that the optimal differential between a fastball and a changeup to be effective is between 5% and 12%. In essence, anything below 5% and anything above 12% gives the hitter a better read on the pitch. For Pavano, in 2009 and 2010, he had an approximate nine mile per hour differential between his fastball and his changeup. This resulted in differentials of 10.2% in ‘09 and 9.4% in ’10. Last season, he posted a differential of 8.8%, still within the sweet spot Allen described but was definitely trending downward as his fastball’s velocity decreased. In just his one start, he held a differential of 4.5% slightly below the threshold for effectiveness. In theory, if Pavano continues to throw his fastball and changeup in this range, he will lose the ability to fool hitters with the off-speed stuff.

    Yes, it is just one outing, and his first of the year at that, but there are some signs which suggest Pavano may be in line for a hard season if he is unable to add some MPHs to his fastball.
    This article was originally published in blog: Decrease in velocity should be a concern for Pavano started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 11 Comments
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      This was one thing I noticed immediately watching the game and from Pitch f/x on the gamecast. Pitch f/x was calling all of his fastballs "changeups". It'd throw in "sinker" every once in awhile, but he obviously wasn't throwing that many changeups.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Right, GameDay's classifications always seem off for Pavano because of (1) his low velocity and (2) the movement on his fastball. Baseball Info Solutions had a more accurate read of his pitch types saying he threw 75% fastballs (two, four and sink) and 16.8% changeups.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Watching the game, I didn't pay much/any attention to the radar readings, but through at least the first three innings I did find myself thinking how much extra movement Pavano's fastball seemed to have. That's based on perception, though, and not any actual data. And it's early in the year and there's other factors that could have my perception fooling me. I don't have the knowledge to know if the extra movement could be caused by the lower velocity, or the other way around, or neither, though. Anyone have enough experience and expertise to have a valid thought on that?
    1. Mr. Ed's Avatar
      Mr. Ed -
      Move him asap. Find a taker. I'll take Swarzak in his spot the rest of the year, no problem.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Ya, the velocity readings were still the first thing that made me go "what's up with Pavs?" before I even noticed the pitch f/x data. low-to-Mid 80's heat was not what I was expecting. Used to him being High 80's touching low 90's.
    1. Doug Y's Avatar
      Doug Y -
      1-2 mph slower at the start of the season is OK, but 4-5 mph less is scary. He was healthy during spring training and had plenty of time to get the arm back in shape. Let's hope is was just a fluke and next start he is at 88-90 again or it could be a long year for Pavano.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      And yet, with a fastball clocked at 85mph, Carl Pavano managed to pitch pretty well, and the hits were on mistakes. Velocity can be a big weapon, but knowing how to pitch is even more important.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      And yet, with a fastball clocked at 85mph, Carl Pavano managed to pitch pretty well, and the hits were on mistakes.
      That's true. As I noted, he's got other resources like his changeup and slider and throws the fastball with very good precision that moves a lot. He rarely walks people and gets a high amount of grounders. He's overall decent. The concern is, going forward, he may not have the same margin for error when he misses his spots now that the velocity has diminished and his fastball and change are starting to converge.
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Quote Originally Posted by CDog View Post
      ...I don't have the knowledge to know if the extra movement could be caused by the lower velocity, or the other way around, or neither, though. Anyone have enough experience and expertise to have a valid thought on that?
      Here's my 2 cents. Greater or lesser movement (besides a knuckleball that relates to different phenomena) is caused by a corresponding increase or decrease in RPMs. We used to call gettin' good RPMs a "good finish".
    1. whydidnt's Avatar
      whydidnt -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimbo92107 View Post
      And yet, with a fastball clocked at 85mph, Carl Pavano managed to pitch pretty well, and the hits were on mistakes. Velocity can be a big weapon, but knowing how to pitch is even more important.
      I guess I disagree, I don't call giving up 4 runs in 7 IPs "pretty well". It's more my definition of pretty mediocre. He gave up about as many runs as he deserved based upon his performance, and his ERA sits over 5. If the entire staff pitched that well all year, none of us would be happy with the results.

      I'm certainly concerned, the Twins need the Pavano of 2009-2010 if they are going to be at all competitive this year.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Quote Originally Posted by whydidnt View Post
      I guess I disagree, I don't call giving up 4 runs in 7 IPs "pretty well". It's more my definition of pretty mediocre. He gave up about as many runs as he deserved based upon his performance, and his ERA sits over 5. If the entire staff pitched that well all year, none of us would be happy with the results.

      I'm certainly concerned, the Twins need the Pavano of 2009-2010 if they are going to be at all competitive this year.
      I was in San Diego during Gregg Maddux's last year. He could still get people out when his heater clocked 88mph, but when he couldn't get it above 86, they started clubbing him pretty bad. I suppose by his age he started losing some precision, too. He'd start to tire by the 5th inning, and then his stuff would start drifting over the middle...Boom.

      Pavano's a little like that. The velocity's not as important as with other pitchers because he can spot the ball so well. When he can't spot the ball anymore, then he's done. So far, he's hanging on with control. If that starts to go, then giving up a mere four runs per outing will be the good old days.
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