Found August 20, 2012 on Sports Blog Net:
Mlb_jun_14_839c
I wrote a Mariners Universe article where I just briefly had time to jump into Fangraphs and Pitch F/X and noticed that Jason Vargas has worked at much different paces throughout 2012. Pace is a stat developed through the Pitch F/X system that tells baseball analysts how much time elapsed between pitches on average in an outing. It's known that the average pitcher takes longer when runners are on base and longer than that when it's a RISP situation. With that being said no pitcher, or not many, ever made it and stuck in the Major Leagues without having an out pitch and the mental recourse to forget somewhere near Mariano Rivera levels. So I started thinking that maybe pitchers, who aren't bonafide strikeout kings like Verlander, Strasburg, and Felix would benefit from taking a little longer between pitches. Using Jason Vargas, because he is an up and down pitcher who relies heavily on his control, as a guinea pig I gave this theory a shot. Vargas has made 26 starts in 2012 for which I found Pitch F/X data on 25; ignore his start on 3/29 in Japan for the time being. Let's first take a look at his Pace #'s: Vargas works at three different paces I was able to identify:
  • 17-18.5 Pace
  • 18.6-21.1 Pace
  • 21.2-22.6 Pace
Let's look at your standard data for the Pace sets above:
  • In 7 starts between 17-18.5 Pace
  1. 4.50 ERA
  2. 46 IP
  3. 6.5 innings an outing.
  • In 11 starts between 18.6-21.1 Pace
  1. 3.43 ERA
  2. 76 IP
  3. 6.9 innings an outing.
  • In 7 starts between 21.2-22.6 Pace
  1. 3.05 ERA
  2. 47.2 IP
  3. 6.7 innings an outing.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist or even a baseball analyst to see that Vargas has performed at a higher rate when he holds the ball 1-3 seconds longer on the mound per pitch. I started to think what a pitcher can do in 1-3 seconds from the mound and decided that gripping the ball differently/tighter was the most likely option. The change-up has long been considered Vargas' out-pitch. So I decided to take a look at his pitch data on his fastball, curveball, and change-up throughout the three Pace sets above.

Starting with pitch velocity:

Pace

vFA (Fastball mph)

vCu (Curve mph)

vCH (Change mph)

17-18.5

87.7

75.2

79.9

18.6-21.1

87.6

75.1

79.8

21.2-22.6

87.7

75.6

79.9

Not much to take away from his change or lack of change in velocity. Some pitchers who have the ability to really climb the ladder mix up their speeds throughout the contest but Vargas topping out around 88.5 mph on his fastball does not have much room to play around and stay effective. So if it's not velocity it must be movement, right?:

 Average Vertical Break:

Pace

Cu-z (Curve)

Fa-z (Four-Seam FB)

Ch-z (Change)

17-18.5

-3.14

8.4

4.11

18.6-21.1

-4.3

8.06

3.81

21.2-22.6

-4.56

9.18

3.28

**The vertical trajectory (in inches) the pitch ‘sunk’ compared to a spin-less ball.

Average Horizontal Break:

Pace

Cu-x (Curve)

Fa-x (Four-Seam FB)

Ch-x (Change)

17-18.5

-2.1

6.85

11.2

18.6-21.1

-1.95

6.78

11.7

21.2-22.6

-2.05

6.88

11.95

**Positive numbers denote break in on a Lefty **Negative numbers denote break in on a Righty

Aside from what we learned about Pace, in being that Vargas works better on average when holding the ball 1-3 seconds longer per pitch, we now know roughly what he is doing in that time. At a Pace of 17-18.5 seconds per pitch Vargas is putting nearly the same break on his fastball and curveball as when his Pace is at its slowest but is getting drastically different vertical movement. His curveball drops an extra 1.42 inches and his fastball .78 inches after holding the ball 1-3 seconds longer. Vargas is doing everything differently on his ‘out-pitch’ when holding the ball longer. At his slowest Pace Vargas is getting an extra .75 inches of horizontal movement while getting less 'sink' on his change-up. As his Pace slows down his change-up becomes more and more effective as his lowest ERA at 21.2-22.6 seconds per pitch shows us. I hope this served as a lesson in how different each outing can be for any pitcher in baseball and how easy it can be for a pitcher to deviate away from success.      
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