The Mockingbird

Jesse Litsch is 22 Years Old

with 10 comments

I’ve been rather obsessed with enhanced pitch data lately. The folks at pitch f/x took the wind out of this post by only getting it running 7 innings into Jesse Litsch’s impressive rebound start against Boston on Wednesday, but since they’re freely providing all this data, it’s hard to complain.

Specifically, I have big plans for a pitch database, and I’d to take a moment express my undying admiration for people who go out of their way to share their ideas and hard work. It sets a precedent for an open research community, and that sort of collaboration can set great things in motion. If I can ever figure out how to get it working on a Mac, I’ll be the first to give something back…Anyway, back to baseball.

After being one of the Jays’ best pitchers in his second Major League stint, Jesse Litsch, a.k.a Howdy Doody, went through a bit of a rough patch. His explanation was that his changeup was struggling. Interesting, but from watching the games, it looked like that wasn’t all. A quick look at the data shows what happens when you’re 22 still learning your five different pitches. You thought A.J. Burnett was variable? Jesse has totally different stuff from one day to the next.

1) The Gold Standard

One of Litsch’s best starts this season came on July 25th against the Twins. Although it ended in a 13-1 blowout, it was actually a pitcher’s duel until the bottom of the 6th, when the Jays put up 11 runs. Litsch had a 14-2 GB:FB ratio and only used 82 pitches through 7 innings.

The following chart shows the movement on his pitches, with speeds by color. As always with this data, keep in mind that dead center would be a ball that had no spin on it. His fastball is sinking about half a foot more than a Burnett 4-seamer.

jesse-litsch-july-26.jpg

I’m not going to get into release point and location unless anyone is really interested…just look at the difference between that and the next example:

2) Jesse Gets Shelled

On September 3rd, Litsch lasted only 3.1 innings against Boston, and gave up 7 runs on 7 hits. It wasn’t pretty.

picture-6.png

Is this really the same pitcher??

  1. His changeup has zero movement and he gives up on it.
  2. He’s not throwing his sinker as hard. It’s dropping more, but doesn’t have the same tailing action.
  3. He’s throwing his cutter harder than his fastball now, and heavily relying on it (Baseball America’s knock on him in their scouting report)
  4. His curve never made it out of the bullpen
  5. His slider isn’t there either (he was actually overthrowing it and half of those green dots you see low are it bouncing towards the dugout).

If I had to take a guess, I’d say he was trying too hard to keep his sinker low against a tough team, and was overthrowing his cutter to the inside part of the plate and falling behind. But who knows…maybe he just came out and didn’t have a feel for anything. Let’s bring out our next contestant…

3) Losing to freaking Baltimore

This is Jesse’s latest start against Baltimore. Note that he came out firing the ball – his fastball was around 92 instead of 88-89. It didn’t help much, he was gone in 3 innings, allowing 7 hits and 4 runs to Baltimore.

litsch.jpg

What’s the problem? His changeup seems to have recovered somewhat- it’s a little faster, but moving again, and 10 mph slower than his fastball. His cutter is cutting in more and more every start, and he’s throwing a breaking pitch with some regularity again. Unfortunately, of Jesse’s 15 fastest pitches, 10 were balls, 3 were fouled off, and two were called strikes. All the contact was made off his cutter and slider because Baltimore was sitting on them since he couldn’t get his newfound heat over for strikes.

Thrilling Conclusion

It’s hard to get a handle on what Litsch is doing on the mound when it changes with the weather. I don’t think these graphs say a lot about what kind of pitcher he is, but they say a ton about what happens when you’re thrown into the big leagues straight from AA. This is why he hasn’t won the 5th spot in the rotation despite an ERA (3.62) in the two and a half months since he returned to the big leagues that you would dream of having there. He has the stuff to be a decent starter, but he’s piecing it together as he goes along and still learning how to be consistent- and that’s usually what AAA is for.

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Written by halejon

September 20, 2007 at 9:29 am

10 Responses

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  1. Great post, I had the white knuckles waiting for your ‘Thrilling Conclusion’. Another great start last night – if the kid develops any semblance of consistancy he’ll be everything Dave Bush wasn’t this season.

    mulliniks

    September 20, 2007 at 1:41 pm

  2. I’m glad Litsch is just 22 and still finding his way. I’m not sold on him yet. He gives up more hits than innings pitched has good control (before last night’s 4 BB outing he had a BB/9 of 2.78) but really can’t strike guys out (although in his previous two starts he did whiff 10 in just 8 IP).

    That sounds a lot like Josh Towers which is odd because both lead the Jays in unearned runs with nine.

    Of course Litsch has slightly better stuff than Towers and, as you mentioned, is doing his AAA apprenticeship at the big league level and is still pretty young. Being able to minimize damage after defensive miscues is something he’ll get better at with experience (I hope).

    In my mind he hasn’t nailed down the No. 5 job. Having said that, I think I’d be pretty happy if he can give 180+ innings of league average pitching in 2008.

    I like this point you made:

    “If I had to take a guess, I’d say he was trying too hard to keep his sinker low against a tough team, and was overthrowing his cutter to the inside part of the plate and falling behind.”

    That sounds an awful lot like Mike Timlin and Jason Frasor when asked to close games with Toronto. He needs to take a lesson from Greg Maddux; he stated that when you get into trouble, you shouldn’t try to throw harder, you should try to throw softer–that way your arm is relaxed and your pitch won’t flatten out over the heart of the plate.

    I guess we’ll have to wait until 2008 for a better read but credit where it’s due: He has been a pleasant surprise. After all, when you phone your AA affiliate and ask who’s pitching best because you need a warm body to start a game and all they give you the name of a kid that was drafted in the 24th round. He then comes up and throws close to 100 innings of 4.11 ERA/113-ish ERA+ work–that’s pretty impressive.

    Best Regards

    John

    P.S. Russ Adams is batting .333/.450/.576 and scored 10 runs and driven in nine in 33 AB. I doubt this is his true level of production (sample size and all that) but I’m curious, has he turned the corner or is this just a fluke? If he could give the Jays .280/.350/.400 in 2008 it would be a major help to the Jays in next year. Even league average or slightly better at SS would make a not insignificant difference for the offense.

    John Brattain

    September 20, 2007 at 1:58 pm

  3. [...] Litsch – What Went Right? Jump to Comments As I mentioned last week, Jesse Litsch has been all over the place as he learns on the mound this year. Fortunately, the [...]

  4. [...] September 20, Jonathan Hale published “Jesse Litsch Is 22 Years Old“, an article looking at pitch types for three of Jesse Litsch’s [...]

  5. [...] September 20, Jonathan Hale published “Jesse Litsch Is 22 Years Old“, an article looking at pitch types for three of Jesse Litsch’s [...]

  6. [...] September 20, he published “Jesse Litsch Is 22 Years Old“, an article looking at pitch types for three of Jesse Litsch’s [...]

  7. [...] just below average for a starter and he even threw it (terribly unsuccessfully) at 92-3 for a couple of games last year. The real issue is that his changeup (which he only really started throwing last year) was [...]

  8. [...] I pointed out last year, his pitches were totally inconsistent from one start to the next, and the changeup that catapulted him to the big leagues seems to have totally disappeared. [...]

  9. [...] Jesse Shows Off the Heater Posted in Seriousness by halejon on May 6th, 2008 Catching up on some housekeeping here…During his last start on Saturday, Jesse Litsch surprised a few people (and possibly a few Chicago White Sox) by flashing up to 93 on the radar gun which he only did for one start last season (with lousy results). [...]

  10. [...] just starts pumping one cutter after the other). His start today looked a lot more like one of the gems he threw last season when he was feeling his sinker and change, but with his new 4-seamer as [...]


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