Jesse Litsch is 22 Years Old
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.
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.
Is this really the same pitcher??
- His changeup has zero movement and he gives up on it.
- He’s not throwing his sinker as hard. It’s dropping more, but doesn’t have the same tailing action.
- 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)
- His curve never made it out of the bullpen
- 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.
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.
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.