Monday, June 6, 2011

Neftali Feliz Looking for a Point of Release

Pitchers with a 1.25 ERA are rarely the subject of a "What's Wrong With ____" article. Neftali Feliz is different. Feliz blew three saves against the Royals in a little more than a week and left many wondering why.

Dave Cameron of wrote a very interesting piece looking into what had changed with Feliz. Cameron explored Feliz's very odd splits when facing right handed and left handed batters. At the time Cameron penned his article, Feliz had yet to strike out a single right handed batter this season. He did finally break that streak with a strike out of Jeff Francoeur on May 27th, but that remains the only right-handed strike out for Feliz. Clearly, something odd is going on. Cameron's piece sums up his investigation in a simple sentence: "Usually, I’d like to propose some kind of theory as to what might be going wrong, but I honestly have no idea."

Cameron's theory would likely be based on one of lesser stats that are often used to explain a pitcher who is suffering from a sudden change in performance, such as velocity, movement, pitch selection, etc. The only one of these stats that could explain Feliz's performance change, as noted by Cameron, is a slight "straightening" of his fastball. Essentially, Feliz has less movement along the horizontal plane than he has shown in the past. As Cameron notes, this doesn't explain why Feliz only has problems against righties because lefties should be able to hit a straight fastball too.

Following the rabbit trail a bit deeper, the cause may be a simple matter of release. One change in the Pitch F/X charts for Feliz, while subtle, is a drop in his release point.

For a visual comparison, here is a chart showing Feliz's release point for the pitches from his blown save on May 19th of this year against the Royals:

Compared to a game, also against the Royals, from May 25 of last year:

The difference is slight, but noticeable. The question then becomes, why is the release point lower. A lower release point could be a sign of a Feliz dropping his arm slot, but that would be accompanied by a coordinating horizontal movement of the release point, which doesn't exist here.

The problem could be a result of Feliz "short arming" his pitches, in other words throwing without fully extending his pitching arm. At times that can be caused by a pitcher dealing with an injury and Feliz has already had one stint on the disabled list this year. Overstriding, a longer stride while delivering a pitch, could also cause a lower release point.

To see how Feliz's release point affects his movement and further investigate what the root cause might be, here is a chart which shows the horizontal movement and velocity of pitches for the May 19, 2011 game:

Compared to the similar chart from the May 25, 2010 game.

A "straight" pitch will appear close to the center vertical line on each chart. The further away from that line, in either direction, the greater the movement on the pitch. As can be seen from the two game charts, Feliz's pitches have less horizontal movement during his 2011 game than they did during his 2010 game.

Feliz's 2011 velocity does appear to be lower, but only slightly so. While this may make the "short arming" theory a possibility, the difference would likely be greater than one or two miles per hour if a pitcher were truly dropping his release point as a result of "short arming." Feliz may be compensating for that in other parts of his mechanics, so "short arming" can't be ruled out, but the velocity drop could also be accounted for by usage, number of pitches, or a host of other reasons.

The most likely culprit of the lowered release point seems to be a longer stride. Overstriding lowers the pitchers body frame which thereby lowers his release point. Overstriding also affects other parts of a pitcher's game, chief among them is control. Since Feliz is currently walking batters at nearly double the rate of his career average combined with the lower release point, Feliz's stride becomes a key suspect in his recent struggles.

The bad news is that a host of other minor adjustments or changes could be causing Feliz's release point change, which will not always reveal themselves in sabermetric charts and graphs, but in this case some obvious culprits are at least visible for the Rangers staff to investigate.

The good news for the Rangers is that even with a lessening in his movement and his control, Feliz has been able to put up a 1.25 ERA.

The better news would be if the only reason for Feliz's struggles were a simple mechanical issue such as overstriding, as opposed to a looming major health issue.

The best news is that the Rangers have one of the game's best pitching coaches. If a mechanical issue is plaguing Neftali Feliz, Mike Maddux will find it. My advice to Maddux...take a look at the stride length.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Super Two Effect on Julio Borbon and Endy Chavez

On June 3, 2011, the Texas Rangers activated Julio Borbon from the disabled list and assigned him to AAA, where he had been playing on a rehab assignment. A number of aspects of this decision have been covered by the different media and internet outlets covering the Rangers.

Jamey Newberg of seems to be in favor of opting for Chavez over Borbon for a host of reasons he explains here. Adam J. Morris disagrees or at least minimizes some of the reasons in this piece.

Both Newberg and Morris do a very good job addressing most of the pros and cons of this decision. Morris has specifically questioned the timing of the decision, which has not been truly explained by any of the arguments for the move or Jon Daniels comments about the move.

The one advantage to optioning Borbon to AAA instead of simply allowing him to play there for the two additional weeks on rehab assignment is that he will not accumulate additional service time.

By my calculation, Borbon had accumulated 1 year and 132 days of service time when he was optioned (which is less than the service time reported by some other media outlets). In 2009, Borbon was called up for the first time on June 29, 2009 and sent back down on July 7, 2009. He was recalled again on August 7, 2009 and stayed with the Rangers the remainder of the year. Those two stints with the Rangers accumulated 9 and 59 days of service time, respectively. When added to his full year of service time from 2010 and the 64 days of service time from 2011, the result is 1 year and 132 days of service time.

In the entirely possible world that Borbon, for any of a host of reasons, is not recalled during 2011, but plays the entire 2012 season with the Rangers, he would have 2 years and 132 days of service time. Why does that matter? Because it puts Borbon right on the cusp of arbitration eligibility at the end of the 2012 season. A player with that same amount of service time would have been eligible for arbitration in 2007 and 2010, but not in 2008 or 2009. Borbon's salary through arbitration would easily increase by a few hundred thousand dollars and could increase by a million or more compared to what he would otherwise receive.

The additional service time gained on the remainder of Borbon's rehabilitation assignment would be more than enough to eliminate the Rangers chances to avoid arbitration with Borbon in 2012.

While the both sides of the Borbon vs. Chavez debate have valid arguments, the service time element explains the timing of the Rangers decision far better than any of the other factors.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Anti-Infield Fly Rule Update: The Joey Votto Streak

On October 2, 2009, Joel Hanrahan got Joey Votto to pop out to short on a 2-0 count. In the 758 at bats that have followed for Votto, he's hit 151 singles, 51 doubles, 4 triples, and 45 homers. Seemingly, the only thing he has not done is pop up again.

Batted ball location, as compiled by Baseball Info Solutions and published by, is available back to 2002. Since that time, Votto is the only player to have completed an entire season with 500 or more at bats without hitting an infield pop up. He did that in 2010 on the way to an NL MVP Award.

Only six other times has hitter completed a season with at least 350 plate appearances (about half a full season's worth) and no infield pop ups: Buster Posey and Jose Tabata in 2010, Edgar Gonzalez in 2008, Esteban German in 2007, Larry Bigbie in 2004 and Julio Franco in 2002. Of those, only Bigbie had enough at bats to qualify for a batting title and none hit even half the 37 homers Votto hit during his 2010 season.

Starting just over two weeks ago, Such Is Baseball began tracking the qualified batters who had yet to hit an infield flyball, which can be seen here: The Anti-Infield Fly Rule. Since then, David Wright, Elvis Andrus and Brandon Phillips have fallen off the list. The only players with a chance to complete the season without an infield pop out, ranked by number of at bats are:

  1. Michael Young, 225

  2. Yunel Escobar, 207

  3. Joey Votto, 204

  4. Jose Tabata, 179

  5. Howie Kendrick, 177

  6. Jack Cust, 163

  7. Gerardo Parra, 162

  8. Derrek Lee, 156

The list will continue to dwindle, but Votto's name has the best chance to remain on the list.