Know Your Astros Relievers: Matt Lindstrom


Let's look at the next reliever in our series, newly acquired right-hander Matt Lindstrom. The 30-year old Indiana native was traded from Florida to the Astros this winter for minor league right-hander Robert Bono and shortstop Luis Bryan. 

It was the second time Lindstrom was involved in a trade, as he went from the New York Mets to the Marlins in 2006 with Henry Owens for Adam Bostick and Jason Vargas. Lindstrom made his major league debut in 2007 and was excellent, posting 62 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings with a BABiP of .332, meaning he was slightly unlucky that season. Lindstrom came back with a strong 2008 season and was even installed as the closer going into 2009. However, an injury during the World Baseball Classic held him back. His ERA blew up as he blew saves and eventually lost his job at the back of the bullpen. The Marlins shut him down for a month, but Lindstrom bounced back to have a solid August and September.

We're going to refer to this scouting report, which Richard Justice got from Ed Wade. To review, here's Lindstrom's report:

Skill
Fastball 80 70
Command 50 45
Fastball life 70 55
Slider 55 60
Change 50 45
Overall command 50 50

 

Here are the writeups on Lindstrom. Let's see if we can prove these after the jump:

''Power reliever with closer stuff. Plus fastball that can be overpowering. Runs a hard tilted slider away from right-handed hitters. Primarily a two-pitch guy. Tends to run up high pitch count. Command can be inconsistent. Had a health issue which is resolved. Needs better command.''

Here's the second report on Lindstrom...

''Closing games. Big tall kid. High three-quarter delivery. Power arm. Quick delivery out of stretch. Often rushes, leaving fastball up in the zone. Gets hitters to chase, who will learn in time to stay off that pitch. Needs to get fastball down in the zone more often. Challenges hitters. Will use both sides of the plate. Fastball occasionally will have short cut action. Slider is his next-best pitch. Tight bite with tilt, primarily away from left-handed hitters and occasionally backdoor to lefthanders. Sliders to right-handed hitters when ahead in the count can be chaseable off the outside edge. Good arm. Still a bit of a thrower. Has trouble putting hitters away. Occasional spit-finger, some tumble out of the zone, primarily a show pitch. Still a work in progress as a closer. Like his arm and power.''

What we're looking for is a great fastball and average secondary pitches. Here's the breakdown of Lindstrom's 2009 season:

Type Count Selection Velocity (mph) Max Velocity Vertical (in) Horizontal (in)
FF 606 73.9% 96.3 100.2 8.35 -4.93
CU 164 20.0% 82.4 93.4 -6.23 6.24
CH 39 4.8% 86.3 88.1 6.12 -8.01
SL 8 1.0% 82.0 84.2 -1.37 6.67
SI 3 0.4% 90.2 93.0 5.19 -9.16

 

That is an impressive fastball. To hit 100 as a max is the kind of thing we haven't seen around here since the days of Billy Wagner. The only thing that concerns me is Lindstrom uses his fastball a LOT. Almost three-quarters of the time. Which is quite a bit. PItch F/X lists his next pitch as a curveball. Let's look at his movement chart to see why that might be.

Movement_chart_lindstrom_medium

Referring to this handy chart, we see that most of his breaking pitches had a ton of vertical drop to them. Looks pretty easy why Lindstrom was described as having a curve. It's a power curve, for sure, since he gets it up there at 82 on average and 93 on occasion. Notice, though, that his slider and his curve have almost the same movement and the exact same speed. There must be something else going on. On to his release point:

Lindstrom_release_point_medium

Sure, this looks like many of the other release point charts we've seen. I thought so, too, until I looked at it's relationship to the strike zone. Lindstrom comes much more over the top than some of the pitchers we've seen so far. That downward arm action from his delivery would make it harder for a slider to 'slide' horizontally but would make it fall hard vertically. This appears to be what's happening with Pitch F/X's classification. Think of the pitch as a slurve, but with the arm action of a slider. I'm sure Lindstrom holds it like a slider. The ball probably just drops away more.

Another point I found interesting is the scouting report said he uses both sides of the plate. I guess you can see that here, in his average fastball top view.

Lindstrom_fastball_top_view_medium

Is it just me, or does his average fastball go right down Main Street? This is just fastballs to lefthanders, too. For a full top view of his pitches, look no further.

Lindstrom_top_view_medium

Yes, he does use both sides of the plate, but plenty of those fastballs are of the 'hit it if you can' variety. We all know what happens when you do that...

What about those control issues? Here's a look at his percentages on his pitches:

Type Count Selection Strike Swing Whiff
FF 606 73.9% 66.0% 49.2% 9.6%
CU 164 20.0% 50.6% 30.5% 10.4%
CH 39 4.8% 66.7% 61.5% 25.6%

 

His strike rate is pretty terrible for that slurve. His swing rate is even worse but isn't surprising, since he doesn't throw it for strikes very often. He can at least throw his fastball for strikes with consistency but gets way too many swings at it without enough whiffs.

Looks like we're three-for-three on scouting reports. This is where we veer off, though, because I'm most interested in seeing how Lindstrom responded to his injury history last season. We've mentioned before that Lindstrom suffered an injury during the World Baseball Classic that hampered him early in the season. You can see his monthly splits here and here is a chart of his velocity and movement over the past two seasons.

 

Count Velo Vert Horiz. Whiff%
Apr-08 73 96.8 7.66 -3.23 6.8
May-08 86 96.4 9.19 -2.58 14
Jun-08 93 95.9 9.61 -2.61 9.7
Jul-08 110 97.9 8.48 -2.63 10.9
Aug-08 157 96.6 9.13 -3.5 9.6
Sep-08 113 96.2 8.7 -4.11 1.8
Apr-09 143 95.5 8.97 -3.41 7
May-09 165 96.9 8.5 -4.5 6.7
Jun-09 92 96.9 8.02 -5.91 13
Jul-09 0 0 0 0 0
Aug-09 108 96.2 8.16 -5.65 13
Sep-09 104 96.1 7.75 -6.1 10.6

 

His velocity stays pretty constant, around 96 MPH. He's missing data for July because of a DL stint. He came back in August throwing the same gas but with more movement. In fact, starting in June, his horizontal movement increased by about an inch and a half from -4.5 in May to -6.1 in September. This means his fastball was tailing in on right-handers more than it had at any time in the previous two seasons. He also had slightly less vertical movement, meaning he had more natural sink on his fastball.

Combining both more horizontal movement and more vertical drop meant his whiff rate on the fastball sustained itself over 10 percent for the first time in his last two seasons. I really wanted to look at 2007 as a base line, but couldn't find the data. As it is, we're left with the possibility that either the injury or an adjustment to the pitch is giving him more life and a better whiff rate.

Does that sustain itself over both seasons for all his pitches? Why did he throw the slider more in 2009? Let's look at the two seasons' worth of data.

Selection 2008 %Selection Whiff% Strike% 2009 % Selection Strike%
FA 632 77.4 8.7 68.7 606 73.9 9.6 66.6
CU 98 12 10.2 51 164 20 10.4 50.6
CH 35 4.3 17.1 57.1 39 4.8 25.6 66.7
SI 26 3.2 3.8 38.5 3 0.4 12.5 33.3
SL 26 3.2 23.1 69.2 8 1 33.3 50
Max FF Velo 101 100.2

 

 

 

 

First off, I have to mention the fact that Lindstrom hit 101 at one point in 2008. The kid has some serious gas. His whiff rate on fastballs is very similar as it is for the slider. The changeup was just as underused as in 2008, but got a better whiff rate in 2009 (it helps that he threw it more consistently for a strike). I wonder how good he could be if he learned to harness that change instead of the slider. While it looks like the slider is a wicked pitch, his success rate with the change and the way it looks so similar to the fastball in movement leaves me to suspect it could be a killer pitch for him.

But, the main question we see here is that there appears to be no ill effect in his pitching because of the injury. He's just as successful in 2009 as the previous season and there were no lingering issues after he returned from the DL last year.

That makes four-for-four on the scouting reports, huh? What do you see? Are you excited to see a fireballer that may only have two pitches? Could you see him learning a better changeup?

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