Daily Astros News and Notes

HOUSTON - JULY 23: Pitcher Bud Norris #20 of the Houston Astros throws in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Minute Maid Park on July 23 2010 in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Today is going to be light on the news section, but I did want to review Bud Norris' start last night. I've gotten away from doing these in the past couple of months, but I still think there's some value to them. Why don't we dive back in?

Pitch Type Avg Speed Max Speed Avg H-Break Avg V-Break Count Strikes / % Swinging Strikes / % Linear Weights Time to Plate
FF (FourSeam Fastball) 93.24 95 -1.66 9.84 56 35 / 62.50% 2 / 3.57% -0.1055 0.409
CH (Changeup) 85.39 86.5 -5.53 4.43 8 6 / 75.00% 1 / 12.50% -1.1165 0.445
SL (Slider) 86.59 90.3 4.91 3.07 40 22 / 55.00% 8 / 20.00% 2.0697 0.435

 

Same as it ever was with Norris, he's still working off three main pitches and using just two of them most of the time. His fastball is his favorite weapon, and even after his DL stint, he's able to hustle the ball up there at 95 MPH. The biggest change for Norris recently from earlier in the season is that he's able to throw it more consistently for strikes. In every start since returning from the disabled list, he's been over 60 percent strikes with his fastball.

I'd also note that his percentage of changeups has risen from 11 percent pre-DL to 16 percent since he got healthy. In fact, Monday's game was the first Norris failed to throw at least 10 changeups since May. Why is that significant? All signs point to his changeup being his second-best pitch.

If you look at FanGraphs Pitch Type Values for Norris, his slider is his most effective pitch, at 6.6 runs above average. His change clocks in next with 1.9 runs above average while his fastball is -14.8 runs below average. I'm thinking there's a reason Arnsberg and the Astros started emphasizing the change. Think back to all those early-season starts when everyone, including JD, would say that the change was Bud's best pitch. He just rarely used it. Now, he's featuring it more with good results.

His slider has also been very good, and if he qualified for the leaderboard, it would rank as in the top 20 slider in the entire major leagues. It was definitely his most effective pitch Monday, as he got eight swing-throughs with it. Interestingly, his fastball wasn't bad Monday, it was just not on par with his slider. The linear weight for this one start had his fastball just about even, while he only got two whiffs on it all night. The reason for this is something we have touched on in the past. Norris has too much drop on the pitch. It's a typical rising fastball, but it doesn't "rise" as much as some of the better pitches in the league. When a fastball has vertical movement between 8-10, it's prone to get hit a little. Ideally, you'd like your fastball to be around 11-12 or below 8 for sinker ballers.

Let's not make too much of this one start, though. After all, the Pitch F/X cameras could have been off, Norris might have been putting a little extra spin on the pitch, etc. Before we move on, I wanted to talk about one reason why Norris may have been able to pitch into the sixth inning for six of his last seven starts.

Look at this innings breakdown from Monday:

Inning Pitches in Inning Strikes in Inning Strike% in Inning Cumulative Total Pitches Pitch LWTS in Inning
1 11 7 63.64 11 -0.335
2 20 12 60.00 31 0.494
3 24 12 50.00 55 0.912
4 12 8 66.67 67 -0.862
5 13 6 46.15 80 -0.743
6 9 8 88.89 89 1.440
7 15 10 66.67 104 -0.057

 

Notice how he goes through most of his trouble early? From the fourth inning on, he cruises. That's somewhat reverse from where he was at in the beginning of the year. Norris would start out fine the first time through a lineup, but would self-combust in the fifth inning when he faced guys a second time.

I'd argue that this is where the changeup means the most to him. The first time through a lineup, Norris can work guys with his fastball and use the slider to finish them off. The second time through, he can pull out the change when a guy is looking fastball to keep them off-balance and to force easy grounders. There could be many reasons why he's more efficient late in the game, but that seems as plausible as any. What do you think? Is there a better reason for Norris' success late in games now?

Minor league notebook: As I said, not many news items today, but the always-interesting minor league notebook at the Chronicle provided a couple good options.

First, there is the news that J.D. Martinez's tendintis has almost totally receded. While he's still unlikely to play first base in the future, getting that under control is big for how we view him as a prospect. That also might coincide with his hot streak at the plate lately. Did anyone else flash back to his experience with the breaking stuff in Division II when he was talking about how pitchers approached him in the Texas League?

It's also nice to read that J.R. Towles doesn't hold any grudges against the Astros. He's been jerked around more in the past few years than any prospect I can remember, but to keep a good attitude is key. I wonder what he'll do once he's a free agent.

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