This Week In Astros Pitching: Starter's Edition

HOUSTON, TX- AUGUST 30: Jordan Lyles #41 of the Houston Astros smiles after he caught a line drive with the bases loaded to end the inning against the San Francisco Giants in the second inning on August 30, 2012 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

The Astros had a pretty good week on the mound this past week minus Dallas Keuchel’s first inning against the Giants. Lucas Harrell, Fernando Abad, and Bud Norris all allowed just one earned run, while Lyles allowed three in eleven innings which was still good for a 3.27 ERA on the week. Keuchel’s start on the other hand was not all that great, and he became the unfortunate victim of the Matt Dominguez promotion shortly after the start. I did things a little bit differently this week, and since it ran a little long I will try to get to the relief pitchers either later today or sometime this weekend. Below is a look at how it all played out for our starters over the past seven days.

Jordan Lyles

Pitching Line (2 Starts): 11 IP, 6 SO, 2 BB, 10 H, 4 ER, 1 HR

Lyles fastball velocity has been up all year compared to last season, but in his last two starts his fastball velocity has been even higher. On the season Lyles is averaging 91.6 MPH on his fastball according to TexasLeaguers.com. In his last two starts his velocity has averaged about two MPH higher at 93.6. He even touched 96 a couple of times in these two outings, and looks like he’s just letting it fly now.

"In the past, I've tried to locate, locate, locate and just keep some guys off-balance, but sometimes you've got to just say, 'Hey, here it is. I'm going to give you my best fastball and see if you can hit it,'" Lyles said. "I think my last couple starts I've been doing more of that."

Throughout the season Lyles has tinkered with different curveball grips and has altered his mechanics a couple of times in an effort to keep improving, and hopefully he’s starting to find a formula that works for him.

Lyles said adjustments in his delivery -- specifically "staying tall on the mound" -- were key in his three-hit effort on Friday night, his first win since June 26.

Here’s a look at how everything played out for Lyles this past week.

Fastball: Lyles threw a two-seam fastball and a four-seam fastball this week. He threw his two-seamer about 29.5% of the time with an average velocity of 93.2 MPH. He threw the pitch for a strike 67.3% of the time and had a whiff percentage of 9.6% on the pitch. Hitter’s put this fastball in play about 23.1% of the time. This fastball was his go to pitch in these two starts, and he used it the most against left-handed hitters.

He also threw a four-seam fastball about 27.3% of the time with an average velocity of 93.6 MPH. He used this fastball more against right-handed hitters, 34.1% of the time versus his two-seamer 20.7% of the time. He threw this fastball for strikes 72.9% of the time and generated a whiff rate of 6.3%.

On the season Lyles two fastballs have generated a whiff rate of 5.7% (four-seam), and 6.8% (two-seam). In his last two starts his two-seam fastball whiff rate increased to 9.6% and his four-seam increased to 6.3%.

Curveball: The curveball was still Lyles favored offspeed pitch, and he used it 20.5% of the time. This pitch is improving, but is still a work in progress. He did not generate any swing and misses on the pitch in these two starts. He used the pitch more frequently against right-handed hitters than lefties this week (23.20% vs. RH, 18.10% vs. LH).

Slider/Cutter: The pitch was classified as a slider, but it doesn’t look like a true slider and comes in at 87.3 MPH. He used the pitch 15.9% of the time, and uses it more against righties than lefties.

Changeup: This was Lyles least used pitch over the last two starts at 6.8%, but it also produced his highest whiff percentage at 16.7%. Like most righty pitchers he hardly used the pitch against right-handed hitters, but used it to neutralize lefties more often. The pitch was more effective this past week than it had been on the season.

Lucas Harrell

Pitching Line: 7 IP, 7 SO, 2 BB, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 HR

Harrell bounced back from a bad outing in his previous trip to the mound. Coincidentally, or not, the successful outing was accompanied by a Harrell-Snyder pairing, which had been used for most of Harrell’s starts this season. He only allowed two hits, but one of those hits cleared the wall for a homerun. Here’s what was working for Harrell this week.

Fastball: Harrell’s bread and butter is his two-seam fastball and he threw it 71.9% of the time this week. His average velocity on the pitch was 92.2 MPH, which is right around where it has been all year long. 45% of his offerings on that pitch were swung at, and of those swings only 14% were put in play. This pitch has been his go to pitch all season, but he also had thrown his four-seam fastball about 23% of the time on the year. In this start Harrell only threw four four-seamers.

Offspeed: Harrell has a wide repertoire of offspeed pitches, and threw a little bit of everything this week. He featured a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup to supplement his fastball. The changeup was used the most, and he threw that pitch exclusively against lefties. His cutter was his next most used pitch, and he used the pitch against right handed and left handed hitters, but also favored the pitch against lefties to run it in on their hands.

Overall: 40% of at-bats against Harrell ended in a groundout, 28% in a strikeout, 4% in a walk, 4% in a single, and 4% ended via homerun. It was a pretty good outing for Lucas Harrell.

Bud Norris

Pitching Line: 6.2 IP, 7 SO, 2 BB, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 HR

Norris has shown glimpses of the pitcher he was last season this year, and his start this week was another of the good kind. This season has been a disappointment for Norris considering many were expecting him to take another step forward, but instead stumbled a tad backwards. He could benefit from a good September to end the year on a high note.

Fastball: Harrell threw a four-seam fastball this week with an average velocity of 91.8 MPH. Norris’ fastball velocity has been in steady decline mode since he’s broke into the majors, and could be something to watch going forward.

Velocity by season: 2009 (94 MPH), 2010 (93.6 MPH), 2011 (92.6 MPH), 2012 (91.9)

He used this pitch 47.2% of the time against lefties, but actually used his slider more than his fastball against right handed hitters. On the season he’s used his slider 49.1% of the time against righties, while using his fastball 41.5% of the time, so this is no different than what he has done all season but it did catch my eye.

Offspeed: Bud’s primary offspeed offering is of course is his slider, and he threw it 39.8% of the time in this past start. The pitch carried his highest whiff rate at 23.1%, and as mention above is his primary weapon against right handed hitters. Bud used his changeup as his secondary weapon of choice against lefties and experienced some success with the pitch this week.

Overall: Bud had a strikeout percentage of 25.93%, a groundout rate of 22.22%, and a flyout rate of 18.52%. On the season he’s striking people out 21.73% of the time, but only getting 16% of his outs on the ground.

Dallas Keuchel

Pitching Line: 5 IP, 3 SO, 2 BB, 4 H, 4 ER, 1 HR

Keuchel exploded in the first inning in his latest outing, and that may have helped him become the victim of a demotion in favor of another bat. After a good introduction to the majors Keuchel has struggled heavily since his return in the second half. Here’s a look at how Keuchel attacked the Giants this past outing.

Fastball: He threw both a four-seam and two-seam fastball and the average velocity for both was 88.7 MPH. This pitch was the only one that he was able to get Giants hitters to swing through, and produced a whiff rate of 3.7%. He favored this pitch against righties, and mixed it in evenly with his offspeed stuff against lefties.

Offspeed: Keuchel also shows hitters a lot of different options, and he used a changeup, cutter, and curveball this week. The changeup was his most frequently used offspeed pitch, and it was his go to pitch against righties. On the season Keuchel’s changeup has been his best pitch, and he’s generated a whiff rate of 13% with it, but he had trouble locating the pitch this week.

Overall: Keuchel’s still getting groundball outs at a good clip (49%), but this is far below his numbers in Oklahoma City of 56%. His walk rate has more than doubled in the majors which more times than not will not spell success for a soft-tossing lefty.

Fernando Abad

Pitching Line: 4 IP, 2 SO, 4 BB, 4 H, 1 ER

There’s not a whole lot to take from this outing since it was his first start in the majors this season and didn’t really last that long. Still we can see how it compared to his time in the pen, and if he attached hitters in a different manner.

Curveball: Abad through his curveball more than any other pitch in this outing at 43%, and this is also reflective of what he’s shown in the bullpen this year. The pitch generated the most swings and misses at 9.7%, and was also the pitch that was put in play the least.

Fastball: Abad through both a two-seam and four-seam fastball, and his average velocity on the fastball was 89 MPH. He used both fastballs a combined 52% of the time and had moderate success with the pitch.

Overall: Control was a little bit of an issue in this start but he was able to limit the damage. 42% of the at-bat outcomes ended in a walk or a single. He got more flyouts than groundouts in this outing, but this is reversed over the season.

I ran this way long this week, and because of that I will try and get to the relief pitching later today or over the weekend.

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