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Daily Astros News and Notes

Let's take a moment to reflect on how the Astros are finishing up this season. They sit at 69-75 currently, assuring they will not finish with 100 losses. They are five wins away from assuring they will finish with the second-best record since 2006, trailing the 86-75 mark in 2008.

Houston has 18 games left to play. They have two more against the Brewers, a three-game set against Cincinnati, four games against Washington, three against Pittsburgh, three more against Cincy, and three against the Cubs in the final series of the season.

Let's do some projecting on those games to see how they could finish up. Of course, if they finished 12-6, the Astros would be at .500 after being as many as 20 games below that number this season. Here's what I see them doing in each of the remaining series:

1 of the 2 left with Milwaukee

1 of 3 with Cincy

3 of 4 with Washington

2 of 3 with Pittsburgh

1 of 3 with Cincy

2 of 3 with Chicago

That gives the Astros 10 wins and a 79-83 record, or exactly what Stephen and clack came up with before the season. I know, I'm a little freaked out by their competence, too. What's really crazy is it's easy to see the Astros getting to .500. One more win against Milwaukee or in either Cincy series followed by a sweep of the Nats, the Bucs or the Cubbies and we're there.

In case you think it far-fetched that Houston could sweep the Nats in a four-game series, Washington has only won 3 of 11 games this month and 14 of 26 in the past two months. Pittsburgh has been similarly bad, going 4-7 in September and 12-28 since the first of August. Chicago has been playing well this month, but is still getting outscored 40-48. Milwaukee has gone 4-7 this month and is only scoring three runs a game.

The Astros, on the other hand, are 25-16 since August 1, have a plus-29 run differential since then and are 27-13 against Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Chicago this season. Pretty much, this Astros team could get back to respectability and soon.

I'm not sure if it means much, since they'll still finsih out of the playoffs, but hopefully this is a precursor to how the team will play next year and not just a fluke. So, now that we've dispensed with the pie-in-the-sky optimism, let's move on to some hard facts, as we look at some Pitch F/X data on two relievers who haven't gotten this treatment before.

Onto a newbie to our Pitch F/X studies, Mark Melancon:

Type Count Selection Velocity (mph) Max Velocity Vertical (in) Horizontal (in) Spin Angle (deg) Spin Rate (rpm)
FF 115 54.2% 92.5 95.7 8.32 -3.04 200 1,870
CU 72 34.0% 84.0 86.2 -3.50 0.97 12 740
CH 19 9.0% 83.6 87.1 6.98 -8.09 229 1,964
FT 5 2.4% 91.8 93.6 7.93 -2.42 200 1,882
FA 1 0.5% 94.2 94.2 7.75 0.59 176 1,563

Melancon throws about as hard as advertised. He's almost hit 96 and sits comfortably at 92-93. His four-seamer also has good sink to it and a little bit of horizontal movement. Interestingly, his change spins faster than his average fastball, though he doesn't throw many of them. He mainly works off his four-seamer and his curve.

That curve is a straight 12-6 pitch with little to no horizontal break. It drops a good deal, though and really changes the eye level of a batter compared to the rest of his offerings. It's about eight MPH slower than the four-seamer, which is about what his change clocks in at. That's a pretty good differential, but not jaw-dropping. Melancon's bread and butter is clearly the fastball and everything else works off that.

Type Count Selection Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
FF 115 54.2% 53.0% 39.1% 7.8% 18.3% 13.0%
CU 72 34.0% 70.8% 48.6% 19.4% 15.3% 13.9%
CH 19 9.0% 68.4% 68.4% 21.1% 31.6% 15.8%
FT 5 2.4% 60.0% 60.0% 0.0% 20.0% 40.0%
FA 1 0.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

There is good reason his fastball is his main pitch. He gives up a lower in play rate than any of his other pitches with it, throws it for a strike fairly consistently and gets a good whiff percentage. The MLB average on four-seamers is 6.0 percent, so he's slightly above average there. His curve and change are both excellent at getting swing-throughs, and batters seem to have trouble making solid contact when they do hit the ball. Look at those foul ball percentages. They seem pretty high, especially compared to the in play rates.

The one thing he might need to tighten up here is his fastball command. He's still effective with the pitch right now, but throwing it for a strike just half the time will get him in trouble after batters adjust to his new scouting reports. That's why his swing percentage is so low on the pitch. If he can get that up around 45 or 50 percent and his strike rate up around 60 percent, Melancon could easily be a late-inning reliever for years.

Let's look at Henry Villar, quickly (since he only has thrown 20 pitches in the majors):

Type Count Selection Velocity (mph) Max Velocity Vertical (in) Horizontal (in) Spin Angle (deg) Spin Rate (rpm)
CH 13 65.0% 85.7 86.9 3.33 -7.49 246 1,523
FF 7 35.0% 90.4 91.4 8.89 -2.92 198 1,834

First, let's get the velocity readings out of the way. Villar does not light up the radar gun. If he did, he'd be a much more highly regarded prospect, what with his gaudy strikeout numbers. Instead, he appears to get by with his offspeed pitches more than his fastball at this point. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, as he's been effective in the majors with it. But, doing the same thing in the Sally League won't get you noticed, as those guys aren't supposed to hit a good change.

His selection is also interesting, using the change as his primary weapon instead of working it off his fastball. The change doesn't have a huge drop in velocity from the fastball but dives in on the hands of right-handed hitters pretty neatly. The really interesting profile between the two pitches is how they spin. There's only a 300 rpm difference between the two. For comparison, JA Happ has nearly 700 rpm difference between the two and has a change that spins at about the same rate as Villar's fastball. Trevor Hoffman's change spins about 1,000 rpm slower than his fastball.

The difference in Happ's and Hoffman's changes is that they spin in almost exactly the same angle as the fastball. So, a hitter is not going to be able to react to the seams to identify the pitch. That's why people can look so silly swinging at them. With Villar, though, his change appears to spin more than an eighth of a turn different than the fastball. That may not seem like much, but it's a definite identifier for hitters.

Of course, that spin angle could also be helping the pitch dive in towards righties, so it's a double-edged sword. I wonder if this is something that would even out given more pitches in front of Pitch F/X cameras.

Type Count Selection Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
CH 13 65.0% 69.2% 69.2% 38.5% 15.4% 15.4%
FF 7 35.0% 42.9% 28.6% 0.0% 14.3% 14.3%

Yes, 28.6 percent of his fastballs have been hit, either as a foul or put in play. To put that into perspective, though, that means he's had one foul ball and one put in play. We say this all the time, but sample size, sample size, sample size is key here. Let's not overthink this.

I imagine if Villar got more time to pitch with Houston, his numbers would even out between the fastball and the change. As a reliever, working off a 50/50 mix of those two pitches could serve him well, especially since his change looks to be a very good pitch. He can throw the change for a strike pretty consistently and has gotten 5 swing-throughs on 13 pitches. That'll get adjusted as the league sees him more and he throws more pitches, but it's still damned impressive.

One last thing I wanted to mention with Villar is the path of his change and fastball:


When I was talking about the spin angles above, you can see here what I mean. The change drops a good five inches from where the fastball goes, but the pitch does it while spinning at about the same speed as the fastball. So, the only way a batter could tell it's going to be a change out of his hand is by looking at the rotation of the laces. It's not impossible for a batter, but it's a small illustration as to why the pitch may be effective.

Levine on Wallace: Here's the latest and greatest minor league notebook from Zachary Levine, where he goes in-depth into what Chris Wallace has meant for the Tri-City pitching staff. What he doesn't mention is that it's rare for a college catcher now to come out with that ability to handle a staff. Usually, college coaches make the calls on pitches, leaving the catcher to just frame the pitch and make the catch. Wallace, though, seems like he has a good grasp on how to quickly build on pitcher's strengths.

I also had forgotten he was beaned in the face. I'm not sure how many guys would be able to come back so quickly and play well, but it's got me rooting for Wallace a little more now.

Justice on Kepp: Say this for Richard Justice, he knows the pulse of the Astros fans. He knows that they want to ready happy, optimistic pieces and he can churn them out. Case in point, here's one about Jeff Keppinger. RJ runs down many good points about the second baseman, but the most important is his consistency. When he metions that Berkman liked Kepp's at-bats for his doggedness and the way he sees a ton of pitches, you can tell why Mills wants him hitting higher up in the order. Guys like that help the entire team by giving them a look at more than just a few pitches from the starter.

Would I rather him get on base at a higher clip if he's hitting No. 2? Sure, anyone would. But, if you have a guy like Kepp, who can be a serviceable starter and does a lot of little things to help the club, I don't see the problem with playing him regularly. That is, until Wade gets the hankering to sign him for big money.

Comment of the Day and Leaderboard: A much-missed feature around here, I'll try to do a better job of rewarding our hard-working commenters:

Name # of Posts
ol Pete 43
OremLK 36
clack 22
timmy_ 22
BoxyBrown 5

Let's see if Lee is hungry enough for the team RBI lead.

Maybe we can dress it up like a burrito somehow.

by entropic soul on Sep 13, 2010 8:32 PM CDT reply actions