Only 11 days ago, I wrote how Cristian Javier’s location of his “invisiball” influenced a recent surge in home runs allowed. That post also touched upon his overall struggles in May (4.82 ERA in 28 IP) compared to the strong start in April (0.87 ERA in 20 2⁄3 IP). A sudden propensity to allow the long ball has become a viable concern this month, especially with a tough stretch of incoming games against the Dodgers, Padres, and Red Sox.
Javier’s most recent start against the Rangers on May 23 was particularly disconcerting even though he allowed one earned run and that it didn’t occur via a home run. No, the most damning part about his appearance was Javier’s sudden control issue as he issued six walks in total. That one game had more walks than he issued in the entire month of April. The right-hander was all over the place, and a better lineup than the Rangers probably would’ve posted a crooked number on him that day.
There are clearly issues for Javier to figure out. Command has become increasingly elusive for him throughout May. The Astros are in a bit of a pickle right now as it pertains to pitching depth, so a struggling Javier doesn’t help matters. At this current rate, when Framber Valdez and Jake Odorizzi make their eventual return, Javier’s role may look different. It is a conversation worth having when it is time to cross that bridge.
Back to Javier’s struggles for a moment, however. When dealing with command/location issues, it is sometimes beneficial to see if we can spot anything materially different when a pitcher is actually throwing. Like, how about horizontal release points?
Or vertical release points?
While there is some volatility in Javier’s vertical release point, it was actually the illustration of a roller coaster involving his horizontal release point that caught my attention. In this case, we’re seeing increasingly noticeable changes in where Javier is releasing the ball. Based on the horizontal release point chart, we can basically see that he is releasing the ball more towards the third base side of the mound by about half a foot at most in May compared to April. Well, not including the May 21 start in Oakland, which was arguably the best he pitched so far in this entire month.
As noted here by Mike Fast way back in 2010, there was “some correlation” in fastball release point consistency on a game-to-game basis with walks allowed. Javier has thrown 480 four-seam fastballs, or “invisiballs,” to opposing hitters this season. In turn, he has issued 18 walks compared to 25 strikeouts via that offering. Last season, those numbers were 560, 14, and 26, respectively. Due to the high usage of his four-seam, we can expect higher numbers across the board. However, to say that Javier’s fastball has a consistent release point on both a horizontal and vertical plane would be ignoring the data. A lack of release point consistency might be the biggest hindrance to Javier’s continued development.
Surely, there is more analysis required on this front. Release points are only part of the puzzle. But the recent trend with Javier, or rather a career-long trend, is something worth watching closely. If he can iron out that release point, I feel that we might see more consistency than ever before. Look at April’s results and charts to get the point.