We’ve known for a while, whether as a starter or a reliever, Cristian Javier would have to control the strike zone to reach his ceiling. Specifically, he would have to cut down on the number of walks issued. It was arguably Javier’s most significant weakness last season, as evidenced by his 12.5 percent walk rate, the highest for any Astros pitcher with at least 100 innings. It was a reoccurring issue that I noted at times in 2021.
Thus far in 2022, however, we’ve seen Javier take his production to a new level, thanks to, in part, a noticeably lower walk rate of 7.4 percent. In fact, out of all pitchers who pitched in at least 100 innings last season and 20 frames this season, Javier is fifth in walk rate decline year-over-year by 5.1 percent. So, what has exactly changed?
Javier isn’t quite as erratic as he was last season in locating his pitches, backed up by the fact that his zone rate has increased by 2.2 percent. Not exactly an earth-shattering increase, but incremental improvement still counts for something.
That said, throwing more strikes doesn’t necessarily mean better results will follow. But for someone like Javier, who has had issues with command, it is an encouraging step. What is arguably even more impressive for Javier is how he is utilizing more of the edges of the strike zone (plus-3.9 percent in 2022) than he has in the past. By tightening up the strike zone, and, by extension, the outer edge of the zone, opposing hitters, in theory, can’t have an automatic take. It creates a bit more of a dilemma for them during the moment. It forces a decision that may have been easier in 2021, considering where Javier was throwing the ball, especially his infamous “invisiball” four-seamer.
Secondly, as I detailed here last year, Javier’s release point, specifically on the horizontal plane, has become more consistent. The first image below was his horizontal release points in his first nine appearances last season. Contrast that image with the next one, which encompasses all of his 2022 appearances, and I think you’ll get the point.
Outside of the one-game blip on the curveball on May 22 against the Mariners, there is noticeably better consistency in Javier’s horizontal release points this season compared to last. There remains a bit of variation, but it is much less pronounced than what we’ve seen previously. Establishing a more consistent release point, especially on the horizontal plane, has allowed Javier to improve his command. The question now is whether this improvement will last all season long and how alternating roles between the rotation and bullpen could influence it—something to watch, in my opinion.