It’s always fun to watch a batter tear the cover off the ball for weeks at a time, or watch a pitcher mow down lineup after lineup over a bunch of starts. But amidst the hype, sometimes the best numbers get lost. In this segment, we’ll attempt to analyze what exactly is behind a player’s hot streak, along with a few impressive statistics you may not have noticed.
Player: Nick Hagadone
Breakdown Time Frame: June 22nd to August 22nd (2014)
Performance: 16.1 IP, 17 K, 1 ER, 8 H, 2 BB
Below the Surface: Nick Hagadone has had a messy road to the majors that included an August 27th, 2011 major-league debut and a shuffle between the majors and minors ever since that date. Since coming over from Boston in the deal that sent Victor Martinez to the Red Sox in exchange for Justin Masterson, Hagadone has had control issues. I’m not just talking about his pitching, either. He spent time on the minor league disqualified list after he injured himself punching a wall following a bad outing in 2012. A subsequent grievance settlement gave him those couple weeks of salary back in exchange for the Indians getting an extra option on his services. Lately, Hagadone finally seems to have figured it all out, as he has been downright dirty.
Although he was optioned for convenience during a roster shuffle in late June, things had already begun to turn around for Hagadone. Since being recalled on July 8th, he’s had a remarkable run of success in the majors. He’s given up only one earned run (on a homer by Billy Butler on July 26th), and has managed to strike out more than a batter per inning. His 2.1 inning shutout performance his next time out was the longest outing of his career to date, and he hasn’t given up an earned run since.
So why has it all suddenly come together for a pitcher who’s struggled for 3 years to earn a spot in a major-league bullpen? His fastball velocity is up a bit from 2013, and he’s seeing about 25% more horizontal movement on both his fastball and slider, so that could be part of the explanation. However, each of those increases comes out to less than an inch overall. The real surprise is in the vertical movement of those pitches. The vertical movement on his fastball has jumped from an average 11.1 to an average of 12.1 during his hot stretch, which is encouraging. But even more impressive is the fact that his slider has been averaging -2.6 in downward movement during his hot stretch, whereas it was averaging only -0.6 during all of 2013. Another reason this is encouraging is that there has been more consistency on the movement of his slider. During 2013, the average movement on his slider varied wildly from game to game, jumping anywhere between -10.4 and +2.4. Since July 10th, it’s been between -0.4 and -3.4. In addition, during those 18 games it’s been outside of the -2.4 to -3.4 range only four times. The point is, it looks like he’s found a lot of consistency with that slider.
Which leads to my next point. His consistency has perhaps been the biggest culprit of his sudden success. During 2013, his BB/9 rate was a horrendous 6.03. During his last 18 appearances, that number is just 1.10. Pitch f/x data shows that his strike zone percentage is up by 5% over his 2013 rate, and when he misses, those pitches are missing by a lot less. That’s evident when we see that batters are swinging at 38.2% of his pitches outside of the strike zone, up 5% from his 2013 rate of 33%. One result of these improvements, coupled with his slider’s newfound consistency, is that his swinging strike rate has gone up by almost 30%.
What Can We Expect Moving Forward? Hagadone’s streak has admittedly involved a bit of good fortune. His .184 BABIP, 100% strand rate and 5.6% HR/FB ratio all point to at least some regression. But the control over his slider has been really, really encouraging. They say control is always the last thing to come for a young power pitcher, and boy has it been worth the wait. Having Hagadone, Rzepczynski and Crockett as lefties in the ‘pen over the next couple of years is going to be dynamite. If Hagadone can keep his slider consistent and maintain control of his fastball as he has over the past month and a half, he’ll continue to provide value from the Victor Martinez trade for many more years to come.
Notice a hot streak or slump we haven’t broken down yet? We try to keep an eye out, but we don’t catch everything! If you see a player get hot or cold for a few weeks at a time, and you’d like us to break it down, leave a comment or send us an e-mail [email protected]