Ross Detwiler: One Trick Pony

In a feckless and lazy attempt at self promotion, I will be taking my cues from the writers of the great USA Network show Psych for this post, and will do a cross promotion with my most recent post for Camden Depot. However, instead of a guest appearance from some WWE wrassler wrestler, like John Cena or Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat, it will be the secret to the success of Orioles closer Jim Johnson making an appearance, channeled by Washington National starter Ross Detwiler.

Make sense?

Probably not. Let me back it up momentarily, with the help of this tweet:

Needless to say Ross Detwiler’s 2013 has started off blazing hot; one run, and at that a debatable one, given up thus far, on the wings of a deadly 1-2 combo of his 2- and 4- seam fastballs. While it isn’t totally unprecedented, Detwiler’s success with essentially one pitch has been turning some heads.

Much like Jim Johnson, Detwiler seems to have finally found his groove after simplifying some things – his mechanics as well as his pitch selection. Much like I did in my Camden Depot article on Johnson, let’s have a look at Detwiler’s most recent outing Wednesday against the Marlins, with the help of Brooks Baseball:

Screen shot 2013-04-18 at 10.39.32 AM

In the 6-1 victory over Miami (good for his first win of the season), Detwiler threw 93% 2-seam and 4-seam fastballs, 74% as strikes, both impressive stats. To compare, Johnson’s career resurgence has occurred simultaneously with an increased confidence and reliance upon his very nasty mid-90s two-seam fastball, which has been tinkered with to get more tailing action into right-handed batters.

To have a deeper look at Detwiler’s transformation, let’s again recruit the help of Brooks Baseball and PITCHf/x. First, let’s look how often he uses each of the pitches in his arsenal over his career:

chart(1)

As we can see, his increased reliance upon his 2- (SI in the chart) and 4- (FA) seamers has been a work in progress, but didn’t really begin to take off until last year. 2012 was also a bit of a watershed year in Detwiler’s young career, amassing a 10-8 record while pitching some gems in the second half of the season. Coincidence? If Johnson’s All Star, 51 save season of 2012, which saw him almost exclusively utilize his 2-seamer, is a useful comparison, probably not.

More tables ahoy!

Now let’s look at Detwiler’s pitching mechanics with respect to his release point:

chart(2) chart(3)

By the looks of it, Detwiler’s tweaking again has been a work in progress, but it appears that he is now comfortable with a mid 3/4 delivery. With this release point comes changes in how much the ball moves once released – let’s look at those factors now:

chart(4) chart(5)

Again focusing on Detwiler’s fastballs, we see that the slight mechanical tweaks have given him *slightly* less sink in 2013 on his fastballs, but much more tail of the pitches away from right-handed batters. Again referencing my Johnson article, Big Jim has used an increase in horizontal movement in light of a reduced fastball velocity (about 1 MPH down from 2012). It appears Detwiler is following suit, but in grander fashion, with his 2-seamer averaging about a foot of tail and his 4-seamer around 8 inches of tail in 2013. Like ‘The Janitor’, Det has compromised a little bit of velocity for improved movement, as the 92.5 MPH average for both fastballs this year, compared to his career average of 92.7 MPH for both fastballs, can attest.

Another revelation about Detwiler’s 2013 and career overall in comparison to Johnson’s is neither of them is considered a strikeout pitcher (Detwiler has a career 5.5 K/9, Johnson’s at 5.7) ; both are at their best when they are inducing poor swings and groundballs. How has Detwiler done thus far doing that?

chart(6)

Detwiler is enjoying a lot of groundballs so far in 2013, with rates of 58% on his 2-seamer and 66% with his 4-seamer; for a guy who relies a lot on his fielders to get his outs, this is an encouraging statistic, and again lends credence to the improvement in Detwiler’s fastballs, both in terms of it being a great pitch, but also in terms of his confidence in it.

While I don’t foresee Detwiler relying as heavily upon his fastball the deeper we go in the season as he has in April, I do see him maintaining his fastball frequency in the high 60’s to low 70’s, much like Johnson has from 2011 and onward with his two-seamer. Both Johnson and Detwiler have begun to embrace an unorthodox approach to getting hitters out and are just now beginning to enjoy the fruits of their dedication to becoming one trick ponies, something that is all too often detrimental to the long-term success of a pitcher.

Sometimes familiarity can induce contempt; for Detwiler and Johnson, it induces groundballs.

Image courtesy of washingtonpost.com

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Ross Detwiler: Inventing a new way to pitch | Half Street Heart Attack

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