Mad Dog’s Release Points

Ryan Madson hasn’t been the same since Brad Lidge got injured.

  • Before Lidge got injured: 27.3 IP, 7 ER, 20 H, 9 BB, 29 K
  • After: 12.7 IP, 8 ER, 16 H, 7 BB, 11 K

In wanting to analyze Ryan Madson’s release points, there are two roadblocks for me: there is no easily-accessible database where I can get the release point data in selected groups; and I’m lazy. So what I did instead was head over to Mad Dog’s page on FanGraphs, individually download each of the release point charts from his appearances this season, and sort them into two groups: before Lidge was injured and after he was injured.

The thought goes that Madson was trying to do too much in his new role filling in for Brad Lidge so he changed his approach. I don’t think this is the case as Madson’s release point was volatile to begin with (as tends to happen to tall, lanky hurlers), and there’s no noticeable change between then and now. FanGraphs, unfortunately, does not place a date on their charts, so it will be hard to differentiate the before and after in the animation.

However, here are the individual animations:

The reason for Madson’s struggles more likely has to do with pitch selection. ESPN’s Jayson Stark noted on June 22 that hitters weren’t swinging and missing on his fastball at all:

And our friends at Inside Edge report that Madson hasn’t gotten a single swing-and-miss on his fastball since Lidge was placed on the disabled list.

Every pitch of every at-bat epitomizes a Nash equilibrium and sometimes you miscalculate. It sounds complicated, but it’s about as simple an explanation as possible. Ryan Madson has to mix up his pitches well enough that hitters can’t sit on his 95-97 MPH fastball nor can they sit on his 83 MPH change-up. The hitter, knowing that he can’t sit on one pitch, can either prepare for a fastball and adjust to the change-up, or guess on one pitch (don’t forget that Madson also throws a cutter).

Just as Madson will have stretches where it seems like the hitters have no clue what they’re doing at the plate against him, he’ll also have stretches where he looks like he has no clue. And that’s essentially what’s been going on.

Consider his June 20 appearance against the Baltimore Orioles:

Madson throws four straight fastballs to Luke Scott, three of which are taken. He throws three more fastballs to Gregg Zaun, all taken (one ball, two strikes). After seven straight fastballs and considering the 1-2 count, the odds of a change-up being thrown out of the zone are high. That’s exactly what Madson threw — a change-up in the dirt — and Zaun took it for an easy ball two.

At this point, with the count 2-2 and the Phillies up by two runs in the ninth inning, Zaun can reasonably expect fastballs more often than change-ups. It’s not a sure thing, but enough that Zaun can sit on something hard: Madson’s four-seam fastball (95 MPH) or cutter (90 MPH). And that’s what Zaun did.

Pitchers, especially relievers who tend to have limited repertoires, constantly have to shuffle their pitch selection so that hitters can’t get too comfortable at the plate. For the last two weeks ago, Madson hasn’t lost much if anything on his pitches; he’s just been predictable.

BDD: It’s Jimmy Rollins’ Swing!

At Baseball Daily Digest, I deduce that it’s Jimmy’s swing that has prevented him from enjoying success this season.

Blaming his abnormally low BABIP on mere bad luck is too simplistic. It is more likely a combination of bad luck as well as hitting balls more weakly. The batted ball profiles don’t show you the various shades of power with which players make contact. Suffice it to say that there’s a vast difference in the success rate in ground balls depending on the type of contact made. Overall, Rollins has been making weaker contact, but there’s no data to flesh that out.

Lastly, despite still having a good idea of the strike zone, Rollins’ walk rate is down more than 4% from last season and 2% from his career average. This isn’t due to a poor approach at the plate, nor is it due to fewer opportunities: Rollins has had 59 plate appearances in which he has had three balls in the count, approximately 18% of his at-bats. Last season, he had 120 three-ball counts in 625 plate appearances, approximately 19% of his at-bats.

The likely explanation for that is pitchers are less willing to pitch around Rollins because, well, he’s making weak contact. He’s an easy out.