Time to Give Roy Oswalt a Breather

Something’s wrong with Roy Oswalt. Everyone can see it, including those in both the traditional and Sabermetric crowds. Ever since he took a short leave of absence in late April (which was followed by a stint on the 15-day disabled list), Oswalt has not been the same. In his five starts prior to leaving, he had a 7.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, and induced swings-and-misses at a nine percent rate. In his five starts after returning, he had a 3.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, and induced swings-and-misses at a six percent rate.

The velocity on Oswalt’s fastball declined precipitously as well, even prior to his short time away from the team. Take a look at this chart from FanGraphs (click to enlarge).

Aside from the fastball, Oswalt’s other pitches are slower across the board as well. His average slider is down 0.7 MPH from last year; the curve is down 2.7 MPH; and the change-up is down 0.9 MPH.

Despite the discouraging trends, Oswalt was getting results. Going into yesterday’s game against the Chicago Cubs, Oswalt had a 3.05 ERA, tied for 21st in baseball among pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched. Meanwhile, his SIERA was less enthusiastic, at 4.27, good for 77th in baseball.

The disparity between performance and results continued in Oswalts’ start yesterday. While his fastball barely topped 90 MPH, Oswalt worked around three first-inning runs, shutting the Cubs out in the subsequent six innings. Between the second and fifth innings, Oswalt did not strike out a batter, adding to the concern. In the final two innings, Oswalt got four of his six outs on strikeouts, but that is hardly sustainable and nor does it make up for the overall lack of strikeouts over the past six weeks.

Oswalt needed time to deal with back problems in late April and throughout the second-half of the 2009 season as well. It is possible that his back is still bothering him, and it could be causing him to overcompensate in other areas. It could be a completely new injury, or the return of another chronic injury. Whatever the case, the continued use of Oswalt puts him at a much higher risk of serious injury.

It is in the team’s best interest to give Oswalt some time off. That would mean Kyle Kendrick stays in the rotation and Vance Worley returns, but the Phillies cannot afford to lose Oswalt to a serious injury later in the season when he could be a vital key to post-season berth. Should the Phillies reach the promised land, Oswalt would give the Phillies additional firepower in the playoffs.

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28 comments

  1. Rich

    June 13, 2011 07:18 AM

    It would be nice to give him time off, but yesterday was just an anomaly, he gave up a few runs in the first inning but the last inning he pitched he was as sharp as a tack.

    I think he’s more frustrated with this offense than anything.

    An important point to note as well, is that Oswalt didn’t even speak to the press upon his return to the club down in Florida when he, Utley and Ruiz were down there. Why?

    The Phillies won’t rest him unless he is hurt, and he doesn’t look hurt. We’ll see if this offense can start to get things moving. Except for Polly, is their any legitimate candidate for the All-Star game this year, except for maybe a write-in for Howard. To me, it’s more the offense of the Phillies that needs some overhaul than anything. Pitching is keeping them up at the top for now.

  2. Ted

    June 13, 2011 08:19 AM

    Rich,

    How can you say Oswalt doesn’t look hurt. He’s lost velocity, movement, and control on his pitches. One of the more clear indicators of this is how Oswalt has been using his fastballs:

    Before DL:
    2 Seam Fastball: 44.0%
    4 Seam Fastball: 18.8%

    After DL:
    2 Seam Fastball: 24.1%
    4 Seam Fastball: 38.1%

    All of Oswalt’s other pitches have been used around the same amount, but the difference in fastball usage is quite clear. Oswalt is generating less ground balls (which is not a good thing) and getting less strikeouts (which is not a good thing). Other than the final couple innings yesterday, when was the last time you saw Oswalt overpower someone with his fastball high in the zone?

  3. Matt

    June 13, 2011 08:33 AM

    I agree with Rich.

  4. Matt

    June 13, 2011 08:35 AM

    I agree with Rich that the offense must get better but Oswalt could use a breather…as could all of our pitchers for long-term success. I feel like over the course of the month if the schedule dictates the Phillies should try and rest each one for one or two extra days. These guys need to be fresh in October too.

  5. charles

    June 13, 2011 09:23 AM

    oswalt needs to man up and play through aches and pains. oswalt at 40% is better than kendrick at 200%

  6. SJHaack

    June 13, 2011 10:17 AM

    Look at the graph, in the article you are commenting on. It’s not an anomaly, it’s a trend. The point is that Oswalt IS manning up and playing through, and he looks drastically different. Right now he’s got some Jamie Moyer slow pitch location voodoo going, but if he can’t hump it up to 91-93 with his fastball and get some swings and misses he’s going to get torched sometime soon.

    Maybe he’s not hurt, but is injured.

  7. jack

    June 13, 2011 11:10 AM

    Once again, CBA saying what we’re all thinking and validating it with cool graphs. Totally agree, Bill. Roy is not right. As I have said in the past, I don’t necessarily think that high k/9 and high k/bb = automatically great, but I definitely concede that very low k/9 and very poor k/bb = recipe for lots of trouble. Roy is a professional and he pitched like a professional yesterday. But he (hopefully just) has a dead arm right now (and not something more serious). Sit him for two or three starts. Heck, I’d bring up a young guy who other teams don’t have a book on to take those starts instead of running Kendrick out there, but that’s just my opinion. The season won’t be lost over 3 missed starts from Roy O.

  8. Jeff

    June 13, 2011 12:28 PM

    If you rest him now you’re probably losing him for the rest of the regular season. Not saying I’m against it, but that’s the reality.

  9. Jay

    June 13, 2011 01:37 PM

    First you wanted to permanently sit/platoon Raul Ibanez, when he was obviously was just going through one of his slumps as he has always been a streaky player. I called a .900+ OPS for May…
    Responses to “Ibanez Trying to End Offensive Slump”
    By Jay on May 4, 2011
    Slump over. I’m calling a .900+ OPS for May
    …and lo and behold, he went out and put a .941 OPS in May.
    I agree Roy II’s low strikeout rate is worrisome, but he struggled a bit in late May and June of last year as well before turning it around and just killing it in August and September after joining the Phils. It is a long baseball season, you cannot overreact to short term slumps, especially for guys who have proven they can dominate in the past. All-star pitchers like Oswalt need to be given the opportunity to turn it around. As they say in basketball, the only way to get out of a shooting slump is to keep shooting.

  10. hunterfan

    June 13, 2011 01:49 PM

    I’m going to give the Phillies the benefit of the doubt on this one. Since it’s obvious to all and sundry he has SOME kind of issue (presumably his back) I’m sure the medical staff has checked it out. Would they let him play through an injury that was going to make things worse and destroy him permanently? I doubt it.

    If I had to lay odds, I’d say he probably has a back issue, and the medical staff has told him it’s not going to get any worse if he pitches, so that’s what he’s doing.

    I’d be the first at the Phils front office with a pitchfork if they were letting him pitch his way into a debilitating injury, but that would be more than a trifle irresponsible, and I don’t think the front office and medical staff are that careless and negligent.

  11. Jay

    June 13, 2011 01:53 PM

    Ibanez’s OPS vs. lefties is 100 points higher than his OPS vs. righties this year. I thought this was supposed to be a site that looked at stats. Pause.

  12. Bill Baer

    June 13, 2011 02:01 PM

    Going to trust a sample size of 73 PA, Jay?

    Ibanez, career:

    …vs. RHP: .841 OPS (4,940 PA)
    …vs. LHP: .758 OPS (1,819 PA)

    The average left-handed hitter this season has a platoon split of 113 points of OPS in favor of right-handed pitching.

    BTW, if you’re going to bring up past comments, you might want to start with this one. :) [Link]

    @ hunterfan

    I’m still a bit gunshy after the Phillies didn’t require an MRI from Freddy Garcia…

  13. Jay

    June 13, 2011 02:14 PM

    Its about the same sample size you used to determine that Ibanez “is simply done”. Funny how you pull up those high career OPS figures now, but didn’t even consider them when Raul was hitting under .500 OPS in April. Stats are great, you just don’t need to constantly keep hitting the refresh button on your Fangraphs subscription and make season altering lineup decisions based on a few weeks of performance in a 162 game season.

  14. Jay

    June 13, 2011 02:18 PM

    Chooch has a .360 OBP and hit .300 in May, I wasn’t wrong, but if I was I would admit it.

  15. John

    June 13, 2011 02:18 PM

    Let’s assume Roy tweaked his back clearing debris around May 1, which is what most believe — he was on DL after he returned for his back, right?

    Maybe 6 to 8 weeks for 90%/full recovery for an athlete like Roy with a medical staff and strengthening programs. Will be interesting to see what his pitching chart looks like starting July 1st.

  16. John

    June 13, 2011 02:20 PM

    Follow-up: would be interesting to see similar charts for pitchers coming off of (lower) back injuries or strains.

  17. Bill Baer

    June 13, 2011 02:23 PM

    @ Jay

    You’re doing the exact thing you’re advising against (“decisions based on a few weeks of performance”). Don’t look now, but Ibanez has a .677 OPS in June. Ruiz is at .585.

    In the article I linked, you told me Ruiz’s BABIP was fine. His BABIP last year was .335; this year, it’s .266. But I’m just some FanGraphs junkie. :-P

  18. Jay

    June 13, 2011 02:41 PM

    I’ll concede Ruiz isn’t having as good a year as last year, I still think he will end up where he did in 2009 though. My thinking was a better plate discipline, which you can tell is true by looking at his approach and is proven by his higher walk rate, would contribute to a better average. That line of thinking was apparently flawed. However, I do not see how I am making decisions based on a few weeks of performance. I am not the one who thought Ibanez’s career was over after one bad month, and Roy Oswalt should be benched because he has been merely good instead of spectacular.

  19. Bill Baer

    June 13, 2011 02:55 PM

    You didn’t quite get the gist of what I wrote, Jay. I’m not saying Oswalt should be given a breather because he’s not getting results (he clearly is); it’s to protect against a serious injury. I’d rather lose Oswalt for 2-3 weeks in June than to lose him towards the end of the regular season or in the playoffs.

    However, I do not see how I am making decisions based on a few weeks of performance.

    Your “evidence” is based on month-by-month splits. Months have anywhere from 4 to 4.43 weeks in them!

    Month-by-month splits are also what Keith Law would refer to as “selective endpoints”. There’s nothing intrinsic to the start and end of a month that makes them significant to use as cut-off dates. Then there’s the sample size issues…

    Finally, are you sure you want to run the gamut for a player (Ibanez) that has been worth -0.8 WAR and cost the Phillies $3.5 million so far?

  20. Matt in NYC

    June 13, 2011 02:57 PM

    Bill,

    Solid piece as usual. I was at the game yesterday and kept checking the speed on every Oswalt fastball–and kept being disappointed. It was the same story when I saw him 2 weeks ago in Queens. While the results (in the end) were good, the process simply isn’t, and it’s pretty clear something is wrong.

    @charles — Telling guys to “man up and play through the aches and pains” is exactly how you lose them to more serious injuries.

    @Jeff — Why would resting him now mean you lose him for the season? Not sure I see the reasoning behind that claim.

    @hunterfan — He may not be at risk of hurting his back more seriously, but pitching through minor injuries always increases the odds of a more serious injury as a result of altered mechanics to compensate for the pain.

    @Jay — Bill’s not arguing that Oswalt should be benched because he’s been “merely good instead of spectacular.” He’s arguing that his performance indicates an underlying injury, and short-term caution may lead to long-term gain in the form of avoiding a more serious injury.

  21. Nick

    June 13, 2011 03:04 PM

    The key question, Bill, is this: will rest do him any good? With a back injury, sometimes all the rest in the world does exactly zip, and it is actually more productive to keep the back moving and loose as often as possible. It is a very weird area (ask any chiropractor). One would hope the Phillies’ training staff knows what is going on and is doing what they feel is best for Oswalt and the team. I guess we’ll find out.

  22. Bill Baer

    June 13, 2011 03:07 PM

    Nick,

    That is interesting. My worry is that if he keeps going out there and he’s not healthy, he compensates in another area (whether consciously or subconsciously) and that increases the risk of an injury, particularly in the elbow and shoulder.

    Like you said, here’s hoping that they know what they’re doing.

  23. jack

    June 13, 2011 04:03 PM

    To those on the site with experience with back issues, would there be any connection to back problems and throwing the curveball? In 2009, Roy threw his curve 17.8% of the time (per fangraphs). This year, he’s throwing it 10.1% of the time. The difference is attributed to a huge increase in his use of the change (6.1% in 2009, 22.6% in 2011. Even in 2010 he threw it only 15.1%). His curve was a very good pitch for him, and I think he needs to throw it more, if his body will allow it.

  24. C C D

    June 13, 2011 05:01 PM

    Didn’t we just have Jamie Moyer in town. Oswalt knows how to pitch. His velocity is much better than Jamie’s was and Jamie got decent results.

  25. Bill Baer

    June 13, 2011 07:22 PM

    @ C C D

    It’s not the actual velocity that’s alarming me; it’s the velocity decline. Additionally, up until his last season, Moyer was always relatively healthy; he didn’t have chronic back problems like Oswalt. Finally, Oswalt does rely more on velocity for success than Moyer did, so it’s not really an apt comparison.

  26. Mike P

    June 14, 2011 08:29 AM

    @spambot

    Do you have the advanced stats to demonstrate that “lov’e means more” with your website? Otherwise, I’m not sure you should be posting on this board. Bleacher Report might be more up your alley.

    Did anyone else see the video of Ruben that was recently posted on the CSN website? He gets asked a question about Oswalt’s decline in velocity, and responds like a politician, saying something to the effect of, “Well, Roy is a different pitcher this year, throwing changeups more often…” That run-around sounds really disconcerting to me, as if he’s chronically injured and this isn’t going to get any better, as if there isn’t any effective treatment to pursue. Let’s hope I’m reading into things too much.

  27. BG

    June 16, 2011 12:18 PM

    The truth of the matter is that Oswalt is the 4th SP on this team. As such, he should be moved to the 4 spot in the rotation. So given that premise, Oswalt at less than 100%, he would still be the best 4th starter in baseball by far.

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