Antonio Bastardo is not the only member of the 2012 Phillies performing beneath the expectations set by better play in 2011. To varying extents, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and the departed Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino have done the very same. It’s all disappointing. You get it by now; none of this is news.
What seems particularly striking, though, is the fascinating change in performance of one Antonio Bastardo. The 2011 season was a breakout for the then-25-year-old southpaw, who made relief pitching look childish for the better half of the season until, presumably, tiring down the stretch. In fact, from early June through mid-July, Bastardo didn’t even permit a hit for 13 consecutive outings, striking out 11 against two walks in the 12 encompassed innings. He’s had no such good fortune thus far.
Not being entirely sure about what details/minutiae might have changed between seasons, I took to poking around the data. Here are a few things I found:
Thanks to the ever-helpful BrooksBaseball, it seems that Bastardo has altered his approach to right-handed batters, while leaving his tactics against the platoon advantage relatively unchanged.
Consider the tables above (disregarding the pitches classified as “cutter” and “change”). The most marked differences between the bottom halves of the two tables come in the “First Pitch” and “Pitcher Ahead” rows, where it’s obvious things have changed. Bastardo seems to be leaning more heavily on his fastball when ahead in counts, but trying to deceive RHB with first-pitch sliders when starting off an AB.
Bastardo’s fastball velocity is down almost a full mile per hour on average, again according to Brooks, going from 93.2 MPH in ’11 to 92.45 through Tuesday this year. That may be playing a part. Of course, it doesn’t help when those fastballs in pitchers’ counts are, well, not ideally placed…
That’s a big, red splotch at the belt and over the heart of the plate. Compare that with the much, much better 2011 and…
…you can see the difference. That, in tandem with an almost scary-high walk rate, combine to make a rather concerning command issue. That sort of thing comes with the territory with a lot of live arms anymore, and it’s passable when the walk rate hovers below 4.5 per nine innings; not at the 5.2 per nine clip at which Bastardo is currently operating.
What makes all of this a bit less concerning and more curiosity-inducing than anything – to me – is the punch-out rate. Bastardo has continued to mow batters down with the Ks: 54 in 38 IP through Tuesday, good for what would be a career-best 12.8 K/9. A big part of that is, understandably, the slider. In two-strike counts this season, Bastardo’s slider is holding hitters to an astonishing .051/.140/.128 slash line against, producing 29 of his 54 strikeouts and a 51 percent whiff rate. In non-two-strike counts, things haven’t gone so well, but it could be due to some bad breaks. Hitters are tuning up the slider when it’s not being used as an out pitch, hitting .476/.500/.714 against the spinner on a .450 BABIP.
So it’s a little bit of everything conspiring against Bastardo so far this season. He’s hit some bad spots, had his typically less-than-stellar command take an additional hit and had a couple bad breaks, but also has the pure stuff to rack up impressive strikeout numbers in the process. There’s some encouragement to be taken from this, but Antonio Bastardo as he is at this moment is not the same pitcher as he was last year, suffice to say. He continues to linger a bit more than an arm’s length away from becoming a reliable bullpen piece that the Phillies so desperately need.