Jerry Manuel said after last night’s game that Fernando Nieve has not “hit a wall,” citing the fact that the frequently used pitcher’s velocity has been about the same all season long.
Before we filmed the Baseball Show yesterday, Bob Ojeda and I talked about Nieve, and Bob suggested that though Nieve’s velocity is the same, it looks as if his fastball has flattened out. Bob said that could be because it requires more effort from Nieve to throw the fastball so hard, and so he gives up movement on the pitch.
Sorting through PitchF/X data is certainly not my area of expertise, but I figured I’d take a crack at it to see if there was data to back up what Jerry and Bob were saying. And since Nieve seemed so effective early in the season and has struggled so mightily of late, I hoped to note something that would explain what happened.
For all the graphs below, I only used games in which Nieve threw at least 15 pitches. That’s reasonably arbitrary, I realize, and 15 pitches is still a very small sample. But I figured that would be a decent enough way to sort out what noise might result from a five-pitch outing.
Plus, you know, I don’t have all day, and Nieve pitches a whole lot. That’s sort of the whole thing.
OK, first Nieve’s average fastball velocity:
There’s some fluctuation there, as would be expected, but it appears both Bob and Jerry are right: Nieve’s fastball has not slowed down this season. If anything, he’s been throwing it a bit harder of late.
Now the movement on that fastball:
The most interesting thing here? Those two data points in mid-April that appear to be outliers in both horizontal and vertical break are the two games Nieve pitched in Colorado. I’m sure someone has done way more research into it, but it’s a pretty funny statistical anecdote to see the way (I presume) the air there affects the break on pitches.
As for Bob’s point about Nieve’s fastball? I’m not sure, but it certainly looks plausible from the chart. The vertical movement has remained reasonably steady through the season, but the horizontal movement — the cutting action — on the pitch has lessened somewhat steadily. On April 9 the average v-break was at -7.79, and it held around there on April 17 and April 27. In his outings on May 13, 16 and 19, Nieve’s average horizontal break was at -4.62, -5.55 and -5.27.
Is that significant? I really have no idea, but it certainly looks so. Maybe someone with more pitchF/X knowledge than I have can help us out here.
And really, I have no way of knowing if the decreased movement is due to overuse or just Nieve not throwing his fastball effectively. Since he’s been used so frequently (and warmed up and not used pretty frequently, too), I’d bet on the former.
But one thing I noticed that seems both clear and reasonably significant is that Nieve has almost entirely stopped throwing his slider. PitchF/X isn’t perfect at identifying pitches, but check this out:
That’s particularly telling because, according to Fangraphs, the slider has been Nieve’s most effective pitch this season. I’m not sure if he’s not throwing it because he’s sore or if his coaches or catchers have talked him out of it — and again, we’re dealing with a lot of small numbers here. In either case, it seems a reasonable enough indicator that something actually has changed for Nieve since his effective start to the season.