Retiring to the nerdery with my spreadsheets

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.

All the data came from BrooksBaseball.net and Baseball-Reference.com, two sites with tons and tons of data.

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.

9 thoughts on “Retiring to the nerdery with my spreadsheets

  1. I think Nieve’s biggest issue is the fact that he really is not very good. Even the success early in the season was accomplished despite poor peripherals. In April he had 8 walks and 10 Ks with more flyouts than groundouts. It seems like he was extremely lucky early in the season and now that luck has turned. It isn’t overuse or injury as much as it is regression to his mean.

    • I meant to include that possibility in the original post, as it’s definitely reasonable. But there’s some chance the movement on his pitches produced more weak contact, which would’ve helped. If I had to guess I’d say it’s a little from the overuse column and a little from the not-very-good column affecting his current struggles. It just can’t be good for anyone to keep trotting out a mediocre pitcher every single day. See Guillermo Mota and Jorge Sosa for details.

  2. I think Nieve can be an effective late-inning reliever, but he has been overworked.

    Seriously, why was he in the game last night? Because Genius Jerry decided to pinch-hit for our starter after 6 innings for no reason, whatsoever. The pinch-hitter then sacrifices (which Dickey could have done himself), meaning that we voluntarily gave up an out with the hope of taking a one-run lead in the top of the 7th, with the bullpen needing to get nine more outs to secure a win. That was an incredibly stupid “strategy.”

    And last night shows that it is Jerry, rather than the starters, who is primarily responsible for overworking the pen. Bad starting pitching can kill a bullpen by summer, but it takes “help” from a bad manager to kill a pen by the middle of May.

    • You didn’t even mention that he used four pitchers to get six outs. Also, the thing that bothers me most is how frequently he has Nieve (and everyone else) warming up for games they don’t ultimately enter. Relievers HATE dry-humping, as it’s known.

      • Perez and Acosta don’t count. I’d be glad to see Ollie’s arm fall off. But you are right. Nieve and Pedro are up every freaking night, and they pitch at least every other night, and Jerry doesn’t seem to make any effort to preserve any reliever. I agree with you that he seems like a genuinely decent and funny guy (unlike Willie) and I think that the players like him and play hard for him (unlike Willie), but his in-game managing is atrocious (like Willie).

        And it was disappointing to see that Ollie did not have any extra velocity coming out of the pen. Same 88 mph fastball he had as a starter this year (and last). He can’t compete with that fastball, and he needs to be DFA’d ASAP.

      • I, for one, do not mind Acosta. I know that he has been used in ridiculously low leverage situations but he hasn’t been half bad. He also has the same set of pitches as Nieve (fastball, slider, change) but Acosta has been able to throw strikes and miss some bats. Wow, Nieve, Acosta…where have you gone Turk Wendell, Metsnation turns its lonely eyes to you

  3. Just curious where the velocities for this pitch fx data comes from. This stuff is really cool but how do they get all the velocity and pitch movement data?

    • From the league/MLB.com, I think. I believe MLB hired an independent contractor to set up and operate cameras behind home plate at every stadium. I’m not sure how BrooksBaseball gets it to graph on his site, but I’m pretty sure pitchF/X data all comes from a single source.

  4. the game last night with Mejia was an example of over warming up he threw the whole bottom 5 the top of the 6th then sat and came in for the 7th he was sweating bullets by the 8th

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