On David Phelps And Pitch Sequencing

T.

Pitch F/X is the absolute worst. Not that the stuff you can find on Pitch F/X sites isn't awesome, because it is, but it can be a black hole time suck. One that can last for days if you let them, which is really easy to do. There are colors, lines, colored lines, shapes and all sorts of fun numbers. It's math class but fun, promise.

Spend enough time on a site like Brooks Baseball and one of many fun things you'll see is pitch speed charts. It isn't completely scientific on it's own, but it does give a good overview of how a pitcher is mixing things up to hitters, or if they aren't at all. You get the usual peaks and valleys on any given night, but then you get stuff like this from Phil Hughes. It looks like he's trying to build a counter top. A couple of counter tops, really. Pitch 100 to 121 is a whole lot of straight fastball hurling.

That's not the the greatest pitch selection you're going to find. It's something you'd expect from a rookie trying to find his groove in the majors. It's something David Phelps has largely avoided in his short and limited appearances with the Yankees. While Hughes is building tables, Phelps is reading heart monitors. Finding his groove hasn't been working the fastball until something happens. The groove is all in the pitch mixing, and molding the mix into formed, quality sequences.

There are a lot of single instances to be impressed with Phelps, a lot more recently, but one single at-bat kind of sums up where he is as a pitcher. It isn't just veterans who 'know how to pitch.' Being able to do your homework and know who you're facing doesn't demand a certain timetable. Planning and execution don't care about service time. I can't imagine there is a formal set of plans for going after Brandon Moss, but there appears to have been a plan. That's the first part is easy one, though. The second one is the fun part.

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Brandon Moss isn't a very good hitter. His career in the majors kind of fleshes that out. He is a damage hitter though, so mistakes can end up in the seats. Can't make a mistake to even the worst guess-hitting power guy. Didn't make a mistake to the power guy.

Pitch 1 (called strike): Curveball - Admit it, Phelps got a bit of a gift for strike one. Adjusting for a lefty that's probably a strike, but let's be normal here. It's over now, so let's just call it what it is: a quality pitch bordering on a strike. Moss didn't swing at it, but there was a good chance he would. Phelps likes to throw a first pitch curve to lefties, about 32.6 percent of the time, and Moss will swing at the low outside curve close to half the times one is thrown there. A good start with the only major damage he could do being a double down the line. Moss is five-for-nine in his career on that pitch with a 1.000 slugging percentage. At worst it's a cue shot down the line or a single. At best it's a ground out or strike looking.

Pitch 2 (called strike): Four-seam Fastball - Outside-inside or inside-outside, it doesn't matter. It changes the batter's view all the same, just in different directions. Know your enemy, even if it is just for one at-bat. Moss, like a lot of power hitters, will chase the fastball up. The 79.8 percent of the time swing rate type of likes at the fastball up. It's one of those strange things where the guy will always swing at that pitch but never do anything with it. Phelps caught Moss in one of those one out of every five situations where he didn't swing. It was a strike. He probably should have swung. The pitch teetered on that area between it's a good pitch to try getting a chase and try to get someone in the outfield bleachers to chase. It teetered all the way towards good pitch while the totter would have to wait for another time, if that makes any sense.

Pitch 3 (foul): Curveball - Again with the curve, and again in the right place. It's a good pitch for Phelps when he locates it down, just like everyone else. He'll only throw it once every five pitches against lefties on average, but when he does the batter will club it into the dirt almost two-thirds of the time. Maybe that's what Phelps was shooting for, maybe he was trying to get the strikeout; he was probably looking for the strikeout. Moss will swing and miss at the low, middle-in curve about 35 percent of the time. When he doesn't whiff it's either a fly out, foul or grounder. But that's every at-bat for every hitter, so we'll say the most likely outcome from that pitch will be a foul ball, 55.6 percent on curves thrown there. And look, we were right.

Pitch 4 (ball): Four-seam Fastball - David Phelps isn't a machine. He isn't going to throw a strike on every pitch. Would we even want him to? The occasional ball can be a good thing, giving the hitter another thing to think about. Spike a curve and maybe the hitter looks at a curve at the knees thinking it's going to bounce. These excuses could work, saying he was changing the eye level or working for a chase, just not effectively. It was a bad fastball, possibly overthrown. Even pitching machines malfunction sometimes.

Pitch 5 (called strike): Two-seam Fastball - A two-seamer in two pictures.

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At about 15 feet from the plate, that pitch looks like a fastball ticketed for Moss' armpit. No one wants that ticket. So it broke away, quite a bit away.

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Moss looks surprised that pitch broke as much as it did. Or maybe he's about to get sick, having already prepared himself to get hit in the ribs. Either way, it's as close to a perfect pitch as you're going to find. In on the hands, breaking back to the corner at the belt. It's unhittable for a lefty. Moss has one single in 13 at-bats against fastballs placed where Phelps went. He couldn't miss, though. Maybe an inch lower and that pitch hits a spot where Moss slugs .938 with two homers.

Phelps didn't miss. He almost couldn't miss with how he set up the put-away pitch. Every quad of the strike zone was worked in the Moss at-bat. Outside, inside, low in the zone, high in the zone, changing eye level changing speeds; it's sequencing. It's something we don't often see done so well from pitchers with less than 50 innings in the majors.

David Phelps to the rotation. Wait, no, that isn't what this is about. It's obviously no guarantee the quality sequencing he's putting together would even translate to longer appearances. There's a good chance it would, but hitters adjust the second time through and tape does get out eventually. For now the plan seems set for Phelps. As long as he keeps sticking to his plan, the plan for him will continue to yield results. Never a bad thing to have a good plan.

Pitch graph from Brooks Baseball, all the stuff about Brandon Moss' hitting tendencies from Baseball Prospectus' hitter profiles. If Pitch F/X doesn't consume all your time, the hitter and pitcher profiles will.

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