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A 'break'down of Galarraga, Rodriguez

Our weekly statistical take on MLB moves.

Armando Galarraga may have been almost perfect on one memorable occasion in 2010, but he had a significant imperfection in his overall work.

Armando Galarraga

Galarraga

As Galarraga looks for a fresh start in the NL with the Arizona Diamondbacks after being traded from the Tigers last week, one of his biggest goals for 2011 is going to be re-establishing an out pitch.

Fangraphs.com publishes a run value stat for pitch types for both pitchers and hitters. The number (broken down by total pitches or per 100 pitches of that type thrown) establishes whether that pitch led to positive outcomes for the player more often than not. Higher pitch value numbers mean better results with the pitch (further explanation: here).

Imperfect 10 in 2010
Negative Run Value per 100 (All pitches)

Of the 147 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2010, 10 had negative run values per 100 for every pitch type in their arsenal.

Galarraga had a couple of flaws that earned him a spot on this list. Our Inside Edge video review data shows that his 90-mile-per-hour fastball got swings and misses six percent of the time, among the lowest rates in baseball.

When he threw a sinking fastball, he actually had more balls hit in the air than on the ground (the opposite of the desired result)

When Galarraga threw his slider and an opponent made contact, he allowed a hit 35 percent of the time, well above the league norm (right-handed hitters in particular, had a lot of success against it). He also ranked among the major league leaders in home runs allowed by right-handers on breaking pitches, with 10, twice as many as he allowed two seasons earlier.

These numbers were the biggest difference in his performance from 2008, when his slider was an out pitch. In fact, that season, it had the third-best run value in the major leagues. A return to that form would be key to establishing success in a new environment.

Wandy Rodriguez netted a three-year, $34 million contract from the Houston Astros coming off a season in which his signature pitch—the curveball—was not anywhere near as good of an out pitch as it was in 2009.

Wandy RodriguezRodriguez

No pitcher was as reliant in getting a large number of important outs with his curveball that season. His total run value with the pitch led the major leagues. Last season, he was one of a small group for whom that pitch had a negative run value.

Rodriguez netted 118 strikeouts with his curveball in 2009, 44 more than any other left-handed pitcher. In 2010 that total dipped to 102. The percentage of plate appearances that ended with Rodriguez dropping in a two-strike hook for strike three dipped from half to about 45 percent.

That doesn’t sound like a big decline, but it had an impact in his ERA jumping from 3.02 in 2009 to 3.60 in 2010. Instead of getting strikeouts, Rodriguez ran into some trouble.

When hitters made contact with a two-strike hook from Rodriguez in 2010, they hit .346, a 110-point jump from the previous season and their percentage of “well-hit balls” (a stat tracked by Inside Edge) increased from nine percent to 13 percent, a potential indicator that the batting average jump wasn’t just due to luck.

This wasn’t the first time in his career that Rodriguez had a decline with the success of his curveball. His run value with the pitch experienced similar issues in 2008. He used it to be an excellent pitcher in 2009. He’ll face the same challenge again in 2011.