FanPost

Kawakami's start vs. Blue Jays

 

Kenshin Kawakami has had a rough introduction to Major League Baseball after eleven seasons playing in Japan’s highest league. Entering his start against Toronto on Friday, Kawakami had made seven starts, throwing 37.2 innings with 8.4 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, and a 5.73 ERA that had been inflated by bad luck on balls in play. After being out of the house all of Friday, I logged back onto Gameday to check the score and was astonished to see that Kawakami had shut down the Blue Jays for eight innings; the same Blue Jays that entering the series had been leading the loaded AL East . I’m going to use Pitch F/x to analyze what went right for Kawakami on Friday that led to his best ML start yet and what can be drawn from it to help him to further success in the future.

 

 

Kawakami threw eight innings of shut-out ball on Friday night, allowing only three hits, zero walks, and striking out seven Blue Jays. With the help of a sacrifice fly by Casey Kotchman, the Braves won 1-0. Kawakami threw 106 pitches, 71 for strikes (67%, well above his season average of 62%), and made only 13 pitches/inning, his most efficient start yet this season. Kawakami’s control was at its finest we’ve seen all season which fueled his success. Let’s take a closer look at what he used to dominate the Blue Jays.

Kawakami used six pitches against the Jays, mixing a four-seam, two-seam, and cut fastball, a change-up, a curveball, and a slider. He relied mostly on the four-seamer (47%), change-up (22%), and curve (14%), but mixed in some two-seamers (8%) and cutters (8%) and two sliders. Breaking it down by batter handedness, Kenshin mixed in more curves and two-seamers against lefties while throwing his cutter and the two sliders exclusively to righties. He mixed his four-seam fastball and change equally. The graph below shows his pitches classified using vertical and horizontal break. The Gameday software uses a quirky process to determine what type each pitch is which is why there is some overlap between groups. Also, the pitch classifications don’t particularly match-up with his arsenal; ie, what they call a change-up is his forkball, what they call a slider is probably just a cutter as I’ve never read he threw a slider. I’ll use the Gameday classifications for ease of use.

Kawakami52209_medium

His pitches showed similar velocity to his previous starts, and also showed similar breaks, indicating it wasn’t his stuff that played up on Friday, rather his control, command, and approach that kept the Jays off-balance.

Most importantly, Kawakami got ahead of hitters, throwing a first pitch strike to 22 of 27 batters faced, reaching a 2-0 count only twice, a 3-1 count only once, a 3-2 count twice, and never getting into a 3-0 count. Kawakami used his fastballs to establish the count in his favor, using mainly a four-seamer but also a two-seam or cut fastball on 21 of 27 first pitches, 18 of 21 of which resulted in strikes. This fastball command fueled much of his success on the night. Establishing himself ahead in the count allowed him to avoid the walks that had plagued him all season (up to Friday night, 31% of all his base runners had been from walks compared to 26% by all ML starters this season). With the bases empty, the three base hits he allowed were mere speed bumps on his road to his eight shut-out innings.

Using pitch value linear weights, we can measure how effective each of Kawakami’s pitches were on Friday compared to average. Pitch value linear weights use the count to generate run values for outcomes (single, double, strike, ball, etc.) and we can use Gameday to apply those values to each pitch Kawakami threw. Summing the totals for each pitch, we can find out how effective his fastballs, curveballs, etc. were. For my purposes, negative values are good for Kawakami (runs prevented) and positive values are bad. The table below lists pitch type, the average run value for each pitch of that type, and the run value/100 pitches for LHBs, RHBs, and all batters. 

 

All

 

RHBs

 

LHBs

 

Pitch Type

Avg. RV

RV/100

Avg. RV

RV/100

Avg. RV

RV/100

Four seam

-0.075

-7.5

-0.095

-9.5

-0.018

-1.8

Two-seam

-0.042

-4.2

-0.015

-1.5

-0.069

-6.9

Cutter

-0.021

-2.1

-0.021

-2.1

none

none

Slider

-0.005

-0.5

-0.005

-0.5

none

none

Curveball

-0.010

-1.0

-0.074

-7.4

+0.117

+11.7

Change-up

-0.085

-8.5

-0.078

-7.8

-0.106

-10.6

 

Kawakami was as dominant as his line score would make you believe, showing a greater than average run value only for his curve balls to left handed batters (which makes sense considering Lyle Overbay’s two singles off of him). Against RHBs, his four-seam fastball, change-up, and curve were flat out dominant pitches; around -5 runs/100 pitches is considered to be very good, and all three pitches exceeded that standard and more. Against lefties, the four-seamer was less effective, but he made up for it with great use of his changeup and two-seam fastball.

The aforementioned Overbay collected two of the Jays three hits off of Kawakami, both singles off of a curveball in his first two at-bats. Kawakami started Overbay off with a mix of two and four-seam fastballs in his first two at-bats before using a curveball both times that got put in play for a hit. The third time Overbay came up in the 8th with the tying run on 2nd, Kawakami started him off with a fastball, but then used to change-ups to get a swing and miss and a ground out to retire Overbay. Later in the 8th, Joe Inglett pinch-hit and Kawakami started him with a fastball for a ball and then used three straight change-ups for a swinging strike and two fouls before he struck him out looking with a curveball right over the plate. Kawakami showed the ability to adjust from his game plan to get Overbay out with the game on the line, and then showed confidence in his curveball to put one right over the plate against Inglett when the curve to lefties had hurt him earlier in the game.

Overall, you can see how strong his arsenal was today; every one of his six pitches had a negative run value and his four-seamer, change-up, and two-seamer were truly dominant weapons. Kawakami has struggled with his fastball this year according to Fangraphs’s pitch value data, so hopefully starts like this where he commands it well will start to become the norm. Kawakami has the strikeout stuff to be a solid #3 starter if he can improve his command of his pitches; he’s averaging 8.3 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 after this start with a very solid 4.01 FIP that is supported by an average strand rate, HR/FB, and BABIP. If Kenshin can pull it all together, the Braves will have a great starting staff that will remind fans of the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz-Avery that dominated the mid-90s.

This FanPost does not express the views or opinions of Talking Chop.

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