I was going to write about Tommy Hanson until Fred told me he was going to cover him. And after he made me and my optimistic post about him look stupid I wasn’t going to let up on him in the least bit. Despite Hanson going 6 innings last night and only giving up 5 hits and 2 runs, he didn’t look good. He let up two back to back bombs, walked 2 and only struck out 3. But I’m not here to rag on Hanson (hopefully Fred will) I am here to praise Brandon Beachy.
With Mike Minor having a few rough outings lately Brandon Beachy has really been the highlight of the Braves rotation. He is 3-1 in 6 starts with a 1.62 ERA and 2.67 FIP. Although his strikeout rate has dropped off a lot so far (6.23/9) he has improved on his walk rate (2.31/9) and his ground ball percentage (43.5%). He has also managed to hold opposing hitters to just .23 HR/9 so far this year compared to 1.02 HR/9 last year.
Most of Beachy’s success is due to his incredible fastball which resembles Jered Weaver’s according to Ben Duronio. The key to his fastball is not so much the velocity (he is averaging around 91 so far this year) but the vertical movement. Ben goes over this in detail in the link I gave you above, but pretty much the ball seems to ‘rise’ against the hitter because the backspin Beachy generates helps the ball resist the natural drop gravity gives it. The ball doesn’t actually ‘rise’ it just doesn’t drop.
We are going to check out some heat maps on the pitch so you can get an idea of how Beachy actually uses it.
all heat maps came from Fangraphs
The heat maps are from the catchers perspective so you can see that Beachy likes to throw lefties away and high while against righties, he has been going inside more often. I’m guessing this has a lot to do with his slider, which is becoming a really useful tool. In 2011 Beachy threw the fastball away to both lefties and righties:
With a larger amount of data you can see that he went outside to righties more often last year than he is doing at this point in 2012. This could be because he hasn’t gotten into a rhythm with his fastball but I doubt it. When we look at his slider you will see why.
Before 2011 the Braves advised Beachy to do away with the slider. This is likely because they wanted him to focus on the fastball, curve, and changeup. In 2011 however, he got the green light on the slider and used it effectively, getting a whiff rate of 21.31% on the 83 mph pitch. This year the horizontal movement and vertical movement have both increased while the speed of the pitch is down to 81 mph. As long as his fastball stays relatively similar to last year’s this should lead to another plus offering from Beachy.
In 2011 Brandon’s fastball was at 92.57 miles per hour, with –2.41 inches of horizontal movement, and –11.43 inches of vertical movement. So far in 2012 he is averaging 91.46 miles per hour, –1.41 inches of horizontal movement, and –11.91 inches of vertical movement. It is a bit slower and with less movement but not drastically so.
Back to the slider. Beachy primarily uses the pitch against righties, so I will give you his 2012 data beside his 2011 data against just right-handed batters:
We don’t have a ton of data on the pitch so far this season (only 79 pitches) but so far he is doing a good job of keeping the ball off of the middle of the plate. His approach is clearly to give righties the slider away, and then come back inside with the fastball (and vice versa). With the movement of Beachy’s fastball and slider, this can be an extremely effective tandem of pitches and really get hitters off balance. Even when hitters are making contact, they aren’t doing much with the slide-piece.
To back that up here are his batted ball numbers for the slider in 2011 and 2012:
Both his line drive percentages and fly ball percentages on the pitch are down this season and his groundball percentage has almost doubled. This pitch is probably the reason tat Beachy’s HR/9 mark is so much better this year. The BIP% is likely up because of a combination of a decrease in velocity of the pitch, and the hitters adjusting to Beachy. Fortunately the pitch has improved and batters aren’t having any more success on it.
Last year Beachy gave up 16 homeruns in 141 innings. So far this year he is on pace to give up just 5, if he can manage 200 innings.
If Beachy is able to get the fastball velocity back up a touch, and improve on his curve and changeup like he has the slider, he could be looking at an even better sophomore campaign. If not, his strikeout numbers will probably be a bit worse than last season but he will remain effective nonetheless.