With the news that Noah Lowry will miss some time to begin the year with what’s been diagnosed as ‘exertional compartmental syndrome’ in his forearm, his PITCHf/x article might seem a little late. The good news is that Lowry can point to an actual physical condition that hindered him in pitching a baseball. That might sound a little weird but it’s comforting to know that it wasn’t mental such as the roadblocks that ended Steve Blass’s and Rick Ankiel’s career on the pitchers mound. Also, the procedure is considered minor and Lowry could be back by sometime in May.
There are some downsides with the situation. It’s the third injury that Lowry has dealt with in the past three years. It looks like he’s gong to be a longshot to ever throw 200 innings in a season again. He’s young, but not that young at 27, and what you see with Lowry is probably what you’re going to get. It’s also going to really devalue Lowry even further, making it impossible to trade him until the trading deadline this season, at the earliest. Even if Lowry comes back on time for his surgery, teams will still most likely be cautious when looking at him in a trade.
Now that Lowry is out for at least a month or so, it changes the landscape of the 5th starter competition. Correia is now a lock for the rotation, with the new 5th spot going to either Jonathan Sanchez or Pat Misch. Both are lefties that have pitched decently this Spring. My preference is Sanchez by far but Misch is a little interesting as a starting option.
Today’s article is the next in a line of using PITCHf/x data to analyze the starting pitching from 2007. So far we’ve covered Barry Zito and Matt Cain. Today’s piece takes a gander at Noah Lowry. Lowry led the team in wins in 2007 but once again ran into some injury troubles late in the season, missing the last month with forearm problems. Lowry truly had one of those weird seasons in ’07, he walked a bunch of guys, didn’t strike out many hitters, and generally was the benefactor of some very good luck. Still, many fans cling onto the memories of the 2005 version of Noah Lowry and not the more recent injured and declining peripherals version.
Let’s take a look at some of the data from Lowry’s ’07 season to try and better understand what he was doing, and whether or not he was doing it well.
To start let’s check out Lowry’s break plot.
First a preface. Because of the limited amount of PITCHf/x data available, some of Lowry’s numbers are a little funky, mostly from a small sample size respect. Because PITCHf/x isn’t installed in every stadium it doesn’t track every pitch that a pitcher throws, it probably tracked around 1/4th of the total amount of pitches thrown last year. In Lowry’s sample you can see it recorded that Lowry threw only 15 curveballs in 850 total pitches recorded. You can see that the slider and curveball “blobs” run very close in the same area, there wasn’t a huge separation, breakwise, between the two pitches. Because I’ve been using Josh Kalk’s great PITCHf/x tool, I haven’t been manually pulling out the data from ’07, thus it’s very possible that Kalk’s algorithms — used to classify what a pitch generally is, based on it’s break and velocity — may have lumped some of Lowry’s sliders with his curveballs and vice versa. It also doesn’t help that Lowry missed the last month of the season, which would have added even more data into his PITCHf/x numbers.
Understand that from here on, the curveball numbers aren’t good because only 15 were tracked. It’s best to just “lump” Lowry’s curveballs and sliders into one pitch, and just imagine it as a breaking pitch. I still kept them separate for this article but combining them when you look at the charts is helpful.
Lowry got the most break, vertically, with his “breaking pitches” — either sliders or curves — than any of this other pitches. That’s not shocking because, well, breaking pitches, um, break! And his other two offerings of fastball and slider have less vertical break. The fastball and change grouping overlap and don’t break vertically as much as Lowry’s slider or curve.
His breaking stuff runs into a RHB and his changeups and fastballs run away from a RHB.
Here’s the initial speed on Lowry’s 4 pitches that he threw, and how many he threw on them when tracked by PITCHf/x
TYPE INITIAL SPEED (MPH) NUMBER THROWN Fastball 87.72 428 Curve 70.84 15 Slider 81.44 246 Change 76.04 161
Like I stated above, you can see that not many curveballs were tracked, leading to some sample size issues. Lowry’s fastball, on average, topped out right below 88mph. The next most thrown pitch was his “breaking stuff” of the slider and curve. His breaking stuff was right around 80mph. Next was Lowry’s changeup which he threw 161 times and on average at around 76mph. I know that when I watched Lowry in ’07 I thought he was throwing his curveball/slider way more than the changeup and from this data set, it looks to be true. It looks like Lowry may have moved off the change some. Maybe because of injury or that he’s lost the feel for the pitch, but I’d bet that if we had his data from 2005, he was throwing the change way more. He’s getting a good speed separation between the changeup and the fastball. The change is about 11mph slower which is a nice bit of separation between the two.
Next, lets take a look at what pitches produced the highest strikes swinging percentage for Noah Lowry in ’07.
TYPE STRIKES SWINGING% Fastball 2.3% Curve 6.6% Slider 7.3% Change 12.4%
Lowry got the most strikes swinging on the pitch he threw the least, his changeup. From looking at PITCHf/x data, fastballs rarely generated a lot of swing throughs but 2.3% is a pretty low percentage for strikes swinging. For comparison, Zito was getting a 4.5% on strikes swinging. Matt Cain was in the 7% range. Lowry threw the pitch that got the least amount of swing throughs the most and threw the pitch that got the most amount of swing throughs the least. Lowry’s breaking stuff was getting swing throughs in the 7% range. From looking at this, if I was Lowry’s pitching coach, I might try to convince him to bring back the change a little more. It was a good pitch for Lowry in ’07 when looking at when a batter swung and missed.
Now let’s take a look at Lowry’s pitch type on a per count situation.
Again, remember that the curveball wasn’t tracked very much, so it’s mostly between the fastball, change, and slider. In the same small sample size vein, Lowry threw only 12 pitches in the 3-0 count, all 12 of them fastballs. It’s believable that he would be more likely to throw the fastball in a 3-0, but not 100% of the time.
What I found interesting was that in most counts, Lowry divided up his pitches almost equally. Take for example the 0-2 count. He threw a fastball 40.48% of the time, a breaking pitch — defined as a slider or curve — 35.71% of the time, and a changeup 23.81% of the time. From the appearance of the graph, Lowry threw the fastball the most, but he mixed his other pitches in. In every count with 2 strikes, except for the full count, Lowry was most likely to throw the fastball. In the full count, he threw his breaking pitches — curve or slider — slightly more.
Let’s examine how Lowry pitched to RHB’s and LHB’s.
He threw the fastball equally to both RHB’s and LHB’s. He threw the slider the most to LHB’s, the slider should break down and away from a LHB. Lowry used his changeup against RHB’s, which should naturally fade away from a RHB. Nothing too surprising here. Once again we can see that Lowry threw the fastball a lot in ’07. And once again we can see that the curveball sample is really small.
While I was looking at Lowry’s pitch types by count, I was theorizing that he should throw either his breaking stuff or changeup more in 2-strike counts, because both pitches got more swing throughs than his fastball. His fastball had a very low percentage of 2.3% in swing throughs. But, there are other ways to get strikes, strikes looking for one, are another way to get a strikeout on a hitter in a 2-strike count. Let’s examine the following graph to see if Lowry should alter the way he pitches in certain counts to hitters.
In the following graph, 4 outcomes are included. Balls, Strikes Swinging, Strikes Looking, and Foul/Tips.
First, you can see that Lowry really struggled with his control in ’07, especially with his fastball and changeup. When Lowry threw a fastball, it was a ball 41.35% of the time. In my Zito PITCHf/x article I noted that command of the fastball is very important not only for Barry Zito, but for all pitchers. It helps set up everything else they’ve got. For comparison, Zito threw his fastball for a ball 42.7% of the time, very close to Lowry’s 41.35% ball rate with the heater. Both lefties struggled to throw their fastball for strikes consistently. Lowry also had trouble throwing the changeup for strikes, throwing it a ball 44.09% of the time.
I was surprised to see such a high amount of strikes looking on Lowry’s fastball. The fastball and slider both got almost the same amount of strikes looking at around 20-21%. The changeup got the least amount of strikes looking at 6.2%. It’s possible that batters are still looking for Lowry’s very-good changeup and either hacking it foul or hitting it in play. The changeup did get the most strikes swinging at 12.4%, when batters took a swing a Lowry’s change they were more likely to swing-and-miss than any of his other pitches.
Wrapping Things Up
Ignoring Lowry’s injury problems, he would really benefit by regaining some control on his fastball. Like Zito, Lowry missed a lot with his fastball and considering that he threw the fastball the most, it probably hurt him the most. It’s very possible that Lowry’s deterioration of control is a byproduct of his injuries over the past few years — especially in the Spring when he couldn’t feel the ball in his hand.
I found it interesting that Lowry seemed to throw all of his pitches in most of the various counts. He never clearly shifted to one pitch in one hitting count. Unlike Matt Cain’s “Here it is, hit it” approach when Cain threw almost exclusively his fastball no matter what the count. Lowry seemed resigned to the fact that if the hitter didn’t chase his pitch, or if he couldn’t throw it for a strike, he would be OK with the walk. This is an approach that Tom Glavine has used over the years. I’m not saying Lowry has near Glavine’s stuff, or command, but it’s the same mentality. This could potentially explain part of Lowry’s huge jump in his walk rate in ’07.
I also think Lowry would benefit from throwing his slider/curve more in counts when he needs a strikeout. Lowry had the best command of his slider/curve and it also generated a good bit of strikes looking and the second most strikes swinging. I believe that Lowry threw his fastball too much. If Lowry can regain his command on the fastball it might be more attractive for him to throw it in counts where he needs a strikeout.
Luck also played a big role in Lowry’s ’07. He posted a career HR/9 rate and out pitched his FIP by almost a full run. I’ve posted again and again why I’m not sold on Lowry’s future continued success. His loss of control and ability to strikeout hitters don’t inspire me with confidence. Once Lowry comes back from his surgery, a telling question should be answered. Was his tendinitis injury something that he’s been playing with for the last year or so? And once he comes back, will he regain any control? I think the true nature of his health will be huge on his future. There’s just so many questions about his health that we can’t really know about unless we’re Noah Lowry or the team doctor. Like, how long have you been pitching with a wrist issue? How’s your oblique been since ’06? How is the forearm feeling? Did an injury cause your control problems last year?
I’ll be very interested in watching Lowry when he comes back from his procedure. I have a hard time banking on a pitcher with three years of falling peripherals and injury concerns but I wish Lowry the best.
On Deck: An analysis of Tim Lincecum’s 2007 season using PITCHf/x.