Chris Colabello and Fastballs
by, 05-17-2014 at 06:36 AM (480 Views)
If you can still remember the early part of the season, Chris Colabello was a monster. He was hitting .346/.386/.577 through the first 20 games of the year. He had nine multi-hit games, and went hitless just four times. He was the darling of the American League for a while due to some timely hitting and a bunch of RBIs. But his line since April 23 tells me the league has started to adjust.
Since April 23, Colabello has been hitting an anemic .125/.188/.188. Over those 17 games he has just two extra base hits, five walks, and twenty five strike outs. He hasn't had a single two-hit game over that span, and he has more games (nine) without a hit, than he does games with a hit (eight).
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So what is ailing Colabello? Let's start by taking a look at his spray charts. This is a good place to look for symptoms of Colabello's issue. We will not be sure what is going on, but we might be pointed in the right direction. We'll use the April 23 date to split up his season.
What we see in the early season spray chart is that Colabello was hitting the ball all over the field. He did a nice job of hitting some fly balls the other way, but still had plenty of power to center field and his pull side. We also see line drives spread out pretty evenly across the diamond.
After April 23, Colabello's chart looks completely different. We see a higher percentage of his balls in play barely making it out of the batter's box, and lots of infield grounders. There are only a handfull of line drives, and no fly balls hit to his pull side. He's either poking the ball the other way, or rolling over the ball and grounding out to the shortstop and third basemen.
What does this tell us, other than that Colabello has been struggling? Well, the lack of balls being hit to his pull side is discouraging. Colabello needs to be able to drive the ball to his pull side to be really effective. A couple of things could be going on with pitchers, they could be pitching him away more frequently. Last year there was a lot of talk about how far away from home plate Colabello stands, begging the opposing pitcher to attack the outside corner where Colabello would have a harder time getting to fastballs. The other thing that could be happening is that Colabello is struggling to catch up to MLB caliber fastballs, and after a hot first month, the opponents started to pick up on this, and are challenging him more with the fastball, throwing less breaking balls at him.
Let's take a look at the data and see what pitchers are doing to Colabello. We'll start with the pitch location data, to see if pitchers are pounding him on the outside corner.
What we see at the beginning of the year is a whole lot of pitches down in the zone, and while there is some evidence that pitchers prefer to pitch him outside, he was still seeing a lot of pitches over the plate and inside. After his mostly disappointing 2013 season, it was not surprising to see pitchers unafraid to throw the ball over the plate to Colabello, and to see what he did with it.
After April 23, you see a lot more pitches down and away from Colabello, the part of the zone he has the most trouble covering because of his stance away from the plate. All of a sudden there are almost no more pitches down and in, a significant change from the early part of the season. We also see, surprisingly, that Colabello saw 24 pitches down the heart of the plate, belt high, a typically dangerous place for a baseball to be. But other than down and away, that is where Colabello is seeing the 2nd most pitches!
We know that pitchers are in fact pitching Colabello more to the outside, but they are also throwing him pitches right into the heart of the plate, so there has to be more to it. Maybe pitch types will tell us a little more.
What we see in this graph is the first two months of the season, Colabello is seeing a lot more fastballs, almost 10% more, and a lot less off speed stuff. This, combined with a spray chart filled hit balls in play to his push side, leads me to believe that Colabello is having a hard time catching up to fastballs. Pitchers are comfortable throwing him fastballs because even when he recognizes the pitch, he has trouble hitting it with authority. Pitchers are throwing less off-speed pitches because those are the types of pitches that Colabello can handle. He's also seeing a lot more breaking balls than he was early in the year. When he's cheating a little bit to catch up to the fastball, he is more susceptible to the breaking ball, especially late break that Colabello would be unable to adjust to.
This is not good news. While there are some minor adjustments Colabello could make, bat speed is pretty tough to improve. He either has it, or he doesn't. Standing a little closer to the plate could give Colabello better coverage down and away, and he can certainly help himself by laying off some of those outside pitches, but there might not be much Colabello can do to look more like the hitter he was through the first 20 games of the 2014 season.
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