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June 13, 2008

Analyzing Eric Hurley

Eric Hurley allowed four runs in six innings in his Major League debut on Thursday. His first start was, like many of his AAA appearances, “great except for the homers.” Hurley has allowed home runs at nearly double the league rate this season, resulting in decent overall performances when the rest of his game is on and disasters when he’s off.

By design, Hurley drew the worst offense in the American League as an opponent. The Royals have scored fewer than four runs per game and against righties are batting .256/.306/.368 with a 6% walk rate. Still, they’re not the New Orleans Zephyrs. Hurley made some mistakes and was duly punished. That said, Hurley showed admirable poise on the mound, worked efficiently, and often lived up to his considerable potential.

The magic of pitchFX encourages (nay, demands) excruciating detailed analyses of his performance. Let’s go:

Pitch Types and Movement:

After leading off with 15 consecutive fastballs, Hurley mixed in a slider and occasional changeup. He threw 68 of 92 pitches for strikes and didn’t walk a batter. Here’s his pitch selection with speeds and strike percentages:

Pitch Type
Average Initial Speed
% Strike or Contact

The next chart displays the movement of each pitch relative to a ball thrown without spin. This particular chart doesn’t show pitch location, just movement.

On the vertical axis, a positive number represents a the ball that doesn’t descend as much as a spin-free throw. A negative number indicates more drop. On the horizontal axis, a negative number indicates the ball tails toward a right-handed batter or away from a lefty swinger.

The backspin on fastballs retards their downward descent, so they show more vertical “rise,” and they usually tail into a right-handed batter (if thrown by a righty like Hurley). Sliders tend to cut away from righties and have minimal rise. Some pitchers’ sliders have extra downward movement in a “slurvy” fashion, but not Hurley’s. Indeed, his sliders often gave the appearance of rising upon release before snapping leftward. (Note that nobody’s pitches actually rise.) A curve, if Hurley threw one, would show up below the slider, indicating the most downward movement.

Vertical Location:

Vertical Location
Below Strike Zone 9 3
Lower Third in Zone 16 7
Middle Third in Zone 31 24
Upper Third in Zone 25 16
Above Strike Zone 11 9

Hurley clearly favored the upper part of the strike zone, particularly with fastballs. I constantly read of how he’s attempting to locate more pitches on the lower part of the plate, but only 10 of his 59 fastballs touched the lower third of the plate or below. Furthermore, most of them don’t look like failed efforts to aim low. Plain and simple, he’s gearing up and throwing a standard “rising” fastball.

Horizontal Location:

Away, away, away. 31 of Hurley’s pitches missed on the outside part of the plate compared to just six inside. The umpire’s slightly off-center strike zone might have played a role in Hurley’s location.

Hoizontal Location in Strike Zone
Inside Strike Zone (toward hitter) 6
Inside Third of Zone 16
Middle Third of Zone 18
Outside Third of Zone 21
Outside Strike Zone (away from hitter) 31

Lefties Versus Righties:

to Lefties 69 71% 14% 14%
to Righties 23 43% 0% 57%
ALL 92 64% 11% 25%

Hurley threw more sliders than fastballs to right-handed batters, taking advantage of the slider’s tail away from the hitter. Against lefties, he focused on the fastball. All ten of his changeups were to lefties. The charts reconfirm his efforts to work the outer part of the plate. (Note: This chart and all that follow are displayed as if the viewer is the catcher looking toward the pitcher. A right-handed batter would stand on the left side of the chart. Anything within the “rulebook” strike zone is absolutely a strike. The wider zone is 2.8 inches (about the width of the ball) and represents everything that could (and probably should) be a strike. PitchFX isn’t perfect, and neither are umpires, so there’s some leeway in this zone.)

Results by Batted Ball Location:

The ground/fly data in a box score only refer to outs, and they characterize a harmless pop-up to the catcher no differently than a fly ball caught on the warning track. Hurley’s fly tendencies were on uncomfortably clear display. Excluding the bunt, 75% of Kansas City’s batted balls were outfield flies or line drives. Even in consideration of the two homers, he could have fared worse.

Balls in Play
Opposing Average / Slugging
.000 / .000
Line Drive
.750 / 1.000
.182 / .909
Infield Pop
.000 / .000
1.000 / 1.000

Results by Pitch Type:

Hurley’s ability to throw strikes and induce bad swings with his slider was most impressive. This is described in the next table. Conversely, batters swung at 27 fastballs and made contact (in play or foul) with all but two.

Called Strike
Ground Out
Line Out
Fly Out
Infield Pop
Fastball 19 12 2 13 1 1 5 1 4 1
Changeup 4 1 0 3 1 0 1 0 0 0
Slider 5 3 5 3 1 0 3 1 2 0

The next charts display pitch locations and results by pitch type.

The fastball chart shows his tendency to work high and occasional control lapses. The two hits within the “rulebook” strike zone were home runs. Sometimes, as on those pitches, his fastball tended to float more than break. I didn’t create separate charts for batter handedness, but I should note that the umpire was squeezing Hurley a little on fastballs in toward left-handed batters and giving him an extra two or three inches on the outside part of the plate.

The slider is another story. The couple of them didn’t slide, and one slid too much, but on the whole it was his most effective pitch.

Hurley’s changeup was all over the place. That said, he didn’t suffer any damage from it.

Fastball Velocity:

Hurley’s 1st-inning fastballs rarely exceeded 90. During the last four innings, only one of his fastballs failed to surpass 90. He steadily touched 92-93 after the 2nd and showed no apparent fatigue.

Posted by Lucas at June 13, 2008 08:38 AM