So, Carlos Silva last night – that was pretty impressive, no? 7 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts against a pretty good line-up made up of a lot of lefty hitters. Certainly, the M’s will take more of that kind of performance from all of their pitchers. But how did Silva do it? Let’s take a look at his approach last night through the eyes of the Pitch f/x data.
On the evening, Silva tossed 116 pitches in total. Here’s the breakdown of pitch types, percentage of each pitch, and average velocity.
Fastballs: 70 thrown, 60% of all pitches, 89.9 MPH starting velocity
Sliders: 26 thrown, 22% of all pitches, 82.8 MPH starting velocity
Changeups: 20 thrown, 17% of all pitches, 80.1 MPH starting velocity
If you compare that to Silva’s Player Card from last year or his pitch type data from Fangraphs, you’ll notice that he threw more sliders than usual last night. Last year, he threw about 8.7% sliders. Had he followed that percentage last night, he would have thrown 10 sliders the entire game. He threw 26.
The extra sliders came mostly in lieu of his fastball – he only threw about 60% fastballs last night, significantly down from his career norms. Silva has pretty impeccable command of his fastball, so it’s not overly surprising then that he would miss the plate more often on a night when he was throwing more sliders and less fastballs. But facing a LH heavy line-up, I’d actually have expected him to throw less sliders than usual, considering that it’s not a great pitch against LHB. So, did he attack lefties with the slider, or was it something else? Let’s take a look at the pitches based on batter handedness.
Fastballs: 51 thrown, 66% of pitches thrown
Sliders: 6 thrown, 8% of pitches thrown
Changeups: 20 thrown, 26% of pitches thrown
Fastballs: 18 thrown, 46% of pitches thrown
Sliders: 20 thrown, 51% of pitches thrown
Changeups: 1 thrown, 3% of pitches thrown
Against lefties, he actually pitched pretty much like he always does – 2/3 fastballs, then mostly change-ups and an occasional slider when going off-speed. The pitch selection last night against southpaws matches what he did last year almost to a tee.
Against right-handers, however, he threw actually more sliders than fastballs. When Kinsler, Young, and Laird stepped up to the plate, he was going after them with a ton of sliders, and it worked pretty well – those three were a combined 1 for 9 against him. Interestingly enough, he only threw one change-up in the 39 pitches he tossed at right-handers. Last year, one of every seven pitches he threw right-handed hitters were change-ups. One in 39 seems to be a pretty deliberate move away from that. We’ve seen Felix relegate his change to mostly LHB, so I’m curious if there’s an organizational tendency to not throw change-ups to same handed hitters. Something to keep an eye on going forward.
Anyway, in looking at this, last night starts to make a little bit more sense. The low GB% (37.5%) and higher BB% (4.3 BB/G) and K% (7.3 K/G) rates all fit with the idea that Silva intentionally threw more breaking balls and less fastballs than a normal Carlos Silva start. His fastball is the pitch that he has the most command over, and it’s also the pitch that gets him the most groundballs. By eschewing the fastball somewhat in lieu of more sliders, we’d expect him to throw more pitches out of the strike zone and give up a few more balls in the air. That’s exactly what happened.
So, while a quick look at the box score might lead us to think that Silva had below average command last night, I’d argue that’s not really the case – he made a conscious choice to try to induce less contact than usual by varying his normal pitch selection against right-handed batters, and the plan certainly worked, as we saw from the results.
Also, interestingly, no sign of the famous split-finger fastball that he talked about working in during the second half of 2007. Larry Stone asked him after the game and he admitted he didn’t throw any last night. So, don’t go ascribing his performance to a new fourth pitch. He was still a three pitch guy, but he just used those three pitches a little differently than usual.