Carlos Peguero and the Off-Speed Pitch

marc w · March 4, 2013 at 6:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

LF Carlos Peguero’s been one of the stories of the spring, swatting three HRs and hitting several off-speed and breaking pitches hard. To many, that’s the sign of real progress, as Peguero matures from being a dead-red FB hitter to someone who can occasionally punish bad breaking pitches. There’s just one problem: Peguero’s problem’s never been bendy or slow stuff – he’s struggled against fastballs.*

In Peguero’s brief MLB career, he’s hit a total of eight HRs**. Quick – how many of those came on fastballs? 6? 4? The surprising answer is: none of them. All eight have come on off-speed pitches and breaking balls. The fastest pitch Peguero’s hit out was a hard slider from James Shields in July of last year – that came in at around 89mph. He also hit a Brad Penny splitter out back in June of 2011, but that was a mere 86mph. He’s hit three breaking balls out and five off-speed pitches (change-ups and that split), but no two- or four-seam fastballs. Nothing 90mph+. That’s not to say that he can’t, mind you. I’ve seen it in AAA. But in dealing with Peguero’s issues at the plate, we need to do some triage, and at this point, I might focus on dealing with velocity, particularly in on the hands.

Peguero’s still on the 40 man because of his extraordinary power – power that’s generated by remarkable batspeed.*** The problem is that his bat launch or trigger is quite a bit longer than other hitters. It takes him a while to get the bat in the zone, but once it’s there, it’s moving considerably faster than most MLB hitters. This pattern often leaves a hitter vulnerable to change-ups, as the hitter can’t react quickly enough to the change in velocity. Peguero’s problem seems to be that the launch often takes too long to get the bat in position in time to pull fastballs. That’s why nearly all of his balls-in-play on fastballs are hit up the middle, and it may also be the cause of his interesting whiff rate pattern.

Using pitch fx data, and normalizing for all left-handed batters, Peguero’s whiff rate by location on breaking balls looks fairly normal. He’s struggled a tiny bit on low-and-away pitches, but it’s not too bad, and in any event, the sample is so small. About the most you can say is that the data does not support the idea that Peguero has a real problem swinging through breaking balls.
peg bb

Let’s switch that to fastballs, and see where Peguero struggles with swings-and-misses, again compared to other lefty batters:
peg FB

Hoo boy. Ok, to me, this looks like the fundamental problem. Peguero’s been very good at dealing with change-ups, and though we can’t really say for sure, he seems to have fought breaking balls to a draw thus far. But fastballs…man, fastballs have not been kind to Carlos Peguero. It’d be one thing if the trade-off for these contact issues were a decent number of home runs, but as we discovered, there haven’t been any yet. To their credit, the M’s have talked about shortening his path to the ball this spring, and I’m sure he’s working on this. But keep it in mind when you hear about how he went the other way on a change-up, or stayed back and drove a curve. He’s done that before. We’ll know he’s made real strides when he pulls a 95mph fastball out to right.

* – I discussed this with Dave at the last USSM/LL night at Safeco, but can’t remember if I’ve posted this before. If so, I apologize.
** – Of those eight, THREE have come off of James Shields. It’s a tiny part, but a part, of why I don’t get that trade from KC’s point of view. Shields is obviously better than he’s been in a couple of games against Carlos Peguero, but I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. KC traded Wil Myers for the guy who’s owned by Carlos Peguero.
*** – I’ve heard, but can’t confirm, that Peguero’s registered some of the fastest velocity-off-the-bat readings in the brief history of Cheney Stadium’s TrackMan system. If you’ve seen a few of his well-struck HRs, this will not come as a surprise.

Pitch fx data/charts come from BP’s hitter profiles here.


23 Responses to “Carlos Peguero and the Off-Speed Pitch”

  1. Shawnuel on March 4th, 2013 6:53 pm

    This is an excellent, informative article. Thanks for the research, Marc!

  2. Westside guy on March 4th, 2013 7:19 pm

    I certainly don’t remember reading this before, Marc. Fascinating, and ODD. I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever heard of anyone else with similar issues, other than a declining veteran… but no one comes to mind.

  3. G-Man on March 4th, 2013 7:34 pm

    So is there any hope for Carlos to be a real MLB player? I gave up on him, but obviously there is something there that the M’s org thinks is worth trying to develop.

  4. henryv on March 4th, 2013 8:36 pm

    At one point I saw Peguero hit a home run in Tacoma, and I literally stood up and said “HOLY FUCK” and immediately lost the ball in flight. It was clearly going right-center-ish, and I’ve got bad night vision, but still, there are lights. And seriously, I don’t have the slightest idea where that ball went.

    I’m guessing Egypt-ish.

  5. marc w on March 4th, 2013 8:45 pm

    I’ve done the same, henryv. And I’ll never forget the first Peguero AB I ever saw – his first at bat on opening day in the new Cheney Stadium. He hit a ball off of the CF wall that I swear was still going up when it clanked off the wall 420 feet away. He hit a loooong HR later, but the double is the hardest hit ball I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a Wily Mo Pena HR, a Balentien shot, etc. The sound off the bat was unlike anything I’ve ever heard.

    Shame about the whole, uh, approach and results thing.

    Eric Wedge had some comment recently about how they’ve tweaked his stance to get him to the ball quicker, but I haven’t seen enough ABs this spring to know what they’ve done. To their credit, they seem to be doing what they can. There’s a lot of talk about him hitting breaking balls, and I swear 90% of that stuff comes because people conflate Peguero with a character in the movie Major League. It *seems* right – we’ve seen players who can hit FBs and nothing else, but I’m not sure that I’ve seen someone whose trigger takes so long. If nothing else, Peguero would be a beast with those slow-pitch softball guys who smack HR after HR off the Hit it Here Cafe.

  6. henryv on March 4th, 2013 8:52 pm

    Has anyone tried the Ricky Vaughn thing, and maybe had him try on some glasses?

  7. marc w on March 4th, 2013 9:57 pm

    I really don’t think glasses will make his swing faster. If it did, I might’ve a better player.

    I keep thinking that he must have good eyes to hit the occasional bender/slider. Yeah, maybe it’s just guessing the pitch and getting it, but you have to barrel it up regardless.

  8. Westside guy on March 4th, 2013 10:09 pm

    If only we could somehow cross Peguero and Smoak to get a truly terrifying player…

  9. Kazinski on March 4th, 2013 11:11 pm

    Maybe he just needs to learn to sit on a fastball on a fastball count. I’m sure he is getting that many breaking pitches to hit because some pitchers are also pigeonholing him as a fastball hitter. Word gets around he can’t hit a fastball, then that’s all he is going to get, cause just about everyone has one of those.

    But he also needs to learn to lay off the balls out of the strike zone. Of players with 50 or more PA in 2012, Carlos was 5th in OSwing%, and two of the guys ahead of him were pitchers (RA Dickey, and Cliff Lee). No Qualified batter had more than 45.4% (Josh Hamilton). Which pretty much says that you can’t play in the majors swinging at balls that much even if you could hit a fastball.

  10. BackRub on March 5th, 2013 6:53 am

    Great post! Don’t see Peguero as a MLB player and his plate discipline in just one reason why. His contact issues,especially on strikes, are equally as damning.

  11. eddie on March 5th, 2013 7:41 am

    Interesting article, now you’re talking, let’s get to the bottom of this Peggy problem. It’s a round Peggy in a squared up hole.

    If he ever did hit a fastball, that would be something to see!

    I’d like to seem him succeed, because if he ever did figure things out, it would get a lot more exciting around here.

  12. Paul B on March 5th, 2013 8:55 am

    Wow. This is not what I thought.

    I always assumed his problem was chasing pitches out of the strike zone, because he couldn’t recognize them in time.

    Turns out he swings through fastballs down the middle. Although I see the worst for him is a fastball down the middle but low out of the strike zone. So maybe there still is something to the chasing theory.

  13. stevemotivateir on March 5th, 2013 9:06 am

    I remember the jokes about all the broken bats. One after another, every pitcher knew the inside heat would do him in.

  14. amnizu on March 5th, 2013 9:27 am

    This is why I read this blog. Great post Marc!

    I am sure the other MLB and AAA teams are also very thankful for the free Peguero scouting report :).

  15. ChrisFB on March 5th, 2013 10:14 am

    I can’t wait to see the meltdown in the M’s blogosphere when Peguero makes the 25-man roster. The exasperated Dave C. post here alone would be worth it.

  16. marc w on March 5th, 2013 11:37 am

    Paul B, remember the percentages here are compared to other left-handed batters, so that the number’s highest right in the center of the plate doesn’t mean he swings and misses most often there, just that he swings and misses more there *than other MLB hitters* (who presumably hardly ever whiff there). He clearly has a problem laying off pitches outside of the zone, but it just doesn’t look as bad in comparison. It’s sort of the reverse of what we talked about with Jesus Montero last year – he swings and misses at breaking balls thrown by righties. Well, yeah, and so do most every right-handed batter in the league. That’s why specialist relievers exist. It’s a problem, but it’s not the central problem.

    Chris, we’ll see. I don’t think he makes it because I’d guess the team wants the veteran leadership of Raul Ibanez instead. There’ll be plenty of kvetching about the roster, I’m sure, but I can’t say I’m going to lose any sleep about the 25th man. I fully expect the decision to be sub-optimal from a strategy/talent point of view, but it’s not as important long-term as what happens with Smoak. The team doubled down on Smoak this Spring and that (along with the attendant consequences like Morse in LF) has way more to do with the M’s chances than if it’s Peguero, Bay or Wells getting a start a week. Same deal with Montero as starting C. We’ll have plenty to emote about with or without Peguero.

  17. shortbus on March 5th, 2013 11:39 am

    Carlos is the kind of player they sometimes call a “coach killer.” He’s got obvious potential that tempts the coaching staff to keep giving him opportunities. But every time he fails he costs those coaches some credibility.

    If this analysis is correct then shortening his swing might be the trick. He can obviously hit the ball out with less than his full swing. And his bat is clearly quick enough.

    I’m rooting for the guy even though his defense is suspect because man, that power. Remember the line drive homer he hit at Safeco? It looked like one of those screaming low line drive fouls, but it stayed fair and barely cleared the wall by the foul pole. That ball was throwing off sparks.

  18. Paul B on March 5th, 2013 12:25 pm

    marc, so if I read the graphic right, then, he swings and misses 815% more often than other hitters on fastballs low and over the middle of the plate.

    If that is right, then that is probably where my subjective opinion of his hitting comes from, mostly.

  19. drw on March 5th, 2013 1:17 pm

    This article in SI:

    would indicate that it is possible to retool a player’s timing mechanism to get his bat to the plate on time to hit fastballs. It’s a very interesting read (about Jose Bautista, who turned into one of the best power hitters in the game at a relatively advanced age simply by swinging “earlier”).

    One of the many points of the article is that you can talk all you want but it is hard to change ingrained hitting mechanics.

  20. ck on March 5th, 2013 5:36 pm

    Carlos Peguero has, ‘light-tower power,’ a phrase Jack Z. used when he acquired Russell Branyan. Remember David Arias, six year minor leaguer? As David Ortiz ‘Big Papi’ has 400 MLB HR’s and 1300 RBI’s. Today, Peguero has many holes in his MLB game, but I think he will be on the 40 Man Roster as long as he has an option left, just in case he, “…figures it out…”

  21. MoreMariners on March 6th, 2013 7:20 am

    ck, the difference is that David Ortiz actually hit well before his first big league season. His first three years — even his dreadful 1999 season of 10 games — had him at an OPS+ of 102 in 101 games, a pretty big chunk of a full season. Carlos Peguero is at an OPS+ of 70, and Peguero is already older and has played in 100 more minor league games. David Ortiz was a top 100 prospect — he didn’t come out of nowhere. I don’t think Peguero would even be a top 250 prospect, now, or at any point.

  22. jwgrandsalami on March 6th, 2013 11:10 am

    apparently the guys on the Brock and Salk radio program on 710 haven’t been reading USSM. They just went off on Carlos Peguero saying he can hit the fastball, but its the curves and breaking balls he has trouble with…

  23. beadyeyes123 on March 6th, 2013 3:10 pm

    I was at the games this past weekend and can say Peguero is standing up straighter. Couldn’t tell if the swing is shorter but he appears to be taking pitches more than I’ve ever seen him. I’ve given up on him but if he actually is improving, this is good for the M’s as he could be used for trade bait.

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