Carlos Peguero and the Off-Speed Pitch
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.
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.