Despite the great performance by today's starter Travis Wood this version of the PITCHfix will focus more on the relief staff than the starter. There's more to pick apart with the relievers and there's some worrisome signs with James Russell that need to be investigated.
Wood's usage was fairly consistent with his first start of the year against Philadelphia. He again relied heavily on the cutter as his primary offering but it was his secondary pitches that were most impressive today. The curveball that he got Andrew McCutchen on and then the slider that struck out Pedro Alvarez were especially effective.
You'll see that the only real difference in this start from his first is the sinker usage went up while the fourseam fastball wasn't quite as prevalent. Otherwise he threw a curve or two more and a slider or two less than his first start and when he did utilize the breaking stuff it was in strategically executed spots. The nine strikeouts were mixed between three fourseamers, three sliders, two cutters and that curveball to Cutch. For only throwing seven total sliders it's impressive that Woody was able to get three ABs to end on them. Wood only allowed four hits, one for extra bases, and none of them came on sliders or curves.
Wood was excellent, that much is apparent. James Russell though... he was downright bad.
The homerun came on a slider that was absolutely terrible on multiple fronts. The pitch lacked the necessary break that you usually expect from Russell and when compounded with the location mistake where he missed by a good foot and a half it would have taken a big misfire from Pedro Alvarez to *not* hit that out. The pitch hung right in the middle of the plate just asking to be crushed. When that ball landed in the juniper bushes on the batting eye I'm pretty sure it was ready to file charges.
What's really concerning with Russell is his velocity this year. It's April and there's cold weather, sure. But velocity drop is concerning even with those outside factors. Here's a look at James since Pf/x started tracking him:
We all know Russell's been used a lot the last two seasons. His nickname around these parts is Every Day Jimmy as best I can tell. It's possible, even probable, that it's catching up to his arm and he's not able to generate the velocity he used to. On his four seam fastball it's very significant. A full 2 MPH is a lot, especially when you're only topping out at 91 to begin with. Even his breaking pitches aren't coming in as hard as they once were. Meanwhile, his changeup has ticked back up since Spring Training but that's merely closed the gap between that pitch and his fastball/sinker. It makes the changeup less effective. The velocity will be something to watch for Russell because if it doesn't return by May then Russell's effectiveness is likely to remain absent as well.
Pepper with the other relievers:
- Four run lead still isn't enough for me to want to see Brian Schlitter. Can we set the bar a little lower for him? He's a long man (read: 2, maybe 3 innings if we're stretched thin) or a mop-up guy. At least that's how I view him.
- Grimm, on the other hand, is working his way into that 7th inning role behind Veras and Strop. The fastball is sitting at 95 MPH and that slider he worked on with the Rangers is big league material finally.
- Hector Rondon's scoreless streak has reached 15 innings. His slider is starting to produce a lot more swings and misses, too. He and Grimm have my vote for the setup role before the 8th inning.
I'm heading up to Target Field tomorrow so it's unlikely you'll get a Pf/x tomorrow and I've got a wedding on Saturday. So expect the next one to come on Sunday, though I would like to take a look at Shark's start data on Saturday even if I don't see the game.