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Monday, April 21, 2014

Tony Cingrani is Mixing Pitches, but Missing Zone

In a excellent piece last week, Eno Sarris described Tony Cingrani's efforts to expand his repertoire this year.  Last year, Cingrani threw 81% fastballs.  This year, he is mixing in a few more sliders and change-ups into his offerings, and his fastball rate is down to a far more normal 72%.  Here are his usage patterns over the past two seasons:

It's not a radical departure from past seasons, really.  But this season, he his average fastball rate has been right about where his minimum was last year, around the 75% mark.  We've seen a corresponding increase in his use of his change-up and his slider.  Here are his pitches from his career, 2013-2014:

All of the curves shown here were from 2013, and stopped throwing it by August of last year.  At this point, he's a Fastball/Change-up/Slider pitcher.

How has he done?  Here's his FanGraphs line:

So, his ERA has been fine...but that might not be sustainable.  His xFIP and SIERA are showing a pretty substantial decrease in effectiveness, both showing up with an estimated ERA of about 4.20.  His strikeout rate is down very slightly, as is his swinging strike rate.  But the biggest concern has to be his walk rate, which is sitting at a pretty horrible 5.24 bb/9.  The main reason that his ERA is not higher, probably, is that his BABIP is 0.226.

Given the change in repertoire, the question that came to my mind is whether he is missing with those extra pitches that aren't fastballs, and that's driving his walk rate up.  So, let's look:

Tony Cingrani 2013 Pitch Outcomes

Tony Cingrani 2014 Pitch Outcomes

If anything, he's actually showing slight improvement in his ability to get his change-up over for a strike (or, alternatively, to induce a swing when it's thrown out of the zone).  Furthermore, as Eno noted in his article, his whiff rate on his change-up is up substantially this year (8% vs. 3%), as is his ground-ball rate (not shown, but it's 14% this year on change-ups vs. just 4% last year).  Both of these are good, encouraging things.

The issue with his walks seems to be that he's missing the strike zone with his fastball and slider more this year than he did last year.  He throws his fastball so much more than other pitches, that 6% jump in ball rates (39% vs. 31%) on his fastball seems to be the main culprit.  Cingrani doesn't have to be a guy who pounds the zone.  Nevertheless, he will need to get his walk rate under control if he is to have continued success this season.  Here is another look at the same thing in graphical form:
So, the good news is that while he hasn't exactly been a model of control this season, the good news is that (aside from his Chicago start) he hasn't been disastrously away from what he did last year in terms of where the ball arrives in the zone.  I'm not panicking, but I am raising my eyebrow, and will be watching this moving forward.

Another thing I noticed on Cingrani's FanGraphs page is that his fastball velocity is down by about 1 mph in the early goings.  Sometimes, this can indicate a loss in effectiveness.  That said, there's an easy and benign explanation for this:

Cingrani had a nice jump in his velocity last season in June of last year.  That, not coincidentally, is when Cingrani was pitching out of the bullpen (June 17 to June 28), which we often see when pitchers move from the rotation to the bullpen.  His velocity this season has been more or less right where it was at the end of last season.  While I'm certainly  hoping to see it rise a little bit as the summer heats up, he's not terribly outside last season's norms.

I'm not sure that there's a clear conclusion to be had, here.  Cingrani is doing some good things this year: he's mixing in more pitches to offset his fastball, and he's still missing bats at an excellent rate.  But his control has been iffy, particularly in his most recent start, which is something that he will have to address moving forward if he is to continue to have success.

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