The return of April baseball has begat the rebirth of By The Numbers. This week we try and weed through the myriad of “on-pace” numbers that come along with the first week of actual MLB games and identify three statistics that are likely to identify real trends.
Jake Arrieta is throwing heat. Last year, Arrieta’s season was cut short when he underwent surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow. In his first start since the injury it was clear he was healthy. In 2010, his fastball averaged 92.7 miles per hour. In 2011, his velocity dipped slightly to 92.4. However, on Opening Day something was different: his fastball velocity readings on the jumbo-tron screens along the side of Camden Yards were at 94, 95 and 96. His PITCHf/x data confirms that he actually averaged 94.6 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball. That is over two miles per hour higher than last season! Despite Jake’s improved velocity he didn’t make a ton of hitters swing and miss on Opening Day. However, he also was showed improved command reducing his walk rate. All things being equal two miles per hour is almost always better to have on a fastball than not and it could enable Arrieta to take a step forward in his development this year.
Markakis' MLB Home Runs
Markakis goes oppo and shows some patience. Opening Day also featured something truly unexpected – a Nick Markakis opposite field home run. The graph above shows the landing spots of all of Nick’s Home Runs in his MLB career. You’ll note that other than his Opening Day bomb there have been no other opposite field (left field) home runs since 2008! In fact, I had given up on ever seeing Nick hit one again. While measuring a player’s power in a given season requires almost 500 at bats, Nick’s Opening Day home run is still significant. Nick going oppo reflects more than just power, it reflect’s a change in his approach. Based on the graph Markakis didn’t even attempt to drive the ball to the opposite field in 2009-2011. Instead he focused on making contact, even at the expense drawing walks. This year he has shown a return to going the other way and is walking at more than twice the frequency he did last year. Certainly he will not sustain his current walk rate or his current home run rate but he appears healthy and is showing a return to the approach that yielded incredibly productive seasons in 2008 and 2009.