Back in the spring I wrote that we shouldn’t get too excited about Erik Bedard‘s return. After the results so far, I could easily break out the I-told-you-so wagon and ride it around for a while. Luckily for you all, that’s not how I work. Instead, I did some digging on fangraphs trying to see if I could figure out why Erik Bedard keeps getting shelled. I went into this thinking that I’d find out exactly what I wrote about in spring training; that is: less velocity and less movement on his pitches. These are typical for pitchers returning from labrum repairs. The results are a bit more interesting than that though.
I went though and looked an absolute ton of pitchfx graphs and other data. Since posting all of that here would result in the longest blog post in history, instead, I’ll do my best to keep this simple. For the purpose of this post, I’ll concentrate on Bedard’s start against Oakland on 4/12/09. His stat line that night was 8.1 IP, 3 H, 7 SO, 1 BB and 0 runs allowed.
Why that night? Because if the recent performances are Erik Bedard at his worst, than that night is Erik Bedard at his best. It also helps that it’s a similar date, just two years earlier so we can rule out, for the most part, any changes that happen as the season wear’s on. Plus, since that’s Erik Bedard at his best, it makes my upcoming point even stronger. (as in, be patient and keep reading)
Lets start by looking at the movement on his pitches:
What you’ll hopefully see is that the movement on both his curveball and fastball are roughly the same as they were before the injury. If anything, there’s actually occasionally more movement on his fastball and thus the computer likes to think of it an a different type of fastball. The other thing we can take from this is that the movement on both pitches isn’t as consistent as it used to be, but more on that in just a minute.
Next, lets look at his pitch velocity. First his Fastball:
And now his Curveball:
His fastball speed is a down a little, but not a lot. In fact, the game in 2009 that I used as my reference of how good he once was, was the game in 2009 where is average FB was just below 90 MPH. So he totally can be be effective with his current FB. And even if the small change in his FB speed is part of the reason for his struggles, it certainly doesn’t explain the difference between his 2009 results and his 2011 results. (The most recent FB velocity is quite concerning, but before I worry too much about that I want to see if it rebounds back up in his next start. He was down that low at times in both 2007 and 2008.) Further, Bedard’s curveball is essentially the same, so that doesn’t explain anything.
So, at this point we’re mostly back where we started. The only thing we’ve figured out is that the movement on his pitches is slightly less predictable than it was 2 years ago, but not horribly so. In order to see if that perhaps might be the cause of Bedard’s struggles, lets look at where his pitches are hitting the strike zone.
As you can see, in the 2011 start he was around the center of the plate quite a bit, and up, especially with his fastball. He also didn’t miss many bats. Only 3 by my count, and only 1 of those inside the zone. In 2009 he kept the ball down more, and better control of his fastball, and while he missed around the center of the plate a few times, he wasn’t hurt by it. He also managed to miss more bats in the zone in this game, notching 3 whiffs despite throwing a lot less pitches to right handers.
Now, I’m not a pitching coach or a scout. I’m a fan. I’m not going to claim that I know why he’s having control problems. I can, though, point to the only data I have that might explain this, and that would be the release point graphs.
Now, It’s hard to see just looking at it, but his curveball release point is identical this year to where it was in 2009. The difference that I see is that his release point on his fastball is less consistent, and inside, closer to the center. (You can see that it’s more underneath his curveball release point.) I’ll leave it up to the experts to determine is this is the problem or not, but it would seem to me that it might be causing Bedard’s control problems.
So what have we learned from all this? I think we can put to rest, at least for now, all the talk that Bedard is “done” and wont ever recover from his labrum injury. Physically he seems to be back where he was in 2009, as the movement on his pitches is sound, as is his velocity. What seems to be missing is the control he once had. A 21 month layoff between major league starts isn’t something that can just be written off. Refinding his mechanics and control will take some time.
I think it’s safe to say that Bedard’s comeback is still a work in progress, but I think, at least for now, there’s reason to optimistic that there will still be improvement.