It has been a rough start to the season for sinkerballer Taylor Jordan. An ERA a little under 5.00, a FIP a little under 4.00 and a hike in walks/nine innings (3.18 compared to 1.92 in 2013) all point to the 11-plus innings pitched so far not being kind to the young righty after an encouraging spring training that solidified his standing as the Nationals' No. 5 starter.
While this tiny selection of numbers is troublesome, there is one other set of numbers that are more concerning for the Nationals and Jordan: 2.25 and 1.76, the miles per hour decreases in Jordan's four-seam fastball and sinker, respectively, from last season to now, which are pretty significant drops. In 2014, Jordan's four-seamer averages 91.15 mph, with the sinker coming in on average around 90.76 mph. With pitching and the ultimate success of the position predicated upon the establishment of fastball velocity and the difference in velocity between the fastball (and sinker, in Jordan's situation) and secondary offerings, the dip in velocity could lend itself to explaining some of Jordan's shaky start to 2014.
With less oomph to his hard stuff comes the necessity to tighten up, rely more heavily upon secondary pitches, as well as become more fine with the location of his pitches, something that has so far eluded Jordan, as his walk rates attest. Looking at Jordan's PITCHf/x data, he has had a particularly tough time corralling the four-seamer, which he throws roughly 30 percent of the time, per Brooks Baseball. This season, the heater has remained up in the zone more so than in 2013, prompting more ball calls than strikes. The four-seamer also appears to have slightly less movement this season, losing roughly half an inch of tail (horizontal movement) and an inch of sink (vertical movement) this season.
Fewer strikes, less velocity and less movement with the four-seamer puts increased impetus on making perfect pitches with his other offerings: the sinker, changeup and ever-improving slider. Thankfully for Jordan, aside from the aforementioned velocity decline in the sinker, he is still successful with respect to maintaining command, control and movement of his other pitches so far this season.
Hopefully for Jordan, the velocity decline isn't anything indicative of potential injury or of any issues with his ankle, which he fractured and had repaired over the offseason. If the velocity does continue to hover around the 90 mph mark, there will be an impetus for Jordan to focus on making better pitches with the fastball, down in the zone and on the corners; this also goes for his sinker, which he has good command of so far, but has yet to reap the bevy of grounders that he enjoyed last season.
The rise in fastballs up in the zone has occurred in parallel with a drop in groundball rate, currently at 40.5 percent, down from 57.5 percent in 2013. Whatever the remedy, it needs to happen quickly, both for Jordan in terms of his own job security, but also for the Nationals, who are anxiously awaiting the regular season arrival of newcomer Doug Fister, who is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a lat strain.
It will be a tough decision to make regarding who Fister supplants from the rotation - either Jordan or Tanner Roark - simply due to both being underwhelming thus far in their appearances. If Jordan's velocity decline and difficulties mastering the strike zone with the hard stuff continues, the decision might become a little easier for the Nationals, leaving Jordan at the crossroads between the bullpen and a trip to the minors.
Stuart Wallace blogs about the Nationals at District Sports Page. Follow him on Twitter: @TClippardsSpecs. His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.