Greetings, MASNsports.com readers! My name is Domenic Vadala, and I'll be blogging on behalf of Birds Watcher for the remainder of the 2012 season. As we're all aware, the Orioles have exceeded expectations thus far this year, although the first half was ultimately marred by three of the original five starting pitchers being optioned to Triple-A.
How is it that the likes of Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter could have looked so promising, only to fizzle out after so little time?
I suppose there are several potential answers, depending upon how you want to look at things. I'm inclined to agree when Jim Palmer says that pitchers have to "trust their stuff." However, is there more than meets the eye there? Trusting your stuff is probably more of a mental thing than anything else. First off, you have to know what your stuff is. Matusz and Arrieta at least were always fastball pitchers. When Matusz first came up, he had a popping fastball with deadly late movement. So what happened?
To illustrate my point, I'll use an example from my own life. As a kid and adolescent, I was involved in music. Obviously, I always participated in sports, as well, but according to the choir director I was one of the better vocalists in my high school's history. I've sang in public exactly once since graduating, and that was 10 years after graduating - at my grandmother's funeral in 2009. I had my reasons for stopping, however my father reminds me of what I could have been several times a year. I don't bring this up to toot my own horn in the least, because, as I alluded, I'm retired. However, perhaps part of the reason I decided to hang 'em up had to do with a lack of faith in myself. Looking back, I probably have never found anything at which I excelled as much as singing.
The three aforementioned Orioles pitchers threw great fastballs once upon a time. Using Matusz as an example, little by little it seemed that his fastball was losing some effectiveness. According to FanGraphs, he's throwing approximately 13 percent more sliders than in the past. Matusz's slider and curveball were effective, to say the least, but little by little they lost their effectiveness in that Matusz became predictable. In Arrieta's case, the FanGraphs stats indicate that he isn't throwing more off-speed pitches as opposed to fastballs, and the same is true with Hunter. However. in their cases, I've noticed that they've gone to their offspeed pitches much earlier in counts. There's no statistic to back that up, however it's something I've noticed in games.
This tells opposing hitters that they can't get their fastballs over, and that allows them to better work the count. In turn, this drives up their pitch counts, which lowers their endurance - and you know the rest. All of this is in part because they didn't have enough faith to trust their stuff. Former Oriole Dave Johnson has said on numerous occasions that it's perfectly fine to specialize in various pitches (i.e., a slider pitcher), but if you can't throw a big league fastball, you're not going to make it at the big league level. That's what the likes of Matusz, Arrieta and Hunter are finding out right now. If they want to get back to the big leagues and stay there, they need to be able to command that fastball. Part of that is having faith enough in yourself to get that fastball over.
Ultimately, big league hitters probably expect something off-speed and/or off the plate on an 0-2 or 1-2 count. That's the advantage that you get as a pitcher when you pitch from ahead. It's when the count goes 2-2 (or goes full) that you need to be able to get that fastball by a hitter. If you have to keep going back to the curveball or slider, it's going to get hit or the hitter is going to take the pitch and eventually flip the count in his favor.
You can only fool big league hitters for so long. So for Matusz, Arrieta and Hunter, I might suggest working on their faith in themselves as much as their mechanics while in Norfolk. I think we'll hear from all of them again at some point. And for what it's worth, I sang in my car this morning. Still got it!
Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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.