Mitchell Boggs, a key piece in the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen in 2012, was recently sent down to AAA by the Cardinals after a horrendous start to the season. After 5 straight years in the big leagues with a groundball percentage over 50 %, and a 3.9 kwERA in 2012, Boggs walked nearly 19 percent of batters he faced early in 2013, more than he struck out (for a kwERA of 5.78). While Boggs’ abilities as an elite end of the game reliever may have been oversold, his horrific start came as a surprise. I thought it might be helpful to look at the data for both 2012 and 2013 and see if there are any indicators or differences that help us diagnose the problem.
First, let’s compare his spin and speed chart from year to year to get a better idea of his pitches:
The two slow curveballs he mixed in during the 2012 season throw off the perspective of the graphs a little bit, but we do see that he threw some pitches near the 100 MPH mark in 2012, and in 2013, he hasn’t been close to that. In fact, he threw exactly 100 pitches over 98 MPH in 2012 (according to the 55 feet release point mark used by Brooks Baseball), and has thrown zero at this velocity cutoff in 2013. So clearly, the top end velocity he had in 2012 isn’t there, or hasn’t been there in 2013. Of course, the question is why his velocity is down, and whether there are any other factors as well, so let’s see if there is anything else going on.
What about his release point? Many times when there is some kind of injury or regression for a pitcher, there is a release point change.
2012: -1.52 horizontally and 6.18 vertically, or in graph form:
2013: -1.48 horizontally and 6.27 vertically, or in graph form:
So this doesn’t seem to be it, as he is basically the same, and actually a little higher on average in 2013.
How about where he is pitching? Has his general locations or tendencies changed? Is he having a problem throwing arm side or glove side?
2012 strike zone:
2013 strike zone:
We basically see the same tendencies here. He seems to always have been an arm side pitcher, trying to locate low and glove side with his slider. There are no obvious mechanical issues that show up in Boggs’ data.
Velocity certainly seems like a simplistic answer that isn’t very satisfying (and we don’t know why his velocity is down), but this seems to be the most obvious indicator for why Boggs has regressed. However, when he can still throw over 97 MPH at times, you would think he could still get batters out. Even his movement data seems to be roughly the same.
Workload could be one of the reasons his velocity is down a little bit, though his release point and strike zone are the same. He hasn’t eclipsed the magic 80 inning mark in any season, but he has worked a lot out of the bullpen in recent years. He threw 73.1 innings in 2012, 60.2 innings in 2011 (along with 14.2 innings over 4 starts in AAA), and 67.1 innings in 2010.
If this is the case, perhaps he just needs some rest, or more pessimistically, a surgery. However, the good news is that he doesn’t seem to be mechanically broken, and should still be a serviceable reliever with a 95 MPH + fastball instead of a 98 MPH + fastball. Because he is so sinker slider heavy, he is never been a high strikeout guy, relying on ground balls instead. There is no reason for Boggs to be as terrible as he was to start the 2013 season.