The San Diego Padres’ closer Huston Street has been nothing short of awful so far this season. His already poor groundball rate has gotten even worse, he is striking out less hitters, walking more hitters, and has given up a home run to an amazing 7.5 percent of hitters faced (league average is about 2.6 percent).
Home runs are usually because of location, mostly location up in the zone. Here is where Street located his pitches on average in 2012, which was a successful season, when he was healthy:
He would locate his average pitch on the low part of the strike zone down the middle (much lower than the average pitcher), with his sinker about middle height and a little arm side, with a low change and a slider. Here is how he has located so far in 2013, along with the average home run location:
His average pitch is a a little more arm side than it was last year, and very slightly higher. The sinker is even more arm side, and maybe slightly up as well. The slider is at the same height and actually more glove side this year, which is usually preferable. The change is slightly more glove side and up, but not in a bad location overall. His home runs are on the glove side of the plate on average, because of the change in slider and changeup locations. The location data shows that there has been a change in pitching locations for Street, but it doesn’t make it obvious why he is struggling so much or giving up so many homers. So has there been a change stuff, and can that help us unlock Street’s issues? Huston Street has not been a closer with great stuff, usually relying on command to get hitters out, somewhat rare for a closer. Here is what his stuff looked like via his spin and speed chart last year:
Here is his 2013 spin and speed chart so far:
The velocity looks about the same, but the spin looks like it has a little less overall. The actual impact of the spin difference is most likely minimal as it would be a much bigger deal if he was a real velocity change, which it apparently isn’t.
While the stuff doesn’t look different enough to suggest an injury, often times such struggles as the ones Street is going through come with injuries, and release point data, especially changes in release point, can show that there may be an injury. While his release point is about the same horizontally, he has dropped it vertically by a couple of inches on average.
Maybe it is a little more inconsistent, but not drastically so. I don’t know if the change is big enough to really get worked up about, and he seems to be repeating the delivery in a similar manner.
Something that could be playing a factor (though certainly doesn’t explain all of it, especially since he was a nice reliever for the Colorado Rockies for 3 years) is the fact that Petco Park’s fences have been moved in. Here, according to katron.org, was his spray chart at home in 2012:
This also lets us see his tendencies of where he allows batted balls. While the distribution of batted balls are pretty even both homers are in the center of the park, and there are more balls on the glove side part of the park than the arm side, suggesting more balls on the glove side of the plate are getting hit on average.
Here is his 2013 map at home:
This year, he is getting hurt more on homers on the sides, and the harder batted balls seem to be coming from the arm side of the plate, which makes sense with the sinker and all pitches strike zone, with him throwing more pitches on the arm side of the plate. Perhaps the location change is something that is meaningful. The lack of infield balls is also concerning or at least baffling. In the 2012 chart, there are 17 balls in the infield out of 48 batted balls (from my count). In the 2013 chart, there are 9 infield balls out of 34 batted balls (about a 9 percent difference). While this could always be batted ball luck, it can suggest that the ball is just being hit harder against Street (which Baseball Heat Maps suggests is also the case). Considering he has already given up more home runs to right-handed batters than he did last year (it is never wise to look at platoon splits in May, but that does stand out), it seems that pitching more arm side with his sinker is backfiring, as his below average velocity is getting into more pull zones for right-handers and they are able to take it out of the park. The problem is, we don’t know how predictive this is, especially since Street doesn’t seem to be broken from a release point or stuff standpoint. Street could theoretically start locating better at any time, but until he does so, expect the home run problems to continue.