Pitch Mix Changes: Mengden, Velasquez, Cueto, & Wojciechowski

Again, I’m diving into some lowly-owned starters who have changed their pitch mix since last season. A couple seem to have potential.

Daniel Mengden (3% Owned at CBS)

Daniel Mengden’s Pitch Mix
Pitch Type 2019 2020 Diff
FA% 36% 54% 18%
SI% 17% 0% -17%
FC% 12% 2% -10%
SL% 14% 23% 9%
CU% 10% 10% 1%
CH% 11% 10% -1%
FS% 0% 0% 0%

While he’s better known for his 80-grade mustache, he’s trying to mix up his pitches to become useful. He’s reorganized a bunch of pitches that have helped but other parts of his game are dragging him down.

The pitch mix changes starts with him dropping his sinker (4% SwStr%, 41% GB%) and cutter (5% SwStr%, 46% GB%) for his four-seamer (7% SwStr%, 35% GB%). The sinker never generated enough ground balls to be useful, so moving away from it is fine. Overall, the adjustment is a small plus.

With his non-fastballs, he’s increased the usage of both his slider and curve. Both have a historical swinging-strike rate of 13% and are way better than the changeup’s 6% SwStr%. I find it frustrating he can’t completely drop the change (10% usage) and he’ll never reach his full potential until he finally does.

An improved mix might point to better times ahead but the rest of Mengden’s game is falling apart. First, his fastball velocity is down over 1 mph nullifying any gains be made moving away from his cutter and sinker. Additionally, he can’t find the plate with a 4.9 BB/9. The pitch mix change gained him a jump in K/9 from 6.3 to 7.4 but that was all offset by the jump in walks. When Mengden was “effective”, his walk rate was near 2.0 BB/9. Overall: Pass.

Vince Velasquez (18% Owned)

Vince Velasquez’s Pitch Mix
Pitch Type 2019 2020 Diff
FA% 62% 58% -4%
SI% 4% 0% -4%
FC% 0% 0% 0%
SL% 20% 2% -18%
CU% 12% 15% 3%
CH% 1% 25% 24%
FS% 0% 0% 0%

I’m too infatuated with Velasquez because I see the potential for a huge breakout but major issues need to be addressed. On the positive side, he’s throwing his change/splitter more and it has rewarded him with 18% SwStr% and 50% GB%. This pitch is just nasty when the bottom falls out.

Especially when compared to this four-seamer.

The other interesting talent change is that his average fastball velocity is down 1.7 mph from last year. Even with the drop, his swinging-strike rate on the pitch is up from 12% to 15%. Part of the reason it may have improved is that the spin rate dropped only 22 rpm, so it may be rising more than expected for a fastball at that velocity. The pitch is therefore tougher to square up.

Besides the season-to-season changes, he’s still adjusting game-to-game. He’s decided to throw his curveball (9% SwStr%) less (25% to 8%) in his second start with the results improving (six strikeouts and one runs allowed in four innings). In his first start, he still got the strikeouts but allowed four runs in only three innings of work.

All would be great in Velasquez’s world if it weren’t for the walks. It has been five in seven innings. All the gains from a 12.9 K/9 are completely offset by a 6.4 BB/9. Additionally, his high-spin four-seamer will generate a ton of flyballs (29% GB%) and many are leaving the yard (2.6 HR/9). Not good.

In my opinion, he’s trying to find his new self and has not settled into an effective pattern. Monitor.

Johnny Cueto (53% Owned)

Johnny Cueto’s Pitch Mix
Pitch Type 2019 2020 Diff
FA% 32% 29% -2%
SI% 20% 11% -9%
FC% 0% 0% 0%
SL% 25% 10% -15%
CU% 5% 22% 17%
CH% 19% 27% 8%
FS% 0% 0% 0%

It’s no surprise Cueto changed his pitch mix. He has been changing his whole career and now trying to survive on the last bit of talent he has left. He missed most of the 2018 season from Tommy John surgery and he hasn’t been right since returning. His 91-mph average fastball velocity is near a career-low and the pitch’s 3% SwStr% a career-low. Additionally, he’s trying to make up for the velocity drop by throwing his changeup (15% SwStr%, 72% GB%) more than ever.

This adjustment doesn’t matter for a couple of reasons. First, he’s still throwing his ineffective curve and slider 33% of the time. More importantly, he can’t find the plate. Over his career, he has posted a 2.6 BB/9. Last season it was 5.1 BB/9 after returning from the surgery and it’s 4.4 BB/9 this year. There is no way he can be productive with a sub-7.0 K/9 and the high walk rate. Pass.

Asher Wojciechowski (4% Owned)

Asher Wojciechowski’s Pitch Mix
Pitch Type 2019 2020 Diff
FA% 54% 29% -25%
SI% 0% 0% 0%
FC% 19% 23% 4%
SL% 25% 42% 18%
CU% 0% 0% 0%
CH% 2% 5% 3%
FS% 0% 0% 0%

Wojciechowski is simply not throwing his fastball as much and relying on his cutter and slider more. This adjustment is normal for a pitcher wanting to revive their career.

The move seems to be working with is strikeout rate at 9.9 K/9, a jump of 1.2 K/9 from last season. All of his pitches have an above-average swing-and-miss potential. His four-seamer is a respectable 11% while his cutter and slider are over 20%. Strikeouts aren’t holding him back.

And it’s not the walks. Sometimes throwing more breaking balls leads to worse command, but not with him. His walk rate has barely budged from 3.1 BB/9 to 3.3 BB/9.

The “issue” that has always held him back is his flyball nature but moving to the non-fastballs has his flyball rate at a career-low. The problem is that it’s not low enough to make up for MLB’s Happy Fun Ball and Baltimore’s high school level home ballpark. Like many pitchers, he just needs to get out of Baltimore to be fantasy relevant (e.g. Dylan Bundy). Road streamer.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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2 years ago

Check out Asher’s p-vals on those pitches. Last year, the cutter was pretty good (2.3). This year, the slider’s great (2.3 in **13.2 IP**). I’d consider streaming him in Camden, if I was desperate.