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A Look at Craig Breslow

2012 August 1
by John

Yesterday, the Red Sox acquired left-handed reliever Craig Breslow from the Arizona Diamondbacks to beef up their bullpen. Let’s try and learn a little bit more about the pitcher.

We’ll start by taking a look at how he’s fared over the last three seasons, from 2010-2012. It’s a somewhat arbitrary period to go with, though it should work for us. The goal is to get as big a sample size as we can, but without reaching too far back. A pitcher’s “stuff” and approach often changes over time  (see below, Breslow added a sinker this year). Draw too far into the past and you could end up capturing an entirely different pitcher.

K% BB% HR/9 BABIP FIP xFIP
v. RH 21.0% 10.1% 0.96 .266 4.01 4.34
v. LH 21.2% 5.8% 0.83 .306 3.23 3.62

Like most left-handed relievers, Breslow gets better results against left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters.

Breslow strikes out batters on both sides of the plate a league average ~21 to 22 percent of the time. Like most left-handed relievers, he’s at his best against lefty batters; a well above average 5.8 percent walk rate and slightly better than league average home run per nine (HR/9) rate translates to a 3.23 FIP and 3.62 xFIP**.

**As a quick reminder, FIP is an ERA estimator that relies on the three true outcomes approach (strikeouts, walks and home runs). Some prefer xFIP to FIP though, particularly when dealing with relief pitchers. Home runs rates are generally unstable over a short period of time. xFIP adjusts for this, substituting in the league-average home run to fly ball rate. As with any statistic, it’s not perfect, but it attempts to drive out randomness or “luck.”

How Breslow isn’t like most left-handed relievers is that he doesn’t sweat the platoon.

Though he does walk nearly twice as many right-handed batters as left-handed, he’s not all that far off from the ~9 percent league average walk rate. Given his steady strikeouts, it’s nothing to get worked up over. All in all, he’s maintained a 4.01 FIP and 4.34 xFIP against right-handed batters.

It stands to reason that manager Bobby Valentine will want to avoid throwing Breslow out against a tough right-handed hitter in key late-inning situations (and of course, that’s what Alfredo Aceves, Vicente Padilla and possibly soon, Andrew Bailey, are for). What Valentine won’t have to do, though, is fear leaving Breslow on the mound to face one or two righties in the middle innings.

Pitches

Pitch Frequency Velo Whiffs% BIP% GB%
Fourseam 47% 91.5 9.35% 18.7% 5.2%
Sinker 8% 91.8 9.62% 15.4% 11.6%
Cutter 33% 85.7 16.20% 15.3% 8.3
Changeup 11% 78.8 6.76% 20.3% 6.8

Focusing in just on this season’s pitch selection, we can see that Breslow relies primarily on two pitches; a four seam fastball and a cutter, both of which sit between 91 to 92 miles per hour. Depending on the handedness of the batter, he mixes in either a sinker (lefties) or a changeup (righties) to keep the batter off-balance. The sinker is new for Breslow this year, having never thrown it with any frequency prior to this season.

The changeup appears to be his weakest pitch, producing the only below average swinging strike rate and resulting in more balls in play than any other pitch in his repertoire. Notably, the pitch also generates the fewest amount of groundballs. Despite the results, throwing a changeup will continue to be a necessary evil for Breslow. Without it to play off of, right-handed hitters could sit on his fastball.

Breslow also has something of a slider and/or curve, though he’s thrown it less than two percent of the time so far in 2012.

Location

The maps above informs us where Breslow has most frequently thrown pitches against left-handed (on the left) and right-handed hitters (on the right). The gray, inner square marks the strike zone. A location where a pitch is frequently thrown is red. An infrequent location is blue, while the in-between is black.

In the maps above, we’re looking at his fastball. Though he’ll throw it for a strike just about anywhere, as you can see, he tends to work up and away from the batter with the pitch.

His pitch location on the cutter remains fairly consistent regardless of the handedness of the batter. Against left-handed batters, the pitch runs down and away. Against right-handed batters, the pitch runs down and in. Of the two, Breslow seems to have less difficulty keeping the ball down in the zone against righties.

Here we’ve got two different pitches: sinkers against left-handed hitters and changeups against right-handed hitters.

As noted, Breslow reserves his sinker for lefties. He generally tries to keep the pitch on the inner half the plate and down in the zone. Notably, he’s left the pitch over the middle of the plate more frequently this season than is generally desired.

Throughout his career, Breslow has thrown his changeup on the lower-inside part of the plate against right-handed hitters. This season, it looks like the pitch has moved out over the plate a bit, whether intentional or not.

Earlier we observed that the changeup is Breslow’s weakest pitch. It generates a lesser number of swinging strikes and a greater number of balls in play (including balls in the air) than any other of his pitches. It will be worth keeping an eye on where the catcher sets up for a changeup versus where Breslow actually locates the pitch; whether his location is further driving down the pitch’s effectiveness.

All  PitchFX data courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net and Baseball Prospectus. The new pitcher profile tool was used to create the strikezone maps above.

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