Corey Oswalt’s fastball velocity and homers allowed

Coming into this season, Corey Oswalt was the starting pitcher most likely to come to the majors and give the Mets something. While most of the prospect hounds preferred the long-term upside of Justin Dunn and David Peterson, the club’s last two first-round picks, neither was considered close to ready for the big time. And indeed Oswalt has come up and pitched in 16 games, making 11 starts.

As you might expect from a rookie pitcher, Oswalt has not been particularly good. When four-time CY Award winner Greg Maddux first made the majors, he went a combined 8-18 with a 5.59 ERA over his first two seasons. If Hall of Famers get knocked around in their first exposure to the majors, why should we be surprised when it happens to mere mortals?

Regardless, even when getting beat up by more advanced hitters, Oswalt has still managed to show something. Saturday afternoon he started and went five innings and allowed two runs. It wasn’t a great outing but he gave the team a chance to win, which is more than you can say for the bullpen, which allowed four runs in three innings after Oswalt was removed.

The issue in his latest game was essentially the same issue it’s been all season long for Oswalt – the gopher ball. He tried to come inside on Trea Turner, who doubled off him earlier in the game, and Turner crushed it for a two-run homer. It was the 14th HR allowed by Oswalt this year in 60.2 IP. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. That works out to a 2.08 HR/9. There are 317 pitchers so far this year to throw at least 50 IP. Oswalt’s HR/9 is the fifth-worst mark in the majors among those pitchers.

When Maddux was getting beat up back in 1986-87, he allowed 20 HR in 186.2 IP, for a 1.0 HR/9. That was a higher mark than he would have throughout his career but it wasn’t what was doing him in. Instead, he was simply allowing too many baserunners, as his 1.661 WHIP would attest. Maddux finished his career with a 1.143 WHIP, so he obviously got his baserunner issue under control. While absolutely no one thinks Oswalt is anything like Maddux, the question for his future is if he can duplicate Maddux’ feat and get his trouble spot under control.

Is there anything Oswalt can do to curb his homers allowed?

In his two seasons in the minors where he was healthy and made the most starts, Oswalt had good HR/9 rates. In 128.1 IP in 2015, he had a 0.42 HR/9 and last year in 134.1 IP, it was a 0.60 mark. But it’s been a different story here in 2018. In Triple-A, he had a 1.55 rate and despite leaving Las Vegas and the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, that number has gotten worse here in the majors.

The homer he gave up to Turner illustrates the problem nicely. Oswalt wanted to come inside and the pitch indeed was off the plate. But Turner was still able to do damage with it because of two reasons. It wasn’t far enough inside and it didn’t have enough velocity to beat him. There’s not much Oswalt can do about the latter issue. But can he improve his control enough to not just throw a pitch for a ball when he wants to, but to also make it far enough away that good hitters can’t put a good swing on it?

The minor league scouting reports on Oswalt had his velocity consistently in the low 90s, topping out at 95. But instead we’ve seen 88-90, with the ability to dial it up to 92. In trying to come inside against Turner with hard stuff, Oswalt’s pitch registered at 91.46, according to Brooks Baseball. There just wasn’t enough velocity to beat him with that location.

Of the 14 HR allowed by Oswalt this year, 10 have come off pitches classified by Brooks Baseball as fastballs. Turner’s was the second-fastest one of the bunch, beaten only by a 92.37 fastball that Austin Hedges hit out of the park on July 25.

Earlier this month, we saw that 39 percent of runs scored against National League pitchers came via the HR ball. Oswalt’s percentage is 55, as 23 of the 42 runs he’s allowed have crossed the plate thanks to a homer.

Another thing that has helped to torpedo Oswalt’s rookie year have been a few bad outings. Every pitcher has bad outings. But when Oswalt has been bad this year, he’s been beyond awful. In three of his appearances, he’s allowed 17 ER in 3.2 IP. In his other 13 outings, he has 57 IP and 24 ER for a 3.79 ERA.

Interestingly, in those three bad outings, the HR ball has not been the main culprit. While 3 HR in 3.2 IP is not good, that doesn’t come close to explaining 17 runs. In fact, in those three appearances, seven runs scored on gopher balls. That’s 41% or much closer to average than his overall numbers.

The first bad outing came in his first start of the year and the other two came when he was working as a reliever. In 11 starts, Oswalt has a 4.91 ERA. The gopher ball is still a problem in his starts but we see a solid 1.286 WHIP and a 2.50 K/BB ratio when he works in the rotation. The NL averages this year are a 1.295 WHIP and a 2.59 K/BB rate.

You don’t have to squint too hard to see a league average pitcher here. Keep him as a starter and hope that there’s improved fastball location in his second year in the league. But what are the chances the Mets do that? They seem unlikely to trade one of their four pitchers who came up through their minor league system and the salary they’re giving to Jason Vargas means he’ll get every opportunity to remain in the rotation.

They could have Oswalt pitch in the minors as a starter or they could hope that he’ll improve working out of the pen in the majors in 2019. An interesting solution could have him as a designated piggyback pitcher for Vargas. This way he could keep on a regular schedule and go between 2-5 innings per game, depending on what Vargas delivers. It could be a simple way to add another multi-inning reliever to the team.

9 comments for “Corey Oswalt’s fastball velocity and homers allowed

  1. Madman
    September 23, 2018 at 11:31 am

    Hope he is another Lugo,Gsellman,a two inning reliever.

  2. Metsense
    September 23, 2018 at 3:59 pm

    There are 74 National League starting pitchers who have thrown 80 Innings or more. Oswald, in his 11 starts would have an era of 4.91 in 60.2 innings which would rank him as the 65th starting pitcher in the league. The last starting pitcher at number 74 is no other than Jason Vargas with his 6.25 ERA.
    I am splitting hairs here, but I I think Oswald should be starting instead of Vargas. Oswald would benefit from a routine in his early stages of his career. Vargas a lefty could join Lugo and Gselman next year as a multiple inning reliever.
    Hopefully a minor league starter will develop by midseason and takeover the fifth position in the rotation.

  3. Eraff
    September 23, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    I like a Guy who will go out and battle with what he has—Oswalt has that sort of make up. The velocity issue is confusing, based on the prior reports. He’s all moxie and no Out Pitch. Guys like Zach Davies and Kyle Kendricks are Righties that pitch at lower velocity…with great Change Ups.

    Any time Greg Maddux is mentioned, I always feel compelled to “push back”…and I know you were not comparing him. Maddux had tremendous movement and location. He could pop hitters at 93-94, after leaving them totally off balance. When Tanaka first joined the Yanks, he was the only pitcher I’ve seen close to Maddux in that way.

  4. TexasGusCC
    September 24, 2018 at 12:26 am

    During the winter, I liked watching MLB Now. It is a fascinating show and I learn something just about every time I see it. The four person panel is usually the main host (whom I hardly agree with), two regulars from a pool of about six or so that are constantly rotated, and one more, either an active player or a present beat writer that might have a finger on the pulse of a team.

    Well, one night they had this guy Adam Ottavino on there. Who the heck is he? As I followed, I learned he’s a player on the Rockies. After they had their discussion on the issue of the night, they asked Ottavino how he was passing his off season.

    Ottavino told them that he was going into his free agent year and after a bad 2017, he needed to make sure 2018 wasn’t the same. So, he asked his father in-law, who had a vacancy in his commercial property in Harlem, if he could use the property to improve himself. His father in-law gave him six months at some agreement and Ottavino purchased some pitching equipment. He set up a pitching mound and screens and radar guns and everything he had in Colorado. And then, he saw a high speed camera and asked the seller if pitchers are buying these too, and the person told him yes. So, Ottavino bought that also.

    Next, he looked up how many pitchers live in the city and saw Matt Harvey did – who was also going into his free agent year – and invited Harvey to workout with him. Harvey declined. Then, Ottavino reached out to other pitchers that live in the New York City area, and once he had assembled a group they went to work.

    The high speed camera showed Ottavino how he was holding the ball, how he was releasing it, and how it was moving. With this piece of equipment, he was able to improve his slider by changing the grip a little bit and his release. The results this year speak for themselves.

    My point is, if Oswalt wants to improve himself, there are ways to do it in the off season. Fangraphs has him at 90.9mph on the average fastball; to me, that’s not a starter but a reliever. If he can make himself into a specialist or be more precise with his location, he can have a long career and make some money.

    • TexasGusCC
      September 24, 2018 at 12:44 am

      I should point out that we learned in spring training that Harvey was working out at the Boras Academy.

    • September 24, 2018 at 9:18 am

      The trend to me is not towards junk throwing relievers but towards guys who throw 95+ out of the pen. Not sure why you think a guy who throws 4+ miles below that is a reliever. Especially a righty

      • TexasGusCC
        September 24, 2018 at 11:19 am

        Because they only face a few hitters and never a second time. That might help him add a couple of MPH. But, rather than throwing a ball through a brick wall, we have learned location is more important because even 98 in the wrong spot goes over the wall, and quicker!

        • September 24, 2018 at 11:04 am

          You’re talking theory but reality has not been kind the last three to five years for soft-tossing righty relievers. And Oswalt did not experience a velocity increase when used out of the pen earlier this year.

  5. Name
    September 24, 2018 at 10:59 am

    “Coming into this season, Corey Oswalt was the starting pitcher most likely to come to the majors and give the Mets something.”

    Actually, i think most people would have thought Chris Flexen to be that guy. Oswalt ended up being a slightly less worse version than Flexen 2017. I honestly didn’t know about Corey Oswalt until i looked him up and saw that he was picked as the Vegas Day opening day starter over Wheeler. Oswalt/Flexen/Church were supposed to be potential plug guys before the next crop of Peterson/Dunn, but those guys may not be needed now anymore.

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