In a thread last week, there was some discussion regarding Nate Jones and whether he was getting better. While I started with a quick analysis of his recent ERA, I continued the discussion by looking at Jones's pitch location this year. The next day, Jones came out and pitched 2.1 innings with five strikeouts. He followed this up the next night with 2.0 innings with three strikeouts. Since I was pretty critical of Jones in my previous analysis, I felt it was only fair to look at these two games with the hope that I could see some positive trends.
As we have all seen, Jones has struggled significantly this year. He has three pitches. His four seam fastball is about 98 MPH. His secondary pitch is a slider that's about 88 MPH. Finally, he also has a changeup that is also about 88 MPH, but he throws this almost exclusively to left handed hitters (Brook Baseball has recorded four changeups out of 274 pitches to right handed hitters). His pitch location so far this year has a lot to do with stuggles this year.
As you can see, almost 20% of Jones's pitches have been low and outside to right handers or low and inside to left-handers. This zone is primarily from the slider which he has thrown about 35% of the time this year. The next problem is right down the middle. That zone is the third most frequent zone that Jones throws into. The T that forms from slightly cooler zones indicates that even when the fastball isn't right down the middle of the zone, he's not attacking the corners of the zone. He's getting a lot of plate with the fastball. It is pretty easy to understand his stuggles through this season based off of this:
- His slider is missing outside over 50% of the time.
- The fastball he's been throwing has been 98 MPH, which is fast, but they have been down the middle or getting a lot of plate.
For a major leaguer to walk up to the plate sitting on a down the middle fastball against any pitcher, they are going to do well regardless of how fast it is. Before his previous two games, batters were putting up a .287/.355/.415/.769 line against Jones. What started this whole discussion last week was the statement was that Jones looked good over the previous five games since he hadn't walked anyone. That was true, but the zone map shows an even more extreme example of Nate Jones's pitching approach this year.
The result of these five games was a .350/.350/.600/.950 line for opposing batters.
After that thread, I wasn't having great feelings about Nate Jones. He definitely wasn't losing any velocity off of his pitches. He just couldn't locate the slider. The final bit of agony was that the low outside pitch is to Tyler Flowers backhand and has likely helped Jones to throw five wild pitches so far this year. He had five wild pitches in all of 2012. Despair set in.
The next day Peavy was injured and didn't make it out of the third inning. Jones was the primary middle reliever last year, so I was expecting him to get some innings. I take that back. I was dreading him getting innings. Then, the most amazing thing happened.
The next day, Axelrod started and the bullpen held a shutout through the ninth. Unfortunately, the offense could say the same thing, and the game went into extra innings. Jones had to pitch again and put up an equally effective appearance
That's some really nice relief work, but not far from what I expected to see from Nate Jones last year. To be honest, I was excited to take a look at the zone profile to see if there was any difference, or if other factors like generous umps or two innings of batters hoping for a walkoff homer made a difference. I wasn't disappointed.
While Jones has struggled to get the slider over this year, he did last week. When he did miss, he also missed low over the plate, which should get a couple extra swings. He also avoided the middle of the plate. He only threw one pitch to the middle zone in those two games, which was on a 3-1 count. Another factor for success last week was Jones's four seamer. While he has averaged 98 MPH in the majors, he averaged 99 MPH last week.
In summary, Jones had an exceptionally good week of relief work this week. While his season so far has not been great, looking at the zone profiles for his pitching this year helps to explain the issues. His slider has been missing outside forcing him to throw more fastballs over the plate. While a pitcher can get by on speed in the minors, this approach won't work against major league batters. The zone profile for last week shows improvements. While still missing low with the slider, it is getting more of the plate, and Jones was able hit the outside corner for strikes with it. Getting ahead with the slider means he can avoid the middle of the zone and work the count better than worrying about just getting strikes. If Jones can keep the slider over, he will get more to chase the low sliders. He did work in some inside fastballs to right handers which is good to see, but I would still like to see more. I am also curious about Jones's changeup. Years ago, Tom Seaver said the hardest pitch to hit was the changeup inside at the knees. Jones seems to have a good deal of confidence throwing the changeup to lefties, but working it into his pitch selection to right handers might give them something else to worry about.