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Statcast Week 2: A Tale of Two Cottons

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals
Jharel Cotton has had two starts, one good and one bad. Has he been unlucky?
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

To the casual observer, and generic baseball talking head, Oakland A’s starter Jharel Cotton’s season debut against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was a rough outing. Cotton surrendered 5 earned runs, on 8 hits and 2 walks in less than 5 innings last Wednesday. The results were far less than ideal for the young righty trying to entrench himself in the Oakland rotation.

The box score backs up the assertion that Cotton did not pitch very well. Statcast, however, tells a different story.

Process Versus Results

Statcast tells us that the hits that Cotton allowed that resulted in runs for the Angels were not well-hit balls. In fact, they were weakly hit and are the result of poor batted-ball luck.

xStats are a nifty concept developed by Andrew Perpetua and are described as follows:

xStats are calculated using Statcast data in an attempt to make more objective observations of the game. Only the vertical and horizontal launch angles, exit velocities, batted ball distances, game time temperature, and ball park are taken into account. All other factors are ignored.

What do xStats have to say about Cotton’s poor performance against Anaheim?

Despite the poor results there is reason for optimism. Check out the sequence of pitches that led to Cotton striking out baseball giant Mike Trout in the first inning of last week’s game.

Cotton vs. Trout

Player Pitch Velocity Spin Rate Inning Batter Result
Player Pitch Velocity Spin Rate Inning Batter Result
Jharel Cotton Fastball 94.3 MPH 2,428 RPM Top 1 Mike Trout Ball, 1-0
Jharel Cotton Slider 87.9 MPH 2275 RPM Top 1 Mike Trout Called Strike, 1-1
Jharel Cotton Curveball 79.9 MPH 2505 RPM Top 1 Mike Trout Called Strike, 1-2
Jharel Cotton Changeup 80.6 MPH 2244 RPM Top 1 Mike Trout Swinging Strike, 1-3
Baseball Savant

Not only is there nearly 15 MPH difference between Cotton’s fastball and his changeup, his changeup and his curve are almost identical in terms of velocity, despite being two different pitches.

Yesterday Cotton lived up to the hype we all placed on him during the offseason. In 7 innings pitched Cotton allowed just two hits and 3 walks while surrendering zero earned runs and striking out 6. Through the first week and a half Cotton has put up some impressive numbers in the contact management department.

Among starters with 50 or more pitches thrown this season Cotton ranks 12th in exit velocity allowed. Sean Manaea actually ranks second among starters in exit velocity, but this post isn’t about him.

There’s strong evidence to suggest that we’re likely to see more of the Cotton we saw in his second start than his first start.

Cotton’s Changeup

I can’t write this many words about Cotton without including this wonderful video footage of him doing insane things to a baseball while he makes an opposing hitter look silly.

Last year Cotton’s changeup induced a swinging strike 17% of the time. So far in 2017, it appears Cotton has a 25% whiff rate on his changeup.

Other Notes and Results

Khris Davis hit two more home runs this week, each was a 405 foot blast within 2 MPH of exit velocity from each other, but one was hit at a launch angle of nearly 10 degrees higher than the other.

Here’s a list of other Oakland Athletics home runs from last week that were barreled balls:

Oakland A’s Hitters: Week 2

Player Event Distance Exit Velocity Launch Angle
Player Event Distance Exit Velocity Launch Angle
Ryon Healy HR, 1st Inning, 4/4/2017 420 Ft. 108.2 MPH 21 Deg.
Ryon Healy HR, 3rd Inning, 4/6/2017 430 Ft. 106.7 MPH 32 Deg.
Khris Davis HR, 4th Inning, 4/7/2017 405 Ft. 106.7 MPH 24 Deg.
Matt Joyce HR, 3rd Inning, 4/7/2017 410 Ft. 106.6 MPH 38 Deg.
Yonder Alonso HR, 8th Inning, 4/8/2017 407 Ft. 103.1 MPH 34 Deg.
Khris Davis HR, 4th Inning, 4/10/2017 405 Ft. 104.8 MPH 33 Deg.
Baseball Savant

For those keeping score at home, here is a leaderboard of all Oakland A’s home runs year, sorted by average exit velocity:

Oakland A’s Statcast Season Leaders

Events Player Avg. Exit Velocity Avg. Launch Angle
Events Player Avg. Exit Velocity Avg. Launch Angle
2 Ryon Healy 107.5 26.9
4 Khris Davis 106.8 28.5
1 Matt Joyce 106.6 38.5
1 Stephen Vogt 104.3 23.6
1 Yonder Alonso 103.1 34.3
1 Jed Lowrie 98.1 31.2
Baseball Savant