The Curious Case of Cristian Javier’s Fastball


Cristian Javier
Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports activities

Cristian Javier had constructed a powerful postseason resume forward of Sport 7 of the ALCS. Throughout 12 aid appearances and 4 begins, he had compiled a 2.08 ERA and seven.5% championship win chance added. His first three begins within the playoffs have been notably spectacular; he held the Yankees scoreless on a single hit in final 12 months’s ALCS, was the beginning pitcher of the Astros’ mixed no-hitter within the World Collection, and held the Twins to a single hit within the ALDS this 12 months. His 18 whole hits allowed and .123 opponent’s batting common have been by far the bottom amongst any pitcher with greater than 40 postseason innings pitched.

With such a powerful observe report, the Astros needed to really feel assured handing him the ball on Monday night time. However issues didn’t go based on plan, as Javier lasted six batters and recorded only a single out, permitting three runs on 4 hits and a stroll, earlier than getting pulled. It was his worst postseason outing of his profession and an enormous purpose why Houston isn’t again within the World Collection to defend its championship.

Earlier than I dive into the small print of his outing, I need to return and have a look at Javier’s season as an entire. After his breakout 2022, he signed a five-year extension through the offseason, however he stumbled to a 4.56 ERA and 4.58 FIP this previous season, along with his strikeout charge falling 10 factors from the 12 months prior.

The foundation of his issues appeared to stem from his fastball. Javier is basically a two-pitch pitcher, along with his four-seamer making up almost 60% of his pitch combine, however he can get away with such a restricted repertoire as a result of his heater is merely excellent. He throws from a low three-quarters arm slot however is ready to generate an elite quantity of journey on the pitch; elevating a pitch with these traits is a surefire method to produce one of many flattest four-seamers in baseball.

The shifting bodily traits of his main pitch paint a fairly clear image of the ebbs and flows of his success over the previous three seasons:

Cristian Javier, Fastball Traits

Dates Velocity IVB Vertical Launch Spin Price Spin Axis Spin/Velo Ratio VAA AA Stuff+
2021 93.6 17.9 5.59 2337 203.2 25.0 +0.52 103
2022 93.8 19.0 5.65 2356 206.3 25.1 +0.32 120
Early 2023 92.6 18.4 5.75 2241 201.3 24.2 +0.26 95
Late 2023 92.9 18.9 5.68 2271 205.5 24.4 +0.40 110
Postseason 2023 93.5 19.9 5.74 2372 203.0 25.4 131

Postseason VAA information unavailable

Javier’s breakout in 2022 was largely fueled by an added inch of induced vertical break on his fastball and a honed potential to find that pitch up within the zone. He’s all the time been capable of get swings and misses with the pitch, however now he was additionally lacking barrels and inducing numerous weak fly balls and popups. After rising his workload by nearly 50 innings and setting a career-high in innings pitched, he entered this season throwing his fastball greater than a mile per hour slower than final 12 months. That lack of velocity mixed with a barely much less environment friendly spin profile led to a dip in induced vertical break. His launch level was marginally larger as effectively, which steepened the pitch’s trajectory because it crossed the plate.

Javier managed to right lots of these small points through the second half of the season, enhancing the journey and reducing his launch level. His last three regular-season begins have been notably good: 5 runs allowed throughout 15.2 innings on simply 9 hits with 21 strikeouts. And as soon as the postseason began, his fastball regarded higher than it had all season lengthy. The adrenaline of October baseball helped him improve his velocity again as much as the place it was final 12 months, and his journey was higher than ever. His launch level was again up a bit, which might have affected his vertical method angle, even with the improved velocity and journey on the pitch; sadly, I don’t have that information for his postseason begins. However regaining the elite form on his heater looks like the large purpose why he was so good throughout his first two postseason begins this 12 months.

From a outcomes standpoint, it’s clear that the success of his fastball is basically depending on the quantity of induced vertical break he’s imparting on the pitch, one thing borne out within the information:

Cristian Javier, Fastball Outcomes by IVB

IVB Whiff% Exhausting Hit% wOBA xwOBA Run Worth
>20″ 34.8% 34.40% 0.202 0.229 33.8
19″-20″ 32.9% 37.10% 0.299 0.284 14.7
18″-19″ 22.2% 36.90% 0.330 0.324 -0.1
<17″ 18.2% 54.80% 0.419 0.439 -15.4

When he’s producing greater than 19 inches of journey, his fastball is nigh unhittable. When it dips under that threshold, batters have a a lot simpler time making contact with authority.

With the form of his fastball wanting higher than ever and his velocity restored, you’d count on that the underlying pitch outcomes would have been excellent within the postseason. That wasn’t essentially the case:

Cristian Javier, Fastball Outcomes

Dates Whiff% Exhausting Hit% wOBA xwOBA Run Worth
2021 26.20% 50.90% 0.354 0.396 0.4
2022 27.10% 38.70% 0.266 0.265 21.8
Early 2023 25.20% 37.20% 0.332 0.337 7.3
Late 2023 28.30% 47.90% 0.327 0.356 4.3
Postseason 2023 22.40% 39.10% 0.327 0.381 0.9

It’s an admittedly small pattern — simply 115 fastballs in three begins — however he didn’t see a dramatic change in fortunes along with his four-seamer regardless of the improved bodily traits. His whiff charge dropped a bit, his wOBA allowed barely budged, and his anticipated wOBA shot up.

Let’s get again to Javier’s Sport 7 begin. He threw simply 15 fastballs in that outing on Monday, and so they had the very best common induced vertical break of any single begin in his profession, a whopping 21.1 inches of journey. You’d suppose that with that sort of form to his fastball, he would have carved by the Rangers’ lineup, however Texas’ hitters have been as much as the problem and chased him early. Right here’s how Martín Maldonado described Javier’s begin in a postgame interview:

“His [velocity] was up. His command wasn’t nice. His off-speed pitches weren’t sharp. I really feel like they’d an excellent recreation plan in opposition to him. I really feel like he was a bit amped up. … I believed he tried to do an excessive amount of.”

Texas’ recreation plan was evident from the primary swing of the sport by Marcus Semien.

In a 1–0 rely, Semien swings over a excessive fastball and kilos it into the bottom; that was the one out Javier recorded that night time. The Rangers knew to count on a flat fastball up within the zone and tailor-made their swings to get on high of the pitch. The outcome was 4 balls in play launched with a median exit velocity of 99.3 mph.

Right here’s Javier’s pitch chart from that night time:

Maldonado’s evaluation appears spot on; Javier letting his fastball fly helped him add a little bit of velocity but additionally led to a bunch of misses up above the zone. Nonetheless, the pitches that have been put into play weren’t that horrible. The fastball that Corey Seager launched for a house run might have been barely larger within the zone, however it’s nonetheless in a location that will have generated loads of whiffs all through Javier’s profession; it was under no circumstances a mistake pitch. And with the quantity of journey he was getting on his fastball, you’d count on to see much more swings below his heater. It’s a credit score to Rangers hitters for executing their recreation plan to perfection in opposition to a pitcher throwing what may need been his finest stuff of the season.

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