This past Saturday, Drew Pomeranz took the mound to make his second start of the season for the Rockies. He pitched five innings, allowing two earned runs off of two hits and three walks, while striking out six. On the surface, there isn’t anything incredibly impressive about that stat line, but there is a lot about Pomeranz’s performance that should make Rockies fans feel much better about his potential than they did following his first start.
Through the first four innings of his start, Pomeranz pitched flawlessly. He did not allow a baserunner, and struck out 6 Brewers while throwing just 45 pitches. Now, he did suffer a bit of a mini meltdown in the 5th inning, but we’ll get to that later. First, I want to take a look at what made him so dominant in those first four innings.
Pomeranz’s early success in the game was derived almost entirely from the effectiveness of his fastball. In his first start of the year, in which he struggled mightily, his fastball was hammered as he continually left it up in the strike zone and wasn’t throwing it with much zip. That day his average fastball velocity was 89.55 mph, and it maxed out at 91.9 mph. Even more troublesome, however, was his inability to locate the pitch. Below is the PitchFX chart from Pomeranz’s first start.
The green square represent Pomeranz’s fastball, and it’s not hard to see why he struggled. This strike zone plot is littered with fastballs that were left up and far too close to the middle of the zone. What’s more, he threw 68 fastballs and only induced three swinging strikes.
Now, let’s take a look at the PitchFX chart from Pomeranz’s most recent start on Saturday, excluding pitches thrown in the 5th inning.
As the chart shows, Pomeranz did a fantastic job of keeping his fastball away from the middle of the plate and boring it in on the hands of right handed hitters. His fastball velocity was also up a tick, averaging 90.30 mph and maxing out at 92.5 mph, and he managed to coax 8 swinging strikes with the pitch. Watching the game, it was clear that the Brewers’ right handed hitters were rather overwhelmed by Pomeranz’s fastball, as they consistently took weak swings at the pitch and were unable to make much solid contact. Watching him throw was very reminiscent of watching Madison Bumgarner, who is a master of effectively pounding the inside corner against right handed hitters. Pomeranz also complemented the effectiveness of his fastball by keeping hitters off balance with his curve, which he threw 18 times, 8 of which went as called strikes.
So, what kind of adjustments did Pomeranz make in order to improve the effectiveness of his fastball? It’s hard to say exactly what he did differently, but the PitchFX data seems to suggest that a change in his release point may have had something to do with it.
Pomeranz seems to have made a concerted effort to lower his release point slightly, as well as maintain it more consistently throughout the game, an adjustment which very well may have contributed to his improved location.
Now, I realize that up to this point I have been skirting around the fact that Pomeranz came a bit unhinged during the 5th inning of Saturday’s start, but I don’t think he should be judged too harshly for his performance in that frame. He began the 5th by walking the first batter on four pitches, and became visibly rattled almost immediately. From that point on, his previously impeccable command became spotty and he struggled to regain his composure. My hunch is that Pomeranz lost focus after allowing his first base runner because he was so concerned about allowing another flurry of stolen bases as he had done against the Diamondbacks. He looked uncomfortable out of the stretch as he attempted to speed up his delivery time to the plate. I’m hopeful that with a few more starts under his belt, his ability to hold runners and pitch out of the stretch will naturally improve, as well as his ability to keep cool in high stress innings.
Overall, Rockies fans should feel good about Pomeranz’s performance on Saturday. He’s still very young and has a lot to improve on, but future success should be in the cards if he can keep throwing his fastball like he did on Saturday.