Why Did Matt Wisler Get Demoted?

The Atlanta Braves have had a pitiful season, but one of their bright spots through May was one of their young, right-handed pitchers.  The former top prospect has struggled lately, however, which has led to a change of scenery. Ian York uses PITCHf/x and his unique charts to look at what happened to Matt Wisler over the last eight weeks that now has him pitching for the Gwinnett Braves.

The Atlanta Braves shipped underperforming starter Matt Wisler to the minors on July 29. Despite starting the season very well (3.16 ERA, 1.01 WHIP in 10 starts through the end of May), he abruptly became a very bad pitcher in June and July (7.71 ERA, 1.77 WHIP in 10 starts). Wisler’s struggles are not surprising, as he is only 23 years old and in just his second full year of major-league baseball.

Wisler throws a typical starter’s repertoire: four-seam fastball (“FF”), two-seam fastball (“FT”), slider (“SL”), changeup (“CH”), and curve (“CU”). There is little clear distinction between his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, and in these charts I have merged the two fastballs together and call them all “FF”.

His pitch usage in 2016 has changed slightly since 2015, especially to left-handed batters, to whom he is throwing more sliders and fewer changeups this year. To right-handed batters, he basically offers only two pitches, very rarely showing the changeup or curve.

Interestingly, his pitch usage has changed over the season, and he has almost abandoned his curve in recent games.

Did Wisler stop using his curve because it was his weakest pitch? During his last 10-game stretch, his curve has indeed been extremely vulnerable, a major change from the beginning of the year when it was all but unhittable.

However, cutting back on his curve in June and July didn’t solve Wisler’s summer doldrums, since his bread-and-butter fastball and slider also deteriorated during that period. Although his changeup has been hard to hit in his recent shaky stretch, it isn’t a very solid pitch since Wisler only throws about half of his changeups for strikes – much worse than league average.

Wisler has blamed some of his lack of effectiveness on pitching out of the stretch. With men on base his changeup has been even harder to locate, with a balls-per-100-pitches rate of 64.7 compared to an unimpressive 53.4 with the bases empty. (The league average for changeups is 37.5 balls per 100 pitches.)

Wisler’s rookie season and first two months this year showed that he has the potential to be an effective major-league pitcher. With this demotion, the Braves hope that he can work out his issues with his off-speed and breaking pitches in the minor leagues. These are things that most pitchers his age do have to work on, and Wisler’s struggles are only unusual in that most pitchers his age have never sniffed the big leagues, let alone pitched in the majors for a year and a half.


Ian York uses the PITCHf/x to monitor the strike zone, highlights great performances, monitors league-wide trends and tracks the performances of some interesting young hitters.

Follow Ian on Twitter @iayork.

All data compiled from PITCHf/x and Baseball-Reference.com.

Featured image courtesy of mlb.com

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Ian is an immunologist and virologist who lives in Atlanta with his wife and two sons. Most of his time is spent driving his kids to baseball and soccer games, during which he indoctrinates his children on the glories of Pedro Martinez, the many virtues of the Montreal Expos, and other important information.

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