The New and Improved Drew Pomeranz

Drew Pomeranz joined the Red Sox halfway through the 2016 season.  He had been having a very good season for San Diego, but was mediocre for the Red Sox in the regular season, and outright bad in the post-season. This may have been due to a low-level injury, since Pomeranz underwent stem-cell injections in his elbow for “discomfort” in the off-season. If so, the treatment seems to have helped: So far in 2017, he has been Boston’s second-best starting pitcher.  In 25 starts in 2017, Pomeranz has a 13-4 record, with a 3.18 ERA (143 ERA+) and 1.338 WHIP. He has improved through the season, with his ERA dropping from month to month; in his four games in August, his ERA is 1.66.  

ESPN’s Cy Young predictor suggests that Pomeranz is fourth most likely to win the American League Cy Young award this year.  With Chris Sale and Corey Kluber both ahead of him, that still makes him a very long shot, but shows how well he has pitched.  You could ask for fewer walks (his BB9 of 3.44, while slightly better than his career average, is 12th-worst among qualified pitchers this year) and — related to the walks — going deeper into games; he has only finished the seventh inning once this season.  He also has fairly significant platoon splits, with right-handed batters putting up just a .653 OPS against him while lefties OPSed .894. This has improved somewhat over the season, but even after the All-Star break left-handed batters have had a .825 OPS against him, .215 points higher than righties.

We gave a detailed analysis of Pomeranz’s pitches entering 2017, and it’s interesting to compare his approach this year to last year.  Briefly, he has become more of a two-pitch pitcher — fastball/curve — by reducing the use of the cutter he began experimenting with last year, as well as using his changeup less; he has also been more aggressive with his curve, throwing it more in the strike zone and even when behind in the count.  

What he throws. Pomeranz’s repertoire hasn’t changed since last year; he still throws a four-seam fastball (“FF”), cutter (“FC”), changeup (“CH”), and knuckle curve (“KC”).  His fastball velocity has averaged 91.6 mph this year, virtually identical to last year.   

Pomeranz’s curve is unusually fast at 79.5 mph.  Its movement is also unusual; although the pitch has only moderate horizontal movement, it has extreme vertical drop, third-most among left-handed pitchers who threw at least 100 curves this season (Pomeranz is the red dot in the charts below).

Pitch usage and trends. In 2016, Pomeranz was experimenting with adding the cutter to his repertoire, and used it very differently over the course of the season.  In the middle of the year, he was using his cutter fairly extensively, but backed off toward the end of the year, almost completely abandoning it by the end of the season. Similarly, he used his changeup relatively often in the first half of 2016, but reduced its use in the second half

In 2017, Pomeranz seems to have settled on keeping both the cutter and the changeup in his arsenal, but only as occasional pitches rather than major tools; both together only make up 8.4% of his pitches, with his fastball (54.7%) and knuckle curve (36.9%) being by far his most common pitches.  The changeup has almost entirely been used against right-handed batters, who also see more curves (40.4%, compared to 24.6% to left-handed batters). Pomeranz has great confidence in his curve, using it almost as often when behind in the count as when ahead (36.3% vs 36.7% respectively).  

Looking at his repertoire game by game, Pomeranz started the season almost ignoring the cutter, but after a half-dozen games he added it back into his pitch mix and has used it fairly consistently since then.  His velocity has improved slightly over the season; his fastball increased from 91.4 to 92.1 mph, and his curve has gone from 79.1 to 80.3 mph.

Pitch value. Both of Pomeranz’s major pitches, his four-seam fastball and his knuckle curve, are just about at or slightly better than league average in terms of both total bases yielded per 100 pitches, and balls per 100 pitches.  The curve is the source of his significant platoon splits, with left-handed batters hitting much better against it than righties, explaining why he uses the pitch less against lefties.  Looking at his minor pitches, his cutter is slightly better against lefties than righties, while his changeup has not yielded any hits at all in 2017, albeit at the cost of a very high rate of balls — 28 of the 38 changeups he has thrown this season have been balls.

 The extreme vertical movement on his curve allows him to get a very high rate of ground balls on the pitch — 60.5% of hits off his curves are grounders, compared to the average of 47.3% — and helps him induce double plays; Pomeranz is tied for 6th in baseball for double plays.  

Pitch location. While the location of Pomeranz’s four-seam fastball has not changed much since last season — mainly toward the top of the strike zone — his curve location has changed somewhat.  Whereas in 2016, Pomeranz tended to throw his curve right at the bottom of the zone, often dropping out of the zone altogether,  in 2017 he has moved the pitch up a few inches so that it is very likely to be a strike.

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About Ian York 208 Articles
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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