In December of 2007 the Baltimore Orioles sent Miguel Tejada to Houston, a trade which netted the O’s 5 young players in return. Some of those guys have already come and gone (Matt Albers, Luke Scott) while others never truly made a significant impact on the O’s organization (Dennis Sarfate, Mike Costanzo). One player has been with the Orioles the entire time however, and is just now starting to add some significant value to the major league club.
Troy Patton made his MLB debut in 2007 with Houston throwing 12.2 innings of forgettable relief. That offseason he was acquired by Baltimore, but would then proceed to miss all of the 2008 season with a left labrum tear. Patton started his tenure in Baltimore in Bowie, but split time between AA and AAA in 2009 which lead to him throwing a full season in Norfolk in 2010.
2011 was Patton’s first taste of the majors with Baltimore, a full 4 years after his MLB debut with Houston. Patton threw 30 innings of 3.00 ERA ball in 2011, with what can only be described as a stellar walk rate (1.5 BB/9). In 2012 Patton gave the Orioles 55.2 innings despite a mid-season injury (spraining his ankle while walking through a parking garage), ultimately posting some pretty fantastic numbers in the process. Patton’s 7.92 K/9 and 1.94 BB/9 rates were good for 5th best on the team in both categories, and only Darren O’Day pitched better than Patton in both. Only two O’s pitchers posted better ERA’s than Patton in 2012, with Steve Johnson (2.11) and Darren O’Day (2.28) out-performing Patton’s 2.43 ERA.
2012 was a great year for the young pitcher, but how exactly did he do it? The only pitch that showed significant improvement was his curveball, according to FanGraphs‘ pitch values, which he only used on rare occasions. So that’s not likely to be the cause of the improvement. One interesting point to note is Patton’s release point, which I’ve compared to another lefty Brian Matusz below:
On the left axis is the number of feet away from the center of the rubber (or home plate if you prefer) that Patton releases the ball. In 2012 his release point generally fell between 3.5 and 4 feet from the center of the rubber. Compare that to Brian Matusz’s release point chart below which is much closer to center than you see from Troy Patton.
On the left here you can see that Matusz’s release point generally falls between 0.5 and 2 feet from the center of the rubber (at least in 2012). Position on the mound has kind of been a moving target for Brian, but it at least gives a good idea of how far over Patton’s release is compared to another lefty.
Many things make Patton difficult to hit, but his pitch usage is one of the keys to his performance. In 2012 lefties hit an anemic .211 against him, with righties managing to put up a .219 mark. How does Patton keep batters from both sides of the plate to these low averages? By varying his pitches and keeping hitters off balance.
In the chart to the right you can see the pitch breakdown for Troy Patton in 2012, broken out by the handedness of the batter and the count for the matchup. Against lefties Patton focuses primarily on his fastball-slider combination, especially early in the count. Once the batter falls behind however, Patton abandons his slider in favor of his dominant curveball, his de facto put-away pitch. This is pretty much what you’d expect, typically left handed pitchers with a fastball-slider combo excel in facing batters of the same handedness.
Right-handed hitters however face an altogether different pitch mix with Patton throwing Change-Ups (something he doesn’t throw to Left-handed batters at all) while also mixing in a heavy dose of sinkers to righties. The pitch mix against righties is much more even, and the batter is kept off balance as Patton is willing to throw any pitch (other than the curveball) to right-handers no matter the count.
The reason for bringing all of this up is that some believe Troy Patton can’t replicate his 2012 success because of a .256 BABIP. That however, misses the forest for the trees, and here’s why. Patton posted a K/BB ratio of 5.17 to lefties in 2012; they had a BABIP of .281, much closer to league average. Righties only struck out 17.7% of the time (compared to over 25% for lefties) and it’s clear that Patton simply aimed to induce weak contact; something that right-handed batters obliged while hitting for a .230 BABIP (line drive rates for righties was almost 7% lower than lefties as well). It is because of this that I think Patton’s .256 BABIP wasn’t a fluke. It was, in reality, the function of his differing approaches to batters of different handedness. With lefties getting a lot of sliders and curveballs compared to the sinkers and changeups that righties saw, Patton was making an effort to achieve different results based on his pitch selection.
So what does 2013 look like for Troy Patton? My projection (compared to Bill James as usual) is below: