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Article:Examining the Wizard, 2.0

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So this is almost the same thing we posted the other day. Only we got to thinking and found better tools to think with earlier today. Tonight, vindication is spelled: D-O-M-E-D-O-G-S. If we posted this 4/16/2008 3PM.

This past offseason, Astros fans heard quite often that our starting pitching would be a worrisome aspect of our club. Thirteen games in, the rotation has a total of two wins to show for it's otherwise competent work. For instance, every Astro starter has at least one quality start, except for one. Roy Oswalt has started his ninth major league season with an 0-3 record a 9.00 ERA. He has made no admissions about an injury being the cause (although he was hit with a batted ball in his first start against the Padres), and his fastball has been consistently around 93-94 MPH. Oswalt wondered openly whether or not he was tipping his pitches in last Friday’s loss to Florida. Whatever the case may be, Astros fans, Fantasy owners and the team itself are searching for reasons why one of the most consistent pitchers in the game has struggled to open the season.

For the past few years, writers and broadcasters have come to the conclusion that Roy Oswalt just doesn’t throw that hard anymore. Opinions differed as to whether this was due to declining skills or because he simply changed his philosophy, but this theory is becoming more entrenched in the baseball community. However, looking at his pitches from 2007, seems to indicate that he's still throwing hard. A glance at his average numbers should give 'Stros fans and fantasy owners a like a ray of hope, given that his pitches' speeds (hopefully he gets his location down or discerns whether or not he was tipping his pitches) have been in line with his 2007 averages, and 2007 was certainly a very effective year for Roy.

So why's he struggling then if velocity can't be blamed?

When looking at his career numbers, it is apparent that Roy has declining rate statistics associated with strikeouts]. His walk rate jumped quite a bit in 2007, as evidenced by his sharp decline in K/BB. Besides that however, his statistics are remarkably consistent. Even his much talked about K/9 rate diminished only slightly after a fairly dramatic dip after the 2004 season. Has Oswalt has made an effort to reduce his pitch count by attempting to pitch to contact more, thereby using less pitches to get hitters out? Looking back at his split-season statistics, this hasn’t not been the case. Though, in 2007 this may have been due in large part to the high amount of walks he surrendered, stymying his ability to get contact.

Looking at his small sample of pitches from 2008, we can see that the problem has been his curve ball has SIGNIFICANTLY flattened. In 2007, his legendary curve ball broke, on average, 6.69" away from a right-handed batter, while dropping 6.35". In '08, his curve is breaking a scant 3.45" away from a right-handed batter and only dropping 3.73". Roy has said in a few interviews that he hasn't found the right grip for the pitch this year, and it certainly seems the case. As a result of not being able to use his curve ball effectively, Roy Oswalt is now throwing 5% more fastballs (from 65.53%, to 70.9%). If hitters are getting a steady diet of fastballs, Roy's bound for trouble.

What leads us to believe that his stuff will return and his 2008 struggles end, is his that his PERA from 2005-2007 have been improving (3.98, 3.73, 3.60 respectively) as his PECOTA projections indicate he should be regressing, if ever so slightly. Simply summed, the man is learning how to adjust to the fact that he's not as dominant as he used to be. Roy struggled at times last year to get a grip on his curve, but found his stride. While this is assuredly the worst period of his career, in reality, it's only been 16IP, and we should see him return to form.

For a man that is entrusted with anchoring perhaps the least proven (read: worst) pitching staff in baseball, this is welcome news. Oswalt probably will not achieve the levels of success that he had from 2001-2006, but rumbles concerning his eminent demise seem to be far from the truth, statistically speaking.

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