Astros: Framber Valdez is throwing this pitch more, but why?

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Even in a dominant win from a team, there will be holes and key points worth discussing. The Houston Astros ran up seven runs to the Boston Red Sox’s one, but even in a quality start from Framber Valdez, the left-hander has made a noticeable adjustment compared to last season that looks questionable.

At the dish, Carlos Correa continues his tear through the American League in route to boost his free agency stock. Yordan Alvarez broke out of a home run drought, as he rained his first long ball since May 12. The offense was explosive against Martin Perez, while Michael Brantley made his return to the lineup from the injured list.

With recent success off the IL, Framber Valdez has made a noticeable change in his pitch selection.

Through seven innings (90 pitches) on Tuesday, Valdez surrendered one run on five hits with eight strikeouts. The left-hander is in essence still in a spring training spot coming off an injury, but at this level of endurance, it is evident that Valdez is ramping himself up nicely. Even in his third start back, he has a 1.50 ERA in 18.1 innings of work.

With this recent success, command looked to be an issue the second time through the order, but this makes sense for a guy coming off an injury. Valdez still goes to his curve ball with two strikes and produces sliders 58% of the time, while the ground ball pitcher is still finding soft contact.

Valdez’s start did look a little off on Tuesday, so with the help of Baseball Savant, it shows that the left-hander has made an adjustment in his pitch usage. This could be something coaches, Martin Maldonado or even Valdez, himself, are looking to, but the left-hander is throwing his fastball at a higher rate compared to his 2020 campaign.

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In the ’20 season, Valdez threw his 4-seam fastball at a 2% rate (21 pitches) that led to an opposing batting average of .000, which makes sense in such a small usage. While coming off a finger injury, the left-hander is moving away from his changeup (9.7% in ’20) to this fastball. This is speculation, but most pitchers throw their changeups differently, as it requires more stretching of your dominant fingers. While this is a theory, it could make sense to minimize the usage of a pitch that takes a lot out of a pitcher’s hand.

This increase in fastball usage has jumped to a 9.2% rate (16 pitches). This is a big jump in a smaller sample size, but as he nears his 2020 threshold, the fastball isn’t treating Valdez kindly. Hitters are slashing 1.000 against it, while it looks like an automatic hit when connected with. There are only two hits under its usage, but it goes past that. The exit velocity tacked onto Valdez’s fastball is his only pitch averaging 90+ MPH at 105.8.

Valdez’s fastball is also sitting in the middle of the zone this year, rather than his corner painting in 2020. This slight change in usage has led to the hard hit balls that Valdez has granted to opposing hitters this year. While this isn’t an issue at the moment, it is worth noting that the left-hander still lives by his offspeed magic.

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The boos will continue, even from a fanbase in the same boat as that of the Astros. Houston will hit the diamond at Fenway again on Wednesday at 6:10 p.m. with Jake Odorizzi on the mound. Lance McCullers Jr. and Jason Castro are both nearing returns to the roster, while they rehab their respected injuries.