It’s never the opposite day with Framber Valdez on the hill

© Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first piece of Leo as a FanGraphs Contributor. Leo is a Philadelphia sports fan, but he lives in Toronto, which means he gets the torment of watching. Joe CarterThe 1993 World Championship winner replayed in a recurring episode each time he attended a Phillies match. However, his love for the game has persevered. He has written for sites across the web, including baseball flyer, Inside Phillies, PitcherList, and The Good Phight. He is also a comedian and sometimes tries to confuse baseball with humor. Sometimes things go well. His work is sometimes called a “bad satire” and a “waste of time”.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Framber Valdez It is going through a historical season.

Earlier this year, Justin Choi wrote about Valdez and the historical ratio of the globe to aviation During the first six weeks of the season. Valdez has always been good at making balls and limiting flyaways, but his 10.00Gb/FB ratio during his first seven starts was on another level.

Unsurprisingly, Valdez himself is on another level, too. Through May 18, he scored a 2.93 ERA and 3.33 FIP in 40 rounds. It completes its journey from the average satisfaction probability to the beginning of the rotation peak. Globes have always been his superpowers, and Flying Balls have been kryptonite for a long time, so it made perfect sense that he was thriving after increasing his GB/FB ratio. However, since mid-May, its GB/FB ratio has slowly returned to Earth. It now sits at 4.20, which is still definitely excellent, but not exactly a sky scraper. However, Valdez still has a historical season – in a different way.

On Sunday afternoon, the Houston Astros’ left-back made his 25th straight start, setting a new league record. Sure, quality starts aren’t the strongest metric for evaluating novice shooters, but that’s beside the point here. Don’t make 25 consecutive starts (and it counts) if you’re not a good player. Indeed, Valdes has been fantastic this season. He made his first All-Star team, set a major league record, and thrived to become one of the top bowlers in the MLS.

However, it was no longer simply because of his globe-to-flyball ratio. He still leads the league in this metric, but since mid-May, his GB/FB ratio has been significantly below his career average. He allows fewer balls on the ground and more balls in the air, but he has found a way to prevent those balls in the air from hurting him. What is his secret?

It protects the corresponding field. Over the past 12 starts, Valdez has been allowing noticeably less field contact, especially on balls that are hit in the air. So far, this action plan has yielded tremendous results:

Graph showing the rolling drawdown percentage for five Framer Valdez games and the average Oppo%

Most shooters tend to have better results on opposing field contact and worse results on pull contact. However, Valdez is the other way around (how many synonyms for “opposite” can I find before finishing this article?). The corresponding field contact has always been a problem for him. Throughout his career, he has been one of the worst shooters in baseball when hitting balls in the other direction. But in balls drawn, the opposite is true. Since Valdez debuted, no bowler (at least 300 balls in play) has allowed lower hitting average, slowdown, or wOBA on contact with drag:

wOBA Framber Valdez on contact

year wOBA is OPPO wOBA on raffle
2019 .422 .413
2020 .428 .303
2021 .585 .226
2022 .440 .241

Valdez managed to survive despite his unusual weakness by limiting adverse field contact in favor of hitting the drag side. In 2021, only 19% of the balls played against him went to the opposite court. More than half the times, those hitters fell for one hit, but Valdez could have taken that burden because it allowed for the opposite field contact a lot less than the average bowler. This year, the South has moved up a bit. Since July 9, the corresponding field contact rate has steadily decreased. More and more balls that are put into play against him are drawn or hit straight in the middle. During the first three months of the season, Valdes allowed an opposite percentage of 24.7%, close to the league average. Since then, only 14.9% of the balls played against him have gone in the opposite direction. This number ranks first in the AL by a wide margin.

For most shooters, this could be a disaster, but this is the Framber Valdez we’re talking about. Man thrives when contact withdraws. Since the corresponding field ratio has begun to decline, he has ranked second among AL shooters in the innings held and fourth in the WAR. Every outing, as we know, was off to a good start. He averages over seven innings per appearance.

In the first half of the year, 14 runs were allowed to score on balls that hit the corresponding field. Since then, two are allowed. No wonder he was able to dig deeper into the games.

Perhaps most impressively, Valdes has not allowed a single home race since July 3. In the first three months of the season, four were allowed. Of course, some of that can be turned into luck – Valdez still allows several hard-hit fly balls to the opposite field, and eventually one of those balls will go over the fence – but by keeping the sample small, he has put himself in a position to take advantage of that good fortune.

And speaking of good luck, Valdez ranked third among all shooters in the Outs Above Average while on the hill. He’s benefited from a great defense behind him, more than almost any other bowler in baseball. Some might attribute it to good management or simply good luck, but in this case, Valdes also deserves some credit for promoting in a way that helps ensure good defensive results.

The type of contact Valdez allows varies depending on how his defense is set up. When the Astros are lined up in a traditional way (i.e. unchanged), their corresponding field percentage is not much lower than the league average (it has remained constant throughout the season). But when a shift occurs in Houston, Valdez learns to severely limit adverse field contact:

Tennis direction in Framber Valdez with shift

Period of time OPPO% cent% Withdrawal. tighten%
April 7 – July 3 25.3% 33.5% 41.1%
July 9 – so far 10.2% 39.8% 50.0%

When the Astros move, Valdes never lets the ball go the other way. This means his defense can focus almost exclusively on the drag side of the field. It works. Since July 9, balls hit center or drawn to turn against Valdez have had a meager 0.186 wOBA—and those hits make up 90% of the contact he allowed in that time. that’s cool. Valdes has an impressive group of field players behind him, and he’s learned to play alongside them. In general, it is a great recipe for success.

Now that we know the recipe, it’s time to think about the ingredients. What does Valdez do differently to achieve these results?

Well, to make my job a lot easier, Valdez implemented a change to his arsenal around the same time that the corresponding domain contact rate started to drop. In July, the new slider/cutter became an even more important part of his pitch mix, especially against left-handed hitters:

Rolling rate for ten Framber Valdez games in 2022

The pitch, which some sources classify as a passer and others as a breaker, was a new one for Valdes this season. He introduced it early in the year, just gave it a try at first and slowly became more comfortable with it during the first three months of the season. Recently, it has become a major weapon. His pass/cutter rate since July 9 is double what it was during the first three months of the season. He even started throwing it more regularly against right-handed hitters.

And what do you know? As it turned out, the opponents never hit the Valdez breaker / slider to the corresponding field. You can probably count on the one hand how many of those hits your opponents hit in the other direction. This pitch goes a long way in explaining how Valdez managed to limit opposite field contact from the left hand:

Slider cutter positions Framber Valdez on balls in play
Via Baseball Savant

As for the right-handed hitters, whom Valdes is likely to face anyway, the situation is a bit more complicated. There isn’t a single obvious change in his arsenal, but he’s been tossing some curveballs, alterations and sliders/breakers against the right during the second half of the season. All three of these pitches were likely to lead to a withdrawal of contact. Additionally, Valdez throws his heavy a little less, and his diver tends to make more opposite field contact than his other pitches.

In addition to changing his stadium mix, Valdez has also changed his stadium locations. Specifically, he was throwing both his diver and his change close to the inside of the board against the right. As common wisdom tells us, hitters are unlikely to send indoor courts to the opposite field.

Framber Valdez Sinker and the heat change map

Framber Valdez Sinker and the heat change map

There may be more to Framber Valdez’s new approach against the right-wingers than a modest drop in fastball use and a slight shift toward the inner edge of the board, but if there is, you’d better believe Valdes and the Houston Astros are keeping that secret. on the jacket. This new approach has been working very well for them so far. Whatever he’s doing, Valdez is clearly changing his game plan to reduce adverse field contact, and it’s clearly working.

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