What's behind Bastardo's struggles?
We’re probably never again going to see the Antonio Bastardo who had a 1.42 ERA and a potentially record-setting opponents’ batting average through the end of August last season. That Bastardo was at a level few relievers have ever reached.
This Bastardo is markedly different.
Since Sept. 1, 2011, Bastardo has a 6.39 ERA, a 1.51 WHIP and has walked 28 men in 43 2/3 innings.
What changed, exactly? Charlie Manuel said after Wednesday’s meltdown, in which Bastardo allowed three runs and took the loss, that confidence is the lefty’s problem. That’s surely a part of it. But so is the easy answer: strike-throwing.
Bastardo has thrown a first-pitch strike to just 83 of the 158 batters he’s faced this season. That’s a 52.5 percent success rate, almost eight percentage points lower than the league average. Last year he was at 60.4 percent first-pitch strikes.
How much of a difference do first-pitch strikes matter to the wild Bastardo? The opposition is hitting .154 with three walks and 35 strikeouts after a 0-1 count. After a 1-0 count, they’re hitting .196 with 18 walks and 15 strikeouts.
The comment made all season has been that Bastardo isn’t throwing as hard. He’s down from a 92.5 mph average fastball to 91.7. But that isn’t all. Batters are simply laying off his slider now. On Wednesday, Bastardo got ahead of Freddie Freeman 0-2, then threw three straight sliders and missed with all of them. Freeman wound up walking to set up Dan Uggla’s game-winning three-run double.
In 2011, batters swung at 35 percent of Bastardo’s pitches outside the zone, according to Fangraphs. This year, that number is 28 percent. It’s a big difference.
Ricky Bottalico said on Phillies Postgame Live Wednesday that the Phillies cannot wait on Bastardo to regain his confidence. But in a lost season with so few logical late-inning solutions, you have to keep throwing Bastardo out there.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that what we’re seeing this year is a mirage. It’s an indication that Bastardo isn’t the lights-out, Mike Adams-type we saw in 2011.
And unless he can start locating that slider or throwing effective get-me-over fastballs for strike one, who knows if he can be a successful setup man in this league? E-mail Corey Seidman at firstname.lastname@example.org