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« The less than perfect Jose Valverde | Main | Posey Pummeling Fastballs, Sinkers »

Carlos Villanueva: Strikeout Artist?

The 2012 season has been rife with crooked numbers -- and elbows -- for the Toronto Blue Jays' starting rotation. The Jays rank 10th in the American League in starter ERA, with Ricky Romero imploding and the likes of Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison undergoing Tommy John surgery. It hasn't been all bad for Toronto, though. Carlos Villanueva, thrust into the rotation once trips to Dr. Andrews became a weekly affair in the Jays clubhouse, has emerged as an unlikely strikeout artist.

Villanueva has punched out 79 batters in 85 innings pitched as a starter, posting a 3.49 ERA in the process. He's making hitters miss as often as aces like Felix Hernandez and Chris Sale:

Highest Miss Rate among AL Starting Pitchers (Min. 1,000 pitches thrown)

Pitcher Miss Pct.
Francisco Liriano 31.2%
Yu Darvish 28.6%
Max Scherzer 28.2%
Matt Moore 27.1%
Justin Verlander 25.6%
CC Sabathia 25.4%
Jason Hammel 25.2%
Zach Britton 24.7%
James Shields 24.4%
Felix Hernandez 24.4%
Chris Sale 24.3%
Carlos Villanueva 24.2%
Jarrod Parker 23.8%
Kyle Drabek 23.6%
Freddy Garcia 23.4%
AL Avg. for SP 20.6%


The 29-year-old righty is hardly a prototypical power pitcher, sitting around 88 MPH with his fastball and mixing in breaking and off-speed stuff (changeups, sliders and curves) more than half of the time. Villanueva's cornucopia of secondary pitches seems to help his modest fastball play up, getting lots of swings and misses:

Villanueva's miss rate by pitch

Pitch Pct. Thrown Miss Pct. AL Avg. for SP
Fastball 47.1 19.1 14.5
Changeup 23.2 22.9 29.3
Slider 18.4 37.7 32.2
Curveball 11.3 18.2 29.6


Finesse repertoire or not, Villanueva gets whiffs both when he pounds hitters at the knees and when he throws one near the letters. Here's his contact rate by pitch location as a starter:

Villanueva's contact rate by pitch location

Batters come up empty 33.3% of the time that they swing at Villanueva's low stuff (31.2% AL average for starters), and 23.4% when he challenges them high in the zone (19% average). During a season in which most everything else has just plain broken, Villanueva's breakout is a welcome sight amid all those surgical scars.

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