Monday, May 14, 2012

Concerns with Pavano's velocity continue to mount

Word came out over the weekend that Carl Pavano underwent an MRI on his right shoulder to see if there was anything wrong with this important area for his throwing arm. The report came back saying he has a strained interior shoulder capsule and he could need a cortisone shot after his start on Monday night. At this point, he is not expected to miss any time for the Twins but he is sending his MRI to another doctor for a second opinion to make sure it is nothing serious.

The reason for all of this concern around Pavano has been the large decrease in his velocity to start the 2012 campaign. Sometimes it can take pitchers a few starts to ramp up their velocity at the beginning of the year but he has already made seven starts this season for the Twins. Most of the offseason rust should be gone by now and his velocity should be closer to normal. This wasn't the case and the Twins needed to find some answers in relation to Pavano.

During the last five years of his career, Pavano has averaged a fastball at 89.7 mph and last year he sat around 88.7 mph for the season. Velocity is usually going to drop as a player starts to get older and he has more wear and tear on his throwing arm. The problem for Pavano and the Twins has been the fact that the 36-year old pitcher has seen a drop in his fastball velocity to around 86.1 mph. This large drop in velocity can make a pitcher very ineffective against professional hitters and the results have shown on the field.

In the last two seasons, Pavano has been the workhorse of the Twins pitching staff by throwing over 220 inning in 2010 and 2011. His ERA and WHIP have gone up in each of the last two years but he has 10 complete games and three shutouts during that time frame. His consistency was something the Twins could count on in the Target Field era and he could have put up much better numbers last season with a competent defensive unit behind him.

The Twins seem to have a better defense lined up behind Pavano this year with the additions of Jamey Carroll and Brian Dozier. So if he was able to generate more ground balls, the defensive should be able to make the plays for Pavano to be successful. His first two full seasons with the Twins saw Pavano generate ground balls over 50% of the time. He has seen that number drop significantly to 44.8% in his seven starts so far for the Twins in 2012. The Twins outfield defense has some holes this year so the increase in fly balls from Pavano could also be a concern. 

With his drop in velocity, Pavano has been forced to change in pitching philosophy on the mound. For his career, Pavano has thrown fastballs as 62.0% of his pitches, sliders for 18.6% of the time, and change ups for 18.3% of his throws. His age and change in velocity have forced him to rely more on his off-speed pitches in the last two seasons and this switch has continued so far this year. His fastball has lost some velocity and Pavano has spent less time throwing his heater (58.2%) and started to throw more of his change up (25.4%).

The mounting struggles for Pavano make it hard not to think about his future in baseball. The aging pitcher is not under contract for next season and his time as an impact starter might already be behind him. There is still plenty of time left in the season for Pavano to iron out the kinks with his shoulder issue but age can make recovery harder for a pitcher.

Baseball has seen Jamie Moyer defy age and injuries to pitch in the starting rotation for the Rockies at age 49. With all the openings the Twins will have in their rotation for next year, the Twins can only hope that Pavano is able follow in the footsteps of Moyer and continue to pitch effectively as he gets closer to 40-years old.

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