Cause of Chris Hatcher’s struggles hard to pinpoint

Chris Hatcher is bad. It’s hard to admit, seeing as he was good with Miami and good for most of last season. But this season, it’s an entirely different story.

This is odd because I looked at all kinds of data and other information and I couldn’t nail down exactly why he has been so bad this season. He gets in trouble when he uses his fastball too much, but the release point has been somewhat consistent the velocity is still in the mid-90s. He’s getting ground balls at a career-best rate (58.8 percent), has allowed just 8.8 percent of the balls put in play against him to be classified as line drives and has the ninth-lowest exit velocity against of any pitcher (not just reliever) in baseball at 84.8 MPH. All this would indicate a pitcher having a solid-to-great season so far. But it clearly does not.

Last year, his horizontal release point got him into trouble in the season’s first two months.

“… his release point has shifted horizontally and dipped vertically from even last month, but even more so from last season (when he was really good). His delivery isn’t such that it should be hard to repeat it, but he is definitely out of sorts with it so far this season. When a release point is inconsistent, the pitcher’s mechanics are not clean and he’s liable to open up his front half and begin to miss the intended target. Both release points are significantly off from last season, and Rick Honeycutt and Co., have some work to do.”

So far, that hasn’t been the mechanical reason for his struggles.

Chris Hatcher h-release point 5.2.16

But the biggest red flag this season is his strikeout and walk percentage.

2015
27.1 K% (career-best)
7.8 BB%
19.3 K-BB% (Top 50 among MLB relievers)

2016
18.5 K%
16.7 BB%
1.9 K-BB% (17th-worst among MLB relievers)

This is all kinds of bad. Hatcher’s command, which wasn’t exactly plus-plus to begin with, is all but gone. He cannot throw strikes and make hitters miss his pitches consistently. This is a problem and is supported by plate discipline stats from FanGraphs.

Hatcher’s swinging strike rate is down to 7.4 percent. It was 12.6 percent last season. His O-Contact% (contact on pitches outside the strike zone) is up by almost 17 percent. His Z-Contact% (contact on pitches inside the strike zone) is up almost 7 percent (and jives with the reduced whiff rate). His contact rate is up 10 percent and his first-pitch strike percentage is down 12 percent. Hitters are swinging at better pitches from Hatcher, which isn’t hard when you’re down 1-0 in the count more times than you aren’t.

All these factor into massive struggles for the Dodger reliever. Aside from his fastball, he’s not getting whiffs on his other pitches.

Chris Hatcher whiff 5.2.16

His slider whiff rate is an abysmal 3.5 percent and his splitter is 7.7 percent (down from 26.2 last season). And of the 18 cutters he has thrown in 2016, zero have been swinging strikes. The spin rate on his cutter is 2,452 RPM, 15th-highest in baseball (minimum 10 pitches). So, it’s strange that he hasn’t gotten any whiffs on the pitch yet.

The off-speed stuff has backed up in terms of effectiveness and command/control. The velocity is down overall, but not enough to be worrisome.

Chris Hatcher velo 5.2.16

What’s even more head-scratching is he has given up just three hits on his non-fastballs (two singles and a home run). Opposing hitters have a .308 batting average and .692 slugging percentage against Hatcher’s fastball. He also has issued five walks on plate appearances ending with a fastball.

Perhaps he’s tipping his pitches. This is something Daniel has thought about, but there isn’t much to back it up. But it’s strange for a good reliever with swing-and-miss stuff to suddenly become very bad and stop missing bats. It’s hard to prove this with charts and graphs, though.

Whatever his struggles may be, he needs to get them ironed out. And he’s going to have to do it in the majors, unless he comes up with some “injury” to land him on the disabled list, as he is out of options.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.