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Shawn Estes and the Dodgers' LOOGY Experiment

Shawn Estes accepted an assignment to the Dodger's minor league camp, where he will attempt a conversion

"I'm going over there to pitch out of the bullpen," said Estes. "I'll pitch [on Tuesday], probably pitch on back-to-back days, then come back to the Major League club for the last week. I kind of like it; I'm kind of excited. It could be a new phase of my career."

Estes got his work today, and Rotoinfo had this note:

Shawn Estes, on a crash course to become a situational left-hander, relieved Schmidt and allowed two unearned runs on one hit in one inning.

Hmm, not a lot to go on.  I'll speculate instead.  Using PITCHf/x, of course.

Estes seems like an unlikely reliever.  A junkball lefty, Estes is mostly a sinker "and the  rest" pitcher.  His cutter did make a comeback in 2008, during his second stint with the Padres. 

# mph pfx_x pfx_z deg rpm
Change-Up (CH) 102 83.3 6.8 7.0 135.5 1,188.0
Curveball (CU) 73 73.5 -2.6 -5.5 153.1 648.8
Sinker (F2) 426 89.7 8.4 7.3 130.0 1,426.8
Fastball (F4) 96 89.9 5.6 10.0 149.6 1,464.5
Cutter (FC) 16 85.8 2.9 7.0 157.1 938.1


These three graphs break down Estes' pitch selection by start - the last two are split by LHH/RHH.


I broke the lines so you can easily see the May vs. September games.  The #'s in parantheses are the total # of pitches for that date.  In the next two charts, that number, and the rates, are isolated by batter hand.


The LHH pitch counts range from 2 to 49, so these percentages are dicey.


The cutter, rarely used, was oddly effective - it seemed to fool hitters quite a bit.  More on that in a bit.

Estes labored in 2008, falling behind hitters on over half their plate appearances (54%).  Not exactly a great characteristic for a relief pitcher.  The problem was there for all of his pitches - except the cutter.  Of which there were just 16, and only 4 thrown on a 0-0 count.



OK, so Estes fails one test, IMO - he falls behind too many hitters, both right- and left-handed (although the distribution across pitches is different).  Fine, but does he have an out pitch? His 50% GB rate isn't enough to get me excited - he needs to miss some bats, especially since he tends to fall behind.

Starting with righties, here are swing and whiff rates for Estes in 2008, by pitch type:


The curveball gets observed a lot, but sports the best whiff rate.  Estes' change also does well.  Neither are spectacular, but both are solid.


That lefty-vs-lefty change-up is effective. I'll give him that. 

Here's what Estes will go to on two-strike counts:

RHH Ball Strike Change Curve Sinker Fastball Cutter
20 0 2 0.100 0.000 0.700 0.200 0.000
33 1 2 0.061 0.394 0.333 0.152 0.061
37 2 2 0.162 0.108 0.568 0.135 0.027
27 3 2 0.148 0.037 0.741 0.037 0.037
LHH Ball Strike Change Curve Sinker Fastball Cutter
9 0 2 0.111 0.333 0.556 0.000 0.000
15 1 2 0.067 0.200 0.733 0.000 0.000
15 2 2 0.133 0.067 0.733 0.067 0.000
7 3 2 0.286 0.000 0.714 0.000 0.000


Why no 0-2 curves to righties?  Seems to break a pattern.  I should also note, there don't appear to be any actual 3rd strike change-ups to lefties by Estes in 2008, just to righties.  Is that really an out pitch?

So, Estes as a LOOGY.  I'm not so sure.  He's not someone you want to bring in with the bases jacked, that's for sure.  Maybe long relief, but a situational specialist sounds like a stretch.