Reed became the closer for the Chicago White Sox during 2012, his rookie season. He ended the year with a better FIP and xFIP than ERA and showed some promise. That season, Reed’s fastball was 94.6 MPH. He threw it 75% of the time, while throwing his slider only 13.8%. He also mixed in a changeup 11.2% of the time. The following season, things began to transform. Reed’s fastball decreased not only in usage, but in velocity. He threw the heater at a 60.8% clip, which is almost a 15% drop. The average velo of the fastball fell to 92.8 MPH. Certainly a 93 mile per hour four-seamer is enough to get out big league hitters, but a 24-year-old reliever losing two miles on his fastball during his second full big league season isn’t only concerning, but out of character.
Reed also made a change in his pitch mix. He increased the use of his slider to 32.6%. There has been countless research that discusses how a heavy reliance on breaking pitches (over 30% would qualify) can increase the risk of injury.
Reed’s Zone percentage went from 57.6% to 52.9%, and a lower Zone% could lead to injury. Of course, the righty threw a ton more sliders and more than half were out of the zone. But he also managed to miss more with the fastball in 2013 (56.5 Zone%) than he did in 2012 (65.4 Zone%). It doesn’t appear the drop in velocity was a conscious decision to gain more control of his pitches.
It has been speculated that a change in release point could signal an injury. For instance, if you look at Roy Halladay’s 2013 release point compared to 2009, you will see a difference between the two, as his final season showed him with a much lower release point. And as it turns out, Halladay was injured. I went into Zack Greinke’s warning signs last season, and he too had a lower release point compared to past seasons, but he has so far avoided a pitching related injury (aside from 2013’s spring training ordeal). As for Reed’s release point, I didn’t find anything alarming.
Despite a lucky .260 BABIP and an absurd 19.3 IFFB%, Reed made real improvements across the board in 2013. His strikeouts, contact percentage, and swinging strike percentage all went in the right direction. And although there are positives to take from his sophomore season, the red flags cannot simply be ignored. These days a pitcher’s arm seems to be a time bomb, and we continue to study what makes it tick. Dramatic velocity loss may be the most reliant hand in predicting a pitcher’s future health. Unfortunately for Addison Reed, this just happens to be the sand in his hourglass.
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Thanks to Fangraphs.com and Baseballheatmaps.com for the data.