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A look into Andrew Suárez’s recent struggles

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Suárez hasn’t been the same pitcher in the second half, and it’s not just the declining velocity.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Suárez pitched his way into my heart in the beginning of the season. In his first 15 starts, he pitched to a 3.75 ERA with a 3.59 FIP. Aside from the dinger problem, everything was solid. As of late, however, he’s shown why the projections had him as a fourth or fifth starter. Since the All-Star break, he’s given up 29 runs in 35 1/3 innings. He’s striking out fewer batters, walking more, and the home runs have just gone up.

A few starts ago, Henry Schulman tweeted out the possibility that Suárez is simply suffering from fatigue.

That would be the easiest and, in some ways, the best explanation. The Giants have played their way out of contention, so Suárez’s struggles aren’t damaging the Giants in the present. Even if 2019 is the most pressing concern, it would still be nice to see Suárez put things together. Suárez being effective down the stretch would remove some of the urgency to sign someone like Lance Lynn to a one-year deal as a stopgap for Johnny Cueto. Oh my god, that’s what they’re going to do aren’t they?

His fastball has lost velocity over the last month, so the fatigue theory holds up. It’s not a tremendous decline, though. Aside from one start, he’s averaged over 92.

While his average hasn’t dropped precipitously, his fastball bottoms out at slower speeds. Lately, his fastball has dipped below 90 MPH, so that could certainly contribute to his declining effectiveness. It seems unlikely that this is because of an increase in innings. Across all levels, Suárez has pitched 143 innings. In 2017, he threw 156 innings across AA and AAA. In 2016, he threw 143 frames. Suárez should be used to this amount of work load by now.

That’s not to throw out the fatigue theory entirely. Occam’s Razor would suggest it’s fatigue. Pitching is horrible for a person’s arm (See: every pitcher). But perhaps there’s something else that’s going on, some mechanical adjustment that Ryan Vogelsong can magically fix.

In his meltdown inning on Sunday, Suárez didn’t have any trouble getting ahead of hitters, but he did have problems putting them away. He got eight hitters to a two-strike count and only got outs on two of them: a sacrifice fly to Billy Hamilton and a strikeout to Dilson Herrera.

Suárez was a bit predictable in the inning. He’d start batters off by going fastball, fastball, and go for slider or a curve. It wouldn’t be a bad strategy if he were able to execute his breaking pitches, but he caught too much of the zone with them.

In this at-bat to Scooter Gennett, Suárez started him off with two fastballs on the hands. Suárez decided to go with a curveball, but he kept it up too high. The pitch rose up and fell in about the same spot as the previous two fastballs but 15 MPH slower.

He did Gennett a favor with that curve. Had he kept it lower, maybe Gennett swings over the top of it.

Having a large tunnel can work if the curve starts out higher but ends lower, but Suárez’s curve doesn’t have a lot of vertical movement, so if it begins higher it will wind up on the same plane as the fastball. Suárez is a pitcher who benefits from a tighter tunnel.

In the first inning, Surez got Gennett out by tunneling his pitches closer together. The fastball and the slider looked identical, but the slider broke below the zone.

Gennett flied out harmlessly.

The problem, at least on Sunday, wasn’t the fastball. The mile per hour difference hasn’t suddenly made it a supremely hittable pitch. The fastball actually worked well for Suárez. It’s that he was predictable with its usage and he wasn’t executing his secondary pitches.

In the start before it against the Dodgers, Suárez pitched backwards, often using the curve or the slider to open up the at-bat and trying to finish it with the fourseam.

With any rookie, the league is bound to make adjustments, so has the league changed their approach to Suárez? After his start in Los Angeles, Suárez said that his slider hasn’t been as effective for him. He’s right. Since things broke bad for him after the All-Star break, hitters are slugging .511 against his slider. They’re also slugging .510 against his fastball.

What’s interesting is that in Suárez’s successful start, he threw more sliders than fastballs according to Brooks Baseball. Reversing the order of his pitches likely helped him get outs. He gave up a lot of loud contact, so this probably isn’t the magic fix, but I’m looking for reasons to be optimistic.

The lost tick in velocity probably isn’t the sole culprit in Suárez’s recent struggles. It’s a combination of things from the pitch selection, to the hanging sliders, to the league becoming more familiar with him. He’s had a bad month. Pitchers are allowed to have those. I’m still confident he can have a good 2019.