The Philadelphia Phillies front office is giving the struggling Jesse Biddle a mental break this week, placing him on the temporary inactive list at Double-A Reading.
The former first-round pick has lost his strikeout dominance over the last few weeks, earning a 12.64 ERA in his last four, with more earned runs (22) and walks (14) than innings pitched (15.2) and strikeouts (12) over that stretch.
On the season, he has fallen to a 5.03 ERA, with a 1.449 WHIP and below-average numbers of strikeouts (8.7 K/9) relative to his past performance (9.3 K/9 for his career).
Biddle is reported healthy, although he did suffer a concussion in a freak hail-storm only a month ago. The issues appear to be related to his confidence and frustration with his lack of results.
In talking to the Reading Eagle’s Mike Drago, Biddle described his recent struggles:
I’m miserable out there. I’m very unhappy. And I don’t know why. …Nothing feels fluid on the mound, nothing feels natural.
Additionally, Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently scouted Biddle, and mentioned how his mindset was affecting his pitching. He described the troubles as “Poor body language in the face of setbacks; sunken shoulders and low-energy responses; didn’t attack hitters; couldn’t make his pitch when pressed…”
As his attempts to pitch through any confidence issues clearly haven’t worked, giving him some time to clear his head is probably warranted.
His problems appear to be stemming from his decreased fastball effectiveness, as he’s generating fewer swings and misses (13.6% strikeout swinging rate in 2014, 16.8% career KS%) meaning the differentiation between it and his curveball are more noticeable to hitters.
This vulnerable curveball has lead to a HR rate more than double his career average (1.3 HR/9 versus 0.6 HR/9 for his career), and he’s in general been more hittable than in the past (8.5 H/9 versus 7.6 H/9 for his career).
This is despite his batted ball rates sitting around career rates – batters aren’t hitting him differently, they’re hitting him harder. It’s not an issue like someone’s sinker being left up, resulting in more fly balls during one season.
Nothing’s particularly unusual there, and this combination of more HR, with fewer K, explain how his BAbip is almost exactly at his career average (.289 vs. .290) despite this increase in hit-ability.
HR are removed from the formula, decreasing the overall rate. Additionally, fewer K mean more balls are put in play in the first place, increasing the statistic’s denominator.
There is no current timetable for Biddle’s return, but hopefully clearing his head will work to give him more confidence in his delivery.