Staturday: Pitch, Blease: Curve Balls, Sliders and Changeups

“Christ, you don't need a quadrophonic Blaupunkt! What you need is a curveball! In the show, everyone can hit heat.” –Crash Davis

In the last appearance of Pitch, Blease, we saw that the effectiveness of a pitcher’s fastball is very much dependent on a pitcher’s ability to compliment it with breaking/off speed pitches. Heat only helps if you do not have to throw it all the time.

In this article, we will explore some of these other pitches, the curve, slider and change. Before we get into that, here is the article on the knuckler:
Wakefield throws it. He throws it a lot. He throws it slowly. Small Sample Size warnings apply to any conclusions drawn from that data set.
The splitter is only thrown often by a few guys – too many to summarize that succinctly and to few to write a meaningful article about.

First, lets tackle the curve. About half of the pitchers included in this study throw it regularly (at least 10% of the time) and all but 20 throw it occasionally. It is typically thrown at about 75 mph.

Most Curves

 

 

Name

Thrown

Velocity

E Bedard

34.20%

77.5

B Sheets

30.80%

79.4

M Morris

28.80%

71.9

J Germano

28.10%

68.1

B Arroyo

28.00%

71.3

 

Slowest Curves

 

 

Name

Thrown

Velocity

T Wakefield

3.70%

61.8

L Hernandez

8.90%

64.9

R Wolf

19.90%

65.8

O Hernandez

15.30%

67.7

J Germano

28.10%

68.1

Looking at the first chart we see two of the top pitchers in the game (when healthy), a reasonably solid veteran in decline, a solid inning eater and a young guy, just waiting to be old enough to qualify for the title of ‘journeyman’. Here is another interesting way of looking at those same pitchers, though:

 

Fastball Velocity

FIP

E Bedard

91.6

3.15

B Sheets

92.9

4.07

M Morris

87.4

4.41

J Germano

85.1

4.48

B Arroyo

88.4

4.53

Two pitchers throw above average velocity fastballs – those same two pitchers are the only ones of the five with better than average FIPs. Expanding on that, the following chart compares fastball velocity of the 20 pitchers who threw the most curve balls to their FIP.

Curvevelo_medium

As you can see, there is a fairly strong correlation between performance and fastball velocity – and then there is Matt Albers. The rookie struggled with his control and keeping the ball in the park. Not that you necessarily should, but if you were to omit his outlier performance, the r-squared value would increase to .41 – which is a very strong correlation for this kind of analysis.

Turning to sliders, we find a pitch that is thrown by even more pitchers than the curve. 60% of the pitchers in this study throw the slider regularly and only 17 did not throw a single slider in 2007. A typical slider is thrown at about 82 mph.

 

Most Sliders

 

 

Name

Thrown

Velocity

J Sosa

52.30%

84.6

I Snell

37.30%

84

J Bonderman

35.20%

83.4

J Smoltz

33.60%

87

J Towers

32.90%

82.5

 

Fastest Sliders

 

 

Name

Thrown

Velocity

F Hernandez

20.70%

88.3

G Meche

15.80%

87.5

J Smoltz

33.60%

87

D McGowan

19.10%

87

C Billingsley

3.40%

86.7

Slidevelo_medium


As you can see, the correlation between velocity and success for pitchers who rely on the slider is considerably weaker than with the curve ball. Slider velocity (purple) has almost twice the correlation with success among this group as fastball velocity (blue). Both, however, are all over the place with star pitchers like Peavy and Smoltz throwing gas with great success but others, like Ervin Santana and Edwin Jackson throwing even harder, but having very little success.

Finally, we get to changeups. Everyone throws the pitch, with 60% throwing it regularly and only two (Carmona and Wakefield) never throwing it. It is typically thrown at 81 MPH.

 

Most Changeups

 

 

 

Name

Thrown

Velocity

Separation

T Glavine

45.00%

76.8

6.9

C Hamels

35.20%

81.4

9.0

J Shields

30.20%

82.6

7.5

C James

29.50%

76.9

10.6

J Santana

29.10%

81.9

9.8

 

Slowest Changeups

 

 

Name

Thrown

Velocity

Separation

B Zito

20.20%

73

11.5

M Maroth

20.40%

73.3

9.7

J Moyer

28.70%

73.7

7.4

N Lowry

18.70%

75.7

11.0

L DiNardo

15.00%

76.1

7.7

Changevelo_medium

There is a strong correlation between both fastball velocity (blue) and changeup velocity (purple) with success. You will also notice that this group of pitchers is considerably worse than the groups of pitchers who rely on breaking balls.

 

Greatest Separation

 

 

Name

Thrown

Velocity

Separation

A Reyes

13.60%

76.3

13.3

B McCarthy

17.60%

76.6

12.3

J Verlander

18.80%

82.7

12.1

B Zito

20.20%

73

11.5

N Lowry

18.70%

75.7

11.0

 

Least Separation

 

 

 

Name

Thrown

Velocity

Separation

M Hendrickson

18.80%

81

5.6

G Maddux

20.80%

X
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