Staturday: Pitch, Blease: The Final Pitch

I present to you the fourth and final installment of Pitch, Blease. We have looked at the wide variety of pitches thrown in the majors as identified and described using PitchFX data. To this point, the key things we have learned are that having a good fastball is important – but having reliable secondary offerings is the key to being a high level pitcher.

Building on that, in this final installment I wanted to look at a couple of larger issues, the first being, how many pitches is the right number of pitches?

 

 

Pitchers

K/9

K/BB

ERA

FIP

WHIP

5+ Pitches

18

5.78

2.60

4.39

4.40

1.34

4 Pitches

60

6.15

2.08

4.65

4.64

1.43

3 Pitches

58

6.67

2.34

4.28

4.31

1.37

2 Pitches

6

6.49

2.59

4.31

4.20

1.31

 

This is based on a pitcher throwing each pitch at least five percent of the time.

As you can see, the more pitches each pitcher throws, the worse they are likely to be. This actually makes a lot of sense, because pitchers throw more pitches because they need to throw more pitches. Mariano Rivera has enjoyed unparalleled success throwing nothing but cut fastballs. Randy Johnson was one of the best pitchers in the game for many, many years, throwing only fastballs and sliders. In more recent years though, as he has aged and his performance has fallen off, he has worked to add a splitter to his repertoire.

As far as the six pitchers who only threw two pitches, Daniel Cabrera was the worst of the lot, throwing only a 94 MPH fastball and an 83 MPH slider. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine use guile to go along with a slow ball and a slower ball, keeping batters off balance and/or really, really bored. Ben Sheets and Eric Bedard match good fastballs with nasty curves to be among the best pitchers in the game … on the rare occasion that they are healthy. Finally, Tim Wakefield matches his knuckler with the rare fastball to round out this diverse group.

The next thing I did was group pitchers into various categories, based on how reliant they are on their fastball and how fast their fastballs are.

Fastballers were in the top quartile of pitchers in terms of the percentage of fastballs thrown. Junkballers were in the bottom quartile and Neutral Pitchers were among the 50% in the middle.

Fireballers threw fastballs in the top quartile in terms of velocity. Slowballers were in the bottom quartile and Neutral were in the middle.

 

 

 

Pitchers

K/9

K/BB

ERA

FIP

WHIP

Junkballer

Fireballer

8

7.70

3.09

3.72

3.81

1.29

Neutral

Fireballer

18

7.97

2.95

4.02

3.92

1.29

Fastballer

Fireballer

9

6.66

1.85

4.23

4.32

1.42

Fastballer

Neutral

21

6.05

2.12

4.48

4.44

1.39

Junkballer

Neutral

14

6.14

2.47

4.56

4.48

1.37

Neutral

Neutral

36

6.35

2.17

4.52

4.53

1.39

Fastballer

Slowballer

5

5.13

2.09

4.42

4.67

1.41

Junkballer

Slowballer

13

5.55

1.99

4.66

4.73

1.41

Neutral

Slowballer

18

5.23

1.95

4.92

4.95

1.49

 

Notice that this list is ordered by FIP. I know it looked like it was ordered by velocity grouping, didn’t it? What can I say? Speed kills.

Not surprisingly, the best pitchers are the guys who bring the heat but do not rely on it. Guys like Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, Kelvim Escobar, John Smoltz and Boof Bonsor highlight a stellar group. Yes, THE Boof Bonsor. Amazingly, Bonsor was the only pitcher in the group with a FIP of more than 4. Not surprisingly, all of these fireballers match their high-end fastball with a slider and all but Haren have a changeup to compliment their heat.

Curiously, among the slowballers, the best group are the ones who rely most on their very slow fastballs. In a small group, Greg Maddux throws his 85 MPH fastball 73% of the time. His impeccable command and unparalleled knowledge of pitching earned a 3.54 FIP and buoyed an otherwise extremely mediocre group.

Guys like Ervin Santana, Edwin Jackson and Brett Tomko dragged down the most star studded group’s overall performance. Neutral/Fireballers were led by Cy Young winners Jake Peavy and CC Sabathia as well as Johan Santana, Josh Beckett, Roy Oswalt and Tim Lincecum.

In conclusion, I thought I would list off a few lessons I think we should have learned:

1. Fastball velocity is key. If you can only know one thing about a pitcher, know his fastball velocity.
2. Over reliance on the fastball is a bad thing. Pitchers who can compliment their fastball with good breaking stuff will have the most success.
3. Under reliance on the fastball is a bad sign. Pitchers who try to get too cute probably are doing so because their principle offerings are not very good.

I hope you all have found this series interesting and informative. I now find myself in need of a new topic. I would encourage suggestions. I will be in Colorado, visiting my grandmother when this is published, so I probably will not be around much to discuss the article. Sorry.

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