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« Throwing the Ball By Hamilton | Main | A Grand Night in the Bronx »

Felipe Paulino's Puzzling Fastball

Perhaps no pitcher in recent memory has experienced a larger dichotomy between process and results than Kansas City's Felipe Paulino. The 6-foot-2, 270 right-hander has a career 4.24 fielding independent ERA (FIP) in over 300 innings pitched, suggesting he's a decent arm possibly a few tweaks away from being an asset, but his actual 5.35 ERA explains why the former Astro and Rockie is pitching for his third club since 2010. In fact, the 1.11 run difference between Paulino's FIP and ERA since 2007 is the largest in baseball among pitchers tossing 300+ innings, per Fangraphs.

Paulino's peripherals and ERA diverge so much due to his career .342 batting average on balls in play, which is the highest among MLB pitchers with 300+ innings since 2007. His fastball in particular has been a problem, with a whopping .381 BABIP since 2008 (the first year for which we have data).

What makes that so surprising is that Paulino's fastball is what made him a touted prospect in the first place. Here's a snippet from Baseball America's 2008 Prospect Handbook:

Houston has seen Paulino's fastball hit 100 MPH, while other clubs have had him up to 102. Paulino has consistently gotten better in making the transition from thrower to pitcher. He's improved at maintaining his athletic delivery and locating his fastball.

Paulino still pop catchers' mitts, as his fastball has averaged 95.2 MPH and topped out at just under 100 MPH in the majors. Yet hitters turn into Ted Williams when they put the ball in play. Take a look at Paulino's in-play average (including home runs) by pitch location with his fastball, compared to the league average for right-handers:

Paulino's in-play average by location with his fastball, 2008-2011Fastball In-play average by pitch location for RHPs, 2008-2011

Pretty much anything not high and at the corners has been smoked. Paulino's fastball location doesn't look all that different from that of the average righty, though he doesn't throw as many pitches in to righties...

Frequency of Paulino's fastball location, 2008-2011

Frequency of fastball location for RHPs, 2008-2011

Fastballs with similar velocity and movement to Paulino's generally don't get hit hard. Since 2008, fastballs thrown at 95+ MPH with 6-9 inches of tailing action in on righties (away from lefties) and 9 inches to a foot of vertical break have a .285 BABIP, which is considerably lower than the .302 overall BABIP for fastballs over that time. And the sample of fastballs similar to Paulino's has 14,000-15,000 pitches, so it's not a small sample size issue. Consider me stumped.

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