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Slow and Steady

Jered Weaver received a large raise on Thursday thanks to his ability to fool batters with his off-speed pitches.  The following graph shows how results vary by speed for the younger Weaver:

Jered Weaver, 2008-2010

This chart drives home the point that major league hitters can handle a fastball. Note that the contact rate is high on his fastball, and at his most common velocity, batters hit it pretty well.

The 78-80 MPH range is where Weaver makes his money, however.  Batters are more likely to swing at the pitch, and miss if they do.  They also make more outs when they put the ball in play.  Weaver throws both a changeup and slider at this speed, with very different movement.  His change moves much like his fastball, toward a left-handed batter with a normal downward drop:

Jered Weaver changeup movement, 2008-2010The slider moves further in and drops off the table:

Jered Weaver Slider, 2008-2010

Weaver throws a changeup that looks like his fastball, so batters chase that.  Over the last three years they've hit .219 off the change versus .246 off the fastball.  If they get a feel for the speed of the changeup, Weaver can drop in the slider and fool them with movement, as batters hit just .190 off that pitch.  The slider is his most devasting pitch, as you can in the wOBA:


Jered Weaver 2008-2010
Fastball .333
Changeup .269
Slider .232


There's nothing wrong with Jered's fastball.  A .333 wOBA means the league hits about average against him.  That pitch sets up his great ones, and batters look replacement level against Weaver's off-speed offerings.


Javier Vazquez's Declining Fastball

Among a few players the fantasy analysts over at Yahoo Sports reviewed recently, Javier Vazquez caught my eye. I had a small obsession with studying the progress of Javy last year. On one hand, he had such a good 2009 that some believed he was going to be a top-end rotation guy for the Yankees. On the other, he never really cut it in his first tour of duty in New York (although lingering injuries supposedly hurt his 2004 second half), so many were also skeptical.

Vazquez ultimately failed to produce a quality season as a starter in 2010. The debate between Scott Pianowski and Andy Behrens centered on whether Vazquez would get some of that velocity on his fastball back. I’d argue that, A) it’s fairly essential for Vazquez to get more than a little extra life back on his fastball, especially for his secondary pitches, like his changeup, to be effective; and B) it’s doubtful that he will see that necessary increase in fastball velocity this season.

Javier Vazquez Fastball '08-'10
As the average velocity on Vazquez’s fastball decreased each year (91.7, 91.1, 88.7), the contact rate increased accordingly. As seasons progress, pitchers often build up arm strength, which often adds a little life to their fastball; you can see that the velocity on Vazquez’s 2009 fastball increased over the season. The complete opposite occurred the following year. Instead, his fastball declined right from the start, and batters were making significantly more contact against him.

Javier Vazquez Fastball '08-'10
The expected run value on Javy's fastball has suffered a great deal from the drop in velocity over the past few years. Again, I think it's possible Vazquez could be successful this year if he gets some velocity back. And pitching in the NL again will likely help him a great deal. But it just doesn’t seem likely that he’s suddenly going to add 2-3 mph on his fastball this season given the steady decline we’ve seen.

"Old Player Skills"

Matt Klaassen over at recently looked at which players under the age of 27 in 2010 displayed "old player skills"; that is, players who tend to have high walk and power numbers, with low speed and batting average. Any player in the top 25% of walk rate, a speed score in the bottom 25 percent, ISO in the top half, and batting average in the lowest half made the cut. He found only three players in 2010: Prince Fielder, Brian McCann, and Ike Davis.

The first name that popped into my head when reading the article was Geovany Soto. Given that he turned 27 last year, he missed Klaassen’s cut for the study. However, his walk rate (16.0%), Speed Score (1.1), and ISO (.217) all put him in range of that "old player skill" category. His .280 batting average was a touch high, but not enough to totally disqualify him from consideration.

All three of Klaassen’s 2010 old skill players (and Soto) had below league average contact ratings last year as well. I’m not sure a low contact percentage fits the mold for "old player skills." However, older hitters, specifically power hitters, do tend to lose some quickness in their swing; this can certainly lead to more missed balls. And there is some evidence that players with power swings that hit for low average (like Adam Dunn) tend to have lower contact percentages.