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Entries in Fastballs (15)

Thursday
May162013

Verlander, Darvish Bring the Heat in Different Ways

Gloves might as well be optional tonight in Texas, as Justin Verlander (10 strikeouts per nine innings, 1.93 ERA) squares off against Yu Darvish (13.7 K/9, 2.73 ERA) at 8:05 PM EST on MLB Network. Verlander and Darvish are early Cy Young favorites in part because they bring the heat, but they use their premium fastballs in far different ways. Verlander lets it ride high and in the strike zone. Darvish, by contrast, pounds hitters with shin-high pitches.

Verlander is averaging "just" 93.3 MPH with his fastball, tying him with David Price, Justin Masterson and Derek Holland for highest among American League starters. Darvish also ranks in the top ten, averaging 92.8 MPH. Those lofty radar gun readings are translating into precious little hard contact for opposing hitters:

Lowest opponent slugging percentage on fastballs, 2013

Verlander and Darvish both throw hard, and they're both torturing hitters. That's where the similarities end, though. Check out their respective fastball locations in 2013:

Verlander's fastball location

Detroit's ace dares hitters to handle his searing fastball, throwing far more of them over the plate (56%) than the average MLB starter (52%). Most of those fastballs are belt-or-letter-high: Verlander has tossed just 19% of his heaters down in the zone, well under the 30% MLB average.

Darvish's fastball location

While Verlander's fastball philosophy can be summed up as, "Here it is, just try and hit it," Darvish's approach relies more on deception and location. Texas' ace has thrown just 41% of fastballs over the plate, the lowest clip among qualified starters. He has also thrown 41% of his heaters down in the zone, trailing only Jeremy Hellickson among AL starters.

High and in the zone, low and off the dish...either way, the result is devastating. Good luck, Rangers and Tigers hitters. You'll need it tonight.

Monday
Apr082013

Will Middlebrooks' 2,000 Feet of Homers

The upper-deck homer is a lost art in this age of open-outfield stadiums offering breathtaking views of city skylines and bays. Toronto's Rogers Centre is an exception, though, and Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks targeted those cheap seats on Sunday. Middlebrooks hit three homers against the Jays, including a fifth-inning shot off R.A. Dickey that traveled an estimated 449 feet. Consider Sox starter Jon Lester impressed:

"He had about 2,000 feet of homers," Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester said of Middlebrooks. "He obviously feels pretty good at the plate. It's fun to watch."

You know you're doing something right when Jays fans are willing to run on the field and risk NFL-style hits just to shake your hand. Middlebrooks clobbered a pair of R.A. Dickey fastballs, then took Dave Bush deep on another fastball to complete his round-tripper trifecta. Granted, knuckleballer Dickey and Bush possess heaters that couldn't get a speeding ticket. But Middlebrooks has proven to be one of the game's best fastball hitters since his MLB debut last May.

Check out Middlebrooks' slugging percentage by pitch location against fastballs from 2012-13. If it's high or inside, Will is killing it:

Middlebrooks is slugging .667 against fastballs during his brief big league career, which is 222 points above the league average from 2012-13. In fact, he ranks in the top 10 among MLB batters in fastball slugging (minimum 500 fastballs seen):

Highest fastball slugging percentage, 2012-13

 

Kinda makes you want to shake his hand, no? Just wait until after the game.

Sunday
Jan062013

Do Power Pitchers Get Squeezed?

When it comes to fastballs, pitchers who blow smoke reign supreme. The harder you throw, the better your results. Batters missed about 27% of the time that they swung at a fastball thrown 98 MPH or harder last year. By contrast, hitters whiffed at less than half that rate against fastballs lobbed under 90 MPH. But what happens when hitters don't swing? It looks like power pitchers are actually at a disadvantage compared to their soft-tossing brethren. The harder you throw, the smaller your strike zone from the umpire.

Here's a look at the called strike rate on fastballs taken in the strike zone and out of the zone, broken down by pitch velocity. Compared to flame-throwers, pitchers who can't bust through a sheet of Bounty with their fastballs get more calls on pitches taken both inside and outside of the strike zone:

Called strike rate on fastballs taken by the hitter, by velocity

 

It looks like hitters aren't the only ones who have some difficulty handling premium velocity. Big Blue correctly calls about 84% of fastballs taken in the strike zone when pitchers sit near the Barry Zito side of the velocity spectrum, but that drops to about 75% when pitchers unleash Aroldis Chapman-level gas. Though power pitchers still get a good number of calls on pitches thrown away to left-handed hitters (inside to righty batters), their strike zone shrinks everywhere else. They get no love on pitches thrown inside to lefty batters, and their vertical strike zone gets chopped down to Pedroia-sized proportions.

Called strike rate on 86-88 MPH fastballs taken by the hitter

 

Called strike rate on 89-91 MPH fastballs taken by the hitter

 

Called strike rate on 92-94 MPH fastballs taken by the hitter

 

Called strike rate on 95-97 MPH fastballs taken by the hitter

 

Called strike rate on 98+ MPH fastballs taken by the hitter

Power fastballs are still preferable, even if they do garner fewer called strikes on pitches taken. For example, batters slugged nearly 200 points higher against Zito-esque fastballs last year (.504 against 86-88 MPH fastballs) than they did against Chapman-quality heat (.307 against 98+ MPH fastballs). And hitters do swing at power fastballs more often (51.4% against 98 MPH+ heaters) than slower offerings (40.3% against 86-88 MPH ), so the impact of the lower called strike rate is lessened.

That said, this info suggests that even the world's best judges of balls and strikes have their physical limitations. Umpires, like hitters, have less time to process and react as the radar gun readings increase. When near-triple-digit pitches are screaming toward home plate, it's harder for umps to make those fine calls on the edges of the dish.

Hitters might want to take more hacks against the Zitos of the world, knowing that pitchers of that ilk enjoy a more generous strike zone. Against Chapman, though? Just keep the bat on your shoulder and hope for the best.