The most common pitch thrown by a big league pitcher is a four-seam fastball. Although there are a few variations (two-seam, cutter, and so on), the fastball pitch is designed to blaze the ball by the batter before he can properly react to it, or sneak in some late movement to fool him.
We’re looking to analyze and conclude which pitchers are the most dominant when it comes to throwing specific types of pitches – in this case, the fastball.
Specifically, we’re looking at the statistic called “standardized runs by pitch” – in this case, the standardized runs by four-seam fastballs or wFA/C. This represents the amount of runs that the pitcher saved with their fastball over the course of 100 fastballs thrown.
We’re also using “dominance” as an abstract term to describe how well a pitcher has performed this season. This doesn’t mean they have the best or fastest fastball, but rather that their pitch has been the most difficult to hit.
Heaters and Dominance
Let’s take a look at PITCHf/x data for MLB pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched through Aug. 27, 2017, and see who dominates the fastball pitch.
This scatterplot compares dominance against the percentage of time a pitcher throws a fastball. The ideal location here is the upper left quadrant – it represents pitchers who have had the best pitches and used them most often. As of August 27th, one of the notable pitchers here is Clayton Kershaw, the now 16-win pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who is leading the majors with a 1.95 ERA. Justin Verlander, now of the Houston Astros and Ariel Miranda of the Seattle Mariners are also in this ideal quadrant.
In the lower right quadrant, you’ll find pitchers who haven’t fared well with fastballs, and they’re also not throwing them frequently. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however – they may rely on other pitches. Jason Vargas from the Kansas City Royals, for example, is not known for his fastball, instead relying on other pitches to paint those corners, such as change-ups and sinkers. Masahiro Tanaka from the New York Yankees is in a similar boat – he prefers to throw sliders and splitters.
The upper right quadrant, interestingly, shows pitchers who use the fastball frequently but aren’t necessarily performing well with this pitch. Kevin Gausman of the Baltimore Orioles is one example of a high percentage of fastballs paired with results he’d rather not have. Matt Moore from the San Francisco Giants is another pitcher who uses fastballs frequently despite his lack of dominance with this particular pitch.
This chart incorporates the same data but may be a bit clearer to see which pitchers are more dominant with the fastball when compared to their peers. While the top two dominant pitchers have a fastball that reaches blazing speed (Michael Fulmer of the Tigers averages 95.7 mph, and Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox is just slightly behind him at 94.6 mph), not every dominant pitcher throws lightning fastballs, and not every nondominant pitcher has a slow fastball.
This is evident when we check out the third dominant pitcher on the list. R.A. Dickey of the Atlanta Braves is No. 3 here. His fastball average of 83 mph is the opposite of heat – however, Dickey’s favorite pitch is not a fastball. Instead, he relies on knuckleballs, which is understandable due to its deceptive nature and his mastery of the pitch itself.
Toeing the Slab
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