Starters' Pitch Movement

by on January 25, 2013 @ 11:52:28 PDT


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Next, let's break down pitch movement by pitch type to see if there are individual pitch type correlations to k/9 and bb/9.

We looked at weighted horizontal and vertical pitch movement by pitch type over the last three seasons and found the following correlations (see pitch type key below data):

2010-12 Horizontal Movement (Correlation Coefficient)

Pitch Type K/9 BB/9
FA +0.18 +0.18
FT -0.04 -0.05
FC -0.05 -0.1
SL +0.09 +0.12
CU +0.11 -0.12
CH -0.09 -0.07

2010-12 Vertical Movement (Correlation Coefficient)

Pitch Type K/9 BB/9
FA +0.33 0.18
FT +0.01 -0.04
FC -0.04 -0.10
SL +0.04 +0.02
CU +0.16 -0.04
CH -0.11 -0.03

Pitch Abbreviations

FA = Four-Seam Fastball
FT = Two-Seam Fastball
FC = Cut Fastball
SL = Slider
CU = Curveball
CH = Changeup

This data confirms that pitch movement by pitch type also does not have a strong correlation with a SP's k/9 or bb/9.

The strongest correlation exists between four-seam fastball vertical movement and k/9.

Nevertheless, looking at pitch movement in combination with other factors like pitch velocity may yield more interesting results.

For now, here's a closer look at several noteworthy SP from each league.

American League

Jake Arrieta, Orioles, will be written off in many 2013 drafts. At age 26, many owners will view him as a failed prospect. Don't follow suit. He was victimized by a 55% strand rate and 15% HR/F in 2012. His base skills with BAL were near-elite: 8.6 k/9, 2.7 bb/9, 44% GB%, 102 BPV. He also gets nice horizontal movement on his curveball and significant vertical movement on his four-seam fastball and curveball. In addition to increasing his pitch movement significantly in 2012, he also added one mph to his fastball velocity in 2012, which increased to 93.4 mph. Arrieta will carry a ton of profit potential heading into 2013.

Alex Cobb, Rays, had a 4.03 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 2012. Nice numbers, but not exactly ones that will make him a prime target in a lot of leagues in 2013. That said, his skills suggest that he has a lot more potential than what he showed on the surface last season: 7.0 k/9, 2.6 bb/9, 59% GB%, 92 BPV. He threw his curveball more frequently in 2012 and added three inches more movement to it that season. Amazingly, he induced a 76% GB% on his curveball in 2012. There's a great shot that Cobb will post a sub-4.00 ERA in 2013.

Jason Hammel, Orioles, added a two-seam fastball to his arsenal in 2012 and rode it to big gains. It showed less horizontal movement than average for that pitch among RHP, but did feature slightly more vertical movement than average. His average fastball velocity of 93.6 mph also helped to fuel his breakout campaign. As batters become familiar with his two-seam fastball, he'll need to prove that it can continue to be an effective pitch for him. Off-season knee surgery also makes him a health risk. Expect some regression in 2013, but he'll still have value.

Matt Moore, Rays, had the most aggregate movement on his pitches in 2012, and it wasn't even close. His changeup had the most horizontal movement among SP who threw a changeup at least 10% of the time. His missing piece is control. If he can build upon the control improvement he displayed late in 2012 (3.9 bb/9 in second half vs. 4.3 bb/9 in first half), Moore could bust out with a 3.00 ERA.

Chris Sale, White Sox, saw his fastball velocity dive in 2012 as he transitioned to a full-time SP role, but his horizontal pitch movement was one of the best in the game. His horizontal slider movement was the highest of any LHP SP with at least 60 IP. Only Moore got more horizontal movement on his changeup than Sale among LHP. And only Derek Holland, Rangers and Chris Capuano, Dodgers got more horizontal movement on their four-seam fastball than Sale among left-handed starters. If he can maintain the excellent control he showed for most of 2012 and stay healthy, Sale will remain a Cy Young candidate in 2013.

National League

Ross Detwiler, Nationals, posted a 3.40 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 2012 even though his base skills (56 BPV) were far from stellar. A 27% BABIP and 75% strand rate helped, as did a GB% spike from 43% to 51%. His GB% spike can be attributed to the large amount of horizontal movement he gets on his sinker, a pitch that he gets more horizontal movement on than any other SP in MLB. He had a 39% GB% on his sinker in 2011 vs. a 54% GB% against it in 2012. While regression may seem a likely scenario for Detwiler in 2013, note that his fastball velocity has increased for two seasons and now sits at 92.7 mph. This, combined with two years of k/9 growth and more effective use of his sinker, gives hope that he'll be able to sustain a sub-4.00 ERA.

Marco Estrada, Brewers, emerged last season as a dominant SP in spite of not having elite raw stuff. His pitch movement gives an explanation for how he was able to deceive batters. The vertical pitch movement on his four-seam fastball was one of the best in MLB among SP with at least 100 IP. This allowed him to generate strikeouts on that pitch even though he had a pedestrian 90 mph average fastball velocity. With surging skill trends and a mid-3.00s xERA, Estrada has the profile to post another sub-4.00 ERA in 2013 if he can continue to generate significant movement on his fastball.

Matt Harvey, Mets, was extremely impressive in his MLB debut with in 2012, both on the surface (2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) and beneath it (10.6 k/9, 3.9 bb/9, 101 BPV). His raw stuff was elite too (95 mph average fastball velocity). While he threw his fastball 65% of the time, his toolbox suggests he has more than one effective pitch. His changeup had one of the highest levels of horizontal movement of any changeup in the game in 2012. In addition, he was able to rack up strikeouts at a high rate on his fastball, slider, and changeup. He's still green so patience is needed, but Harvey remains a premium growth stock.

Kris Medlen, Braves, had three pitches that he used effectively as strikeout pitches in 2012: four-seam fastball, changeup, curveball. His changeup generated plenty of horizontal movement, and his fastball and curveball showed good movement too. Having a top-tier changeup and two additional good pitches kept hitters off balance and enabled him to rack up strikeouts even with an average 90 mph fastball. He has nowhere to go but down after he was the game's best starting pitcher in the second half of 2012, but a 3.00-3.50 ERA will be well within reach.

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