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Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Case for Slowing It Down

Since 2015 (i.e., the Statcast era), just 0.3% of all pitches thrown in MLB have been under 70 mph; pitchers today generally live in velocity bands from 10 to 30 mph higher. Being able to slow the ball down to such an extreme degree without tipping off the batter to what is coming is not trivial, and being able to drop these pitches in for strikes takes practice. Taking time in a throwing session to lob lollipops into the strike zone probably seems foolish to many pitchers, especially if they can just throw 95 mph instead.

I understand the roadblocks to throwing slow looping curveballs. But whenever I see a pitcher throw them, they often seem to disarm the batter, who usually doesn’t swing. In that scenario, the worst-case result is often a ball, and if the pitcher can locate the pitch, he can nab a strike with little resistance. And as fastball velocity continues to increase across the league both this year and in seasons past, pitchers are increasingly leaning on breaking balls and offspeed pitches to fool hitters who are geared up for heat. With that in mind, a super-slow curveball could be a useful weapon.

Is my intuition correct? To test it, I decided to pull up every pitch since pitch tracking began in 2008, via Baseball Savant, and filtered for those that traveled less than 70 mph and were labeled as a curveball or eephus. The tricky part here was that a lot of those pitches were thrown by position players, which complicates my thesis because (surprise) position players are bad at pitching. To counter that, I downloaded all the team rosters since 2008 from Retrosheet, then selected all the pitchers in the dataset and filtered the pitch data with the condition that the player throwing the pitch appeared in the list from Retrosheet.


RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 18, 2021 at 11:28 PM | 11 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: velocity

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   1. John Northey Posted: April 19, 2021 at 06:57 PM (#6014315)
I miss the knuckleball, the Eephus, guys like Pasquel Perez who could do all kinds of fun stuff with the ball and make the game more entertaining to watch vs these 90+ MPH guys trying to throw 100. When there were just a handful it was OK, but now with everyone being clones it sucks. We need more Niekro's and Quizenberry types (extreme sidearm). I'd love another switch pitcher to show up. Baseball needs different looks on the mound. Teams need to go outside the box and find ways to make it happen. I remember Tom Henke going sidearm sometimes even though he was one of the hardest throwers in the 80's just to screw with a batters timing and make them fear for their life.

MLB really needs to find ways to fix the 'everyone doing the same thing' problem. From every batter trying to hit the ball a mile to very little base stealing we're in an era like the 50's where everyone is same old same old, just waiting for the 60's revolution to come again when stolen bases took over and more fun came into the game, peaking in the 80's when we had every team doing its own thing - from the Red Sox being a three true outcome team, to the Cardinals stealing every chance they got, to the Angels bunting every time they could, to the Jays never bunting. Two Niekro's around, multiple side arm pitchers (loved Mark Eichhorn for example), even a one armed pitcher (Jim Abbott - if you are too young to remember him look him up). Helped make me a fan even though I'm a stats guy - variety makes for fun.
   2. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: April 19, 2021 at 09:36 PM (#6014336)
even a one armed pitcher (Jim Abbott - if you are too young to remember him look him up)
I remember him well, and he had two arms.
   3. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 19, 2021 at 09:51 PM (#6014340)
MLB really needs to find ways to fix the 'everyone doing the same thing' problem.

Well these things usually kind of take care of themselves, don't they? If everyone is trying to do the same thing, some will be good at it, and others won't be, and the ones that won't be will have to figure out how to beat the other teams by taking a different approach.
   4. Howie Menckel Posted: April 19, 2021 at 10:19 PM (#6014351)
Browns OF Pete Gray was the one with one arm.

Abbott has one hand.

had a colleague who tried a lead after Abbott's no-hitter for the Yankees that was something like:

"All across America, you could hear the sound of one hand clapping as Jim Abbott...."

that one was "spiked," in newspaper parlance.

not quite "The imperfect man pitched a perfect game today" re Don Larsen.

byline of Joe Trimble but widely said to have been the legendary Dick Young - having long finished his own story - helping out a panicked Trimble by sitting down at Trimble's typewriter, thinking for a moment, typing in the lead, and then turning it back over to Trimble.
   5. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: April 20, 2021 at 09:13 AM (#6014393)
I wonder if this description of the premature prison death of one of the Leopold and Loeb case murderers would ever get past a copy editor today:

Richard Loeb, a brilliant college student and master of the English language, today ended a sentence with a proposition.

(And yes, I know that this famous headline turned out to be likely apocryphal.)
   6. Jobu is silent on the changeup Posted: April 20, 2021 at 09:35 AM (#6014398)
I remember him well, and he had two arms.
As much as his notable ML career and Golden Spikes award, I've always been amazed that he was a high school QB.
   7. and Posted: April 20, 2021 at 09:38 AM (#6014401)
Jim Abbott was incredible. I played HS ball against a guy with a similar handicap. He singled off me and struck me out (I homered and doubled in my other two at bats and struck him out twice), which just blew me away. I didn't want to patronize him so I just shook his hand and said "good game" after it was over. But, to this day, 35 years later, I would love to sit down with him and find out how the hell he was able to do that.

I guess we all deal with the hand (ha! crack myself up) we're dealt, but Abbott and, to a lesser extent, that guy I played against, defy my imagination.
   8. Nasty Nate Posted: April 20, 2021 at 09:55 AM (#6014405)
The slowest pitches of the season may have been thrown yesterday. Granted, they were thrown by a utility infielder.
   9. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: April 20, 2021 at 10:25 AM (#6014411)
Jim Abbott was incredible. I played HS ball against a guy with a similar handicap. He singled off me
Possibly the most remarkable thing about Abbott (in a very remarkable career) is that, when he played briefly for Milwaukee, he managed to get two hits in 24 PA. One of his baseball cards ('91 Upper Deck?) has a photo of him batting, probably in spring training, and he just gripped the bat with his one hand and kind of balanced it with the other nub (is there a more PC term for that these days?). To be able to get a base hit against major league pitching like that is pretty amazing.

I read Abbott's autobiography a while back - I remember it being pretty good, and he comes across as more self-aware than most players. Granted, low bar there.
   10. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 20, 2021 at 11:11 AM (#6014413)
I was lucky enough to see Abbott pitch in the Olympics in '88. I was really excited about him and I remember rushing out to the stadium to see him in KC his rookie season - no minors for him!
   11. John Northey Posted: April 20, 2021 at 08:28 PM (#6014511)
Yeah, yeah, poorly worded. One handed, not one armed. Pretty much the equivalent as his right arm was only used to hold his glove against his chest while he threw the ball. I remember when he was drafted out of high school by the Jays - I really wanted them to sign him as I thought it'd be a lot of fun to follow him through the Jays system. Little did we know he'd be a straight to the majors guy a few years later with the Angels.

I totally missed he did get to hit - found video of a hit of his. I always thought he never did. so anyone hitting lower than 095/095/095 (190 OPS) is below the Abbott line? IE: a guy could out hit you with one hand on the bat.

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