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Tuesday, April 06, 2021

The Importance of Fastball Shape

So how do pitchers gain fastball effectiveness beyond what the radar gun says? By creating differentiation between their fastball and the norm by utilizing either rise or sink. The further one can get from the norm, the more effective the pitch can be beyond just the pure speed. Hitters expect a fastball to behave a certain way out of the hand and when it doesn’t, regardless of the direction in which it deviates, it creates challenges in terms of making hard contact, or any contact at all.

To illustrate, there was a recent four-year run with the Blue Jays in which Marco Estrada was a pretty darn good starting pitcher. His best year came in 2016, when he had a 3.48 ERA over 176 innings and posted 2.7 WAR. He did this while averaging just 88.1 mph on his fastball. Of course his exquisite changeup was his signature pitch, but he still threw his fastball nearly 50% of the time. There are plenty of minor league arms with plus changeups who are doomed for the waiver wire due to a lack of giddy-up on their heater, so how did Estrada survive and even thrive at times? Simple: he deviated from the norm.


RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 06, 2021 at 09:37 PM | 4 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: fastballs

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: April 07, 2021 at 03:50 AM (#6012185)
Oblong is tough to hit.
   2. Rough Carrigan Posted: April 07, 2021 at 10:55 AM (#6012208)
Very interesting article.
   3. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: April 07, 2021 at 01:11 PM (#6012227)
Cool article. We've always heard about guys who throw straight of flat fastballs. Interesting to see them quantify the effect.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: April 07, 2021 at 06:55 PM (#6012304)
Have to disagree. The graphs aren't explained. What are the units? Why would we expect a typical fastball to have exactly the same amount of vertical and horizontal movement (the reference line)? Why would a pitch moving in two directions be easier to hit than a pitch moving in one direction? The examples appear to be cherry-picked, there's no evidence of the general trend to support the claim. One of those examples has essentially no vertical movement whatsoever, how much flatter can you get (this is referred to as "turbo-sink")?

So it's nice to see "here are a half-dozen pitchers and their fastball movements" as it clearly demonstrates how different the movements are and, assuming we can generalize, there are a lot of different ways to get a batter out. But I also assume we all took it on faith (if not bloody obvious) that the only way low-velocity pitchers can survive is with movement (and control which is not discussed here). So of course the successful soft-tossers are the ones with those.

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