2008 Mets Post-Mortem: Pitchers And Pitches

I love stats. I acknowledge their flaws, and I certainly don't believe they tell you everything there is to know about baseball (does anyone actually?), but they really are just a lot of fun to pore over. Thanks to countless intrepid folks who have contributed the ways and means for distributing and disseminating baseball statistics, we have the tools available to learn far more about the game and its players than we ever have before.

One ridiculously useful site for baseball statistics (among other things) is FanGraphs, which is where all of the stats for this article (as well as the WPA graphs in my daily recaps) were extracted from. I wanted to take some time to look at the Mets' pitchers, their pitch velocities and pitch selection from 2008, so let's do just that.

Fastballs

The fastball is almost every pitcher's bread-and-butter. Better than 85% of pitchers threw fastballs at least half the time. Almost 11% threw their heater three-quarters of the time or more. Three guys threw 90% fastballs, though only one -- Tampa Bay's Grant Balfour (91.3%) did so over a significant number of innings. Eddie Kunz threw a higher percentage of fastballs than anyone else in baseball (92.3%), but he only threw a total of 55 pitches.

So folks throw a lot of fastballs. But how fast do they throw 'em? Here are the average fastball speeds for Mets pitchers this season.

Player FBavg
Brian Stokes 95.0
Billy Wagner 94.5
Robert Parnell 94
Aaron Heilman 93.3
Edward Kunz 92.9
Mike Pelfrey 92.7
Jorge Sosa 92.2
John Maine 92.1
Johan Santana 91.2
Oliver Perez 91.2
Brandon Knight 91
Carlos Muniz 90.2
Duaner Sanchez 89.8
Joe Smith 89.4
Jonathon Niese 89.4
Claudio Vargas 89.3
Scott Schoeneweis 88.8
Tony Armas Jr. 88.8
Pedro Martinez 87.7
Nelson Figueroa 86.9
Pedro Feliciano 86.9
Ricardo Rincon 86.4
Matt Wise 84.2

It shouldn't be surprising that relievers dominate the top of this list. They come into a game for an inning at a time -- if that -- and can really air it out because they know they've only got 20 or so pitches before they hit the showers. Whereas starting pitchers have to pace themselves, relievers don't have to show such restraint. Anyone watching Mets games the last two months of the season has seen that Brian Stokes throws gas, and this chart corroborates that observation.

Mike Pelfrey had the fastest average heater among Mets starting pitchers at 92.7 MPH; Pedro Martinez had the slowest at 87.7. If that looks a little low, consider that his average fastball in limited action in 2007 was 86.2 MPH, so 87.7 is a clear improvement.

Of some concern is Johan Santana's average heater speed of 91.2. He was at 91.7 in 2007 with the Twins, and while a half-mile per hour doesn't seem like much now, it's definitely something worth keeping an eye on as he adds years to his ledger and mileage to his arm. His slider speed dropped (84.9 to 83.5) as did his changeup (81.9 to 80.0). The good news is that the disparity in speed between his fastball and changeup actually increased, though the velocity dip across the board is hardly encouraging. Whether that had anything to do with the deterioration in his strikeout rate (9.66 to 7.91 per nine innings) is not yet clear.

For those curious types, the fastest average fastball belonged to Joel Zumaya at 97.5 MPH. The slowest belonged to Tim Wakefield (72.9), though the slowest non-knuckleballer was Chad Bradford at 79.6. The slowest non-knuckler, non-sidearmer was Jamie Moyer for the fiftieth consecutive season at 81.2 MPH. The average big league fastball was thrown at 90.5 MPH.

Pitch Types

Let's move on from pitch speed and on to pitch selection. Here is the breakdown of pitch type for all Mets pitchers this season, sorted by highest fastball frequency.

Player FB SL CB CH CT
Brian Stokes 69.30% 20.80% 9.80%
Billy Wagner 71.10% 28.50% 0.40%
Robert Parnell 75.30% 21.50% 3.20%
Aaron Heilman 64.00% 12.00% 24.00%
Edward Kunz 92.30% 7.70%
Mike Pelfrey 81.20% 12.80% 0.80% 5.10%
Jorge Sosa 50.30% 44.70% 5.10%
John Maine 70.50% 10.10% 1.00% 18.40%
Johan Santana 59.60% 11.70% 28.70%
Oliver Perez 69.20% 26.90% 1.30% 2.60%
Brandon Knight 62.00% 20.90% 13.20% 3.80%
Carlos Muniz 63.80% 31.80% 4.40%
Duaner Sanchez 46.40% 19.00% 3.70% 30.90%
Joe Smith 66.90% 31.10% 2.10%
Jonathon Niese 63.30% 0.40% 24.70% 9.40% 2.20%
Claudio Vargas 62.90% 23.20% 13.80%
Scott Schoeneweis 78.80% 20.80% 0.50%
Tony Armas Jr. 57.40% 36.80% 0.70% 5.10%
Pedro Martinez 56.10% 1.60% 16.00% 19.00% 7.30%
Nelson Figueroa 55.50% 19.70% 18.50% 6.30%
Pedro Feliciano 55.40% 38.40% 0.20% 6.00%
Ricardo Rincon 31.10% 60.70% 8.20%
Matt Wise 42.10% 0.80% 57.10%

(FB=fastball, SL=slider, CB=curveball, CH=changeup, CT=cutter)

One thing that jumps out immediately is that the Mets have a lot of pitchers who all sport basically the same arsenal: Fastball, slider, changeup. Jon Niese, Brian Stokes and Pedro Martinez preferred the curveball to the slider, and Niese and Martinez threw some cutters, but otherwise everyone threw the same three types of pitch. I'm a little surprised that the Mets lacked a single pitcher who throws a split-fingered fastball. Approximately one in eight (11.7%) big league pitchers threw at least 1% splitters in 2008; none threw them for the Mets. The splitter can wreak havoc on a pitcher's elbow, and who's to say that Rick Peterson didn't have a hand in steering the Mets away from that sort of injury risk. We know he was a mechanics freak, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that he advised the Mets to avoid pitchers who featured a splitter.

Quick Hits

  • Jose Contreras led all qualified starters with splitters accounting for 24.6% of his pitches.
  • Taylor Buchholz threw more curveballs than anyone else (34.9%).
  • Tom Glavine threw 43.2% changeups, more than anyone else.
  • The Cubs' Mike Wuertz threw 60.8% sliders, again, more than anyone else.
  • Four pitchers were regular knuckleballers: Wakefield, Charlie Zink (Red Sox), Charlie Haeger (Padres) and R.A. Dickey (Rangers).
  • Two others threw at least one knuckleball: Josh Banks (Padres) and Ryan Franklin (Cardinals), though the latter threw them so infrequently (.4%) that they were probably changeups or curveballs that were simply mis-categorized.
  • The Angels' Darren O'Day threw 2.5% of his 671 pitches for pitch-outs.
  • C.C. Sabathia threw more pitches overall than any other big leaguer: 3,814. NL Cy Young candidate Tim Lincecum was second at 3,682, and Sabathia's fellow free agent-to-be A.J. Burnett threw 3,650. Johan Santana was fifth with 3,598 pitches tossed.
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