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.
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.
|Tony Armas Jr.||88.8|
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.
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.
|Tony Armas Jr.||57.40%||36.80%||0.70%||5.10%|
(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.
- 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.