Finding Comps for Other Signature Pitches

Yesterday, inspired by a morning chat participant, I drew some parallels between Felix Hernandez‘s changeup and Henderson Alvarez’s changeup. While Felix’s changeup is better than Alvarez’s changeup, in terms of its effectiveness, the actual pitches themselves aren’t too different; the pitchers just have different levels of command of them. I made use of the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards to calculate good comps for Felix’s changeup, and Alvarez’s change came out in the lead by a wide margin. I considered just average velocity, horizontal movement, and vertical movement, and then I used z-scores to come up with a comparison rating.

I found the exercise fun enough to try again today. Yesterday, I found that Alvarez’s changeup is the best comp for Felix’s changeup, and Felix’s change is a signature pitch. How about some comps for some other signature pitches? That’s what you’re going to find below. Granted, I’ve selected just five signature pitches, and there are a whole lot more of them. That part of this was subjective and kind of random. But, there’s no turning back now. Those pitches examined:

I considered 2014 only, and I compared just righties to righties and lefties to lefties, and starters to starters and relievers to relievers. I set a minimum of 50 pitches thrown, of the given pitch type. Remember that this isn’t necessarily giving you comparisons of pitch quality; just, pitch characteristics. This just looks at averages, so it doesn’t consider variability in velocity or movement, nor does it consider command. In some cases, a good pitch is compared to a good pitch. In other cases, not so much. But the results, at least, are interesting and fun. One last note: for comparison purposes, I combined sliders and cutters, because they’re thrown similarly and sometimes they’re hard to separate. Onward!

In the final column, comparison ratings. The closer to 0 a number is, the stronger the comp. The comparison rating is the sum of the z-score differences in velocity and both kinds of movement. Okay.

Kershaw slider

Pitcher Pitch Velocity Horizontal Vertical Comp Rating
Clayton Kershaw SL 88.1 1.9 4.3
Franklin Morales CT 87.6 0.7 3.6 1.1
Felix Doubront CT 87.1 0.5 4.3 1.2
Jon Lester CT 88.8 -0.3 4.5 1.5
David Price CT 87.9 -0.7 3.7 1.7
C.J. Wilson CT 88.5 -0.9 4.5 1.8

(In the original version of this post, I made a calculation error in this section. That has been resolved! Sorry, Jorge de la Rosa!)





You see Kershaw getting compared to a lot of cutters. It’s kind of a cutter-y pitch, because of the velocity with which it’s thrown. By strictly slider labels, the closest comp belongs to Mike Minor, with a 2.0 comparison rating, which isn’t a comparison at all. Morales’ cutter is of interest, because it’s new-ish. Obviously, it’s not as good as Kershaw’s slider, at least as a component of his broader repertoire, but it used to be Morales threw a slider in the mid-80s. He was mostly fastball/curveball/offspeed. Last year he morphed the slider into a faster cutter, and the usage rate skyrocketed. So that’s a promising(?) thing about Franklin Morales. Franklin Morales remains a free agent!

Wainwright cutter

Pitcher Pitch Velocity Horizontal Vertical Comp Rating
Adam Wainwright CT 87.3 3.3 4.6
Yu Darvish CT 89.2 3.3 4.4 0.7
Josh Tomlin CT 86.3 2.8 4.9 0.7
Anibal Sanchez SL 87.6 3.6 3.3 0.8
Andre Rienzo CT 87.7 2.6 4.1 0.8
Trevor Bauer CT 87.3 2.6 3.4 0.9





A big difference between Wainwright and Darvish: Wainwright threw his cutter about 30% of the time. Darvish, about 11%. Darvish, see, has almost too many pitches to choose from. It’s both the burden and the luxury of surplus. Tomlin, meanwhile, threw his cutter about 31% of the time, and despite his ERA, he generated some mighty encouraging peripherals. His cutter missed bats more often than Wainwright’s did. However, it also yielded a much higher slugging percentage. So Tomlin, perhaps, was more mistake-prone, but perhaps that’s also too simplistic. I don’t know!

Gray curveball

Pitcher Pitch Velocity Horizontal Vertical Comp Rating
Sonny Gray CU 82.5 9.2 -5.4
Carlos Carrasco CU 81.3 6.7 -5.4 1.7
Marcus Stroman CU 83.5 8.9 -2.2 1.7
Jenrry Mejia CU 78.6 9.6 -4.6 1.9
Jose Fernandez CU 83.6 9.0 -1.8 1.9
Mike Leake CU 80.4 7.3 -6.2 2.0





It’s not a real strong field of comps. I mean, the pitches themselves are good, but you’ll notice the comp ratings are weaker than in the previous tables. In that way, Gray has a more unusual curveball, and he certainly likes to throw it. He threw curves with more than a quarter of his pitches, making it his primary non-fastball weapon. Batters swung and missed a third of the time they tried to offer. Of note: between years, Gray kicked up his average curveball velocity by almost two ticks. He added an inch to the horizontal movement, and he reduced the vertical drop by three inches. Gray turned a good curveball into a sharper curveball, in other words.

Hamels changeup

Pitcher Pitch Velocity Horizontal Vertical Comp Rating
Cole Hamels CH 85.0 9.2 6.2
J.A. Happ CH 86.0 9.3 6.4 0.6
Martin Perez CH 84.9 8.4 6.5 0.8
Wandy Rodriguez CH 83.9 8.7 6.5 0.9
Madison Bumgarner CH 84.4 8.3 5.7 1.1
Joe Saunders CH 82.4 9.2 6.4 1.1





Remember what I said about how this isn’t necessarily providing comps in terms of pitch quality? Yeah. Here’s the best indication of that. On average, Happ throws a changeup that’s very similar to Hamels’ changeup, but he throws it less, and it’s more inconsistent, and the command is inferior. Because Happ is inferior, see. But you see the promise, and with Happ’s rising velocity, you can understand why he was thought to be an offseason sleeper within the game. Hamels, by the way, threw 23% changeups. Happ, a little over 9%. Perez, 16%. Rodriguez, 14%. Bumgarner, 7%. Saunders, 13%. In this post, you see a comparison between Cole Hamels, the pitcher, and Joe Saunders, the pitcher.

Chapman fastball

Pitcher Pitch Velocity Horizontal Vertical Comp Rating
Aroldis Chapman FA 101.2 3.7 11.1
Danny Duffy FA 96.6 4.0 11.7 2.5
Mike Dunn FA 95.9 4.5 10.6 2.9
Justin Wilson FA 96.3 5.4 11.3 3.1
Nick Hagadone FA 95.6 3.3 12.4 3.4
Tim Collins FA 93.2 3.8 11.2 3.5



Duffy (as a reliever, not a starter):


Yeah, so, there’s nothing like it. Not that you needed to be told, but there is no good current comparison to Aroldis Chapman’s fastball. Not among lefties, not in the bullpen. It’s probably the game’s most extraordinary pitch, and this is why no one could touch Chapman’s changeup when he messed around with it last summer. Who can even think about a changeup when this is in a pitcher’s back pocket? Aroldis Chapman’s fastball is stupid. No, that’s not quite right. Let me try that again: Aroldis Chapman’s fastball makes all the other fastballs look stupid. Much better.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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9 years ago

Great article, Jeff. Would love to see more like this, maybe one about Koji’s splitter?

Well-Beered Englishman
9 years ago
Reply to  Dan

As long as we’re making requests, I say hop in the time machine and compare somebody to Mariano.