One Counterpoint to Toronto’s Fastball Advantage

Yesterday, our own Eno Sarris astutely pointed out the advantage that a fastball-heavy pitching staff like the Blue Jays might have against the Indians lineup, who have done the overwhelming majority of their damage on slow stuff and have struggled against heaters. And while I do believe it’s true that, on the whole, Toronto’s fastballing ways could still give the Indians lineup fits, I go thinking about a couple follow-up point that might be important, and that might help mitigate this potential advantage.

Namely, I got to thinking about Marco Estrada, because it’s fun to think about Marco Estrada; Marco Estrada is a fascinatingly unique pitcher. Estrada is set to start Game 1 of the NLCS for Toronto against Cleveland in a few hours and, according to our PITCHf/x run values, Estrada had something like baseball’s 11th-most valuable fastball, right between Robbie Ray and Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg throws 95. Ray throws 94. Makes sense — the best fastballs are usually the fastest fastballs. Not Estrada, though. Estrada’s fastball sits 88. Estrada’s fastball is all about spin, and how it plays off his changeup, and since it’s so different, I got to wondering if maybe Estrada’s elite fastball plays by different rules than the fastballs against which Cleveland struggles.

So, simply, I split all the four-seam fastballs Cleveland’s faced this year into two groups, by velocity, using BaseballSavant. One group was fastballs with above-average velocity (93 or higher) and the other group was the below-average velo group. Cleveland’s numbers look like this:

Cleveland’s production against fastball types, by velocity

  • Above-average velocity: .376 SLG (29th)
  • Below-average velocity: .510 SLG (15th)

I understand that the smaller you split a sample, the more noise you might be subjecting yourself to, but I think what this indicates is that it’s not just fastballs, generally speaking, against which the Indians’ hitters struggle, but its velocity. Estrada doesn’t have velocity. Estrada does have great spin, and so I ran a secondary search look at Cleveland’s production against fastballs with above-average spin, and against those pitches, Cleveland slugged .439, also good for 15th. While 15th is still just average, it’s not clear that Cleveland’s disadvantage against fastballs really applies to a guy like Estrada.

Or J.A. Happ, for that measure. Happ, Toronto’s Game 2 starter, threw 73% fastballs this year — third-most among any qualified starter. But, again, Happ’s fastball comes in at a below-average 91 miles per hour. Marcus Stroman, Toronto’s Game 3 starter, throws his fastball at just an average 93. Only Aaron Sanchez — who threw 75% fastballs — possesses above-average fastball velocity in Toronto’s starting rotation.

This could wind up meaning something. It could not. Cleveland would still rather see a breaking or offspeed pitch than even a slow fastball, but it appears that what they truly struggle with is velocity, and despite Toronto’s success with fastballs, premium velocity is not something their rotation really possesses. And now they play.

August used to cover the Indians for MLB and, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at

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Travis Lmember
7 years ago

What are the league averages against those same fastball velo buckets?

7 years ago
Reply to  Travis L

Including the ranks (29th, 15th, 15th) is as good, in this case, as comparing to the actual league averages. You can see that they improve from very bad to average, and that’s the point.