Silva’s Pitch Selection

Last night, Carlos Silva returned to his former stomping grounds in Minnesota, trying to resurrect his career after a disastrous 2008 season. Silva represents one of the tests for the predictive power of FIP, which we often use to evaluate pitchers here on the site. Last year, Silva posted a 4.63 FIP, not much different than his career 4.54 mark. However, a .347 batting average on balls in play and a 61.1% LOB% led to a ridiculous 6.46 ERA – almost two runs higher than his fielding independent numbers would suggest.

Based on the fact that his struggles came from two areas that show very weak year to year correlation, and that he posted numbers in both categories that are basically unsustainable, most of us would expect positive regression to the mean in 2009. His walk rate, strikeout rate, and ground ball rate were all basically unchanged, so it seems unlikely that Silva mysteriously lost the ability to get outs on balls in play while holding on to the rest of his skills.

Last night’s performance, however, wasn’t particularly re-assuring to the regression crowd. He got lit up again, giving up six runs in five innings, thanks in large part to allowing a pair of two run homers early in the game. Besides the gopheritis, he was typical Silva – threw a lot of strikes, got a lot of contact, and even found some sink on his fastball that allowed him to get 13 ground balls.

Well, maybe he didn’t get that much more sink on his fastball. Perhaps the ground balls came from a remarkable reliance on his sinker. Here’s Silva’s pitch selection in column form.


That’s 84 fastballs, 10 sliders, and 4 change-ups. For a guy whose fastball averages 90 MPH and doesn’t have that much movement, that’s a lot of confidence in one pitch. Or a lack of confidence in the other pitches, at least – both home runs allowed by Silva came on change-ups, and after the long ball to Span, Silva was reluctant to throw any more.

It’s really rare to see a starting pitcher throw 85% fastballs. It’s even rarer when that fastball isn’t particularly good. Silva’s done this before, though – in his career best 2005 season, 84% of his pitches were fastballs.

Can he get his results to match his FIP? Can he succeed with essentially one pitch? It might not be fun for Mariner fans to watch, but he’s certainly an interesting experiment.

We hoped you liked reading Silva’s Pitch Selection by Dave Cameron!

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Since you bring up the pitch categories, where is the sinker: is there anywhere that breaks down fastball types further? Cut fastball vs. four seamer, sinker vs. slider (and other two seam variants). Are the “sliders” listed above really his sinkers, or are the sinkers lumped in with fast balls?

Eric Cioe
Eric Cioe

No pitch classification system could confuse a fastball and a slider. Fastballs on fangraphs means 4 seam, 2 seam, and sinker. A cutter is always distinguished from those fastballs, as the movement is completely opposite, rather than basically the same but varying by degree like a 4 seam and 2 seam.

The one problem you run into is sliders and cutters being confused. Pitch f/x also has a lot of problems with splitters and changeups being confused. But once you learn to look for those things, it’s no big deal. You see 5% sliders at 87 mph and 25% cutters at 87.5 mph and basically just read it as 30% cutters at 87.5. Same with the changeup and splitter confusion.