The Best Fastball Of 2009

A few weeks ago, David rolled out pitch type linear weights, which gives run values to each type of pitch that is thrown. This is a tremendous resource, as it gives us the ability to quantify the difference in value pitchers have been getting from their arsenal and to look for trends that could help us identify quality pitchers going forward.

Well, it went under the radar a bit, but David has updated the leaderboards to include this data, so you can now sort by pitch types and see which pitchers are having the most or least success with various pitch types. Not surprisingly, Justin Verlander has gotten the most value out of his fastball this year, as he’s dialing up his four seamer and racking up the strikeouts with it. His power fastball, thrown up in the zone, is a true out pitch.

However, did you know Verlander does not rank number one in value per 100 fastball thrown? If you haven’t already checked out the leaderboard, you will never guess who is at the top of the list.

Tim Wakefield.

No, I’m not kidding. The knuckleballer is getting better results from his fastball, on a per pitch basis, than any other pitcher in baseball this year. His fastball averages 72 MPH, or about what you’d face in a small private high school league, and he’s getting more value his heater than guys who throw 100.

You will never need more evidence than this that pitching really is all about disrupting a hitters timing. Wakefield’s fastball, on it’s own, is not a major league quality pitch. He doesn’t throw it with velocity or a ton of movement, but because he’s set it up with knuckleballs, an offering that should be a total meatball is acting like a true out pitch.

This is something to keep in mind when you look at Pitch F/x data or scouting reports. We’ve come a long way in our ability to quantify what a pitcher throws, but there’s still a hugely undiscovered realm of pitching that has to do with varying speeds and movement within an at-bat, and the value that can come from timing disruption.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Big Oil
13 years ago

Couldn’t agree more: command and substantial pitch speed variation can make for a great major league pitcher absent “nasty” stuff; when velocity and movement are added to the equation, you often have the receipe for something truly special.

On an off topic note, another thanks to the authors of this site. They are probably already aware of it, but Deadspin paid a high compliment (IMO) in a recent article:

12 years ago
Reply to  Big Oil

I agree. I mean, I’m 13 and I throw 72 regularly. I imagine Wakefield must have truly nasty movement on his “heater”, if you can call it that, and control and O-swing % probably also figures majorly in that statement.. My god, most major league pitchers have changeups that are 10-15 mph faster.