Pitch velocity does not equal success

There is a lot of emphasis put on velocity these days, and the latest buzz was the 98 to 99 mile per hour cutter that Ranger Emmanuel Clase was hurling Wednesday with nasty bite.

With this in mind, it seemed like a fitting time to take a look at some large velocities and big/small gaps between pitches to look at impact. Clearly, Clase does not have a huge gap between anything that he throws. He has the hard cutter and a four seam, that average 98.9 and 98.5, respectively. He mixes in a hard slider at 91.7, which he only threw once on Wednesday.

Another pitcher, albeit in a completely different style, who does it with nearly everything hard is Gerrit Cole. Generally starting pitchers work with a larger tool box of offerings, since hitters are seeing them more in the game, with these, there is a larger opportunity for a distance in velocity between pitches. Cole does not subscribe to that. While he does throw a curve at 82, that is still hard for that offering. In a huge strikeout campaign, Cole has been utilizing that curve as a hammer to put hitters away at times. However, it is the offering with one of his highest batting average against and lowest whiff rate. Otherwise, his slider and change both sit at 89, and he has had the most success with his hard stuff.

Jacob deGrom is in a similar boat, with all his pitches coming in at 84.5 or above and everything except his curve over 90. In his arsenal, deGrom features a 90 mile per hour change up, which is harder than a few qualifying fastballs. His slider at nearly 93 certainly tops even more. Similarly, deGrom does not feature his curve much, tossing it just 3.61 percent of the time in 2019. Focusing more on his hard stuff, throwing his four seam and slider over 81 percent of the time. But, again, his hard stuff and similar velocity splits work, as both his slider and change have whiff rates over 20 percent.

On the opposite end, Lucas Giolito is using a drastic gap between his four seamer and change up to fuel a resurgent 2019 campaign. Giolito throws a fastball at 94.6, but drops down over 12 miles per hour to his change and almost 15 for his curve. Additionally, his slider comes in at 84.95 miles per hour. He also throws his change nearly a quarter of the time and it has just a .390 slugging percentage against it and a 22 percent whiff rate. The huge gap also makes his fastball that much stronger, with a .333 slugging against.

Chris Sale and Trevor Bauer are two more pitchers that have a large gap in between their pitches. Sale throws his fastball at nearly 94 and curve at 79. Sale is an interesting case as well, as he now throws his slider 3.5 miles per hour slower in 2019 as he did in his debut campaign. He also has at least a six mile per hour difference between all his major pitches. Bauer comes with his fastball at 95, but drops down to under 80 for his curve. Bauer is in the same boat as Sale, as he has a nice gap between his offerings. He tosses his slider and curve about the same velocity, and his cutter is 84 and change at 86.

On the other side, Jose Berrios, throws a hard curve as well, and it is one the best single pitches in the game at 81.5. His change is right in the same range at 83, with his fastball in the 93.5 range. With this, Berrios has thrown his curve ball and astounding 30 percent of the time for the past three seasons. Over the same span, Berrios threw his four-seamer 35 percent in each of 2017 and ’18, and 30 percent in 2019. He also works in a sinker nearly a quarter of the time.

While Berrios works with a hard curve, Zack Greinke has not been afraid to drop off to sub-70 for his curve at times. According to MLB.com’s Andrew Simon, Greinke’s retiring of Charlie Blackmon on Tuesday night moved opposing hitters to 1-for-60 to pitches under 70 miles per hour.

Along with movement, Luis Castillo uses a huge drop off in velocity to put hitters away with his changeup, which has been so devastating in 2019. Castillo throws a hard 96.5 mile per hour fastball, but then drops to 87 with his changeup, which features some nasty run. Castillo actually defeats the purpose of the whole name changeup, as it is his primary pitch at 32.67 percent in 2019. He also has nearly a 29 percent whiff rate. Basically, hitters know that it is coming, and still can’t touch it.

Essentially, this story tells that, despite all of the focus on velocity, ultimate success is in finding what pitches keep hitters off balance and guessing…or is so overwhelming that they can’t doing anything with it, knowing it is coming There is no end all-be all textbook for success. In this case, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.

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