Welcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. We've looked a hangers and sliders and the like, but today we're looking at the heat. No more messing around with the pesky off-speed stuff, today is the straight goods. Just how straight are those goods anyway?
The four seam fastball is a staple pitch of 99% of all big league pitchers. As it is generally straight, it is best if thrown hard. The harder the better. TV radar guns light up with juiced numbers showing your friendly neighbourhood fireballer hitting triple digits. That doesn't make it a better pitch, but it sure makes for some fun. Not all major league pitchers touch the century mark, but nearly all have to throw the fastball at one time or another.
After the jump you'll see "analysis" of two of baseball fastball darlings: Justin Verlander and Neftali Feliz with something of a control in Adam Wainwright. Wainwright's fastball ranks as one of least effective pitches in baseball though he's one of the best pitchers in the National League. Neftali Feliz has only been in the majors for a few weeks but he is making believers of anyone who watches. His fastball is consistently clocked above 100 to go with a devastating slider. Verlander pounded the Red Sox into submission in his last start, touching 100 on the tough-to-impress Pitch F/X gun in addition to the collected scouts and analysts. He threw his fastball nearly 65% of the time to great success, and you'll see why after the jump!
All pitches are velocity plotted against horizontal movement, in the case of a fastball the amount of "tail." Now the concept of "late life" is erroneous as it contravenes even the most basic laws of physics, but what we see here is Verlander's pitches moving much more than the young hurler Feliz. Though their velocity is very similar (look at Verlander, getting over the big mark!) Feliz's appears a little straighter, which can often translate into easier to hit.
Easier to hit is a relative term of course, as Adam Wainwright demonstrates. Wainwright throws his fastball 50% of the time, mostly to set up his superlative curve and slider (ask Carlo Beltran if you need a refresher.) Wainwright throws his fastball considerable slower than these two machines but with much more movement, his key to survival. A straight, slow fastball looks an awful lot like batting practice. Without incredible control one will not survive.
The concept of "working off" the fastball is one all power pitchers strive for. The incredible velocity coupled with even decent control can survive alone for a while (or incredible control with decent velocity like Mariano Rivera) but the threat of the secondary pitch is what keeps them off guard. Right now hitters are so geared up for Feliz's fastball they often wave hopelessly at sliders anywhere near the plate. It is tough to argue the results thus far (1.05 ERA, 0.90 FIP, 16 strikeouts in 8.2 innings) but should his secondary stuff fail him, the bats will find him all the same.