Monday, October 5, 2009

Nationals' MVP: Most Valuable Pitches

Using linear weights, Dave Appelman has been tracking the run value of every pitch thrown in MLB this year. Over at Fangraphs, they've been divvying up the pitches by pitcher and pitch type to measure, for instance, how many runs Derek Lowe's sinker allowed this year, compared to the average pitch thrown by the average pitcher.

(Read this brief explanation if the paragraph above doesn't make sense to you.)

With a full season in the books, we can start to get a sense of what are toughest (and easiest) pitches to hit on the Nationals' staff. These data also allow us to start to identify pitches that perhaps should be thrown more or less often by certain pitchers.

Caution: there are definite sample-size issues here, and readers should put more stock in the numbers derived from pitchers who have thrown more innings and pitches that have been thrown more often. There aren't hard conclusions to be drawn here, but valuable tendencies worth discussion.

You can click here and noodle around with the data any way you want, but I filtered out only pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched (counting innings and results thrown for other teams) and only looked at pitches thrown 10% of the time or more.

First, the starters. These are the team's top five pitches measured by the number of runs allowed above average per 100 pitches thrown:
  • John Lannan's change-up: 2.04
  • Garrett Mock's change-up: 1.88
  • Ross Detwiler's curve: 1.73
  • Mock's curve: 0.99 (actually thrown 9.8% of the time, but I'm rounding)
  • Jordan Zimmermann's slider: 0.61
The first thing I notice is there isn't a single fastball on the list. In fact Shairon Martis is the only pitcher on the team with a fastball not in the negatives on pitch value (0.03). That's not good, since every one of these guys throws their fastball more often than every other pitch combined. In some cases it's command, while for others it's stuff. Regardless, most pitchers aren't going to do very well if the only way they can get outs is with breaking and off-speed stuff.

The second thing I notice is that if the fifth best pitch in the rotation is only a 0.61 value pitch, that's not good at all.

It's no shock to see Lannan's groundball-inducing change at the top of the list (though probably there are some fastballs miscategorized as change-ups in there).

But it's surprising to see guys like Mock and Detwiler with pitches that rank so high. Some of that is probably a matter of the league getting a first look at some young pitchers. It's also a reminder that Mock really does have some good stuff (if he can stop grooving his fastball, which is a -1.94 pitch thrown 60% of the time). Detwiler's big bender is a plus pitch, despite recent talk that it's not.

Zimmermann's has a 1.34 pitch value change, but he only threw it 6.4% of the time, and his 1.34, suggesting he should throw it more.

Craig Stammen, Livan Hernandez, Scott Olsen, J.D. Martin, and Martis didn't have any pitches that rated. No other starter had enough innings to qualify.

Next let's look at relievers:
  • Joe Beimel's curveball: 2.67
  • Jason Bergmann's curveball: 2.60
  • Sean Burnett's fastball: 1.68
  • Tyler Clippard's fastball: 1.51
  • Mike MacDougal's fastball: 0.60
Bergmann's curve is still a snappy little number, especially against righties. Too bad everything else is so hittable. MacDougal's fastball maybe ranks lower than you'd think, but he throws it 95% of the time, so he's getting his money's worth there. I'm surprised to see Joel Hanrahan didn't have any pitches to make this list, even counting his rebound in Pittsburgh.

Again, overal it's crazy how few real plus pitches the team has. Breaking it down at this level, you can see how far this staff has to go to be competitive with contenders.


Elan said...

Its possible, and very likely, that there is a relationship between the usage of a pitch and its effectiveness. Ie, Zimmermann's change up is effective because its only thrown 6.4 percent of the time. Similarly, it may be that because Lannan throws his fastball at some insane rate, his changeup becomes more effective. These stats dont seem to tell me that Zimmermann should throw any pitch more, just that he has a good go to pitch when it is warranted.

Anonymous said...

where's st. claire when you need him?!?!