The best fastball, curveball, slider, cutter, and changeup on the Yankees

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Over the past couple of weeks we’ve started writing about the stats we use. One concept we saw in both current entries, UZR and wOBA, is linear weights. The idea might sound complex, but it is not. The idea is to assign a value to different outcomes and situations, so we can get a truer sense of how baseball players add value. During the 2009 season, FanGraphs introduced pitch type linear weights, which took the actual results of different pitch types, as provided by Baseball Info Solutions, and ran them through linear weight conversions by not only event, but by count. This gives us a decent idea of how a pitcher fared with his arsenal.

Let’s see how each of the Yankees fared. We’ll look at pitchers who spent a decent amount of time on the roster, 40 innings for relievers plus the starters. Then I’ll compare them to the league leaders, both for starters and relievers. These measurements will be on a per 100 pitch basis, as to put it in a rate form rather than counting form. Finally, for the secondary pitches I’ll weed out the short sample size numbers by noting only pitchers who threw the particular pitch at least 10 percent of the time.

Fastball

Starter: CC Sabathia, 0.64
Reliever: Phil Coke, 1.40

Some might be surprised to see Coke atop the list — some might even say it delegitimizes the stat. I believe it, though. It seemed that Coke got into major trouble when he overused his slider. We saw that first hand early in the season when the Twins, namely Morneau and Mauer, lit up Coke’s slider. He came back later in the series to face Morneau, and struck him out using just fastballs. It was certainly his most effective pitch, which probably explains why he had such spotty success. Relievers certainly need that second pitch. Also, for good measure, Phil Hughes‘s fastball wasn’t far behind, at 1.22, and it rated higher on a counting basis.

What comes as no surprise is CC Sabathia’s fastball ranking highest among starters. A.J. Burnett is known for his blazing fastball and devastating curve, but in 2009 his fastball didn’t quite measure up. That leaves Joba, Sabathia, and Pettitte, and it’s pretty clear who had the best fastball among that group. Joba, in fact, had a pretty terrible fastball, ranking among the worst for AL starters.

AL leader, starter: Zack Greinke, 1.27
AL leader, reliever: Craig Breslow, 2.65

Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Slider

Starter: Joba Chamberlain, 1.29
Reliever: Phil Coke, -0.30

It seems Joba has good reason for loving his slider so much, as it appears a damn effective pitch. Overall it was worth 7.5 runs above average, an excellent mark, especially for a guy pitching his first full major league season. He kept shaking off Jorge Posada to get the three fingers, and he kept throwing it with effectiveness. If he can further harness the pitch this year and get his fastball back to 2008 levels, when it was at 0.79 runs above average per 100 pitches, he should have a wildly successful 2010 season.

As for Coke being the top reliever, that’s more a result of so few Yankee relievers using the pitch. David Robertson actually ranked highest, but he threw the pitch just 1.4 percent of the time, so we can discount the performance. Likewise, Burnett led among starters but threw the slider just 0.1 percent of the time. The Yankees bullpen, it appears, is more of a curveball/changeup crew.

AL leader, starter: Zack Greinke, 2.90
AL leader, reliever: Mike Wuertz, 2.75

Credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Curve

Starter: A.J. Burnett, 1.47
Reliever: Al Aceves, 1.74

Though we saw it fall flat on a few occasions this season, Burnett clearly has the best curve on the team, and among the best in the league. His is a power curve, coming in something like a slider as it dips down and away from righties.

Aceves boasts a number of pitches in his arsenal, but none appears as effective as his curve. He’s a nice change of pace in the Yankees bullpen. While they have Robertson, Marte, and Hughes with strong fastballs, Aceves brings it down a tick, mixing high 80s heat with a slew of breaking and off-speed pitches that keep hitters guessing.

AL leader, starter: Tommy Hunter, 2.27
Al leader, reliever: Joakim Soria, 4.86

Credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Change

Starter: CC Sabathia, 3.59
Reliever: Al Aceves, 3.10

Mike already wrote about CC’s changeup and how it devastates righties. So devastating, in fact, that it ranked best in league. Go CC. On the relief front, Aceves proves his versatility by not only ranking highest for curve, but also for changeup. He throws them with similar frequency, keeping hitters off-balance. Again, I love the change of pace he brings to the bullpen.

AL leader, starter: Sabathia
AL leader, reliever: Aceves

Credit: AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

Cutter

Starter: Andy Pettitte, 2.50
Reliever: Mariano Rivera, 2.03

Neither of these comes as a surprise. Surprisingly, Hughes’s cutter ranked not far behind Mo’s on a rate basis, at 1.98, but clearly didn’t even approach it on a counting basis. Both of Hughes’s fastballs ranked well, with his curveball lagging behind. He probably needs to start throwing it more in 2010, though it appears he favors the four-seamer and cutter much more when pitching out of the bullpen.

Pettitte mixed his pitches well in 2009, going with healthy doses of four-seamers, cutters, curves, and changes. His cutter ranked the best, and his curve provided value as well. Those two pitches, I believe, help compensate for his four-seamer, which sits at 89 mph. Because he can go to the cutter and curve so frequently, he can keep hitters guessing, meaning they can’t jump as quickly on his four-seamer. His cutter, as you can see, ranked just below best in the league among AL starters.

AL leaders, starter: Scott Feldman and Jon Danks, 2.56
Al leader, reliever: Rivera (conveniently ignoring Lance Cormier’s slightly higher per-100-pitches mark, because Mo’s counting stat was far, far higher, and I’m biased and Mo is Mo)

Pettitte photo credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Mo photo credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

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Report: Nady reaches deal with the Cubs, Sheets with A's
Yanks trade Mitch Hilligoss for Greg Golson
  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    Obviously this doesn’t count the Dominican League teams, just the parent club, right?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      If it counted Dominican League teams, the post would be two words long.

      • Steve H

        What’s the 2nd word? Like Magic, Tiger, Michael, Babe, etc, when you say Melvin, everyone knows who you’re talking about.

        • Andy in Sunny Daytona

          “Melvin, bitches.”

  • jsbrendog officially approves signing Fernando Tatis

    so what you’re telling me is that alfredo aceves is a very good pitcher

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      More that he used both his curveball and his changeup effectively in 2009. That’s all these weights tell us. They don’t say which pitch is nastier, or better in terms of “stuff.” It weighs the results they got from the pitch. Which is why I really hope we get a defense-neutral version next year.

      • jsbrendog officially approves signing Fernando Tatis

        cool. so then he was a good pitcher last year. not that he has good stuff, but is a good pitcher, using his pitches effectively and working to his strengths. it sounds easy but its something that is hard to do

  • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew

    I’m surprised AP’s cut is so close to the AL lead. I knew it was one of his most effective pitches, I just didn’t think it was that good.

    • jsbrendog officially approves signing Fernando Tatis

      there’s got to be some reasno guy is still chugging along at a league average rate

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        I think it’s the 89 mph fastball.

        /IPK’d

  • Salty Buggah

    Nice to see Aceves’ curve be effective. Weren’t there concerns about his curve not being good enough after/in 2008?

    Anyway, is it me or do posts telling the best things (in this post, it’s pitches) about the Yanks get you all pumped up? Can’t wait for Béisbol.

  • pat

    If you scroll up and down this page quickly it kinda looks like a flip book.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    Who had the best gyroball in the league?

    • jsbrendog officially approves signing Fernando Tatis

      i wish more people threw a screwball.

      • A.D.

        Danny Herrera is suppose to, other than that no idea of anyone.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        Trick Question.

        A gyroball is NOT a screwball. It is a way of throwing a baseball that has been passed down from one Shogun to the next. It was originated by Sakanoue no Tamuramaro who threw his opponent’s skull that way at their fellow warriors. It is now only thrown by Daisuke Matsuzaka.
        (side note: It was taught to Tom Cruise when he researched The Last Shogun, but he could not master the pitch due to his smallish hands.)

        • Tom Zig

          True or false:

          The gyroball is just a meme. It never is actually thrown because it would really just turn into a gopher ball.

  • Ben

    if ace’s change is 3.10, how is Brandon League’s 2.65 AL leading?

    • A.D.

      about to ask the same question.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

        Don’t know how I made that flub. It’s fixed.

        • http://twitter.com/JamalG_BB Jamal G.

          Neither is the leader – the Orioles’ Jim Johnson had a changeup that was 3.44 runs above the league average.

          • A.D.

            Yeah, and just snuck under the criteria with throwing it just over 10% of the time.

        • http://twitter.com/JamalG_BB Jamal G.

          BTW, the AL East is really, really, really fucking good.

      • A.D.

        Cause he lost on counting to League? I say give it to Aceves, though I guess per/100 then Jim Johnson would win

  • A.D.

    Al leader, reliever: Joakim Soria, 4.86

    Damnnnn

  • T-Dubs

    Yanks acquire Greg Golson, anyone have an opinion on him?

    • jsbrendog officially approves signing Fernando Tatis

      he still doesnt have a hit in the majors

      • T-Dubs

        how about some basic pros and cons besides the lack of a hit?

        • Steve H

          I know that he doesn’t have the best fastball, curveball, slider, cutter, and changeup on the Yankees.

        • A.D.

          Just look at his minor league numbers & that he was traded for Hilligoss, I wouldn’t get too excited.

    • Rose

      Looks like a couple of Single A players swapped for very small reasons.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Dude, please. This is so off-topic it’s not funny. Not only that, but we have a thread coming on it.

      We don’t ask much, but we do ask that you don’t post blatantly off-topic information. Now I can’t even delete the thread because there are comments on it.

      • jsbrendog officially approves signing Fernando Tatis

        when people post so blatantly offt opic you should edit it and put in something that makes them look dumb, or just change it to something like “Ben/Mike/Joe YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST!11!111!1″

      • T-Dubs

        my bad. Ben/Mike/Joe YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST!11!111!1

  • http://hardballtimes.com/main/blog Dan Novick

    Where’s Melvin?

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      Melvin is all around.

    • Steve H

      He’s everywhere. Omnipresence is just one of his higher powers.

    • pat

      Where isn’t Melvin?

  • mark

    strikeout is the most productive way of making outs if you MUST make an out. while you can’t hit a sac fly, you can’t hit into a double play (except when a runner is in motion trying steal). overall dps are far more frequent than sac flies. also, a strikeout means you’ve at least taken three pitches and usually more so you are helping raise pitch counts.

    • jsbrendog officially approves signing Fernando Tatis

      \thread fail

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        A Lohudian, no doubt.

        /stuck up’d

        • pete

          no not stuck up. I can’t read the comments there now, not just because so many of them suck to begin with, but they are chronically incapable of keeping them on-topic. I hate reading cano-pedroia fielding debates (dumb to begin with) on a post about LF options.

  • MJ

    I find it interesting to note that back in 2007, Wang’s slider was worth 2.27 runs above average/100 pitches. He threw the slider 16.2% of the time so he would’ve qualified for this study.

    Given how Greinke led this category at 2.90 last year and Joba led the team with a 1.29, it makes you appreciate how, once upon a time, Wang was a pretty good pitcher.

  • pete

    I think a non-rate version of pitch linear weights would be much more useful. Otherwise, it’s less indicative of how good of a pitch it is an more indicative of how effective a pitcher’s other pitches are. A pitcher with 3 or 4 quality pitches will have abnormally high rates on each on account of his ability to keep hitters off balance. At the same time, though, a pitcher with a really crappy fastball like joba’s, will have success with the slider not because hitters are “geared up” for the fastball, but simply because they know that A) the fastball sucks, and B) it’s almost certainly going to come a couple times in every at-bat. If you know you can hit a guy’s fastball, you’re not going to think much about his slider, because there’s almost no chance that you don’t get a fastball to hit before you strike out on sliders.

    • MJ

      I’ve wondered about that regarding pitch linear weight values, specifically with respect to Trevor Hoffman’s fastball/changeup. The changeup is good but probably moreso because of how much it fools hitters relative to his average fastball.

      I guess it’s an issue of pitchability, no?

  • Mike R

    I don’t know how many drugs you’d have to take to give Ben Sheets 10 Million guaranteed with incentives. What a joke, I’m sorry I’d give that guy a base of 5 million guaranteed with incentives, anyone who even tries to make a case that he’s better than Pettite should be paid no attention, not to mention I’m pretty sure Pettite has less guaranteed money. A team especially like the A’s signing Sheets just makes me laugh, the guy did nothing in 2009 because of injury, sure he impressed people in a workout, but that doesn’t guarantee anything whatsoever. Good luck to the A’s, but signing Sheets to 10 million isn’t taking a gamble, it isn’t a good sign, it’s essentially a money sink for a pitcher who is clearly riddled with injuries and reminds me of our good buddy Carl Pavano.

  • brad

    WATS GOOOD niggas