Fun with Fangraphs’ new sortable PITCHf/x leaderboards

The Justin Maxwell Option
Baseball America's Top Ten Yankees Prospects
(Photo by Steve Ruark/Getty Images North America)

During the past year, one of the most frustrating aspects of conducting advanced baseball analysis has been the widening gulf between the reliability of the pitching data supplied by Baseball Info Solutions (and which FanGraphs uses) and Sportvision’s PITCHf/x, the latter of which is near-universally acknowledged as the superior data set (though that’s certainly not to say PITCHf/x is without its own flaws). To the delight of baseball nerds like me, FanGraphs recently went a long way toward rectifying this situation, adding PITCHf/x data not only to the individual player pages, but even more importantly, to the sortable leaderboards, enabling us to make comparisons that were previously impossible unless one wanted to input every individual name into TexasLeaguers.com manually and compile the data themselves in as painstaking a manner as possible.

In honor of the newfound ability to see where our favorite pitchers ranked in relation to their peers, I’ve taken a first pass through last year’s data to see where the members of the Yankees’ starting staff ranked among the 42 qualified AL starters across several categories. Neither Freddy Garcia nor Phil Hughes made the innings cut, which is why they’re not present. I also didn’t evaluate horizontal movement (pfx_x) or vertical movement (pfx_z), as you can’t really rank H-break and V-break in descending/ascending order (though you can try), at least not without first binning by pitching arm, which FanGraphs does not have the ability to do.


It may surprise you to learn that Ivan Nova threw the 7th-most four-seamers in the American League last season, although despite the fact that it’s frequently been derided as a lesser pitch for Nova, he also wound up having the most relative success with it on the Yankee pitching staff, with a 0.46 FF/C, good for 12th-best in the league. It will not surprise you that A.J. Burnett had by far the worst four-seamer in the league, at -2.21 per 100 thrown.

Here’s another interesting Nova nugget: despite the fact that PITCHf/x only has him having thrown a slider 3.7% of the time — a percentage that appears to be incorrect — he had tremendous success with it (which is, of course, something we already knew), putting up a 0.90 wSL/C, good for 11th-best in the AL and second on the team after CC Sabathia. As I and many other shave noted throughout this offseason, Nova’s slider will likely be the deciding factor behind whether he can continue to pitch as effectively as he did in 2011.

CC Sabathia’s sinker was one of the best in the game, ranking second-fastest (93mph), most valuable on an overall basis (2.5 runs above average) and second-most valuable on a per-100 basis (0.41). The only thing that worked for A.J. Burnett last season was his curve, which was worth 10.7 runs above average. And Bartolo Colon, as we saw all season, had one of the best two-seamers in the business, worth 4.7 runs above average, good for 7th-best in the AL.

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The Justin Maxwell Option
Baseball America's Top Ten Yankees Prospects
  • http://twitter.com/andrewjcalagna Drew

    Yawn….next

    • Lazy Bones Andruw Joes

      Wow… insightful. I’m going to follow you on twitter because you’re one smart cookie!

  • thenamestsam

    These stats are really interesting, but I find it really hard to try to draw any conclusions off them. Take A.J. Burnett for example. His curve is extremely valuable, and his FB is awful. From a sort of game theory perspective, the obvious conclusion to draw from that would seem to suggest to me that he should throw more curves and fewer FB. As he does that players will start to look for the curve more and the fastball less and he’ll find better balance and more success.

    In practice though, baseball is a complicated game. A.J.s fastball gets killed because he has no command and players sit fastball against him. If A.J. starts throwing more curves he’s going to be behind in the count all the time (even more than he is now) because he can so rarely command it. That’s going to lead to players sitting fastball even more and maybe the fastball getting hit even harder. Basically I don’t see how these numbers can be used except as a curiosity.

    • Gonzo

      I think you just drew a conclusion/observation on AJ based on these numbers.

      • JohnnyC

        Yes but it’s a conclusion we already knew from observation. It didn’t provide a new insight.

        • Gonzo

          Didn’t it JohnnyC? Didn’t it?

    • Behind Enemy Lines

      The problem with AJ is really as simple as his inability to throw his curve for strikes. When he can’t, and with every other offering at 88-92, he rightly gets hammered.

      If the guy cared at all about his craft he would have perfected a slow change ten years ago. How hard can a circle change or hell a palm ball be to learn? You change your grip and throw it with the same arm action as the fastball.

      • Monteroisdinero

        Nova was so good last year because of his ability to throw his non-fb stuff for strikes (or at least to get batters to swing at it). They couldn’t just lay off it and wait for the fb as they seemed to do with AJ.

        Love Nova’s stuff/mechanics/demeanor/youth.

        • pat

          /salary

      • pat

        How hard can a circle change or hell a palm ball be to learn? You change your grip and throw it with the same arm action as the fastball.

        Pretty hard, otherwise wouldn’t every pitcher in baseball throw one?

        • Behind Enemy Lines

          Every pitcher likely does throw one. The difference is whether they’re working off of a decent fastball.

          • Jim Is Bored

            And AJ no longer has a decent fastball. I’m not sure where you’re going with this. How would learning a changeup help if his fastball stinks?

            • Behind Enemy Lines

              Are you ignorant and bored? A 92.7 mph fastball, on average, is plenty good.

              A good change makes a good fastball that much better. See the entire history of soft tossers in the sport. Moose was excelling with an 87 mph fastball at the end.

              http://www.fangraphs.com/pitch.....P#velocity

              Why? Because he had separation with every pitch he threw.

              And so he had three plus offerings even though his fastball had completely deteriorated.

              http://www.fangraphs.com/stats.....itchvalues

              • Need Pitching

                it’s not just the separation though, its also the command, which AJ has little of
                A good consistent change could certainly help, but if he’s still throwing fat fastballs, they are still going to get hit.

        • G

          I personally think the palm ball is seriously user utilized. I’m no star pitcher but I’ve dabbled in it, and getting a good circle change is extremely hard. However, I found a palm ball incredibly easy to grip, easy to command, very effective as a change up, and it had surprisingly good downward movement. So many pitchers could improve just by giving it a shot. Like I said I’m nothing special on tue mound but tue palmball still looked like a legitimate quality pitch coming from me. If I can make it look good I imagine it could be used very effectively by ominously better pitchers.

        • G

          I personally think the palm ball is seriously under utilized. I’m no star pitcher but I’ve dabbled in it, and getting a good circle change is extremely hard. However, I found a palm ball incredibly easy to grip, easy to command, very effective as a change up, and it had surprisingly good downward movement. So many pitchers could improve just by giving it a shot. Like I said I’m nothing special on tue mound but tue palmball still looked like a legitimate quality pitch coming from me. If I can make it look good I imagine it could be used very effectively by ominously better pitchers.

        • G

          I personally think the palm ball is seriously under utilized. I’m no star pitcher but I’ve dabbled in it, and getting a good circle change is extremely hard. However, I found a palm ball incredibly easy to grip, easy to command, very effective as a change up, and it had surprisingly good downward movement. So many pitchers could improve just by giving it a shot. Like I said I’m nothing special on tue mound but tue palmball still looked like a legitimate quality pitch coming from me. If I can make it look good I imagine it could be used very effectively by infinitely better pitchers.

          • G

            Holy triple post Batman… What the hell just happened?

      • gc

        Yes, it’s just that easy. He obviously doesn’t care enough to be better at it. Stop trying to get into the heads of these players or pretending to know what they’re thinking or what motivates them. You don’t, and neither do I or anyone here.

        • Behind Enemy Lines

          Please. He throws his current change at 88 mph and yet throws it 10% of the time. If that doesn’t tell you he’s a moron, nothing will.

          • gc

            I guess you’re right. After all, I don’t know you, and based on everything you’ve written here, pretending to know about what’s going on in the head of someone you don’t know, I’m 100% convinced you’re a fucking dimwit. Thanks for confirming that for me.

            • Behind Enemy Lines

              Well, it’s clear that if you understood anything about the art of pitching, you’d know those words apply more to you than to me.

      • JohnnyC

        Very hard. If it was easy, every pitcher in the majors would throw an effective one.

  • Gonzo

    Freddy didn’t miss the cut. He is in a class all by himself.

  • Behind Enemy Lines

    It amazes me that after all his time in baseball, Burnett still throws 66% of his pitches at the same speed. No wonder he gets hammered. Not surprisingly, the one pitch he varies is his only positive offering.

    Meathead.

    • Steve (different one)

      This is an easy narrative, but the fact is that AJ was a very effective pitcher for about 10 years before 2010. If you are doing something that works, are you dumb for not changing it? Hasn’t Mariano been throwing at one speed for 15 years?

      I agree that AJ has to adapt now that his fastball is no longer elite, but it’s not like he has had reason to change his style up until what is relatively recently in his career.

      • Behind Enemy Lines

        Not really. He was a guy always behind his stuff. He could have always been so much better. His fastball was overpowering. He’s just never gotten anything else to work with any consistency. I attribute that to a lack of thought and work. It’s not like he’s out there trying to do anything it takes. He’s throwing the same slop he was two years ago.

        • Jim Is Bored

          And yet every quote we ever hear from the Yankees touts his work ethic and his desire to perform better.

          “He’s got a great deal of ability. He stays healthy. He’s accountable, he works his tail off. He’s obviously had to deal with adversity because of the inconsistent performance. But he hasn’t shied away from it, and he continues to take that ball every five days and does everything he can to continue to secure a win and be the best he can be.”

          http://newyork.cbslocal.com/20.....-rotation/

          • Jim Is Bored

            That’s Cashman, for the record.

            • Behind Enemy Lines

              Desire is not the same as actually experimenting and trying new things. change up is not a difficult pitch to learn. But you have to work on throwing it with the same confidence as a fastball.

              • Jim Is Bored

                What? How do you know a change up is not a difficult pitch to learn? Why doesn’t everyone throw a fantastic change up if it’s that easy?

                Plus, you said, and I quote “I attribute that to a lack of thought and work. It’s not like he’s out there trying to do anything it takes.”

                Cashman said he has a fantastic work ethic and is trying to be the best he can be. I’ll take his word for it.

                • Behind Enemy Lines

                  Look above. He’s throwing his current change at 88mph and yet throws it 10% of the time. He’s a idiot if he thinks that’s fooling anyone.

                  What else do you expect Cashman to say? He also defended Pavano to the bitter end.

                  • Jim Is Bored

                    My response: His fastball stinks right now. Even, in your hypothetical situation, if he learned a good changeup, how would it help if his fastball were still terrible?

                    You’ve regressed to using his mediocre and infrequently used changeup as proof that he’s an idiot with a terrible work ethic. Nova and Colon threw theirs even less than Burnett did. Are they idiots too?

                    Or are there other ways to work on improving as a pitcher?

                    • Jim Is Bored

                      Unless you meant he threw it too frequently. In which case, I really have no idea what you’re talking about.

                      Because to me, that reeks of maybe, I dont know, trying to improve it in game situations, which you want him to be doing.

                    • Behind Enemy Lines

                      His fastball can absolutely be improved by a decent change. Look at how Moose re-invented himself. You lose speed and get better by losing even more speed.

                      Colon and Nova have more than one pitch working for them.

                    • Behind Enemy Lines

                      Trying to improve an offering that comes in at the same velo as his other stuff? Brilliant!

          • http://www.twitter.com/brandonholley B-Rando

            What are these?? facts??? We don’t use facts around here…

            • Jim Is Bored

              Sorry. I stopped frequenting as much after the ALDS loss. Forgot how everything worked :)

              But the baseball bug is back. How long till pitchers and catchers report?

              • http://www.twitter.com/brandonholley B-Rando

                Luckily we have a counter for that in the upper right of the site!

                • Jim Is Bored

                  Haha I didn’t even see it. Awesome.

  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

    I look forward Ivan Nova still becoming an even better pitcher in 2012. Thanks for this, Larry.

    • Larry Koestler

      My pleasure. Having analyzed Nova’s season rather thoroughly at this point, I’m starting to wonder if maybe the fanbase — myself included — is expecting too little out of Ivan next year.

      While it’s important to manage expectations — not to mention the fact that several of his peripherals are screaming regression — Nova could turn out to be an even more pleasant surprise in 2012.

      • Jim Is Bored

        I think the Hughes/Joba episodes have numbed people a bit to young Yankee pitchers and their potential. Fairly or unfairly.

        • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

          I think it’s a different phenomenom. I think too much of the fanbase on sites like this makes too large a differentiation between a “blue chip” prospect and one not carrying the pedigree. We expect the moon from Hughes/Joba/Brackman/Banuelos/Betances, but assume that David Phelps, Ivan Nova, and Hector Noesi aren’t going to be anything more than back of the rotation fodder. Sure, there are very real things influencing how these guys are billed, but the difference is less than what it’s made out to be.

      • Behind Enemy Lines

        It’s the peripherals. The pleasant surprise would be him continuing to find success in spite of them.

        That said, he clearly has the pitches to be a good league average innings eater. That’s fine for the Yankees, if they had starters to fill out the middle of the rotation.

        • Jim Is Bored

          But his peripherals improved as the year went on, which is what I think Larry’s getting at.

        • SDM

          His peripherals improved greatly as he went through the season

          and his slider got an insane 21% whiff rate, and he threw it for strikes at a 73% rate.

  • paranoid android

    When he was fresh and chugging along, Colon’s 2-seamer was a thing of beauty. Lefties were helpless when that thing darted in at the last second.

    Unfortunately, the Bartman’s tank hit empty way too soon…