What pitches do the Yankees starters throw?

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Following Larry’s examination of the best pitches in the Yankees’ rotation, we received an email from a reader who asked an excellent question.

I was wondering if you guys could do some kind of guide to what pitches each of our pitchers throw and how often.

Thanks to FanGraphs, identifying these pitches and frequencies becomes much easier. Previously, to identify a pitcher’s entire arsenal would require quite a bit of video watching, and would likely also require an outside resource. Frequency was out of the question, unless you had a paid subscription to a service such as Baseball Info Solutions. Now FanGraphs aggregates all of that data.

Today we’ll look into what the Yankees’ seven starters throw, and how frequently they throw it. But before we do, a few disclaimers. First, we’re going by Pitch f/x data here, since it’s captured on high-speed cameras. The Baseball Info Solutions data, also available on FanGraphs, gets recorded, from videos, by stringers. There’s much more room for human error there. Also, the Pitch f/x data includes more pitches, so there’s a more accurate breakdown.

At the same time, Pitch f/x isn’t error-free. It often misclassifies pitches, and consistently. For example, before 2010 it didn’t do a good job of separating different types of fastballs. I’ll try to combine personal knowledge of arsenals with the Pitch f/x data in order to provide a clearer look at each pitcher’s repertoire. Remember, too, that you can look into this yourself; the data is available on every FanGraphs player page.

CC Sabathia

Fastball: Sabathia throws two fastballs, according to Pitch f/x, a four-seamer and a sinker. In 2011 he threw his sinker about 17 percent of the time, while using the four-seamer about 42 percent. There’s about a mile per hour difference between the pitches, with the four-seamer sitting at around 94 mph.

Slider: While he sometimes refers to it as his cutter, CC’s main breaking pitch is a pretty true slider. He apparently ramped up his usage of it last year, and significantly. While he’d been throwing it around 18 percent of the time previously, he threw it 26.6 percent of the time in 2011. His velocity on it hasn’t changed much over the years, as he still throws it at a little over 81 mph.

Changeup: When facing righties, Sabathia often breaks out his changeup as a knockout pitch. It’s more of a hard change, so its effectiveness comes from both the slight change of speed and the movement. It travels at around 86 mph, and he threw it 13.2 percent of the time in 2011. He apparently sacrificed some changeup usage in favor of his slider last season.

Curveball: Sabathia does throw a curveball, but he’s all but shelved it. After throwing it 4.2 percent of the time in 2008, he reduced that to 2.1 percent in 2009. It didn’t register at all in 2010, and in 2011 he threw it just 0.8 percent of the time. That could possible be a misclassification as well.

Michael Pineda

Fastball: Pineda registered three types of fastballs last year. His four-seamer he went to with frequency, throwing it 58 percent of the time. He also worked in a cutter, 4.7 percent, and a two-seamer, 2.1 percent. Working in varieties of fastballs could help him as he works a third pitch into his arsenal. Surprisingly, the four-seamer came across with the lowest velocity, at just over 94 mph. The others were at 95 and close to 97 mph.

Slider: Since Pineda was billed as a fastball-slider guy, this is no surprise. He broke it out 32 percent of the time in 2011, which does seem like a lot. It’s definitely a hard slider, at 84 mph.

Changeup: Pineda didn’t use his changeup much at all in 2011, throwing it just 2.9 percent of the time. Like Sabathia’s it’s based on movement, coming in at 86 mph. (For what it’s worth, he also realized positive results with it in 2011.)

Hiroki Kuroda

Fastball: As you might have guessed, given his 48.6 percent career ground ball rate, Kuroda throws fastballs with some sink. He uses his four-seamer relatively infrequently, just 22.8 percent of the time in 2011 and 16.3 percent of the time in 2010. It averages around 92 mph. His splitter is a common secondary offering, as he uses it between 13 and 14 percent of the time with mid 80s velocity. But he gets the most mileage out his sinker, which he’s throwing an average of 40 percent of the time in the last two years. It’s a hard sinker, too, at about 92 mph. He cut down on a bit last year (the first year he didn’t throw to Russell Martin primarily), which might explain his lower ground ball rate.

Slider: Kuroda also works in a slider with some frequency, throwing it an average of around 20 percent in the last two years (though, again, down last year). It comes in at around 84 mph.

Curveball: As a final offering, Kuroda will throw a curveball from time to time. It’s a bit slower than his other offerings, at 79 mph, so it can act as an off-speed offering.

Ivan Nova

Fastball: Nova definitely runs fastball heavy, particularly with the four-seamer, throwing it 55.8 percent of the time in 2011. Pitch f/x also had him throwing a two-seamer 6.7 percent of the time, and a cutter 2.5 percent. Given the velocity of the cutter, 85 mph, I have a feeling it’s just a misclassified slider. His other fastballs he throws a little over 92 mph.

Curveball: Nova’s biggest non-fastball weapon is his curveball, which he threw 23 percent of the time in 2011 at an average velocity of around 80 mph. Unfortunately, pitch type values did not identify it as a quality pitch. But that can all change, since Nova did change his arsenal a bit upon his return in late July.

Slider: Pitch f/x has Nova throwing just 3.7 percent sliders last year, but that seems a bit off. He certainly threw it more frequently after his return from the minors. Additionally, if we combine his sliders number with his cutters, he’s at 6.2 percent. That still seems low, but more believable. If he did really make progress with the pitch last year, we can expect to see more of it this year. It has mid 80s velocity.

Changeup: Nova threw a changeup 7.7 percent of the time. He threw it at about 85.5 mph, so there’s not a ton of separation with his fastball.

A.J. Burnett

Fastball: Burnett throws a couple of different fastballs. His four-seamer he throws about 40 percent of the time, at a little under 93 mph. This is a drop-off from 2009, when he was over 94 mph. Pitch f/x said he threw 6.9 percent cutters in 2011, the first year it gave him a cutter, though I don’t particularly remember that. It also gives him a sinker, thrown 10.6 percent of the time in 2011, which I suspect is the two-seamer that breaks towards righties (and, unfortunately, it frequently breaks right over the heart of the plate). That, too, average 92 mph.

Curveball: For the last two seasons Pitch f/x has accurately classified this as a knuckle curve. He’s actually throwing it with a bit more velocity these days, averaging 82.6 mph in 2011 after 82.2 mph in 2010 and around 81 mph the previous two seasons. Pitch type values recognizes it as, by far and wide, his best pitch.

Changeup: It might not be a quality offering, but Burnett threw more changeups than ever in 2011. After messing with it in the past, he threw it 9.1 percent of the time in 2011. It averages around 88 mph, so there’s not a ton of separation between that and his fastball.

Freddy Garcia

Fastball: Well, if you can call it that. Garcia throws his fastball at 86.9 mph, so it’s like many other pitchers’ changeups. He threw it only a quarter of the time in 2011, so he also used it like a changeup. A two-seamer worked a bit better for him, as it came in about a half mile per hour faster and saw better results. He threw it about 11 percent of the time.

Garcia actually gets a separate paragraph for his splitter, which he threw just under 10 percent of the time in 2011. It’s actually rated as a below average pitch, per pitch type values. This just doesn’t seem right. The splitter seemed like the key to Garcia’s arsenal. It was a big reason why he missed so much time after slicing open his finger — he couldn’t grip the splitter. Recently Alan Nathan of The Hardball Times wrote about the mystery of Garcia’s splitter. It’s a great read if you have a few minutes. If you just want to gawk at it, here’s a video.

Slider: When Garcia isn’t busy stumping physicists, he’s busy throwing his slider. He actually threw it slightly more frequently than his four-seamer last year. He also throws it at 80.3 mph, or almost as hard as Sabathia.

Changeup: After Garcia signed with the Yankees last winter, I wrote about his changeup being a weapon. Of course, he cut down on its usage, throwing it just 20 percent of the time in 2011 after using it more than 30 percent of the time in the previous two years. It averages about 80 mph.

Phil Hughes

Fastball: In the past few years Hughes has gotten by on mostly his four-seamer, throwing it 59 percent of the time in 2011 and 57.3 percent of the time in 2010. He also has a cutter, which he used less frequently in 2011, 14 percent, than he did in 2010, 18.1 percent. Even with his velocity down last year he was above 91 mph, and was at 92.5 mph last season.

Curveball: Hughes returned to a normal grip curveball after using a knuckle curve in previous years. He threw it 21 percent of the time last year, and a bit less frequently in 2010 (favoring the cutter). He’s an off-speed pitch of sorts, coming in at around 75 mph.

Changeup: Hughes did try to work in the elusive third pitch last year, throwing his changeup 5.3 percent of the time. It comes in at around 84 mph, so he needs some serious movement for it to be effective.

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  • CJ

    Does anyone know how long it takes from pitchers/catchers for a pitcher to work fastball up to top velocity? The day Hughes tops 93, sits 95 will be huge. Just wondering when we will se if Phil is 90-92 or 93-96

    • Guns of Navarone

      I’m pretty confident that Hughes has been, and always will be, 90-94 with the fastball touching 95mph on occasion. I think that’s been his velocity in the minors as well. Out of the bullpen we’ve seen him 93-96mph. I don’t think it’s realistic to ever expect that as a starter. His fastball sits in the low 90s when healthy. That’s who he is.

    • Bo Knows

      Hughes has never sat 95, but his velocity will really be an interesting story, if he can get it back to sitting 92-93 its a great sign

      • Jonathan

        Only in the pen.

    • Jonathan

      Most likely he’s already at his top velocity. It will always play up because of the vertical break though ala Robertson. However, occasionally mechanical tweaks, an unknown injury being fixed, better conditioning and shoulder strengthening can cause a jump in velocity. Ask Axford.

      • CP

        I think the question was more about when during spring training he’ll max out. I have no idea what the answer is, but I think it’s something valid to consider.

    • Bryan

      Hi Joe,

      I don’t know if anyone’s brought this to your attention but I was reading through Fangraphs one day and stumbled upon this:


      Of interest are the comments made by Snowshoe.

      Another good article you guys can write, could be all of your attitudes and criticisms towards mainstream sabermetrics like FIP, and their role in calculating WAR.

      Note that I am aware both you and Mike write for Fangraphs haha, a bias caveat might be necessary!

  • Joey H.

    Excellent stuff!

  • Guns of Navarone

    I was wondering about Nova’s slider percentage during the previous pitchFX article. How can it be misclassified so badly? It was pretty obvious to anyone watching that Nova’s slider was his 2nd most used pitch behind the fastball. It basically replaced his curveball. Like Joe noted, even if you assume his cutter as a misclassified slider, it only comes out to 6.2% which still seems very low. Is it a case of the number being low because he only threw it so often after he came back up in July?

    • Bo Knows

      He didn’t use it at all in the first half, and remember he uses a modified cutter grip to throw his slider so it might have taken a moment before analysts really took notice to correct the error.

  • Bronx Byte

    Regardless of what Burnett throws for velocity, his catcher has to work extra hard trying to avoid his frequent wild pitches skipping to the backstop.

  • SevenAces

    I find it surprising that Pineda’s fastest pitch was his 2 seamer at 97 with his 4 seamer at 94.

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