(*) STARTERS: Pitch Movement—Part I

The implementation of the PITCHf/x system in the 2006 MLB playoffs and 2007 MLB regular season has allowed for the systematic collection of pitch velocity and movement.

While this data can add more to our analytical toolbox, the analysis of it is still an evolving process.

After all, pitch movement by itself doesn't really tell us much. The effectiveness of pitch movement varies by pitch type. It also differs based on the handedness of the batter.

Likewise, the amount of pitch movement does not have the same effectiveness for every pitch. For example, a small, late break of a slider might be just as or more effective than one with more movement.

In addition, some pitches benefit more from vertical movement than they do from horizontal movement.

Pitch movement, velocity, and location all play key roles in the success of a pitch.

That said, let's dig a little deeper to see which starting pitchers had the most movement on their pitches in 2012. We'll also look at those who increased their pitch movement the most in 2012 vs. 2011.

Here are the SP who showed the most aggregate movement on their pitches in 2012, calculated by adding together their weighted horizontal and vertical movement (in inches) by pitch type:

  • Pitch Movement 2012
    
    Name                 League  Weighted H+V Movement
    ===================  ======  =====================
    Moore, Matt              AL           17.4
    Gonzalez, Gio            NL           15.8
    Lilly, Ted               NL           15.3
    Saunders, Joe            FA           14.7
    Price, David             AL           14.5
    Holland, Derek           AL           14.5
    Rodriguez, Wandy         AL           14.4
    Medlen, Kris             NL           14.4
    Detwiler, Ross           NL           14.3
    Happ, J.A.               AL           14.3
    Lee, Cliff               NL           14.2
    Griffin, A.J.            AL           14.2
    Arrieta, Jake            AL           14.2
    Miley, Wade              NL           14.1
    Estrada, Marco           NL           14.0
    Hamels, Cole             NL           13.9
    Richard, Clayton         NL           13.9
    Sanchez, Jonathan        FA           13.8
    Capuano, Chris           NL           13.8
    Doubront, Felix          AL           13.8
    Hughes, Phil             AL           13.8
    Kennedy, Ian             NL           13.8
    Verlander, Justin        AL           13.7
    Harrison, Matt           AL           13.7
    Chen, Wei-Yin            AL           13.7
    Delgado, Randall         NL           13.6
    Colon, Bartolo           AL           13.5
    Bedard, Erik             AL           13.4
    Blackley, Travis         AL           13.3
    Vargas, Jason            AL           13.3
    Harvey, Matt             NL           13.2
    Strasburg, Stephen       NL           13.2
    Wolf, Randy              FA           13.2
    Phelps, David            AL           13.1
    Corbin, Patrick          NL           13.1
    Stults, Eric             NL           13.1
    Milone, Tommy            AL           13.0
    
    *Min 40 IP        
    
    

While this list by itself doesn't tell us much, it does highlight the upside of guys like Matt Moore (LHP, TAM) and Jake Arrieta (RHP, BAL), young pitchers who offer both pitch movement and velocity.

Most pitchers maintain consistent aggregate pitch movement from year-to-year.

Here are outliers whose pitch movement changed significantly in 2012:

  • Pitch Movement 2012 vs. 2011
    
    Name                 League  2011  2012  Diff
    ===================  ======  ====  ====  ====
    Richard, Clayton         NL  11.4  13.9  +2.4
    Hammel, Jason            AL  10.5  12.4  +1.9
    Cook, Aaron              AL   7.5   9.3  +1.8
    Cobb, Alex               AL  11.0  12.8  +1.8
    Arrieta, Jake            AL  12.5  14.2  +1.6
    Karstens, Jeff           NL  11.4  12.9  +1.5
    Lester, Jon              AL  12.6  11.1  +1.5
    Kershaw, Clayton         NL  10.5  11.9  +1.3
    Lilly, Ted               NL  14.0  15.3  +1.3
    Leake, Mike              NL   8.2   9.5  +1.3
    Lewis, Colby             AL  11.2  12.5  +1.3
    LeBlanc, Wade            NL  11.2  12.4  +1.2
    Saunders, Joe            FA  13.6  14.7  +1.1
    Hughes, Phil             AL  13.8  12.8  +1.0
    Hamels, Cole             NL  12.9  13.9  +1.0
    Sanchez, Jonathan        FA  12.9  13.8  +1.0
    ---------------------------------------------
    Chatwood, Tyler          NL  13.8   9.3  -4.5
    Wood, Travis             NL  13.9  10.6  -3.3
    Cecil, Brett             AL  11.0   8.4  -2.6
    Zambrano, Carlos         NL  12.0   9.5  -2.4
    Britton, Zach            AL  14.1  12.1  -2.0
    Price, David             AL  16.5  14.5  -2.0
    Francis, Jeff            NL  13.4  11.5  -1.9
    Verlander, Justin        AL  15.6  13.7  -1.9
    Marcum, Shaun            NL   9.6   7.8  -1.8
    Zito, Barry              NL  12.9  11.2  -1.7
    Maholm, Paul             NL  11.4   9.7  -1.7
    Duensing, Brian          AL  14.5  12.9  -1.6
    Hernandez, Felix         AL  10.0   8.4  -1.6
    Harrison, Matt           AL  15.3  13.7  -1.6
    McDonald, James          NL  13.3  11.7  -1.6
    Niese, Jon               NL  12.4  10.9  -1.5
    Santana, Ervin           AL   9.2   7.7  -1.5
    
    *Min 40 IP 2011, 2012
    
    

We did not find that an increase or decrease in pitch movement was correlated with a change in Dom or Ctl.

SP whose pitch movement increased in 2012 posted an average 6.8 Dom that season. Their average Dom in 2011 was also 6.8.

Same goes for Ctl. Those with increased pitch movement in 2012 maintained the same Ctl (2.7) as they had in 2011.

Guys whose pitch movement decreased in 2012 did not show significant deviations from the Dom and Ctl they posted in the prior season.

Next, let's break down pitch movement by pitch type to see if there are individual pitch type correlations to Dom and Ctl.

We looked at weighted horizontal and vertical pitch movement by pitch type over the last three seasons and found the following correlations (see pitch type key below data):

  • 2010-12 Horizontal Movement
    
                Correlation
                Coefficient
                ------------
    Pitch Type  Dom    Ctl
    ==========  =====  =====
    FA          +0.18  +0.18
    FT          -0.04  -0.05
    FC          -0.05  -0.10
    SL          +0.09  +0.12
    CU          +0.11  -0.12
    CH          -0.09  -0.07
    
    2010-12 Vertical Movement
    
                Correlation
                Coefficient
                ------------
    Pitch Type  Dom    Ctl
    ==========  =====  =====
    FA          +0.33  +0.18
    FT          +0.01  -0.04
    FC          -0.04  -0.10
    SL          +0.04  +0.02
    CU          +0.16  -0.04
    CH          -0.11  -0.03
    
    Pitch Abbreviations
    FA = Four-Seam Fastball
    FT = Two-Seam Fastball
    FC = Cut Fastball
    SL = Slider
    CU = Curveball
    CH = Changeup
    
    

This data confirms that pitch movement by pitch type also does not have a strong correlation with a SP's Dom or Ctl.

The strongest correlation exists between four-seam fastball vertical movement and Dom.

Nevertheless, looking at pitch movement in combination with other factors like pitch velocity may yield more interesting results. We'll do so in the second part of this series in an effort to see if pitch movement has any predictive use, like we found in our swinging strike rates research.

In the meantime, here is a closer look at several noteworthy SP from each league.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Jake Arrieta (RHP, BAL) will be written off in many 2013 drafts. At age 26, many owners will view him as a failed prospect. Don't follow suit. He was victimized by a 55% S% and 15% HR/F in 2012. His base skills with BAL were near-elite: 8.6 Dom, 2.7 Ctl, 44% GB%, 102 BPV. He also gets nice horizontal movement on his curveball and significant vertical movement on his four-seam fastball and curveball. In addition to increasing his pitch movement significantly in 2012, he also added one mph to his fastball velocity in 2012, which increased to 93.4 mph. Arrieta will carry a ton of profit potential heading into 2013.

Alex Cobb (RHP, TAM) had a 4.03 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 2012. Nice numbers, but not exactly ones that will make him a prime target in a lot of leagues in 2013. That said, his skills suggest that he has a lot more potential than what he showed on the surface last season: 7.0 Dom, 2.6 Ctl, 59% GB%, 92 BPV. He threw his curveball more frequently in 2012 and added three inches more movement to it that season. Amazingly, he induced a 76% GB% on his curveball in 2012. There's a great shot that Cobb will post a sub-4.00 ERA in 2013.

Jason Hammel (RHP, BAL) added a two-seam fastball to his arsenal in 2012 and rode it to big gains. It showed less horizontal movement than average for that pitch among RHP, but did feature slightly more vertical movement than average. His average fastball velocity of 93.6 mph also helped to fuel his breakout campaign. As batters become familiar with his two-seam fastball, he'll need to prove that it can continue to be an effective pitch for him. Off-season knee surgery also makes him a health risk. Expect some regression in 2013, but he'll still have value.

Matt Moore (LHP, TAM) had the most aggregate movement on his pitches in 2012, and it wasn't even close. His changeup had the most horizontal movement among SP who threw a changeup at least 10% of the time. His missing piece is control. If he can build upon the control improvement he displayed late in 2012 (3.9 Ctl in 2H vs. 4.3 Ctl in 1H), Moore could bust out with a 3.00 ERA.

Chris Sale (LHP, CHW) saw his fastball velocity dive in 2012 as he transitioned to a full-time SP role, but his horizontal pitch movement was one of the best in the game. His horizontal slider movement was the highest of any LHP SP with at least 60 IP. Only Matt Moore (LHP, TAM) got more horizontal movement on his changeup than Sale among LHP. And only Derek Holland (LHP, TEX) and Chris Capuano (LHP, LA) got more horizontal movement on their four-seam fastball than Sale among LHP. If he can maintain the excellent control he showed for most of 2012 and stay healthy, Sale will remain a Cy Young candidate in 2013.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Ross Detwiler (LHP, WAS) posted a 3.40 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 2012 even though his base skills (56 BPV) were far from stellar. A 27% H% and 75% S% helped, as did a GB% spike from 43% to 51%. His GB% spike can be attributed to the large amount of horizontal movement he gets on his sinker, a pitch that he gets more horizontal movement on than any other SP in MLB. He had a 39% GB% on his sinker in 2011 vs. a 54% GB% against it in 2012. While regression may seem a likely scenario for Detwiler in 2013, note that his fastball velocity has increased for two seasons and now sits at 92.7 mph. This, combined with two years of Dom growth and more effective use of his sinker, gives hope that he'll be able to sustain a sub-4.00 ERA.

Marco Estrada (RHP, MIL) emerged last season as a dominant SP in spite of not having elite raw stuff. His pitch movement gives an explanation for how he was able to deceive batters. The vertical pitch movement on his four-seam fastball was one of the best in MLB among SP with at least 100 IP. This allowed him to generate strikeouts on that pitch even though he had a pedestrian 90 mph average fastball velocity. With surging skill trends and a mid-3.00s xERA, Estrada has the profile to post another sub-4.00 ERA in 2013 if he can continue to generate significant movement on his fastball.

Matt Harvey (RHP, NYM) was extremely impressive in his MLB debut with NYM in 2012, both on the surface (2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) and beneath it (10.6 Dom, 3.9 Ctl, 101 BPV). His raw stuff was elite too (95 mph average fastball velocity). While he threw his fastball 65% of the time, his toolbox suggests he has more than one effective pitch. His changeup had one of the highest levels of horizontal movement of any changeup in the game in 2012. In addition, he was able to rack up strikeouts at a high rate on his fastball, slider, and changeup. He's still green so patience is needed, but Harvey remains a premium growth stock.

Kris Medlen (RHP, ATL) had three pitches that he used effectively as strikeout pitches in 2012: four-seam fastball, changeup, curveball. His changeup generated plenty of horizontal movement, and his fastball and curveball showed good movement too. Having a top-tier changeup and two additional good pitches kept hitters off balance and enabled him to rack up strikeouts even with an average 90 mph fastball. He has nowhere to go but down after he was the game's best SP in the 2H of 2012, but a 3.00-3.50 ERA will be well within reach.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.