David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!


“there are plenty of reasons to promote the changeup “

 

 

NOT EVERY PITCHER NEEDS A CHANGEUP

Eno Sarris

0The pro-changeup argument is unassailable. Still, there are many many pitchers out there who can't manage the pitch. And not every single one of them is destined for the bullpen. There is an alternative. 


Pitchers who throw the changeup a lot might have the best injury outcomes. Based on research done by Jeff Zimmerman, below is a table that shows the disabled list percentages for starters based on their favorite pitch. Looks like there's something healthy about the changeup. For each bucket, we tried to use cutoffs that led to similar samples, so the slider-heavy pitchers (starters who use the slider more than 30% of the time) throw more sliders than the changeup pitchers (starters who use the change more than 20% of the time) throw changes, but that's just because there are fewer heavy-change pitchers. 

Injury rate by pitch

Type of Pitcher

DL %

All Starters

39%

Slider-Heavy (>30%)

46%

Curve-Heavy (>25%)

51%

Change-Heavy (>20%)

34%

Plus Control (>51% Zone)

35%

Beyond health, there are plenty of reasons to promote the changeup as many organizations do. They bust platoon splits by offering a pitch that breaks in a different direction than sliders and curves, at least. And they go slower than sliders and faster than curves, so they also offer a change of pace. 

But there is one pitch that can do many of these things almost as well as the straight change. The roundhouse curve. 

Only two pitches have significant reverse platoon splits: the big curve and the straight change. The curve is the slowest pitch, too. A pitcher who had a slider (or cutter) alongside a 12-to-6 curveball would theoretically have a platoon-busting arsenal that featured three different speeds. That would leave arm health as the only concern, and there is no real magical solve for that issue. 

Are there pitchers out there who should ditch the change and focus on their slider and curve? It worked so well for Garrett Richards that there have to be others out there who could follow his lead. 

In an effort to judge changeups, there are two ways to go about things. One method, outlined by Harry Pavlidis, is to look at the shape of the pitch and its velocity difference from the fastball. His findings, in short, were that movement is great either way, but the velocity gap is more important if you use the pitch for whiffs than if you use it for grounders. We can reference these findings as we take a look at some key pitchers below. 

Let's use a slightly different method to find the pitchers who should ditch their changeups, though. Let's try to give individual pitches a score, and then use that score to find the worst changeups in baseball. 

By focusing on the "cleanest" outcomes -- groundballs and whiffs -- we can remove some of the noise that comes with looking at ball-in-play results. Instead of asking someone to judge what a line drive is, we're asking if the ball went along the ground. Instead of trying to judge which hits were actually hits and not errors, we're just asking if the batter missed the pitch. 

After correlating the changeup's swinging strike and groundball rate to the pitchers' overall ERA, we can find a way to weight grounders and whiffs. Whiffs are more important than grounders just as strikeouts are more important than groundballs -- the strikeout is an out 99% of the time and the grounder is an out 75% of the time. So, by comparing changeup whiff and grounder rates by the z-score method, and then weighting each rate accordingly (1 GB = 1.67 whiffs for the change), we can come up with an Arsenal Score for each changeup in baseball. 

For fun, here are the top 15 changeups thrown by starters last year by Arsenal Score. 

Top changeups

Pitcher

GB%

swSTR%

Arsenal Score

Stephen Strasburg

60.9%

25.6%

3.64

Cole Hamels

52.3%

27.3%

3.37

Allen Webster

48.6%

26.2%

2.79

Carlos Carrasco

67.7%

18.7%

2.38

Danny Salazar

37.5%

28.0%

2.35

Homer Bailey

51.5%

23.6%

2.35

Francisco Liriano

52.3%

23.2%

2.31

Corey Kluber

68.2%

18.2%

2.29

Alex Cobb

60.8%

20.3%

2.22

Zack Greinke

63.3%

18.6%

1.98

Gio Gonzalez

50.5%

22.2%

1.89

Felix Hernandez

17.6%

17.6%

1.84

Jacob deGrom

54.4%

20.2%

1.69

Marco Gonzales

37.0%

25.0%

1.51

Ian Kennedy

52.2%

19.8%

1.39

Now to find the changeup-ditchers, we need to flip the script. Let's look for the less established pitchers with the worst arsenal score on their changeups who also throw curveballs and sliders (plus cutters) regularly. (Madison Bumgarner's change ranked 13th-worst by Arsenal Score, but we're not arrogant enough to change what he's doing right now.)

Worst changeups

Pitcher

Arsenal score

CB%

SL+CT%

Shelby Miller

-5.10

19.5%

5.8%

Nathan Eovaldi

-3.55

9.3%

24.6%

Trevor Bauer

-3.01

12.4%

23.8%

Vidal Nuno

-2.98

15.8%

26.4%

Zack Wheeler

-2.18

15.7%

14.3%

Judged solely by how often the pitchers in this group have been traded, you'll probably find this list includes young talent that inspires wide-ranging opinions. They're also relatively unformed, averaging 24 years old and 297 innings pitched so far. Here's an individual prognosis for each:

Shelby Miller

Changeup whiff rate: 2.9%

Changeup groundball rate: 38.6%

Curveball x, y movement: 6.6, -5.5

The league's regularly-thrown changeups had a 15.7% whiff rate and 49% groundball rate, so Miller's came up well short on both accounts. Miller actually threw the change second-least on this list --€“ he threw only 68 last year -- so maybe he's moving in that direction. It did have more arm-side run than average, but less drop, and the velocity gap wasn't really there. The average roundhouse curve, though, has 6/-6 movement from a righty, so Miller's is almost the prototypical 12-to-6er. He threw the cutter three times more in 2014 than he ever had before, and it got above-average results by whiffs. Perhaps all Miller needs to do is throw that cutter more and work on fastball command (up in the zone?) in order to re-find himself. 

Nathan Eovaldi

Changeup whiff rate: 5.3%

Changeup groundball rate: 38.5%

Curveball x, y movement: 5.4, -7.8

Like Miller, Eovaldi is in the process of shedding his change, perhaps. He threw only 57 of them last year. Last year, his curve got the best results of his career, too, with a 10.4% whiff rate that was finally average for the pitch. He's always had the velocity -- top five in fastball velocity this year -- and the slider is excellent. His change goes 10 mph slower than his fastball, but it doesn't have the arm-side run, the drop, or the whiffs associated with a good change.He might be the most Richardsian in this group.

Trevor Bauer

Changeup whiff rate: 7.1%

Changeup groundball rate: 40%

Curveball x, y movement: 5.3, -8.4

Bauer's change doesn't have great arm-side run or drop -- in fact, it has two inches less in both directions than the average major-league changeup from a righty. Though it has almost a 10-mph gap in velocity from his fastball, the change isn't getting whiffs. With an 18.6% whiff rate on his curve, Bauer's yakker was third-best among starters that threw 300+ curves last year. Since he already owns an average slider and good velocity on the fastball, Bauer has what he needs without the change. Perhaps he should throw it less often.

Vidal Nuno

Changeup whiff rate: 8.2%

Changeup groundball rate: 36.7%

Curveball x, y movement: -5.2, -5.3

Nuno doesn't do a lot of things well, but his change isn't good by any measure. It doesn't have a velocity gap (seven mph), and it has less fade and drop than his sinker. His slider (11% whiffs) and curve (9.4% whiffs) aren't great, but at least they are okay by benchmarks for those pitches

Zack Wheeler

Changeup whiff rate: 7.0%

Changeup groundball rate: 50%

Curveball x, y movement: 6.3, -8.6

Along with Bauer and Eovaldi, Wheeler may be the poster child for this mode of analysis. If you look at the rest of his arsenal, he has what it takes to succeed. His 14% whiff rate on the curve is top-20 for the pitch among starters, and that held up through 518 thrown. His slider is above-average by whiffs and grounders, and he has top-five fastball velocity among qualified starters. The only thing complicated matters is that Wheeler has great arm-side run on his changeup (nine inches, almost three inches more than average), and it gets a good amount of grounders. If he focuses on using the change more like a sinker, maybe it should remain in his toolbox. 

These pitchers are young enough that their pitching coaches might just want to continue trying to refine that change. Maybe another grip, another side session, another approach might help them figure it out. These pitchers also have good advisors around them. We don't need to tell them what to do. 

But it's still important to remember that the changeup is not the only way to a full arsenal. The curve offers starting pitchers a way out by busting platoon splits and changing speeds. Maybe a couple of these young pitchers will ditch the change and embrace the curve this year. Maybe it'll lead to their breakout performance.

http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/just-a-bit-outside/story/not-every-pitcher-needs-a-changeup-011915

 

“a lot of money, obviously, but a lot less than the $210 million figure.”

 

Max Scherzer and When $210 Million Isn’t $210 Million

by Dave Cameron - January 19, 2015

Scott Boras has done it again. After months of what appeared to be mild interest from the clubs one would assume would be in the bidding for the best free agent on the market, Boras found an unexpected bidder with $200 million burning a hole in their pockets. Or, more precisely, $210 million in this case, as the Nationals joined the club of teams paying $30 million per year for premium talent.

Or, at least, they did on paper. Scherzer signed a seven year contract, and in exchange for pitching for them for those seven years, the Nationals have agreed to pay him $210 million in salary. Divide $210 million by seven years and you get $30 million in AAV, which is how this deal will be reported. But because of how this deal was structured, it’s not really $30 million per year.

Instead, the Nationals will pay Scherzer $15 million per season, but do so for 14 years; essentially, they’ve deferred half of each season’s salary seven years into the future. Effectively, they signed Scherzer for $105 million over the seven years that he’ll pitch for them, and then they’ll pay him the next $105 million after the contract ends, making this the most deferred money contract in baseball history.

Teams have been deferring money in contracts forever — the most famous case isBobby Bonilla‘s deal with the Mets that has them paying him through the 2035 season — but never before have we seen this size of a deferral, and so this deal serves as a nice reminder that the payment terms of a deal can have an impact on the actual value of contract. And in this case, the significant deferral has a pretty big impact.

For a lot of reasons, money today is worth more than money in the future, and the further in the future you go, the less money is worth. To translate various schedules of annuities into a scale so that they can be compared side by side, financial analysts use Net Present Value to calculate the value of deals like this. In other words, what amount of money would you need to be handed in cash today to roughly equal the value of the structured payout over time?

NPV calculations are pretty simple, with the primary variable being the discount rate you apply to those future dollars. Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume Scherzer’s discount rate is 7%, roughly the expected long-term rate of return on investing in the stock market. If you take $210 million spread out over 14 years and apply a 7% discount rate, then the contract is worth about $131 million in today’s dollars. Still a lot of money, obviously, but a lot less than the $210 million figure.

Of course, every contract is an annuity with scheduled future payments, so we need to compare that NPV to what the NPV of this deal would have been had the Nationals not deferred half the contract into the future. So, below is a table of various NPV calculations that show the differences in contract valuation based on the payment structures. The first column is how Scherzer’s deal is going to be paid, followed by a more normal backloaded contract that we regularly see, then a completely flat payment structure with even payouts each year, and finally, the NPV equivalent if the salaries were paid on a flat basis.

Year

Scherzer

Backloaded

Flat

EqualNPV

2015

$15,000,000

$20,000,000

$30,000,000

$24,341,000

2016

$15,000,000

$25,000,000

$30,000,000

$24,341,000

2017

$15,000,000

$30,000,000

$30,000,000

$24,341,000

2018

$15,000,000

$30,000,000

$30,000,000

$24,341,000

2019

$15,000,000

$35,000,000

$30,000,000

$24,341,000

2020

$15,000,000

$35,000,000

$30,000,000

$24,341,000

2021

$15,000,000

$35,000,000

$30,000,000

$24,341,000

2022

$15,000,000

$0

$0

$0

2023

$15,000,000

$0

$0

$0

2024

$15,000,000

$0

$0

$0

2025

$15,000,000

$0

$0

$0

2026

$15,000,000

$0

$0

$0

2027

$15,000,000

$0

$0

$0

2028

$15,000,000

$0

$0

$0

Total

$210,000,000

$210,000,000

$210,000,000

$170,387,000

NPV

$131,182,020

$157,976,085

$161,678,682

$131,180,693

The first two columns are maybe the most important. Here, you can see that if the Nationals had simply signed Scherzer to a normal backloaded deal, the kind of contract we see all the time in MLB, the contract would have been worth almost $27 million more to Scherzer than the one he signed. If he had gotten a flat payout structure, we’re talking about $30 million in additional value. Generally, deferred money doesn’t make a huge difference, but when you’re deferring half of the second largest contract for a pitcher in baseball history, the timing of the payments can make a big difference.

And that’s where that last column of that table comes into play, as it shows what an equivalent flat payout AAV would be to this deal: $170 million. If Scherzer had signed for 7/$170 with an equal payout in each season that he actually played for the Nationals, that contract would be roughly equivalent in value to the $210 million deferred compensation contract he actually signed.

You know what the crowd projected Scherzer to sign for this winter? $168 million over seven years. I guessed $175 million. Pretty much everyone else did too. The $210 million figure is going to grab headlines, but this is essentially the contract that we all thought Scherzer would get this winter; it’s just structured differently than we anticipated.

And, as Jeff wrote last night, $170ish million is probably about what we should expect Scherzer to be worth over the next seven years. The extra $40 million in guaranteed money is just there to offset the fact that so much of it is being paid far off in the distant future.

One last comparison, and then I’ll let you get back to the baseball side of baseball. On the surface, Scherzer’s deal dwarfs what Jon Lester got from the Cubs, but that deal is actually somewhat frontloaded, and so it has a very different payment timeline than the Scherzer deal. Let’s look at the NPV of both deals side by side, based on their per-season payouts.

According to Cot’s Contracts, Lester’s $30 million signing bonus is paid out in four installments; half of it coming next April, and then the other half spread out over the last few years of the deal. I’ve added those signing bonus payments to the annual salaries paid out in each season, as well as including the $10 million buyout of the seventh year option. Here’s how the two contracts stack up by NPV.

Year

Scherzer

Lester

2015

$15,000,000

$30,000,000

2016

$15,000,000

$20,000,000

2017

$15,000,000

$20,000,000

2018

$15,000,000

$22,500,000

2019

$15,000,000

$25,000,000

2020

$15,000,000

$27,500,000

2021

$15,000,000

$10,000,000

2022

$15,000,000

$0

2023

$15,000,000

$0

2024

$15,000,000

$0

2025

$15,000,000

$0

2026

$15,000,000

$0

2027

$15,000,000

$0

2028

$15,000,000

$0

Total

$210,000,000

$155,000,000

NPV

$131,182,020

$121,373,821

In terms of guaranteed dollars, Scherzer got $55 million more than Lester did, which makes the gap between the two contracts seem enormous. When you factor in the payout structures, though, the value of the two contracts is actually only $10 million apart; the Nationals didn’t actually pay all that much more for Scherzer than the Cubs did for Lester.

Whether the Nationals needed Max Scherzer is up for debate, and I think there’s a strong case to be made that a team with the Nationals rotation could have spent this kind of money more efficiently on other things, but don’t let the initial shock of the $210 million price tag scare you. Scherzer really only needs to justify about $170 million in salary over the next seven years, because the rest of it is just there to account for the fact that the Nationals are forcing Scherzer to make them a long-term loan in order to keep their payrolls at a manageable level while he’s actually on the team.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/max-scherzer-and-when-210-million-isnt-210-million/

 

 

 

“Some players take a bit of time to figure it out and overcome youthful immaturity and inconsistency. “

 

Jacob Turner Could Be Key to 2015 Season

Posted on January 13, 2015 by Behind The Ivy — 

Way back in 2013, the Cubs acquired a pitcher who had not performed to his ability, hoping a change of scenery would help him meet, or get close to, that potential.  That pitcher was Jake Arrieta.  The early returns on Arrieta have been positive.  He had a dominant 2014, carrying multiple no-hitters through six innings and being dominant, in general.  He finished 2014 with a 2.53 ERA, which was supported by a 2.26 FIP, 2.73 xFIP, and a 2.83 SIERA.  He cut his walks to a career low, 2.4 BB/9 and increased his strikes outs to 9.6 K/9.  In short, he was able to more effectively use his very good pure stuff by locating better, and either inducing weak contact or no contact at all.

It would be unfair to expect Jake Arrieta to duplicate a tremendous 2014 season.  Because of his stuff, though, it shouldn’t be expected that he regresses too far.  It may be too much to ask that he duplicates a 4.9 fWAR in 156.2 innings.  If he’s able to post a 3.5 or 4.0 fWAR in a full season of work, though, it would still be a very strong season for Arrieta.

Behind Arrieta, newly acquired Jon Lester, and the reacquired Jason Hammel, the rotation is full of question marks.  Nobody should expectKyle Hendricks to repeat a sensational introduction to the majors.  The same can be said for Tsuyoshi Wada.  Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson are either inconsistent or consistently bad.  One player who could rise and separate himself from the group, showing to be a legitimate middle of the rotation starter is Jacob Turner.

Turner,who was acquired after the Marlins decided to move on, is another pitcher with good stuff with less than stellar results.  In some respects, the results for Turner are already trending in the right direction.  His walks decreased from 4.12 BB/9 in 2013 to 2.63 BB/9 in a 2014 split between Miami and Chicago.  Being around the plate more consistently may have  contributed to the jump in BABIP from .285 in 2013 to .354 last season, but bad luck probably also reared its ugly head.  While the line drives allowed crept up to 20.8%, ground balls also went up to 49.1%.  His 6.13 ERA may look very Edwin Jackson, but his 4.16 FIP, 4.05 xFIP, and 4.19 SIERA are all better than the results Jake Arrieta posted in 2013 before his explosion last year.

To be sure, it would be ridiculous to asset that “Jake Arrieta had a break-through season after not having it all together so we should expect Jacob Turner to do the same thing.”  That is not the point here.  The point is, if there is another pitcher in the Cubs organization who could have the kind of season, or something in that ballpark, to what Arrieta had in 2014, Turner is probably the best bet.

As far as pure stuff is concerned, Turner has the best of all of the fifth starter candidates. Scouting reports for Turner all say similar things.  He pitches in the low to mid 90s with a good curve.  The knock on Turner, which has kept him from blossoming is consistency with his pitches and his focus.  That was echoed again by John at Cubs Den, who also tagged Turner as a potential break-out player. The truly frustrating thing about those words is that they have followed Turner from the Tigers to the Marlins and now to the Cubs.

The best reason for optimism with Turner is his age.  Some players take a bit of time to figure it out and overcome youthful immaturity and inconsistency.  Turner will turn 24 in late May.  After five seasons with results below expectations, and going into his first season before he becomes arbitration eligible, it may be the right time to see Turner move past the things that have held him back.

Jacob Turner getting closer to reaching his potential as a pitcher this season is an intriguing thought for its impact on the Cubs, as a team, this season.  Should Turner make the leap and maximize his ability this season, the Cubs would have three pitchers with very good stuff at the top of the rotation with Hammel and Hendricks bringing up the back end.  That would allow the Cubs to go through some growing pains with their young hitters and take some of the pressure off of a young bullpen.

As it stands, the Cubs are on the very periphery of being able to legitimately contend for a playoff spot.  They need some things to break the right way.  Javier BaezArismendy Alcantara, and Jorge Soler all need to continue to grow at the major league level.  Kris Bryant needs to come up and be as advertised.  Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro need to continue to be All-Star performers.  The bullpen needs to take another step forward after a positive 2014 season.  One thing that would take the pressure off of all of these things is for Jacob Turner to go to Mesa next month, take hold of a rotation spot, and pitch to his ability.

A top tier starting rotation would go a long way toward making 2015 a season that lasts into October.  Externally, it would appear that there is no realistic option for the Cubs to make that happen at this point.  It is unlikely that they trade for Cole Hamels, there is next to no chance that they sign James Shields, and there is absolutely no chance that they add Max Scherzer.  The pitcher to push their rotation to the next level this season is going to be found internally, and the best candidate is Jacob Turner.  If he pitches to his talent level this season, big things could be abound for the Cubs in 2015.

http://worldseriesdreaming.com/2015/01/13/jacob-turner-could-be-key-to-2015-season/

 

“My focus is entirely on simplifying and humanizing analytics in a way that players and coaches can apply it, immediately and effectively,” 

Brian Bannister‘s plans changed this past week. The former Mets and Royals righty was close to launching a company that would focus on player development, scouting, and analytics, incorporating sabermetrics and pitch data into the process.

Instead of becoming an entrepreneur, he became an employee. This past Tuesday, Bannister was hired as a professional scout/analyst by the Boston Red Sox. Surprisingly, they are the only team that has approached him about a front office role.

Bannister isn’t at liberty to divulge details about his new job, but he is free to discuss concepts and theories. Well-versed in sabermetrics and mechanics alike, Bannister is a perfect fit for an organization he describes as “open to anything that improves the decision-making process for their team.”

“My focus is entirely on simplifying and humanizing analytics in a way that players and coaches can apply it, immediately and effectively,” Bannister told me. “My background as a player helps out a lot with this, because it doesn’t matter if you make an analytical advancement if nobody can implement it, understand it, or are resistant to change.

“When I look at a sport like golf, 12-year-old kids are getting lessons in front of a Trackman. They know the exact distances and spins of their shot types with each club, and as a result are growing up developing muscle memory and swing characteristics that are optimized to their unique physical characteristics. In baseball, this process is much more complex, because we aren’t hitting a static ball to a static target. We have to understand how a pitcher’s movements affect the ball, how the movement on the ball affects the hitter’s reaction, and how the batted-ball-results average out over the course of a long season. To effectively map out this sequence of events, you need to have a thorough understanding of pitching mechanics, pitch data, and sabermetrics, because they all work together.”

Four years after throwing his last pitch, Bannister now works in a front office. According to GM Ben Cherington, Boston’s new hire will have “professional scouting coverage and will assist our analytics team with specific projects.”

It’s hard to believe there’s a better job for Brian Bannister. It’s even harder to believe that no other team had offered him an analytics-based opportunity.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/sunday-notes-spiritual-hamburger-new-boog-banny-in-boston-clint-frazier-more/

 

“the results speak for themselves”

 

THE PREDICTABLE BUT UNHITTABLE JAKE MCGEE

Jeff Long 

There's nothing more frustrating than knowing something is coming that you can't do anything about. This is what it feels like to face Jake McGee.


As researchers dive into pitch sequencing tactics and benefits, McGee powers on as the most extreme example of a pitcher who has no interest in sequencing much of anything. No pitcher threw his primary pitch more often than McGee, whose four-seamer made up a mind-boggling 96 percent of his pitchers. Not only does McGee throw fastballs incredibly often in aggregate, he does so without taking special care to even show his secondary pitch, a slurvy curveball, with any regularity.

Below is a chart of the relievers who most relied on their primary pitch last season. All pitchers listed threw their primary pitch a minimum of 200 times. Ten relievers threw it more than 80 percent of the time, but McGee sits atop the leaderboard.

Primary pitches

Player 

Team

Pitch

Usage Rate

Jake McGee

Rays

FA

96.49%

Zach Britton

Orioles

SI

90.88%


Kenley Jansen

Dodgers

FC

89.19%

Kevin Siegrist

Cardinals

FA

87.43%

Sean Doolittle

A's

FA


87.49%

Steven Wright

Red Sox

KN


87.80%

Evan Meek

Orioles

FA

83.17%


Brian Schlitter

Cubs

SI


82.62%


Josh Collmenter

Diamondbacks

FC


85.52%


Zachary McAllister

Indians

FA


81.22%

Fastball-first relievers take up nine of the 10 spots on the list. Knuckleballer Steven Wright is the only pitcher to make the list with a non-fastball primary pitch. McGee clearly uses his fastball the most of all pitchers, though it's difficult, in my mind anyway, to contextualize just how extreme 96 percent is. The chart below details another, perhaps more telling, facet of McGee's fastball usage -- one that puts it into a context that might be easier to visualize.

Average streak

Player

Team

Pitch

Average streak

Jake McGee

Rays

FA

28

Zach Britton

Orioles

SI

11

Steven Wright

Red Sox

KN

10

Kenley Jansen

Dodgers

FC

9

Sean Doolittle

A's

FA

9

Kevin Siegrist

Cardinals

FA

9

Brian Schlitter

Cubs

SI

6

Evan Meek

Orioles

FA

6

Ernesto Frieri

Angels/Pirates

FA

6

Trevor Rosenthal

Cardinals

FA

5

The relevant column in this chart is "Average Streak," which indicates the average number of consecutive pitches that the pitcher in question threw between other pitches. McGee threw, on average, 28 fastballs between curves in the last year. There is a steep drop off from McGee to Britton, and by the time we get to the bottom of the leaderboard -- the seventh or eighth most extreme pitchers -- we're talking about just five or six fastballs between secondaries appearances. McGee went an average of 1.7 innings between non-fastballs.

Furthermore, McGee's streakiness is highlighted by great peaks and not simply a sustained aversion to throwing more than a couple breaking balls per appearance. This last chart shows the longest streaks of consecutive pitches from relievers in 2014:

Max streak

Player

Team

Pitch

Max streak

Jake McGee

Rays

FA

206

Sean Doolittle

A's

FA

62

Kevin Siegrist

Cardinals

FA

56

Zach Britton

Orioles

SI

50

Aaron Sanchez

Blue Jays

SI

46

Burke Badenhop

Red Sox

SI

45

Evan Meek

Orioles

FA

40

Kenley Jansen

Dodgers

FC

37

Steven Wright

Red Sox

KN

36

Brandon League

Dodgers

SI

36

McGee's longest streak of consecutive fastballs lasted from his July 20 appearance against Minnesota until his Aug. 9 outing against the Cubs. Not only did he have the longest streak of consecutive pitches last season, he had several that would also land him on this list if we were including more than one per pitcher. McGee had four-seam streaks that lasted 37, 38, 45, 47, 51, 60, 82, and 125 pitches. If the leaderboard above were simply the longest streaks by all pitchers, McGee would take the first, second, third and fifth spots, with only Doolittle's 62 making the top five among non-McGee pitchers.

There is one last note that is worth considering, which takes McGee's affinity for his fastball from the remarkable to the absurd. McGee's four longest streaks (206, 125, 82, and 60 consecutive fastballs) all came sequentially, with just three curveballs between them. That is, from July 9 through Sept. 20, McGee threw 473 fastballs to just three curves. That's 99.4 percent fastballs. (The exceptions, because you're curious: A whiff of Adam Jones; a pulled foul ball by Chris Coghlan; and ball four to Trevor Plouffe in the 12th pitch of an at-bat. He snapped the "streak" with a whiff of Jose Abreu.)

It's nearly impossible to appreciate this freakishness in real time. Even a casual fan might notice that McGee has a tendency to throw a lot of fastballs, but a streak like the one described lasted months' -- realistically, how could you notice?

There's something deeply fascinating about McGee's absurd pitch usage over the course of these 29 outings. McGee threw 30 1/3 innings over the course of those outings, during which he struck out 40 opposing hitters and allowed just eight earned runs. McGee willingly went back to the well again and again even though opposing hitters presumably knew what was coming. (Einstein defined insanity as going to bat against Jake McGee over and over again and expecting a curveball.)

Velocity is his fastball's most noteworthy attribute. The pitch ranges from 95 to 101 mph, which is elite for a lefty. In fact, Brooks Baseball notes that (measured against lefty relievers) McGee's velocity last year would merit a 73 on the 20-80 scouting scale, nearly two and a half standard deviations faster than his contemporaries'. Additionally, McGee's usage of the fastball varies minimally by count -- or, obviously, at all. Against lefties McGee didn't throw a single curveball when behind or even in the count. He threw just 14 when ahead, with eight of those coming with two strikes on the hitter.

As far as movement goes, McGee's fastball does have quite a bit of arm-side run, but there isn't a ton of variability in terms of the movement he gets on the pitch. (Relative to other relievers, the pitch-to-pitch variability ranks 137th out of 241 relievers.) Hitters should have a good idea of what McGee's fastball will look like:

 

Moreover, McGee's location choices are more of the same. Left-handed hitters will hardly ever see an inside fastball from McGee. By hardly ever I mean that McGee throws his fastball down the middle or further outside a whopping 82 percent of the time to lefties. Righties see some more diverse locations from McGee, though he mainly works up in the zone and predominantly on the outside:

 

All of this stands to further impress the notion that McGee is either crazy or supremely confident in his fastball. Not only do opposing hitters know the pitch is coming, but they largely also know where he's going to throw it and how it's going to move.

McGee's confidence only grew as the season progressed. Over the first half of his season (45 outings) McGee averaged just 16.7 fastballs between curves. Over the second half of his season (28 outings) McGee averaged 61 fastballs between breaking balls.

So how is McGee successful? First and foremost, he throws 100 mph. There is also the movement, which despite being fairly unremarkable in its variability is impressive in its magnitude. But probably the most important component is that McGee has elite level command of his 95-plus mph fastball. Watch him strike out the side against the Orioles for a save on September 5:

Go back up to that pitch chart three paragraphs up. The lesson you'd take from the chart against lefties might be that he really wants to keep the ball away to lefties. But the more important suggestion is that he's really, really good at hitting his spots. He has a clear aim with his fastball -- and he hits it enough to leave blue everywhere else. That's not a chart about strategy as much as it's a chart about execution.

There's a hypothesis that pitchers who vary their approach and avoid predictable pitch sequencing are at an advantage. The idea being that varying your pitch sequences keeps hitters off balance and gives the pitcher an edge. McGee is, if nothing else, proof that the null hypothesis can't be discounted out of hand. He posted a 1.89 ERA backed by a robust 1.73 FIP. Opposing hitters know what pitch is coming, and they know where he’s throwing it. They know how fast the pitch is, and they know how the pitch moves. None of that matters. Opposing hitters swing at more than 50 percent of his offerings. More than a quarter of those swings result in whiffs. McGee does not care for the concept of pitch sequencing at all. Something tells me he'll be just fine moving forward without it. Regardless of whether McGee is a little mad or just supremely confident in his fastball, the results speak for themselves.

http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/just-a-bit-outside/story/jake-mcgee-tampa-bay-rays-reliever-fastball-usage-011815

 

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