One of the cooler stats that’s made its way into the sabermetric world is Pitch Type Linear Weights.
I’ll spare you the details of how they’re calculated (but they are indeed accurate, and if you want technical info on them, go here), but the gist of it is that they measure effectiveness of each pitch in a pitcher’s arsenal, compared to league average.
This effectiveness is measured in runs above/below average per 100 pitches. So if Pitcher X’s fastball is 2 runs above average, that means that for every 100 fastballs he throws, we can expect him to allow 2 runs fewer than he would throwing 100 exactly average fastballs.
Of course, these numbers are not the entirety of “how good” a pitch is. A second important factor is how much the pitch is used. Tim Lincecum may have a ridiculous changeup, but if that was the only pitch he threw, it likely wouldn’t be very good. Other pitches may derive their effectiveness from being thrown only 1 or 2 percent of the time, so no batter ever really worries about them, and is surprised on the very rare occasion they see the pitch.
Furthermore, we’re only talking about one month of data, so just because one pitch had a great month or terrible month doesn’t mean much, particularly for offspeed pitches. Taking an offspeed pitch’s effectiveness off of one month of data is like taking a pitcher’s effectiveness off of one game—you need much longer to really get a good feel for things. So if some of these values are surprising (they are), don’t scream that the PTLW formula is wrong. It’s not. It’s been checked by a ton of the top stats guys around, and it’s based on results, not some abstract conception of them.
So, here are 30 interesting facts that PTLWs bring to us thus far this season (one per team):
New York Yankees—Move over, Mariano Rivera. Rivera’s famous cutter continues to excel (3.66 runs above average), but Phil Hughes’ cutter has outpaced Rivera’s as the best on the team (5.25 above average).
Boston Red Sox—Speaking of cutters, Josh Beckett’s cutter is the one pitch he’s had working this year (4.77 runs above average). His fastball (1.04 below), curve (1.95 below), and changeup (4.46 below) have all struggled. Unfortunately, Beckett’s only thrown the cutter on 9.5% of his pitches, which hardly makes up for the poor performance of the other 90.5%.
Toronto Blue Jays—All three of lefty Brett Cecil’s offspeed pitches have been fantastic, with his slider 4.40 runs above average, his curveball 4.51 above, and his changeup 4.70 above. The three pitches combine to form almost half of Cecil’s pitches, complementing an average (.12 runs above average) fastball.
Baltimore Orioles—Kevin Millwood rarely threw a changeup in years past, but he’s rediscovered the feel for the pitch this season, causing him to throw it more than 5% of the time for the first time since pitches began being classified (in 2002). The pitch has been stellar, at 4.25 runs above average, possibly because word hasn’t gotten around yet that he’s throwing the pitch.
Tampa Bay Rays—Andy Sonnanstine doesn’t have much velocity, with his fastball just around 87 mph. However, his fastball has been the most effective heater in the majors this year, at a whopping 6.46 runs above average.
Chicago White Sox—Freddy Garcia’s superb changeup (6.09 runs above average) is the only thing keeping him in the majors right now. He’s ramped up his usage of the pitch this year, throwing it 23.3% of the time, easily a career high and nearly double his 2009 usage. Garcia throws his fastball only 37.5% of the time, one of the lowest rates in baseball, yet still can’t do much with the pitch (1.70 runs below average).
Cleveland Indians—Fausto Carmona is known for his hard sinker, but it’s his changeup that has excelled this year, at 2.89 runs above average. The fastball is .87 above. Over the course of his career, both Carmona’s slider (.70 above) and change (.91 above) have rated much better than his sinker (.48 below), yet he throws the sinker about 75% of the time. He might want to switch that up…
Detroit Tigers—Justin Verlander might have a blazing fastball, but the pitch has been .25 runs below average this season. All of his offspeed pitches have rated above average, however.
Minnesota Twins—You can chalk Nick Blackburn’s struggles up to a cutter-curve combo that has been off-the-charts bad. The cutter rates 9.36 runs below average, and the curve 8.76 below. Blackburn’s changeup has been 4.00 runs below as well, which is horrific by itself, but looks like Tim Lincecum’s change next to the other two offspeed offerings.
Kansas City Royals—Zack Greinke’s a great pitcher, but his curve hasn’t fooled anyone this year, rating 4.52 runs below average. His other three pitches, especially his changeup (3.68 runs above average), have all been up to his usual excellent standards.
Los Angeles Angels—Jason Bulger is the only pitcher in baseball in the last three years who uses his curveball more than half the time, but the pitch might be overexposed in that usage—it’s a mediocre .22 runs below average.
Seattle Mariners—Doug Fister’s fastball has been the most effective heater among starting pitchers, at 3.58 runs above average. His slider has been the polar opposite, at 5.61 below.
Oakland Athletics—Rookie righty Tyson Ross has shown a dominant slider, at 4.92 runs above average.
Texas Rangers—Sidearming Darren O’Day’s heater comes in at just 84.5 mph, but it’s been incredibly effective (4.07 runs above average).
Atlanta Braves—A remarkable eight pitchers on this team (Eric O’Flaherty, Billy Wagner, Kris Medlen, Tim Hudson, Jesse Chavez, Jonny Venters, Takashi Saito, and Tommy Hanson) have fastballs that register at least 1 run above average. O’Flaherty’s (4.90 above) leads the pack by a wide margin.
Philadelphia Phillies—For all his excellence, Roy Halladay hasn’t had the greatest of fastballs this year (.15 runs below average). His cutter, curve, and changeup all rate 2.94 runs above average or higher, though.
Florida Marlins—Reliever Leo Nunez’s slider (9.98 runs below average) and changeup (7.20 runs above average) have unbelievably polarized effectiveness. Thankfully, Nunez throws the change four times as often as the slider.
New York Mets—Rookie Jenrry Mejia was known for his high-90’s heat and great changeup coming through the minors, but was thought to have a poor curveball. However, the curve has excelled thus far (4.60 runs above average), while the fastball has been decent (.49 above) and the changeup poor (2.49 below).
Washington Nationals—All four of Livan Hernandez’s pitches have been between 1.35 and 1.94 runs above average. He hasn’t had more than one above average since 2005.
St. Louis Cardinals—Kyle McClellan is putting together a solid year despite the fact that his cut fastball (thrown a little over 10% of the time) is a whopping 10.98 runs below average. McClellan has added a changeup this year that is 5.68 runs above average; see the Millwood comment.
Chicago Cubs—Ryan Dempster added a splitter last year, and it rated exactly average, but this year, the pitch has taken off (4.03 runs above average), giving him a true out pitch to go with his playable fastball and plus slider.
Milwaukee Brewers—Randy Wolf’s eephus-esque mid-60’s curveball was his best pitch last year (1.66 runs above average), but is his worst this year (2.99 below average). His four pitches have actually reversed in order of effectiveness from 2009 (curve, fastball, change, slider) to 2010 (slider, change, fastball, curve).
Houston Astros—Despite having a high-octane 93-100 mph fastball, Felipe Paulino has gotten his best results from a high-70’s curveball (2.20 runs above average) and mid-80’s changeup (2.29). The fastball is actually 1.99 runs below average despite its velocity, and it’s not just a fluke—it’s 2.16 below average for his career.
Cincinnati Reds—Danny Ray Herrera has one of the slowest heaters in baseball, at 80-85 mph, but the pitch is an incredible 4.24 runs above average this season. His famous mid-60’s screwball is also excellent, at 2.27 above average.
Pittsburgh Pirates—One of the few bright spots on a terrible pitching staff, reliever Evan Meek has four pitches (fastball, cutter, slider, curve), and they all rate at least a run above average. A former completely wild minor leaguer, Meek has come further than I would have ever expected.
Arizona Diamondbacks—The softer the pitch gets, the worse Edwin Jackson is at throwing it. His fastball rates .67 runs below average, his slider 1.00 below, his changeup 4.03 below, and his curveball 5.78 below. Not a good start to the year.
San Francisco Giants—Barry Zito’s curveball (5.94 runs above average) has finally had its results catch up to its legend. From 2002-2008, the pitch had four years where it was actually below average, and never registered more than 1.02 above (2005). Last year, the pitch climbed to 1.93 above before continuing to take off this year. Zito’s added about 2 mph on it since 2008, which seems to have made a ton of difference.
Colorado Rockies—Since fastballs are thrown easily more often than other pitches, their run values tend to fall closer to average than other pitches. A +2 run fastball is thus far more impressive than a +2 curveball. Someone should tell Rockies starter Greg Smith that fastballs are supposed to be closer to average…his is 4.80 runs below, while both his breaking pitches are within .31 of average.
Los Angeles Dodgers—Knuckleballer Charlie Haeger throws an occasional slider, and the pitch is 1.70 runs above average this year, likely because he only uses it 7.3% of the time and batters aren’t looking for it.
San Diego Padres—You know a pitcher’s good when he throws his fastball and slider a combined 95% of the time, and they rate 4.37 and 4.59 runs above average, respectively. Meet Luke Gregerson.