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Fastballs Thrown Down Broadway and Thereabouts

Taylor Widener and Luke Weaver had whiff percentages that were most impressive.

Luke Weaver.
Luke Weaver.
Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images

When a pitcher throws a fastball down Broadway, or within 6 inches higher or lower, the batter can do damage if he hits the ball. The pitcher challenges the batter. Pitcher success depends on many things such as pitch sequencing, tunneling, velocity, movement, and location in the strike zone.

When the baseball is thrown down Broadway, the simplest and most emotionally powerful measure of pitcher success is the percentage of swings that the batter misses (whiff %). A whiff means the batter accepted the challenge and lost.

Another measure is pitch primitive success % (PPS %), which is calculated as (misses plus called strikes plus foul balls) divided by (number of pitches thrown). Balls in play can be either successes or failures and are not in the calculation.

A great measure of pitching effectiveness is wOBA. It was eschewed in favor of other measures that add new insight for pitches down Broadway. Whether or not you agree with the measures, I trust you will find something interesting in this article.

“The swing-and-miss ability of a fastball has been linked with velocity, spin rate, and vertical movement, all of which have consistently increased in recent seasons.” — Chet Gutwein, 6 May 2021

Two questions worth exploring are:

  • Looking at fastballs down Broadway, how do Diamondbacks pitchers compare to all pitchers in the Majors? For the last 5 seasons, comparisons will be made for whiff % and pitch primitive success %.
  • Did top Diamondback starting pitchers find success with elevated fastballs? Looking at whiff % for fastballs a within 6 inches above Broadway will address a piece of that question.

How do Diamondbacks pitchers compare to all pitchers in the Majors?

First the context. In 2017 the Diamondbacks had great pitching. After 2017, the Diamondbacks pitching was below average, but not the worst in the Majors. The Diamondbacks pitchers’ (starters and relievers combined) Wins Above Average (WAA) ranked as follows (data from Baseball Reference):

  • 2017, +13.9 WAA ranked 2nd
  • 2018, -3.7 WAA ranked 20th
  • 2019, -5.3 WAA ranked 23rd
  • 2020, -1.0 WAA ranked 21st
  • 2021, -9.0 WAA ranked 24th

Within the context of below average pitching, for the last five seasons let’s look at how all Diamondbacks pitchers compared for all fastballs in all locations.

The following graph shows that with the exception of 2017 when their WAA ranked very high, their whiff % for fastballs was below the average in the Majors.

Data from Baseball Savant.

The following graph shows that with the exception of 2019, their pitch primitive success % was below the average in the Majors. Comparing 2019 to 2018, the Diamondbacks’ pitchers had a 1.5% surge in their foul balls per fastball and a 1.2% surge in their whiff percentage for fastballs. Because of those improvements, they broke above the average in the Majors.

Data from Baseball Savant.

Following the success of the 2019 season, the Diamondbacks’ pitchers increased their percentage of fastballs from 56.8% in 2019, to 60.3% in 2020, to 61.4% in 2021. As a point of reference, in 2021 fastballs averaged 57.4 % of pitches in the Majors.

Did top Diamondback starting pitchers find success with elevated fastballs?

Let’s look at fastballs for the six starting pitchers with the highest average game score (average of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and 538.com) for last season. The top game scores were:

  • 54.7, Tyler Gilbert in 6 starts
  • 51.7, Zac Gallen in 23 starts
  • 50.4, Luke Weaver in 13 starts
  • 50.3, Madison Bumgarner in 26 starts
  • 50.2, Merrill Kelly in 27 starts
  • 48.3, Taylor Widener in 13 starts

Let’s look at each type of fastball with two caveats.

  • Many pitchers strive to make their pitches unique so that the same type of pitches can be significantly different.
  • The website data is sometimes is wrong about the pitch type.

“First, “four-seamers” and “sinkers” aren’t monoliths. Pitches with those classifications can look completely different, and they sometimes get mis-classified as each other.” — Ben Clemens, 29 January 2022

Five of the six top starters had at least 200 pitches that were 2-seam/4-seam fastballs. With one exception, their whiff % on the high side of Broadway was at or above the average in the Majors. That exception was Zac Gallen. Taylor Widener was most impressive with above average whiff rates in the high side and the low side of Broadway. Luke Weaver was most impressive with above average whiff rates in the high side and down Broadway. The Diamondbacks’ starters widely found success with elevated 2-seam/4-seam fastballs. For details see the following tables.

Data from Baseball Savant.

Three of the six top starters had at least 200 pitches that were cutter fastballs. Bumgarner and Gilbert found more success on the low side of Broadway. For details see the following tables.

Data from Baseball Savant.

Only Merrill Kelly had at least 200 pitchers that were sinkers. With the sinker, his whiff rates were generally below average in the Majors. It’s not a problem because last season he had the 4-seam fastball and the cutter fastball, each of which had a higher whiff % than his sinker. For details see the following table for Merrill Kelly.

Data from Baseball Savant.

Summary.

For all Diamondbacks pitchers, their fastball whiff percentage stayed about the same, while the average in the Majors rose.

For all Diamondbacks pitchers, their pitch primitive success percentage kept pace with the rise in the average in the Majors until the last two seasons. In the last two seasons, their success rate fell while the average in the Majors rose.

On the high side of Broadway, 2&4 seam fastballs by the Diamondbacks top starting pitchers had whiff percentages that were equal or better than the average in the Majors with the exception of Zac Gallen. Taylor Widener and Luke Weaver had whiff percentages that were most impressive.

For cutter fastballs, the Diamondbacks top starting pitchers had more success on the low side of Broadway.