Pitching by the Numbers: Fabulous fastballs

Michael Salfino
Yahoo! Sports

The most important pitch in baseball is the fastball. The pitchers who can generate outs with that offering can get by with just average secondary stuff.

Conversely, if you have elite secondary stuff with an average fastball, you will be in trouble most nights no matter your opponent.

But how do we measure? Velocity is nice, but that doesn't account for command and movement. There is also the art of mixing pitches. A well placed and well sequenced 90-mph heater is more likely to vex a top hitter than first-pitch, 98-mph cheese over the meat of the plate.

With the help of our friends at Fangraphs and Baseball Info Solutions, let's concern ourselves strictly with fastball results. Here are the current leader and trailers in runs above/below average per 100 fastballs thrown:

Rank Name Team +/- Runs/100 fastballs ERA Expected ERA Y! Owned %
1 Tim Hudson(notes) Atl 8.7 3.03 3.7 90%
2 Kyle Lohse(notes) StL 8.6 2.17 3.67 80%
5 C.J. Wilson(notes) Tex 8.4 3.38 3.54 83%
6 Jair Jurrjens(notes) Atl 8.2 1.80 3.42 81%
9 Scott Baker(notes) Min 7.8 3.99 3.59 33%
11 Ricky Romero(notes) Tor 7.6 3.10 3.00 88%
12 Carlos Zambrano(notes) ChC 7.4 4.89 4.14 61%
13 Matt Harrison(notes) Tex 7.3 4.27 4.23 25%
14 Zach Britton(notes) Bal 7 2.14 3.73 69%
17 Alexi Ogando(notes) Tex 6.6 2.13 3.75 73%
18 Charlie Morton(notes) Pit 6.2 2.62 3.89 14%
20 Ian Kennedy(notes) Ari 6.1 3.05 3.29 74%
21 Bartolo Colon(notes) NYY 6.1 3.16 2.87 29%
106 Travis Wood(notes) Cin -6.1 5.01 3.54 23%
107 Chris Carpenter(notes) StL -6.2 4.95 3.59 93%
108 Bud Norris(notes) Hou -6.7 3.93 2.84 50%
109 Chris Volstad(notes) Fla -6.8 5.73 3.71 1%
110 Ervin Santana(notes) LAA -6.9 4.85 3.62 55%
111 Jeff Francis(notes) KC -7.1 4.83 3.69 3%
112 Jhoulys Chacin(notes) Col -7.7 2.7 3.17 83%
113 Ryan Dempster(notes) ChC -14.3 6.91 3.38 66%

At the top of the rankings, we scrubbed the pitchers who were owned in more than 90 percent of Yahoo! leagues. But you can see the overall ranking listed. But at the bottom, we listed everyone regardless of ownership rate since we may recommend scrubbing your roster of these guys upon the closer examination to follow. The cut offs were everyone six runs or better and six runs or worse. There were 113 starting pitchers examined.

The interesting fastball value leaders are Zambrano, Harrison, Britton, Morton and Colon.

We've written about Zambrano before here positively, but I've never liked him. He's still owned more than his stats demand. But I can't really knock owning him given that the walk rate is down, the K/BB is about 2/1 and his fastball clearly is still effective. He seems to have sacrificed movement for control, so do not expect a return to his top K/9 rates.

Harrison was everyone's darling the first month and now the market has bailed like he's a mortgage-backed security in 2008. I hate the walk rate, which suggests his actual ERA is deserved. But this fastball number is a sign of ability. Who knows what it will take to transform that into consistent production. But it's probably not much. For now, let him keep the "potential" tag, but keep him safely off your roster in most mixed formats.

Britton seems for real. So forget about the prospect label with him. He's arrived, much more quickly than anyone thought. Of course, you have innings limits to concern yourself with come August. You can't expect more than 175 or so. But I will be surprised if he shows significant regression.

Few are buying Morton. He has some dominant minor league production and then was curtailed by arm injuries. He plays in a pitchers' park, not that he needs it with his extreme ground-ball rate. But you have to steer clear of the 1:1 K:BB guys (or thereabouts) in the vast majority of formats.

Colon should be owned in 90 percent of leagues right now. He's just sitting there, waiting to be claimed. He's been noted here positively a few times already. Eventually, he will suck again but I'm wagering it will not be this year. He's got the lowest expected ERA right now in the American League. So, if anything, he's been unlucky.

The key guy on the bottom is Chris Carpenter. I'm calling it: It's over for him. Once the fastball goes at his age with his injury history and miles, it does not come back. Well, at least not with a year off doing who knows what kind of voodoo in the Dominican Republic. Let's put Carpenter in touch with Colon and revisit him in 2012.

Michael Salfino writes and edits the SNYWhyGuys blog that projects player and team performance for New Yorkers. He's also a quantative sports analyst whose writing regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal.