Pitching by the Numbers: The movers

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

You can find more from Michael Salfino at SNYWhyGuys.com

Last week when we wrote in this space about velocity measured strictly by miles per hour, some readers wisely noted in the comments the importance of movement. Of course, there are many pitchers who miss bats without tilting the radar gun. Let's give them special mention now and make some related recommendations.

Since the sample size for 2011 is still so small, we're going to focus still on 2010 stats. To make our list of pitchers who generate elite movement without great speed, two things were required. They needed to be top 20 in missed swing percentage according to the leader boards on Fangraphs. And they needed an average fastball velocity in 2010 below what is commonly considered to be major league average – 92 mph. We only looked at starting pitchers.

Here are the results:

Player '10 FB Velocity '10 Missed Swings '10 Rank '11 Swings Missed
Jered Weaver(notes) 89.9 11.2% 4th 9.3%
Tim Lincecum(notes) 91.3 11.0% 6th 10.5%
Shaun Marcum(notes) 87.1 10.9% 7th 12.0%
Ryan Dempster(notes) 91 10.9% 8th 10.2%
Dan Haren(notes) 90.6 10.1% 13th 11.7%
Jaime Garcia(notes) 89.5 10.0% 16th 12.1%
Jonathan Sanchez(notes) 90.6 9.8% 18th 15.7%
Scott Baker(notes) 90.6 9.7% 20th 5.1%

Sanchez and Garcia are lefties and should be asterisked as we don't expect major league average velocity from southpaws. Ballpark average velocity for lefty starters at about three mph less, or 89 mph. But we leave them on the list because that's admittedly a subjective standard given that I don't have velocity splits.

Also, Randy Wells(notes) is hurt. But I like him a lot more than his 2010 averages would indicate. I would roster a healthy Wells as one of my bottom starters in a deep (14- or 15-team) mixed league. There's a little upside beyond this stat, too, given that Wells came late into pitching as a converted catcher.

In fact, I'd buy all of these guys without hesitation, except for Baker. Sanchez was a big bargain in most drafts. There shouldn't be too much separation this year between Sanchez and Matt Cain(notes), for example. The worries about Marcum's spring training velocity were silly given that he was throwing just a mile or two less than his 2010 averages, normal for pitchers during the March dead-arm period. He is money as long as he can stay healthy and I don't worry about elbows after they have been surgically repaired. More precisely, I worry until I see the full recovery. Then, they actually get a little bit of a plus because that's generally one problem you don't have to worry about for at least a few more years.

Why don't I like Baker? Well, his 2011 averages are down. But I confess that he's been very good at generating empty swings for years. I look for reasons at this point not to own Baker because he always underperforms his peripherals. At some point, you have to just give up on expecting averages to correct. Baker is now the rich man's David Bush. I can get Bush everywhere now for nothing if I want peripherals and should I desire to scream all year about how lady luck keeps slapping me silly. At some point, bad luck just becomes a proxy for bad pitching.

Note also that it's not necessarily movement at play here. There can be some deception in the delivery. Some pitchers stride so much more than average that it takes a foot or so off their fastball and thus makes it appear so much faster. Tall pitchers have an edge here. For example, 6-foot-10 Mets starter Chris Young throws 85 mph mostly but it appears to be over 92 mph to the hitter because he's throwing the ball less distance than most pitchers. Of course, other pitchers who register higher velocity may have shorter strides that actually cause their velocity to be less than the gun says (at least to the eyes of hitters).

This is not meant to argue against my velocity Pitching by the Numbers. Speed, I still maintain, is very important to monitor. But it's important to consider context there. You can't think that because some guys like Marcum can miss bats at 87 mph, all pitchers can get that low and survive. Any pitcher who loses close to two mph or more from his prior levels is in serious danger of getting hammered and is probably dealing with an injury. If Marcum drops to 85 mph, hitters no doubt will make him pay a heavy price.

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. .

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