Takashi Saito has a very unique fastball. When batters swing at an average fastball, they miss 13% of the time, but with Saito's fastball, they miss 42% of the time. Only Chris Ray and Chris Schroder generated a higher percentage of swings-and-misses with their fastballs, although they threw their fastball much less than Saito did. This week I'm going to look at pitches that move similarly, and see if their results are similar.
Several weeks ago, I used similarity scores to compare the movement on pitches. Using those scores, here are the most similar fastballs to Saito's, along with how often the pitches are swung and missed at.
Name Speed Pfx Pfz Sw% Takashi Saito 93.2 -6.70 10.55 0.42 Roberto Hernandez 93.1 -6.63 10.09 0.09 Robinson Tejeda 93.8 -6.85 10.86 0.20 Santiago Casilla 93.8 -6.12 10.83 0.15 Joaquin Benoit 93.5 -7.45 10.17 0.23 Brandon Lyon 92.6 -7.32 10.09 0.13
All those pitches look similar, both in terms of speed and movement, but batters miss when they swing (Sw%) at Saito's fastball more often than at the similar pitches. The similar pitches mostly have an above average Sw% (the league average Sw% is 13%), but nobody is close to Saito. Moving outside the top-5 most similar pitches, there still aren't any pitches that can compare to the results that Saito gets with his fastball. The different results that come about from pitches that move almost identically further highlights the importance of the "hidden" aspects of pitching that are slightly harder to quantify, like deception, arm angle and pitch selection.
Anyways, lets look closer at Saito, especially his fastball, and how left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters fared against him. The table below shows Saito's splits for his different pitches. For the most part the column headings are self explanatory, but as a reminder, Sw% is swings and misses/total swings, SLGBIP includes home runs, and Tot. is the total number of pitches against that side hitter.
Name Class Hand Tot. Freq TB BIP Sw% SLGBIP Takashi Saito FB L 189 0.62 5 18 0.29 0.278 Takashi Saito FB R 185 0.55 1 7 0.60 0.143 Takashi Saito CB L 189 0.24 2 8 0.28 0.250 Takashi Saito CB R 185 0.04 0 0 -.-- -.--- Takashi Saito CT L 189 0.05 0 1 0.00 0.000 Takashi Saito CT R 185 0.09 1 2 0.30 0.500 Takashi Saito SL L 189 0.09 4 6 0.11 0.667 Takashi Saito SL R 185 0.31 3 10 0.46 0.300
The thing that really stands out here is how effective Saito's fastball is against right-handed hitters. 60% of the time, when a RHH swings against Saito's fastball, he misses it, which is an amazingly high amount of misses, for any type of pitch. Saito's fastball is still really good against LHH, but it's unbelievable (twice as good) against RHH. You can also see how Saito approaches LHH vs. RHH in this chart and it's interesting that while his fastball is so effective against RHH, due to the relative inefficiency of his off-speed pitches against lefties, he actually throws it more often against LHH.
Saito's split is cool, but what about other cases where splits are involved. One of my favorite splits to look at is Mariano Rivera's reverse split. Rivera is much harder on LHH than RHH, which is explained by his cut fastball, which moves in on LHH and is nearly impossible to hit with power. The chart below shows how Rivera approaches each type of hitter.
Name Class Hand Tot. Freq TB BIP Sw% SLGBIP Mariano Rivera FB L 188 0.99 10 30 0.23 0.333 Mariano Rivera FB R 146 0.72 10 17 0.23 0.588 Mariano Rivera SL L 188 0.01 0 0 -.-- -.--- Mariano Rivera SL R 146 0.23 3 6 0.21 0.500 Mariano Rivera CH R 146 0.05 0 0 -.-- -.---
The thing to notice here is that Rivera throws only cut-fastballs when facing LHH. Of the 188 pitches he threw to LHH, 187 were cutters. Wow. Up in the count, down in the count, with runners on, or with the bases empty, LHH know with almost total certainty that Rivera is coming with a cutter. There is no other pitch in the back of their mind that they might see...yet they still can't hit it. They miss 23% of the time they swing and even when the ball is put in play, it isn't hit with any type of authority. I'm completely mystified at how Rivera is able to be a one pitch pitcher to lefties. I'm open to suggestions, but I think Rivera's cutter to a left-handed hitter is the best pitch in baseball.
I'm going to close with Rivera's reverse split because my head is still spinning with how bizarre it is. I think this type of analysis could be extended to examine if pitchers get different types of movement of pitches depending on the batter and different pitching patterns as well. Certain types of pitchers are able to survive with a suspect fastball by replacing fastballs with sliders depending on the hand of the batter. Examining the splits, based on pitch type, is another huge avenue for potential research with the pitch f/x data.