Command PostFebruary 01, 2008
By Joe P. Sheehan

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.


Fantastic article, as always. I figure they never see many comments because there's nothing to debate.

One note: It appears that the "Tot." column has the wrong numbers in both charts or I'm misunderstanding what it represents. It should be the total number of times that pitch was thrown, correct? If that's the case, the values certainly don't match the percentages.

Watching Mariano work is a thing of beauty. Watching him pump cutter after cutter after cutter at LHBs and seeing the vast majority of them (damn you, Tony Womack, damn you) do nothing with it is pretty amazing.

Joe, maybe if you climbed out of your basement and watched a couple games.... just kidding. But Rivera's cutter is absolutely dominating. Go look at his 1996-1998 stats...amazing, right? Now look again knowing that he didn't throw a straight fastball until 1999 or 2000. His two-seamer (which is rare and is probably lumped with the 4 seamer in your analysis) didn't make its debut until 2004.

Domination for several years against both sides of the plate for several years-- the pitch is one of the best of all time.

Good work, Joe. The Rivera analysis was a real eye opener.

Jeremy, I think the "Tot." is the total number of pitches thrown to that handed batter (so Saito threw 189 pitches to lefties last year and 185 to righty batters)

There is a lot of great stuff wrapped up in this one article.

I love the similarity scores, matching pitchers with the speed and movement on various pitches. All else being equal, you would think the results of similar offerings would be similar. But, as Joe pointed out, batters swing and miss at Saito's fastball more than twice as often as those with almost identical speed and movement. The first question should be "why?" Joe mentioned "deception, arm angle and pitch selection" in his article. I would add count and pitch location as important variables. Many Japanese pitchers are known to work backwards compared to their American counterparts, throwing breaking balls early in the count and putting the hitters away with fastballs later in the count. As such, Saito may have the advantage in throwing his fastball in pitcher's counts more often than the others. Just a thought. It might be interesting to see if Matsuzaka had a similar swing and miss differential with his fastball as others with like speed and movement.

Looking at Saito's splits, he absolutely dominates RHB. He has struck out 43.5% of all RHB in his two seasons in the majors. That is phenomenal.

Although Rivera has normally had reverse splits, his strikeout rate has generally been higher vs. RHB than LHB. The primary exception was in 2003-04. While amazingly effective vs. LHB, his lower strikeout rate is probably due to the fact that he comes after them with just one pitch and doesn't try to mix it up as much as he does against RHB.

Lastly, I agree with Joe's last sentence: "Examining the splits, based on pitch type, is another huge avenue for potential research with the pitch f/x data." Can't wait to learn more. Good job.

Thanks for the comments and suggestions so far.

Yinka got it right with the Tot. column...sorry if that wasn't clear.

Rich, I didn't know that about Japanese there any reason for that other than its just how they've been taught? I can look at Matsuzaka and others to see if that holds for them too.

Rich: according to my data (which is likely different from Joe's, but I wouldn't think too different, especially for fastballs), among starting pitchers with at least 650 fastballs recorded, only Kazmir misses more bats than Daisuke. Matsuzaka, in addition, among those players has the toughest fastball to put in play (Kazmir generates less foul balls than him, so while he generates more swinging strikes, he is marginally easier to put in play).

I don't know the origin of that approach but would guess that Japanese hitters tend to be more "free swinging" so it might follow that pitchers try to fool them earlier in the count and then "change it up" by trying to blow their fastball by them later in the count.