On the Out Pitch
Tim Lincecum retired 89% of batters he got to 0-2 or 1-2 counts. They had no chance. Here's how Lincecum's pitch selection breaks down on 0-2 and 1-2 counts, and the results of each pitch type.
I'm grouping his four-seam and two-seam fastball. When I split the two, I find his two-seamer is much more effective than his four-seamer, but still not even as valuable as his off-speed offerings. I mean his changeup and slider are true out pitches. In fact, his change might be the best out pitch in baseball. You probably already know that. Yet his fastball on these counts is merely average. Would he be better off sacrificing some of the effectiveness from his changeup in exchange for some added effectivenss on his fastball? Theoretically, yes, this would be the right move, and theoretically, he could do this by throwing his changeup so often that batters come to expect it, and at the same time throwing his fastball so rarely that it acts like an out pitch, in that batters are fooled by it.
Yet for some reason, whenever I look at a pitcher's different pitch type run values, I notice disparities. Check out the A's duo of Brett Anderson and Mike Wuertz, who possibly possess the two best sliders in the game. Apparently, their fastballs suffer in spite of their extraordinary sliders. My guess is that they use their sliders as out pitches, so I wanted to see if there's a trend among pitchers to have a disparity in value between their out pitch and their fastballs. This type of analysis could, and probably should, be done for all counts, but I've been intrigued by the theory of the out pitch, so I'm limiting my sample to only pitches on 0-2 and 1-2 counts.
For the sake of simplicity, I'm grouping all fastballs together (four-seam, two-seam, cutter), and all off-speed pitches together (curve, slider, change, splitter, knuckler). So, in the following plot each pitcher represents a data point (minimum 200 pitches, Mo excluded), and the color of each dot represents how often a pitcher throws his fastball.
There appears to be a slightly positive trend line heading in the direction we would expect. Pitchers who extract value from one pitch type tend to get some value out of their other pitch types. Also, I see more yellow and red points on the right side and more blue points on the left side, meaning pitchers who throw more off-speed pitches have had better success with them than pitchers who throw fewer off-speed pitches.
Given that the average run value is defined as zero, 59% of pitchers perform at an above average rate with their off-speed offerings, while only 38% are above average with their fastballs. There are two and a half times more pitchers who have above average off-speed pitches and below average fastballs than pitchers who have below average off-speed pitches and above average fastballs.
As for correlation coefficients, which are on a scale of -1 to 1 with 1 representing a strong positive relationship, -1 representing a strong negative relationship, and 0 representing little or no correlation, I found that there is a weak correlation of .09 between fastball and off-speed run values. In addition, there is a correlation of -.25 between pitch type run value and pitch type frequency. Again, all of these data suggest that pitchers are not throwing their best pitches often enough in out pitch situations.
Returning to the above graph, one interesting note I made is that the two bluest points also show up as the two highest points on the graph. This means that the two pitchers who have the lowest fastball percentage have also had the poorest fastball results. Want to take a guess at the names behind the data points?
Well, it turns out knuckleballers should stick to the knuckleball. R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield aren't fooling anybody by trying to sneak a fastball in there. Wake's thrown 34 fastballs in 0-2/1-2 counts, and he's generated nine outs compared to six hits. That's abysmal. Dickey is just as bad, with 14 outs against nine hits. They're doing batters a favor by throwing fastballs.
There seems to be a stigma to pitching backwards, but if your out pitch is your best pitch, and you can throw it for strikes and it doesn't add stress on your arm, then you should consider turning your fastball into a secondary pitch, making it a potential out pitch as well
Pitch type run values don't tell the whole story. It's important to look at what happens in the entire at-bat, not just the one pitch. For example, it's possible that pitchers are throwing fastballs outside the strike zone to set up breaking balls as their out pitch. So they're intentionally lowering the value of their fastballs, and therefore are getting better overall results when they throw the fastball even though the fastball doesn't get the glory in the run value column. However, the conclusions I found when looking at the linear weights value of the entire at bat remain the same as when I analyzed single pitch run values.
I'm including a scatter plot of the categories I've used--fastball/off-speed percentage, fastball/off-speed run value, and fastball/off-speed linear weights-the overall linear weights value of the at-bat following the 0-2/1-2 fastball/off-speed pitch). Use the scroll bar on the bottom right to locate your pitcher of interest.