Stuff on Stuff
So I ran my StuffRV numbers yesterday, and you know what that means? Gallimaufry!
Where else to start but Strasburg? Best stuff ever for a starter? Best stuff ever. Stephen Strasburg has been compared to Ubaldo Jimenez in terms of stuff, but after taking a closer look at the PITCHf/x data, I don't think they're especially close. Strasburg's four-seamer comes in at 98, faster than Ubaldo throws, and his 97-MPH sinker moves more than Ubaldo's fastball. Strasburg's 91-MPH changeup would make for an excellent fastball, given its negative vertical movement. Strasburg's curve, the best pitch in baseball for my money, is much sharper than Ubaldo's, though Ubaldo does boast an impressive slider.
If Ubaldo Jimenez threw submarine, "The U-Boat" would be the greatest nickname of all-time.
Strasburg, No. 6, is the only starting pitcher ranked in the top 25 of overall stuff. Topping the list by a wide margin is Matt Thornton. The dearth of southpaws who throw 96 likely skew the results in his favor. The other top-five pitchers all sport sterling fastball-slider repertoires- Henry Rodriguez, Daniel Bard, Kevin Jepsen, and Brian Wilson. Rodriguez has actually lost a fair amount of stuff from last year, when he threw half his pitches at 100 MPH and above. Now he's down to 97. Also, Jonathan Broxton, despite sacrificing a couple tick of velocity in favor of control, remains in the top ten. When Broxton's .371 BABIP regresses, maybe his 0.92 ERA will start to look a bit more like his 0.67 FIP. I say Buy low on him.
I have no idea if Citi Field's PITCHf/x system is calibrated correctly, but Jenrry Mejia has been throwing a fair share of fastballs that cut toward his glove side. Most fastballs tail at least somewhat to the arm side. Mejia still needs to command his pitches, but I believe a couple decades ago there was another Latin American 20-year-old learning to harness a fastball with incredible cutting movement who went on to close games in New York. At least the Yankees let Mo fail as a starter before he moved to the pen.
Speaking of Mariano Rivera, he still has terrific stuff, but he has taken a downturn from past years. Not just in velocity (93 to 91), but in movement as well (loss of an inch). Clayton Kershaw is another elite pitcher when it comes to stuff, probably the top starting left-hander, but he, too, has lost some of his velocity from last year. He's negated that by favoring his slider over his curve. When Kershaw was a top prospect, his curve rose to fame fame after Vin Scully dubbed it "Public Enemy Number 1," but the pitch has either lost a lot of its snap, or was overrated to begin with, and the decreased usage is a wise decision.
Francisco Liriano has risen a long ways to nearly reach the summit at which Kershaw has plateaued. Liriano's return from surgery has been well-documented, and the fact that his stuff now ranks up there with Kershaw and Brett Anderson makes me yearn for his PITCHf/x data back when Liriano was throwing 95 pre-injury.
As a testament to the importance of stuff, Carlos Marmol threw 91 in 2006 when he struck out 6.9 batters per nine. In the following three years, he threw 93-94 and managed K/9 rates between 11 and 13. This year, his stuff has taken another impressive leap, including an uptick in velo to 95 MPH, and he has a strikeout rate of 17. His slider is nuts.
I'm convinced that if he's not already a good pitcher, Charlie Morton will become one. Like Morton, Evan Meek of the Pirates had gaudily awful numbers a couple years ago, but the Bucs stuck with him, and his 95-MPH fastball and electric curveball certainly play now.
Chad Cordero is back and pitching in the Major Leagues. I predict that, like this, won't end well.