Touching BasesJune 17, 2010
Stuff on Stuff
By Jeremy Greenhouse

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.

  • Comments

    Mariano's velocity is back up a little bit following his 2008 surgery. He hit 95 a few times earlier in the month.

    Gee, Rivera's "downturn" is so pronounced that his WHIP currently stands at 0.63, batters are hitting a robust .122 against him and his K/BB ratio is 4/1. I can only imagine what those numbers would be like if his stuff hadn't degraded so much.

    Actually liked the ending haha.

    Is it possible to "buy low" on a 0.92 era?

    I think we need to let Stras get more than 2 starts against terrible offensive teams before we crown him as the second coming. He hasn't even thrown 14 innings yet. The kid is obviously crazy good and is going to get even better but I think the hype machine needs to slow their roll a bit.

    Michael, why do facts about his movement and velocity = hype machine? Facts are facts. If you want to take those facts and make the case that he'll be the best pitcher ever, that's obviously opinion and out of the realm of facts, but that's not what Jeremy said.

    Mike, it's not hard to imagine what Rivera would have been if he still had his old stuff. His command hasn't changed, so he would be the 1996-2008 Mo who was the best closer of all-time.

    Peter, I was joking about Broxton. It's funny that his BABIP is so high and that it's possible to have a FIP lower than his ERA.

    Michael, I don't know if Strasburg is going to get better, so I think it's important to fully appreciate him now. Look at what happened with Prior. If you don't catch the hype, you might miss something special.

    Jeremy, I'm confused. You seem to think that the Rivera of 2009-2010 isn't up to the "old Rivera" standards when his WHIP and BAA for both the past 1.5 years are well below his career average...and without looking at other closers' stats, I'm pretty sure his save percentage is still higher than anyone in baseball, and even higher than his own career average. Mo still seems pretty "vintage" to me, even at the ripe old age of 40.

    Is it just me, or are Yankees fans overly sensitive when it comes to predicting Rivera's rate of decline? The man is 40 years old. It's not out of the realm of possibility that his best days are behind him.

    I'd like to know the meaning of some terms:
    when refering to pitchers stats what is %own, and also wk+/-.

    Thanks in advance for the help

    Not overly sensitive at all. Obviously, Rivera is "reasonably" close to the end of his career, and there will come a day soon when he won't be the best closer in baseball (like he still is today). But it's also clear that Rivera is an "outlier" in statistical parlance; he's already way outside the boundaries of the normal affects of aging. Just saying that his statistics indicate that he continues to perform at as high a level as ever, even if his velocity is down a bit. It would be interesting to poll ML hitters to see which closer they would least like to face in a game-winning spot today. I have a feeling we know the answer. By the way, there is a precedent for HOF-caliber pitchers still performing at very high levels at an "advanced age" -- Nolan Ryan. Like Mo, Ryan is a statistical outlier, in large part because he and Mo are/were in far better physical shape than 95 percent of pitchers 20 years younger than them.

    Mike, I'm actually a very big Yankee fan myself, and Mo is my favorite player ever, so please don't think I have anything against him. It's entirely possible that he's better than ever, but normally when a pitcher loses 3 MPH on his fastball, it's reasonable to say he's declined. That's all I'm trying to say. He's still the best closer in the game, but his "stuff" has gotten worse.

    Alexander, no idea why your comment is here, but I know the answer anyway. %Own is the percentage of ownership in standard 10-team roto leagues, while wk+/- is the rate at which the player has been added or dropped in standard leagues in the last week.

    The Mejia thing seems to be real...he was doing it in the Arizona Fall League too (Surprise and Peoria had PitchFX cameras set up).

    The problem is the movement, even in the same starts, is not regular enough....which makes sense given how raw he is.