Hale: A PITCHf/x look at the effect of fastball velocity and movement

From Jonathan Hale at Baseball Prospectus on October 30, 2013:

The obsession with velocity starts early: from the time a player is drafted, there is an almost ridiculous concentration on how hard he throws. Raw speed, more than anything else, is what turns heads and makes prospects fly up the rankings, even though it is widely accepted that velocity alone is not enough to get major league hitters out, and that there are plenty of pitchers who are very successful in the majors with underwhelming fastballs.

Once a player makes it to the majors and people have some first-hand experience with his pitches, we start to hear about the virtues of their moving, darting, or “electric” fastball. And often, starters break into the league at a certain velocity and then after a few years settle into throwing a few miles per hour slower, at which point the suggestion is made that they “backed off” their heater a little in order to get more movement (or “put a wrinkle on it”), which actually makes the pitch harder to hit. I’ve always wondered whether it was true that pitchers willingly give up their maximum velocity either for the sake of control, increased movement, or self-preservation.

Is there a sweet spot for velocity? Is there a point at which throwing harder gives diminishing returns? PITCHf/x should be able to provide some answers (although command is the missing ingredient). For the sake of the following, I am defining “movement” (or “break”) as the maximum distance between a given pitch and a straight line between where it was released and the catcher’s glove. Think of it as the “bend” on a pitch (or “break length” for those familiar with PITCHf/x terminology), which is not dependent on the specific left/right/up/down movement on a pitch.

Read the full article here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=22139

Originally published: October 30, 2013. Last Updated: October 30, 2013.