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Fastballs of the Oakland A's

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Fastballs of the Oakland A's
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

I love Fangraphs.com's Pitch Type Linear Weights.

You can read about them here.

Basically, they measure the effectiveness of a pitch in terms of how many runs it prevents per 100 pitches. Zero is average, and the higher the number, the better the pitch.

We often talk about fastball effectiveness as purely correlated to velocity. However, if you took 100 guesses as to who's had the most effective fastball in baseball this year, I'll bet you wouldn't get it right.

It's Tim Wakefield.

Santiago Casilla has the fastest fastball of any pitcher who's pitched on the A's this year, at 94 mph. However, the pitch actually is 2.22 runs below average per 100 pitches, third-worst of the A's pitchers.

I thought it would be a good idea to look at the A's pitchers' fastballs this year, and examine who has used the fastball effectively and who hasn't, and what (if any) correlation the Athletics' fastball velocities have with their fastball effectiveness.

We'll start with the most effective fastballs and go down. All effectiveness ratings are standardized per every 100 pitches, so starters don't have more extreme values than relievers.

1.) Jeff Gray (Velocity: 90.2 mph; Effectiveness: 5.83 runs above average)

Now this isn't really fair. Gray's only thrown 2/3 of an inning this year. In his brief appearance last year in the majors, it was 2.58 runs below average. Gray does get good movement on his fastball, which actually usually sits closer to the mid-90's.

Obviously, we need more data to conclude anything about Gray's fastball.

2.) Craig Breslow (Velocity: 90.1 mph; Effectiveness: 4.03 runs above average)

Here's the big surprise. Breslow's a pitch-mixing lefty, with a slider, curve, and changeup complementing the fastball, which isn't all that impressive on it's own.

He has had good success with the fastball over his career, and he's added some velocity this year which has helped him even more.

I would suspect that Breslow's fastball is difficult to hit because batters only get to face him once a game, and they have to look out for the other three pitches, which he uses a lot.

Breslow only throws the fastball 59.7 percent of the time, which is a below-average rate. It could be that he just sneaks it by them while they're looking for something offspeed.

Breslow's ability to mix up his pitches makes him a very effective lefty reliever, and he's certainly proved to be an excellent pickup for Oakland.

3.) Andrew Bailey (Velocity: 93.4 mph on four-seam fastball, 89.4 mph on cut fastball; Effectiveness: 1.74 runs above average on four-seam fastball, 1.26 runs above average on cut fastball)

Bailey's pitches are all really tough to hit, as his across-the-body motion is deceptive and his pitches have both velocity and movement. His curveball and slider are even more effective than the fastball.

Bailey's regular fastball rides up and in on righties, and his cutter rides up and in on lefties. Both pitches feature a ton of late movement, and induce a lot of empty swings and weakly-hit balls.

4.) Kevin Cameron (Velocity: 89.0 mph on four-seam fastball, 88.2 mph on cut fastball; Effectiveness: .93 runs above average on four-seam fastball, .71 runs above average on cut fastball)

Cameron is sort of similar to Bailey, but he has a few disadvantages.

He's older.

He throws softer.

Hitters have little to worry about besides the cutter, as his breaking ball is nowhere near as good as Bailey's.

That said, Cameron, who throws a ton of cutters, has excellent movement on the ball to go with decent velocity, so the pitch rates above average.

5.) Brad Ziegler (Velocity: 84.3 mph; Effectiveness: .14 runs above average)

Ziegler is a soft-tosser, but his low arm angle creates a ton of run and sink on his fastball, so hitters just pound it into the ground. It doesn't get many swings and misses, so it's not an incredible pitch, but it's effective.

6.) Josh Outman (Velocity: 92.8 mph; Effectiveness: .13 runs above average)

Ziegler and Outman highlight the problems with the scouting consensus. A lefty that throws 8.4 mph harder than a righty is considered to have a "better" fastball than the righty, but here, Outman and Ziegler are basically equal.

Outman throws hard, especially for a lefty starting pitcher, but ultimately, it's his slider and changeup that give hitters fits, while his fastball rates as just average-plus.

To his credit, Outman understands that, and only throws the heater 59.5 percent of the time.

Hopefully, his velocity will return after Tommy John surgery.

7.) Michael Wuertz (Velocity: 90.7 mph; Effectiveness: .09 runs below average)

I profiled Wuertz's excellence in this article, and I mentioned how he's sort of a backwards pitcher. Despite his decent velocity, he throws his fastball just 34.7 percent of the time, instead throwing his plus-plus slider a whopping 60.7 percent of the time.

There's not much special about Wuertz's fastball, other than his tendency to eschew it: it's got average velocity, average movement, and average effectiveness. It's good enough to complement his slider and give Wuertz the best FIP on the team, and that's good enough for me.

8.) Dallas Braden (Velocity: 87.9 mph on four-seam fastball, 82.5 mph on cut fastball; Effectiveness: .18 runs below average on four-seam fastball, 2.57 runs above average on cut fastball)

This is interesting.

Braden added the cutter this spring, and it's obviously very slow, but it's also very effective, worth over twice as much as Bailey's incredible cutter.

Braden's four-seamer has below-average velocity, but he spots it well and keeps it down in the zone, so it doesn't really hurt him though.

Braden throws the four-seamer 55.6 percent of the time, and only throws the cutter 9.8 percent of the time. I'd suggest that he throw more cutters and fewer four-seamers, as the four-seamer is his only pitch that rates below average.

9.) Vince Mazzaro (Velocity: 92.8 mph; Effectiveness: .30 runs below average)

Mazzaro's a sinker-slider-curve-change pitcher.

In the minors, scouting reports had his sinker as excellent, his slider as okay, and his other two pitches as below-average.

So much for the scouting reports.

Mazzaro's slider and curve have been excellent, his changeup very good, and his sinker has failed to impress big league hitters.

For a sinkerballer, Mazzaro's 41.2 groundball percentage is unacceptable: sinkers need to induce 50 percent or more grounders.

Of course, the pitch has only been marginally below-average, and Mazzaro deserves credit for noticing the success his offspeed stuff is having: he's only thrown the fastball 62.5 percent of the time.

10.) Sean Gallagher (Velocity: 91.2 mph; Effectiness: .47 runs below average)

Another pitch-mixer, Gallagher threw his heater just 54.8 percent of the time in the majors this year. 

As you can see, his fastball was a bit below-average, but unlike most of the other pitchers so far, Gallagher was much worse with his curve and change then his fastball. His slider (ironically considered his worst pitch) did rate above-average, however.

It's dangerous to make too much of 14 1/3 innings, but it is troubling that Gallagher's .47 runs below-average rating is actually the most effective his fastball has ever been. His curve and change have usually been much more effective than they've been in 2009, however.

Since Gallagher's velocity is about average, it makes sense that his fastball effectiveness is somewhere near average as well.

It's clear, however, that Gallagher needs his curve and change to be much more effective, because his fastball doesn't look like it's ever going to be enough by itself to make him a good big-leaguer.

11.) Trevor Cahill (Velocity: 89.2 mph; Effectiveness: .84 runs below average)

Now we're starting to move into below-average territory.

A pitch within .5 runs of zero is generally about average. When you get close to a run below average, the pitch is squarely in the average-minus range, bordering on being minus.

This is particularly problematic for Trevor Cahill, who uses his fastball, a two-seamer, 74.2 percent of the time.

When you throw a minus pitch 3/4 of the time, you're not going to get good results, and Cahill certainly hasn't. His 5.80 FIP clearly indicates he needs more minor league time.

Given the hard downward movement on the pitch, Cahill's groundball percentage of just 48.0 percent is a further indictment of the fastball. Yes, 48 percent is a bit above-average, but it's far below where it should be for a guy who throws 74.3 percent sinkers. 

With Cahill's arsenal, his GB% should be up near 55, but it's not. He needs to follow Mazzaro's example and rely less on the sinker, because it's clearly not working for him.

12.) Edgar Gonzalez (Velocity: 89.9 mph on four-seam fastball, 86.8 mph on cut fastball; Effectiveness: .97 runs below average on four-seam fastball, 4.64 runs below average on cut fastball)

I've never been a fan of Edgar Gonzalez.

I understand the decision to let him be the last guy in the bullpen, though. I'd rather have Gonzalez there than a top prospect (like, say, Henry Rodriguez) who wouldn't get many innings.

That said, Gonzalez clearly is still the same filler guy he always has been.

He's gotten surprisingly good results from his offspeed stuff, but his fastball is well below-average in terms of velocity and effectiveness.

He rarely uses the cutter, but it obviously gets crushed on the rare occasion he throws it.

Gonzalez is what he is: a junkballer who fits best in a trash-time bullpen role or as a Triple-A rotation guy.

13.) Russ Springer (Velocity: 90.7 mph on four-seam fastball, 84.6 mph on cut fastball; Effectiveness: 1.05 runs below average on four-seam fastball, .15 runs below average on cut fastball)

Like Braden, Springer throws a cutter that is much slower than his four-seamer, but the cutter is much more effective.

Springer tends to work very high in the zone and rarely gets grounders. He's lost .8 mph on the four-seamer from 2008, but you need every bit of velocity you can get to get away with being a high-fastball power pitcher.

Springer appears to have lost that edge, and is paying dearly for it, with a 2.83 run drop in fastball effectiveness.

Springer's cutter, once a plus-plus pitch (3.14 runs above average in 2007) has lost 2 mph in two years, and has seen a dramatic drop in effectiveness since then. He throws the four-seamer or cutter nearly 90% of the time, so with both pitches rapidly losing effectiveness, the 40-year-old Springer appears to have little left in the tank.

14.) Brett Anderson (Velocity: 92.0 mph; Effectiveness: 1.37 runs below average)

Anderson and Cahill are often talked about together because they are both 21-year-old highly touted rookies who have struggled.

However, their problems are much different.

Scouting reports indicate that Cahill throws harder, although Anderson's fastball has come in much faster than Cahill's this season. While Anderson's heater has been even worse than Cahill's, and he has a similar GB% (48.3), Anderson, ever the student of the game, adjusted his approach.

He only throws the fastball 53.5 percent of the time, throwing breaking pitches nearly every other pitch. Since his breaking stuff rates well, Anderson's approach has allowed him to survive in spite of some bad luck on balls in play. Cahill's actually had great luck on balls in play and still can't generate a decent ERA.

Anderson isn't an ace right now, but I'm far more confident about his ability to meet his potential than Cahill's. That's not an indictment of Cahill (who I still have high hopes for) as much as praise for Anderson, whose uncanny aptitude (he's the son of one of the most reputed college pitching coaches in history) should allow him to eventually harness his underrated stuff and become a frontline starter.

15.) Dana Eveland (Velocity: 88.6 mph; Effectiveness: 1.45 runs below average)

Like Anderson, Eveland doesn't overuse his below-average fastball (he throws it 56.4 percent of the time), but his slider, his primary second pitch, has been crushed (5.75 runs below average).

When your two best pitches aren't working and you don't have good control, you belong in the minors. 

Eveland's fastball rated much better last season (.31 runs below average), but he also threw it 1.5 mph harder. As with Springer, it seems the drop in velocity has really hurt Eveland's effectiveness, although it should be noted he was even worse with the fastball from 2005-2007, when it went about 90 mph.

It's the slider that's taken the biggest hit, and with similar usage and velocity, it's tough to understand why.

Unless Eveland regains his fastball velocity and slider effectivness, he's not likely to have much more of a big league career.

16.) Gio Gonzalez (Velocity: 91.5 mph; Effectiveness: 2.17 runs below average)

He's finally starting to get it.

Last year, Gonzalez's good fastball and big curve got hammered. 

This year, he's added 2 mph of velocity, but the fastball is still ineffective.

The curve, however, has taken a big step forward. At 2.23 runs above average, it somewhat mitigates the damage caused by Gonzalez's fastball ineffectiveness.

Gonzalez is still learning how to control himself on the mound, as his emotions often got the best of him in the past. Finally starting to get that under control, he can now focus on controlling the baseball instead of his emotions, and he's starting to throw more strikes. 

As Gonzalez continues to develop, his fastball is going to gain effectiveness. I've said it before and I'll say it again: He's got a very real chance to be a big league ace in 2011. Gonzalez just might be the next Johan Santana, albeit with a wicked curve and good changeup instead of a wicked changeup and good slider.

17.) Santiago Casilla (Velocity: 94.0 mph; Effectiveness: 2.22 runs below average)

The hardest thrower of all of these guys ranks 17th of 19 in effectiveness. That should tell you all you need to know about velocity not being everything.

Casilla's slider and change rate well-above-average, and he might want to try to throw them a bit more, as his 65.5 percent fastball usage is a tad high. If he throws, say, 50 percent fastballs, 35 percent sliders, and 15 percent changeups, Casilla could regain his effectiveness.

Right now, however, his fastball (which rated about average in the past) is really killing Casilla's ability to consistently retire hitters.

18.) Dan Giese (Velocity: 86.4 mph; Effectiveness: 2.93 runs below average)

Giese is trying to be Wuertz, as he threw 53.2 percent sliders in his brief time in the majors this year.

While his slider is only marginally less effective (2.13 runs above average to Wuertz's 2.59), Giese's fastball is 4.3 mph slower and 2.84 runs worse. 

That's why Wuertz is excellent and Giese is a journeyman.

To be fair, there are worse big leaguers than Giese, who does a good job locating his pitches. 

Only a few 86-throwing righties can survive in the majors, and most, like Ziegler, have some sort of sidearm/submarine delivery and get a bunch of grounders. Giese is a conventional overhand pitcher, and he's a flyball guy, which just doesn't work all that well with an 86-mph fastball, no matter how good your control is.

19.) Jerry Blevins (Velocity: 88.6 mph; Effectiveness: 3.70 runs below average)

A pretty useful reliever from 2007-2008, Blevins got crushed this spring, kept on getting hammered in some early-season big-league action, and has merely been decent in Triple-A.

Blevins' fastball sat around 91 mph the last two years, and rated as a plus pitch, especially coming from his low-three-quarters arm angle.

The scouts aren't always wrong about velocity: with a 2.5 mph drop in fastball velocity this year, Blevins has struggled mightily. His other pitches have lost 2-5 mph as well.

When a 25-year-old suddenly loses 2-5 mph on all of his pitches, he's probably hurt. If Blevins is hurt and he's not telling anyone, he may be putting his career in jeopardy, as pitching through a major arm injury only makes it worse and harder to repair.

If he isn't hurt, and he's just lost his stuff, that may be an even worse sign, because that's not easy to fix.

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