MLB’s Statcast is pretty cool. Tracking technology, basically, that gathers and displays stats for aspects of the game that had previously gone unmeasured. Or at least unmeasured on a consistent and comprehensive basis. Statcast collects the data using high-resolution cameras along and radar equipment and tracks the location and movements of the ball and every player on the field at any given time.
One of the most relatable and familiar stats compiled is pitch velocity. We’ve know how fast guys throw for decades thanks to radar, but now it’s all being complied in a more orderly fashion than it had previously. So we have a leader board now, kept by the good folks at MLB.com. Here are the names of the pitchers with the current fastest pitches in the game:
Oh, sorry. Chapman skews it a bit. Let’s give the next couple of dozen:
Hmm. This is sort of a problem. Luckily, MLB has solved it with a little filter on the leader board:
Maybe that’s been there since they launched the thing, but I don’t spend a lot of time on Statcast leaderboards so it was just brought to my attention today. If you press that button you get Bruce Rondon and Ken Giles as your leaders, each with a single pitch of 101.7 m.p.h.
Which is good, I guess, if you’re not Aroldis Chapman. For him that’s a day when he’s suffering from flu-like symptoms, I imagine.
“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.
Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:
Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?
There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.
As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.