Exposing Baseball’s Other Movementarians

Yesterday, I wrote up Rich Hill’s 2016 season, declaring him The Leader of Baseball’s Movementarians. In researching the piece, I dove deep into Baseball Prospectus’ Pitchf/x leaderboards. I wanted to find out what makes Hill’s fastball so dominant, despite its unremarkable velocity, and his curveball so effective, given its unimpressive whiff rate. I’m not an expert in pitching mechanics. I can’t breakdown video or tell you much about grips. For that, talk to Eno. But I found that Hill enjoys two distinct advantages that make his (essentially) two-pitch arsenal play up.

 

The first is that Hill possesses crazy movement. Both the rise and fade of his fastball and the drop and horizontal movement of his curve put those pitches in some elite company and allow him to dominate despite the lack of a third pitch.

The second advantage is related. When hitters don’t swing, both pitches are called for strikes far more frequently than league average. Intuitively, this makes sense so long as a pitcher lives within the vicinity of the strike zone, as Hill does. Hitters will have a more difficult time discerning balls from strikes when confronted with movement as substantial as his. And while nobody would ever call Rich Hill a command-and-control type, he possesses slightly better command than league average, at least by walk rate and zone percentage. As a result, his pitches’ prolific movement result in more frequent swinging and called strikes.

With that in mind, I went back to the Pitchf/x leaderboards in search of other starters armed with multiple pitches exhibiting a proclivity for called strikes, notable horizontal and vertical movement, and in the case of changeups, a large fastball differential. Below you’ll find a table including the benchmarks I used for each pitch, which were calculated using data from Baseball Prospectus’ Pitchf/x leaderboard.

Requirements To Join The Movementarians
Avg H-Mov (in) Avg V-Mov (in) Changeup Differential (mph) Avg Call S/B
4-Seam > 5.028 > 9.211 > 0.559
Curve > 5.012 < -5.63 > 0.509
Slider > 2.594 < 1.505 > 0.421
Change > 7.792 < 4.639 > 8.229 > 0.288
Sinker > 8.083 < 6.362 > 0.57
SOURCE: PITCHf/x

To meet the cutoff for consideration, a pitcher had to throw at least 200 of a given pitch type and possess better than average horizontal movement, vertical movement, and called strike-to-ball ratio. Vertical movement is represented here in inches of rise, which is a good thing for a 4-seamer, but bad for other pitches. Therefore, a good 4-seam fastball will have an average vertical movement greater than 9.211 but a good curve, slider, change, and sinker will all have vertical movement less than the values in the Avg V-Mov column. For horizontal movement, called strike-to-ball ratio, and changeup differential, bigger is better.

Clearly, this is just one way to evaluate pitch quality and arsenals. There are plenty of effective and even dominant starters who don’t excessively rely on movement or called strikes for success and therefore won’t appear on the lists below. Nevertheless, I found this a useful exercise and, judging by the names that follow, I can say with some modicum of certainty that this methodology at least passes the smell test.

Now, obviously receiving an elevated number of called strikes can also be a function of pitch framing, a skill we attribute to catchers rather than pitchers. But of the starters below, only two of the six threw to above average receivers. And even if the other four had the same luxury, we’re talking fantasy; we don’t really care so long as they throw to the same person next year. So, without further ado, let’s look at a few pitchers with multiple offerings that boast big movement and earn a prominent number of called strikes.

Pitchers With Multiple Qualified Offerings
Player Pitch H Mov (in) V Mov (in) Whf/Sw GB/BIP Call S/B
Rich Hill Fastball 8.61 9.68 34.58% 25% 0.76
Curveball 8.62 -7.96 22.55% 61% 0.64
Justin Verlander Fastball 7.46 10.21 27.62% 25% 0.56
Curveball 6.04 -6.17 22.32% 44% 0.68
Aaron Nola Curveball 10.47 -6.23 40.97% 54% 0.7
Sinker 9.94 3.13 11.47% 61% 0.76
Jason Hammel Curveball 6.53 -7.47 36.71% 35% 0.63
Slider 3.09 0.06 34.92% 42% 0.45
Carlos Martinez Slider 5.9 -0.45 38.75% 41% 0.52
Changeup 8.68 1.48 29.65% 64% 0.33
Sinker 9.21 3.48 10.85% 69% 0.6
Chris Sale Slider 4.94 -3.81 35.37% 39% 0.53
Sinker 12.14 2.99 15.61% 56% 0.69
SOURCE: PITCHf/x

We talked about Rich Hill on Tuesday. He’s our Leader. As Kate Upton so eloquently affirmed, Justin Verlander maybe should have won the Cy Young. And I also hear Chris Sale is pretty talented. But what about the other names on the list?

Level 3 Movementarians

Rich Hill may soon face a challenge to his throne. Carlos Martinez is the only pitcher in baseball with three pitches that all steal called strikes and that move both vertically and horizontally more than average. Aside from his slider, which ranks 28th in whiffs per swing out of 103 pitchers, none of his other offerings induce an impressive number of swings-and-misses. Yet, he ranked 30th among starters in strikeout rate. Perhaps, now we know why.

Martinez’ sinker and changeup also induced groundballs at near league-leading rates, ranking 2nd and 10th, among their respective pitch types in grounders per ball-in-play. While leaning on his sinker and changeup may have eaten into his strikeouts, the shift in part shielded him from 2016’s home run explosion. And while a .286 BABIP, given his extreme ground ball tendencies, might make him seem like a conspicuous regression candidate, Martinez, like Hill, was one of the best in the league at managing contact.

 

Carlos Martinez Statcast
Avg EV Avg FB/LD EV Avg DST Barrels/BBE
League Avg 89.1 mph 92.2 mph 217.1 ft 6.60%
Carlos Martinez 87.5 mph 89.8 mph 195 ft 4.10%
CarMar Percentile 82nd 90th 91st 80th
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

With his ability to limit hard contact and induce ground balls, it’s of little surprise that Martinez outperformed his ERA indicators to the extent that he did. And if that skillset holds, it’s reasonable to expect him to do the same in 2017. In other words, I buy Martinez’ low-3 ERA.

He also remains a strong source of strikeouts, despite the drop in K%. Don’t mistake his declining whiff rates for an erosion of skill. Martinez is consciously moving towards highly effective secondary offerings that yes, induce grounders, but also steal called strikes, allowing him to maintain elevated strikeout totals even as batters swing and miss less often.

Level Two Movementarians

Look at the movement on Aaron Nola’s curveball! In 2015, Eno wrote a piece for Foxsports.com about yackers. In it he proclaimed:

* If you want whiffs from your curve, throw it hard.

* If you want grounders from your curve, make it drop.

Nola is greedy. His curve has more drop and a better groundball rate than league average. But he also owns the 13th best swinging strike rate. So, in inducing both grounders and whiffs, it’s nearly impossible to do anything with the pitch. Nola’s sinker is also elite in terms of both grounders and called strikes. If you’re wondering why he was so good last season, the two offerings account for nearly three quarters of all the pitches he threw.

As Jeff Zimmerman called out last month, Nola impressed the team with his progress and is expected to enter spring training at 100%. Our auction calculator currently ranks Nola as the 35th most valuable starter based on early Steamer projections, coincidentally one place ahead of Martinez. Quite frankly, I think both are ranked a bit low at the moment. Trepidation over Nola’s elbow could deflate his value in drafts, and at 166 projected innings, Steamer clearly reflects those concerns. But I have absolutely no reservations over his talent or ability.

Finally, there’s Jason Hammel. The veteran played the role of the North Side’s forgotten man, lost in the shuffle of a star rotation and left off of a post-season roster that went on to win a World Series. But until a late summer collapse, Hammel was quietly in the midst of another excellent season. Halfway through August, Hammel sported a 2.75 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 21% strikeout rate.

Unfortunately, that masked some concerning underlying peripherals including a .237 BABIP and 84.5% strand rate. Sure enough, the regression bug caught up and Hammel disappointed fantasy owners down the stretch. He was eventually shut down at the end of September due to elbow soreness.

Still, Hammel’s curveball ranked in the 75th percentile in terms of horizontal movement and 76th percentile in drop, making it one of the most serpentine in all of baseball. And while it didn’t necessarily generate a lot of groundballs, it ranked in the upper quarter in both whiffs per swing and called strike-to-ball ratio. While his slider wasn’t quite as effective, it still made the list, arming Hammel with two excellent breaking pitches.

Despite issues with his elbow, Hammel’s velocity held to the bitter end. He maintained 92 on both his 4-seamer and sinker in his final start of the season, consistent with his season and career averages.

The Cubs declined to pick up a very reasonable player option last month. Perhaps they were concerned about his elbow, looking to give an old rotation a younger look, or some combination of the two. Depending on where Hammel ends up, he could make an excellent sleeper next season given that there doesn’t appear to be any significant erosion of skill even at 34 years old. Just the ubiquitous injury concern that plagues all pitchers of his vintage.

Level One Movementarians

Below you’ll find the rest of the Movementarians, entry-level plebeians featuring just a solitary pitch meeting our criteria. There are certainly some intriguing pitchers here, honing their craft while awaiting a life on their distant home planet, Blisstonia.

Level One Movementarians
Player Pitch H Mov V Mov Whf/Sw GB/BIP Call S/B
J.A. Happ Fastball 6.46 10.26 25.95% 26% 0.68
Madison Bumgarner Fastball 5.49 9.56 22.79% 27% 0.59
Ian Kennedy Fastball 6.73 9.36 22.70% 26% 0.67
Robbie Ray Fastball 7.29 10.11 22.65% 41% 0.62
John Gant Fastball 7.26 9.35 21.19% 44% 0.66
Shelby Miller Fastball 5.06 9.45 18.61% 33% 0.56
Kevin Gausman Fastball 6.56 9.74 18.60% 40% 0.62
A.J. Griffin Fastball 5.7 10.69 18.26% 22% 0.59
Wei-Yin Chen Fastball 6.8 9.94 18.14% 35% 0.66
Scott Kazmir Fastball 6.9 9.83 17.84% 40% 0.66
Tyler Anderson Fastball 6.19 10.02 16.62% 53% 0.64
Jon Lester Fastball 5.78 9.8 16.61% 37% 0.65
Matt Harvey Fastball 5.58 9.72 16.55% 38% 0.6
Andrew Cashner Fastball 5.77 9.98 15.89% 34% 0.61
Lucas Harrell Fastball 5.16 9.32 15.31% 36% 0.63
Ariel Miranda Fastball 8.6 10.37 14.35% 32% 0.65
Brad Peacock Fastball 5.83 9.22 12.94% 42% 0.65
Anthony DeSclafani Fastball 5.03 9.36 12.37% 30% 0.83
Dillon Overton Fastball 6.92 9.52 8.00% 12% 0.73
Lance McCullers Curveball 6.15 -6.25 43.25% 66% 0.59
Dylan Bundy Curveball 5.75 -6.18 31.58% 59% 0.54
Clay Buchholz Curveball 8.59 -5.87 31.13% 33% 0.89
Adam Wainwright Curveball 9.72 -8.32 29.79% 43% 0.52
Stephen Strasburg Curveball 7.65 -5.97 28.44% 62% 0.88
Zach Davies Curveball 6.26 -9.21 26.36% 42% 0.76
Tanner Roark Curveball 6.92 -6 24.51% 45% 0.53
Edinson Volquez Curveball 5.73 -5.96 22.05% 60% 0.6
Zack Greinke Curveball 6.49 -8.09 20.17% 38% 0.87
Kenta Maeda Curveball 6.18 -8.1 17.22% 36% 0.88
Luis Severino Slider 4.18 0.44 25.53% 54% 0.48
Chris Archer Slider 3.06 0.64 37.62% 51% 0.5
Nathan Eovaldi Slider 3.33 0.58 22.10% 45% 0.72
Rubby De La Rosa Slider 3.76 -0.09 42.15% 57% 0.49
Bud Norris Slider 3.34 -1.38 29.82% 47% 0.43
Yu Darvish Slider 8.63 -3.06 38.89% 47% 0.68
Joe Musgrove Slider 6.9 -1.15 31.76% 47% 0.56
CC Sabathia Slider 5.52 0.09 31.95% 44% 0.86
Tyler Wilson Slider 7.39 -1.95 26.40% 38% 0.45
Dallas Keuchel Slider 6.52 -3.39 41.44% 56% 0.47
Matt Moore Changeup 9.57 3.99 31.43% 45% 0.41
Kendall Graveman Sinker 8.26 5.86 13.11% 55% 0.6
Alfredo Simon Sinker 8.56 6.31 13.57% 57% 0.61
Joe Ross Sinker 8.66 5.8 10.71% 47% 0.59
Ivan Nova Sinker 9.25 4.93 12.93% 59% 0.6
Williams Perez Sinker 9.66 4.79 9.61% 61% 0.71
Gio Gonzalez Sinker 10.16 6.21 13.16% 55% 0.61
Andrew Triggs Sinker 9.78 -0.31 14.44% 56% 0.68
Clayton Richard Sinker 11.69 2.63 15.53% 70% 0.58
Masahiro Tanaka Sinker 8.18 5.63 10.47% 49% 0.63
Rick Porcello Sinker 8.52 6.24 9.17% 46% 0.94
Dillon Gee Sinker 8.37 5.85 5.41% 30% 0.78
Jon Niese Sinker 9.5 4.24 10.59% 58% 0.57
Hisashi Iwakuma Sinker 8.68 5.25 6.38% 44% 0.77
Bartolo Colon Sinker 9.04 4.79 10.81% 47% 0.82
R.A. Dickey Sinker 8.57 5.48 10.64% 43% 2.4
SOURCE: PITCHf/x





Rylan writes for Fangraphs and The Hardball Times. Look for his weekly Deep League Waiver Wire and The Chacon Zone columns this season.

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igloo
5 years ago

Amazingly, I jsut watched that Simpsons episode! Nice writeup