Reckless Fun with Pitch Comps for New Pitches

Using my Pitch Leaderboard, I identified every “new” pitch* thrown during MLB’s glorious first weekend. Then, using my Pitch Comps tool, which uses pitch specs (like velocity, spin rate, movement, and release points) to compare pitches to one another, I wanted to see if I could make any quantifiable declarations about the quality of these pitches in small samples. I can’t write about everyone, so I’ll select the most interesting ones (in my humble opinion).

(*Including existing pitches from rookies for whom we now finally have MLB statcast data as well as existing pitches thrown by players who missed all of 2021 due to injury. It will be interesting to see if the latter group looks measurably different post-injury than they did pre-injury.)

At the end of the season, I’ll revisit to find out these comps were actually indicative (i.e., “predictive,” in a sense) of quality, but it’s also strongly possible the comps will change as samples grow. This is very experimental, but it’s something I’ve wanted to try in the past but hadn’t found the motivation to do.

Why pitch comps? I know I am prone to bias watching a handful of pitches from a pitcher. I can’t scout because I can deceive myself into just about any conclusion (and I think the same can be said for most of us, whether we like it or not).

My Pitch Comps tool is less rigorous than Eno Sarris‘ Stuff+ or Cameron Grove‘s (Pitching_Bot’s pitch model stuff graded: it does not rely on regression analysis. Instead, it finds comparable pitches using generally the same array of pitch specs, such as velocity, movement, release point, and so on. In finding the most-comparalbe pitches, the tool also provides the performance of those pitches (on an ERA-equivalent scale), giving a sense of what one might expect, having witnessed similar pitches in the wild.

The “comp grades” I provide reflect my eyeballing of the full list of comps, which, for brevity’s (and sanity’s) sake, I cannot provide. The grades are simply intended to be shorthand, quantitative scores for my qualitative analysis. Please take them with several grains of salt.

I can’t review every new pitch or else I’ll lose my mind, so let’s see how many I can get through before I actually do. Also, by the time this publishes, four more days’ worth of games will have been played, possibly rendering some of this analysis obsolete already. Let’s pretend it’s still relevant today because I don’t want to have to do it over. Thanks!

Actual New Pitches

Drew Rasmussen FC (15 thrown)

Tastefully curated top comps: Alex Colomé FC, Joe Musgrove FC, Chris Archer SL, Diego Castillo SL

This one’s a slutter, folks, and the initial comps say it’s pretty good. Musgrove’s is not very good, but Archer’s and Castillo’s are absolutely weapons. Naturally, Colomé is his closest comp and represents some middle ground. It could notch a mid-teens swinging strike rate (SwStr%), but it’s fly-ball/ground-ball implications will depend how he weaponizes it. Colomé’s is pretty heavy, but it’s fairly unique in that regard relative to the broader cutter landscape. The jury is out, but there’s more upside than downside, and it helps assuage fears of him being just a two-pitch guy.

Comp grade (PV): 55

Two-time FSWA award-winner Eric Samulski has written up four new(ish) pitches, including Ramussen’s cutter, over at Rotoballer. He thinks Rasmussen’s cutter has “potentially moderate impact,” which sounds to me like we are generally on the same page.

Camilo Doval FC (15)

Tastefully curated top comps: Craig Kimbrel FF, Freddy Peralta FF, Jacob deGrom FF, Zack Wheeler’s SL

So… yeah.

To be clear: this is a reclassification of Doval’s four-seamer, as confirmed by Statcast’s MLB Pitch Class Twitter account. His four-seamer is one of its closest comps—but it’s actually not very close, which suggests the specs are different enough that this could very well be a different fastball, despite it being the same fastball.

More importantly, though, all of Doval’s are very distant, which is unusual for most pitches and highly unusual for a fastball variant. In a way, listing any comps feels a bit misrepresentative. A lot of times, when there are no close comps, I’ll give the pitch the benefit of the doubt. “Comp-less” pitches—like Julio Urías‘ curve or Clayton Kershaw’s curve—perform well precisely because they’re unique. Doval’s four-seam cutter may fit that mold.

Pitch type be damned, this is a good pitch. But, given the longstanding hype around his triple-digit heat, I think we’ve always known that. It’s just a matter of whether or not Doval can sustain his late-2021 command gains.

Comp grade (PV): 70

Tyler Mahle FC (13)

Tastefully curated top comps: Merrill Kelly 켈리 FC, Jordan Zimmerman SL, Tyler Mahle SL, Anthony DeSclafani SL, Zack Wheeler SL

Another slutter. Mahle threw a cutter back in 2018, but this doesn’t really look anything like that (3 mph slower, totally different movement). Mahle is also throwing his slider differently this year, too, although such differences could be attributable to small samples. (Mikey Ajeto of Baseball Prospectus touches on both pitches here, if it piques your interest to read further.)

The comps are not promising, but I think the more this pitch can resemble a cutter and the less it can resemble the slider, the better. As Ajeto notes, Mahle’s a tinkerer, so there could be some continued tinkering. Primarily my worry is he won’t command it well. (That’s my worry with all his pitches, to be fair.)

Comp grade (PV): 45

Clarke Schmidt SL (10)

Tastefully curated top comps: Marcus Stroman SL, Lance McCullers Jr. SL, Daniel Bard SL

Tons of whiffs, and the ball just dies off the bat. This could quickly become an excellent and reliable weapon. Few comp lists turn up cleaner than this one did.

Comp grade (PV): 70

Josh Hader SI (9)

This is not a new pitch. This reclassification might be thanks to Baseball Prospectus’ Brian Menéndez (read here).

Rookie Pitchers

Hunter Greene FF (56)

Tastefully curated top comps: Michael Kopech FF, Gerrit Cole FF, David Bednar FF, Nathan Eovaldi FF, Carlos Estévez FF

There are some glowing comps here, but the range in quality (from Kopech/Cole to Estévez) highlights the volatility in high fastballs that induce double-digit whiff rates but are prone to hard contact. This is how Cole (and Justin Verlander) found success in Houston: chasing whiffs up in the zone at the expense of hard contact. Verlander allowed 24 home runs on his four-seamer alone in 2019… en route to a 2.58 ERA and a career-high 16.1% SwStr. It can be plenty effective, but it requires a modicum of control—which Greene has, for such a live arm—or else you get Estévez-caliber outcomes.

FG grade (PV / FV): 80 / 80
Comp grade (PV): 70

Hunter Greene SL (23)

Tastefully curated top comps: Wil Crowe SL, Sandy Alcantara SL, Antonio Senzatela SL

As far as sliders go, this one, from someone with such obscene velocity, falls a little flat. There are some high-end comps lower down the list, but pitch specs this is a very average slider despite the arm from which it hails. I’m no pitch design expert, but if he turned it into a power slider—add, like, three or four ticks, make it touch 90 mph—we could be in business.

I understand he throws a power-change (to be discussed shortly), and having some velocity differential might be perceived as beneficial. To be honest, I think throwing those pitches at identical velocities (~90 mph) with such different movement profiles would bolster the slider, not harm it. The spin axes mirror nicely, too, so hitters might struggle to differentiate between the slider and change-up out-of-hand.

FG grade (PV / FV): 55 / 60
Comp grade (PV): 45+

Hunter Greene CH (13)

Tastefully curated top comps: Masahiro Tanaka FF, Freddy Peralta FF, Aaron Nola FF

Like Doval’s four-seamer, this is a unique pitch. Hilariously, it comps almost exclusively to fastballs—but that’s kind of a bad thing, too, from a pitch shape standpoint. So maybe I walk back what I said, if only slightly: instead of matching his slider and change-up velocities, he could swap them. Easier said than done, of course, and again, I’m no pitch design expert. But lesser velo might allow his change-up to play like a typical change-up, contrasted starkly against his four-seamer, while the velo-movement pairing on a 90 mph slider would flummox hitters. There could be some growing pains here—his existing scouting grades suggest as much—but the Reds have proactive pitching coaches, and they invest in player development, so we may see dreams become reality, rather than wishing emptily on a team with stagnant (or seemingly backwards) player development.

FG grade (PV / FV): 40 / 45
Comp grade (PV): 40+

Robert Suarez FF (25)

Tastefully curated top comps: Frankie Montas FF, Brandon Woodruff FF, Dylan Cease FF

This is a nice array of names, but none of these fastballs are particularly good. Woodruff represents the high-water mark, but even his four-seamer is maybe above-average. Cease’s fastball is sharp but unimpressive, mostly serving to set up his excellent secondaries. Ideally, the same will be said of Suarez, and no worse. But the pitch itself is probably average at best.

Matthew Festa SL (23)

Tastefully curated top comps: Adam Ottavino SL, Freddy Peralta SL, Marcus Stroman SL, Collin McHugh SL

Like Suarez, Festa is technically not a rookie, but also, I don’t care! I’ve never heard of Festa prior to this, so I’m glad I undertook this exercise. This is possibly an elite slider, full stop. Among sliders thrown at least 20 times this year, it has more horizontal movement than any other (more than an inch more than Collin McHugh’s slider). In common parlance, they call these suckers “sweepers,” I think. Also, as of Monday, Festa threw his (briefly) devastating slider 64% of the time. A low-end org-depth relief prospect from 2019, but now 29 years old, Festa may possess a bona fide go-to put-away weapon. That Seattle bullpen is formidable.

FG grade (PV / FV): 55 / 55
Comp grade (PV): 70

Matthew Festa FF (12)

Tastefully curated top comps: Freddy Peralta FF, Mychal Givens FF, Ian Kennedy FF

Did I suddenly become a huge Festa fan? Is Festa the relief version of Freddy Peralta? Before I go overboard, I should clarify the comps for Festa’s four-seamer are not all that great. But neither are Peralta’s, and Festa, like Peralta, could leverage his low arm slot into something lethal. Festa recorded a 38.6% strikeout rate (K%) against a 4.0% walk rate (BB%) against 101 minor-league batters last year. Sign me up.

FG grade (PV / FV): 50 / 50
Comp grade (PV): 60+

Elvin Rodriguez CU (17)

Tastefully curated top comps: Stephen Strasburg CU (2019), Freddy Peralta SL, Logan Webb SL, Marcus Stroman SL, Charlie Morton

This appears to be a slurvy beast that comps favorably to two of the best curves thrown in the last decade (Stephen Strasburg and Charlie Morton). This could be a high-whiff, contact-stifling machine from someone once slated as org depth. His first eight outs of work don’t show it (13.50 ERA, 15.4% K, 6.5% SwStr), and there’s a long minor-league history of mediocrity. Rodriguez’s problems likely do not stem from his curve, though: he has thrown 60% fastballs thus far, and it’s a wildly unimpressive fastball. There could be a relief ace lurking here—lord knows the Tigers need one—but it’s any wonder if Detroit overhauls his pitch usage.

FG grade (PV / FV): 50 / 50
Comp grade (PV): 60

Ronel Blanco FF (13)

Tastefully curated top comps: Walker Buehler FF, Chad Green FF, Drew Rasmussen FF, Yu Darvish FF, Liam Hendriks FF, Brandon Woodruff FF

This is a firmly above-average pitch that should rack up whiffs and, depending on Ronel’s command, induce its fair share of pop-ups. Blanco is 28 but saved 22 games at Triple-A and could quickly rise the ranks to become the desired replacement for Ryan Pressly (who continues to ail from diminished velocity).

Comp grade (PV): 65

Jhoan Duran FS (12)

Tastefully curated top comps: José Ureña SI, Jorge Lopéz SI, Casey Mize SI

Like Greene’s change-up, I don’t love that Duran’s splitter is comping to sinkers. This could be a velo issue, since I’m not sure a “power splitter” is a thing. He also achieves an unusually flat vertical approach angle (VAA) from such a high arm slot. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a 95 mph sinker with a spin rate below 1,900 rpm, and the sinkers that come close to achieving these criteria have steeper planes. All of which is to say I think Duran kind of breaks my comps tool. Although I wonder if there’s a point at which too much velocity for a splitter is a bad thing? Anyway, this pitch is more unique than my tool lets on, and I’m willing to give Duran’s splitter the unicorn’s benefit of the doubt. I have my reservations, but I understand the excitement.

FG grade (PV / FV): 60 / 60
Comp grade (PV): 60?

Jhoan Duran SI (11)

Tastefully curated top comps: Gerrit Cole FF, Michael Kopech FF, Zack Wheeler FF, Jacob deGrom FF, Liam Hendriks FF

Well then.

FG grade (PV / FV): 60 / 60
Comp grade (PV): 70

Félix Bautista FF (9)

Tastefully curated top comps: Nick Anderson FF, Ryne Stanek FF, James Karinchak FF

Whiffs, pop-ups, some weak contact. I’m vaguely concerned about the shape generally, but it appears to be extremely flat and is a promising offering buoyed by its velocity.

FG grade (PV / FV): 70 / 70
Comp grade (PV): 60+

Félix Bautista SL (4)

Tastefully curated top comps: Mike Soroka SL, Brad Keller Sl, Joe Musgrove SL

Four pitches! But four very good pitches. I anticipate lots of whiffs and weak contact forthcoming. His fastball is his marquee pitch, but Bautista’s slider might be better. (Again, though, just four pitches.)

Comp grade (PV): 65+

Félix Bautista CH (3)

Tastefully curated top comps: Andrew Cashner CH, Zack Greinke CH, Kyle Hendricks SI

We have Bautista throwing a splitter on his player page. Maybe this is it? The comps are weird and highly varied, but the premiere comps show promise of healthy double-digit whiffs and excellent contact management.

FG grade (PV / FV): 45 / 45?
Comp grade (PV): 50+

Injury Returnees

Justin Verlander FF (43)

Tastefully curated top comps: Justin Verlander FF (2019), Giovanny Gallegos FF, Lucas Giolito FF

That Verlander shows up shortly after I mention his name and comps himself directly to his 2019 fastball is, I think, a great sign for him. This is also pro-Gallegos and -Giolito propaganda, in case you needed any.

Justin Verlander SL (22)

Tastefully curated top comps: Justin Verlander SL (2019), Lucas Giolito SL, Giovanny Gallegos SL

Yawn. (More Giolito and Gallegos propaganda.)

Jalen Beeks CH (19)

Tastefully curated top comps: Eduardo Rodriguez CH, Mike Minor CH, Martín Pérez CH

Beeks was a trendy sleeper arm a couple of year ago, but he threw scarcely any pitches in 2020 and none in 2021. He’s back, and he has added 1.5 to 2 mph to his change-up and four-seamer, featuring the former foremost. Beeks’ change-up in particular has sinkeresque qualities, thus calling upon some mediocre comps, but his closely-comped change-ups (which supersede the sinkers in closeness anyway) are fantastic. This is a relief arm to remember (re-remember?).

FG grade (PV / FV): 55 / 60
Comp grade (PV): 60

Jalen Beeks FF (16)

Tastefully curated top comps: Brendan McKay FF, Colin Poche FF, Julio Urías FF, Jalen Beeks FF (2019)

It’s helpful that Beeks comps closely to himself, if only to prove that the specs are not wholesale different than they were three years ago, despite the added velocity. The comps are a bit scattershot in terms of specs, and while Poche’s outcomes (17.7%, +17.8° launch angle influence [lots of pop-ups]) represent a best-case scenario, they are extreme—and I mean extreme—outliers. While the words “budding ace” may come to mind when you think of Urías, his four-seamer is the weakest of his three offerings. His fastball was never meant to be his strength, though—his change-up was always his carrying tool.

FG grade (PV / FV): 45 / 45
Comp grade (PV): 40

Noah Syndergaard SL (17)

Tastefully curated top comps: Zack Greinke SL, Brad Keller SL, Matt Wisler SL

He didn’t throw any sliders in 2021 during all two-thirds of an inning he threw, which means he hasn’t thrown a slider since 2019. It has shed 5 mph since then—not necessarily a bad thing, but not the power slider of old. This can still be a nice whiff and ground ball pitch, albeit more prone to loud contact than it once was. That makes it possibly high-variance—especially from someone who has endured so much health-related adversity—but, to lean toward optimism, I would wager the mean or median season-long outcome skews toward above-average.

* * *

Having analyzed an unholy number of pitches, I’m realizing this is not a tenable path forward if I intend to do this again. It’s healthy to keep abreast of new pitches and especially of rookie pitchers. I’ll have to pick and choose. I’m also not sold on this format. I’d like to be able to present to you the list of comps so I don’t need to tastefully curate them, but that involves lots of typing or lots of screenshots. The latter might be doable, but it’s not my idea of fun.

Anyway, I hope you found this minimally informative.

Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's magazine (2018, 2019), Rotowire magazine (2021), and Baseball Prospectus (2022, 2023). Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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2 years ago

Love it Alex! And if this is your last effort along these lines, well done! (but find a way to keep em coming;)