The Best pVals in 2023: Fastball Edition Part One

There are all kinds of ways to measure the effectiveness of a pitch. Pitch Values (pVals) or “Pitch Type Linear Weights” give us a sense of, from the glossary, “…the changes in average run expectancy from one count to another”.

while the changes in run expectancy between an 0-0 count and a 0-1 or 1-0 count are obviously very small, when added up over the course of the season, you can get an idea of which pitch a hitter was best against.

pVals are not predictive and they don’t explain the true talent or raw characteristics of an individual pitch the same way Stuff+ or other pitch models can, but it does tell us what actually happened. Now, imagine that! You can dig into the specifics of pVals on the glossary page but for now, let’s celebrate this season’s greatest pVals.

Part one will look at four-seam fastballs and cutters. Part two (coming soon) will focus on sinkers and splitters.

wFA – Four-seam Fastball RAA

Not only did Cole do an incredible job of limiting runs with his fastball, it’s Stuff+ measurement of 125 ranked second among all qualified pitchers, behind only Spencer Strider’s 141. Cole threw his fastball 53% of the time, third most among qualified pitchers behind, again, Strider and Christian Javier.

Even with all this success, Cole lost just a little bit of rise on his fastball in 2023. According to statcast, the vertical movement of his four-seamer, in inches versus the average, dipped to 1.6 in 2023 when it was at 2.4 in 2024. Regardless, it still looked like this:

The K% on Cole’s four-seamer, according to statcast, was an astounding 28.2%. Once again, that places him in third behind pitchers who used a four-seamer in at least 350 plate appearances. Finishing in front of Cole were Joe Ryan (33.6%) and Spencer Strider (28.5%).

wFA/C – Fourseam Fastball RAA/100 pitches

  • Winner: Zach Eflin 2.73
  • Runners up: Zack Wheeler 1.68, Gerrit Cole 1.63, Zac Gallen 1.56

Zach Eflin ladies and gentlemen, Zach Eflin! He is a perfect example of why, sometimes, you need to look at rate statistics. When we change our measurement and look at the run prevention per 100 pitches, Eflin beats out some really good four-seam hurlers. However, Eflin only threw the pitch 6% of the time. If we isolate statcast’s “Pitch Arsenal Stats Leaderboard” down to 50 PAs and look at K%, we see Eflin ranked first with a ridiculous 56.0%. The pitch was only coming in at 92.9 MPH on average, but because it was located so well…

Eflin FourSeam Locations

…and utilized so little, he was able to keep hitters off balance. In addition, he paired that four-seamer with a cutter and a sinker, and that variety in fastball surely made it difficult to guess what was coming.

wFC – Cutter RAA

Mr. Burnes did it again. For the third year in a row, Burnes’s cutter was a league best (qualified pitchers) pVal. Last season’s version was slightly better in it’s pVal score, but not by much. Burnes’ 19.8% K% isn’t exactly top of the charts, he ranked 10th among pitchers who threw a cutter in at least 100 PAs. But, it looks much better from a wOBA perspective as the pitch garnered a .298 wOBA, 6th best within the same qualifier and hitters only hit .209 against it, good for fourth. Burnes continued to through the pitch at a very high rate, 55.1%, but that actually landed in second place in usage among qualified pitchers as Justin Steele threw his cutter 63.1% of the time. Here’s an example of a cutter that cuts, not only with horizontal movement, but deep into the psyche of opposing hitters:


wFC/C – Cutter RAA/100 pitches

  • Winner: Kodai Senga 2.53
  • Runners up: Jesús Luzardo 2.24, Gerrit Cole 1.65, Corbin Burnes 1.56

Kodai Senga threw his cutter 24.7% of the time behind his primary four-seam fastball which he threw 37.0% of the time. But beyond that, he offered another four (maybe five) breaking balls that swooped, looped, and whoop-whooped(!) around the zone. His 2023 cutter was much different than Burnes, in that it had more vertical movement but significantly less horizontal movement than the average. Take a look at what I mean:

Compare Senga’s 8.9% K% to Burnes’ 19.8% and you can surmise that it’s a completely different pitch. Hitters only got to it for a .247 batting average, but it was expected by statcast to get hit more often at .269. There seems to be some evidence that Senga had luck on his side when it comes to run-value and the cutter. The Stuff+ measurement on the pitch is a low 93. For comparison, Burnes’ Stuff+ posts at 127, and Senga is sandwiched between Chris Bassitt and Kyle Gibson, not bad company but perhaps not award-winning caliber cutter throwers. It was really the difference in drop between Senga’s four-seamer and cutter that kept hitters off balance. Notice in the GIF below how the four-seamer comes in a little “flatter”, differentiating from the cutter just enough to provide space between bat path and ball:

Isolating down to per 100 pVals makes Senga’s cutter look a little more effective. He threw 693 of them compared to Burnes’ 1,706. Senga’s version didn’t get hit hard and it rarely gave up extra-base hits.

pVals help tell a story of a pitch, but require you to open the book rather than simply reading the title. In next week’s article, I’ll shift my eye level from up in the zone to down in the zone and look at 2023’s best splitters and sinkers.

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