The Change: Average Movement For Each Pitch Type

When I comment on the shape of a pitch, I try to put it into two pieces of context: the league average movement on a pitch like that, and the rest of that pitcher’s arsenal. More on the second bit later.

Today, let’s look at some young pitchers with small track records — guys like Eduardo Rodriguez, Chi-Chi Gonzalez, Vincent Velasquez, and Lance McCullers — up against the average movement of the league’s pitches. Because we may not know a ton about outcomes right now, but the movement of a pitch probably only takes a few games to stabilize. It’s an aspect of the pitch, much like velocity, which stabilizes in three games.

First, let’s put up a table of the average velocities and movements for pitch types thrown by right-handers in baseball.

Average Movement and Velocities for Right-Handed Pitchers

Pitch avg(pfx_x) avg(pfx_z) Velocity
Four-seam -4.2 8.9 92.4
Two-seam -8.0 6.1 91.9
Sinker -8.4 4.6 90.9
Cutter 1.4 5.8 88.6
Forkball -6.5 4.4 85.1
Slider 2.8 1.2 84.3
Split-Finger -5.8 2.6 84.1
Change -6.7 4.1 83.7
Knuckle Curve 4.9 -6.1 79.7
Curveball 6.1 -5.8 77.8
Knuckler 0.1 1.5 75.9
Eephus 4.3 -5.3 65.3

The table is sortable so you can see that the fourseamer is the straightest and fastest pitch on average, and that the curve — in all three varieties — is the slowest pitch with the most drop. Don’t obsess too much about the actual numbers in the horizontal and vertical categories as much as you look at their relative placements. The four-seam ‘rides’ the most — has the least drop — and the sinker drops more and also fades more (but goes slower).

There are plenty of pitfalls to this analysis that should become obvious fairly quickly. Why split two-seamers and sinkers? What’s the difference between straight fastball and a cutter? How well can we differentiate between a soft cutter and a hard slider? Why split the difference between a knuckle curve and a curve when the movements are so similar? We don’t split out circle changeups from pitchfork changeups.

At the same time, this gives us a roadmap that we can use to talk about pitchers with limited track records. Let’s take a look at a few of the righties that are on everyone’s minds right now.

Vincent Velasquez

Pitch Type pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) Velo (mph)
Fourseam -5.1 10.4 95.2
Change -9.9 5.8 85.4
Curve 3.7 -3.2 82.0

First, don’t take the fastball velocity for the newest Houston Astro as gospel. It’s Brooks Baseball velocity, and they calculate release velocity from a different starting point. Also, Velasquez only threw to a PITCHf/x camera in the Arizona Fall League, where he averaged four innings per start. He may have been able to throw harder in the shorter stints. He should have above-average velocity, but may “only” average around 93 mph. He’s known for his changeup, and you can see it has a ton of arm-side run (three inches above average). It may not have the most drop, but it has a good gap in velocity and looks the part of a plus pitch. While his curve doesn’t have great drop, at 82 mph, it would be one of the hardest curveballs in the system, and that’s great for whiffs.

This arsenal, combined with his outstanding minor league strikeout and walk totals, makes him a instant pickup in all leagues. The only possible flaw from a movement perspective — the lack of drop on the changeup — is made up for by the fact that he uses a rising fastball, which means the perceived difference in drop between his fastball and change is five inches. If there’s something to watch for, it is that drop, the consistency of his curve, and the appearance of a two-seamer.

Lance McCullers

Pitch Type Freq pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) Velo (mph)
Fourseam 55% -4.0 8.0 95.4
Change 9% -8.1 1.3 89.8
Curve 36% 5.5 -4.9 85.0

Now this velocity you can believe, since it was racked up in the major leagues in full starts for the Astros. It translates to 94 mph on our pages — I usually subtract about one mile per hour when looking at Brooks velocity numbers — and so it doesn’t matter that it has about average movement. The changeup has excellent shape, as you can see from the drop especially (almost three inches more than average), and so it might not matter that it doesn’t have a great velocity gap. The curve is the hardest curve thrown by a starter in baseball so far this year.

The only asterisk here is the command piece. He showed a good walk rate this year in the minors, but if you look at the ball (68%) and zone rates (13%) on the changeup this year, you can see that he maybe can’t command the change. He spent a long time working on it, but it’s not quite there, and the words he said to Evan Drellich about what it was like to throw the changeup in the minors should give us a little pause when thinking about his value this year:

“‘Hey, we’re going to commit to this changeup thing. It’s going to cost me runs, it’s going to cost me walks. It’s going to cost me some balls flying out of the park, but it’s going to be better for me down the road'” — Lance McCullers on his minor league plan for the changeup.

Since then, McCullers has changed the grip on the pitch, but it’s a decent reminder. He’s a very interesting young pitcher that should be picked up in almost any league, but finding a dropper may be tough. Consider how much you need floor vs ceiling, which is partly involved with where you find yourself in the standings.

Chi-Chi Gonzalez

Pitch Type Freq pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) Velo (mph)
Fourseam 44% -1.5 6.2 93.0
Slider 23% 2.3 2.4 87.2
Sinker 21% -5.4 4.6 92.0
Change 8% -5.9 1.4 87.0
Curve 4% 3.5 -1.8 80.9

Do you think Chi-Chi Gonzalez is an over-the-top guy with his release? It’s at least a little more vertical than your classic 3/4 delivery, no?

The reason I ask is that he uniformly has less horizontal movement on his pitches than league average. Of course, they all — other than the curve — have more drop than league average. You want to say that the vertical drop will lead to more grounders, but the correlation between vertical movement and ground-ball rate is not super strong (r^2 = .14). Well, anyway, Chi-Chi had a 56% ground-ball rate in the minors and has been following that up this year in the majors, but it is a strange package overall.

In mixed leagues, I’m out. Even for a ground-baller, the strikeout rate might not be good enough, and the movement profile isn’t a slam-dunk situation like the one McCullers shows.

We have one lefty in the group, so let’s run the table from above for lefties. We already know the velocities will be lower.

Average Movement and Velocities for Left-Handed Pitchers

Pitch Type avg(pfx_x) avg(pfx_z) Velocity
Four-Seam 5.5 9.4 91.2
Two-Seam 9.4 6.8 90.8
Sinker 9.8 6.1 89.8
Cutter 0.6 5.7 86.2
Split Finger 7.4 2.4 83.1
Slider -1.1 1.4 82.9
Changeup 8.9 5.1 82.1
Knuckle Curve -2.3 -4.6 79.1
Curve -4.0 -5.1 76.0

As you can see, everything’s a little slower, and the signs are flipped on horizontal movement. You have to remember that positive horizontal movement is the same as arm-side (negative) horizontal movement for a right-hander. Witness that the bar is set higher for a lefty change — it has more fade and a bigger velocity gap than the righty version of the pitch. Slightly less drop. Maybe lefties are throwing more two-seam changes than four-seam changes (see here for the difference).

Eduardo Rodriguez

Pitch Type Freq pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) Velo (mph)
Fourseam 61.4% 5.3 8.7 94.0
Change 18.8% 10.2 4.7 86.8
Slider 19.8% -1.2 2.6 84.7

We already knew that Rodriguez had plus-plus velocity for a lefty. And his change was well rated coming up, so it’s not surprising that it has more fade and more drop than average, and about average velocity difference. What’s nice to see is that his slider has more horizontal movement than your average slider. It might not make it a great pitch for righties, but that dive away from a lefty’s bat should be a great platoon equalizer. And Rodriguez did do a great job back-footing the slider against righties.

From a movement perspective, Rodriguez has no asterisks. Given his background, he deserves to be rated higher than anyone else on this page, and is a must-own in all formats.

A few recommendations on specific guys should make this useful to you in the short term. In the long term, however, the movement charts should help you make these calls for yourself. Good luck hunting.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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7 years ago

Eno, great article as always. In the Velasquez blurb, I think you mean “the perceived difference in drop between his fastball and changeup”.