The Straightest Fastballs

We do have leaderboards for this sort of thing, but the problem is that if you’re looking at horizontal movement, PITCHf/x data for lefties and righties is very different. For example, the average four-seam fastball for a lefty goes 91 mph, but breaks +5.5 inches. The average four-seam fastball for a righty goes 92.2 mph and breaks -4.2 inches. So if you sorted one way or the other for horizontal fastball movement, you would just be getting the best lefties and righties.

So I did the work for you. Voila, the straightest fastballs in the game. It may be the least important facet of a fastball, behind location and velocity, but it’s still a facet we don’t talk about much.

Let’s do righties first:

Pitcher AVG(Pfx_x) Velocity
Josh Fields 1.72 94.08
Tim Lincecum 1.58 89.77
Grant Balfour 0.23 91.45
Stephen Fife 0.02 88.78
Chad Bettis -0.06 93.15
David Robertson -0.24 93.03
Mike Bolsinger -0.39 88.27
Jarred Cosart -0.47 93.70
Anthony Bass -0.50 94.06
Sonny Gray -0.53 93.15
Brandon Workman -0.54 90.80
Chris Archer -0.58 93.91
AJ Ramos -0.59 91.30
Greg Holland -0.63 95.76
Preston Claiborne -0.68 91.03
Tommy Kahnle -0.73 94.37
John Axford -0.74 94.01
Shawn Tolleson -0.74 91.58
Jered Weaver -0.74 86.20
Dane De La Rosa -0.98 89.78

Will you look at that. Tim Lincecum not only has no fastball command, but he owns the second-straightest fastball in baseball. That’s how you get the home runs. And for the largest part, this is a list full of pitchers that have bad fastballs, or fastballs that seem worse than their velocity. Anthony Bass throws 94! It’s straight. John Axford has homeritis — looks like he has the toxic command plus straight fastball problem that Lincecum has had since 2010, when his horizontal movement on his fastball died and never came back.

There are ways to beat the rap. It looks like velocity and command are those ways. Greg Holland is obviously all about the velocity. David Robertson? Great command for the last three years. Sonny Gray? Good command and good velocity — but will it hold when it’s only command and not great velocity? Jered Weaver suggests that command is more important than velocity when it comes to longevity with a straight fastball. Good news for Gray, bad news for Chris Archer and Jarred Cosart. There will be a perfect time to sell those guys in dynasties, and it might be soon. (Dunno why you’d own Cosart, but if you can sell him…)

On to the lefties.

Pitcher AVG(Pfx_x) Velocity
Clayton Kershaw 0.51 92.88
Xavier Cedeno 0.83 91.21
Joe Savery 1.90 90.95
Mark Buehrle 2.16 83.54
Wade LeBlanc 2.44 85.41
Joe Thatcher 2.46 85.85
Brett Cecil 2.50 91.67
Drew Smyly 2.51 89.87
John Lannan 2.56 87.91
Zac Rosscup 2.91 90.95
Ryan Rowland-Smith 2.98 87.25
Charlie Leesman 2.99 86.52
Matt Thornton 3.04 94.07
Vidal Nuno 3.10 88.93
Jose Quintana 3.12 91.11
Tim Collins 3.14 92.36
Nick Hagadone 3.16 93.84
Jeff Beliveau 3.21 89.50
Lucas Luetge 3.23 90.55
Josh Edgin 3.26 92.61
Sean Marshall 3.26 87.45
Jaime Garcia 3.27 90.46
Felix Doubront 3.28 89.93
Justin Marks 3.34 89.97
Neal Cotts 3.50 91.29
Tyler Skaggs 3.56 91.67
Franklin Morales 3.69 91.07
Will Smith 3.74 93.06
Danny Duffy 3.80 93.68

I wouldn’t be too worried about Clayton Kershaw being at the top of this list. We know he has great command of the pitch, and it still has good velocity. Mark Buehrle shows you how you can get by with a straight lefty fastball and great command. Drew Smyly doesn’t have a ton of velocity to begin with, but his natural command looks like it might be good. If it’s more league average than strong, though, he may not have a ton of shelf life. Jose Quintana has somehow been less than the sum of his parts, but he does get a 8% whiff rate on his fastball. He must have some deception. Jaime Garcia throws his sinker much more often and now it makes sense. Felix Doubront has no velocity, no command, and no movement on his four-seamer. Huh.

I let this list go a little longer because it had some interesting names at the bottom. Tyler Skaggs and Danny Duffy are dynasty assets right now, but will it hold if Skaggs sees his command suffer, or when Duffy’s velocity inevitably declines? With Danny Duffy not sporting a single pitch type with plus whiff rates and a history of bad command, there’s not a lot to get excited about long-term. Despite the short-term results.

Straight fastballs: if you’ve got one, you better have command and velocity or at least one. Otherwise, bending is better.

UPDATE: Here are the straightest most-thrown fastballs (min 300) —

Pitcher AVG(Pfx_x) AVG(start_speed)
Josh Fields 1.72 94.08
Tim Lincecum 1.58 89.77
Jarred Cosart -0.47 93.70
Sonny Gray -0.53 93.15
Thomas Kahnle -0.73 94.37
John Axford -0.74 94.01
Shawn Tolleson -0.74 91.58
Tyler Thornburg -1.13 93.54
Yovani Gallardo -1.25 90.96
Brad Peacock -1.44 92.14
Jake Odorizzi -1.59 90.34
John Lackey -1.61 92.01
Chris Young -1.73 85.30
Zack Greinke -1.75 91.16
Anibal Sanchez -1.99 91.81
Josh Tomlin -2.22 88.70
Yu Darvish -2.27 92.49
Garrett Richards -2.30 96.04
Trevor Rosenthal -2.42 96.35
Chris Tillman -2.43 90.51

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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8 years ago

Is there any evidence (besides common sense) that horizontal movement is negatively correlated with probability that a fastball will be hit for a home run?

I’m thinking a logistic regression with pfx_x as the independent variable and 0 or 1 (for whether the pitch was hit for a home run) as the dependent variable, limited to fastballs (and perhaps also limited to pitches that were swung on).

Eno Sarris
8 years ago
Reply to  Jared

Should have linked this, and will put it in now. Movement is the least important facet. I still found the lists interesting. This writer came to the same conclusion as I did, but with more numbers: velocity then location then movement.

8 years ago
Reply to  Eno Sarris

I found the lists really interesting too. Thanks for digging up the article man…