Drew Smyly has a unique fastball. Of pitchers to throw more than 1,250 four-seamers in 2016, Smyly’s fastball was second only to Marco Estrada in terms of vertical movement, meaning, the pitch has “rise”. If Wednesday’s WBC game between the United States and Venezuela was any indication, this pitch is becoming even more unique, as Smyly is now throwing harder than he ever has.
Jeff already wrote about this game on the main site, noting why the Mariners should feel pretty good about their pair of starters, and that (at least according to the telecast) Smyly was topping 94mph. However, today, I wanted to use Smyly as a branching off point to talk about another pitcher.
First some brief history. Ken Rosenthal wrote up Smyly in 2014, noting some of the changes the Rays wanted him to make after he was acquired from the Tigers:
Smyly, 25, clearly is benefiting from the Rays’ advanced approached to analytics. Upon joining the team, club officials informed him that they had detected some of his lesser-known strengths by studying the numbers.
The Rays told Smyly to elevate his fastball more — sort of a counter-intuitive move for a pitcher — and they also emphasized that while he was successful getting to two strikes against right-handed hitters, he needed to find better ways to finish those hitters off.
Shortly thereafter, Jeff noticed that Smyly (a lefty) was using his fastball as a weapon to finish off right handed hitters. As a lefty, this was the weapon to finish off opposite handed hitters that Drew Smyly needed, as his change-up is only league average. This is all fairly distant history at this point. Smyly has since been traded to the Mariners, who may or may not deploy his fastball similarly to the Rays. However, Wednesday should serve as a reminder of the type of pitch Smyly’s four-seamer is.
Using z-scores to examine which pitchers have four-seam fastballs with vertical movement similar to Smyly provides us with the following list:
|Rk||Player||Tm||Th||Num||Velo||H Mov||V Mov||z-score||Sw Rate||Whf/Sw||GB/BIP|
Of all pitchers in major league baseball, these 11 are the only ones to throw over 500 four-seamers with vertical movement in excess of one standard deviation from the mean (around 9.5 inches). Most of these pitchers live up in the zone. As, similar to what the Rosenthal reported and Jeff researched, high four seem fastballs with rising movement are most effective up in the zone.
However, not all pitchers with rising fastballs are using them up in the zone, though most of them are. Below I have included Drew Smyly’s and Tyler Skaggs’ four-seam usage against RHP. (Per BrooksBaseball)
As you can see, though their pitches are very similar, they are being used differently. The rate at which Smyly has thrown four seam fastballs up to right handed hitters is immediately evident by the coloring. Skaggs is the opposite, sometimes throwing up, but living more down and away to opposite handed hitters.
Tyler Skaggs has been talked about a little this offseason, as he experienced a velocity bump through 2016 after his return from injury. This bodes well for Skaggs, as he is now a lefty with plus velocity (if it holds), and a slightly above average curveball. Those are both good things. The downside is that his change is average, like Smyly’s, and as a lefty, he will probably need it to be effective against righties. However, given the rise on his four-seamer, he may have an avenue to success if he pursues it. Even if the change up never develops.
For 2017, I will be watching if Skaggs changes his four-seam usage against right handed hitters. If he does, there could be some added upside that bodes well for fantasy owners, even if he never develops an above average 3rd pitch. Like Drew Smyly, Tyler Skaggs has a unique four-seamer. It may be even more unique than Smyly’s in Skaggs is one of the few pitchers with a rising fastball who isn’t using it in the top of the zone (at least relative to others with a similar pitch).
Joe works at a consulting firm in Pittsburgh. When he isn't working or studying for actuarial exams, he focuses on baseball. He also writes @thepointofpgh. Follow him on twitter @Ottoneutrades