Blackburn’s Fastball Doesn’t Miss Many Bats

The Twins won two of three versus Detroit over the weekend to keep their play off hope alive and with four more games against Detroit next week they ‘control their own destiny’ as they say. Last night they picked up half a game by beating the White Sox. Nick Blackburn pitched a relatively non-Blackburnian game striking out six, a total he has reached or exceeded only four times previously in over thirty starts.

Blackburn strikes out only 4.18 batters per 9 innings, second lowest among all qualifying starting pitchers (John Lannan strikes out the fewest). He is one of only four qualifying starting pitchers to strike out fewer than a batter every other inning. But he is very good at limiting walks and thus second to only Joel Pineiro in lowest K+BB per 9 innings. So he is one of the most extreme pitch to contact pitchers. Here are his pitches.


The big reason for all the contact is that he throws his cutter and two-seam fastball 82% of the time. The contact rate on fastballs (two-seam, four-seam, cutter or splitter) is generally much higher than on changeups, curveballs or sliders. So right there you should expect much more contact.

But beyond that Blackburn’s two-seam fastball (which he throws 60% of the time) is particularly mad at missing bats. It has a whiff rate (misses per swings) of only 6%. The average fast ball is at 14%. It is probably one of the easiest pitches to hit in the game. Even Pineiro’s two-seam fastball has a higher whiff rate at 9%. Piniero gets fewer strikeouts in spite of his two-seam fastball having a higher whiff rate because he throws it even more often than Blackburn throws his and Blackburn makes up for it with his cutter which has a fairly good whiff rate of 20%. The problem is that Blackburn’s two-seam fastball is only ok at getting ground balls, 49% per ball in play, compared to the good groundball two-seamers which get upwards of 60% GB per BIP.

Blackburn is one of those interesting players existing at the extremes. He allows nearly the highest rate of contact possible by a pitcher who still holds a job in the major leagues.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.