Brian Wilson’s Two-Seamer

Early in the season Eno Sarris introduced us to Brian Wilson‘s flithy two-seam fastball, a pitch Wilson claims to have added this year. Sarris’s GIF showed Jamey Carroll flailing wildly at Wilson’s newest offering. Wilson, 29, already had three years as a solid closer for the the San Francisco Giants, so the idea of him adding another nasty pitch is intriguing. With over half the season books and Wilson effective again this year — though his peripherals have taken a step back — I wanted to check in on that two-seamer.

First off here is evidence that Wilson is, in fact, throwing a pitch that he didn’t last year.

Wilson’s two-seam fastball, like almost all others, has less ‘rise’ and more tail than his four-seam fastball. It is about the same speed as his four-seam fastball, both average 94mph. Although I don’t think he threw it in 2010, it is not a completely new pitch. He threw a handful of two-seam fastballs in 2009. But this year he is throwing lots more: so far he has thrown 27% four-seam fastballs, 28% two-seam fastballs, and 45% sliders and cutters. I think — based on media reports and what Wilson says — that the slider and cutter are two distinct pitches, but I am not 100% confident in disentangling them with the Pitch F/X data.

So how is Wilson’s two-seam fastball doing? Interestingly the pitch has been very easy to make contact off of: just five swinging strikes off 84 swings on 225 two-seamers. That is a swinging strike rate of just 2% per pitch and under 6% per swing, compared to 16 swinging strikes off 74 swings on 213 four-seam fastballs (7.5% per pitch and 22% per swing), and 36 swinging strikes off 149 swings on 360 sliders and cutters (10% per swing and 24% per swing). For a 94mph fastball from a guy with nasty stuff the two-seam fastball has been been surprisingly easy to make contact with — especially given how nasty the pitch looked in Eno’s post. But the news isn’t all bad, the pitch does get lots of grounders (58%) and weak contact (just .289 slugging on contact).

So the two-seamer adds an interesting weapon to WIlson’s arsenal: a pitch to go to when he needs a weak contact or a ground-ball out. But unlike his other pitches it is not a swing-and-miss offering. And I think his reliance on the pitch (he is throwing it over a quarter of the time), could be responsible for his career low 7% swinging strike rate (a big drop from last year’s 10.1%) and consequently his lowest, though still great, strikeout rate since 2007.

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

20 Responses to “Brian Wilson’s Two-Seamer”

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  1. Eric says:

    Indeed a nasty pitch. It was awesome when it first came out. Batters are not killing it, and it just makes the other 2 pitches that fly 88-97 mph that much harder to react to.

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  2. Neuter Your Dogma says:

    Wow, a Wilson article with no mention of that 5-letter word. A first I am sure.

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  3. Sam says:

    I’ve always wondered about these graphs detailing horizontal and vertical spin…the horizontal is easy to grasp but as a collegiate pitcher myself, I’m having trouble understanding the vertical. Is a positive value indicating rise? Because according to physics, this is impossible unless the ball was thrown at an upward angle–which it of course is not since the mound is raised above the plate. Once the pitch leaves the hand at a certain angle, nothing but gravity (and weather) can affect it. In either case, this graph shows his slider on both sides of the vertical “0” value…can someone explain please. Thanks.

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    • DbacksSkins says:

      I believe it’s relative, rather than absolute. There’s no such thing as a REAL “rising fastball”, of course. But a pitch can “rise” or sink relative to an average pitch.

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    • Josh says:

      The origin (0,0) is set to the movement of a spinless ball in a vacuum. Since fastballs move through the earth’s atmosphere with backspin, they will have a positive value.

      The red dots on the graph represent two different pitches Wilson throws, a cutter and a slider. That’s probably the reason that the dots appear on both sides of the X-axis.

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    • Kazinski says:

      I think it is the vertical spin deflection is the difference between the theoretical true flight of a ball, with just the effects of gravity and wind resistance, compared a ball with spin. So a 4 seam fastball would appear to be rising even though it dropped 4 inches, when compared to ball with neutral spin which you might expect to drop 8 inches.

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    • the mick says:

      A ball can be spun hard enough that the spinning overcomes gravity. Its just that you would have the ball at a rate of 100 times faster than the human arm can throw. When robots start playing baseball it is possible we may one day have a true rising fastball

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      • Mike Fast says:

        No, you wouldn’t have to spin the ball 100 times faster. Just 1.5 times faster than some current pitchers do, or maybe even a little less than that. Some current pitchers come very close.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      Sam, there is something besides gravity and weather that can affect a pitch’s flight, it’s called the Magnus force, created by a spinning object moving through the air. This creates areas of lower and higher pressures on opposite sides of a ball, basically “pushing” the ball out of line from where it would go without spin. A four-seam fastball has backspin, and gets pushed up, partially negating the effect of gravity to drag it down. An overhand curve ball is the opposite, with topspin that pushes the ball down, giving it more drop than what you would get with gravity alone.

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  4. walt526 says:

    I seem to remember Righetti talking about part of the reason why he wanted Wilson to throw more two-seamers was that it was easier on his arm than the sliders.

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  5. Wilson 4 seam in 2010 was 96-98 MPH, if it is as you contend, and he’s throwing a 94 MPH 4 seam fastball, that’s news or your wrong about the pitch ID. The scuttlebut is he added ‘that’ 2 seam fastball to do what you suggested, get groundballs on a Giants team that often wins or loses on the double play. By the way, for what it’s worth, Wilson claims he throws 2-3 different two seam fastballs, that break L, R, or down, as he chooses. Maybe that’s just psychological warfare though.

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    • Mike Fast says:

      Dave has it right. Wilson is throwing a couple mph slower on his four-seamer this year as compared to last year, particularly early in 2010. He had already lost some zip off his fastball by September-October.

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    • GMH says:

      There are multiple two-seam grips, so I doubt Brian Wilson is engaging in “psychological warfare.” The cutter can be thrown with a two-seam grip as well.

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  7. Gobstopper says:

    Great post – Enjoy this kind of analysis

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  8. Alan Nathan says:

    Color-coding the deflection plots according to release speed allows a more clear-cut pitch identification, especially when trying to distinguish cutter from slider. Presumably the slider is thrown a few mph lower speed than the cutter. Also helps distinguishing 2S from changeup, which often have the same spin deflection but obviously different speeds.

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    • Mike Fast says:

      In general I agree that can be helpful, Alan, but in Brian Wilson’s case it doesn’t seem to be very illuminating. I believe that he mainly throws the 89-mph pitch with 0-5 inches of positive vertical spin deflection, which is a borderline cutter. He has also thrown 10-15 pitches this year with slightly lower vertical spin deflection that might be more traditional sliders. They are also probably a hair slower in speed. It’s not clear to me without looking in more detail at the usage of those pitches whether they actually constitute a distinct pitch type or whether they are simply a slight variation on his cutter.

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