Faster Fastballs and Boston’s Slugging Sluggers

The league’s getting faster. Not the time of game — fastball velocity. And throwing some of the fastest fastballs in a league of fast have been the Cardinals, whose 92.6 mph average as a staff was good for third overall this year. The Red Sox did fine against a Tigers team that was only .3 mph short of that average, but going into this World Series, it’s still fair to say they will see some fastballs that are over 94 mph. And it’s fair to wonder how they’ll do against that added oomph.

Just around 94 miles per hour, the fastball starts to become more difficult for batters to hit — homers per contact go down, and swinging strikes go up. The league, which hit .261/.331/.417 as a whole this year, hit .244/.327/.360 against those heated heaters. The league’s swinging strike rate, usually around 7% for fastballs, went up to 8.8% too. Location means a lot, but gas does have its benefits.

Now the Red Sox team will face Trevor Rosenthal (97.3 mph average), Carlos Martinez (96.7 mph), John Axford (96.2 mph), Kevin Siegrist (95.2 mph), Joe Kelly (94.9 mph), Shelby Miller (93.7 mph) and Michael Wacha (93.5 mph). And the Red Sox whiffed at a whopping 13.5% of the 94+ mph fastballs they saw on the final pitch of an at-bat this year. That’s almost twice the normal whiff rate for a fastball. League average in those situations is 13.1%, but this is not a league average team for contact rate normally.

You could maybe blame it a little on the fact that the Red Sox were the second-oldest team in baseball this year, particularly because it’s interesting to see that the Red Sox have recently swung and missed less than any other team in baseball. Here’s an older team that’s good at contact, whiffing almost twice as often as usual once the dial goes to eleven on the fastball velocity.

If we take a look at the individual performances, of course we risk degrading our sample too much. On average, this core group of Boston hitters saw about 70 at-bats end on fastballs over 94 mph this year, which is a tiny sample. But at least it’s a very specific thing we’re asking. Perhaps those 70 pitches were alike enough that these numbers are not completely useless:

Player AVG OBP SLG swSTR%
David Ortiz 0.238 0.284 0.365 9.0%
Dustin Pedroia 0.200 0.263 0.243 7.8%
Jacoby Ellsbury 0.317 0.438 0.350 2.7%
Mike Napoli 0.235 0.354 0.588 26.8%
Shane Victorino 0.311 0.333 0.444 6.1%

It seems like there might be some weaknesses here, particularly among the two more traditionally thought of as the power supply for the team. On the other hand, even if Mike Napoli whiffed on over a quarter of the 94+ mph fastballs he saw this year, he also hit six home runs. You might remember the home run he hit off of Justin Verlander in the last series. That pitch left the Tiger ace’s hand at 96 mph. No, the core here is a mixed bag against gas, just like the lineup: some contact, some swing-and-miss-and-power.

Remember that .244/.327/.360 line that the league had against fast fastballs? Boston’s cumulative line was .244/.331/.376. They still managed to be better than the league. But they hit in a nice ballpark for offense. Once you park-adjust, the league had a 96 wRC+ against those fastballs, and Boston’s was *worse* at 94. Even if they were just average against fast fastballs, that would be saying something. Boston had the league’s best offense and was 10% better than the league collectively as measured by wRC+. So one of the Cardinals’ strengths as a pitching staff might reduce the Boston offense to one that looks a lot more league average.

Everything gets tougher in October. Faster fastballs are just another part of that picture.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


33 Responses to “Faster Fastballs and Boston’s Slugging Sluggers”

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  1. Lex Logan says:

    I note from your chart that the Cardinals tied the Diamondbacks for first in fastball frequency at 63.7%.

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  2. Lex Logan says:

    Oh, nice article: quick, interesting, to the point.

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  3. semperty says:

    Well that would be a nice benefit for us to have…just gotta get our starters to keep us in the games!

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  4. olethros says:

    Me likey.

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  5. Mr Punch says:

    Well, the Red Sox did fine against the Tigers staff, except for hardly getting any hits.

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  6. Ryan says:

    Question about the park adjustment in this scenario: does it matter as much here when they will definitely be playing in Fenway for at least two games? That is to say, because this is a short series and not an evaluation of how they would do over a season, is the park adjustment as relevant?

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    • David Britt says:

      Yes it does. The league average we’re comparing to would get better if all games were played in Boston. The upshot from those numbers is that the Sox a little worse than the league against heat.

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  7. Longgone says:

    Red sox hitters did fine against the Tigers? Tigers starters totally dominated them.

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    • Eno Sarris says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Did fine = scored enough to win, I guess. I saw the same series, yes. Just wanted to point out that even if they have a weakness here, it doesn’t mean that the series isn’t well-matched.

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      • Steve says:

        V-Mart was the only Tiger hitting the ball with consistency, it doesn’t take much to beat a bunch of all-of-a-sudden Brendan Ryans.

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        • Trey says:

          So the Cardinals score 9 runs and they’re suddenly the ’27 Yankees? I would argue Carpenter, Jay, Freese, and Kozma have hit like Brendan Ryan this postseason, but then of course that would be an insult to Brendan Ryan.

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      • Longgone says:

        73 k’s in 52 innings. You won’t win many series at that rate.

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  8. Caveman Jones says:

    I wonder how everyone’s velocity is going to be tonight. Temps predicted to get into the upper 30s.

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    • pft says:

      Cold usually favors the FB pitchers, even if they may have a slight tick down in peak velocity, since they can throw more FB close to peak and they do better than pitchers relying on pitches you need a feel for like breaking balls and splits. Also, the ball does not carry very well when its cold and bad contact hurts the batters hands like heck, and the hitter may be more impatient than usual.

      Also, umps so cold they may expand the strike zone to get the game over with, unless they have good thermals then might decide to torture fans and fielder by shrinking the zone, so that’s a crap shoot .

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  9. Mike Matheny says:

    Who is this Shelby Miller you speak of?

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  10. Shelby Miller says: says:

    I’m the rookie who won 15 games for you this year wasting away in the BP while Lance “always has a melt down inning” Lynn is starting games

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    • Jay says:

      Shelby Miller: 3.67 FIP, 2.1 fWAR
      Lance Lynn: 3.28 FIP, 3.3 fWAR

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Damn facts and data, they always ruin a discussion based on biased observations and gut feelings.

        Of course the poster known as Shelby Miller only brought up pitcher wins, so that is revealing.

        Lance Lynn had a lot of pitcher wins last year. Oooh.

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  11. Shelby says:

    Leave it to a Sabremetric nerd to post numbers to make their case, you ever watch a game?

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    • Steve says:

      Sabermetricians do more than just barbarically observe baseball, they analyze it in order to understand it at a higher level. Ask Brandon McCarthy if he thinks saber metrics is important :)

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  12. Paul says:

    So league average in those situations is 13.1% and they were 13.5%? Why is this an issue? Yeah they whiffed a ton in the ALCS, but that seemed to be a bit of an anomoly as compared to a full year view. I am guessing the shiff rate drops dramatically in the WS. Lynn and Kelly might pump it, but (Lynn especially) pump it on a pretty flat plane. I have a feeling the “grind and plug” approach by the Sox in this WS is going to bear lots of fruit….

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    • Eno Sarris says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      They were best in the league in contact rate over the season. And in these situations they were worse than league average, over a decent sample. They went from a 110wrC+ and 10% better than the league average, best in baseball to a 94 wrc+ and worse than league average against all fast fastballs. I think that’s significant.

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      • Paul says:

        Thanks. is there a way of determining “quality of fastball”. I feel like with Scherzer and Verlander you have elite heat, but my eyes tell me that the fastball on the St. Louis starters might be more “hittable”?

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      • MGL says:

        Why did you only look at the last pitch they faced? Why not all fastballs? First, you have a much smaller sample size, and second, perhaps most importantly, how they do on the last pitch they face, against a certain pitch, depends upon the average count as well as the game situation. You’d at least want to know the percentage of fastballs that they got on the last pitch versus other teams. For example, if they got fewer fastballs then you would expect that when they got a fastball they would do poorly on it (and whiff more) since they would be expecting it less.

        Lots of things to consider in context. There is really nothing in those numbers that compels me to conclude anything much one way or another.

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  13. pft says:

    The only real weakness I see there are Pedroia and Ortiz. Ellsbury with a 400+ OBP, Napoli almost a 600 SLG and Victorino was ok

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  14. MGL says:

    Also, and you see this all the time, one of the most misleading numbers you will see if SLG, OBP, OPS, BA, etc. on a certain pitch. That presumed that a pitch was put into play. That is the only way to use those metrics on “a pitch.” That tells you very little about a pitch value against a certain batter or group of batters.

    You need to know how often a batter takes a strike and takes a ball as well, on that pitch. What if he has a great eye and takes lots of ball on that pitch, but when he hits it he doesn’t have a great result? That might be better than a batter who swings and misses at a lot, takes a lot of strikes, and has a great result when he does hit the ball. Etc., etc. There are lots of other permutations which give the pitch different values.

    So never read much into a batter’s batted ball stats (BA, SA, etc.) on a particular pitch. It doesn’t tell you much. I don’t even know what OBP is on “a pitch.” I guess that includes walks if the pitch happens to end the PA on a walk.

    The proper way to evaluate a hitter’s production on a pitch is to include the value of every pitch, including balls and strikes. And even then, it could be a little deceiving because a certain hitter might get himself into a certain count more or less. For example, let’s say that a hitter is terrible at 0-2 counts. That might not matter if he rarely gets to that count, by virtue of having a great eye and/or putting the ball in play early and often.

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    • Eno Sarris says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I used the last pitch so I could put it into AVG/OBP/SLG and wRC terms. If you don’t use the same pitch, you see the same effect on swinging strikes. They go from best in the league to league average (8.8%).

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  15. Steve S says:

    If your point is that the Cards pitching is significantly better than the 2004 version, then it’s well made. But it’s the RS approach to hitting that beat both the Rays and Tigers and will be important in the Series. The Sox see more pitches than any team in the league. They seldom swing at pitches outside of the zone and are adept at getting their pitch to hit. That’s what we saw in game one. Oh yeah, how fast was the fastball from LHP Siegrist that Papi put into the bullpen?

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