Felipe Paulino’s Fastball

And I’ve been putting out fire / With gasoline – David Bowie, Cat People

If Felipe Paulino qualified for the ERA title, his 95.1 MPH fastball velocity would rank second in all of baseball among starters. Felipe Paulino’s 95.1 MPH fastball might be what stands between him and future success.

Paulino has long been a head-scratcher. His career ERA (5.48) matches neither his career FIP (4.27) nor xFIP (4.03), and once you delve into the components, he doesn’t become any easier to understand. He’s struck out over eight batters per nine on the strength of an above-average swinging strike rate. He’s walked batters at a slightly-above average rate, but he’s also managed an average ground-ball rate. And then there’s the gas he pumps out of his right arm.

It might be the gas, and the arm, that is hurting his attempt to fight fires. While it’s easy to say that his .344 career BABIP can’t hold, and that his career 64.6% strand rate must get better, it can’t all be luck. Not 217 innings in. If we start with his platoon splits, some interesting trends emerge.

He’s been terrible against lefties. While he has strong numbers against same-handed batters (3.69 FIP, 3.68 xFIP), the 27-year-old righty has poor ones against lefties (5.13 FIP, 4.54 xFIP). His BABIP against lefty batters is .377 over his career. His control is bad — he walks more than five left-handed batters per nine, or twice as often as he walks right-handed batters — but the BABIP suggests that there’s something very hittable about his repertoire.

Platoon splits on pitches help us out further. Work by Max Marchi built on work by Dave Allen has pointed out that the platoon splits on fastballs are not created equally. The fastest fastballs, or heaters, have the highest platoon splits in the group. Sliders have always been known to have platoon splits. In two-strike counts this year, Paulino has used those two pitches over 90% of the time.

But Paulino’s fastball has suffered worse than the average heater. The lowest full-year BABIP he’s allowed on ground balls off his fastball is .379. That’s the lowest. The number across baseball is .251. Even if you go with the BABIP that lefties have hit off of righties on four-seam fastballs, you can’t push the league BABIP over .263. The sample size on this is small — only 50 lefties have put fastballs in play on the ground. Still. Why are batters hitting .460 on fastballs they put in play on the ground off of Paulino? What can he do about it?

David Goliebiewski pointed out that some of his success this year has come from using his curve and change more against lefties. But the fastball is the most-thrown pitch in the game, and Paulino won’t be able to completely drop it against lefties. The answer may lie in his heat maps. Let’s up the sample and check out where his fastball sits against lefties over the past two years, compared to where it sits against righties.

Yeah. It really looks like he needs to get that pitch down a little. Way too many down the heart of the plate, and in general his pitches to lefties are higher. There could be other explanations, but by the average movement values, his pitch isn’t extremely straight. The stuff seems to be there, and obviously the velocity is there. And his ability to keep the ball in the zone is not terrible. So it really could be something like his ability to put the ball exactly where he wants it in the zone that is lacking.

We aren’t pitching coaches or firefighters here, but we can say that throwing a 95 MPH fastball down the pipe is probably like fighting fire with gasoline. Not very effective. Felipe Paulino has plenty of promise, but much of his struggles to date can be blamed on location as much as it can be blamed on poor luck. Perhaps a little confidence will allow him to improve his command and place the ball better within the strike zone.

Thanks to Harry Pavlidis for some of the numbers in this story.

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

8 Responses to “Felipe Paulino’s Fastball”

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  1. Telo says:

    I wonder if there is any causation between having a high density of pitches in the same approx speed range (ie 85% of his pitches are within an 8mph bracket (95-87), and 93% are within a 9mph range), and having a slightly higher BABIP. I know we don’t think there is much to “figuring out” BABIP for pitchers, DIPS theory and all that, but truthfully I think that it just comes from a lack of data. If hitters are sitting on a certain speed every pitch (even if it’s 95), you better have some serious movement, otherwise you’re going to get hit hard.

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  2. Matt (L-G-M) says:

    Thank you, Eno, for being one of the few people on FG to grasp that BABIP is not luck driven in most cases. People knew for 100 years before advanced stats that no matter how many strike-outs you get, if you leave your pitches in the wrong location you’re going to get hit hard. FIP and xFIP (which are really no more useful than K/BB) are really only worth using to explain the tendencies of good pitchers who can locate. Flamethrowers who can pile up the strike-outs will post a high BABIP and Homers/Fly ball and therefore ERA if the balls hitters can catch up to are right in their wheelhouse. See Morrow, Brendan.

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    • williams .482 says:

      while there are certainly cases (and this is a good example) where BABiP is not all luck, it generally is. BABiP correlates really poorly from year to year, something that most “anti DIPS” people do not seem to acknowledge. As for your hypothetical example, this article http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/another-look-at-dips1/ is just one which shows that there is an inverse relationship between BABiP and K/9, or as K/9 goes up, BABiP goes down.

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      • bill says:

        I don’t follow the logic. If more hitters are getting on base through luck, then a pitcher would face more hitters overall and therefore his K/9 should go up and down with BABIP (positive correlation).

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  3. NLeininger says:

    I blame Quintero for his horrible performances in Houston. Humberto is one of the most over-rated defensive catchers in baseball. He literally sucks.

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  4. Paul says:

    I think his pitch sequences must have changed. He never threw the slow curve in Colorado. With the Royals he’s throwing the FB much less and the curve roughly as much as he did in Houston. According to Pitch F/X data he’s also throwing a two seamer around 4% of the time, and only 46% on the four seamer. I’ve been surprised by him in the games I’ve watched. He throws that four seamer down the middle on the first pitch to get ahead and just dares them to hit it. I think Bob McClure has him using his pitches better than in the past. And let’s also not forget that he has had great runs before and always got hurt.

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  5. J.D. says:

    Great analysis. Thanks.

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