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How Many Pitches Does it Take? Part One

I’ve been talking about pitches, pitching patterns, and pitch usage a lot lately. Whether it be through PitchFx charts, simply sharing observations, or talking about a pitcher who needs an additional pitch. Finally, I broke down and gathered the data needed to see whether having a surplus of pitches or only a couple mattered to performance.

Most people have the idea that quality matters more than quantity in mind. I know I did. In fact, while running the query (last three years, at least 5% usage of the pitch, at least 150 innings) only one pitcher recorded more than five pitches and that was Ryan Franklin with six. As you’ll see, Ryan Franklin is not a particularly good pitcher. Franklin is passable, but I think you would expect more from someone who has a constant advantage in game theory. Now, it is possible that Franklin falls into patterns, tips his pitches, or simply throws hittable garbage, I’ll leave that up to you to figure out, my only interest is the amount of pitches used modestly and whether it makes for better pitchers.

We begin today with that query I mentioned earlier. No restriction on amount of games started and only 150 innings over the last three years; meaning relievers like Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, and Jonathan Papelbon were eligible to make the cut. Let’s get to the data, shall we?

Franklin was the only pitcher with six pitches and 28 pitchers had five pitches qualify. Tradition has most starters throwing 3-4 pitches and most relievers having one or two. Tradition holds true here. 119 pitchers had four pitches qualify, 134 had three, and 39 had two. Franklin failed to make a start over the last three years meanwhile pitchers with 5 pitches saw 64% of their games come as starters, 60.2% for four pitch qualifiers, 32.2% for three pitches, and 11.7% for two pitches.

Let’s look at how they actually performed:

Are the relievers skewing the two and three pitch numbers? Tomorrow we’ll separate the starters from the pack and see if that’s the case.