Silva’s Pitch Selection

Last night, Carlos Silva returned to his former stomping grounds in Minnesota, trying to resurrect his career after a disastrous 2008 season. Silva represents one of the tests for the predictive power of FIP, which we often use to evaluate pitchers here on the site. Last year, Silva posted a 4.63 FIP, not much different than his career 4.54 mark. However, a .347 batting average on balls in play and a 61.1% LOB% led to a ridiculous 6.46 ERA – almost two runs higher than his fielding independent numbers would suggest.

Based on the fact that his struggles came from two areas that show very weak year to year correlation, and that he posted numbers in both categories that are basically unsustainable, most of us would expect positive regression to the mean in 2009. His walk rate, strikeout rate, and ground ball rate were all basically unchanged, so it seems unlikely that Silva mysteriously lost the ability to get outs on balls in play while holding on to the rest of his skills.

Last night’s performance, however, wasn’t particularly re-assuring to the regression crowd. He got lit up again, giving up six runs in five innings, thanks in large part to allowing a pair of two run homers early in the game. Besides the gopheritis, he was typical Silva – threw a lot of strikes, got a lot of contact, and even found some sink on his fastball that allowed him to get 13 ground balls.

Well, maybe he didn’t get that much more sink on his fastball. Perhaps the ground balls came from a remarkable reliance on his sinker. Here’s Silva’s pitch selection in column form.


That’s 84 fastballs, 10 sliders, and 4 change-ups. For a guy whose fastball averages 90 MPH and doesn’t have that much movement, that’s a lot of confidence in one pitch. Or a lack of confidence in the other pitches, at least – both home runs allowed by Silva came on change-ups, and after the long ball to Span, Silva was reluctant to throw any more.

It’s really rare to see a starting pitcher throw 85% fastballs. It’s even rarer when that fastball isn’t particularly good. Silva’s done this before, though – in his career best 2005 season, 84% of his pitches were fastballs.

Can he get his results to match his FIP? Can he succeed with essentially one pitch? It might not be fun for Mariner fans to watch, but he’s certainly an interesting experiment.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

14 Responses to “Silva’s Pitch Selection”

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  1. rwildernessr says:

    Since you bring up the pitch categories, where is the sinker: is there anywhere that breaks down fastball types further? Cut fastball vs. four seamer, sinker vs. slider (and other two seam variants). Are the “sliders” listed above really his sinkers, or are the sinkers lumped in with fast balls?

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    • Eric Cioe says:

      No pitch classification system could confuse a fastball and a slider. Fastballs on fangraphs means 4 seam, 2 seam, and sinker. A cutter is always distinguished from those fastballs, as the movement is completely opposite, rather than basically the same but varying by degree like a 4 seam and 2 seam.

      The one problem you run into is sliders and cutters being confused. Pitch f/x also has a lot of problems with splitters and changeups being confused. But once you learn to look for those things, it’s no big deal. You see 5% sliders at 87 mph and 25% cutters at 87.5 mph and basically just read it as 30% cutters at 87.5. Same with the changeup and splitter confusion.

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  2. Rob says:

    2-seam fastballs and sinkers are lumped in with fastballs on FanGraphs. Hopefully, they’ll be able to distinguish them in the future.

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  3. ThundaPC says:

    Don Wakamatsu has this:

    “After a bad year, you can try to be too creative. Carlos can throw that sinking fastball 80 times in a row and be effective, that’s the Silva I saw when he pitched [in Minnesota] and was successful. He made hitters pound the ball into the ground, and we saw some of that last night.”

    They’re going to certainly give this approach the good ol’ college try.

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  4. Rich says:

    Is there any indication that the reason that he is overly reliant on his fastball is an injury or arm pain, making it the only pitch that he can throw pain-free?

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  5. Jeff says:

    One thing that always bugged me about the analysis of Silva in particular, is that he really is not a ground ball pitcher. His first two seasons as a full time starter had him at about a 50% GB rate, and he’s been around 45% in the three seasons since. How can you give up more flyballs than groundballs, and be called a ground-ball pitcher?

    Maybe all those fastballs are really sinkers, but how much “sink” can they really have.

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    • Josh says:


      The consideration is probably done that way because the ratio of GB/FB is used, rather than GB/(FB+LD). His career ratio is 1.52. However, 1.00 isn’t exactly neutral; it’s probably more like ~1.20.

      Or, you could just consider that he’s a groundball pitcher relative to his peers. Over the last three years, his 1.33 ratio was 17th of 56 qualifying starting pitchers.

      For example, if we require a greater than 50% GB rate to be considered a groundball pitcher, then only 11 out of 56 qualifying starters would reach that distinction.

      Anyway, he’s practically neutral. If you grouped between flyball, neutral, and groundball pitchers, he’d probably be somewhere in the middle section (based on the last three years), right near the border of the groundball group.

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  6. Josh says:

    I personally think that while is FIP accurate for most pitchers, it doesn’t handle the extremes well; it overrates strike throwers (like Silva) who leave a lot of fat pitches to hit over the plate, and underrate nibblers (like Matsuzaka) who pitch away from contact and avoid hard hit balls. Is it really bad luck if you keep pounding the zone with 88mph fastballs and wind up with a .350BABIP? I don’t think so.

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    • David says:

      If pounding the zone with 88 mph fastballs were the reason that his BABIP was up and not bad luck then wouldn’t we expect to see a change in K and GB rate. I’m trying to imagine how he might be getting hit harder so increasing his BABIP but not reducing his K/GB rate.

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  7. CaR says:

    If one has to count on an embarrassingly inaccurate pitch identification system to tell what a guy is throwing, then he should probably stick to complaining about why guys don’t start every game throwing every pitch they have.

    Sinking fb’s are not 2 seamers by rule, arm angle has more to do with action then how its gripped ever will.

    Very few guys consistently throw cutters by choice, if its confused with a slider, why use the system? This “system” has been the basis for perhaps the most over rated “analysis” ever done on a pitcher, last year. Wrong then, and goofy-er now, throw it away.

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  8. Eric Cioe says:

    What is a cutter other than a short, hard slider? It’s easy to see why they could be confused. Same thing with a splitter and a changeup. Tim Lincecum grips his “change” like a split, but you could never tell from the movement. It’s easy to see how some of these similar pitches get confused.

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  9. Josh2 says:

    Just to clarify, it looks like there are two Joshes here.

    The one in response to Jeff’s comment is me. I’ll try to think of another moniker, unless Josh2 sticks.

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  10. Sal Paradise says:

    To make your graphs look nicer, please take a look at this page:

    Otherwise, wonderful work as always.

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  11. Lovely wonderful blog post. I just now stumbled upon your website and wanted to say that I’ve certainly liked browsing your site articles. In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

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