The All Star Game’s Fast Fastballs and Slow Curves

As a starting pitcher, you get to the All Star Game by dominating with a full array of pitches. You’re built to go deep into games and see lineups multiple times. You scout the opposing hitters and it’s all a lot of work. Then you get to the All Star Game, you break from your routine, you have to come in for a short stint, and you can air it out.

It’s a situation ripe for fastballs.

At least one catcher knew it going in. “For the majority of the guys, too, they’re not going to be setting out their whole repertoire — they’re probably going to have a couple pitches they fiddle around with,” Oakland’s catcher Derek Norris said. “And try to blow a lot of guys away, that’s the All Star game.”

The game started out with a few infamous 90 mph fastballs ‘down the pipe,’ and continued to be dominated by number one. All Star starting pitchers threw 57% fastballs in this game after averaging about 52% during the season.

But they’re also coming in a short stint, able to air it out. Turns out, a few of the starters took more advantage of that luxury than the others.

Starter ASG FB velo Season velo ASG FB% Season FB%
Chris Sale 96.0 93.3 68.8% 50.6%
Max Scherzer 95.5 92.6 64.7% 52.9%
Clayton Kershaw 94.0 93.0 72.7% 54.5%
Alfredo Simon 93.8 93.7 36.4% 56.8%
Scott Kazmir 93.3 91.1 30.0% 53.6%
Zack Greinke 93.2 91.4 41.7% 52.3%
Felix Hernandez 92.8 92.4 26.7% 46.6%
Yu Darvish 92.4 92.3 50.0% 55.5%
Jon Lester 91.2 92.0 85.0% 53.8%
Adam Wainwright 90.3 90.2 71.4% 42.4%
Average 94.5 92.7 57.0% 53.7%

Scott Kazmir, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer all gained two miles per hour on their fastballs. Sale and Scherzer, along with Clayton Kershaw, threw more fastballs than you might expect out of a regular season, too. So, to some extent, what was anticipated came true. More, faster fastballs.

But then there was this:

yueephus

What a beautiful non-fastball. What beautiful slow curve. That curveball from Yu went 57 mph according to PITCHf/x. He’s only thrown two slower curves in his career. Everyone sat up and took notice. Listen to Yu tell it like it is as he did after the game: “That pitch is a strength of mine, so I wanted to throw at least one.”

That sounds a bit like what Jon Lester had to say about throwing to Salvador Perez. “He knows what my strength is, so we went to that. Fastball, cutter — threw a couple curves in there.” Lester threw a lot of fastballs, but his catcher knew what he wanted to see and made sure to call some curves.

That’s probably why Felix Hernandez threw so many change-ups (half of his 14) — that’s the pitch the other batters wanted to see. Joey Votto once told me it was the filthiest pitch he’s seen. The All Stars might agree, they whiffed on the pitch a whopping four out of seven times. And Hernandez and Zack Greinke led the battle of the whiffs among the starting pitchers:

Starter whiffs pitches whiff%
Zack Greinke 5 12 41.7%
Felix Hernandez 4 14 28.6%
Max Scherzer 5 18 27.8%
Scott Kazmir 3 12 25.0%
Alfredo Simon 5 21 23.8%
Adam Wainwright 4 21 19.0%
Clayton Kershaw 2 11 18.2%
Jon Lester 4 22 18.2%
Chris Sale 2 16 12.5%
Yu Darvish   14 0.0%
Sum 34 161 21.1%

And so, despite the fact that fastballs are great and fastballs light up the radar and fastballs are easy for catchers to catch… these guys came to put on a show. “You go out there, it’s a national stage right now, it’s as good as it gets,” said Mark Buehrle. “You want to show what you’re capable of against the best,” said Ian Kinsler.

Sometimes that means throwing good ole number one as hard as you can. And sometimes that means making sure to bust out the eephus as slow as possible so everyone can enjoy it.

Thanks to MLB Memes for the Yu Darvish eephus gif.




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


8 Responses to “The All Star Game’s Fast Fastballs and Slow Curves”

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  1. Kody says:

    Poor Tulo. That pitch looked like it was going straight for his face and then broke for the inside edge of the plate. Filthy.

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    • Belloc says:

      This is a great video clip because it is so apparent that Tulo identified the pitch early and was not fooled by the spin or velocity. He kept his hands and weight back appropriately. And to persuade the umpire that the pitch did not break over the inside corner, he deliberately flinched in a manner that even the king of flinches, Derek Jeter, could not best. It was a very good take.

      I have no idea what you mean by “Poor Tulo.”

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      • Tim says:

        All correct, except that Willie Randolph remains forever and always king of the flinch-take.

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  2. Well Really says:

    Ball 1.

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  3. joser says:

    And of course Chapman came out knowing everybody wanted to see triple digits on the gun.

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  4. Jim says:

    The last pitch Sale threw was a nasty slider that almost hit the batter in the back foot. Swung and missed it by a foot.

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  5. Mac says:

    Wow, loved this piece!!!! Went to bed last night wondering about the oddity of All-Star catchers having to catch all these elite pitchers they’ve never worked with before. Great insight into that subject. Thanks Eno!

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  6. SW says:

    Watching star starters dial it up to 11 and showcase their money pitches is my favorite thing about the All-Star game. Greinke threw sliders on five of his twelve pitches when normally he’s saving his arm and only using it 19% of the time.

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