Matt Thornton throws a lot of fastballs – more than anyone else in baseball, actually. He’s thrown the pitch 92 percent of the time this year, in fact, relying heavily on his ability to blow hitters away with his velocity. Thornton throws it with such regularity that he might just be the most predictable pitcher in the history of the game.
On the first pitch of an at-bat, Thornton throws a fastball 96 percent of the time. You can be pretty sure that you’re going to get a first pitch fastball from him, pretty much every time. If he falls behind in the count, well, then you can forget the pretty much – you will see nothing but fastballs until he’s evened the count up again. Literally, nothing but fastballs.
On 1-0 counts, he’s thrown the fastball 100 percent of the time this year. Same with 2-0 counts, 3-0 counts, 2-1 counts, 3-1 counts, and 3-2 counts. He has not thrown a single non-fastball in any of those situations all year.
When he gets ahead in the count, he’s more willing to work in the slider. He throws the slider 18 percent of the time on 0-1 counts, 17 percent of the time on 1-2 counts, and 13 percent of the time on 0-2 counts. Every count is dominated by heavy reliance on the fastball, but he’ll at least show you something else in those situations from time to time.
Behind in the count, though, and he becomes the definition of a one pitch guy. And here’s the crazy part – it still works. Despite some struggles since returning from the disabled list, Thornton has still been one of the game’s best relievers this year, and his dominance over the last three years is rivaled only by the likes of Mariano Rivera, who also interestingly throws just one pitch most of the time.
I love the game theory aspect of pitching, where guys like Jamie Moyer can get hitters out through pure deception, keeping hitters off balance and not letting them figure out patterns. The other side of that coin is kind of fun too, though, and that’s Thornton in a nutshell. You often hear announcers say that any big league hitter can drill a fastball if he knows its coming. Well, apparently not. Not this fastball, anyway.