The Ultimate Roogy

With the advent of Pitch F/x and the dissemination of velocity and pitch type data into the public over the last few years, and now leading to stuff like the linear weight values we have for specific pitches on the site here, it’s becoming easier and easier to figure out why some pitchers are successful and others are not. We’re able to quantify things that we’ve never been able to get a handle on before, and the analysis that’s being done with pitch data right now is tremendous.

However, even with all those advances, there’s still one glaring question that I don’t know that anyone has the answer to – how the hell is Mark DiFelice getting people out?

You probably have seen DiFelice at some point now that he’s thrown 45 innings as a major leaguer over the last two season and pitched for Italy in the World Baseball Classic this spring, where he threw four shutout innings against Venezuela. That wasn’t his only taste of success – since coming to the big leagues, he’s posted a 1.81 BB/9 and a 9.07 K/9, which have led to a sparkly 2.01 ERA. He’s been one of the reasons the Brewers bullpen has been holding leads all year.

But how he does it is beyond me. Here’s a Pitch F/x chart of what he throws in a normal game.

difelice

There’s 29 blobs in there representing pitches from DiFelice in that specific game (May 10th versus the Cubs). Pitch F/x labeled most of them sliders, while it called a few others change-ups, but in reality, it’s just a cut fastball thrown so slowly that the algorithm doesn’t recognize it as such. If you want to see the pitch, there’s a .gif over at Driveline Mechanics.

That’s his arsenal. An 80-84 MPH cut fastball. That’s it. He throws that pitch, and that pitch only, 99% of the time. He also has thrown this loopy 72 MPH curveball a couple of times this year, but practically every pitch he throws, in every game, is this low-80s fastball with some tailing action away from right-handers. I faced guys in high school who had better stuff than this.

However, whatever DiFelice does to his cut fastball, or however he hides the ball, or whatever voodoo spell he chants before he pitches, it works wonders against right-handed bats. Here’s his career splits since joining Milwaukee:

Vs RHB: .149/.192/.202, 120 PA
Vs LHB: .321/.357/.717, 56 PA

Opposing right-handers have a .393 OPS against DiFelice. Opposing left-handers have a 1.074 OPS against him. He basically turns every RH bat he faces into a pitcher, and every left-handed bat into Albert Pujols. This is the most ridiculous platoon split I have ever seen. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but given what DiFelice throws, we’d expect left handed major league batters to use him as batting practice, so that part is likely not an anomaly.

Can he really keep pitching like the best pitcher ever against right-handed bats while throwing one pitch in the low-80s, though? Everything I’ve ever been taught about baseball says no, but at this point, we’re on our second year of him embarrassing high quality bats, and I can’t come up with any reasons why he can’t keep doing this. Perhaps the real question shouldn’t be “how is Difelice getting people out”, but instead “why aren’t the Brewers forcing every pitcher they have to learn how to throw that thing?”




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

29 Responses to “The Ultimate Roogy”

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  1. Dorsey says:

    Makes me wonder – what does his pitching motion look like? Deceptive delivery or something? That explanation usually gets overplayed by broadcasters, but with that chart, is there any other way to explain his success? I’d think that if a hitter knows which pitch is coming, the velocity with which it will arrive, and the basic movement pattern, it should turn both handed hitters into Pujols.

    I looked for a video but had no luck.

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  2. Dorsey says:

    Unless, of course, that pitch is Mariano Rivera’s cutter, which is a wee bit more impressive.

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  3. mattsd says:

    Reading this, my first thought was to compare him to Paul Quantrill in the Blue Jays/Dodgers years where he seemed to throw nothing but his mid 80s fastball with almost screwball movement. Seems even that pitch was several ticks faster and less frequent than this though.

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  4. LarryinLA says:

    Well, I faced DeFelice in high school and I couldn’t hit him. So, I think it’s pretty neat that not only is he doing well, everybody seems to want to talk about it.

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  5. joser says:

    Apparently he’s some crazy hybrid of Jamie Moyer and Mariano Rivera.

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  6. Der-K says:

    FWIW, his splits were more conventional in the minors (see link) – though I had the impression that Milwaukee considered him a future ROOGY (if anything) at the time (that is, prior to his big league success).

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  7. cgasparro says:

    This is great to see as I’ve been following Mark’s career for a while (he’s my cousin, we share an uncle). My recollection is he threw harder and more pitches earlier in his career – I saw him pitch in college. He’s taken such a long road to get here, I’m just glad he’s seeing success.

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  8. Preston says:

    Just watched him pitch the 10th against the Indians, and it looked like he was throwing everything to righties with pin point accuracy low and on the outside corner. It breaks down and away, of course, and it looks like it’s a pretty late break as well. Overall, that’s a very hard pitch for righties to hit, and almost an impossible pitch to hit with power.

    He obviously doesn’t have a pitch for lefties – that break takes it right into most lefties favorite zone, down and in; even if he keeps it away, it’s coming back to them, making it a lot easier for them to drive it the opposite way. He actually faced two lefties in this inning, threw four out of five pitches to them away, and got two hard hit outs (a hard grounder to second and a sharp liner to first on the one down and in pitch).

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    • Preston says:

      Just realized my sample size for saying he threw everything to righties low and away was all of 3 pitches. That being said, I’d be pretty surprised if that general area wasn’t where he spotted about 80% of his pitches to righties.

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      • Preston says:

        I wrote too soon – he also faced two batters in the 11th, both righties. According to gamecast, first one he threw a ball and a strike inside before working him away for the last two pitches (groundout), second one he threw one low and down the middle, one belt high and away, and two down and away; all four easily could have been intended to be down and away. Ok, time to stop obsessing about Mike DiFelice, as interesting as he is.

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  9. J.J. Hardy says:

    @Preston:

    Uh, I love how you mention sample size and then, after watching one outing, state it’s time to stop obsessing about Mike DiFelice.

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  10. Golly G says:

    I love this story, he finally made the majors last year after +10 years of pro ball and at age 31.

    He pitch as a ton of late movement and he can locate it, in and then out. He walks almost nobody and allows few OF flyballs. I think I get it. It is almost never up……and the Brewers D this year is very good.

    I am a fan.

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  11. KW says:

    I think most of his success is like Golly G says, he can locate it. You hit those spots for strikes low and away and you’ll have success whoever you are.

    This is all well and good, but he is also the teams barber. hopefully he does a better job at that than brauny does designing tshirts

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  12. Greg says:

    Brewers fan here who has seen Difelice pitch a lot. Basically he has superb command combined with good late movement. Against righties he just paints the outside corner and then he extends the corner. Its actually comical to watch him pitch sometimes because although he walks few batters it isn’t because he throws everything in the strike zone. The batters just think he throws everything in the strike zone, which means they swing at pitches that they can’t actually touch. Right handed pull happy hitters have no chance against him because there is no way they can pull any of his pitches.

    The other pitcher to look at on the Brewers is Mitch Stetter, Difelice’s opposite (the LOOGY). Mitch Stetter is a lefty who throws one pitch a lot (though not as much as Mark). Stetter throws his slider two thirds of the time. His resulting numbers are .091/.216/.182 vs left and .219/.324/.375 vs right, so he is still good against righties even though he is a lefty side arm pitcher. However he does not have the control that Mark does with over 4 walks per 9 however he makes up for that with 10K’s per 9. So if you want to pay attention to another pitcher who uses one pitch mostly, look at him as well.

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  13. Jack Moore says:

    The Brewers organization started teaching the cutter to pitchers pretty recently. Most of their minor leaguers throw it, and some of the current ML starters have added it (Bush and Suppan both throw it, and Sheets added it to his repertoire at some point in the last 3 years). I think a lot of the influence in it was Mike Maddux as pitching coach.

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  14. GGear0323 says:

    yeah, yeah, that is all great and good and whatnot, but what i love is the gif. i watched it and after seeing the pitch, the next thing i realized is that the kids in the background are playing rock-paper-scissors ……. and that they suck at it.

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  15. Daniel McIlroy says:

    It’s nothing remotely like Quantrill. When he was in Toronto anyway, Quantrill’s FB was around 92-93. It was a sinker, and he threw it low and away. Every single pitch. He gave up a lot of hits, but he never walked anyone and you couldn’t hit it over the fence.

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  16. Robin Zander says:

    Dream Police!

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  17. Andy says:

    I’m a semi-pro pitcher who throws basically the same stuff as Mark, slow fastball and 90% cutters, and it is very effective when it’s on. It feels awesome making some great hitters look stupid on what is basically a slow fastball with movement. Unfortunately, when it’s off I get rocked and I imagine the same thing will happen to Mark. It’s something every pitcher should use. It’s easy to learn and easy to throw.

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  18. Daddymag says:

    Greg is right, in that gif the catcher is set up outside the zone, the pitch tails away, and the batter goes after it anyway. Really extending the zone.
    Is it also his changeup motion? Looks like his arm speed gets way ahead of the ball, the batter thinks maybe thinks it’s coming faster than it is… so it’s hard to time?

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  19. Jon says:

    His motion and action on the pitch reminds me of Edwar Ramirez a bit. Ramirez has similar (but less extreme) splits.

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  20. Joe says:

    Hey Andy,
    Ever wonder if that’s why you’re a semi pro pitcher and Difelice is in the majors? I’m betting he’s not gonna “lose” it. If anything people will catch up with or catch on to it and since he doesn’t really have another pitch he can utilize effectively, he’d be pretty boned if that happened.

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  21. DR says:

    Scott Richmond is also a ROOGY – with a much larger sample size.

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    • averagejoe says:

      Yeah, a ROOGY who should be able to get lefties out.

      You’re a pitcher with a 91-94 fastball, a hard breaking curve, slider, and changeup, my god why do you suck against lefties?

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  22. Greg says:

    Correct Daddymag, the gif makes it rather easy to see. Kendall is set up on the outside corner, Mark throws it seemingly right on target, and then as it gets close the plate it tails further outside as you can see Kendall having to reach to his right to catch the ball. Meanwhile the batter hopelessly swings at that pitch which is not in the strikezone and which he has no chance at touching.

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