GIF: The Mysterious Mystery of Chris Young’s Fastball

Not technically a graph.

At Bluebird Banter this morning, real-live Dutchman and Pitch F/x understander-er Woodman663 published some notes on the movement of various right-handers’ fastballs. Almost without exception, said fastballs occupy the top-left quadrant of the Pitch F/x graph — which is to say, they all feature arm-side run and “rise” relative to a spinless ball.

Among the notable outliers is the very tall and Princeton-educated Chris Young‘s four-seamer, which has featured a rising movement in the 12-14 inch range throughout his career — this, compared to a league-wide average of about 8.5 inches, generally, for a four-seamer.

The effects of Young’s movement are almost embarrassingly logical: among the 261 pitchers with more than 500 innings pitched since 2002, Young has the lowest ground-ball rate (28.2%) of any of them. Moreover, given what we’ve learned about the correlation between fly-ball pitchers and BABIP-suppression, it’s entirely unshocking to learn that Young also ownes the lowest BABIP (.248) among the aforementioned group of qualifiers. (Per Eric Seidman, he also features a pretty big margin between his measured fastball velocity and perceived fastball velocity.)

I wanted to look — and give the readership an opportunity to look, too — at some exemplary examples of Young’s rise-piece. Though the righty pitched only 24 innings this season, 4.2 of those were at Nationals Stadium, which features one of the better center-field camera angles in the majors.

Below are the four pitches Young threw in which his fastball exceeded more than 14 inches of rise, per Pitch F/x. While it’s difficult for me, personally, to notice much difference between Young’s fastball and an average one, it’s notable that, of the three hitters who offer at Young’s rise-y pitches, all three foul said pitches upwards, suggesting they (i.e. the batters) might be expecting the ball to cross the plate at a slightly lower spot.

Below are those four pitches, in order of rise from greatest to least-great. (Note: if the GIFs are choppy, consider opening them individually in another tab or window.)

To Rick Ankiel, 5th inning, 14.5 inches:

To Jerry Hairston, 4th inning, 14.5 inches:

To Alex Cora, 5th inning, 14.3 inches:

To Danny Espinosa, 1st inning, 14.3 inches:

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4 years 7 months ago

I’m a bit surprised this is in NotGraphs.

Some other oddities I’ve enjoyed from pitchF/X is Carl Pavano, who despite throwing 4 pitches, gets very little difference in movement compared to nearly every other pitcher in existence. Yes, it’s common for some pitches to overlap each other (such as a 4-seamer and cutter), but for all 4 of a pitcher’s pitches to overlap on pitchF/X is something I’ve rarely seen. (Note that Pavano himself says he throws a “fosh,” also known as a Vulcan change-up, so his change-ups and splitters are actually just one pitch).

Then there’s Burke Badenhop, who not only has one of the best sinkers I’ve seen according to pitchF/X, but also a wide-breaking slider, creating a fastball-to-curveball difference in movement, but with his sinker and slider.

If I had enough time, I could spend hours just looking at these graphs.