The Cheeseboard

Recently while gazing self-pleasuringly at the Pitch Type leaderboards, I had a spasm of analytical curiosity. (Don’t worry, these don’t last long.) Who sees the fastest fastballs? I asked myself. The simple answer is just a sort away: Jose Bautista, with an FBv of 92.5. There are no fewer than four Yankees in the top eight, led by Alex Rodriguez, who has faced heaters this year averaging 92.4 mph. But this isn’t so remarkable, I realized, as it might look at first. After all, A-Rod & Co. (as well as Joey Bats) happen to inhabit the hardest-throwing division in baseball, with power pitchers like David Price, Matt Moore, and Jon Lester padding those averages. What would this leaderboard look like if we somehow accounted for that?

Because I had some time on my hands, and because I am desperate to reclaim some shred of the dignity I’ve lost over several months of NotGraphs posts, I invented a new metric called Expected Fastball Velocity, or xFBv. For each hitter, I looked at every plate appearance this year and averaged the FBv of each pitcher faced. So, A-Rod’s xFBv is 91.7:  if every hurler A-Rod has faced in 2012 had thrown him his average fastball, A-Rod’s overall average fastball faced would be approximately 91.7 mph. This is interesting because, as stated above, A-Rod’s actual FBv is 92.4. Pitchers are throwing to him, on average, a full 0.7 mph faster than they are throwing to hitters in general. This 0.7 number we can call FBv+, which sounds almost obscenely saber-y, I must say. Now, 0.7 seems pretty darn high. Does anyone have a higher FBv+? Why, they do!

What a terribly interesting list! For comparison, here are the bottom twenty:

My! Again, how terribly, terribly interesting! Now, after much perusal and beard-stroking and a few fumble-fingered Excel maneuvers, I managed to determine the following.

Batters with higher FBv+’s tend to be one of the following:

– Better hitters (e.g. Bautista, Cabrera, Pujols)

– Larger individuals (e.g. Goldschmidt, Heyward, Butler)

– Freer swingers (e.g. Soriano, Francoeur, Pence)

…whereas the classic low-FBv+ guy is a pint-sized, weak contact hitter like, say, Jemile Weeks. But this can’t be the whole story. Why does Dan Uggla lap the field so impressively? Why are there three Nats in the top five? Do pitchers overcompensate in the presence of the flamethrowing Washington staff? Is the presence on that leaderboard of such controversial names as A.J. Pierzynski, Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez, Starlin Castro, and Bryce Harper just a coincidence? Do pitchers throw harder to batters they hate? Could we use these numbers to develop a Hate Index?? And if so, why in the world is Melky Cabrera so low?? Discuss, readers! Discuss!

And if you need a chaser after all that Real Analysis, I suggest a workout with Dan.

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10 Responses to “The Cheeseboard”

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  1. Jack says:

    I think people throw at Hunter Pence so fastly because they’re scared he’s going to suck their guts out with his proboscis.

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  2. WildBlue says:

    It took all that time and all that summing to discover that pitchers are going to set up the best hitters with sliders, curves and change-ups before going for the K with their finest Cheese? Awesome. Too much time indeed. #thefanatic

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    • Mississippi Matt Smith says:

      Because Dan Uggla, Ryan Zimmerman, Paul Goldschmidt, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Jeff Francoeur are the best hitters?

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      • Pinstripe Wizard says:

        Well I don’t know about Uggla, Zimmerman, Goldschmidt, Desmond, and Harper, but that Francoeur guy certainly is. At least Dayton Moore thinks so.

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  3. Ian says:

    My guess for Ryan Zimmerman would be that pitchers were trying to throw fastballs by him because he’s had shoulder problems this year and therefore wasn’t able to get the bat around very quickly. Judging by his first half stats, that strategy was working very well. After he got a cortisone shot, he started feasting on said fastballs. His numbers against power pitchers this year are still mediocre, as his shoulder still isn’t completely healthy, but he probably doesn’t fall victim to non-power pitchers trying to throw fastballs by him anymore. According to the numbers, though, that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying.

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  4. MSpitz says:

    Why are there so many more players who have a FBv+ above 0? Shouldn’t all the FBv+ numbers add up to 0?

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    • Mississippi Matt Smith says:

      These are qualifying batters only, so on the whole they are better hitters who see better fastballs, and they account for only around half of all PA’s. The average fastball thrown in MLB this season has been around 91.3 mph, if my figures are right. The average fastball seen by these guys has been up around 91.7. So you’re going to see a lot more positive than negative values on this board.

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  5. MustBunique says:

    Awesome stuff here Matt. I haven’t had as much time as you have to look these numbers over but there are some things to be gleaned from this approach. Any chance you would share your spreadsheet or data sources? I am thinking if this would be possible to do for all the years that we have the data for it (only since Pitch F/X?) some more trends may pop out. In particular I’m thinking about how pitchers throw to young top prospects after seeing Harper, Heyward, Goldschmidt, Moose Tacos, and Castro on this list. Maybe there’s a, “I’m not letting this kid get me,” mindset. Wouldn’t be shocking but I am still interested.

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  6. SirDave says:

    What about batter “selectivity” or “patience”?

    Pitchers are more likely to throw their cheese when they’re ahead in the count, and going for a swinging strikeout, and they probably take a bit off when they’re behind in the count, and they need to get it over for a strike. So hitters that are more patient/selective and get themselves into more “hitters’ counts” see more below average fastballs than hitters that get into more “pitchers’ counts.”

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