As we wind down our First and Worst pitch of 2013 series, we return to the hard stuff, looking at two-seam fastballs and sinkers in unison. Given the similarities between the two pitches in terms of grip and behavior, I determined that merging the two and analyzing them together was a reasonable approach. As such, I will abbreviate the merged pitches as "TS."
For a quick recap, we will use FanGraphs data on two-seamer and sinker pitch type linear weights (TS/C) as well as average velocity (vTS), absolute horizontal movement (TS-X), and absolute vertical movement (TS-Z) data to create a z-score for each in order to compare the variables to one another. A summary score (SUM_z) will then be calculated to give a final, single value for measuring the value of a given pitcher's two-seamer/sinker. The 10% criteria will also be used, with only pitchers who threw the pitch at least 10% of the time being considered for our best/worst list. We will also break down our results by starters and relievers.
Thus far, we've figured out who has the best and worst changeups, curveballs, four-seam fastballs and sliders, and have also had a Fan Post looking at a similar approach in scoring pitch repertoires—let's now turn to the sinking fastballs, regardless of moniker:
Once again, we find the pitching staff of the Tampa Bay Rays atop one of our Best pitches lists, this time with old friend Jake McGee and First/Worst newcomer, David Price. Regarding the worst two-seamer/sinker offerings, we find a pair of pitchers who aren't known for having elite "stuff"; poster boy for crafty lefties Mark Buehrle brings up the rear for starting pitchers, with submariner Darren O'Day doing the same for the relievers. Both find ways to get hitters out with a variety of methods that deceive and offset hitter timing to counter below average velocity and repertoire, so their low ranking in this scoring system is not too surprising.
For those who are curious, here are the component scores for our quartet:
Overall, we find that Price and McGee score high with the velocities of their sinking fastballs, with McGee pacing our pitchers with respect to the amount of vertical movement, or sink, on his offering. Conversely, Price's two-seam/sinker pitch gives hitters fits in the horizontal dimension as well, as seen with his TS-Z_z score.
So we have an idea of how each pitchers' pitch fares compared to their cohorts with the above scores and breakdowns. How do their pitches fare when bat meets ball, with the caveat that a hallmark of the two-seam/sinker offering is its ability to induce groundballs and keep line drives at a minimum?
As with some of our previous first/worst research, we see some divergence between what one would expect results-wise from a pitch that our criteria finds to be sub-par and the actual results. Looking at Buehrle's batted ball stats, we find his two-seamer to be relatively easy to get around on, with the offering's batting average against and BABIP both above average. Yet, we still see a modicum of effectiveness from the pitch, with it generating a groundball a little over half the time. His line drive rate for the pitch does show some cause for concern, likely reflecting Buehrle missing his spots on occasion and leaving the pitch up in the zone.
Looking at his "worst" co-winner O'Day, we again see the disconnect, with his sinker making for an admirable showing in these stats, with very high groundball rates to go along with very low batted ball and line drive rates. As can be expected, O'Day's arm angle is at the crux of all this, as his unorthodox delivery allows him to throw a pitch that is relatively sub-par compared to his contemporaries, but is made effective because of his release point. This does come at a price: O'Day's low scoring with the linear weight variable is more than likely a result of having to face an occasional lefty hitter, which skews his numbers down due to his arm slot being negated when submariners face an opposite handed hitter. Despite these caveats for both, hitters still are finding a way to put the ball in play and create scoring opportunities, as their respective wOBAs reflect.
For our pair of Rays, there isn't much else to say about their offerings that hasn't been said; with his showing here and in our previous article discussing four-seam fastballs, it's easy to see why McGee leans so heavily on his heaters, regardless of the base/out situation. Price's "stuff" and talent doesn't really shine through as it pertains to his two-seamer batted ball stats, with some fairly human rates being seen against the pitch. Hitters do appear to be able to elevate the pitch, as his higher than expected line-drive rate can attest.
Overall, we find some similarities to our four-seam fastball results, which makes sense. With our worst winners, we do find an interesting aside in the form of both pitchers using unorthodox approaches to get hitters out to compensate for poor offerings across the board, with a tacit reliance upon team defense at play with their sinking fastballs.
All data courtesy of FanGraphs.