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The art of the fastball, right down the middle

So often, we focus our attention on the best pitches and the most impressive swings. How about a little love for the BP fastball?

Otto Greule Jr

While this site prides itself on crack analysis, cutting edge research, and excellent writing, this article is only attempting to be well-written. This isn't heavy on analysis and it certainly isn't groundbreaking. This is merely a look at something that doesn't get a whole lot of column inches; the batting practice fastball. Now, this isn't an analysis of actual batting practice, but merely a look at pitches thrown in 2013 that were akin to the ones you might see while preparing for the game. Which pitchers threw and which batters saw the most BP fastballs last season?

The qualifications are somewhat arbitrary, but they stand up to the "seems about right" test. These are pitches thrown in the center of the strikezone as defined by the invaluable Baseball Savant, which merely divides the Pitchf/x strikezone into a tic-tac-toe board. The pitches are classified as four-seam fastballs and they clocked in between 87 and 92 mph. Real BP fastballs are slower, but if you're throwing 75 without a knuckleball, you're probably not making it to the big leagues. If you'd like to see the full list of pitchers and their particulars, follow this link. Otherwise, let's look at the top ten.

Rank Player BP Fastballs
10 John Lackey 70
9 Scott Diamond 72
8 CJ Wilson 75
7 Cole Hamels 79
6 Hisashi Iwakuma 84
5 Tim Lincecum 88
4 Dan Straily 89
3 Jose Quintana 91
2 Mike Minor 118
1 AJ Griffin 121

It becomes immediately clear that the separation between the top two and number three is pretty significant. Griffin and Minor were the kings of batting practices fastballs in 2013. How did that turn out for them?

Pitch Result Griffin Minor
Called Strike 25 31
Swinging Strike 11 4
Foul 44 42
Single 7 5
Double 4 3
Triple 0 0
Homerun 5 3
Fly Out 18 13
Ground Out 1 8
Line Out 1 5
Pop Out 5 3
Error 0 1

It seems kind of strange that there are so many called strikes and foul balls when these should be the easiest pitchers to hit, but of course, baseball is complicated and pitches don't happen in isolation. Sometimes you're looking for the slider and you see a get me over fastball.

For the hitters, you can check out the full list here, but again let's look at the top ten.

Rank Player BP Fastballs
10 Brett Gardner 35
9 Alejandro De Aza 35
8 Elvis Andrus 35
7 Denard Span 36
6 Marco Scutaro 38
5 Austin Jackson 41
4 Martin Prado 43
3 Alex Gordon 43
2 Ian Kinsler 44
1 Dustin Pedroia 46

This is a fun list, because the connection is so obvious. This is basically a list of guys who hit at the top of the order. We've accidentally stumbled onto a finding, but rather than focus on something that's so obvious, let's look at the top two hitters in detail:

Pitch Result Kinsler Pedroia
Called Strike 13 21
Swinging Strike 0 1
Foul 8 12
Single 2 1
Double 1 2
Triple 0 0
Homerun 2 0
Fly Out 7 3
Ground Out 3 3
Line Out 4 1
Pop Out 3 1
Sac Fly 1 0

You would think that you'd see more damage on pitches right down the middle, but there's also a selection effect in play as you're only going to throw fastballs down the middle to hitters who aren't going to hurt you for one reason or another. Kinsler and Pedroia are most likely going to take the pitch or foul it off, so its not that dangerous of a play.

Hopefully, this has been a fun exercise that showcases something elegantly simple. We hear about BP fastballs all the time, but were never really stop to appreciate them as a unit. I think it's safe to say, the baseball season can't arrive soon enough.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Neil Weinberg is the Associate Managing Editor at Beyond The Box Score, contributor to Gammons Daily, and can also be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter at @NeilWeinberg44.