On reputation alone, the San Francisco Giants are thought of as a team with good pitchers. Both of their recent World Series title wins have come largely from elite pitching, and Brian Sabean has done a decent job of keeping the band together.
That being said, while the team still has guys like Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain, those guys aren't exactly who they used to be. With Cain's injury, Lincecum's mysterious velocity loss and decline, and a staff that is getting older the Giants pitchers have accumulated a measly 8.6 WAR this season, 28th in the league.
What is interesting isn't necessarily their decline, but rather the way they've pitched. Since FanGraphs began tracking pitch type information through Baseball Info Solutions in 2002 there have 390 team seasons. San Francisco is on the verge of doing something that's never been done in any of those seasons: throw fastballs less than half of the time.
The following chart shows the seasons with the lowest percentage of fastballs thrown by a pitching staff since 2002:
|Rank||Team||Year||Fastball Percentage||Average Fastball Velocity|
Three of the top ten non-heater throwing teams have been the most recent Giants teams.
Part of what's going on here is likely that San Francisco doesn't have a lot of pitchers who light up the radar gun, so they use off-speed stuff to compensate. However, another factor is that this team purposely employs guys for whom the fastball isn't their primary tool.
Sergio Romo is the obvious example. He's a pitcher who throws so many sliders that he was able to sneak a sub-90 mph fastball past Miguel Cabrera to win a World Series title. Less well known is Madison Bumgarner, who hasn't gone to the fastball more than 43.4% of the time in a season since 2011. Even bullpen guys such as Jean Machi and George Kontos are sub-45% fastball users. Bringing on Tim Hudson helped continue the trend of guys who lean on off-speed and breaking stuff. Years ago, the team signed Barry Zito; they knew full well that he wasn't going to be throwing heaters very often.
What's unclear is whether the Giants' staff has low velocity and fastball usage by policy or by accident. Whatever the case may be this team has not acquired or developed any fireballers in recent years. In a league where the average velocity is rising and power pitchers are more common than ever, that seems pretty odd.
. . .
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs
Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.