Objective measurement is an extremely important aspect of the player development process. If we are learning a new skill, having clear, concise, and immediate feedback is of the utmost importance. Whether we are trying to play a new instrument, learning golf, baseball, soccer, speech, or math having objective feedback is important to mastering the new skill. However, much is lost on objectivity in most realms of development. When you are dealing with the human ego as well as human nature, facts matter little. This is why you see so many different “styles” of coaching. In baseball, it’s why pitching coaches have so many different opinions as to why someone throws a baseball harder than you, or has better command, or has better breaking pitches. There is always a differing of opinion as to why that person is better.
But what makes someone better than someone else in pitching? To make this question even harder, what objective measurement can we use that signals someone is a better pitcher than you? This is tricky, but the old school baseball players would say ERA, IP, Strikeouts, and Batting Average Against (BAA) would be tall-tell signs that someone is better. However, what one forgets to take into account; these are result driven stats. If you were to say, “Having a 1.02 ERA means you’re probably better than the person with a 5.45 ERA.” Well no kidding, but how do I get to having a 1.02 ERA? That is the question and its answered in many different ways. What about the new sabermetric stats being used, such as: ERA+, FIP, OBAA, etc. These are still result driven stats. They tell us who is good, but not how to be good. What we are looking for is a measurement that tells us what we can control. This could also be referred to as process-driven stats.
What are process-driven stats? How can they make us be better? Another way of asking is what makes a pitcher good? Is it command, mechanics, breaking stuff? All these are factors but lets dive into stats a bit. First off, we cannot measure mechanics. Mechanics are completely subjective unless put under a bio-mechanics lab, and even that has some varying results. Under bio-mechanics labs, it’s hard to measure load on joints and this is important. There are very few truths when it comes to mechanics so using this parameter as to what makes a pitcher good is not exactly sufficient. What about command? This is also hard to measure, let me explain. Command of the strike zone does not always mean you will be successful. Head over to Fangraphs and you will see the data. Command of the zone means that you’re throwing strikes, but strikes don’t always correlate to success. German Marquez leads the league in zone%, meaning most pitches in the strike zone. He ended the year 11-7, with a 4.39 ERA. You can find that here. Not a bad year, but not a raging success either.
So what is the most important metric? Well, that would be velocity. I can hear the parents and coaches now, screaming and yelling at me about how velocity does not matter. Well, let’s look at those stubborn facts. Velocity has a high correlation to swing and miss percentage. Well no kidding. The harder you throw the more pitches are swung on and missed by the batter. Here is a quick “study” to show you what I mean here. As you can see, the harder you throw the more pitches are missed. Here is the caveat, the more pitches that are swung on and missed, has a higher correlation to success. Don’t believe me, here is the raw data from Fangraphs on those who had the highest swing and miss percentage last year in 2017. My eyes could be bad, but I believe the top two in that list are the current Cy Young Award winners, Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber. Okay, what about in 2016? I believe the highest is Max Scherzer again (Cy Young Award in 2016) and Noah Syndergaard. But let’s look at 2015, Dallas Kuechel and Jake Arrieta. And finally I am defeated, Arrieta is 19 and Kuechel 30 respectively on the list. So I’m wrong, maybe velocity and swing and miss percentage do not matter. But I’m not soundly defeated. Arrieta’s fastball velocity was 94.9 in 2015, and Keuchel’s was 90.37. I can almost guarantee you that you are not averaging 90 mph on your fastball, and this is considered “crafty” in Major League Baseball.
So as you can see, fastball velocity matters. This can also be seen as a result-driven stat though. I am with you on that, however there are a few things we know that help increase velocity. They are strength, size, movement, and arm strength/speed. These can all be separate blogs but they are a few things that do help increase velocity. If you can’t lift a truck or eat a horse and are complaining about velocity, then you have work to do. But whenever your coach says that velocity is not important and then they reference someone like Keuchel, please inform them that he still throws harder than 99% of the entire baseball population.
Director of Pitching
Chapman Baseball Compound
Chapman Baseball Compound is a 3,000 square foot facility where we specialize in baseball development specifically in the areas of: hitting, pitching, catching, and mental training.