By Bahram Shirazi, Nunzio Signore and Robbie Aviles
During the past year, we have spent endless hours crunching pitching data and there are some unbelievable and amazing conclusions which we would like to share with you. This report is a summary of approximately 10,000 pitches thrown by 50 high school-level pitchers, randomly selected from our various winter, spring and summer programs. The new Rapsodo camera system exposes a great deal and explains why “the eyes lie”. We are willing to bet that our findings are not unique but rather common place in youth pitchers everywhere.
In addition, please note that assessing pitches from a data standpoint is so novel that much of the pitching world, from college to the professional level, is still learning what it all means and how to apply it (and that includes us as well). It can be complicated and confusing at times. But somewhere between a former professional pitcher, a strength and conditioning coach, a thorough understanding of anatomy and a guy with an engineering degree from 30 years ago, we’ve learned how to analyze it, dissect it and apply it.
It’s also important to note that as we continue to learn, we also continue to upgrade and improve our existing programs and how we train pitchers. In this summary report, we will review our findings on several different metrics, including:
- 4-seam movement
- 2-seam vs. 4-seam movement
- Change-up vs. 4-seam movement
- Curveball vs. sliders movement
Let’s start with a couple big bangs!
- Nearly 30% of pitchers aren’t throwing a “true” 4-seam fastball
- Nearly 90% of pitchers don’t know how to throw a true 2-seam fastball
Got your attention now?! Ok let’s get into it…
Nearly 30% of high school pitchers (in our random grouping) inadvertently cut their 4-seam fastball, from a little bit to a lot. This would be fine if it were intentional. But in a world where velo is treated like king, cutting a 4-seam means you’re simply taking velo off your 4-seam. There is nothing wrong with a slider or a cut-fastball, if that’s what you intend to throw. But when you set up to throw a 4-seam and your spin efficiency (click here) drops below 80% (and some we have analyzed go down as low as 25%) then you must wonder if you’re really throwing a 4-seam. Here is a quick summary for the group of pitchers referred to above:
Considering a spin efficiency of 85%+ as appropriate on fastballs, drops in efficiency simply translate into lower velo (approximately 1 mph for every 10% drop in efficiency). In a game where every pitch should be set off your 4-seam, everyone should know how to throw a proper fastball with proper movement. Here is an extreme case of a pitcher’s 4-seam fastball which the data says isn’t a fastball:
(A Fastball that isn’t a FB)
Yes! Your observation from the video is correct. This specific pitcher, who believes he is throwing a 4-seam, is actually throwing a slider (look at the gyro spin on the ball). Assuming an 8-mph difference between a 4-seam fastball and a typical slider, all else being equal, this specific pitcher should be able to improve his fastball velo by up to 8-mph by simply throwing a proper fastball.
Although this may seem difficult to believe, we have actually improved velo by improving a low spin efficiency on a 4-seam. If you are a high school-level pitcher throwing in the mid-80s, in all likelihood you’re throwing a proper fastball. But if your velo is stuck in the 70s you just might be suffering from a low spin efficiency, which means you’re not releasing the ball correctly. Our high speed video footage has confirmed the data every single time.
2-seam vs. 4-seam Fastball
Perhaps the most interesting of all is how few pitchers know how to throw a 2-seam. Every pitcher knows that you grip a 4-seam and 2-seam differently. Unfortunately, changing grips simply isn’t enough to throw a proper 2-seam fastball. There is more to the pitch than just a different grip. As we mentioned earlier, nearly 90% of pitchers don’t generate enough differentiation between their 2-seam and 4-seam. To generate the additional lateral movement on the 2-seam you need to further tilt the spin axis (more on this in a later blog). Here is quick summary of the results, actual vs. optimal:
*** Optimal Results in the chart above based on Pitch/Fx data.
Change-up vs. 4-seam Fastball
Given an extremely different type of grip on a change-up, it seems that pitchers have an easier time creating movement with this pitch. But once again the results are less than optimal, with nearly 40% of pitchers generating insufficient ball movement, actual vs. optimal results:
*** Optimal Results in the chart above based on Pitch/Fx data.
Curveballs and Sliders
It’s amazing how many young pitchers think they throw a curveball while actually throwing a slider and vice-versa.
Here is a summary chart of all the pitches identified as curveballs by the pitchers in our random grouping and what the data says about each pitch:
As we have said before the data doesn’t lie. It can’t. It just simply tells you what you’re throwing. You might say, well they’re both glove side pitches so who cares. For starters the catcher cares. He wants to know what’s coming his way. But, even with that said, you should know what type of pitch you are throwing.
Some Variables on the “Other Side of the Net”
Given how we evaluate everything here at RPP brings us to other potential variables that live on the other side of the nets that may be also contributing factors. With a movement as complex as pitching, we can’t “single out” one particular topic. So along with analyzing high-speed video and data from Rapsodo, we would like to highlight a few topics that may also be contributing to the above results.
- Mobility – Issues such as poor lead leg IR which can close out the front hip early at foot strike or insufficient scapular upward rotation which can lower the athletes arm slot, can cause both an early ball release as well as less than optimal angles to throw from, negatively affecting leverage and in turn, possibly spin-rate, ball movement and spin efficiency.
- Strength – Insufficient or losses in lower half strength can create a less stable platform to throw from (like shooting a cannon from a canoe). Insufficient core strength doesn’t allow for maximum transfer of lower half power to the arm and ultimately the hand thus once again, affecting leverage on the ball. In general, these are big with our younger guys.
- Fatigue – Poor work capacity (conditioning), poor nutrition and/or bad sleep habits all can negatively affect arm slot as the athlete fatigues.
Given our population of pitchers, without a doubt these are definitely contributing factors. We’re checking into many of these, among others, that may give our pitchers better leverage, and help them “get over the ball”, creating the quickest arm speed as late as possible. But that’s an article onto its own.
Initially, our reaction was that data analytics was probably most applicable to older pitchers (high school and older) who could grasp the concepts. But as we have progressed up the learning curve we have come full circle. We now believe the feedback could be equally beneficial for younger pitchers (ages 13 and older), as well as older pitchers (high school+). Here is a quick reference for how we view these populations:
Although older pitchers may be able to comprehend more complex topics quicker and have higher motor control, the younger ones have less ingrained habits and can adapt and make adjustments easier. Now, imagine a young pitcher who learns how to move the ball properly at an early age while he’s learning to move his body more efficiently via strength/mobility gains in the weight room as he gets older. We believe this can be a great recipe for success.
The sooner pitchers learn how to truly pitch and move the ball with a variety of pitches the better off they will be. We may not provide as much detail and complex feedback as we would with the older guys, but the younger pitchers could definitely benefit. The following chart provides a good summary of our overall objective knowing what we now know.
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