Editor's Note: It's very hard to choose just one FanPost of the Week, considering we had two excellent submissions this week concerning David Price and his fastballs. Mulva dug into Price's four-seam fastball and swinging strike rates, while Sticky Bandit chose to focus on Price's two-seam fastball usage. Considering it's a refreshing change to have quality FanPosts on the sidebar, we'll be featuring both of them this weekend - one this morning and one tomorrow morning. Enjoy!
I’m not sure about you, but I seem to find myself paying a little bit of extra attention during a David Price start. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy or respect the work of say, Jeff Niemann, but a Price start has something that gets that little extra excitement in me that keeps me from getting distracted (pick any of wife, kids, work here) while watching a game. I think of it as the "butt in the seat, eyes on the TV" effect. With that, I find myself noticing his tendencies and trends a little more so than the other pitchers on the team. His last start (Monday 8/9 against the Tigers) saw a continuation of a trend where he seemed to be firing heat and getting good results from it. Two points in the game seemed to encapsulate some trends I had been commenting on. The first was his seventh strikeout where they flashed the "K" counter on the screen and all seven were forward K’s, swinging strikes to end each at-bat. The last, and one that has been pointed out on this board, was his final pitch of the game where the radar gun put up a red 100. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking at the time the radar gun was a little juiced that day, but as the game went on and Qualls, Benoit and Soriano all seemed to be pitching in their respective fastball speeds (maybe 1mph higher), it added credibility in my mind to Price’s flaming fastball.
This triggered enough interest in me to do as others on this board so often do, see if the facts back up their observations. Has Price’s fastball been getting quicker as the season goes on and has he been getting better results (ie more swinging strikes) with it?
The first thing I did was collect the data for each of Price’s starts this year from Brooks Baseball. According to their pitch types, Price has thrown his fastball 72.48% of the time, with the 4-seamer accounting for 54.45% of that. Clearly Price relies on his fastball and the quality of that fastball should significantly impact the quality of his starts. It was also interesting for me to confirm that Price does seem to generate most of his swinging strikes from his fastball and as a percentage of pitch usage, both have the highest swinging strike percentage amongst his offerings. See below:
Next, I wanted to examine how his fastball speed has changed over the season, as it appeared to me that he is progressively getting faster with his fastball. I wanted to avoid looking at single games, since radar guns do vary from park to park, so arbitrarily I choose to break the season into thirds (since he has 22 starts I broke them up as first 8, next 7, last 7). I then aggregated by thirds of the season the frequency of his fastball at a given speed. For this exercise I started off just looking at the four seam fastball. As suspected his fastball has been increasing over the season, both in average speed and frequency of "top-end" speed. His average speed has progressed from 94.43 to 94.95 to 95.90 over each third, and the distribution looks like this:
I think the frequency of the 98mph pitch best summarizes the pattern; 3 times in the first third, 9 times in the second, and 67 times in the most recent seven games. For those wondering, the two-seamer has increased even more so from 89.99 to 91.14 to 93.72.
But, other than getting my little girl and Dave Dombrowski all excited when the radar gun turns red, does the increased speed actually produce better results. As many will recall, there was some discussion that Price was asked to dial down his speed last year to focus on his control. Could the higher speeds result in increased wildness, and if there are any benefits are they worth it?
I started with seeking out if increased speed produced better results. For this I narrowed the focus to swinging strikes (I completely acknowledge this is not the only factor, but more later on the importance). I totaled the frequency of swinging strikes on his four seam fastball looking for any patterns. It appears that Price starts generating swinging strikes at a decent clip at 94mph, above that produces a slight uptick in frequency. Most notable is the vast drop-off for pitches below 94mph. In the first third of the season 20.88% of Price’s pitches fell into that bottom range, the last third, just 7.83%.
Oddly, when I replicated this exercise for two-seam fastballs, the results are pretty flat across the range, meaning 87 & 88mph two-seamers are generating swinging strike rates a little above 10% just like 94, 95, 96 ones. This could be due to lower sample size (only 46 swinging strikes on FT’s), but potentially due to movement or other factors.
Okay, with a lot of talk on swinging strikes here, I thought it worth looking into how relevant a swinging strike is for Price (my mind flashing back to all of those forward K’s). As noted in the chart above, Price has generated 216 swinging strikes this season. In those at-bats 61.57% resulted in the batter striking out (to be clear here, the swing and miss could have been on strike 1) with only 17.6% resulting in the batter reaching base (with no home runs!).
As for control, here is a chart by speed of his four-seamer displaying percentage of Strike, Ball or In Play results.
I personally don’t see any noticeable trends here. On the tails of the range the frequency is small, but over the heart of his range (93-97) there certainly isn’t any noticeable change. So is it safe to assume that he is exhibiting the same control as he is increasing his speed? Maybe so, and if the game plan is for Price to continue relying on his fastball to get batters out, I certainly like him doing so at his last three game average of 96mph, and not just because my daughter gets excited.