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One Pitch, Two Pitch, Fast Pitch, Slow Pitch

I've been talking about pitches, pitching patterns, and pitch usage a lot lately. Whether it be through PitchFx charts, simply sharing observations, or talking about a pitcher who needs an additional pitch. Finally, I broke down and gathered the data needed to see whether having a surplus of pitches, or only a couple. mattered to performance.

Most people have the idea that quality matters more than quantity. I know I did. In fact, while running the query (last three years, at least 5% usage of the pitch, at least 150 innings) only one pitcher recorded more than five pitches, and that was Ryan Franklin with six. As you'll see, Ryan Franklin is not a particularly good pitcher. Franklin is passable, but I think you would expect more from someone who has a constant advantage in game theory. Now, it is possible that Franklin falls into patterns, tips his pitches, or simply throws hittable garbage, I'll leave that up to you to figure out. My only interest is the amount of pitches, used modestly. and whether it makes for better pitchers.

Let's get to the data, first up: pitchers with at least 150 innings over the last three years:

Pitches K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP Qualified
6 5.26 2.82 1.18 0.286 3.7 4.74 1
5 5.63 3.08 1.19 0.31 4.83 4.76 28
4 6.24 3.13 1.13 0.3 4.55 4.53 119
3 7.2 3.53 0.947 0.3 4.07 4.13 134
2 7.72 3.35 0.92 0.303 3.95 3.98 39


Pitches G GS IP TBF GS/G IP/G TBF/G Qualified
6 70 0 79 335 0 1.13 4.8 1
5 75 48 311 1357 64 4.15 18.1 28
4 83 50 334 1445 60.2 4.02 17.4 119
3 115 37 306 1308 32.2 2.7 11.4 134
2 163 19 252 1078 11.7 1.55 6.6 39

Those numbers for two and three pitches look oddly better than the four and five, don't they? Remember, we're talking about relievers as well as starters here, but we have to answer the question: Are the included relievers skewing this towards the 2-3 type pitchers, or do those tossers simply have superior quality despite lesser quantity? Here's those pitchers with at least 50% of their appearances being starts:

Pitches K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP Qualified
5 5.83 3.03 1.25 0.31 4.87 4.78 21
4 6.17 3.11 1.14 0.306 4.6 4.56 85
3 6.75 3.07 0.99 0.304 4.26 4.21 70
2 6.59 3.42 1.18 0.303 4.74 4.64 9


Pitches G GS IP TBF IP/G TBF/G Qualified
5 63 57 338 1470 5.37 23 21
4 68 61 374 1616 5.5 24 85
3 71 45 423 1722 6 24 70
2 77 74 437 1895 5.7 25 9

Well, that offset the two pitches class, but the three pitches class is still on the low end. The only thing I can think of is the guys with three pitches have two outstanding pitches and simply added a pitch they use as a "show-me". Scott Kazmir's change, for instance, would fit into this category, although it has since developed into a nice pitch.  Guys like Ryan Franklin, who are without a quality pitch, can mix and match all day, but if their command or pitch quality is pitiful, they aren't going to be anymore successful despite winning the battle of game theory.

Yes, this applies to David Price. He has a good fastball/slider, leaving many to question whether he even needs a change-up. The nine pitchers with two offerings: Robinson Tejeda, Greg Maddux, Daniel Cabrera, Oliver Perez, Tim Wakefield, Tom Glavine, Aaron Harang, Bartolo Colon, Chuck James, and Andrew Miller. Tell me if you really want David Price grouped in a class with the 2006-2008 versions of those pitchers.

As a reliever, two pitches worked, as a starter it's not going to cut it. That's not saying a poor third pitch makes him better either, that's saying spending time and developing a decent pitch, an average pitch, is going to make Price better. Can he do that in the major leagues? Absolutely, especially for those willing to live through the growing pains, much like we did with Kazmir last season.

In the end, there's no way of knowing how far his change has come to this point. The Rays are the most qualified to say, and if they feel it's sub par then Price will start in Durham. Further, if the team feels an extra month of development for Price is going to help more over the next six years than his presence on the club would this year, then why wouldn't they pursue it?

Pitch quality is the lock and development is the key.

*All of this data is via Baseball info Solutions (aka from FanGraphs) and does not take grip or arm slot into factor. Meaning a circle change is classified the same as a vulcan change. There's probably a few times where a curve looks slurvey and is called a slider. These shouldn't happpen too often, but they do, so the data is unlikey 100% accurate, but it's pretty sound.

**This entire thing was written prior to Price's Sunday outing. His pitches looked far better than his previous outing, and the change-up usage is notable; including on 3-2 counts to Xavier Nady in consecutive at-bats. One resulted in a strikeout and the other in a flyout. Couldn't tell you the exact movement unfortunately.

***One last  thing, do note that I'm not even attempting to analyze the quality of the pitch for each pitcher. That would mean a case-by-case analysis of each pitcher's pitches. That's a bit excessive when all we're seeing is if there's any correlation between success and pitch quanity. There's not.