Ian Snell's Perceived Velocity

In the Mariner Central 10 Questions post that Lonnie is putting up this week, he asked us,

Q2 - Who is most likely to fail in 2010?

SSI Answer - David Aardsma we've talked about ... I like Shandler's argument that Saunders isn't ready yet.  Jack Wilson hasn't proven he can defend himself against AL pitching.  Ian Snell is at a crossroads and at no time in 2009 did he show what he needed to show, IMHO.


MtGrizzly pointed out this article by Baseball Daily Digest's David Golebiewski, which follows on this BP article and this one by Baseball Prospectus' Eric Seidman.

These articles find that although Snell's fastball registered 91.7 on the gun in 2009, Snell's "perceived speed" was actually more like 87.6 mph.

The reasons for this are many:

  1. Snell is short, takes a short stride, and throws the ball from a longer distance
  2. Snell throws the ball into the outside area of the plate that creates the slowest perceived velocity
  3. Snell throws the ball into the lower part of the plate that creates the slowest perceived velo
  4. Snell shows the ball early and has terrible deception (SSI remark)

In this August article, Seattle Sports Insider published the same opinion, that hitters were seeing his FB far too well, and that Snell's insistence on throwing so many low-away FB's was guaranteeing his failure.


It's nice to see sabermetricians come up with the sort of math that helps the saberdudes realize that batters, catchers and scouts know what they're talking about on the following points:

  1. It's much easier to get around on an away FB than on a jam pitch
  2. It's much harder to get around on a high FB
  3. A short-arm or deceptive delivery can add 2-5 mph to a pitch
  4. The classic (and most inherently effective) attack is hard inside, soft away
  5. etc

On these points, saberdudes are climbing over a mountaintop to see scout-yogis who have been sitting there since John McGraw.  :- )

On Brandon Morrow, for example, it has always been our argument that Morrow has an effective +3mph to whatever the radar gun is showing.  David Aardsma is the same.   George Sherrill.  Erik Bedard.  These pitchers are among those who throw harder than the gun shows.

Sabermetrics has now given its stamp of approval to "apparent velocity" and "deception."  The attribute of deception has been moved from the saber category of "baloney dump" to "scientifically-measured fact."  Bravo! 

Felix Hernandez doesn't get the same effective velo as the gun shows (though he's a great pitcher, of course).   Snell is the poster boy for easy-to-read FB's.  Mark Lowe, for whatever reason, doesn't have a lot of deception on his FB.

Probably we should post a list... like we say, batters and scouts know exactly which pitchers are a foot or two longer or shorter than the gun shows.   Maybe Taro can post a list of which ML pitchers have good FB run values despite low velocities.  :- )


=== Dr's Diagnosis Dept. ===

Snell's woeful results the last two years have not been accidental.  It's not poor performance, not a slump, nothing like that.  His lousy results simply reflect the fact that his FB is very easy to hit.

Snell must change the eye levels with his FB to have any chance at all -- but be aware that his clocked 92 mph fastball will always be more like an 89 fastball.  This is due to his height and lack of deception.

The M's have a lot of pitchers on the "buy" list.  Right now, Ian isn't on it.  Write up your 2010 rotations using other pitchers.


=== Good News Dept. ===

If he learns to moving the FB around the zone -- use the jam pitch, hit the letters, learn to nibble, etc -- and features his excellent slider -- and sharpens his change, Snell could eventually develop into an innings eater, probably in the National League. 

That's what innings eaters do.  They learn to pitch despite the fact that they can't throw their fastballs by anyone.  The innings eater is not an extinct animal.

#3-4 starter is his upside, but that's quite a ways away.


Ian Snell is young, rich, healthy, and in the major leagues.  :- )  He's got some work to do before his next 12-win season.  A lot of folks would trade places with him.


=== Second Opinion Dept. ===

Don't miss Taro's assessment. IMHO he just does a super job, pitcher after pitcher, of finding the key points of discussion.  Nice (for me) to see that he and I are on the same page on Snell.

My $0.02,

Dr D



For whatever reason, it hadn't really occurred to me before this...
Scouts have a bias against short pitchers, usually arguing that such pitchers are more likely to get hurt.  But it occurs to us that short pitchers are releasing the ball from a foot or two farther away, and this unstated, subconscious argument may have helped to cause this bias.
As y'know, Tim Lincecum, with his Ichiro-like body control, takes a huge leap forward off the mound and messes up the distance that batters are conditioned to expect from a pitcher of his height. 
It would be interesting to know which pitchers threw the ball from "closer" than their body type would indicate.  Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan always benefitted from this.


The problem with drawing conclusions on Snell based on what you're looking at TODAY is that it leaves out all of the information from 2-4 years ago.
The entire reason I was high on Snell a few years back was because he had *EXCEPTIONAL* control.  Not just plus control - but mind-bending NOBODY throws like this control.  His first minor walk lines were: 1.6 and 1.4 BB/9.  At age 22 and 23 in the minors, his final two BB/9 numbers in AA and AAA were: 2.4 and 1.8.  That 1.8 came in AAA. 
Prior to those final two seasons, his HR rates were below point five.  Those last two years, right at the MLB-serviceable 1.0 level.
In 2007, his BB rate was 2.9 in the majors.  And his HR rate in the majors is 1.1 overall, (with a poor start 1.4 as a rookie). 
ONCE UPON A TIME, Snell had world-class control.  He lost it.  What happened between '07 and '08 to cause his walk rate to nearly double - I have no clue.  But, I don't believe for a minute that he was running sub 2 walk rates in the minors without the ABILITY to throw a strike whenever he wanted. 
No idea if the Pirates altered his mechanics to cause the problem, or just messed up his head.  The real tell would be seeing if he had the same "bad" mechanics back in '07 when he posted a sub-3 walk rate in the majors.  I mean - it makes ZERO sense.  The weakness of minor league hitters is NOT hitting Fastballs.  Am I supposed to believe he was throwing 80% off-speed stuff in the minors with no walks, and the Pirates changed him to 80% FBs when he got up?!?  I don't believe it for a second.
Either he got hurt - and changed his mechanics --- or, the Pirates messed up his head, (which I believe is the more likely reality), and taught him a BUNCH of bad habits.  While his aggregate numbers for Seattle were weak -- "somehow" he still managed to 5-2 record and 4.20 ERA.  Yes, he walked way too many, and didn't fan enough.  But, if anyone could figure out why he used to could walk under 3 a game, and now he can't?  If you solve that one, then you likely have a decent #3 starter. 
The question I would ask -- which is harder, teaching control to someone who has never shown it -- or helping someone who once had exceptional control and lost it, to find it again?

CA's picture

One thing of note a cautionary point in lending too much credence to some local opinion is that apparently the more complex stats don't reach back a long ways.  So long as one can come to the conclusion that Bobby Ayala for example was a product of poor defense and worse luck they need to work on their game, as it were.  
I think that the answer to a guy like Snell will ultimately be mechanical and even if the radar gun doesn't confirm it, his overall results will.  


While I would agree that, pitching as he has the last year or two, Snelll lacks upside, I think it's critically bizarre and shor-sighted to peg a guy who HAS ALREADY PITCHED LIKE a #2/#3a pitcher in the big leagues and is still young as being, at most a #3b/4a innings eater.
Once you show a skill consistently, you own it.


One of the tools in my own fantasy tookit was the realization early on that it was MUCH better odds betting on players who had ALREADY shown ability to regain it (after a down year or two), then to expect to make the correct bet on the one prospect (out of the 30 getting buzz) that might have a decent season.
Broken guys aren't "always" fixed -- but they get fixed a WHOLE lot more regularly than hot prospects pan out immediatley.

Taro's picture

Its likely that the landing leg flaw is something more recent for Snell. Its not possible to run a 2 BB/9 without your landing leg facing home plate.
His fastball will still be a little below-average due to the stride, but I agree with Doc that he has upside as a solid #3-4 starter if he fixes that flaw in addition to changing up his pitching patterns.

Taro's picture

In the NL.
That is one of my biggest issues with Snell. Even in his prime in 2006 and 2007, he was 4-4.20 true ERA pitcher in the NL (with terrible LH splits) which translates to something in the mid to late 4s in the AL.
Hes never had an FIP below 4, his only career tRA below 5 was in '07, and his lowest xFIP was in 2006 at 3.99.
If he gets back to that level, hes more innings eater than impact arm.
Theres nothing wrong that. If he can become a solid MOR/BOR type, that trade would have been a success. He got some things to fix before he gets there though.


Reading the article and looking at pitch/fx...
I just think that Snell was squeezed by the UMP.
Look how many B (green) are in zone and how many S (red) are OOZ.
May be MLB UMPs does not like short pitchers just like the scouts.

Anonymous's picture

It's remarkable how often the low strike was taken away from Snell.  When he threw into the bottom 3-4 inches of the zone, the poor guy only had a 50/50 shot of getting a strike called!! 
Considering that his scatter plot looks like he was intentionaly looking to pound the knees, I have to think that really hurt him. 


The locked front knee, caused by the angled toe, doesn't help him, but he still pounds the low-away corner with precision.   He's got REAL good command.
Some guys get booked.  Dave Fleming had a great first year.   Any number of guys had a good year or two and then faded to black.
Snell has lost a foot or two off the FB since 2009, and like the article says, his FB is obviously very easy to see in the first place.  They look for one spot in the zone, low, and they're ready for it.
If Snell were to move the ball around the zone, he could become Aaron Sele, but right now the M's are preaching the opposite to him.
Am I on my own on this one, or Taro and me anyway?   Cause I'll be only too happy to drum you guys with this all year.  :- )

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