Physics Corner - Who Throws Heavy Fastballs?
Um, speaking


If you crack open a can of Pitcher Leaderboards, groundball sorted, you find that few of the frontrunners miss bats while hitting the bottoms of the bats also.

There's a simple reason.  Major League hitters miss fastballs underneath - almost always.  Of the next 20 fastballs you see a hitter swing through, either 19 or 20 of them will pass over the top side of the bat.  Taijuan is a natural -- he likes to pitch up, he's got the heat to make it work, and he's going to fan a boatload of hitters.

?!  How, though, do you DELIBERATELY make a pitch go OVER the bat sometimes, and UNDER it sometimes - as you choose?  You could do it by throwing grounders with your fastball, and inducing whiffs with your offspeed stuff.  Cole Hamels does this with his changeup, and for a while there he was producing 50% grounders with his sinker.

Or, you can throw your fastball up, and throw a curve that is impossible to get under.  You'll recall one Erikkkkk Bedard this way.  But you'll also recall that neither Hamels nor Bedard were average pitchers.


I never knew exactly why Freddy Garcia's, and Felix Hernandez', fastballs were always described as "heavy."  Did you?  David Kagan does a great job, at Hardball Times, of filling us in.  He uses Roy Halladay's legendary heavy fastball as a launching pad.

  • The "Magnus Force" of a normal fastball is about +170 pounds, UP into the air.
  • The "Magnus Force" of a good sinker does not have this "lift" to it, so "feels" like it's pulling about 150-200 lbs. down
  • Of course, sinking fastballs with late bite, hit the bat lower.
  • Most ominously, sinking fastballs provide (1) Magnum Force and (2) Friction, sideways, along the bat, usually onto the handle.

One of the readers chimes in that catching his son's fastball "feels like catching a shot put."  It's a sweeeet visual, a fastball "torquing" down the handle with a +170 lbs weight attached to it.  HEH.


Anyway:  when Felix throws his fastball, he throws it low, and he is "pitching to contact."  He is either consciously, or subconsciously, conditioned to enjoy the result when a pesky rodent Angel "blonks" a fastball on two hops to Kyle Seager.

It is with his other pitches that he induces strikeouts.


Of the top 30 groundball starters in the major leagues, eight of them are also scary with the punchout:

  • Felix Hernandez
  • Stephen Strasburg
  • Adam Wainwright
  • Jeff Samardzija
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • A.J. Burnett
  • Justin Masterson
  • Matt Harvey

As a group, these pitchers fall decidedly outside the meatball category.  A couple of notes:


1) Jeff Samardzija is, and has been, SSI's Target for Termination outside the Tanaka scenario.  To me, he is worth MUCH more than Garza, Ubaldo, or certainly that Santana schlub.  You'd have to give up a big trade package for him, but that package wouldn't have to include Taijuan.  For the package you'd like to pay for Price, you could pay for Samardzija.  

Or not.


2) A.J. Burnett is supposed to be retiring.  Does anybody have any clue WHY?


3) You know what to do with all this groundball/strikeout propaganda.  I don't even need 256,000 sigs on a petition, dig?  Just LET HIM PITCH.

All y'all lurker boys are thinkin' that he just had four good games.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  We're talking bread and butter weapons here, you feel me?

Make it so,

Dr D


Hold it.  Is that Hultzen or Paxton in the photo?  :- )  It was tagged Paxton, but he's kind of gone Unabomber with the cap brim, so maybe not.  Now it starts to look more like he's flagging a cab to the med center.





Neat article... Well worth the read.
It will be nice to have a couple heavy ballers in the rotation... and if we can get the Cubs to bite on Maurer / Erasmo, Morban, Khivlen and Pike or there abouts for the ole' golden domer....


Have almost threaded recently about the benefits of trading for Samardzija or Homer Bailey (Hey, my wife is an "It's a Wonderful Life Fan").
Both can be had....and we keep our Dynamic Duo.


As a trading partner, the Cubs can take a trade of more guys of lesser prospect visibility (but similar talent) simply because they aren't as close to contending. Some of our younger 'spects like Maurer or Pike or Marlette may be worth more to them because they do have to wait on Almora, Baez, Soler, Vogelbach, and the rest of their stocked farm, so they can allow them to develop. On the other hand, they have top-flight prospect(s) in just about every place on the diamond.
I suspect that out of the Maurer, Pike, Diaz, Sanchez, Gohara, CSmith, Kohlscheen, Hunter, Leone, Colvin group of young arms there would be three or so of interest. Of the position guys, maybe Lopes or Marte would be of interest, but they're so stocked in the IF (and OF), I'd think the arms are more attractive. They need catching talent, but the Ms are thin there as well, but they'd probably ask for Marlette.
But we could match up pretty well without including Walker, Paxton, Zunino, or Miller, for sure. And Epstein has enough rep he doesn't have to get a "top-ranked" prospect as long has he gets the talent he wants. (EDIT: Note that Marlette is the #10 ranked Catcher on !) If it were sure that Hicks was hobbled by injury last year and was going to come storming back, then I'd offer up Marlette, Pike, Sanchez, and Kohlscheen for Samardzija and laugh all the way to the ALDS. Or make that trade and then send Maurer or Erasmo to NY for J.R. Murphy.


Doesn't look like the Cubs fanbase is in the same mood the Rays' would be in.  Where they need prospects returned whose names are familiar to the casual fans.
Samardzija is making noises about "I won't sign with my new team" because he's comfortable in Chicago.  But I'll bet he could get re-acclimated quickly.
Samardzija's BPV is 112 and 100 the last two years, comparable to Verlander and Greinke.  He's camouflaged some by Wrigley - the move from there to Safeco wouldn't hurt 'im none.

muddyfrogwater's picture

I recall Dave Niehaus describing Felix and his fastball, combined with his splitter, as being a heavy pitching combo late in the 2008 season. It may have been early 2009, not sure but it was a year or two before Niehaus passed. He described those two pitches as a bowling ball. Felix was getting a lot of slow rollers and hoppers to the infield. It was the turning point in his career. Felix was mixing his change up, a well located fastball, and his splitter. Hitters couldn't tell the difference between those three pitches. Subsequently, Felix turned into a Cy pitcher.
That was the turning point for Hernandez. Go to fangraphs and look at his ground ball rates.
Bet you you didn't know that Felices is the plural of Felix. Unfortunately we on get one of 'em.

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