Brian Bannister’s new approachby Harry Pavlidis
July 28, 2009
Brian Bannister, a right-handed starter for the Kansas City Royals, revealed the key to his recent success: PITCHf/x. Bannister has studied the data, after a demotion to Triple-A, and found out he already had the tools to succeed, if he put them together the right way. In a recent interview with a Kansas City sports radio station (810 WHB), Bannister spent nearly 10 minutes talking about PITCHf/x and how he uses it.
You can listen to or download the interview in a new window. One comment at Tom Tango's blog included a brief transcription of a key piece of the interview:
I know how the numbers work. I know how OBP works. I know all the numbers that will never be printed in the newspaper. They're slowly working their way on to major league scoreboards. But, how the game really works, it's not what you see out there, and it’s not about short term emotions in games. It's numbers behind numbers… it's how the game works.
I've sold out to those numbers, and I've finally found a way, and by throwing that cutter 60 times a game to get the hitters to consistently hit the top half of the ball, and its the difference between being a 5.70 ERA guy and a 3.70 ERA guy.
Here are some of my takeaways from the podcasted interview:
- Stopped relying on a rising four-seam fastball since the side effect of trying for more strike outs was a high flyball rate
- Went to a cutter that that moves like a Derek Lowe fastball in terms of rise and gets more grounders
- Throws a power change than sinks like Brandon Webb's fastball; grip is from James Shields
- Was discouraged from featuring a cutter due to the lack of righties who rely on cutters in big league rotations
- Figured his cutter was fast enough, just a "couple" mph less than his fastball
- No longer watches video or reads scouting reports; believes in the law of averages (a good sinker will be hit on the ground by anyone)
- Knows an ERA+ around 100 and 180 innings a year equals a pitcher with value to big league teams
By studying the "numbers behind the numbers," Bannister has discovered a technique that should make him a solid starter for years to come. Naturally, I want to look at the numbers myself and see what he's doing with my own eyes.
First step was to classify Bannister's pitches. I stuck with 2009, although I can go back to 2007 and 2008. And, well, I did. I won't go into detail, but Bannister did indeed throw lots of four-seam fastballs, and even two-seam sinkers. His slider has been shelved (I found four in one start in May, that's all).
What I found for 2009 was pretty much what I expected. A four-seam fastball (F4), a change-up (CH) that is not much "change" in terms of velocity, the cutter (FC), a curveball (CU) and the aforementioned slider (SL).
|Type||#||vs LHH||vs RHH||MPH||PFX_X||PFX_Z||DEG||RPM|
Here's what that all looks like in a spin movement chart. From the catcher's view, measured in inches, it shows the movement of the pitch caused by spin. The vertical component is a reflection of the back- or top-spin on the pitch. A zero on either axis (pfx_x, pfx_z) would be the same as a pitch only affected by gravity.
Click to enlarge.
Key: Blue (CH) Yellow (F4) Green (FC) Coral (CU) Black (SL)
These flight paths may be more intuitive, you know, if you're not a PITCHf/x nerd like Bannister.
Reading the tea leaves, I like Bannister's release points. He seems to come more over the top with the fastball and curveball, thereby maximizing the back- and top-spin effect he's going for. That rising fastball and sinking curveball may not be his favorite pitches, but he may be eking out every last bit he can from them.
Checking Bannister's work
Well, Mr. Bannister, you are doing what you said you are doing.
Indeed, the man is throwing tons of cutters.
Bannister described the power change as an extreme ground ball pitch, his cutter as a mediocre ground ball pitch, and his fastball as an extreme fly ball pitch.
Check, check and check.
How do the pitches measure up against Bannister's own benchmarks. He compared his change-up to Webb's sinker, and his cutter (in some regards) to Lowe's.
|Webb sinker||Lowe sinker||Banny's power change||Banny's cutter|
The numbers speak for themselves. While he's not an elite, front of the rotation (when healthy) starter, Bannister has wisely applied things he's learned from guys who are elite. It was mentioned in Tom Tango's thread that Bannister would make a great broadcaster or pitching coach. I agree, but I get the feeling we're going to being waiting several years before he's ready for his next career.
References and Resources
Thanks to "Nick" for the transcription.
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM's Gameday
Pitch classifications by the author
Harry Pavlidis admits he has a baseball problem. He is the founder of Pitch Info LLC, His pitch classifications power the player cards at Brooksbaseball.net. Feedback, questions and comments are appreciated - Email email@example.com and Twitter @harrypav