The Best Stuff On Earth

I’ve been looking at a pitcher’s “stuff” using pitchf/x data recently, and here’s how I would rank the top five starters of 2009 by stuff:

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Brett Anderson
3. A.J. Burnett
4. Felix Hernandez
5. Zack Greinke

Kershaw might be a step above the field.


1. Matt Thornton
2. Jonathan Broxton
3. Kevin Jepsen
4. Brian Wilson
5. Mariano Rivera

Small Samples

1. Henry Rodriguez
2. Daniel Bard
3. Juan Morillo
4. Joel Zumaya
5. Daniel Schlereth

Rodriguez in 75 pitches threw 90% fastballs averaging 99 MPH.

Now, if you’ll allow me, I have a couple of questions for you, the reader.

First, do you think that a left-handed pitcher who throws 94 has better stuff than a right-handed pitcher who throws 94?

Also, some pitches are devastating against same-handed batters, but useless against opposite-handed batters. Should the sweeping slider be labeled a *nasty* pitch against same-handed batters and a mediocre pitch against opposite-handed batters? Or should it be regarded as a decent pitch on average, since it has the same characteristics no matter against whom it’s thrown.

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  1. Patrick said...

    Cool article.

    A thought on your question – I think if you’re going to break it down by batter handedness, then absolutely you should split those pitches in to two.  This is a case where an average can be quite misleading and if you have the option to give more information, you should take it, I think.

  2. Jeremy Greenhouse said...

    So you think a pitch with the same physical characteristics can be labelled as having great stuff or bad stuff depending on the handedness of the batter?

  3. Adam said...

    Although maybe some metric could be developed to give a bonus to the “stuff” rating if a pitch were equally as good to righties and lefties.  Or a combined metric would work, and would give credit for a slider that’s “nasty” to same handed-batters and at least average to different-handed batters.

  4. Nick Steiner said...

    I would put Chris Carpneter up there.  But that’s just me.  I think the work you doing is fantastic Jeremy, and I hope you are able to gain some more headway.

  5. lieiam said...

    i agree with the previous post by john regarding “stuff”. “stuff” to me is about the speed and movement of pitches. i think the question of handedness comes into play when “effectiveness” is being discussed.
    so that’s my two cents….

  6. Jeremy Greenhouse said...

    Thanks for the comments. But I really would appreciate any and all opinions on what you think determines a pitcher’s stuff. Should it depend on pitcher/batter handedness?

  7. Jeremy Greenhouse said...

    John, I disagree about League. I think a lot of relievers have better stuff than he does.

    Mo is really tough. Intuitively, I wouldn’t put him there, but my rankings keep throwing him up high on my list. I think this is because the only pitchers who have similar stuff to him is him from a couple years ago, so the results are biased.

  8. Jeremy Greenhouse said...

    Lieiam, thanks for the comment. That’s how I’ve been thinking about stuff too, but I want to see if others are on the same page.

  9. John said...

    “stuff” should be solely based on the speed/movement of a pitchers pitches.  Stuff is usually a measure of a pitcher’s natural talent, because it’s something they can’t learn, and it should stay that way; Greg Maddux never had “good stuff.”  On that basis, Mariano Rivera should not be there.  While his cutter is always impressive, it’s more the impeccable command it possesses than “filthy” movement that gives it that success.

    A major omission in the top 5 relievers honestly has to be Brandon League.  His 95-98 MPH sinker is almost unique to baseball in combined movement and velocity (*cough* Mike Macdougal and dark matter *cough*), and that splitter is almost unhittable.  Fangraphs recently reviewed 2009’s “filthiest” pitches, and League’s splitter whiffed a bat 35% of the time it was thrown, the best.  That’s ANY TIME it was thrown, not just when hitters offered at it.

    For some reason, depending on where it is thrown, the pitch moves differently.  Inside to left handers, it has 5 inches of negative VERTICAL movement, and is basically a 85 MPH curveball, while inside to right handers it acts like a traditional changeup, which still sinks faster than gravity would allow alone.  This is a marvel of a pitch, nothing comes close to it’s combined speed and movement.

    Spheel over, but yeah.

  10. MJ said...

    Happy to see Matt Thornton mentioned. Outside of White Sox fans he is so “overlooked”.  I guess that’s good for him as he can catch the opposition “looking” so to speak. And the nice thing for CWS fans is he gets better ever year!

  11. John said...

    I’m curious as to who you would rank ahead of League. High 90’s fastballs (which reached triple digits in 2008) that tail almost a foot with hardly any rise are not a dime a dozen; straight high 90’s risers on the other hand, are.  And I still can’t find a single changeup/splitter thrown by anyone else that has negative vertical movement.

  12. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Where does Lincecum fall in the rankings?  I’m surprised he isn’t at or near the top.  I have heard that he has “stuff”.

  13. archilochusColubris said...

    If you’re talking about overall stuff, it might be best to average grades of comprehensive stuff measures against each hand, maybe weighting stuff against RH hitters higher to account for the higher probability of facing them. Let me give an example because that was most probably incoherent:

    A LHP may have a mediocre slider to use against lefties, and an excellent change-up that he uses against righties, neither of which he uses whatsoever against other hitters. Accounting for the propensity of throwing these pitches to each hitter, you could calculate metrics of stuff against each handed batter using specific qualities of the effectiveness of pitches against each kind of batter (and presumably, in this case, the mediocre slider would grade out higher than the excellent change-up against lefties—unlike say Johan Santana’s—to account for why the pitcher only throws the mediocre slider against the lefties). Then these 2 scores could be averaged, giving heavier weight to the score against right-handed hitters (or for LHP (and RHP) specialists, you could see who has the best stuff against lefties, and against righties).

    Hope that clarified that a bit… i’ve long wanted to do this myself and thought this would be the best way of aggregating things.

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