All Gaus, No Brakes | FanGraphs Baseball

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports activities

Right here’s an plain reality: Your efficiency issues most within the greatest spots. It sounds foolish to write down that, the truth is. It’s so clearly true. I’m not simply speaking about skilled sports activities, and even simply sports activities. Nobody cares in the event you nailed your violin solo in your basement whenever you had been practising it Tuesday night; they care whether or not you fumbled the chord development in Thursday’s large recital.

That self-evident reality has led to many years of squabbling over baseball performances. It’s incontrovertibly true – and but evidently gamers don’t have a whole lot of management over after they have their greatest performances. If you wish to begin an annoying dialogue together with your uncle (not my uncle, hello Roy, however your generic back-in-my-day uncle), simply discuss RBIs or pitcher wins and say one thing about clutch. You gained’t thank me, as a result of simply imagining that dialogue is giving me anxiousness, however you’ll actually show my level.

What if we may discover a place the place gamers can management their greatest efficiency, although? There’s one place in baseball that follows an orderly development of leverage: the depend. The primary pitch of an at-bat simply issues much less, on common, than one thrown with two strikes. That’s true no matter who’s at bat, no matter who’s pitching, and whatever the sport state of affairs.

What’s extra, there’s a straightforward method that pitchers can change their efficiency, and it’s largely of their management. They don’t throw each single pitch the very same; that might be flatly inconceivable. A few of the variation in pitch form is inevitable, attributable to minute variations and grip or infinitesimally totally different launch factors. However velocity? Pitchers can largely management that.

Throwing more durable in two-strike counts is an apparent answer to the two-strike state of affairs. Batters usually tend to swing, so getting the ball by them is extra vital. And since they’re extra prone to swing, even when extra velocity comes on the expense of command, a pitch that misses the zone by a bit has a greater probability of understanding for the pitcher anyway. All of it stacks collectively to favor muscling up for two-strike counts specifically, and pitchers have responded accordingly. Out of 170 pitchers who threw both a sinker or four-seamer at the least 150 occasions in two-strike counts final season, 169 elevated their velocity relative to how briskly they threw the pitch in all different counts. The lone holdout was Marcus Stroman, whose velo declined by a measly 0.1 mph.

The king of this method? Kevin Gausman, who added a whopping 1.7 mph when the depend struck two strikes. He averaged 95.9 mph in these conditions and 94.2 in all others. It paid off handsomely for him. Gausman’s fastball was completely deadly in two-strike counts. His swinging strike fee elevated from 8.7% to 13.8%, and all instructed he turned the pitch right into a strikeout 24.6% of the time, the third-best mark in baseball for a four-seamer. Even when hitters put the ball in play, he restricted them to below-average marks for wOBA, xwOBA, barrel fee, no matter statistic you’d desire.

All instructed, per Baseball Savant, Gausman’s two-strike fastballs generated 16.1 runs price of worth relative to a mean pitcher. That was the very best mark in baseball, each general and on a per-pitch foundation. Questioning why Gausman put opposing hitters away in two-strike counts on the sixth-best fee within the majors and allowed the bottom wOBA and xwOBA in these conditions general? It’s as a result of he dialed up his fastball and dominated. It wasn’t a matter of location, both, as a result of probably the most frequent place he put the ball was proper down the pipe:

It seems like there’s a lesson to be realized right here: Throw more durable whenever you get forward and prosper. That jogged my memory of a superb Stephen Brown article from this offseason that regarded into whether or not pitchers who lose a little bit of velocity on a selected pitch do worse. The conclusion of that article was that the majority of that impact was tied up within the depend; pitchers merely pitched in another way, velocity-wise, relying on depend.

So ought to everybody simply be like Gausman and dial up a monstrous heater each time they’ve an opportunity for a strikeout? They form of already do; on common, pitchers enhance fastball velocity in two-strike counts by roughly 0.7 mph. And but, oddly, none of it appears to matter, at the least to the very best of our capacity to measure outcomes.

A fast refresher on run worth is so as right here, however in the event you already know the gist of it, you may skip this part. We and Baseball Savant each calculate run worth with a delta methodology. We take a look at the anticipated results of a plate look earlier than a pitch after which once more after that very same pitch. The distinction is the run worth of that specific pitch.

A straightforward mind-set about it: After reaching a 1-2 depend, hitters produced a .227 wOBA in 2023. After reaching a 2-2 depend, they improved to a .275 wOBA. Throwing a ball in a 1-2 depend, then, prices pitchers an anticipated 48 factors of wOBA, or 0.04 runs. However, getting a strikeout reduces the batter’s wOBA to a flat zero, after all, an enchancment of 227 factors of wOBA or 0.19 runs. Balls in play match into this mannequin fairly effectively, as a result of we all know the wOBA values of every ball-in-play end result. Through the use of this methodology, you may assign a price to each single pitch thrown within the majors. There are minor variations between our two strategies – Savant accounts for base/out state in theirs, whereas we hold ours impartial – however the idea may be very comparable.

Right here’s the bizarre a part of all of this: Regardless of being thrown more durable, two-strike fastballs aren’t producing higher outcomes relative to expectation. Main league pitchers threw 67,793 two-strike four-seamers in 2023 and misplaced 78.4 runs relative to expectation, a fee of -0.115 runs per 100 pitches. They threw 163,134 four-seamers in each different depend, and misplaced 159.9 runs relative to expectation, a fee of -0.098 runs per 100 pitches. These numbers are mainly the identical.

You would possibly suppose that’s definitive, however there’s a confounding variable right here that’s maddeningly powerful to disentangle. How will we determine common hitter efficiency after two-strike counts? By including up what occurred on all of the pitches they confronted. But when these pitches are simply higher by way of uncooked stuff, common outcomes will find yourself worse, naturally sufficient. And so evaluating the inhabitants throughout counts doesn’t actually work.

If that sounds unintuitive, contemplate an excessive instance that can hopefully clear issues up somewhat bit. Let’s say that each pitcher, for causes unknown, has entry to a secret final pitch that will get hitters out 100% of the time, however that they will solely throw it on one depend, and even then solely 50% of the time. Let’s say these pitchers all select 2-2 counts. Now 2-2 counts are going to be extraordinarily unhealthy for hitters. For those who threw a superbly common fastball in an 0-0 depend, it will present up as completely common. For those who threw it in a 2-2 depend, the place half of the pitches are secret final pitches, your fastball will do far worse than the common 2-2 pitch. It’s all a matter of comparisons.

OK, so we will’t evaluate these two-strike fastballs to different counts relating to pitch values. Actually, I don’t suppose we will evaluate them based mostly on seemingly absolute end result measurements like swinging strike fee or whiff share. That’s as a result of hitters additionally change their conduct in two-strike counts. Wanting utilizing a stuff mannequin, we’re simply going to have to check inside two-strike counts to see what works and what doesn’t, as a result of every thing else goes to be extraordinarily confused by choice bias.

With that stated, right here’s what I’d anticipate: The pitchers who, like Gausman, blaze their hardest fastballs in two-strike counts ought to do greatest. He added probably the most velocity and acquired the very best outcomes in two-strike counts. The pitcher who added the least velocity on four-seamers (I excluded sinkers for this a part of the evaluation for a extra easy comparability) was Jordan Lyles, and he was downright terrible in 2023. He was significantly terrible in two-strike counts, the truth is; solely Lance Lynn was worse. The narrative writes itself.

There’s only one downside: The info doesn’t match these two outliers. Certain, Gausman and Lyles are polar opposites with fully totally different outcomes. The remainder of the pitchers don’t actually comply with that sample, although. The connection between velocity enhance for two-strike fastballs and run worth for these fastballs is nonexistent:

And even in the event you’re taking a look at relative worth, how significantly better these fastballs carry out in two-strike counts relative to how they carry out general, there’s nothing to see:

OK, effective, perhaps we’re not choosing one thing up by trying on the broad inhabitants of pitchers. However certainly one thing that Gausman is particularly doing will stick out. He has this secret sauce for throwing more durable and getting higher outcomes with two strikes, clearly. Or, effectively, perhaps not so clearly. In 2022, 98 pitchers threw at the least 200 two-strike four-seamers. Gausman’s outcomes had been the Ninety fifth-best. He was as unhealthy in 2022, one other dominant season, as he was good in 2023. Actually, he’s thrown more durable with two strikes his complete profession, however the outcomes are in every single place:

Two-Strike Outcomes

Yr 2-Stk Velo Different Velo Hole 2-Stk RV/100 Different RV/100 Hole
2015 96.9 95.5 1.4 2.0 -0.7 2.7
2016 96.6 94.9 1.7 -0.2 1.0 -1.2
2017 96.2 94.5 1.7 -1.4 0.6 -2.0
2018 95.1 93.1 2.0 0.8 -0.7 1.5
2019 95.2 93.5 1.7 -2.0 -1.0 -1.0
2020 96.3 94.6 1.7 1.0 0.6 0.4
2021 95.7 94.2 1.5 -1.5 1.4 -2.9
2022 96.0 94.6 1.4 -2.5 1.1 -3.6
2023 95.9 94.2 1.7 3.6 0.0 3.6

All four-seam fastballs thrown in two-strike counts by Kevin Gausman, bucketed by 12 months

What does this all imply? I’m actually puzzled. I believed that Alex Chamberlain’s piece on command would possibly maintain the reply – Gausman was significantly good at finding the ball on the fringes of the plate in pitches that ended plate appearances in 2023. I shot off the bed this morning once I acquired to that a part of his article and ran to my pc to complete this piece. However alas, even when I break his two-strike fastball outcomes out by zone, 2022 and 2023 look radically totally different:

Outcomes by Zone, 2022-2023

Zone 2022 RV/100 2023 RV/100
Coronary heart -4.3 5.3
Shadow-In -1.2 8.7
Shadow-Out -1.3 1.1
Chase -0.9 -4.1
Waste -4.9 -5.4

All four-seam fastballs thrown in two-strike counts by Kevin Gausman, bucketed by location

Even when he positioned in the very best location you may think about – the shadow-in zone, the place referred to as and swinging strikes are each frequent outcomes – he acquired below-average ends in 2022. Then he acquired best-in-league ends in 2023 with basically the identical pitches. He wasn’t benefiting from throwing his fastball much less typically in two-strike counts and ambushing hitters – its utilization climbed from 37.3% to 44.6%.

On the finish of the day, I believe the takeaway right here is that pitchers ought to do no matter helps them execute greatest. There seems to be little inherent worth in including a bit of additional velocity with two strikes, however I can’t even say that with confidence. It’s undoubtedly the case that larger velocity gaps aren’t related to higher outcomes, although. I used Gausman and Lyles as my examples in explaining this impact, however I may simply as simply have used Kirby Yates (0.2 mph velocity enhance, 6.4 RV/100 enchancment in fastball outcomes) and Shane McClanahan (1.4 mph velocity enhance, 2.4 RV/100 decline in fastball outcomes) and tried to persuade you of the other.

One of the best ways to pitch stays frustratingly onerous to pin down. Certain, it’s true that every one else equal, sooner pitches are higher. However it’s fairly clear that not all else is equal on this state of affairs. You possibly can succeed like Gausman or like Yates. You possibly can fail like Lyles or (comparatively talking) like McClanahan. There’s little doubt in my thoughts that pitchers ought to throw their greatest pitches in two-strike counts. Nevertheless, measuring who does that, and the way a lot it helps them, stays impossibly tough.

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