FanPost

Javier Vazquez and John Smoltz Pitch F/X

So I was glancing at some Pitch F/X a bit ago (I love that stuff) and stumbled upon the fact that John Smoltz and Javier Vazquez throw the same 4 pitches.  Obviously Vazquez isn't as good as Smoltz, but let's take a look at what each pitcher throws.  I'll be comparing Vazquez in 2008 to Smoltz in 2007.  I'll do one for Jurrjens eventually.

            Pretty similar, eh?  Both of them lose a little vertical movement, but have extra horizontal movement to make up.  The league average fastballs number includes relievers, I believe, so it's slightly inflated for comparing to starters.  Both have good fastballs, but Smoltz has the slight edge in velocity and movement.  Smoltz throws less fastballs and we'll see why in a bit.

 

Curveballs

 

Pitcher

Horizontal (in.)

Vertical (in.)

Speed (MPH)

% Thrown

Vazquez

7.91

-3.18

75.04

16.95

Smoltz

3.3

-2.46

78.86

7.09

League Avg

4.7

-4.4

77.3

 

            The league average curveball is an 11 to 5 curveball.  Smoltz looks like an 11 to 5 that doesn't have as much movement, but at least it has some speed.  Vazquez throws a 10 to 4 curveball, which is basically in between an 11 to 5 and a slurve.  Because pitchers pitch off their fastballs, let's see how their curveballs compare to their fastballs.

Pitcher

Horizontal (in.)

Vertical (in.)

Speed (MPH)

Vazquez

-15.03

-12.24

-18.11

Smoltz

-10.49

-11.6

-14.63

League Avg

-9.2

-11.7

-11.7

            This is the difference between the curveball and fastball's movement.  Note that the league average data only compares curveballs to fastballs that are thrown by pitchers with curveballs, so you won't see someone like Papelbon changing the data.   Smoltz's curve looks a little above average now.  Vazquez has a lot of horizontal on his curve, and only a little extra vertical.  Typically, curveballs with more vertical movement are better, except for hard 80 MPH curveballs that move 10 to 4 (Like K-Rod). Also, the speed difference on Vazquez's curve might be too much, making the pitch easier for batters to lay off on.  It's probably still an above average pitch, but not great.  Smoltz basically throws the curve as a show me pitch, but Vazquez relies on it more.  I'll talk about their pitching styles more later.

Sliders

 

Pitcher

Horizontal (in.)

Vertical (in.)

Speed (MPH)

% Thrown

Vazquez

1.79

3.23

85.47

21.65

Smoltz

-0.4

4.25

88.03

37.38

League Avg

2.3

2.5

83.3

 

            Smoltz basically lives off his fastball and slider.  If Smoltz still throws a splitter, then the data is mixed in the slider data.  Either that or those other sliders are sliders that didn't break, which could be the case.  The slider is also Vazquez's favorite off-speed pitch, but he doesn't throw it as much as Smoltz.  To get a good feel for how good their sliders really are, let's compare it to the fastball.

Pitcher

Horizontal (in.)

Vertical (in.)

Speed (MPH)

Vazquez

-8.91

-5.83

-7.68

Smoltz

-6.79

-4.89

-5.46

League Avg

-6.4

-6.7

-7.9

            The most important thing here is the horizontal movement and the speed difference.  More horizontal is good and a lower speed difference is good.  Smoltz likes to pitch away so he'll throw sliders or fastballs away and away and away.  On strikeout counts, he throws his fastball a little over half the time (even on 3-2) and his fastball 28 to 32% of the time.  With the slider, he's aiming off the plate and with the spin he puts on the ball, it's going to fall off the table out of the strike zone.  But if Smoltz throws the fastball in the same spot, it tails back into the strikezone.  The small speed difference gives the batter little time to react, so the poor schmuck either gets a backdoor fastball into the strikezone, or swings at a pitch impossible to hit.  I'm sure we've all seen that happen many times.

            Vazquez's slider is slower, but has more movement.  It's initially better than I thought, but I'd give Smoltz the advantage from having a faster slider and a tighter speed difference.  Vazquez has a plus slider though, but Smoltz is certainly a plus plus pitch.

Changeups

Pitcher

Horizontal (in.)

Vertical (in.)

Speed (MPH)

% Thrown

Vazquez

-7.39

6.44

82.2

12.05

Smoltz

-8.98

5.96

85.05

9.44

League Avg

-6.5

5.8

82.5

            Both pitchers throw very few changups to righties (3% or so) and save them for lefties (19% for Javy and 15% for Smoltzie).  Pitchers typically throw changeups to the opposite handed batter since changeups tail down and away if it's a righty throwing to a lefty.  Curveballs and sliders are saved for the same handed batter because they move down and away when a righty throws to a rightly.  Let's look at the speed difference between the changeup and fastball.

Pitcher

Horizontal (in.)

Vertical (in.)

Speed (MPH)

Vazquez

0.27

2.62

-10.95

Smoltz

1.79

3.18

-8.44

League Avg

1.1

2.8

-9.8

            The small horizontal value is good because it helps disguise the pitch.  Batters can't read the change as easily based on its movement, and Vazquez already has good horizontal movement.  However, a lot of horizontal difference can also be good in some cases for the extra movement, especially versus the opposite handed batter.  A big horizontal difference usually occurs if the fastball has a lot of vertical movement, but not a lot of horizontal movement, while the changeup moves like a typical changeup.  Hamels and Campillo come to mind.

            The most important thing for a changeup is the speed difference.  The whole point of a changeup is to disguise itself as a fastball and make the hitter look stupid for swinging too soon.  Changeups fall off the table due to gravity since they take longer to get to the plate.

            Vazquez's changeup is very good.  Great speed difference and disguised well.  Smoltz's changeup isn't great, but it's good enough for him to use against lefties.  Interestingly enough, he still throws his slider 30% of the time against lefties.

Smoltz

            Like I said in the slider section, he basically just throws sliders and fastballs.  Before 2 strikes, Smoltz throws the fastball about 50% of the time and slider about 30% of the time.  Once he gets to 2 strikes, it flips and he throws the slider 50% of the time and the fastball 30% of the time.  The fastball goes in on righties, but the slider goes away from righties.  Since both pitches are so fast, the batter has little time to react.  Smoltz keeps throwing away from righties, it's tough to figure it if the pitch is going to be a strike or if they're going to look stupid swinging.  This data is the 40 year old version of Smoltz ,and he's still amazing.  Let's all hope he's still got some left in the tank, even if it has to be as a reliever.

Vazquez

            Despite throwing the same 4 pitches, Smoltz and Vazquez's styles are pretty different.  Vazquez throws more fastballs than Smoltz and while Vazquez's slider is good, it doesn't have the same snap than Smoltz's has.  Vazquez, however, throws a better change and curve.  The interesting thing about Vazquez is that he throws all his pitches about the same in every count.  Other than counts where he falls really behind on, he's willing to throw his fastball about 42-52% of the time, the curve 12-19% of the time, the slider 20-25% of the time, and the change 10 to 18%.  He doesn't have as extreme of a "split" as Smoltz does.  This certainly keeps the batter guessing, but I think Vazquez may be more effective if he changed his style a bit.

            Against lefties, I'd like to see more changeups.  Right now, Vazquez is at 20%.  Hamels and Santana are known for their changeups and both of them throw it about 30-35% of the time to righties.  Vazquez has a similar fastball/changeup combo to Santana's, but Hamels is a little different since his fastball is different.  Their changeups all act similarly though.  Because of this, I think Vazquez can be as effective versus lefties as Santana and Hamels are versus righties.  His two pitches are basically the same as Santana's, but opposite-handed, and Vazquez has good control so he should be able to shut down lefties with it.

            Against righties, I'm not too sure, but I'd say less fastballs.  I want to say throw more changeups, but a righty changeup versus a righty will move down and in.  Typically, pitchers don't throw changeups to the same handed batter because of that.  Here's Santana and Hamels again: Santana scraps the change against lefties (8%) and goes to the slider.  Hamels still throws a lot of changeups to lefties (30%).  If you look at their righty lefty splits, Santana is very even, but lefties hit .070 OPS better than righties against Hamels.  So does that mean Vazquez shouldn't throw his change to righties?  I don't know so I started digging around and looking for righties known for their changeups.

            Rich Harden and Trevor Hoffman came to mind, but then I realized their changeups moved differently than Vazquez.  Both their fastballs and circle changeups (Vazquez is a straight change) have very little horizontal movement, but a huge vertical difference.  So the ball is going either up or down and not left or right, making them effective against both righties and lefties.  Edinson Volquez, who may have the nastiest fastball/changeup combo in baseball, throws 30% changeups to righties and James Shields throws 20% to righties.  Volquez, however, has 2.5 inches more vertical movement than Vazquez and a little more speed difference (half a MPH or so).  Shields has less speed difference but around 4.5 inches more vertical movement and it might be a circle change.  The extra movement may explain why they can throw more changeups to the same handed batter.

            Ultimately, the "closest" I could come up with was actually Jorge Campillo.  The movement and speed difference are pretty similar.  Campillo throws his changeup 15% of the time to righties and 35% to lefties (as he should) so this "comparable" pitcher leads me to think that Vazquez can still benefit from throwing some more changeups.  He only throws them 3% of the time to righties and I think some more won't hurt.  In general, I think he should throw less fastballs and go to more off-speed pitches to righties.  Maybe it'll make him more effective, especially since all three of his off-speed pitches are good to great.

 

This FanPost does not express the views or opinions of Talking Chop.

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