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July 19, 2011
Footloose and Fastball-Free
In the second inning against the Mets on July 2, Bartolo Colon threw an 0-1 slider to Angel Pagan, and Pagan grounded it to the shortstop. An hour later, with two outs in the fifth, Colon threw a 2-2 slider to Jason Bay, this one low and outside for ball three.
In between, the game settled into a predictable routine: Ken Rosenthal appeared in a bow-tie. Jose Reyes disappeared with a tight hamstring. Tim McCarver considered different ways to pronounce Cleburne, Texas. Puns about Dillon Gee. And, from Bartolo Colon, 40 fastballs in a row.
One of these days, Colon is going to go an entire game without throwing an off-speed pitch. His first 40 pitches against the Tigers on May 2 were fastballs. His first 37 against the Angels on June 5 were fastballs. His first 30 against the White Sox were fastballs.
I’m dying for an all-fastball game. Sometimes, the announcers pay attention to what’s going on, and they sound almost giddy by the end of the second inning. It’s like they’ve stolen the other team’s signs, or developed the ability to tell the future, or at least found something to talk about besides the shadows that are creeping in around the mound. An all-fastball game would make everybody feel smart for noticing it.
Twenty-three times this year starting pitchers have thrown at least 86 percent fastballs (minimum 80 pitches) in a game. Bartolo Colon, Justin Masterson, and Charlie Morton account for 17 of them. Happily for fans of the Rule of Three, Colon, Masterson, and Morton are also all surprise successes this year. They're each a bit different in their reliance on the fastball and in how they got to be all-fastball threats, but together they raise a question: Are secondary pitches really necessary?
Colon’s fastball is really two fastballs. He throws a four-seam fastball more often to left-handed batters and early in the count. He throws a two-seam fastball later in counts, against right-handers, and usually on the outside part of the plate, with tailing action that brings it back toward the plate for frequent called third strikes. The Bartolo Coloniest sequence is something like this:
The first two were four-seamers, the last a two-seamer that froze the right-hander. Colon has thrown his two-seamer 40 times in 0-2 counts, and 12 of them were taken for strike three.
Masterson throws his sinker early in the count, and the four-seamer later. His extreme reliance on fastballs is relatively new; in 2008, he threw his slider 30 percent of the time. That dropped to 24 percent in 2009, 19 percent in 2010, and 16 percent this year. He also had a changeup he would throw every 30 pitches or so, but he never throws it now. This year, he is throwing his fastball 83 percent of the time, and 85 percent since June.
The most Mastersonian sequence of the year:
Like Masterson, Morton used to throw a breaking ball more frequently—a “plus curveball,” according to the 2011 BP Annual—but has moved toward a one-pitch game. In 2010, he threw a breaking ball 30 percent of the time and a changeup 10 percent of the time. This year, it’s been 80 percent fastballs, nearly all of them two-seamers. On 3-0, 3-1 or 3-2 counts this year, Morton has thrown 100 percent fastballs, 96 percent of them two-seamers.
The Charlie Mortonest sequence of the year:
So far as I can tell, there are six things that we could consider about these pitchers:
Sam Miller also writes for the Orange County Register.