Going back to our formative baseball years, the fastball is where it all begins. Every pitcher has a fastball, even those quirky knuckleballers, and the velocity of the pitch has been on a steady incline for years now. Velocity is fun and easily identifiable to the most casual fan, but it is only one piece of the fastball equation. The velocity gives you a baseline grade for the fastball, but then you must take into account the movement of the pitch, how the pitcher controls or commands it, and how hitters react to it. I will delve into each aspect of the fastball below, as well as give you examples of grades 40, 50, and 60 so that you can start building your fastball library.
Velocity is important, the hitter must gear up for a plus fastball, making the secondary pitches more effective because he is forced to react to them instead of sitting on them. The more conscious of the fastball a hitter is, the more likely a well-thrown changeup or breaking ball will surprise him and force a swing and miss or weak contact. The BP fastball scale states that a 60 fastball is 92-93 mph, the 50 fastball is 90 mph, and the 40 fastball 87-88 mph. We will use this scale to give us a baseline to start our evaluations.
Movement of the fastball is a fickle beast and can help it play up at lower velocities. Even the biggest fastballs will get hit a country mile if they’re straight. Hitters will eventually time it and barrel it with ease. Movement has many different names including cut, run, bore, sink, life, etc., but the goal of each is consistent: Get the fastball away from the barrel and induce weak contact. Movement will be mentioned below, but fastball movement will be addressed in its own article in the future.
Command and control will eventually get its own Toolshed piece as well, but to touch on it briefly, control is the ability to throw strikes while command is the ability to throw quality strikes. Fastball command often is the difference between a pitcher becoming a starter or taking ownership of the tiny bullpen backpack and heading to the pen. All that being said, let’s take a look at some fastballs.
The 60: Jeff Hoffman
Coming out of East Carolina, Hoffman's calling card was his fastball. In pro ball, he has established the pitch as a true plus offering. Sitting 93-95 and touching 97, the pitch is a solid 60 and one could argue that it plays higher. In his Eyewitness Account, Brendan Gawlowski describes it as an "explosive fastball with life,'' and I can't do much better than that description.
video courtesy MiLBtv
The other aspects of Hoffman's fastball that should be taken into consideration for the 60 grade are the feel he has for the pitch and his ability to locate it in the zone.
The 50: Andrew Moore
Sitting 89-91 and touching 92, Moore's fastball grades out as average on our scale. This is a good time to note that an average grade is not a bad thing, regardless of what your professors used to tell you. There are plenty of average fastballs in the big leagues and plenty of players have had good careers pitching with an average fastball.
Video courtesy Wilson Karaman
Wilson Karaman describes Moore's fastball as having "average velocity, gets some plane, short-arm delivery with extension adds deception from high slot" and while the velocity may be average, those secondary pieces of the fastball help it play at least average if not a tick above.
The 40: Rainy Lara
Video courtesy MiLBtv
The fastball sits 88-90 and touches 91 but the real reason this is a 40 fastball is the lack of movement on the pitch and the command profile. The most telling comment from Jeffrey Paternostro is "fringy command overall, and pitch is very hittable.'' While the velocity could be considered 45 or even 50, the other pieces make it play as a 40.
Now that we have established the baseline grades for the fastball we can get into the different types of movement and the command/control debate in the next installment of The Toolshed.
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