I’ve been working to find data to analyze when it comes to pitch movement and velocity. I’ve been conscientious of Framber Valdez’s increase in velocity and how it effects his pitch arsenal, but it wasn’t enough to just evaluate the stats. The time has come to dive into the vertical and horizontal movement from year to year while considering an average velocity for select pitch types.
First, let’s talk about how we will review this data. Baseball Savant provides the average vertical and horizontal movement for a pitch on a yearly basis. This is then applied to a league average. However, to best compare, we will review the data across multiple years for the same pitcher. This maintains that the force of gravity is consistent and the coefficient, the pitcher, is compared and analyzed based on the season and velocity. I decided to overlook the curveball as it has not been influenced by the velocity change. So, we will focus solely on the 4-seam fastball, changeup, and sinker. We have also disregarded the cutter, since we only have this season to process, there is no prior data to analyze along with it.
We compare these data points over several seasons. It allows us to see the effectiveness in a season with an injury, a peak season, and the overall consistency in the career. Now that we’ve set the groundwork for the data, let’s get to work.
Below is the data pertaining to Valdez’s 4-seam fastball from 2018 to the current season:
The chart lists average inches of drop and average inches or break. Drop will reflect the vertical movement and break reflects the horizontal movement. As we can see above, the 4-seam fastball has incurred changes over the years. As the velocity increased, the vertical movement decreased. Now in 2022, the velocity has increase but the average inches of drop have maintained above 21 inches. Obviously, gravity has an affect on each pitch, but we can compare this season to 2019 when Framber was exceeding 94mph on average. It’s interesting that the drop increased by over 2 inches even when exceeding that 94-mph average. This may reflect the changes to the baseball or the decrease in spin applied on the baseball by Valdez.
Let’s look at the changeup next:
We see a common trend as well that the inches in drop have gone down as of a result of the velocity increasing. However, it’s very interesting to note how the average inches of break horizontally have gone up. This could be a direct result of the angle of release or grip Valdez has taken to generate the changeup. Personally, I believe he’s throwing a circle change-up, which would equate to more horizontal movement based on contact with the hand and the method it is thrown. A circle change comes out weakly from the circle between thumb and index finger and rolls off the pinky.
Lastly, let’s look at his sinker:
The sinker is his most important pitch. He’s never thrown this pitch any harder than he has this season, but the data correlates to how the velocity had decreased the vertical drop of this pitch. To contrast, the horizontal movement has not regressed, but seemingly improved in relation to the increase in velocity. This can be attributed to the ¾ arm action left-handed pitchers possess. The value of his sinker is unmeasured. Valdez relies on this pitch to bolster one of the best ground ball percentages in the league. Paired with Minute Maid Park, it becomes paramount to his success at home.
In the past, I alluded to the velocity increases and what is most likely a philosophical change with the new pitching coaches. It has not materially impacted the results negatively, but I feel it is great to see how a pitcher evolves and changes year after year. 2022 has been the hardest Valdez has thrown in his career. He continues to impress and reinforce my belief in him a potential Cy Young award contender in the future for several years.
My theory that velocity would impact Valdez’s performance has been mildly validated, and it is still an ongoing process. The silver lining is that it has not impaired his ability to generate quality starts and be a highly effective pitcher for the Astros. I’m more than happy to have anyone criticize my assessments and let me know I’m wrong for preparing for a negative impact due to velocity increases. I was prepared for his sinker to lose movement and be more susceptible to hard contact and granting more hits.
***Credit to Baseball Savant for the data***