It’s a common misconception that, if you’re an older left-handed pitcher with less velocity, you have to throw more off-speed, aka, junk. The thinking goes that, because your fastball is slower, you must throw less of it as it’s easier to hit. Instead, throw more junk, because junk its a trixy little hobbit that confounds batters with all its devious darting and dancing.

Not so.

Successfully using your fastball has nothing to do with how hard your fastball is. A harder fastball lets you get away with more mistakes, it doesn’t mean you won’t make them. Why do scouts like pitchers who throw really hard? Because they have more room for error, both in game error and get a scout fired for drafting the wrong guy error. The human body can only react so fast. However big league humans with bats make adjustments to high velocity pitching faster than any other human on the planet. Thus, even if you throw absolute nitro, hitters will, if given enough exposure to your heat, time you up. Heat may get you drafted, it may even get you to the Bigs, but it will not guarantee your success. Velocity projects well, but ensures nothing. 

Wanna know what does ensure something?

Check out this Brooksbaseball graph of Mark Buehrle’s pitch selection this season:
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Buehrle’s fastball usage, which in this case is composed of his cutter, sinker, and fourseam—as each pitch is a variation on the fastball grip—makes up nearly 66% of his pitch selection. That’s a lot of on-speed pitches for a guy who throws soft. Note that his change is the second most used of his pitches at 25%. This is important to understand. Buehrle is a slow throwing pitcher to begin with, but his second most used pitch is one of his slowest? Because the Change is the only pitch that makes the fastball look faster. “Change” is a contextual term, always in relation to the most commonly used pitch.

A good change should look like a fastball out of the hand, but have just enough change of velocity from the fastball that it gets miss-hit. That’s right, miss-hit, not swung at an missed. The Change is like a velocity radar jamming tool. It ensures there is a certain margin of error in play with a hitter’s bat as it attempts to get a lock on your heater. Moreover, some pitchers use multiple Changes, usually ones that complement their four and two seam fastballs.

Maybe you’ve heard commentators talk about how a pitcher “protects” his pitches by not over showing them? Buehrle’s easiest pitch to recognize is his curve. Nothing trixy about that big bender… The earlier a hitter can see a pitch, the faster they can make an adjustment. Buehrle doesn’t over use his curve (protects it), but, when he does, he uses it wreck timing (it’s his slowest pitch by far) not get swings and misses. This goes to show you that even an easily recognizable/hittable/slow pitch can be used for a positive net effect.

Of course, you don’t have to be a soft thrower to pitch like this.


This graph (above) belongs to the Blue Jays renta-ace, David Price. If we count fourseam, sinker, and cutter again, this time we get 69% on-speed. Essentially, Price throws about 70% fastballs. For a guy who strikes out as many hitters as he does, you’d think—if you subscribe to the old philosophy of movement and junk = strikeouts—this would be less. Or, perhaps you look at his average fastball velocity of 94mph and think, “this makes sense—look at how hard he throws!” The truth is, his pitch selection and usage dictate how he gets outs, not pure velocity, or plus off-speed.

Price does throw about 10mph harder than Buehrle, but notice the similarity in pitch selection, as well as the average difference in velocity between them. Price gets you out with fastballs, and he protects his fastball with his Change. He shows you the curve but it’s not what he relays on for outs (even though his is much more swing-and-miss worthy than Buehrle’s).

Now, when I say Price gets you out with his fastball, it’s because he does all his work with his fastball. That’s the pitch that sets up other pitchers, or over powers you. When you train to face a guy like Price, you are training to hit his fastball because that’s what you’ll see most. It’s his work horse pitch. Dig deeper on Price and you’ll see him pitch up with his fastball, down with his curve for a hi-hard, slow-low, hands in, reach-away effect. Buehrle does the same thing, just slower. In fact, Price’s slowest pitch is only 4mph slower than Buehrle’s fastest, yet the both get excellent returns on their near identical pitching portfolio.

While they’re not identical pitchers, this cross-section does highlight how pitchers are “aggressive” with the same pitch types, despite age and velocity differences. Buehrle pitches at a very high tempo and keeps assaulting you with pitches around the zone. You don’t have time to get a pattern or make adjustments because the next pitch is already coming.

Price can and will come in on you hard, and will challenge you to find him in the zone at the expense of taking your eyes off the location you were focused on before you even got in the box. His high release point and long arms make it tough for left-handed hitters to get comfy, and his hard cutter keeps right-handers from diving over the plate to down-and-away fastballs. Yet, velocity adjusted approaches aside, they could mirror each other if the wanted to. Buehrle can and will make you dive. He does come in hard—for him—and it works to protect down-and-away pitches, just like it does for Price. He drops his curve on the plate and elevates a with a fastball to compound the movement differential. Price can do the same.

Summation: Raw stuff helps, but approach and “pitch-ability” —a baseball player term for one’s understanding of how to pitch beyond simply throwing pitches like pressing buttons in a video game—make you a success, regardless of what you’re offering. Lots of young pitchers think they need to have Price’s stuff to be successful. Clearly not as Mark Buehrle couldn’t even get drafted with his current repertoire, but has been a fixture in the bigs for nearly 15 years.

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