Is Jon Niese’s Fastball Too Straight?

niese-bisons-headshot.jpgThis is a followup to the post below about relationship between velocity and success for MLB lefthanded pitchers.  Once again, lets add some empirical rigor to the claim that Jon Niese’s fastball is straight, or too straight.

The table below focuses on the lefthanded pitchers with the Top 10 ERAs in baseball and compares them by average fastball velocity, and movement, both in the horizontal and vertical directions. All data again from the fangraphs website.


In case tables aren’t your style: compared to the lefties with the top ten ERAs in baseball, Niese’s fastball has above average horizontal movement and below average vertical movement.  In both cases, his difference from average is less than one standard deviation, so we can, by way of shorthand, and given the small samples sizes from Jon Niese, suggest that his fastball has average movement compared to this successful group.  Standard deviations measure the amount of variance in a data set.  (Last two sentences added/edited for clarity.)

By the way, I’m open to the argument that ERA is hardly the best or only way to judge pitchers.  A more general list of the top lefties in the game would probably have to include Sabathia and Kershaw, but I wanted something clean and empirically based, so ERA worked fine for my purposes here.  VORP doesn’t sort by handedness as far as I can tell, for example.

Note also that the average fastball velocities listed under the pitchfx pages under the fangraphs website differ slightly for the velocity values listed under the “Pitch Type” table under the each player’s “Season Stats” page, which I used to derive the original velocity table in the first post.  I have not altered the original velocity values, although  they tend lower in pitchfx, supporting the argument that Niese’s heater compares just fine with those lefties who have had the most success over the first half of the 2009 MLB season.

Again, the takehome message:

There’s simply nothing in this data to suggest that Niese’s fastball is too straight relative to baseball’s other successful lefthanders.  The key again, is not pitch movement, as much as it is pitch location.

There are 24 comments

    1. Toby Hyde

      No, I didn’t major in stats. I graduated in economics. I took at least a couple of college level stats classes and applied regression analysis.

  1. mark4212

    Another Great post!!!!!

    This is my favorite blog/site on the web for baseball. I mean i’m a mets fan and it wouldn’t be for others, but I can bet other hard core fans wish they had a blog about their minor league system that was as good as this one.

    Keep up the great work toby.

  2. WC

    Just missed this comment thread posting in the other.

    You’re using pitchfx data for ten innings on Niese. Unless he’s doing something differently, I’m not sure how that’s more relevant than 14 innings last year where he was charted as having well below average movement?

    Like I asked in that other thread, what did your eyes tell you in buffalo?

    1. Toby Hyde

      He is doing something differently. 1. He’s using his two-seam fastball more and 2. using his cutter more.

      Last year, doing some backwards math from fangraphs pitchfx data, he threw his cutter twice among his 267 MLB pitches. He was using it a lot more than that when I saw him in Buffalo.

      1. NateW

        Great to hear, a 22 year old prospect that is still developing. It’s likely that he’ll be a pitcher who will have to develop different things over the years to continue to be effective, so that’s a good skill to see him put to use.

        Great info and analysis on Niese, thanks for taking the time to put it all together.

      2. WC

        I do think the cutter is interesting, but as a separate pitch it shouldn’t play into a pitchfx analysis of his 4 seam fastball unless it’s mislabeling cutters/2 seamers and factoring them in, which it does sometimes. You can also have guys with an undeniably straight fastball (Brian Stokes, for example) throw a pitch in the dirt and have it read as a fastball with 8 inches of break.

        Not to say that the data is wrong, but I’d say the sample sizes of both this year and last are too small to use pitchfx averages in evaluating him, especially when one set of data says his movement is average and another set says it’s well below, until there’s a more consistent sample that still falls on old fashioned scouting

        incorporating more 2 seamers and cutters doesn’t really say that he’s doing anything differently to make his 4 seamer have more life in and of itself. Though even if it does have below average movement, throwing the other variations more should help it play up, so either way it’s a positive

      3. WC

        on an interesting sidenote, gameday utilizes pitchfx data in its gamecalling, so you could really break his stuff down pitch by pitch in his gamelogs if you were so inclined.

      4. Toby Hyde

        Yeah, I think you’re onto something here. There is a problem for all pitchers if it’s lumping 2 seamers in with four seamers.

        I’m not going to go through the game logs for Niese, but looking quickly at the very limited data on him, it appears as though pitchfx was calling his cutter a slider. Scouts did the same. It’s halfway between a hard slider and a classic cut fastball.

        My point remains: his fastball isn’t a plus pitch, either in terms of velocity or movement, but a good enough pitch, even if it’s a tick below average.

        Lefties really can succeed with less. Andy Petitte on all of those Yankees WS series teams didn’t really throw all that hard either.

        It’s not how hard you throw it, it’s where you throw it.

      5. WC

        I’m on board with the velocity point, 88-91 is actually above average for left handers as opposed to right handers, and if you wanted to make a even more of an argument for Niese, we’ve seen him get it up to 92-93 in early innings, and I’ve heard people say he looks like a late bloomer at 22, there’s a chance he could settle into his body and sit at 90 anyway

        the movement is still where he gets me. Niese hasn’t intrigued me much for a while because of it, and I was hoping that they’d sell high last year when he was hyped as a top pitching prospect. I subscribe to the idea that if you don’t have a #1 you have a chance to beat a guy with in any count, you’re average at best.

        I don’t think Andy had a ton of fastball movement even in his prime, but he leaned really heavily on the cutter that made him famous.

        but to be fair, I had always taken Niese as a guy that wouldn’t get by even with a plus curve and decent changeup unless his control was near perfect, since he’d still need to work off the fastball. Didn’t really see the cutter when I’d gotten the chance to go see him pitch, and he didn’t throw it in his callups. If his cutter and 2 seamer have developed into pitches he could throw to both sides of the plate in fastball counts, maybe he’s a different animal. I could see that getting him to be an effective back/mid rotation starter.

        with a number of starters locked up and higher upside guys behind him, I’d still rather deal him for a need, but hey, hobbyist, not a scout

  3. Not4Nuttin

    Okay, so you’ve disproven all my other posts, and I cannot just keep on blindly repeating the same refrain, despite being disproven, as you’re onto that one too.

    Hmmmm . . . . . .

    Niese still sucks because he tips his pitches, his left arm is not as long as his right arm (which every good pitcher has a longer left arm than right), he is ugly, he can’t spell and has a hard time tying his shoes.

      1. theperfectgame

        Careful with that. You may disagree with WC’s opinions on Niese, but he brought up a reasonable concern (citing data) in a mature way. He’s also been around here for awhile, and is usually well-informed and open-minded, and adds to the community.

      2. Not4Nuttin

        You’re right. Was just trying to have some fun. Sorry WC, and thanks perfectgame for your efforts at keeping this a solid site.

    1. NateW

      …and his big nose throws off his balance so he’ll never be able to repeat his motion or locate his pitches well.

    2. mark4212

      His ears also stick out a little. He won’t be able to keep his head ahead of his shoulders on windy days. So he should only pitch on 70 degree days, with wind less them 3mph.

  4. NickM

    Nice work Toby. And in that 10 inning sample he wasn’t really good (solid start vs PIT, bad start vs ATL), so perhaps that wasn’t even his “best” fastball of 2009 that we have the pitchFX on (if only they had pitchFX for the minors lol)… but even if it was, you proved he should be fine with it at the major-league level.

      1. Not4Nuttin

        What Nick said. One poster just kept bashing Niese, and putting up lame argument after lame argument, followed by ignoring when empirical evidence disproved his bashes. So we were having a little fun anticipating what his next point of contention might be.

      2. big baby

        yea, lame arguments like he has a bad fastball, no change-up and an overrated curveball.

        great, he has a similar fastball to some lefties in baseball, every one of which has better off-speed than he does and better control.

        considering the way this year is going, i’m sure we’ll get ample time to see him get humiliated in the majors like he’s done so far.

  5. NickM

    I was just checking Kershaw’s fastball for the hell of it since hes starting tonight vs the Mets.. he has a different fastball from some of those other lefties that were listed before; he has weak horizon. movement but excellent vert. movement.

  6. garik16

    Toby, I have the data seperated by types of fastball if you want it.

    For those curious.

    2009 Niese, two starts
    Regular Fastball:
    Mean Speed 89.88MPH,
    Mean horizontal movement (PFX):5.72,
    Mean Vertical movement (PFZ): 9.53

    Two Seam Fastball:
    Mean Speed 89.7MPH
    Mean Horizontal Movement: 10.5 !!!!,
    Mean Vertical Movement: 6.24

    Compare this to 2008 Niese

    Mean Speed: 89.139
    Mean Horizontal Movement: 3.51 !!!!
    Mean Vertical Movement 8.54

    Thus in 2008, Niese’s fastball was really unusually straight. This year, not so much, especially not the Two Seamer.

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