I've maintained that examining how hitters do on various pitches was a view into the inside world of baseball. But after seeing Grady Sizemore (who boasts a terrible batting average plus slugging average of .412 versus curveballs) blast three home runs off fastballs to start the year, I wonder if most in baseball bother looking at this data.
Let's take an extensive look at how the New York baseball world fares on these various splits. Who throws the best fastball, curve, changeup and slider? Which batters handle these offerings with ease, and which hit them like Sanjaya hits the high notes (very poorly, for the handful of you who've been able to escape the ubiquitous reach of American Idol)? All stats come courtesy of our friends at Baseball Info Solutions, stat provider and publisher of the essential The Bill James Handbook.
First, we'll look at the local hitters and then break down which New York pitchers are best at serving up the main four flavors.
To put the fastball stats into context, note that Phillies 1B Ryan Howard was the best in baseball last year against fastballs with a 1.199 BPS (batting average + slugging). Yankees C Jorge Posada dominated the fastball better than anyone else in New York in '06 with a 1.008 BPS, while Mets CF Carlos Beltran was second at .929. Not far behind him was Mets 3B David Wright at .919. Yankees 2B Robinson Cano (.918), Mets SS Jose Reyes (.908), Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez (.906), Mets 1B Carlos Delgado (.885), Yankees SS Derek Jeter (.833) and Yankees 1B Jason Giambi (.822) rounded out the New York qualifiers.
The curveball is viewed as the pitch that ends most Major League careers. It's assumed that every big leaguer can bash fastballs, and there seems to be a strong correlation between players' ability to hit heaters and overall offensive performance.
As context for the curveball rankings, Angels RF Vladimir Guerrero impaled curveballs better than anyone in baseball with a 1.219 BPS. The best in New York versus the deuce was Wright (.731), followed closely by Reyes (.715). These teammates ranked 20th and 21st in the Majors, respectively. Cano (.702), Beltran (.604), Jeter (.566), and Yankees CF Johnny Damon (.558) round out the qualifying locals. Toronto SS Royce Clayton (who split 2006 between Washington and Cincinnati) managed a lowly .208 BPS versus curveballs, dead last in baseball.
The changeup is baseball's most underrated pitch. The big-league's best changeup masher last year was White Sox DH Jim Thome, who posted a 1.424 BPS. Beltran was the best in New York at dealing with deception (1.082). Following him were Jeter (1.000), Cano (.985), Wright (.804), Reyes (.761), the now-retired Yankee Bernie Williams (.757), Damon (.710) and ex-Met (and current Cub) Cliff Floyd (.709).
The slider king last year was Padres C Josh Bard (1.121). Success versus this pitch seems to have the weakest correlation to overall hitting ability. That's no offense to Giambi, who raked it at a 1.016 clip, the best in New York and fourth-best in the Majors. Damon (.920), Delgado (.845), Jeter (.802), Mets LF Moises Alou (.768), Cano (.756), Wright (.723) and Yankees RF Bobby Abreu (.711) followed Giambi locally.
Moving on to the local pitchers, let's put down one finger and see who has the best fastball.
If Roger Clemens comes out of retirement and joins the Yankees' rotation, he'd be No. 1 (as he was baseball's best starter at throwing the pitch last year with a .518 BPS against). But the champ among all active big league starters is Mets SP John Maine (.529). Mets Pedro Martinez was the third-best starter (.543) despite struggling with various injuries, including a torn labrum, last year. Thus, he very likely won't need his old velocity back in order to regain the form he showed in 2005 and the early part of '06.
Yankees RP Scott Proctor and SP Mike Mussina (.648) tied for 20th in the majors. Chien-Ming Wang was very effective (.665) and threw his heater 74.2 percent of the time, the highest percentage in the American League last year. Mets SP Tom Glavine (.699) was 35th overall, ahead of flame-thrower C.C. Sabathia (.719) of Cleveland. Glavine (49.3%) threw the 10th-lowest percentage of fastballs. Yankees SP Andy Pettitte (.758) slotted ins just ahead of Mets P Chan Ho Park and Mets SP Orlando Hernandez, and just behind Houston ace Roy Oswalt.
Our curveball list only goes 41 pitchers deep. Toronto SP A.J. Burnett tops it with an impressive .317 BPS, turning the AL into the Little League when he threw his hammer. The best curve in New York belongs to Mussina (.600). The only other pitcher with a local connection is former Met and current Baltimore SP Steve Trachsel (.664).
The best changeup in baseball belongs to Johan Santana (.352). Mussina has the best in New York (.553, in the top 10 among 2006 starters). No other New York pitcher threw it often enough to qualify.
The best slider in baseball last year belonged to Minnesota RP Pat Neshek (.162 BPS). Among starters, Tampa Bay SP Casey Fossum dominated when throwing the pitch (.261 BPS). In New York, the title goes to Proctor (.403). Hernandez and Mussina struggled with the pitch (.556 and .573, respectively).
In closing, a word of caution. We don't have data for prior years. Full season data, which incorporates all pitches, is often an unreliable indicator for how players are going to perform going forward. So take all of the above rankings with a grain of salt. But these statistics are objective and can inform our early season viewing. Can success be sustained; deficiencies overcome? Or were these results merely a fluke? As with all things, with more data comes more reliable answers.