Call It What It Is
by, 07-29-2013 at 11:07 AM (624 Views)
Notice anything weird about this photo?
Samuel Deduno is off and running in 2013. He leads Twins starters in ERA and FIP, as well as opponent batting average, WHIP, and ground-ball percentage. But he’s well known for his unpredictable pitches, and without a full major-league season at age 30, they've held him back. How wild are they?
R.A. Dickey is the league’s best definition of “effectively wild". Here’s a graph of his pitches on Friday, primarily knuckleballs. At FanGraphs, Drew Sheppard noted that “the ideal knuckleball makes just 1 to 1.5 rotations (~150 RPM) between release and home plate, causing the drag on the ball to shift significantly mid-flight as the leading seam of the ball rotates slightly, resulting in unpredictable and uniquely sudden movement.” Not all of Dickey’s knuckleballs spin quite that slowly, but many do, and he’s averaging a respectable 935 RPM on the season (vs. 1600 RPM on his fastball, a good benchmark for the league). Spin angle helps to keep the hitters guessing. As the fingertips push “through” the ball, they roll either under the leather, creating a slight amount of backspin, or over, creating a small amount of topspin. On this graph, anything between 90 and 270 degrees represents backspin. The pitches outside that range have topspin.
Here is a graph of Deduno’s 2013 season, prior to this weekend. I added a few notes on the application of spin angle. His non-curve pitches hardly spin consistently (and he’s credited with a “cutter” for that reason), but except for the occasional “errant change”, they have backspin, as a fastball and change-up normally do.
Now here are two graphs from Saturday’s game in Seattle, a non-televised blackout in both Minnesota and Washington.
Please return your seat backs to their full upright and locked position.*
Ignore pitch classification. On Saturday, Deduno threw a 90+ MPH pitch that frequently spun over the top, adding to gravity’s effect. His non-curve pitches averaged less than 550 RPM, and his change-up spun half as fast as Dickey’s knuckleball, moving at roughly the same velocity. Many of Deduno’s pitches approached that ideal "barely spinning" mark of 150 RPM. That’s essentially impossible with any traditional fastball/change-up grip. In July, his fastballs have averaged ~700 RPM. For a righty, a spin angle between 270 and 360 degrees means a ball breaking down, but in the opposite direction from their curve/slider. The numbers are incredible. Deduno has entered new territory.
The PITCHf/x machine isn’t broken; this isn’t the first time he’s done this. He brought out the same pitch in a hand-full of games last year. This time around, he met or set season bests in earned runs, strikeouts, WHIP, and ground-ball percentage. He looked** good, if not great, and he kept Doumit’s glove moving.
One year ago today, Parker Hageman introduced us to Deduno’s fastball. He noted that “when asked about the possibility of being ‘effectively wild’... Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson joked, ‘Ask Mauer, he says it’s like catching R.A. Dickey.’” What’s Deduno throwing? It’s tough – if not impossible – to say. But it might be time to call it what it is.
Notice anything weird about that photo?
* Fight Club reference. Hopefully I'm not losing anyone.
** Thank god for MLB.tv.