Is Justin Verlander’s fastball the most overrated pitch in baseball?

You asked and I’ll answer. Okay, so I asked and I’ll answer. Let’s get a crackin’!

In a recent Sports Illustrated poll, Justin Verlander’s fastball was voted the best in the game. Verlander won with 30% of the vote, while Jon Broxton was a distant second at 11%. Not only do the players who face Verlander believe that Verlander has the best fastball in baseball, but they overwhelmingly believe its the best fastball in the game. The fact that so many players thought Verlander had the best fastball made me head on over to fangraphs to see if the numbers backed up the players belief.

In terms of pure speed, Verlander has a case. His fastball velocity is 95.8 mph, which is second best among all ML starters behind Ubaldo Jiminez. Verlander was second last year as well with a velocity of 95.6 mph, and before a poor 2008 where his velocity dipped to 93.6 mph, Verlander was third in baseball in 2007 with a fastball velocity of 94.8 mph. So if best fastball means fastest fastball to big leaguers, than they accurately put Verlander at the top.

But as we all know, there is more to a fastball than speed. There is speed and movement, and even then a hard fastball can be an ineffective pitch. So I looked at the pitch value of his fastball compared to all other qualified pitchers who has a positive wFB.


I highlighted Justin Verlander’s bar in orange. As it turns out, Verlander’s fastball has been far from the best in 2010. His wFB is 6.3, which is currently 35th best in baseball, tied with Broson Arroyo. Bronson Arroyo isn’t exactly known for his fastball. Maybe looking at wFB/C would give us a little different result. Lets see.

Verlander is highlighted in orange. Again, the numbers don’t back up the players. His wFB/C is 0.50. Not exactly “the best” worthy.

This is only 2010 though. Maybe the players voted his fastball the best based on a dominant pitch in the past.

In 2009 his wFB was fifth best at 25.4, but his wFB/C was just ninth best at 0.97. In 2008 his wFB was 46th best(!) and his wFB/C was completely average at 0.02. In 2007 his wFB with thirteenth best at 13.3 and his wFB/C once again was simply alright, at 0.64.

Conclusion

It may not be the most overrated pitch in baseball, but Verlander’s fastball is clearly the most overrated fastball in the majors. Yes it’s fast and yes it still is a good pitch, but it has been anything other than the best in baseball the past four seasons. It worked really well for him in 2009, but outside that year it’s simply been an above average pitch- nothing to write home about.

For all the players praise of Justin Verlander’s fastball, hitters have fared a lot better against it then they would make out to believe.

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2 Comments on “Is Justin Verlander’s fastball the most overrated pitch in baseball?”

  1. LearnStats Says:

    A pitches value does not have anything to do with how good the stuff is. A guy could throw 110 with 10 inches of movement and and could have a negative value. Offspeed pitch success greatly affects if a fastball will have a positive value. Does that change how good the fastball actually is? No it does not.

    • Disco Says:

      I understand what you’re saying and I should have realized that offspeed success does affect the fastball. Common sense failed me.

      However…when trying to figure out how good his FB is, it still makes sense to look the pitch values, no? If the guy had a FB that had that much movement and speed but was still a negative value, wouldn’t his fastball be bad then? Because it means its being hit hard or the location isn’t there and runs are scoring?

      If I’m wrong in thinking that let me know since I don’t want to make future mistakes like that.


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