Can Renyel Pinto's fastball be an effective pitch?: A Pitch f/x attempt

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Last time I tried to use Pitch f/x, I took a look at Renyel Pinto’s changeup, a pitch that doesn’t resemble any changeup that I know of. The pitch had massive sink and vertical break into lefties, yielding a few interesting results. Pinto threw the majority of his changeups either low in the zone or pretty much in the dirt. This resulted in a high whiff count, on the order of 42% of the changeups swung at, but it also resulted in a high ball count, yielding only a 44% strike percentage. This confirmed my belief that despite it being a useful pitch, Pinto’s inability to consistently put it over led him to use mostly his fastball in the zone. According to FanGraphs, Pinto’s fastball has been essentially a neutral pitch, onyl 0.17 runs per 100 fastballs thrown. Here, I’ll attempt to diagnose the fastball and the results it’s achieved. The data used will only span up before Pinto’s appearance in Houston, which ignores that appearance and any instances of him showing up in the Atlanta series (I’m lazy at fetching the data). At that point, his fastball had been slightly below average, right now it’s slightly above.

According to my data, Pinto’s fastball averages 90.2 MPH (I use starting velocity as velocity, I’m not sure if that’s what most Pitch f/x experts use as velocity). It averages 6.3 inches of horizontal break and 9.1 inches of vertical break. The vertical break is average for a fastball, but the horizontal break is good, breaking hard inside to lefties, though not nearly as much as his changeup. The fastball to my eye appears ho-hum, but the numbers say it’s got good break. However, it also has below average velocity for a reliever, and Pinto isn’t one of those guys who has a deceptive delivery or a large repertoire of pitches; as we mentioned, he depends on that fastball to get strikes in the zone.

Let’s look at that fastball in terms of pitch results. First, let’s see the fastballs that were not put in play.

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Dots resized thanks to VEP's suggestion. Thanks VEP!

One thing that was clear is that this pitch wasn’t fooling anyone with movement. Despite the decent break, hitters weren’t buying the pitch outside the strike zone, as there were very few whiffs or foul balls outside the zone. By my count, there were only about 15 pitches swung at outside the zone, out of 422 pitches represented here. In addition, 46.4% of these pitches not put into play were balls, meaning that Pinto was only getting over around 54% of his fastballs anyway!

Also, note where Pinto is missing. Unlike his changeup, which missed low when it missed (and it missed a lot), Pinto’s fastball is almost nonexistent below the strike zone. This isn’t too surprising given the pitch’s rise. Rather, it misses mostly away from left handers and up in the zone, with more of a concentration up and in to lefty hitters. Hitters don’t seem to care about his fastball low, in general. They’re laying off of it, based on what you see in that plot, choosing to swing more at the higher fastballs.

Of course, this isn’t the complete picture. Let’s see what the balls in play looked like, with an eye on determining whether there was a particular location where he was getting beat badly.

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Nothing spectacular here, just not good...

I don’t think there’s anything too particular here. There isn’t a location where hitters are getting great swings at Pinto, though the hits are generally coming up in the zone due to the nature of the pitch. Many of the line drives Pinto has given up this year have been on his fastball; almost all of the hits Pinto has allowed have been on line drives, so he’s definitely not getting lucky in that category. Hitters are still laying off the pitch correctly, as there weren’t too many pitches outside the zone that were put into play. A couple of those “in play (runs)” pitches were sacrifice flies, so they were still outs at least.

I haven’t done much Pitch f/x work yet, but I don’t think this sort of fastball is terribly different in terms of where it is hit. The issue is likely control. Again, we know he can’t consistently get the curveball over, so the fastball needs to get over. However, Pinto is only getting 45.7% of his as strikes, whether in the called, foul, or swinging variety, if you don’t count his balls in play. The pitch is slow enough that hitters can catch up to it if it’s in the zone, so they’re waiting for the belt-high or better fastball, as evidenced by the types of pitches they are swinging at. All in all, Pinto is completely lacking control, which shows in his high walk rate.

The diagnosis is that Pinto cannot throw strikes consistently. Despite having a nasty breaking ball, his fastball is mediocre and not controllable. Pitchers can often get away with weak fastballs in terms of movement or velocity if they place them well. But the bunches of color in the middle of the zone for Pinto’s fastballs, combined with the large color blobs outside of the zone, show that he has difficulty placing his fastball in the right location. Hitters are simply laying off any fastball that looks lower than belt-high. If Pinto puts two over early and gets the count in his favor, his changeup can take over and provide its benefit of whiffs and forcing awkward swings. But if he misses early, he’s forced to throw the fastball because the change breaks so heavily, and Pinto’s poor fastball control leads to either walks or the few line drives he does allow.

And that’s more or less the reason we don’t really like him. He has good stuff on his one back-breaking pitch, but poor control on all of them, and it works against him when he gets behind. In a future study, I may look at the change in his changeup’s value in different counts, but I suspect the results I’ll see are going to be elementary.

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