Webb Changes Fastball, Gets Results

One of the biggest statistical oddities of 2009 was the horrific failure of Ryan Webb’s 96-mph moving fastball in the majors.

You’d think a 96-mph fastball with movement would be tough to hit, but major league hitters killed it consistently. Only Webb’s slider, which got superb results, kept his numbers decent.

Webb realized the fastball was getting hit hard, so he used the slider actually more than the fastball last year.

This year, Webb has a 1.15 ERA in the majors, albeit a 3.62 xFIP, a big improvement over 2009 in any case.

However, his slider has regressed. He’s throwing it 1.2 mph slower than last year, and it’s rated a bit below average after rating plus-plus last year (Small sample alert!).

The fastball has done a complete 180, improving by a whopping 4.56 runs per 100 pitches, from 3.05 below average to 1.51 above.

Again, small sample is at play here, but Webb is also using the pitch 65% of the time now, so he’s clearly regained confidence in it. What’s changed?

A glance at Webb’s pitch f/x data shows that he’s lost some velocity (.9 mph from last year), but gained a ton of movement, with three extra inches of run and three extra inches of sink. It appears that he’s essentially switched from a four-seamer to a two-seamer.

This is huge for Webb, as that movement has led to a whopping 74.5% groundball rate, which is a huge part of his success. With this approach, there’s no reason he can’t be an extremely effective reliever going forward.

Topics: Ryan Webb, San Diego Padres

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  • http://friarforecast.com/?p=1839 Myron Logan

    Good analysis, but be careful looking at PITCHf/x data from 2009 to 2010. In 2009, due to gameday’s pitch classification algorithm, almost no two-seamers were called. In 2010, that problem has apparently been fixed, and two-seamers are being classified more correctly.

    What may look like a change in pitch selection by a pitcher may be nothing more than classification issues from year-to-year. I linked to the article I wrote on the issue.

    Good work here, though; I enjoy the blog.

    • http://bleacherreport.com/users/10925-nathaniel-stoltz Nathaniel Stoltz

      Myron, thanks for the comment. I’m aware of the pitch f/x issues, and don’t typically use it too much.

      However, in this case, Webb not only saw a huge increase in two-seamers thrown (no surprise, given that 2010 data from pitch f/x has more two-seamers), but his “four-seamer” added the three inches of run and three inches of sink, so either that’s just a misclassified two-seamer as well or he just added a ton of movement to it. Either way, the pitch got better.