Talkers


You gotta' mix it up
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Not all pitches are created equal.

Remember Eric Gagne's famous vulcan change in the early 2000s?

Or Randy Johnson's "catch me if you can" slider?

We've seen Mariano Rivera baffle hitters with a world-class cutter for the better part of two decades.

We've watched grown men fall to their knees trying to chase Pedro Martinez's unhittable changeup.

And somewhere, probably in the same bunker Tupac has been hiding in since 1996, is secret footage of Daisuke Matsuzaka throwing the legendary gyroball (shame he's never been brave enough to show us what that actually looks like).

Everybody has their own favorite. Perhaps you're partial to Barry Zito's knee-buckling 12/6 curve ball. Or maybe you're more of an R.A. Dickey guy with his steady diet of 77 mph knucklers.

But can you really get by with just one pitch ... even if that pitch is a 105 mph Aroldis Chapman fastball or a gravity-defying Stephen Strasburg slider curve (or as he calls it, "the slurve")?

Think of it like this. Even if tacos are your favorite food, you're going to get sick of them after a while (though I guess that hasn't stopped Justin Verlander from ordering Taco Bell before every start).

Fast food metaphors aside, relying on one pitch for your entire career usually doesn't earn you a trip to Cooperstown.

That doesn't stop guys from trying.

Last season, 10 big league starters (minimum 100 innings pitched) threw fastballs on at least 70 percent of their pitches.

Usually we associate heaters with younger players who are still developing their other pitches. That holds true for most of the players on this list including 25-year-old Zach McAllister (70.3 percent fastballs), Diamondbacks rookie Wade Miley (72.2) and Nationals southpaw Ross Detwiler (80.3).

Surprisingly, the most fastball reliant pitcher in the major leagues last season was Bartolo Colon. The 39-year-old used the heater on a whopping 89.2 percent of his pitches last season. Cleveland's Justin Masterson and Detwiler were the only other starters to use the fastball on at least 80 percent of their pitches last season.

To put it in perspective, Colon's average fastball last season hit home plate at a velocity of 90.2 mph. That's three mph slower than Gio Gonzalez, who also leaned heavily on the fastball in 2012 (used it 70.8 percent of the time).

Being a member of the 70 percent club, though risky, can have its benefits. Gonzalez, Miley and Lance Lynn all made the NL All-Star team last season and Houston's Lucas Harrell trimmed his ERA to 3.76, a new personal best.

Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett was one of five big league starters to use his curve ball on more than 25 percent of his pitches last season. That seemed to be a trend for Pirates hurlers as Wandy Rodriguez (30.9 percent curves) and Erik Bedard (27.9) also shared that distinction in 2012 (Bedard plays for Houston now). The other two players on the list were New York's Ivan Nova and Minnesota's Scott Diamond. The combined ERA of those five players last season was 4.08.

That leads us to the slider worshippers. San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner led the way by tossing sliders on 39 percent of his pitches in 2012. Seven others went to the slider at least 30 percent of the time including Houston's Bud Norris (36.6), lefthander Francisco Liriano and of course New York's ancient righthander Hiroki Kuroda. Unfortunately, only four of the eight finished the season with an ERA under four (Bumgarner, Kuroda, Paul Maholm and Ryan Dempster).

Can you ever have too much of a good thing? Not if your Kansas City ace James Shields. He threw changeups on 28.9 percent of his pitches last year, the second-highest rate in the majors behind then-teammate Alex Cobb (33.8). Jeremy Hellickson (yes, another Tampa Bay Ray) was right behind him at 28.3 percent. All three produced winning records last season with Hellickson and Shields both sporting sub-four ERAs. Mark Buehrle (13-13, 3.74) and Jason Vargas (14-11, 3.85) also used a heavy dose of changeups last season but neither could match the success of Shields and Hellickson.

So it is possible to have at least moderate success utilizing one pitch more often than the rest. But as you'll see, the titans of the sport don't operate that way.

Variety is the trend when it comes to fantasy's elite starting pitchers. According to our site's rankings, six of the top ten pitchers in fantasy baseball throw four different pitches at least ten percent of the time. Out of the four who didn't make the cut, only R.A. Dickey lacks a legitimate third pitch. He threw 85.4 percent knuckleballs, 14 percent fastballs and a miniscule 0.6 percent changeups in 2012.

Verlander delivered fastballs on 55.9 percent of his tosses last year with roughly equal usage of his slider (11.9), curve ball (14.9) and changeup (17.3).

San Francisco's Matt Cain used a similar repertoire in 2012. About half of his pitches were fastballs, 19.9 percent were sliders and the rest were either curve balls (13.6) or changeups (15.6). Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver also featured sliders, changeups and curve balls as secondary pitches last season.

Philadelphia's Cliff Lee and AL Cy Young winner David Price swapped out the slider in favor of cutters. Lee went cutter on exactly 20 percent of his pitches last season with Price using it about 16 percent of the time.

You might be tempted to go with Burnett or Bumgarner on draft day, but remember, more often than not, the best pitchers are the ones who know how to mix it up.

Versatile is the way to go, my friend.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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