Last week, I did my best to introduce right-handed relief pitcher Dominic Leone -- the newest addition to the 2018 bullpen of the St. Louis Cardinals. In the post, I primarily focused on Leone's breaking balls -- the cutter and the slider (in case you missed it, I strongly recommend checking it out, here). Today, I am delving into a pitch Leone threw 54.2% of the time last season -- the fastball (with 44.49% being fourseamers and 9.71% being sinkers/twoseamers). While the overall percentage is roughly in line with past seasons (54.78% over 2015-2016), he threw the fourseamer slightly more frequently in 2017 than he did during those two seasons (41.62%).
Why? Well, the easy, but admittedly lazy answer is that Leone simply experienced more success with the fourseamer in 2017. In 2015-2016, opponents hit and slugged .339 and .523, respectively, versus the pitch. Last season, these values dropped to .226 (batting average) and .406 (slugging). Again, individual pitch results never tell the full story when it comes to pitch analysis. But, when you look closer (particularly at PitchF/x data), you notice genuine, positively projectable differences as well. He threw the fourseamer slightly harder in 2017 (94.90 MPH versus 94.14 MPH), and the pitch experienced more movement -- both horizontal (-3.89 inches versus -3.03 inches) and vertical (9.95 inches versus 8.82 inches).
Combined with the upticks in velocity and movement, Leone successfully executed an approach change with the pitch, particularly versus right-handed hitters (heat maps via BaseballSavant.com):
While I have long been an advocate of locating up-and-in with the fastball (particularly from an effective velocity standpoint), the fact is that not all pitchers can be successful using this approach. This is especially the case when said pitcher does not master the "up" component (as made evident you in Leone's 2015-2016 heat map), along with the "in" component. Instead, in a time of increased focus on pitch tunneling and sequencing, there exists a scenario where the pitcher is better off going up and away with the fastball.
Though the sample size is still small (one reliever season), this appears to be the case with Leone. And when you envision his complete repertoire (particularly the 2017 developments), it makes sense. As highlighted in my original post on Leone, he concentrated his core locations of each breaking ball down and away to righties last season. And remember how he prioritized vertical movement over horizontal movement with his slider? Well, down-and-away, vertical movement-prioritized sliders tunnel extremely well with up-and-away, armside-moving fourseamers. While Leone's cutter experienced slightly more horizontal movement last season, he still possesses the ability to break it off vertically -- allowing it to effectively tunnel with the fourseamer as well.
Below, I present eight (yes, eight!) beautiful .gifs, created by the one and only @cardinalsgifs. Differing from my method in previous posts, I will not be providing commentary and analysis after each .gif. Frankly, at times, it is best to allow the .gifs to inaudibly present their concepts. Rather, I will simply point out a few things I recommend looking for while watching.
Remember how impressed I was with Leone's buttoning-up of his vertical release points in 2017? This development is on full display in the .gifs that follow. Sure, the release points aren't necessarily perfect (save for the fastball, fastball, fastball sequence to Matt Davidson), but the differences are virtually indistinguishable to opposing hitters standing ~55 feet away. The concept of pitch tunneling? You better believe Leone exploits it quite well, as already explained above with his shift in fourseamer location versus righties.
Finally, as you may or may not already know, it's pitching week (!) over at Baseball Prospectus. In addition to the great content they've already published (particularly this piece on a Robo Strike Zone), they have introduced a new (and downright amazing, honestly) pitch tunneling tool. A tool where we -- the general public -- can better understand the concept of tunneling and ultimately visualize just what the batter sees -- from respective pitch paths to decision-making points based on velocity, movement, and location. I cannot wait to toy around with the tool, and you better believe I will be utilizing it for future posts.