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Daniel Schlereth and the Four-Seam Fastball

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Last night, while Tigers left hander Daniel Schlereth was avoiding the strikezone at seemingly any cost, Rod Allen began discussing that in his previous outing, Schlereth had been throwing harder. According to Allen, Schlereth told him that while warming up on Friday night in Colorado, he noticed that his two-seam fastball “wasn’t working”, so he threw a four-seam fastball during the game. Apparently, Schelreth regularly featured the four-seamer during his college days, which lead to him becoming a first-round pick of the Diamondbacks.

Schlereth’s inaccuracy has been the cause of great consternation this year (and really for his entire professional career), but on Friday, he threw nine of his 13 pitches for strikes, including four of the five fastballs he threw. His fastball averaged 92.98 mph on Friday with a high of 94.3. Typically, Schlereth throws his two-seamer at 89-91, so the increased velocity is noticebale on the four-seamer. In addition to the velocity, it apears that Schlereth has much more command of the four-seam fastball, which should be expected, because four-seamers move far less than two-seamers do.

Contrast the above information with Schlereth’s outing last night. Schlereth threw 26 pitches in the game, but found the strikezone with just 12 of them. His cureveball was still effective in terms of strikes, hitting the zone eight times in 11 offerings, but his fastball resulted in strikes just four times in 15 pitches. According to BrooksBaseball.net, Schlereth threw three four-seamers (two for strikes) and 12 two-seamers (only two for strikes). His average velocity was down to a mere 90.93 on his two-seamers as well. (pitch data via BrooksBaseball.net)

The question I would have is that if Schlereth cannot spot his two-seamer effectively, why then is he throwing it?

According to fangraphs, Schlereth has seen a reverse this season in terms of effectiveness of his pitches. Last season, Schlereth’s fastball was rated at 1.9 runs above average while his curveball was far less effective, coming in at -1.4. This year, however, Schlereth’s curve has been his bread and butter pitch, rating at 2.1 runs above average while his fastball has fallen off all the way to -1.9 runs. His average velocity has dropped from 91.8 last year to 90.8 this year as well. I admittedly don’t have any idea what goes into these metrics, but I can assume that his lack of ability to throw it for strikes has to play a factor in the decreased effectiveness of his fastball.

From watching Schlereth pitch for two years, it’s obvious that he uses his curve as his “out pitch”, meaning the fastball is merely used as a tool to get ahead of the hitters. With starting pitchers much more so than relievers, it’s important to have a pitch with good movement that you can use to get quick outs. Relievers, especially LOOGys, don’t have to worry about pitch counts and should therefore be focusing more on throwing whatever pitches in whatever sequence that gives them the best chance to retire the two or three hitters they are asked to face.

This seems to make the idea of throwing the two-seam fastball that much less sensical for Schlereth.

Yes, a fastball that is straight is much more hittable than one that moves, no matter the velocity difference, but if the pitcher cannot spot the two-seamer effectively within the zone, the difference in hittability is completely negated by the free passes handed out. Instead of falling behind with his fastball, wouldn’t it be smarter to throw the four-seamer to get ahead of the hitters and set up the curve? The sample size is extremely small, but it looks as if Schlereth has a much better idea of how to command that pitch, which would go a long way toward avoiding mistakes over the heart of the plate.

At this point, I’d much rather Schlereth attack the strikezone and trust his four-seam fastball to set-up his curve than to see him continue to miss badly with two-seamers in an attempt to coax the batter into chasing a bad pitch. By and large, major league hitters are too smart for that. If he’s gonna get beat, I’d rather it be because he got hit than because he walked the first two guys he faced and constantly fell behind the hitters.

Because the bottom line is that when you are a two-pitch pitcher and you can’t throw strikes with one of them, unless you’re Al Alburquerque, you’re gonna be in trouble.

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