The reason I think I’m a good pitcher is I locate my fastball and I change speeds. Period. That’s what you do to pitch. Greg Maddux

Any time you talk about the importance of fastball velocity, the name Greg Maddux eventually comes up. Yes, there was this pitcher once that was dominant without lighting up the guns. He even had a teammate that is headed to the hall without four-seam gas. But just because Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux exist doesn’t mean you don’t want to start with velocity and then move on to the rest of the package. After all, we’ve linked many times to Mike Fast’s research that showed that four more miles in fastball velocity means allowing one less run per nine innings.

But Greg Maddux does mean something. He means that location and movement are still part of the parcel that makes the most common pitch in baseball effective. Can we figure out the hierarchy beyond velocity?

There’s a great first step in the FanGraphs community blog this week. Thomas Karakolis took each aspect of the fastball and ran it against the ratio between home runs and swinging strikes, his ratio of effectiveness. The shortest summary of his excellent work is that, if you were to rank these aspects of the fastball against each other, you’d find that velocity, then location, and then movement were the most important facets of a fastball.

It gets a little more complicated, of course. One of the most interesting velocity findings was that there was little difference between a 90 and a 93 mph fastball when measured by his metric. Plus-plus velocity, or fastballs over 94 mph, you start to get twice as many swinging strikes as home runs allowed as you did in the middle range. This year, among starters, that probably means your Stephen Strasburg, David Price, and Justin Verlander are enjoying the fruits of their fastballs. Matt Moore and Max Scherzer, interestingly enough, are also in the 94+ mph club.

That’s it. That’s the guys that are dominating with the fastball velocity first.

If we treat the rest of the gang as a monolith, we can move on to the next aspect — location. This one is tricky, because there isn’t a clear ‘good location’ stat. Using SS/HR as Karakolis did biases the low pitch — low pitches aren’t hit for fly balls as often, and therefore they aren’t hit for home runs as often. But ground balls have their own issues sometimes (a higher BABIP, for instance). And finding a leaderboard for pitchers that can throw darts low and away is difficult.

But let’s say his findings stand — location is the second-most important aspect of a fastball — and let’s use percentage of fastballs in the zone as a proxy for control. There are problems with this, one being the idea that there are two different skills at play when a pitcher attempts to put the ball in one place. One is control, and one is command. One is about putting the ball in a specific spot, and one is about putting the ball in the zone.

No matter, we’ll use zone percentage. Now, using starting pitchers that have thrown over 100 innings this season and showed a fastball between 90 and 94 mph, we can sort by zone% to find the guys benefiting the most from fastball control. Or, at least we can, thanks to Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs.com and his own BaseballHeatMaps.com:

Name Velo FB% in Zone % of FB movement
Blake Beavan 91.01 67.0% 52.7% 91.25
Cliff Lee 90.25 66.9% 62.2% 82.96
A.J. Burnett 92.35 66.7% 47.2% 65.09
Clayton Richard 90.69 65.6% 49.3% 156.77
Kris Medlen 90.06 65.1% 50.3% 87.82
Zach McAllister 91.81 64.5% 58.6% 90.81
Bartolo Colon 90.09 64.4% 69.3% 105.00
Homer Bailey 92.50 64.3% 49.7% 89.34
Scott Feldman 90.72 63.4% 52.6% 23.84
Jose Quintana 90.08 62.7% 51.6% 59.29

What a strange list. Cliff Lee makes a lot of sense. Watching him, you get the Madduxian feeling of a guy that could hit a pin off the top of a tee. He may not have the most movement on this list, but he peppers the zone and has enough gas to make it work. Blake Beavan? Well, you do need other pitches than a fastball, especially if your fastball comes over the plate at 91. Clayton Richard confounds, but he does have some skills, and it looks like fastball command is one of them. And maybe this tells us something about why Kris Medlen has been as good as he’s been (other than the changeup).

If you feel uncomfortable about lumping the 90 mph guys in with the 93.8s, then that makes sense. Here’s the same leaderboard with guys that hump it over the plate at 92+ mph:

Name Velo FB% in Zone % of FB movement
A.J. Burnett 92.35 66.7% 47.2% 65.09
Homer Bailey 92.50 64.3% 49.7% 89.34
Jordan Zimmermann 93.79 62.3% 50.5% 77.83
Henderson Alvarez 92.92 61.8% 57.0% 72.25
Clayton Kershaw 93.04 61.6% 50.2% 154.47
Derek Holland 92.89 61.6% 56.4% 169.11
Felix Hernandez 92.31 61.5% 36.0% 35.43
Chris Sale 92.19 61.3% 44.6% 128.61
Mat Latos 92.54 60.7% 47.6% 105.60
Ubaldo Jimenez 92.31 59.7% 45.9% 104.53
Matt Garza 93.41 59.6% 49.4% 104.37
Luke Hochevar 92.22 59.3% 48.9% 81.65
CC Sabathia 92.25 59.1% 44.1% 102.95
Jake Arrieta 93.24 59.1% 50.4% 122.67
Josh Johnson 92.80 59.1% 40.1% 81.56

Oh that’s nice. Maybe the first table gives you a list of pitchers that are underrated by their gun readings, but this list gives you a sense of how the best pitchers do it. And when you see Derek Holland on this list, with a 93 mph fastball that he can place in the zone with plus-plus movement, then you can understand why the lefty is so interesting in keeper circles despite so-so results so far. This list also gives Ubaldo Jimenez the tiniest sliver of hope — but you also have to know that he can rarely command his secondary pitches as well. Luke Hochevar! Perennial sleeper! Still asleep today! And there’s hope still for Jake Arrieta, perhaps.

I’ll leave you with my 2012 leaderboard. Movement is the square of PFx_x and PFx_z added together, ‘fastballs’ are four-seamers and sinkers combined, and the rest of the statistics should be self-explanatory. Set your own thresholds, and sort your own groups, and you might find a pitcher or two that are undervalued by their fastball velocity. Just remember that you’ve got to throw a pitch other than your fastball sometimes, too…

Name Velo FB% in Zone % of FB movement
Blake Beavan 91.01 67.0% 52.7% 91.25
Cliff Lee 90.25 66.9% 62.2% 82.96
A.J. Burnett 92.35 66.7% 47.2% 65.09
Clayton Richard 90.69 65.6% 49.3% 156.77
Kris Medlen 90.06 65.1% 50.3% 87.82
Zach McAllister 91.81 64.5% 58.6% 90.81
Bartolo Colon 90.09 64.4% 69.3% 105.00
Homer Bailey 92.50 64.3% 49.7% 89.34
Scott Feldman 90.72 63.4% 52.6% 23.84
Jose Quintana 90.08 62.7% 51.6% 59.29
Kevin Correia 90.19 62.5% 39.8% 68.90
Anibal Sanchez 91.51 62.4% 38.3% 86.27
Jordan Zimmermann 93.79 62.3% 50.5% 77.83
Phil Hughes 91.87 62.3% 56.7% 103.77
J.A. Happ 90.44 62.0% 53.1% 171.74
Henderson Alvarez 92.92 61.8% 57.0% 72.25
Clayton Kershaw 93.04 61.6% 50.2% 154.47
Derek Holland 92.89 61.6% 56.4% 169.11
Felix Hernandez 92.31 61.5% 36.0% 35.43
Wei-Yin Chen 90.86 61.4% 54.0% 144.32
Chris Sale 92.19 61.3% 44.6% 128.61
C.J. Wilson 91.06 61.2% 54.5% 71.49
Rick Porcello 91.96 60.8% 52.3% 101.70
Matt Harrison 91.44 60.8% 59.0% 122.68
James McDonald 91.75 60.7% 50.7% 104.16
Mat Latos 92.54 60.7% 47.6% 105.60
Chad Billingsley 90.32 60.6% 61.4% 54.33
Josh Beckett 90.83 60.6% 52.0% 51.41
Philip Humber 90.63 60.4% 37.6% 102.60
Madison Bumgarner 91.04 60.3% 37.3% 75.25
Marco Estrada 90.15 60.3% 49.3% 136.41
Wade Miley 90.77 60.2% 59.8% 128.70
Justin Masterson 91.86 59.9% 61.9% 60.88
Ubaldo Jimenez 92.31 59.7% 45.9% 104.53
Matt Garza 93.41 59.6% 49.4% 104.37
Luke Hochevar 92.22 59.3% 48.9% 81.65
CC Sabathia 92.25 59.1% 44.1% 102.95
Matt Cain 91.09 59.1% 41.7% 98.04
Jake Arrieta 93.24 59.1% 50.4% 122.67
Josh Johnson 92.80 59.1% 40.1% 81.56
Felix Doubront 92.08 59.0% 56.4% 106.18
Ivan Nova 92.76 59.0% 43.7% 84.15
Clay Buchholz 90.97 58.9% 54.1% 70.32
Ross Detwiler 92.64 58.9% 65.0% 130.14
Lucas Harrell 92.40 58.8% 58.5% 88.02
Edinson Volquez 93.60 58.5% 39.9% 64.00
Lance Lynn 92.69 58.5% 56.1% 90.89
Brandon McCarthy 90.33 58.4% 60.3% 62.44
Tommy Hunter 90.85 58.3% 54.5% 55.36
Zack Greinke 92.01 58.1% 49.6% 68.24
Edwin Jackson 93.40 58.0% 47.0% 86.75
Bud Norris 91.83 57.9% 44.7% 110.87
Ricky Romero 91.22 57.8% 52.1% 47.29
Cole Hamels 90.57 57.5% 50.5% 119.82
Jarrod Parker 92.24 57.0% 50.3% 104.19
Jeremy Guthrie 92.72 57.0% 48.1% 89.39
Jason Hammel 93.47 56.8% 50.7% 113.18
Tim Lincecum 90.41 56.7% 41.6% 55.26
Mike Minor 90.24 56.7% 48.8% 103.09
Gio Gonzalez 93.01 56.5% 59.6% 143.56
James Shields 91.72 56.2% 29.5% 80.61
Yu Darvish 91.72 55.7% 56.3% 64.00
Yovani Gallardo 91.70 55.4% 46.8% 88.70
Francisco Liriano 92.94 55.3% 39.8% 127.04
Ervin Santana 91.75 55.2% 46.5% 56.84
Ryan Vogelsong 90.56 55.1% 46.3% 98.83
Jeremy Hellickson 90.89 55.0% 50.5% 88.03
Jake Westbrook 90.22 55.0% 52.4% 95.77
Johnny Cueto 92.39 54.4% 45.8% 103.52
Jeff Samardzija 92.91 54.1% 61.4% 77.57
Luis Mendoza 92.37 53.9% 54.1% 71.00
Jon Lester 91.93 53.4% 60.2% 93.17
Jordan Lyles 91.65 52.5% 47.1% 75.64
Jerome Williams 90.35 52.4% 64.1% 55.62
Hiroki Kuroda 90.54 51.6% 52.4% 80.78