When it comes to baseball pitchers, most fans focus on pitch speed. This makes sense. The 100-mph-fastball is a pop culture/athletic touchstone, and who hasn’t been to a carnival in central Ontario and tried to throw three hard pitches at the same velocity while your ten-year-old brain realizes the km/h readings on the gun have little meaning to your life? But in general, if you throw the ball faster, it’s harder to hit, right?
One of the biggest baseball stories through the first half of the season is the noticeable (and noticed, obviously) drop in pitch velocity for flamethrower Justin Verlander. Coupled with middling success (when compared with recent, historic-level years), falling pitch speed is the ready response for writers attempting diagnoses of Verlander’s struggles. (C.C. Sabathia has fallen under similarly themed scrutiny.)
While the real reason for Verlander’s struggles likely exists within a more complex mix of factors, the popular focus on pitch speed provides a good entry point for introducing two other pitching components that probably are more important than velocity alone and that are easy for casual fans to understand and track. (That’s the whole point of this series of posts, after all.)