As loyal members of the Viva El Birdos community already know, the majority of the VEB writing staff enjoys delving into the wonderful information available at BrooksBaseball.net. Prior to becoming an editor for VEB, BrooksBaseball was probably my most visited baseball site as PITCHF/x data fascinates me, and it has not changed over the last eleven months. Well, as the website URL suggests, Dan Brooks is the founder of the site, but he is not alone. Harry Pavlidis, the founder of Pitch Info and director of technology at Baseball Prospectus, primarily helps Brooks with pitch classifications among other things. Pavlidis graciously agreed to answer some questions for the community, and his full thoughts are included below:
Viva El Birdos: When analyzing the data in a pitcher's start, what do you look for when comparing to prior starts? Velocity, pitch selection? What else do you use to help analyze starts or detect trends?
Harry Pavlidis: Velocity is usually the first thing. Pitch selection (split out by batter hand) is the next for sure. But things like location, ability to get first-pitch strikes, etc. come into play. Often you have something in mind based on observation or reporting already, too.
VEB: When you look at the Cardinals pitching staff, especially their respective PITCHF/x data, who do you see as having the best fastball? The best breaking ball?
HP: Trevor Rosenthal has the best four-seamer, and Carlos Martinez the best two-seamer. I will always love Adam Wainwright’s curveball. His cutter isn’t what it used to be, so let’s not talk about that.
VEB: When looking at breaking ball data (i.e. horizontal movement, vertical movement), what do you see as correlating with the best breaking balls?
HP: Combination of movement and velocity. If you can throw 85 with break that others throw at 77, that’s a special pitch. Next thing is count/location. If you can use the pitch for called strikes and/or swinging strikes it helps judge the pitch.
VEB: As many of our readers know, my favorite pitch is the changeup, what is your favorite pitch and why?
HP: The first pitch strike, but, seriously, either the power cutter or the change. Stephen Strasburg’s changeup is my favorite, but pitchers who can cut and sink his fastball (i.e. Roy Halladay) are delicious.
VEB: Which MLB pitcher has the hardest pitches to classify and why?
HP: Trevor Bauer has a splitter, a changeup, and a "reverse slider" which is a modified screwball. Three off-speed pitches. Yu Darvish is similar, he throws changes and splits, and he’ll throw his split anywhere from the mid/upper 80s to the lower 90s.
VEB: This one is tough, if you had to look at just ONE component of PITCHF/x when comparing pitchers, what would it be?
HP: Velocity, because "command" is always a nebulous/multi-faceted guessing game.
VEB: Statcast looks fantastic. Once we get more data, what are you looking to do with it?
HP: Try and understand it from the inside out. I really hope to get low-level access for public work, but I’ll be fine if it’s just between me and my clients. :)
VEB: Would you rather have a catcher average at framing and really good at blocking or really good at framing and average at blocking? Do those skills tend to go together?
HP: Framing is so much more important, it’s not even close. While they do tend to go together, there are guys like Jose Molina who is a wizard in framing but a dog in blocking.
VEB: Piggybacking off that, do you think that statistics overvalue Yadier Molina, undervalue him, or have him just right?
HP: Undervalue him. Even when we account for his framing and blocking, we need to do better crediting for his ability to shut-down running games and handle a staff/game. Lucroy is the NL MVP for 2014, but he didn’t get into the top 3 because we fail to handle all these things. For now.
VEB: How worried should we be about the Cubs next season? In 2016?
HP: They’ll be more competitive in 2015 than anything we’ve seen in a few years. In 2016, they could have one of the best offenses in baseball. Should be a lot of fun—having both sides of this great rivalry in good shape.
I thank Harry for the time he took in answering these questions, and I look forward to working with him again in the future, especially as the Cubs prospect talent surfaces to the big league level. Make sure to follow him on Twitter (@harrypav) for some tremendous baseball (and life) insight.