Eric Seidman has a great article on Baseball Prospectus today, one I encourage everyone to read. Essentially, Eric looked at how a batter’s perception of a pitch’s velocity differs from the actual velocity due to the pitcher’s release point. The focal point of the article was the Padres’ Chris Young, who has had a pretty successful career despite a fastball that generally sits between 85 and 89 miles per hour. In the sample used by Eric, he found that Young’s release point, which is closer to the plate than an average pitcher’s, boosted his 84.1 MPH fastball to a perceived velocity of 91.1 MPH. That is a huge difference, and it likely explains why Young has had so much success with a below average heater.
You might be wondering what this has to do with the Pirates. Toward the end of his article, Eric posts the results of a small sample of pitchers that he examined. Here we find our old friend, Ian Snell. According to Eric’s results, Snell’s 91.7 MPH fastball appeared to travel at just 87.6 MPH.
Snell lacks a quality third pitch. He is either unable or unwilling to throw inside to hitters. His control is erratic. And now, it turns out that his release point makes his fastball easier to hit. Note: Fan Graphs confirms that Snell’s fastball has never been productive, not even during his solid 2007 season.) It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that he has struggled over the past few years. He simply isn’t that good.