Kyle Crick’s Bread and Butter Pitch: The Fastball

SURPRISE, AZ - MARCH 04: Relief pitcher Kyle Crick
SURPRISE, AZ - MARCH 04: Relief pitcher Kyle Crick /

The Pirates acquired reliever Kyle Crick this offseason for Andrew McCutchen.  Crick was a starter in the Giants system up until last year, and he performed well in his limited time in the San Francisco bullpen.  His bread and butter pitch is the fastball.

Kyle Crick posted a 3.06 ERA in his 32.1 innings for the Giants last year, though his more advanced metrics, 3.90 FIP, 5.30 xFIP, 4.80 SIERA, and 4.37 DRA, indicate his ERA should have been worse, and his FIP (95 FIP-) and DRA (92.9 DRA-) were slightly better than league average.  In the minor leagues from 2012-16, the years where he was a starter in the minors (92 starts in 119 games), Crick struck out a good rate of batters, 25.2 percent, but he walked 15.4 percent of batters (ubb+HBP percentage of 16.90 percent).

After moving to the pen in 2017, the 24-year-old struck out 25.97 percent of hitters, and while the control improved, he still walked 11.63 percent of hitters (his two intentional walks and two hit batters cancel, so his free pass rate was also 11.63 percent) between the MLB and Triple-A.

While being a reliever in the MLB, however, he had a below average strikeout rate for a reliever (20.9 percent compared to 23.3 percent league average), though his swinging strike rate of 11.0 percent was much closer to the 11.6 percent relief pitcher average.

The pitch that Crick really made his go to in the bullpen was his fastball, using the pitch 73.17 percent of the time according to Brooks Baseball, and 74.38 percent according to Baseball Savant.  Using the latter site, a look at this pitch can be seen, and the same methodology I used when looking at How Chad Kuhl Bases The Curveball Off The Slider is the approach I’ll be using.

Below is a table of the breakdown, which each value representing a percent of the total.  Each column is the number of balls and the row is the number of strikes in the count.  For instance, the CH 0 (top column) and 1 (row) means that of the 607 pitches Crick threw, 1.98 percent of them were changeups on a 1-1 count.  The far right grey column represents the percent of each pitch based on strike count, and the grey column under each pitch represents the percent of each pitch in each ball count.  The black represents the total percentage of each pitch, with the yellow representing the total in the sample, not adding up to 100% because I factored out the null.

CH0123CH Total
 CH Total 3.46% 1.32%0.16%0.00%4.94%
FF0123FF Total
 FF Total 28.67%20.43%15.65%9.93%74.14%
SL0123SL Total
SL Total8.57%8.73%2.80%0.49%20.59%

The biggest take away, for me, was that Crick got to a three ball count 10.05 percent of the time (refactoring in the null), which really highlights his control issues, as the league average was just 8.46 percent.  The other thing is his usage of the fastball with two strikes, 25.37 percent of his total pitches came via a fastball with two strikes.  It’s a high reliance on a fastball, even in put away situations.  With two strikes, Crick went to his heater 71.3 percent of the time (using the percentage of fastballs with two strikes over the sum of each pitch type’s usage with two strikes, or 25.37%/[0.49%+25.37%+9.56%+0.16%]).  So it’s no real surprise that when he throws two or more pitches in a plate appearance, Crick pairs his fastball with a fastball:

As a batter, you know that about half the time that Crick throws his heater, he’ll follow it up with another fastball.  And why would he not?  It is his best pitch, after all.  Using pitch linear weights, Crick’s fastball was worth 8.2 runs above average, his only of the three pitches that were above average.

Using Baseball Prospectus’ PitchFX leaderboard, Crick had the eighth highest horizontal movement among the 303 right-handed pitchers with 200+ fastballs, but that’s largely because his ball has natural cut to it, breaking more glove side compared to regular fastball movement breaking arm side.  Looking at the absolute value of the horizontal movement, Crick has the 296th highest mark.  But being on one end compared to the other is the difference between a natural cut action or natural run action, and Crick’s has the natural cut.  Paired with the average velocity of 95.48 miles per hour, the fastball is a really good pitch, and this video from his debut really highlights the firmness with natural cut.

Being a relief pitcher, having one really good pitch gets you almost where you need to be, but having a viable second pitch would come in handy, and that’s where the 25-year-old could use some improvement.  He doesn’t throw his changeup, just about five percent of the time according to the above chart, and his slider didn’t produce good results last season, a run value of -1.4.  With his usage of the fastball, and throwing it about half the time on back-to-back pitches to the same batter, Crick needs an additional pitch to maximize his potential in the bullpen.

Next: Kevin Kramer Is Becoming The Second Baseman of the Future

Crick overperformed his ERA indicators, and with his control there is some worry heading into 2018 on him being a late inning reliever.  An increase in swings and misses, and in turn strikeouts, would be nice, and more usage and improvement of his secondary stuff would be beneficial in achieving those results.  But for now, and with an improvement in those other pitches, the bread and butter for Kyle Crick will be his hard fastball with natural cut.

*Numbers from Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball, and Fangraphs