Scott Baker Is Rocking His Fastball

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 10: Catcher Joe Mauer #7 of the Minnesota Twins return to home plate after speaking with Scott Baker #30 on the mound during the fourth inning of their game against the Oakland Athletics on April 10, 2011 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Athletics defeated the Twins 5-3. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

If you've seen Scott Baker pitch this season, you know something is going well. Something, since last season, has allowed him to pitch with an authority and a confidence that he just didn't have in 2010. His strikeout rates are hitting a career high (8.9 K/9), which is one of the most recognizeable symptoms of a guy having a good year.

But when you look at his peripheral statistics, nothing really stands out at first glance. Line drive rates are down a bit but not significantly, batting average on balls in play corresponds, walk rates are actually up just a tad, he's actually getting fewer swinging strikes on the whole, and batters are actually chasing fewer balls outside of the strike zone. There's an intriguing consistency that largely exists which, honestly, I didn't expect to see.

The one thing that really stands out is Baker's use of his fastball.

Year

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Fastball %

72.3

66.2

60.2

61.2

62.1

63.1

70.2

For a vast majority of pitchers, the fastball is an integral part of their arsenal. This is of course true for Baker, who is at his best when he has command of that fastball. He likes to tempt batters with the high fastball, and he's also brave enough to use it as a strikeout pitch.

If you want a quick glance at how valuable Baker's fastball has been in 2011, check out his pitch values at FanGraphs. In 2010 his fastball was 8.9 runs below average. This season it's already 10.1 runs above average.

There hasn't been a real change in fastball velocity. But there has been a change in how effective it's been.

Year

AVG

SLG

Well-Hit Avg

K%

BB%

Chase%

Miss%

In-Play%

2010

.370

.518

.276

17

9

28

18

35

2011

.217

.391

.205

26

9

21

21

29

All stats courtesy of My Inside Edge

It's no wonder Baker has confidence to throw his fastball so often. In spite of not getting as many chases outside of the strike zone, Baker is inducing A) more misses, B) fewer balls in play, and C) better results on those balls in play. That's pretty much the trifecta.

Tonight, I know what I'll be watching when Baker pitches.

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