With Four-Pitch Mix, Which Fringe Is Best?

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Q: Suppose a pitcher has four pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup, slider). Three are plus, one is fringe. Which one would be fringe in an ideal world?

Josiah Rutledge


If a pitcher has three plus pitches, he’s in great shape no matter how bad his fourth pitch is. In fact, depending on which pitch is fringe, it might make the most sense just to junk it. If a pitcher has a plus fastball, slider and change (or curve and change), it doesn’t usually make sense to do a hitter a favor and throw the second, fringy breaking ball when a pitcher has a true plus breaking ball as an option.

But a pitcher who has a fringy changeup, a plus fastball and two plus breaking balls would continue throwing the changeup because there are times where he’d need the changeup against a batter with the platoon advantage. Also, even if it’s fringy, the threat of the changeup (thrown five to six times a game) has some utility.

There are very few pitchers who take the mound consistently with three 60 (on the 20-80 scout scale) pitches or better. If you’re looking for a current example, Mets righthander Noah Syndergaard is probably about as good as you can get. Syndergaard pitches with an 80 fastball–it has exceptional velocity and he generally locates it. His slider is at least a 70 and could earn some 80 grades as well. It’s hard but has enough depth and bite to paralyze hitters who are geared up for the fastball.

Syndergaard also throws a changeup and a curveball. The much slower low-80s curveball is the fringiest of the four pitches but even it has some value because hitters can never look for it (he throws it less than 10 percent of the time) and everything else is so hard that it’s very hard to readjust to a curve that is coming in nearly 20 mph slower.

And Syndergaard’s changeup doesn’t have to do much of anything to be an average changeup. Multiple scouts have said that a pitcher with a 100 mph fastball only has to maintain the same arm speed on his changeup and throw it for strikes to have it play as an average changeup.

Syndergaard proves the point. Any pitcher with even two plus pitches and command ensures that hitters are going to dread the day at the ballpark.

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