Heath Bell: Pitch Selection and ValuesBy
As one of the two off-season additions to the Marlin’s pitching staff, fans can look forward to watching Heath Bell close out games in a Miami uniform next season. The three time All-Star and former Padre joined the team when he agreed to a three year, $27 million contract in December. While we’ve seen analysis of Bell as well as projections for him going forward (both from our good friends over at Fish Stripes), today we’ll examine Bell’s pitch selection and which part of his arsenal has been most effective using Pitch f/x data courtesy of Texas Leaguers.
Bell worked a successful 2011 with only three pitches: a four-seam fastball, curveball, and a sinker. While he had used the fastball and curve throughout his career, the sinker was a new addition that he had not previously thrown. In fact, before this season, Bell relied on a change-up and slider as off-speed pitches before ditching both and adopting the slider.
His fastball had average velocity of 93.8 in 2011, next to the likes of Matt Garza and Brandon Morrow (both also 93.8), and right in line with his career average fastball velocity of 94.2. Bell’s sinker also lit up radar guns this year with an average velocity of, coincidentally, 94.2–8th fastest among relievers–in his first year using the pitch. His curveball had an average velocity of 82.1 this season, ranking as one of the faster curves in the league. However, this was not a new development, as Bell’s curve has clocked in at an average of 82.2 throughout his career.
Bell is known primarily as a fastball pitcher–and for good reason: His fastball accounted for 55.1% of all his pitches last season, and an even greater percentage if you look at Bell’s career totals, where he has thrown the heater 65.5% of the time in his eight years in the league. It will be interesting to see if he continues this downward trend of fastball usage next season, or if he returns towards his career average usage with the Marlins. Bell also relies (somewhat) heavily on his curveball–which he throws around 25% of the time, although in 2011 he threw the curve slightly more often than that, at 28.8%. Last in terms of usage rate comes the sinker, which Bell went to 15.1% of the time. Since this was his first year using the pitch, there are no career totals to give a better perspective of how Bell uses the pitch, but it would be reasonable to expect a similar usage rate for the sinker this season and going forward.
The reason Bell throws his fastball over half the time? It’s very good. Last season the pitch was worth 15.0 runs, making it by far his most effective weapon, and second most valuable among all relievers. Per 100 pitches, the four-seamer saved 2.49 runs, and ranked only behind Luke Gregerson in that category. The success of Bell’s fastball should not be surprising; however, as he has saved more than 58 runs with the heater over his career. The curveball in 2011 was a bit of a disappointment, as it accounted for -1.8 runs, or -.58 runs saved/100 pitches. This was quite surprising, given that Bell had accumulated more than 10 runs saved with the curve coming into the last year, and had never produced anything worse than a -.o7 runs saved/100 pitches–which happened back in 2007. Finally, and almost identical to the curve in terms of effectiveness was Bell’s sinker, at -.52 runs saved/100 pitches. He may improve on that mark next season, however, since it will be his second full year throwing the pitch, and most likely will be much more comfortable using it.
Overall, Bell’s fastball is what has defined him throughout his career, and for good reason–the pitch is his most effective, and most used pitch. Marlins fans can also expect to see Bell’s curve and sinker next season, although they are used more sparingly, and have not come close to the level of success that his fastball has. It also is possible that Bell brings back one of the pitches he used earlier in his career– a slider and change-up–but decided to forego further use before the 2011 season, as he instead opted to throw a sinker as his third pitch.