The Cincinnati Reds have a lot of low spin-rate pitchers on their staff. 538 had an article up on Friday that looked at how the best pitching staffs in baseball all have high spin-rates on their fastballs. The top four teams in terms of spin-rate on fastballs are the Astros, Yankees, Dodgers, and Indians. The Astros have one of the best ERA+ marks of all time as a pitching staff. The other three are all well above-average in ERA+, too.

Spin-rate on a fastball can have different effects. The higher the spin rate the more the ball “rises”. The lower the spin rate the more the ball sinks. Higher spin-rate fastballs lead to more swings-and-misses. Lower ones tend to lead to more contact. As the article notes, too, batters tend to have more success on lower spin-rate fastballs. There’s a chart in the article that shows how each team has watched their spin-rate change over the last four seasons. The Cincinnati Reds are at the very bottom of that list. That’s not to say that they have the lowest spin rate in baseball – just that from 2015-2018, they’ve experienced the most loss in spin-rate among the staff.

With all of that said, they probably have one of, if not the lowest spin-rate pitching staffs in all of baseball. The average spin-rate on a fastball is just over 2200 RPM. I decided to look at how every pitcher in baseball who threw 400+ pitches stacked up. It gave a sample of 511 pitchers in total. The Cincinnati Reds didn’t have a single pitcher, of the 15 that threw at least 400 pitches, inside the top 130. Only TWO of those pitchers ranked inside the top 250. Here’s the breakdown:

I also included a few of the non-qualifiers who may be of note. But as you can see, the Reds pitching staff, by-and-large, is near the bottom of the entire league in terms of spin-rate. Jared Hughes is in the bottom four. That, of course, tells you there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Hughes has an outstanding fastball. It’s got tons of movement, because of the spin-rate, which is why it sinks and is “heavy”.

To put this into perspective, the best spin rate in baseball is 2658 (among the qualified 400+ pitches thrown group). The lowest spin rate is 1767. The Reds don’t have anyone remotely close to being elite in terms of spin-rate. They don’t even have a single pitcher that ranks in the top 25% of the league. That is incredible.

When looking at the guys that were non-qualifiers, both Robert Stephenson and Lucas Sims are guys who are above-average spin-rate pitchers. They’ve had their own set of issues, though – mostly their ability to consistently find the strikezone. If either could figure that aspect out, though, perhaps they could be a bit of a different look for the pitching staff.

When it comes to changing the spin-rate, it’s not something that anyone seems to know how to teach. At least without “cheating”. We know that using things like pine tar, or other sticky substances, can add spin to the baseball. Current research, though, doesn’t really show a way to add it (to a fastball) by doing something differently without that. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a way, but if there is, no one has figured it out. For now, it’s either something you have, or you don’t have.

Spin-rate on a fastball is not some be-all-end-all answer. Robert Stephenson has a high spin-rate. His fastball has been crushed in the Majors. Jared Hughes, as noted above, has one of the lowest spin-rates in baseball, and his fastball is outstanding. Location matters a lot, too. But spin-rate certainly does help. The more spin, the different way that ball looks. And it’s been shown that the more spin, the less effective hitters are with the offering.

The Reds are certainly aware of this. I’ve heard multiple people within the organization, who work on both the Major and Minor League side of things talk about these kinds of things. If you recall when they signed Blake Wood to a big league deal despite not having pitched in the big leagues the year prior a few seasons ago, one of the reasons was that he was a high spin-rate guy.


13 Responses

  1. GM Nep O'Tism

    On a “brighter” note, the Reds managed to break their two season streak of leading MLB in HR allowed, coming in at only second worst this time with 228 in 2018.

    From 2016-2018, they have allowed 734 HR.

    • Colt Holt

      Worth noting, approximately 400 of those were to Eric Thames.

      • Coltholt

        Wow. No wonder he had a good year with Milwaukee. His homers against the central this year…cin (7), stl (6), pit (5), chc (0)

  2. Brad Legg

    Follow up is this a predraft characteristic the Reds should be looking at? What is Hunter Greene’s spin rate? Doug, I would like to see names with top 50? spin rates vs ERA+.

    • Doug Gray

      I don’t have the average number for Greene, but I’ve checked on it at various games and he’s been in that 2250 range.

  3. IMHO

    Would love to know the Red’s farm team pitchers spin rate ALL of them not just top prospects – I guarantee youll find a guy on the Rookie team with a very high spin rate who isnt one of the top prospects

  4. Doc

    Perhaps data are not available, but I would also be curious as the the spin rates of HoF pitchers of the last, maybe, 50 years. Ryan, Johnson, Gibson, Maddux, Seaver, Clemens, et al. If all the HoFers are high spin guys, it would bolster the argument for paying closer attention to it.

    Similarly, what were the spin rates of Reds highly drafted pitchers who never made it very far? Do high spin rate guys flame out at a higher percentage than lower?

    It is an interesting piece of data, though how useful it will be in managing the up and comers, remains to be assessed.

    • Doug Gray

      Realistically, we’ve only got comparable spin rates for guys over the last 4-ish years. Prior to that, you’ve just got anecdotal evidence that “this guys fastball rises on you – this guys fastball accelerates as it gets closer ” (which, like rise, doesn’t actually happen – but it doesn’t decelerate as much because of the spin, like the rise doesn’t happen, it just doesn’t sink as much as you expect because of the spin).

      Spin rate was talked about. But being able to quantify it is better than just guessing that “this guy is good at generating spin”. Most of this statcast stuff is just giving what scouts said before it existed actual evidence that what they were saying was right, and giving them and us a little more accuracy in just who is doing what the best.

  5. Patrick

    Spin rates are just one factor.
    Hughes has the worst spin rate but had one of the most effective fastballs on the team and it was one of the slowest. 20.4 value tops on reds Hernandez was second at 7.9. Mahle at .8. The rest of the pitchers on Dougs list all had fastball with negative values.

  6. Matt

    There’s also a difference for how good soon rate is on a 4 seam vs a 2 seam. It gives more rise to a 4 seam fastball and is good for that, but I believe I’ve heard a lower soon rate is better for sinkers so they get more sinking action. Would make sense with Jared Hughes being so low on the chart and being a ground ball specialist.

  7. ohiojim

    The spin rate data offers a feasible explanation for why Castillo seems to have such a tight/ small margin of error with his fastball location. Not a show stopper for him; but, he definitely needs to keep dialing in his command and keep his obp allowed as low as possible so errors with the fastball don’t cost him as much.