Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 8/20/12

“We always give him (grief) because he’s got the invisi-ball,” said Kris Medlen, who played with Redmond in Gwinnett this year and Double-A Mississippi in 2008. “He always goes seven or eight innings, but he throws these belt-high to belly button-high 90 mph (fastballs). If I threw them they’d get crushed but it doesn’t. Some things you can’t explain.”

— David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 17, 2012

Todd Redmond‘s major-league debut this past Saturday wasn’t what even the most forgiving of Mr. Redmond’s supporters would describe as a “rousing success.” The 27-year-old right-hander allowed four runs and seven hits in just 3.1 innings before getting relieved by Alfredo Simon. Nor were his defense-independent numbers any kinder: with his 2:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and mere five grounders induced (of 15 batted-balls total), Redmond posted a decidedly poor 9.06 xFIP for the game (box).

Despite all his problems, however, it’s notable — one might even say “shocking,” were one in the appropriate mood — that Redmond finished the game with an above-average run value (+0.6 total, +0.9 per 100 thrown) on his fastball, a pitch he threw 65 times and constituted 71% of his 91 total pitches for the game. Conversely, Redmond’s change and slider — which he threw just a combined 25 times — were worth about 3.8 negative runs.

Indeed, Redmond induced swinging strikes on 10 of those 65 fastballs (15.4%) — this, while the league-average swinging-strike rate on four-seam fastballs sits at just 7.0%.

Perhaps even more notable is that Redmond’s whiffs weren’t due to batters chasing pitches out of the zone. In fact, seven of the whiffed-upon fastballs actually fell within the strike zone*, as illustrated here:

*Or, a rough approximation of the zone — which is to say, the area between -1.0 to 1.0 feet on the x-axis and 1.5 to 3.5 feet on the y-axis.

In the end, Redmond induced whiffs on seven of the 30 fastballs he threw in the zone, or 23.3%. The league-average swinging-strike rate on fastballs in the zone is considerably lower, about 7.5%. By way of reference, no pitcher in the league this season has thrown as many as 30 fastballs in the zone while whiffing batters at the rate Redmond demonstrated on Saturday. Teammate Aroldis Chapman is next on the list (at 22.5%), and he, of course, has thrown the fastest pitch ever recorded in the game — much different than the 89-90 mph at which Redmond sits.

The success of Redmond’s fastball might be less exceptional — and the author much more willing to discard it as a product of randomness — if not for Kris Medlen’s comment regarding same at the top of this post. Nothing about the velocity or movement on Redmond’s fastball, however, suggests that it’d be a plus offering. It is the case — as Ben Duronio exhibited in late March with regard to Trevor Bauer — that fastballs high in the zone receive more whiffs than those lower in the zone. Possibly, that’s all we’re seeing here.

Is deception part of it, maybe? Perhaps. Unfortunately, the Cincinnati center-field camera isn’t the best for determining that sort of thing, as one can see here:

If pressed, I might suggest that Redmond obscures the ball with his body more than other pitchers — or perhaps tosses it in a more “dart-like” fashion — but that’d be more an example of me grasping for explanations than an actual instance of “analysis that’s worth anything.” Ideally, it’d be possible to watch Redmond pitch in front of a straight-on center-field camera. (Ideally, it’d also be possible for the author to have been born with more native intelligence.) For the moment, the mystery of Redmond’s invisi-ball will remanin unsolved, however: he was demoted to Triple-A Louisville after his 3.1-inning effort and is unlikely to return major league-ward until rosters expand in September.

Credit to Jeff Zimmerman for help on data.


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