Alias Smith and Leone … Leone = Dare We Think It?

== Oh boy, I’m gonna get in trouble … but now I have data! ==

After Carson Smith pitched in the 8th Friday, the 9th brought the guy that we ranked No. 25 in our Top 40 a year ago, when (and I can’t certify this) no one else had him even ranked: Dominic Leone.

And so now I have data.

So bear with me.

The central premise (the only premise, really) of Mariano Rivera‘s career was two pitches:

  • with the exact same release point
  • with (virtually) the same velocity
  • both thrown for strikes
  • one would break in the zone
  • the other didn’t
  • and the hitter didn’t know which was which until it was too late

And that made him millions of dollars, won the Yankees countless games, and has his ride to Cooperstown in the driveway idling until it’s time to go.

Don”t get caught up in labels; just focus on the difference in movement.  Here’s what Rivera”s game looked like in a table from a random game in 2008:

Pitch Type Velo (Max) H-Break V-Break
SI (Sinker) 94.0 (94.5) -8.8 6.2
FC (Cutter) 93.3 (94.3) -1.9 7.0

Now consider Leone — who, while a mediocre starter at Clemson, famously started teaching himself Rivera’s cutter by watching YouTube videos — from Friday:

Pitch Type Velo (Max) H-Break V-Break
SI (Sinker) 95.8 (96.1) -12.0 4.8
FA (Fastball) 96.2 (98.1) -6.2 8.4

Here’s Rivera from that random game.  Don’t be thrown off by the Y-axis.  The variation from bottom to top is only 2 mph.


Now here’s Leone from Friday.  Same thing with the Y-axis.  Though this time it’s 4 mph difference from top to bottom because of the one pitch Leone threw at 98:


We know from Rivera’s career that the velocity itself wasn’t all that important (in that his effectiveness didn’t change as his velocity dipped in his late 30s), it was that the two pitches moved differently, but had the same velocity and the same release point.

We can see that, on Friday, Leone’s two pitches did the same thing (again don’t get caught up on what the pitches get labeled).  The same range of velocity, but different movement.

But there is one difference.  Rivera played his game at 92-93 (later 91-92), and Leone is playing at 95-96 (and “touching” even higher — sometimes 99-100).

How much does that matter?  Well … it can’t hurt.

We’re dealing with the hitter’s ability to react to the pitch.  To have one coming in at 96 or so, and not knowing which way it will break until it’s too late?

Kind of a scary thought.  Glad he’s on our side, right?


I shouldn’t say this either, but the five years that the Yankees had both Nelson and Rivera in their pen?  Four World Series Championships.



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