An Underrated Aspect of Heath Bell | The Process Report

An Underrated Aspect of Heath Bell

When Tommy wrote about Heath Bell, he fingered fastball command as the portly righty’s biggest weakness. Fastball control, meanwhile, is one of his biggest strengths.

Control and command are oft-confused terms that, when judged properly, determine a pitch’s usability. Whereas control is the ability to throw strikes, command is understood to be about placement within the zone and—as the word’s everyday meaning suggests—the pitcher’s mastery of the offering. In Bell’s case, his fastball and breaking ball both grade as average or better offerings. The problem is his looseness within the zone, particularly with the fastball; a no-no in offensive-friendly environments, like Arizona’s Chase Field.

But, though Bell lacks optimal command of his heater, he does have exceptional control of the pitch. Over the past three seasons, Bell has seen 69 percent of his fastballs go for strikes in some form or another. The league’s best strike-throwing reliever, Koji Uehara, saw 74 percent of his fastballs end with a strike call; conversely, Fernando Rodney came in at 61 percent. That means Bell is closer to Uehara than he is Rodney, which should be a welcome sight for those tired of late-inning walks.

In fact the Rays’ likely end-game trio, of Bell, Joel Peralta, and Jake McGee, compare favorably to Boston’s strike-heavy combination of Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, and Edward Mujica:

Fastball Strike Percentage, 2011-2013


Red Sox

Bell (69%)

Uehara (74%)

Peralta (69%)

Tazawa (71%)

McGee (70%)

Mujica (71%)

*For the curious, Alex Torres checks in at a team-worst 60 percent.

While Bell’s fastball command will determine his success with the Rays, getting the pitch over the plate shouldn’t be an issue.

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