2009’s Toughest Pitches

Before the start of this season, I wrote a piece that mentioned the toughest pitches to hit in 2008. I them promptly forgot about the data that I had pulled to write that. Now fast forward to a few days ago, when I was again curious about the pitches that garnered the highest percentage of swings and misses. I ended up re-doing my work, but in a vastly more efficient manner (it’s nice to know that I’ve gotten smarter in at least some areas) this time around, so maybe I won’t forget and let this go to waste.

Anyways, last year’s toughest pitch was Ryan Madson‘s changeup thrown to same-handed (that is, right-handed) hitters. Back then I broke each pitcher-pitch combo down into four groups, separated by role, starter or reliever, and batter handedness, same or opposite. This time, I am less inclined to do so, preferring to focus on bigger samples and effectiveness spread across platoon situations. I can still break it down like that in the future should the need arise, but for this year’s hardest pitch to hit award, I’m keeping it on the level.

And the winner of that award for 2009 goes to Brandon League. It’s a rather remarkable win, because the pitch in question, a changeup — or, possibly, a splitter — was a new one for League, who up until 2009 was a dominant fastball pitcher that tossed out a slider once in awhile. In 2009, League introduced the splitter pitch and relied on it, using it roughly 35% of the time. And boy did it work. 35% of the time that Brandon League threw that splitter, the hitter swung and missed. It was five percentage points better than the person-pitch in second place, an old friend, Ryan Madson‘s changeup, at just under 30%.

Third and fourth place went to Jonathan Broxton and Huston Street‘s sliders, in that order, and Francisco Rodriguez‘s changeup rounded out the top five.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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Oh, Brandon League. We’ll miss you.