The Best Pitches of 2011: Other

Read the rest of the Best Pitches series: fastball, slider, changeup, curve.

The final installment of our Best Pitches series is “other” pitches, meaning not (four-seam) fastballs, changeups, curveballs or sliders. A couple names pop up on this list who have been on one of the other lists, which exemplifies just how impressive those pitchers actually are. Another pitch is one that every person would expect to be on this list, which has been the case for the past 15 years.

There were a lot of pitches to choose from for this article, but I went to find the nastiest sinkers, cutters, splitters, knuckelballs, or screwballs that I could find. Below is the criteria used in Carson’s original post, along with the four pitches I included. Also, I broke the pitches down between relief pitchers and starters, doing two for each.


Pitch Avg Velo Avg SwStrk% Avg Called Strk%
Fastball (FA) 91.7 6.31% 19.78%
2-seam Fastball (FT) 90.8 5.35% 19.58%
Sinker (SI) 90.3 5.15% 19.49%
Cut Fastball (FC) 88.4 8.40% 16.53%
Curve (CU) 76.7 10.43% 19.39%
Slider (SL) 83.5 14.31% 15.79%
Changeup (CH) 82.6 13.37% 11.28%

***

Roy Halladay
Splitter

PITCHf/x: 15.5%, 83.2 mph, -7.1 H-move, -0.6 V-move
Results: 24.4% SwStrk, 72.8% Strk, 10.7 wSF, 2.00 wSF/C
Comments: Halladay only added his splitter as he began pitching in Philadelphia. In just his second year using the pitch, he set a career high in strikeouts, strikeout rate, and FIP. PITCHf/x on FanGraphs labels it a changeup, which it can easily be confused as. However, Brooks Baseball and BIS both label it a split-finger. He changed the grip on the pitch before the 2010 season and the results have probably made him a better pitcher, which is difficult to fathom. Prior to developing the splitter, Halladay did not really have an off-speed pitch for left-handed hitters. In his career, according to Brooks Baseball, he has thrown just 380 changeups. In the past two years alone, he has thrown 1,031 splitters. As a result, Halladay set a career high in strikeouts in 2010 and bested that mark again the next season.

Video
Halladay struck out 14 on April 24 against the Padres, matching a career high. He struck four batters out with his splitter, which the announcer miscategorizes as a  changeup. Take a look at the :13 second mark, :20, :43, and 1:50 for Halladay’s incredible splitter.

***

Dan Haren
Cutter

PITCHf/x: 48.0%, 85.3 mph, 2.2 H-move, 3.9 V-move
Results: 13.8% SwStrk, 71.3% Strk, 30.5 wFC, 1.69 wCT/C
Comments: Dan Haren’s go-to pitch led him to the lowest walk rate and FIP of his career. Destroying the rest of the competition in terms of cutter pitch value, the only pitcher within half of Haren’s total was Chris Carpenter at 19.0. Haren relies on the pitch more than most, as he threw no other pitch over 20% of the time. While he has many different variations of his fastball, the movement and command he has over his cutter makes him a strikeout-to-walk ratio machine. Only Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay have better K/BB rates since 2008, which is pretty great company. While Rivera is the king of the cutter, Haren takes the nod for best cutter for starting pitchers.

Video
Haren’s cutter is featured in this video at :30, :40, :47, and in forcing a ground ball at :50. It looks similar to a slider but the spin is a bit tighter and moves a bit less horizontally than most sliders.

***

Mariano Rivera
Cutter

PITCHf/x: 85.2%, 91.5 mph, 2.6 H-move, 7.4 V-move
Results: 8.9 SwStrk, 71.0% Strk, 12.2 wCT, 2.04 wCT/C
Comments: Age has yet to affect Rivera, leaving me and others to believe that he may be some type of cyborg. His strike rate of 71% and his called-strike rate of 20.9% are both above their respective league averages of 66% and 16.9%. While he does not strike out as many batters as the traditional dominant closer does, he forces weak contact and is able to keep the ball in the park. Every batter knows Rivera will throw them cutters almost exclusively, but there has been no formula developed over the past 15 years to beat his offering. Rivera finished with the third highest cutter pitch value, which includes starting pitchers. He has not just maintained an effective cut fastball, he still has arguably the best cutter in the league. At his age, not many pitchers have ever been able to say that their version of a pitch is still comparable with anyone else’s in the league.

Video
Below is the video of Rivera’s record setting save number 602. There is no need to focus on times in Rivera outings, as the he throws his cutter on almost every single pitch.

***

Jonny Venters
Sinker

PITCHf/x:  73.1%, 94.9 mph, 9.5 H-move, 2.5 V-move
Results: 11.8% SwStrk, 61.8% Strk, 13.1 wSL, 1.36 wSL/C
Comments: Throwing the pitch on over 73% of his offerings, Venters relies on his sinker heavily. While his deadly slider made Chris Cwik’s list, his sinker is the pitch that batters must focus on in every single plate appearance. Hitters swing through his sinker, which is thrown in the mid-90s, much more than the 4.8% swinging-strike rate of the average pitcher. Venters had the highest ground-ball rate of any pitcher in baseball, minimum 50 innings pitched, at 72.5%. His sinker was a big reason for that, and actually had the second highest pitch value of any sinker in the league, which is awfully impressive for a reliever. What is especially interesting about Venters’ sinker is that he consistently throws it in the same area of the strike zone. While his command is not the best, his movement and target force a ton of ground balls while his velocity induces many swings and misses.

Video
Venters records all three outs via the sinker in this video, though the first pitch shown is hit rather hard by Jayson Werth. The next two are mid-90s sinkers that result in strikeouts. The pitch is almost unfair at times, especially when you consider that his secondary offering made the list of top sliders as well.

Other pitches of note:

Cliff Lee’s two seamer
Doug Fister’s two seamer
Tim Hudson’s sinker
Chris Carpenter’s cutter
Jon Lester’s cutter




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Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.


45 Responses to “The Best Pitches of 2011: Other”

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  1. Oliver says:

    Everyone in Philly calls Halladay’s splitter a changeup, mostly due to the numerous articles about how he’d added it to his repertoire in spring training ’10 after Kyle Kendrick (of all people) taught it to him.

    Seriously, I can recall at least 3 publications discussing how KK showed him the grip, and how it meant Roy was not only excellent but also humble enough to pick up things from a much worse pitcher (the last bit was implied). All of them called it a “Split-fingered grip” but that the pitch was a changeup.

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    • zeke says:

      Never heard the Kendrick nonsense before but I agree local announcers/media often just refer the pitch as a change-up.

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      • Richard says:

        Yeah, I’ve never heard the Kendrick thing either, but everyone in Philly calls it a changeup, including, I’m sure, Halladay himself. Rich Dubee is usually the guy credited with helping him with it (possibly even Jamie Moyer was involved, though I can’t recall).

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    • Fletch says:

      Doesn’t Lincecum throw some kind of split/changeup hybrid as well? I think i remember reading somewhere that he throws his changeup with a split-fingered grip. Anyone know anything about this?

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    • Jeff says:

      Typically it’s called a “vulcan change” because you use a split fingered grip, but grip more on top of the ball than a traditional splitter.

      It’s name is obviously derived from the placement of the fingers.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Time was, that pitch–split middle and index, top grip—was called a forkball. It was always an offspeed pitch, with a late dive. Most pitchers couldn’t keep it in the strike zone if they could throw it at all so it never became popular, but the few who could were highly effective with it, of whom Roy Face was best known. When the split came along as a hard pitch, the announcers, all oldtimers, kept calling it ‘a forkball’ though the action was, obviously, different. The true forkball became a trick pitch nobody threw.

      If the forkball is back and called a fosh, that’s great because, as we see, for those who throw it it’s nasty. I’ve often wondered why more pitching coaches didn’t try teaching it to those having trouble mastering a change-up, but likely the difficulty of controling a forkball dissuaded them.

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  2. Andrew says:

    I’ve been reading fangraphs for several years now, and you guys never cease to amaze me with the consistent quality of the posts. This series was awesome, and you guys are great.

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    • deadpool says:

      This is why I actually prefer the movement to call the pitch a split-fingered change up. I mean, it serves the same purpose as a change, it’s definitely off-speed, and just moves differently from the straight or circle change.

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  3. Tucker says:

    Seems like given the number of cutters getting thrown now it’s probably worth splitting out on it’s own. I wouldn’t be surprised if there twice as many cutters thrown as curveballs in MLB last year.

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  4. Marty says:

    Wow Venters’ sinker is ridiculous. Unfair is right. That pitch is just nasty. How he gets that much sink on a pitch that fast is pretty incredible. Just seems to dip right under bats.

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    • Undocorkscrew says:

      Venters is a gem that Bobby lobbied for in 2010. If it weren’t for Bobby’s praise the guy would probably still be in AAA. I was skeptical at first considering that he was barely even ranked as a prospect on most of the lists I saw, and Bobby’s last few years……well, you know. But as soon as I saw that sinker in ST I was stunned, it’s disgusting. He consistently hits 95-96 with it and to me it’s the best in the game right now. Toward the end of the season I noticed hitters weren’t swinging at it nearly as much as we usually see, so his walk rate started climbing. Hope that doesn’t carry over….

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  5. KKSC says:

    I think the grip isn’t necessarily too important, rather what the pitcher calls it/uses it as.

    I think if Halladay throws it exclusively to left-handers, it’s a changeup. Just my opinion though.

    I can also attest that we never saw that pitch in Toronto.

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    • Shazbot says:

      Halladay doesn’t throw anything exclusively to lefties or righties. I’d personally call it a change as that’s what he calls it, but analyzing it as a splitter is reasonable too, as that is what it most resembles. It’s no big deal.

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  6. baty says:

    Can you argue a particular pitch being even greater when it’s being relied upon nearly 90% of the time and still with tremendous success?

    Rivera has been throwing his cutter about 85% of the time over a 250IP stretch. Granted, he’s a relief pitcher, but still… you’d think that hitters would be able to catch up by now. Just goes to show how dominant that pitch truly is.

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  7. yungmuneyholla wat it dew says:

    Rivera’s cutter is the greatest pitch of all time imo

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    • I guess it’s all in the eye of the viewer, but the split Mike Scott used to throw may be the best pitch I’ve ever seen. I saw him throw that no hitter in the Astrodome in 1986 against the Giants, and I’ve never seen one better than that until Lincecum’s.

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  8. Scott says:

    I feel like Kenley Jansen’s cutter (fastball, whatever) should have shown up somewhere in this series, considering his 17% swinging strike rate on it. Really, if you manage to set a record in K/9 predominantly throwing one pitch, that pitch should have gotten a mention somewhere.

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    • Bip says:

      The pitch value charts don’t rate it quite as highly as I thought they would, but having seen it, I can say that I would have thought that it had a 33% swinging strike rate. It’s got to be among the most dominant fastballs in the game considering how often he throws it.

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  9. Madoff Withurmoni says:

    “Another pitch is one that every person would expect to be on this list, which has been the case for the past 15 years.”

    I thought this meant you were going to rate Tim Wakefield’s Knuckler ahead of RA Dickey’s and I was going to have to physically punish you.

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  10. Nick says:

    Surprised Daniel Bard’s “Hepatitis K”/”Pantless Velociraptor” did not get an honorable mention: http://www.fangraphs.com/not/index.php/daniel-bards-filthy-whiffmaker/

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  11. joe 1 says:

    someone tell how lazy aj burnett could be to not learn another pitch?

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  12. The Vulcan Change, popularized by one Trevor Hoffman.

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    • Jeff says:

      The vulcan change is really nice. I always preferred the circle though, got a lot better fade on it (kind of down and in to righties).

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Me too.

        All that really matters is that the middle and ring fingers replace the index and middle fingers on the seams.

        It allows the ball to be be easier pushed against the pads rather than remain at the fingertips.

        With the circle grip, the ball is offset so that the middle finger is the last to touch and in combination with the index and thumb making the “circle” it’s easier to get sideways spin resulting in running action or tailing.

        With the Vulcan grip the ball is more “centered” and can result in a “dropping” change-up more than not. Some pitchers find the Vulcan grip easier to “control” and easier to keep “down in the zone”.

        For batters that read “grip” at release point, the Vulcan change can be harder to pick up than the circle change. For pitchers that expose their pitching hand at some point before release, they can “give away” the circle grip very easily. At release point, some batters can see more finger “on top” as well as the fingers o the “side’ of the ball. I never could.

        What impressed me most about Strasburg is that he had a tailing change to LHBs and a dropping change to RHBs. That’s pitching, brother.

        Pitchers with larger hands may find the Vulcan change more comfortable and easier to control (as well as wrap their hand around the ball). With larger hands, the fingers in a vulcan grip can go outside of the seams rather than on the seams. I’m guessing from his height and bodytype that Halladay has very large hands, long fingers.

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    • Bryz says:

      I thought Hoffman’s highly revered change-up was actually a palmball.

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  13. DeliBlue says:

    Jansen’s cutter on next year’s list?

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    • Ben Duronio says:

      If we stick with two relief pitches, he has tough company. I’m really high on Jansen though, so you never know.

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      • DeliBlue says:

        Rivera and Venters are nasty. Hard to see their cutters/sinkers falling off next year (if ever) unless they succumb to injury, or in Mo’s case, fatigue.

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  14. Pitching Coach says:

    As a pitching instructor I wanted to chime in on the Halladay change up/ splitter debate. There is a difference between a splitter and split change up. For a typical splitter, the fingers will be just a little bit wider than a 2 seam fastball grip with the thumb directly on the bottom of the ball. The thumb then pushes the ball through the fingers on release, causing slow, sideways spin, but velocity that is normally 3-5 mph less than the FB. For a split change, the index and middle fingers are split a bit wider and the thumb is more on the side of the ball. On release, Halladay turns it over, which generates more spin, causing the fade in towards rightys, and velocity that is typically 6-10 mph slower than the fastball.

    A splitter, like Papelbon’s is supposed to get the batter to miss on the drop at end, while the split change is more for upsetting timing and having the hitter swing in front of the pitch.

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  15. Brandon T says:

    Kerry Wood had an incredible hard curve back before he started having arm troubles — just look at the 20K 1-hitter.

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  16. Tim says:

    Halladay throws a changeup. He turns it over like a screwball to get the “drop” effect. A splitty would be faster with less horizantal movement

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  17. Ryan says:

    To Me, Rivera’s cutter is the single greatest pitch of all time due to the fact that it’s equally effective versus both righties and lefties. Over his career, righties having a BA of .213 and an OPS of .583. Lefties have a BA of .207 and an OPS of .522

    Besides that, the other best pitches, at least to me, were Randy Johnson’s slider, Johan Santana’s change up, early K-Rod’s disgusting slider, Pedro Martinez circle change, Wainwright’s Curve, Dwight Gooden’s Curve, Anything that Stephen Strasburg throws, Carmona/Webb sinker, and John Smoltz’s slider.

    One of my good friends went to high school with Ian Kinsler and apparently Ian told him that the two best pitches (at the time) were Rivera’s cutter and Johan’s change up. Mo’s cutter looks like it’s going to hit righties in the wrist and then when it hits the plate it’s right on the outside rubber and Johan’s arm slot for his change up is identical to his fastball which causes the pitch to look exactly like the fastball right up until it hits the plate and completely falls off the table.

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  18. Louis de Funeste says:

    Here to Québec, former Montréal Expos broadcaster play-by-play Jacques Doucet claims since long time then all pitches thrown by pitchers are breaking ball ,even if are those differents kinds clearly obvisous, curve,12-6,sinker,slider and here Quebecers frenchies wants to he earn HOF Baseball for commentators.
    This old guy are too lazy to mention to his listeners how pitcher throws really !

    Now,he broadcast some Blue Jays TV french to TVA Sports in studio in Montreal another shame !

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