Baseball’s Most Extreme Pitches from Starters, So Far

Introduction

After reading Jeff Sullivan’s piece entitled “Identifying Baseball’s Most Unhittable Pitches, So Far” on August 21, I found his methodology to be quite interesting.  It was suggested in the comments rather than looking at whiff rate we should consider who has allowed the weakest contact.  Now, there are a couple of different ways to look at weakest contact.  First, you could look at batted ball velocity.  You could also look at batted ball distance as well.  Both of these techniques would provide some measure of the severity of contact allowed by a pitcher.  At the end of the day though, a warning track fly ball is still as effective for a pitcher as a pop up.  I thought it would be better to look at who got hurt the least with their pitches.

In saying that, I mean to look at what pitchers are theoretically giving up nothing but singles on a pitch versus what pitchers are theoretically giving up nothing but home runs.  A quick calculation to quantify this value is total bases per hit allowed (TB/H).  This is the same as the ratio between slugging percentage and batting average (SLG/AVG).  Values have to be between one and four.  A value of 1.00 corresponds to only singles.  A value of 4.00 corresponds to only home runs.  Any value in between could represent a combination of all hit types.

Baseball Prospectus provides PitchF/X leaderboards for eight different pitch types: four-seam fastball, sinker, cutter, splitter, changeup, curveball, slider, and knuckleball.  I chose to look at only starting pitchers in this study.  Also, to be considered, a pitcher had to have thrown at least 200 of the pitch of interest.  The league leaders in games started are just above 25.  If we are conservative and estimate 80 pitches per start, that allows for 2000 pitches thrown, so 200 would represent roughly 10% of the pitcher’s arsenal.  With that background information now covered, let’s look at the best and worst pitchers in each pitch type.  All data is accurate through August 22.

Data

Four-Seam Fastball

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Jarrod Cosart

HOU

1.20

Lucas Harrell

HOU

2.33

Tyler Chatwood

COL

1.20

Todd Redmond

TOR

2.20

Stephen Fife

LAD

1.22

Allen Webster

BOS

2.20

Bartolo Colon

OAK

1.26

Tyler Skaggs

ARI

2.15

Joe Kelly

STL

1.26

Erik Bedard

HOU

2.10

Sinker

  Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Brandon Cumpton

PIT

1.10

Yu Darvish

TEX

2.27

Taylor Jordan

WSH

1.10

Bud Norris

BAL

2.12

John Lackey

BOS

1.21

Aaron Harang

SEA

1.96

Gerrit Cole

PIT

1.22

Scott Kazmir

CLE

1.93

Jonathan Pettibone

PHI

1.22

Jon Lester

BOS

1.92

Wade Davis

KCR

1.22

Cutter

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Clay Buchholz

BOS

1.11

Jeff Samardzija

CHC

2.00

Jenrry Mejia

NYM

1.17

Jerome Williams

LAA

1.95

Lucas Harrell

HOU

1.20

Cole Hamels

PHI

1.90

Jonathon Niese

NYM

1.21

A.J. Griffin

OAK

1.86

Mike Pelfrey

MIN

1.31

Yu Darvish

TEX

1.85

Splitter

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Hiroki Kuroda

NYY

1.22

Ubaldo Jimenez

CLE

1.72

Jake Westbrook

STL

1.31

Tim Hudson

ATL

1.70

Jorge de la Rosa

COL

1.32

Dan Haren

WSH

1.69

Doug Fister

DET

1.33

Tim Lincecum

SFG

1.61

Hisashi Iwamuka

SEA

1.33

Jason Marquis

SDP

1.58

Changeup

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Stephen Strasburg

WSH

1.00

John Danks

CHW

2.21

Matt Harvey

NYM

1.06

Jeremy Hefner

NYM

1.96

Gio Gonzalez

WSH

1.10

Dan Straily

OAK

1.91

Francisco Liriano

PIT

1.14

Randall Delgado

ARI

1.89

Bud Norris

BAL

1.22

Edinson Volquez

SDP

1.87

Curveball

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Clayton Kershaw

LAD

1.00

Homer Bailey

CIN

2.33

Jason Hammel

BAL

1.00

Zack Greinke

LAD

2.09

C.J. Wilson

LAA

1.07

Wandy Rodriguez

PIT

2.00

Dillon Gee

NYM

1.14

Tim Hudson

ATL

2.00

Max Scherzer

DET

1.17

John Lackey

BOS

2.00

Slider

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

Tyson Ross

SDP

1.00

Jordan Zimmermann

WSH

2.24

Jorge de la Rosa

COL

1.17

Wade Miley

ARI

2.07

Bartolo Colon

OAK

1.18

Dallas Keuchel

HOU

2.06

Jeremy Hefner

NYM

1.24

Carlos Villanueva

CHC

2.06

C.J. Wilson

LAA

1.24

Hisashi Iwamuka

SEA

1.96

And for completeness,

Knuckleball

Pitcher

Team

TB/H

R.A. Dickey

TOR

1.68

Combining all that data together, we get the following five pitches as the best in baseball so far.

Pitcher

Team

Pitch

TB/H

Stephen Strasburg

WSH

Changeup

1.00

Clayton Kershaw

LAD

Curveball

1.00

Jason Hammel

BAL

Curveball

1.00

Tyson Ross

SDP

Slider

1.00

Matt Harvey

NYM

Changeup

1.06

Also, to complete the picture, here are the worst five pitches in baseball so far.

Pitcher

Team

Pitch

TB/H

Lucas Harrell

HOU

Four-Seam

2.33

Homer Bailey

CIN

Curveball

2.33

Yu Darvish

TEX

Sinker

2.27

Jordan Zimmermann

WSH

Slider

2.24

John Danks

CHW

Changeup

2.21

Analysis

As you can see, there are a lot of “good” pitchers that throw “lousy” pitches.  This metric is far from perfect.  For example, Yu Darvish appears in the bottom five in two different categories.  Does that mean Darvish should stop throwing his sinker and cutter?  No, it most certainly does not.  It just shows that when Darvish makes a (albeit rare) mistake with either pitch hitters are mashing it.  I found this a fun exercise that yielded results that may not be the most meaningful but that are interesting for discussion nonetheless.




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4 Responses to “Baseball’s Most Extreme Pitches from Starters, So Far”

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  1. Bryan Curley says:

    Interesting approach. I wonder, though — using TB per H removes the whiff rate from the equation entirely. Wouldn’t it be better to use something like wFB/C to show the pitch’s effectiveness on a per-pitch scale, not it’s effectiveness on a per-times-put-in-play scale? Thanks for the read.

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    • Stats All Folks says:

      Yes, it would be much more accurate to do as you suggested. This was just a quick, sort of back of the envelope calculation that I found interesting. I do plan to look at this more closely and make changes similar to what you’ve suggested. I already am working on this. I just haven’t completely finished compiling the data. I plan to post another article when I’m finish. Thanks for you comments.

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  2. I like where this is going, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to use something like TB/BIP? If a player gives up 5 HR, 95 outs in 100 fastballs,that’s a score of 4. But 80 singles and 20 outs is a score of 1.

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    • Bryan Curley says:

      That’s a good step, but sing BIP as the denominator removes swinging strikes, which is a major part of a pitch’s dominance. Only including the balls that get swung at and hit removes the balls that get swung at and missed, which is probably more impressive.

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