Two-Pitch Starters

A diverse pitching arsenal can help a starter successfully navigate a lineup several times since hitters have a harder time sitting on a single pitch. I went through the 2018 starters and found four pitcher groups who are the two ends of the spectrum. Either they rely on two pitches or have a diverse arsenal.

Many articles have been written about times through the order but the Holy Grail of research articles is the one MGL wrote a few years back. In it, he quantified how much having a third pitch helps. The research holds up even now. I took the 206 starters who threw at least 30 innings and found the percentage of pitches which were fastballs and next highest thrown. Normally, the average was around 75%. Then, I divided up the pitchers into 5% increments. Next, I subtracted the ERA from an average of their ERA estimators (FIP, xFIP, kwERA, SIERA) and here the average values.

ERA min ERA Estimators
Pitches Average Median
> 85% are 2 pitches, >= 60% fastball 0.27 0.30
> 85% are 2 pitches, < 60% fastball 0.11 0.22
65% to 70% are 2 pitches -0.24 -0.32
<65% are 2 pitches -0.39 -0.51

Even in this small sample, it is can be seen that have a diverse arsenal helps a pitcher post an ERA under his estimators.

Having a diverse arsenal isn’t the only consideration (e.g. groundball rate) in determining a pitcher’s value but can help explain why some pitchers struggle while still striking out batters and limiting walks.

It’s now time for the lists going from limited to those with more diverse arsenals.

Two-Pitch, Mainly Fastball

Two Pitches at 85% or More, Greater Than 60% Fastball
Name Top 2 FB% SL% CT% CB% CH% SF%
Joey Lucchesi 98% 64% 3% 34%
Freddy Peralta 97% 78% 19% 3%
Frankie Montas 97% 72% 25% 3%
Brad Keller 96% 69% 27% 4%
Clayton Richard 94% 66% 28% 6%
Jose Quintana 93% 68% 25% 7%
Kyle Hendricks 93% 62% 8% 31%
Jose Berrios 91% 61% 31% 9%
Hector Santiago 91% 68% 3% 6% 23%
Sal Romano 89% 66% 5% 23% 6%
Luis Perdomo 89% 63% 26% 11%
Bartolo Colon 89% 78% 8% 4% 11%
Lance Lynn 89% 78% 11% 9% 2%
Aaron Sanchez 88% 64% 12% 24%
Fernando Romero 88% 63% 25% 12%
Tyler Mahle 88% 68% 20% 1% 11%
Ivan Nova 88% 67% 21% 12%
Jefry Rodriguez 87% 65% 22% 13%
Sean Reid-Foley 87% 63% 23% 6% 8%
Junior Guerra 87% 70% 14% 17%
Eric Skoglund 86% 60% 26% 14%
J.A. Happ 86% 73% 13% 2% 12%
Ryne Stanek 86% 61% 25% 14%
Michael Fulmer 86% 61% 25% 14%
James Paxton 85% 64% 14% 22% 0%
Carlos Rodon 86% 60% 26% 14%

The one pitcher who jumps off the page is James Paxton. Even though he is near the list’s end, he leans heavily on his fastball and slider. Last season, he got hit around and his ERA (3.76) was quite a bit higher than his ERA estimators which all hovered around 3.00.

Two Pitches, Even Mix

Two Pitches at 85% or More, Less Than 60% Fastball
Name Top 2 FB% SL% CT% CB% CH% SF%
Rich Hill 95% 59% 4% 1% 36% 1%
Felix Pena 93% 58% 35% 7%
Anthony DeSclafani 93% 58% 35% 4% 4%
Jakob Junis 93% 53% 39% 2% 6%
Jhoulys Chacin 92% 48% 44% 0% 1% 2% 5%
Drew Pomeranz 90% 52% 8% 38% 3%
Patrick Corbin 90% 49% 41% 9% 1%
Garrett Richards 89% 51% 39% 11%
Cody Reed 89% 50% 40% 11%
Jason Hammel 89% 52% 37% 6% 5%
Chris Archer 89% 47% 42% 2% 10%
Sean Manaea 88% 56% 12% 32%
Charlie Morton 88% 58% 6% 29% 6%
Daniel Norris 87% 54% 33% 6% 6%
Trevor Richards 87% 55% 13% 32%
Tyler Skaggs 87% 59% 28% 13%
Luis Severino 86% 50% 36% 14%
Caleb Smith 86% 59% 27% 14%
Marco Estrada 86% 49% 6% 8% 37%
Jaime Barria 86% 50% 36% 14%
Jack Flaherty 86% 56% 30% 11% 3%

Lots of big names on this list but the one which stood out to me is Luis Severino. His 2017 breakout centered around him throwing his change more. Here is a graph of his changeup use (CH%), ERA, and FIP over the past two seasons.

When he keeps his change usage over 13%, he doesn’t allow many runs but when it dropped to ~11% after the 2018 All-Star game, his ERA ballooned. Once he started throwing it again at the season’s end, his ERA dropped.

Diverse Mixed Mix

Two Pitches at 60% to 65%
Name Top 2 FB% SL% CT% CB% CH% SF%
Mike Minor 70% 49% 21% 11% 19%
Zack Greinke 70% 49% 17% 13% 21%
Madison Bumgarner 70% 34% 35% 23% 8%
Brandon McCarthy 70% 38% 9% 31% 22%
Trevor Bauer 69% 42% 14% 10% 27% 7%
Chad Bettis 69% 42% 18% 13% 27%
Erasmo Ramirez 69% 41% 10% 28% 2% 20%
Erick Fedde 68% 55% 14% 14% 7% 11%
Cole Hamels 68% 45% 23% 13% 19%
Joe Musgrove 68% 50% 18% 15% 3% 14%
Austin Bibens-Dirkx 68% 47% 5% 21% 8% 19%
Matt Koch 67% 41% 26% 16% 17%
Edwin Jackson 67% 34% 21% 33% 4% 8%
Max Scherzer 67% 50% 16% 10% 8% 16%
Ross Stripling 67% 42% 25% 23% 11%
Blaine Hardy 67% 34% 33% 9% 24%
Carlos Martinez 66% 44% 22% 18% 3% 13%
Jeremy Hellickson 66% 42% 11% 23% 24%
Mike Fiers 66% 48% 7% 11% 16% 18%
Marcus Stroman 66% 49% 17% 16% 14% 5%
Clay Buchholz 66% 41% 25% 17% 17% 0%
Michael Wacha 66% 43% 20% 15% 22%
Trevor Cahill 65% 41% 19% 16% 24%

This list is full of “gamers” and “finesse” pitchers. The key for me is it shows how productive a pitcher can make if they develop two above-average non-fastballs. Having the diverse arsenal will be a nice tiebreaker to help differentiate someone from The Glob (h/t Sporer).

Extreme Pitch Mix

Two Pitches Less Than 65%
Name Top 2 FB% SL% CT% CB% CH% SF%
Wade LeBlanc 64% 35% 0% 26% 10% 30%
Anibal Sanchez 63% 38% 5% 23% 9% 25%
Hyun-Jin Ryu 62% 37% 1% 25% 19% 19%
Wade Miley 62% 20% 3% 42% 19% 17%
Mike Leake 61% 38% 12% 22% 10% 18%
James Shields 60% 36% 24% 22% 18%
Masahiro Tanaka 60% 26% 34% 5% 4% 1% 30%
CC Sabathia 59% 17% 31% 42% 10%
Sonny Gray 57% 34% 17% 22% 23% 4%
Marco Gonzales 56% 33% 22% 22% 23%

Zero stars in this group but some pitchers I’m not going to shy away from in the reserve rounds or as streaming options. The extra pitches made several of these pitchers great unknowns last season and I really want to see the price on Gonzales and Tanaka on draft day to help fill out my rotation.



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Jeff writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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6 Comments on "Two-Pitch Starters"

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docgooden85
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docgooden85

Surprised not to see Luis Castillo on here. It seems to me he throws mostly fastballs and that ridiculously deadly changeup but maybe the tracker is categorizing them differently than I’m seeing them?

NickGerli
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NickGerli

Castillo has a good slider