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Pitching by the Numbers: Cutting to the chase

A good way to judge pitchers is by the types of swings hitters put on their pitches. Generally, when hitters chase a pitch out of the strike zone, the swing is off-balance and unthreatening. We see it, but how can we quantify it? The best way is to look at the pitches that hitters chase the most – meaning that they swing even though the offering is graded as a ball.

Of course, it's possible that some offerings are so weak and enticing that hitters will extend the strike zone and swing anyway, like when were kids in front of the garage and a fat wiffleball was just lifelessly hanging in the air waiting to be smacked. We check for that by also including batting average against (BAA) these offerings, but remember that luck can play a huge factor here.

Similarly, I will stipulate that some pitchers can arguably have offerings so unhittable that hitters do not even bother to swing as soon as they recognize it, choosing to take their chances that the pitch will get called a ball. But very few pitchers have had pitches like this in baseball history. Maybe Sandy Koufax's curveball if we had the data. Dwight Gooden's Lord Charles, too. But we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So here are the pitchers/pitches (minimum 300 pitches) that hitters chase the most and the least. Fantasy recommendations will follow the charts. Stats courtesy of my friends at Baseball Info Solutions:

Most-chased pitchers:

Name Team Pitch Number Usage% Chase% BAA
Roy Halladay(notes) Phi SplitFinger 398 15.7 58 .226
Sergio Mitre(notes) Mil/NYY Fastball 394 70.1 55.7 .246
Jeff Gray(notes) CWS/Sea Fastball 313 67.7 54.1 .318
David Pauley(notes) Sea/Det Fastball 385 53.6 54 .234
Felix Hernandez(notes) Sea Changeup 556 20.6 52.4 .145
Mike Adams(notes) SD/Tex Slider 423 60.3 50.9 .170
Cole Hamels(notes) Phi Changeup 527 22.9 50.5 .117
Cory Luebke(notes) SD Slider 370 28.8 50.5 .196
Jaime Garcia(notes) StL Slider 395 18.1 50 .168
CC Sabathia(notes) NYY Slider 455 17.6 49.6 .157
Zack Greinke(notes) Mil Slider 356 20.8 49.4 .148
Brad Ziegler(notes) Oak/Ari Fastball 444 73.4 49.3 .312
Jason Marquis(notes) Was/Ari Slider 652 34 49.2 .268
Shaun Marcum(notes) Mil Changeup 653 30.7 48.5 .223
James Shields(notes) TB Changeup 661 27.6 48.3 .164
Justin Verlander(notes) Det Changeup 462 16.5 48.3 .202
Carl Pavano(notes) Min Changeup 407 18.4 48.1 .240
James Russell(notes) ChC Slider 308 36.2 47.9 .209
Livan Hernandez(notes) Was Curveball 330 15.2 47.6 .162
Edwin Jackson(notes) CWS/StL Fastball 1183 53.7 47.4 .314

Roy Halladay seems to feel that there's a need to limit his split-finger usage. But 15.7 percent seems too low. Of course, if he ever needs to, he can just choose to neutralize hitters more by featuring the split with greater frequency. Similarly Verlander can increase that changeup usage to 30 percent or so and become a two-pitch pitcher and still be very effective, though perhaps not the best pitcher in baseball as he happens to be right now.

Edwin Jackson is such a tease. Generating swings on balls with such frequency on his fastball and STILL yielding a .314 average on that pitch. That makes no sense. But Jackson so consistently profiles as unlucky that it defies the very notion of randomness, which is why I'm past the point of speculating on him.

James Shields is the prototype fastball/change pitcher and really it's the change that is completely responsible for his success. A .164 average allowed on that many pitches is sick.

There are no real sleepers here, other than to note that Adams definitely has the stuff and out-pitch needed to succeed as a closer.

Least-chased pitchers:

Name Team Pitch Number Usage% Chase% BAA
Casey Coleman(notes) ChC Fastball 485 61.1 8.8 .306
Carlos Marmol(notes) ChC Fastball 352 36.5 13.4 .382
Sergio Santos(notes) CWS Fastball 389 58.3 15.3 .253
Randy Wolf(notes) Mil Curveball 430 18.2 15.5 .196
Jesse Litsch(notes) Tor Fastball 495 57.4 15.5 .263
Francisco Liriano(notes) Min Fastball 904 50.9 15.5 .279
Trevor Cahill(notes) Oak Fastball 1435 59.9 15.6 .275
Mike MacDougal(notes) LAD Fastball 443 71.2 16 .271
Miguel Batista(notes) StL Fastball 359 73.1 16.1 .221
Chris Perez(notes) Cle Fastball 496 79.9 16.3 .231
Freddy Garcia(notes) NYY Fastball 646 37.5 16.4 .343
Tyler Chatwood(notes) LAA Curveball 320 17 16.5 .247
Clayton Mortensen(notes) Col Fastball 535 61.9 16.8 .331
Kyle Davies(notes) KC Fastball 572 49.1 16.9 .385
Brad Hand(notes) Fla Fastball 415 66.2 16.9 .225
Jeremy Hellickson(notes) TB Fastball 1068 55.6 17.5 .245
Tyson Ross(notes) Oak Fastball 358 67.3 17.7 .293
Tim Stauffer(notes) SD Fastball 1132 50.1 17.9 .244
Luis Perez(notes) Tor Fastball 397 73.5 18.3 .290
C.J. Wilson(notes) Tex Curveball 327 13.3 18.4 .326

Why does C.J. Wilson throw the curve so much when the results are so poor? Scrap that pitch, son.

Trevor Cahill does not have the stuff/repertoire to be an ace, it is clear.

Freddie Garcia is unbelievable. Guess who leads the Yankees in quality start percentage? You'd think it's Sabathia but it's Garcia at over 70 percent. He's really de-emphasized the fastball, and obviously for good reason.

Marmol and Perez are surprising to me. Obviously, velocity isn't everything. But has Perez been lucky with that odd .231 average allowed swinging at mostly strikes or does he have a lot of movement in the strike zone? I'd wager it's the former. His K/BB is poor, too. And Marmol now has had a ratio of over 1.40 in three of his six years. Yet many still keep betting on him. Remember, it's relatively easy to save a multi-run lead (which about 63 percent of save situations start as). The key is to avoid baserunners and so his WHIP alone should automatically disqualify Marmol from ever again being drafted as an elite closer.

Michael Salfino writes and edits the SNYWhyGuys blog that projects player and team performance for New Yorkers. He's also a quantative sports analyst whose writing regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal.

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