Pitching by the Numbers: Kings of swing (and miss)

Michael Salfino
Yahoo! Sports

Dominance is what we seek from our pitchers and it's best identified not by radar guns or movement charts but by the hitters when they swing and miss.

We've done this before more roughly. But thanks to Fangraphs and our friends at Baseball Info Solutions we have more complete data now that addresses some problems when we last addressed swinging strikes, most chiefly, sample size.

So now we're limiting our search to 150 swings and misses. And then we look at fastballs only and see which pitchers deal the most effective heat when measured by the air conditioning that results from empty opponent's swings. Following each chart are some recommendations to attempt to bring fantasy relevance into sharper relief. However, the relevance of players that demonstrate such clear dominance should be clear to us all.

Here's the list shorted by the percentage of at least 150 swings that were swinging strikes (stats through Thursday):

Rank Name Team Pitch Number Swing Miss Rate
1 Edinson Volquez(notes) Cin Changeup 393 193 99 51.3
2 Cole Hamels(notes) Phi Changeup 444 270 133 49.3
3 Mat Latos(notes) SD Slider 415 204 97 47.5
4 Ricky Romero(notes) Tor Changeup 416 228 105 46.1
5 Clayton Kershaw(notes) LAD Slider 512 286 130 45.5
6 Matt Garza(notes) ChC Slider 392 221 98 44.3
7 Francisco Liriano(notes) Min Slider 465 237 105 44.3
8 Jhoulys Chacin(notes) Col Slider 425 226 100 44.2
9 Francisco Liriano Min Changeup 323 151 66 43.7
10 Roy Halladay(notes) Phi Split-Finger 351 226 97 42.9
11 Zack Greinke(notes) Mil Slider 289 171 73 42.7
12 Ervin Santana(notes) LAA Slider 768 331 139 42
13 Tim Hudson(notes) Atl Slider 356 183 76 41.5
14 Jorge De La Rosa(notes) Col Split-Finger 265 150 62 41.3
15 Bud Norris(notes) Hou Slider 700 376 152 40.4
16 CC Sabathia(notes) NYY Slider 385 213 86 40.4
17 A.J. Burnett(notes) NYY Curveball 633 290 117 40.3
18 Jaime Garcia(notes) StL Slider 352 201 81 40.3
19 Michael Pineda(notes) Sea Slider 558 280 112 40
20 Freddy Garcia(notes) NYY Split-Finger 354 205 81 39.5

I should have asked for percentage of pitches that were actually in the strike zone. But there's next time for that. You see no fastballs on this list, not surprisingly.

The big question is, "Why doesn't Romero throw his changeup more?" Jeff Francis(notes), Jeremy Hellickson(notes), Shaun Marcum(notes), Chris Narveson(notes), James Shields(notes) and Jason Vargas(notes) have all thrown their changes at least 500 times and average closer to 600. None have a change as effective measured this way. Romero might be leaving up to a half-run per game of ERA on the table just by not maximizing his best pitch. The other argument is that it's only this effective because he doesn't throw it so much. But that's speculative. First, let's see him throw it more and then see what happens.

And there are lots of sliders on the list, which really strain the elbow. But all pitches strain the elbow. Still, long-term relationships with slider-dominant pitchers scare me, though that's only a concern for those few in keeper leagues. And throwing lots of sliders hasn't hurt CC Sabathia obviously. Once again we see how it's just about impossible to project (and prevent) pitching injuries.

Maybe this year is lost for Volquez, but I'd be a buyer cheap in 2012 and even if he gets called up again in 2011. There clearly is lots of upside there. But I caution that he's not pitching that well in Triple-A – 15 Ks/11 BBs in 26.1 innings.

Liriano is on the list twice – wow. We know how good he can be. But there's a real low floor with him given the injury risk and the control woes. Anytime someone is over 4.5 BBs/9, I tend to pass. Liriano, though, can always be a top pitcher from any point forward. So if you are stuck in neutral this fantasy season, take a shot because who cares if you finish in fifth place or 10th?

Now what about fastballs – minimum 1,000 heaters here:

Rank Name Team Pitch Number Swing Miss Rate
1 Brandon Morrow(notes) Tor Fastball 1173 535 119 22.2
2 David Price(notes) TB Fastball 1641 750 165 22
3 Michael Pineda Sea Fastball 1156 602 129 21.4
4 Gio Gonzalez(notes) Oak Fastball 1299 568 120 21.1
5 J.A. Happ(notes) Hou Fastball 1308 551 113 20.5
6 Scott Baker(notes) Min Fastball 1172 639 130 20.3
7 Matt Cain(notes) SF Fastball 1181 584 117 20
8 Madison Bumgarner(notes) SF Fastball 1045 486 97 20
9 Randy Wolf(notes) Mil Fastball 1021 481 92 19.1
10 Anibal Sanchez(notes) Fla Fastball 1093 512 97 18.9

Morrow is Liriano-like. Price – what a stud. By the way, the median swing and miss rate for the guys with at least 1,000 fastballs this year is about 14 percent. Happ and Wolf deserve special mention.

I've always liked Happ. He's been someone viewed as lucky by most. But how can you deny that he has ability when you see him on a list like this? This year is lost baring a real-life trade. He's walking too many now, which is what happens when you get unlucky and are on a bad team and feel like you need to be perfect. But if I was a real-life GM, I'd be looking to get Happ cheap and deep, -only league players should make him a 2012 pocket pick for sure.

Wolf has pitched seven innings or more in six of his last seven starts. The Ks haven't been there, but he has a double-digit-strikeout game this year and obviously can miss bats. There are many worse options on your waiver wire should the need arise.

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.