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Pitching by the Numbers: Pitch dominance

Elite skills translate into elite production and fantasy stats. For pitchers, the best way to measure skills is to look at the pitches in their repertoire and assess how dominant they rank by measuring how frequently batters swing and miss at them.

Our first fastball list is dominated by relievers, mostly because relievers throw relatively few pitches per outing and thus can put more effort into each one. So we've supplemented it in the text that follows.

Player Pitch # of Pitches Batter Swings Batter Miss% Batter Swings at Ball
Tyler Clippard Fastball 776 417 18.94% 167
Vinnie Pestano Fastball 775 402 18.19% 143
Kenley Jansen Fastball 843 392 18.03% 86
Jonathan Papelbon Fastball 727 407 17.74% 123
Jesse Crain Fastball 456 217 14.47% 69
Jason Motte Fastball 862 457 14.15% 160
Koji Uehara Fastball 587 319 14.14% 100
Craig Kimbrel Fastball 890 391 13.71% 102
Aroldis Chapman Fastball 745 322 13.56% 118
Ernesto Frieri Fastball 835 409 13.53% 137
Louis Coleman Fastball 491 231 13.24% 67
Octavio Dotel Fastball 706 343 13.03% 76
Jonny Venters Fastball 1015 472 12.91% 167
Tom Wilhelmsen Fastball 342 190 12.87% 54
Neftali Feliz Fastball 831 407 12.64% 118
Eduardo Sanchez Fastball 313 153 12.46% 30
Hong-Chih Kuo Fastball 383 176 12.01% 54
David Carpenter Fastball 359 187 11.98% 53
Mike Dunn Fastball 829 397 11.94% 103
Rafael Betancourt Fastball 729 407 11.93% 104

The best starters (miss rate in parentheses): Brandon Beachy (11.5%), Scott Baker (10.8%), Michael Pineda (10.5%), Brandon Morrow (10%), David Price (9.6%).

Player Pitch # of Pitches Batter Swings Batter Miss% Batter Swings at Ball
Ryan Madson Changeup 321 200 34.58% 125
Francisco Rodriguez Changeup 216 138 31.48% 79
Cole Hamels Changeup 740 447 29.86% 210
Jim Johnson Changeup 205 137 25.37% 72
Edinson Volquez Changeup 484 246 24.59% 123
Guillermo Mota Changeup 239 132 24.27% 69
Ricky Romero Changeup 660 352 23.79% 178
Hisanori Takahashi Changeup 266 157 22.56% 80
Chris Capuano Changeup 812 464 22.54% 234
Justin Verlander Changeup 633 362 22.12% 192
James Shields Changeup 977 577 22.11% 287
Anibal Sanchez Changeup 557 336 21.90% 141
Cristhian Martinez Changeup 344 233 21.80% 106
Shaun Marcum Changeup 907 521 21.72% 282
Rich Harden Changeup 558 286 21.68% 117
Tyler Clippard Changeup 369 207 21.14% 71
Clay Buchholz Changeup 237 117 21.10% 36
Ian Kennedy Changeup 533 322 21.01% 125
Fernando Salas Changeup 278 155 20.86% 81
Daniel Hudson Changeup 758 460 19.92% 160

No need to detail relievers anymore because there are plenty of starters represented on the remaining charts. There have been closers who have been changeup specialists (Keith Foulke the chief among them). But generally baseball people do not want their short men relying on a feel pitch when the game may be on the line with the first batter faced.

The guy who jumps out is Volquez, who is obviously in the best pitching environment in the game now, too. His ability to make batters miss his changeup is a really strong buy sign for me.

Player Pitch # of Pitches Batter Swings Batter Miss% Batter Swings at Ball
Javier Lopez Cutter 211 116 20.38% 54
Kyle Davies Cutter 241 122 18.26% 42
Kerry Wood Cutter 327 178 18.04% 76
Chris Carpenter Cutter 917 555 17.78% 222
Jon Lester Cutter 866 489 15.47% 203
Jerome Williams Cutter 229 113 14.85% 47
Luke Hochevar Cutter 530 262 14.53% 97
Juan Cruz Cutter 268 129 13.81% 52
Josh Beckett Cutter 568 344 13.73% 106
Rich Thompson Cutter 402 206 13.43% 70
John Danks Cutter 752 441 13.43% 175
Brandon McCarthy Cutter 956 566 12.55% 152
Bryan Shaw Cutter 388 199 12.37% 62
Shaun Marcum Cutter 699 341 11.73% 117
Chad Durbin Cutter 571 286 11.21% 79
Doug Davis Cutter 348 163 11.21% 62
Alfredo Aceves Cutter 385 198 10.91% 62
Cliff Lee Cutter 771 416 10.89% 112
Jamey Wright Cutter 279 150 10.75% 36
Jake Westbrook Cutter 477 239 10.48% 92

There are algorithms used to identify pitch types and sometimes the distinction between a cutter and good moving fastball can be tricky. It was only 15 years ago when Mariano Rivera pretty much put the pitch on the map. Now everyone throws it. Note that the Red Sox have three pitchers in their rotation who feature the pitch. I wonder if you want pitch-dominance diversity on a staff (with secondary pitches). But at least Lester throws it from the left side (generally, cutters are more effective against opposite-side hitters).

Player Pitch # of Pitches Batter Swings Batter Miss% Batter Swings at Ball
Jonny Venters Slider 254 135 38.19% 90
Sergio Santos Slider 310 164 34.52% 111
Greg Holland Slider 378 203 31.22% 109
Antonio Bastardo Slider 364 196 26.92% 106
Sergio Romo Slider 348 182 26.15% 85
Al Alburquerque Slider 422 187 25.59% 99
Aaron Crow Slider 375 180 25.33% 94
Huston Street Slider 262 175 24.81% 83
Craig Kimbrel Slider 388 174 24.74% 102
Jaime Garcia Slider 539 322 24.12% 173
Mat Latos Slider 727 372 24.07% 202
Carlos Carrasco Slider 248 136 23.79% 65
Mike Leake Slider 367 215 23.71% 121
C.J. Wilson Slider 407 220 23.59% 143
Clayton Kershaw Slider 889 505 23.51% 240
Zack Greinke Slider 541 301 23.48% 179
Matt Garza Slider 750 418 23.20% 189
CC Sabathia Slider 703 377 23.19% 196
Marc Rzepczynski Slider 287 150 23.00% 86
Scott Elbert Slider 223 137 22.87% 53

This is a high risk/high reward pitch given the strain that it puts on the elbow, especially. Relievers seem to be able to get away with high rates, but starters who throw it more than 30 percent of the time make me a little queasy. Kershaw, though, is 25.5%, so I would not discount him for this (or anything, as he's going to be the most valuable player, not just pitcher, in most formats this year and especially innings-capped Yahoo! leagues).

Player Pitch # of Pitches Batter Swings Batter Miss% Batter Swings at Ball
David Hernandez Curveball 273 125 23.44% 59
A.J. Burnett Curveball 1057 496 19.49% 260
Sean Marshall Curveball 465 220 19.35% 90
Roy Halladay Curveball 589 264 19.19% 114
Henry Rodriguez Curveball 255 89 18.82% 54
Mark Melancon Curveball 299 139 18.73% 67
Tommy Hanson Curveball 302 121 18.54% 58
Livan Hernandez Curveball 398 243 18.34% 103
Yovani Gallardo Curveball 685 300 17.52% 149
David Robertson Curveball 247 121 17.00% 65
Brett Myers Curveball 733 378 16.64% 145
Roy Oswalt Curveball 210 108 16.19% 52
George Sherrill Curveball 223 101 15.70% 48
Jeff Karstens Curveball 338 167 15.68% 69
Cliff Lee Curveball 365 175 15.62% 59
Nick Masset Curveball 250 88 15.20% 46
Andrew Miller Curveball 287 121 14.98% 52
Ricky Romero Curveball 309 137 14.89% 64
Trevor Cahill Curveball 414 161 14.73% 72
Jonathan Sanchez Curveball 315 125 14.60% 63

I had an AL East scout tell me a few years ago when discussing Phil Hughes that he didn't like that Hughes's best pitch was his curve because, he asked rhetorically, "How many curveball specialists are there nowadays?" There's no doubt that the usage of the pitch is declining relative to a generation ago when it was the second most utilized offering (hence the the two fingers catchers use to call for it). But the effectiveness of it generally seems to have taken a hit, too, when we look at the best practitioner of it today, A.J. Burnett. Who wants him? Roy Halladay uses it a lot, too. He can get away with umpires calling it a strike, maybe, because they get into the habit with him of calling everything a strike. But if umpires are not giving the high strike, pitchers who throw it need to generate misses and you see how much easier it is for hitters to make contact on this pitch than on the more radically moving, higher-velocity slider.

Michael Salfino (Twitter @MichaelSalfino) is a quantative sports analyst whose writing regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal.

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