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

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.

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