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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