Pitchers bring a variety of tools to the mound. While each pitcher in MLB employs a different strategy in terms of pitch usage, style, and frequency, the goal for each is the same: retire the hitter. Using STATS’ advanced pitching metrics, there is now a great deal of insight into the effectiveness of each weapon from each pitcher.
The following metrics, created by STATS, will be highlighted:
- Command (Command+)
- Generating bad decisions by the hitter (Discipline-)
- Generating swings and misses (Whiff+)
- Inducing bad contact (BIP-)
These metrics evaluate the effectiveness of various aspects of pitching. Using STATS’ propriety Pitch Intent data, which describes the desired location of the pitch, Command+ measures how well a pitcher is able to hit his spots. Discipline- looks into how well the pitcher can force the hitter to make bad decisions. These bad decisions are usually in the form of swinging at bad pitches or taking good pitches. Whiff+ evaluates, relative to total swings against his pitches, how often batters swing and miss. BIP- is an indicator of a pitcher’s ability to limit quality contact.
League average for each of these metrics is set to be 100. For Whiff+ and Command+, the value above (or below) 100 indicates the percent better (or worse) than league average; the reverse is true for BIP- and Discipline-, where values less than 100 indicate better performance. All of these metrics combine to give us sWAR (STATS WAR) – this number indicates how many wins above replacement each pitcher (and specifically each pitch) was worth.
Four-Seam Fastball: Justin Verlander, Houston
The designation of best four-seam fastball in baseball goes to Verlander — by a landslide. Not surprisingly, no pitcher in baseball threw as many four-seamers this year as JV (2,087 — about 61 percent of all of his pitches). He posted elite levels of Whiff+ (144), and BIP- (74), as well as above-average Command+ (113). In all, Verlander’s heater amounted to a 5.7 sWAR. Incredibly, the next-most valuable four-seamer was worth a 3.8 sWAR, a whopping difference of 1.9.
Runners-Up: It would be remiss to discuss dominant four-seam fastballs without mentioning the likes of this year’s NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, who posted a Whiff+ of 154 — good for third-highest in baseball among pitchers who threw at least 300 four-seamers. Cincinnati right-hander Tyler Mahle led the way in terms of command of the pitch, and nobody induced weaker contact than Rangers reliever Jose Leclerc. When looking at the broader scope of four-seam sWAR, Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole, and AL CY Young winner Blake Snell were also dominant.
Two-Seam Fastball: Blake Treinen, Oakland
Though two-seam fastballs are generally less used than their four-seam relative, some pitchers rely on them considerably. While no two-seamer produced quite the same value as Verlander’s four-seamer, a strong two-seam fastball is still an incredibly useful offering. Treinen takes the STATS award for best two-seamer of 2018. Pitching out of the bullpen for the second-place A’s, Treinen had a dominant campaign this past season. Treinen’s two-seam Whiff+ of 123 was second only to Milwaukee’s Josh Hader, and his two-seamer’s sWAR — despite throwing it fewer times than all four pitchers ahead of him — was fifth in baseball.
Runners-Up: Reds reliever Jared Hughes had a fantastic year while throwing his two-seamer 78 percent of the time. He accumulated more sWAR than any other two-seam fastball this year, thanks in large part to a great combination of command and inducing weak contact. Among starters, Houston’s Dallas Keuchel threw the fifth-most two-seamers of any pitcher in 2018. While he failed to generate many whiffs, Keuchel found success with good command and a great BIP- (66).
Changeup/Splitter: Trevor Richards, Miami
Richards wasted no time impressing with his changeup. The 25-year-old Drury University alumnus was about average in Command+ (101) and BIP- (100); however, he posted outstanding Whiff+ (236) and Discipline- (70) values. He used the great fade on his changeup to deceive hitters and get them swinging and missing at loads of bad pitches. Despite only tossing 123 innings, he acquired more changeup sWAR (1.6) than any other pitcher.
Runners-Up: Kyle Hendricks is known as a command artist for good reason. He threw the second most changeups in all of baseball and had the best Command+ (118) of any changeup. Combine that with well above average numbers in Whiff+ (185), BIP- (75), and an impressive Discipline- of 95, and Hendricks managed the second most sWAR (1.5) of any changeup. Leclerc and deGrom also backed up their impressive fastballs with excellent changeups.
Curveball: Aaron Nola, Philadelphia
Good curveballs generally offer a great change of pace from a pitcher’s harder stuff, and they can dazzle the eye with spectacular movement. Nola feasted off his curveball in 2018. He threw the deuce 932 times in 2018, fourth-most of all pitchers. These 932 curveballs accounted for about 31 percent of all of his pitches thrown during this past season. Hitters struggled mightily against his curve; it graded out with a Whiff+ of 176 and a BIP- of 81. When hitters swung, they often missed, and when they made contact, it was often weak. His Command+ was 104. While not as high as some of his other numbers, it was good enough for second-best among the 82 pitchers who threw 300 or more curves.
Runners-Up: Snell, Tampa’s ace, was able to miss bats with his curve more than any other pitcher, evident by a dominant Whiff+ of 231. Cleveland starter Corey Kluber and Houston righty Charlie Morton also impressed with great curveball numbers across the board.
Slider: Patrick Corbin, Arizona
A good slider can be one of the most devastating pitches in baseball. Hard and sharp, it darts across the plate and fools even the best of hitters. Corbin took full advantage of this pitch’s dominance; he threw the second most sliders (1,221 – 41 percent of all of his pitches) of any pitcher this year. Despite throwing this pitch so frequently, hitters were not able to catch on. His Whiff+ of 272 was best among all sliders and his Discipline- of 47 was good for third in baseball among pitchers who threw 300 or more sliders. A great deal of Corbin’s 2018 success is owed to his slider, a valuable weapon that earned him a big-money deal with the Washington Nationals in free agency.
Runners-Up: While he didn’t have nearly as high of a Whiff+ as Corbin, Red Sox southpaw Chris Sale forced incredibly weak contact when he threw his slider. Combined with a still impressive Whiff+ of 169, Sale was a close runner-up for best slider in baseball. Sale’s divisional foe Luis Severino and Milwaukee’s portly starter Jhoulys Chacin round out the top four.
Cutter: Corey Kluber, Cleveland
Perhaps more than any other pitch, the cutter can present itself in a variety of styles. For some, the pitch appears to be more like a fastball. For others, it more closely resembles a hard slider. Nobody used his cutter to greater avail than Kluber of the AL Central-winning Indians. While finishing in the top three of the Cy Young voting for the third consecutive year, Kluber threw his cutter 29 percent of the time. This totaled to 921 cutters — third-most in the MLB behind only CC Sabathia and Kenley Jansen. Despite not having his cutter finish in the top four in Discipline-, Command+, Whiff+, or BIP-, Kluber still possessed the most valuable cutter in baseball. He was able to accomplish this feat by posting above average values in all four metrics and using it at the rate that he did. Kluber was successful using his cutter both low in the zone like a slider and up in the zone (like a fastball) to jam lefties.
Runners-Up: Splitting time between the Rangers and the Cubs, journeyman reliever Jesse Chavez and A’s rookie Lou Trivino also shined with their cutters. Although they are at very different points in their career, both found success with this pitch. Trivino achieved his cutter success mostly by generating whiffs whereas Chavez sparkled with the best cutter command in baseball.