The Major League Baseball regular season may be over, but with a postseason chock-full of excellent pitchers underway, it feels like a suitable time to reflect on a year of great pitching.
Stats Perform’s pitch-type awards are back, except this time it’s no monthly ordeal. This time it’s for all the marbles. These are the 2019 season MLB pitch-type awards.
Before jumping in, here’s a rundown of our in-house advanced analytics that we’ll use for our analysis:
Command(+): How well a pitcher hits his spots, according to Stats Perform’s Pitch Intent data.
Discipline(-): How well a pitcher forces bad decisions by the hitter (e.g. swinging at a pitch outside the zone).
Whiff(+): How well a pitcher generates swings and misses.
BIP(-): How well a pitcher limits quality contact by the hitter.
For each of those metrics, a score of 100 is league average. For Command+ and Whiff+, values above 100 indicate better pitcher performance. For Discipline- and BIP-, values below 100 indicate better pitcher performance. Got it?
4-Seam Fastball: Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros
Cole’s 326 strikeouts were the most since Randy Johnson tallied 334 in 2002, and a huge portion of those strikeouts came by way of Cole’s dominant 4-seam fastball.
This fastball success certainly showed up in our advanced metrics, as Cole finished second to Emilio Pagan of the Tampa Bay Rays in Whiff+ (210.9) and was 12th in Discipline- (91.0). He also threw 1,848 fastballs over the course of the season, good for third in the league. This combination of fastball quality and quantity made Cole far and away the most valuable 4-seam fastball pitcher.
Other contenders: Texas Rangers right-hander Lance Lynn threw the most 4-seam fastballs, finishing 13th in Whiff+ (173.5) to go along with a solid BIP- (82.1) and command+ (106.9). Jacob DeGrom of the New York Mets had good BIP- (72.6), Whiff+ (148.8), and Command+ (111.3), but wasn’t elite at any measure. The previously mentioned Pagan came first in Whiff+ (226.2) and fifth in BIP- (46.2), but only threw about a third as many 4-seam fastballs as Cole.
2-Seam Fastball: Adrian Houser, Milwaukee Brewers
The award for the best 2-seamer was hotly contested between two Brewers relievers – Houser and Josh Hader. Of course, Hader is the household name, but Houser’s 2-seamer packs a significant punch. They both provided similar value with the pitch, but Houser achieved this value output on nearly half as many pitches.
Houser finished second in BIP- (21.6) with solid Discipline- (92.7) to edge Hader, who dominated the competition in Whiff+ (265.0). Hader struck out 47.8% of the batters he faced – but was average or below average in other metrics.
Other contenders: Hader was the strongest contender for this award, though Minnesota Twins starter Jake Odorizzi also deserves mention for finishing second in Whiff+ (173.4) behind Hader in addition to a strong BIP- (86.2).
Changeup: Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds
Castillo reached his first All-Star Game, bouncing back from a lackluster sophomore season in a big way. While the All-Star honor certainly pleases Castillo, he’ll be much more excited to hear that he’s received his first Stats Perform pitch-type award.
Castillo blew away the changeup competition, finishing first in Whiff+ (170.0) and seventh in BIP- (41.8), to go along with solid Command+ (107.7). He also threw the most changeups in the league (he was the only pitcher to eclipse 1,000 changeups) and nearly doubled the next best pitcher in changeup Raw Value+, which combines our four advanced metrics into a single, cumulative measure for a certain pitch type.
Other contenders: Rangers left-hander Mike Minor posted a phenomenal season, finishing third in changeup BIP- (31.2) with solid Command+ (112.6) as well. DeGrom also deserves consideration, placing seventh in BIP- (41.9) and eighth in Whiff+ (136.2).
Curveball: Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
This was a tough award to call between Rays starter Charlie Morton and Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes. Though Morton had higher total value with the pitch, Barnes had higher value per pitch to earn the award.
Barnes threw just half as many curveballs (673) as Morton did (1,215), but he finished in the top 10 in BIP- (43.7), Discipline- (83.1) and Whiff+ (145.7) to demonstrate his tremendous value with the pitch.
Other contenders: Morton finished eighth in BIP- (70.8) and 11th in Whiff+ (139.2) with solid performances in other metrics. A particularly interesting contender is Houston’s Zack Greinke, who’s comically slow curveball was very effective. He only threw it 497 times, but finished sixth in total value with top 10-scores in BIP- (47.5) and Whiff+ (139.8). Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg’s curveball provided immense value through precise placement as he finished third in Command+ (117.9).
Slider: Justin Verlander, Astros
The slider has become one of baseball’s most popular pitches over the past few years, and that was especially the case in 2019. A whole slew of the league’s top pitchers threw the slider effectively and often, but Verlander stood above the rest.
After leaning on his fastball heavily in the past, Verlander’s fastball rate dipped under 50% for the first time in his career. He threw his slider a career-high 28% of the time, finishing in the top 10 in each of our four advanced metrics. Verlander was particularly dominant in BIP- (38.1), placing third in the league.
Other contenders: Nats right-hander Max Scherzer’s slider was tremendous, coming second in Whiff+ (164.3) and BIP- (37.8), but injuries prevented him from matching Verlander’s total output. Scherzer’s teammate, Patrick Corbin, continued to display one of the best sliders in the game. He threw the second-most sliders in the league and came first in Discipline- (43.5) and third in Whiff+ (163.9). Finally, deGrom deserves another mention for his impressive output, finishing top 20 in BIP- (43.4), Discipline- (74.5), and Command+ (116.9).
Cutter: Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs
Darvish’s season was a tumultuous one. He struggled for much of the year with an ailing four-seam fastball and a slider and sinker that weren’t quite cutting it. At the same time, he seemed to find new life with a cutter that burst onto the scene as one of the best in baseball.
Darvish had never thrown more than 20% cutters in a season before ending up at 36.5% – higher than any other pitch in his extensive repertoire – in 2019. What’s more, it was wildly effective. Darvish finished third in Whiff+ (160.7) and also posted solid figures for BIP- (96.5) and Discipline- (87.7).
Other contenders: Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen consistently has one of the game’s best cutters, and this year was no different. Jansen’s cutter finished sixth in Whiff+ (149.2) and provided the highest Raw Value+ in the league – though likely inflated by how often he throws it. Oakland A’s reliever Yusmeiro Petit also flashed an impressive cutter, finishing first in BIP- (-12.7), ninth in Discipline- (78.1), and fourth in Whiff+ (159.6).
Advanced analytics and data analysis provided by Stats Perform’s Lucas Haupt