It is early in the season, but some pitchers deserve some recognition for their performance so far this spring. Of course, there are a number of different factors worth analyzing that contribute to a pitcher’s success like usage, scouting, the frequency and combination of certain pitches, etc. For this article, we chose to focus on which pitchers have had the best pitch in each specific pitch-type category through the first full month-and-change (we included those few days in March) of the 2019 season.
To do the analysis, we used the following four metrics, created by STATS:
Command(+): How well a pitcher hits his spots according to STATS’ propriety Pitch Intent data
Discipline(-): How well a pitch forces a bad choice by the hitter (swinging at a ball/taking a strike)
Whiff(+): How well a pitch generates swings and misses
BIP(-): How well a pitcher is at limiting quality contact
These metrics were selected because they evaluate the effectiveness of various aspects of pitching. 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.
Based on those numbers, here are the STATS Pitch-Type Awards for April, 2019.
Four-Seam Fastball: Blake Snell (TB)
Through his first five starts, Snell’s fastball was untouchable. He made batters swing and miss 105% more than the league average. Of pitchers who threw at least 150 four-seam fastballs, Snell’s Whiff+ rating of 205 was second best in the whole league, trailing only Astros’ starter Gerrit Cole.
Runners-Up: Hansel Robles (LAA), James Paxton (NYY)
Robles also posted an impressive 186 Whiff+, and his combination of forcing bad contact or bad decisions from the batter (BIP- and Discipline-) was the best in the league. Meanwhile, Paxton threw the third most four-seam fastballs through April (357), and still forced bad contact 63% more than league average (37 BIP-).
Two-Seam Fastball: Josh Hader (MIL)
Hader’s two-seam fastball might just be the most unhittable pitch so far this season. His Whiff+ was an absurd 346 at the end of April, meaning he generated a swing-and-miss 246% more often than the league average. Watch Javy Baez try to hit it.
Runners-Up: Jose Alvarado (TB), Craig Stammen (SD)
Alvarado’s Whiff+ of 192 pales in comparison to Hader’s 346, but it was the second-best mark in the league. He also forced bad contact more than Hader. He would be the winner in a lot of months, but that Whiff+ number from Hader is just so ridiculous that I cannot deny him the award.
Off (Changeup + Splitter): Luis Castillo (CIN)
According to STATS, Castillo threw the third-most changeups in April. Well, batters seeing it more did not lead to them hitting it more. His changeup forced the second-most swing and misses and caused poor contact 101% more than average. Castillo and his electric changeup are a beacon of hope for an otherwise struggling Reds team.
Runners-Up: Pedro Baez (LAD), Wade Miley (HOU)
Baez’s changeup was just slightly above average at forcing swings and misses, but it basically never got hit hard either. His BIP- of -83 was by far and away the best in the league. Wade Miley had complete control of his changeup which resulted in him having the best command+ rating of any pitcher in April.
Curveball: Nick Anderson (MIA)
The Marlins’ rookie reliever runs away with this award in his first month as a major league pitcher (although he’s 29!). His curveball forced more swings and misses than anyone else’s, induced bad contact 101% more than average, and was fourth in causing a bad decision by the hitter (Discipline-). Robinson Cano makes one of those bad decisions below.
Runners-Up: German Marquez (COL), Jerad Eickhoff (PHI)
Through seven starts, Marquez is second in Whiff+ and second in Discipline-. Eickhoff’s curveball was just really solid in all of the metrics. He was one of five pitchers that was above average in all four categories, and of those, he was the one who separated himself the most from the average in each category.
Cutter: Lou Trivino (OAK)
The movement on Trivino’s cutter was just fooling everyone before he suffered a thumb injury in the middle of the month. His cutter was first in forcing whiffs, and his cutter’s Discipline- rating of 43, which measures how often a pitch induces a bad decision by the hitter (taking a strike or swinging at a ball), was the second-best in April behind recently injured Corey Kluber. Despite the broadcast calling it a slider, here is a great example of Trivino’s cutter forcing a bad decision and a whiff all-in-one.
Runners-Up: Blake Treinen (OAK), Brandon Workman (BOS)
Treinen, Trivino’s running mate in the A’s bullpen, has also been forcing bad contact very frequently, 152% more than the MLB average through April. Workman is one of four other pitchers outside of Trivino and Treinen with a cutter performing above-average in all four key metrics.
Slider: Robert Stephenson (CIN)
According to STATS, Stephenson trailed only Corbin Burnes and Andrew Chafin in forcing swings and misses, but unlike those two, when hitters make contact with Stephenson’s slider, it is not going very well (BIP=38). A large part of that may be because his slider was third in forcing the wrong decision from a hitter (Discipline-).
Runners Up: Zac Rosscup (SEA), Justin Verlander (HOU)
Rosscup’s slider had the best combination of whiffs and bad contact throughout the month. Verlander won the 2018 award for his four-seam fastball, but his slider might just have been his best pitch in April.