F/X VisualizationsApril 27, 2009
Best Pitches of the Year So Far
By Dave Allen

After the 2007 season John Walsh looked at the best pitches of each type for 2007. For example, that year Heath Bell had the best fastball. For every 100 fastballs he threw the opposing team scored 2.7 runs less than expected. For this quick post I wanted to check in on pitchers so far this year and see who had the best of each pitch type. Like John I am going to measure a pitch by its run value (in the link John has a great description of the run value of pitch).

+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+
| Four-Seam Fastball    | Number | Run Value per 100 |
+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+
| David Aardsma	        |    101 |              -4.6 |
| Jonathan Broxton      |     89 |              -4.3 |
| Brian Stokes          |     75 |              -4.2 |
| Frank Francisco       |     76 |              -4.1 |
| Dan Haren             |    201 |              -4.1 |
+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+

It is incredible that over twice as many pitches and as a starter Dan Haren's four-seam fastball is right up there with those of four hard throwing relievers. Heath Bell's fastball is still very good checking in at 9th on this list.

+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+
| Two-Seam/Sinker       | Number | Run Value per 100 |
+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+
| Derek Lowe	        |     44 |              -7.8 |
| Josh Beckett          |     32 |              -7.8 |
| Jamie Shields         |     37 |              -6.3 |
| Rick Porcello         |     64 |              -6.3 |
| Ramon Ramirez         |     32 |              -5.3 |
+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+

It is my understanding that the new pitchf/x pitch classification system calls two-seam fastballs sinkers for some pitchers, so I grouped both of them here. Tiger's fans must be thrilled to see Porcello's name on any list that includes Lowe, Beckett and Shields.

+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+
| Changeups             | Number | Run Value per 100 |
+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+
| Dallas Braden	        |     79 |              -6.5 |
| Shairon Martis        |     45 |              -6.1 |
| Anthony Reyes         |    100 |              -5.2 |
| Jered Weaver          |     44 |              -4.8 |
| Johan Santana         |     74 |              -4.4 |
+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+

Shairon who? Luckily Harry Pavlidis broke down his stuff for us about a month ago.

+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+
| Curves                | Number | Run Value per 100 |
+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+
| Javier Vazquez        |     62 |              -6.5 |
| Wandy Rodriguez       |    133 |              -5.1 |
| Jeff Niemann          |     44 |              -4.9 |
| Jose Veras            |     42 |              -4.6 |
| Paul Maholm           |     48 |              -3.9 |
+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+

Wandy had the top curveball in 2007. Erik Bedard just missed the top 5 with -3.6 runs per 100 on his 127 curves, so on a total run value basis he is second only to Rodriguez.

+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+
| Sliders               | Number | Run Value per 100 |
+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+
| John Danks            |     55 |              -6.0 |
| Kyle Davis            |     32 |              -5.1 |
| Santiago Casilla      |     34 |              -4.8 |
| Yovani Gallardo       |     29 |              -4.8 |
| Mark Lowe             |     30 |              -4.6 |
+-----------------------+--------+-------------------+

This is an interesting list with mostly younger pitchers.

One HUGE caveat here is that I did not adjust for the strength of the batters faced. So if a pitcher has only faced poor batters his numbers could be artificially inflated. Also if a pitcher tends to throw a particular pitch only against very good or very bad batters that could throw things off. When I make these lists again at the all-star break or at the end of the year I will properly adjust for the batters faced.

Comments

Does Zack Greinke qualify here, since he hasn't given up a run yet?

I'm shocked to see Davies there. When I looked at his pitch f/x numbers, I concluded that his slider was his worst pitch. He's had a reverse platoon split throughout his career, This year, righties have a .834 OPS against him compared to a .461 for lefties. I don't know what to make of that run value.

Good stuff, Dave.

If Davies is throwing his slider down and in to lefties (aiming at the proverbial back foot of LHB) and the ball is diving hard, I could see where it could be an effective pitch to those hitters. That can be a nasty pitch if thrown hard and gives hitters the impression that it is a fastball down in the zone, especially in counts that favor pitchers.

Where do Josh Johnson's fastball and slider rank?

Matt,

The run value is of a pitch is not the number of runs it actually gives up, but the amount by which it changes the average run expectancy. Say at the start of an at-bat you expect a team to score X runs in an inning. Then the pitcher throws a strike. Now we expect the team to score X-Y runs. If he threw a ball it would be X+Z. Y is the run value of a strike, Z of a ball. People have calculated those values for all outcomes (strike, ball, out, single,...) and that is how I attach values to each pitch.

Greinke's four-seam fastball is worth -2.2 runs per 100 pitches which puts it fifth among starter's four-seam fastballs. His slider is in the top 20 among starters.

Jeremy,

The sample size is probably too small to reach any firm conclusions and you are right the pitchf/x numbers on his slider look pretty pedestrian. Here are the results of the 32 sliders:

Ball: 13
Swinging Strike: 7
Foul: 4
Called Strike: 3
Ground Out: 2
Pop Out: 2
Line Out: 1

Most of his success must come from the unsustainable 0% BABIP on the 5 sliders hitters have put in play. But he has gotten two pop outs and two ground outs which are good balls in play from his perspective. Also the slider has an incredible 43% whiff rate, which will not hold up, but shows he is doing something right so far.

Rich,

Johnson's four-seam fastball has been amazing -3.1 runs per 100 pitches. It is third best among starters.

His slider has been average, but I think it is probably because of the BABIP issues I mentioned in the last comment. I give a pitch the run value of its outcome (strike, ball, stikeout, ball in play out, single,...). Balls in play are going to depend not only on the pitcher but also the defense. Johnson's sliders in play have had a BABIP of .4375, so that is probably one reason they rate as only average here.

I should probably classify the outcomes as strike, ball, ground ball in play, fly ball in play, pop in play, outfield fly ball in play and homerun to get the defense independent run value of each pitch.

Up to Saturday, when Dave must have ran these numbers, Davies had thrown nine of his 32 sliders to righties. Six balls, two strikes, and a groundout. He threw seven balls and 13 strikes to righties. Six of the seven swinging strikes were against righties. So somehow, although the pitch hardly breaks away from righties, he's had success with it against them to a degree.

Rich, you're right that Davies throws his slider exclusively to his glove-hand side. And it certainly is thrown hard. His slider to lefties has been three miles per hour harder than to righties, as it comes in at 88, which is exceptionally fast for a slider. And he actually elevated his slider to lefties more than righties.

However, on Saturday, his slider was either off, or the Tigers did a good job of making sure it regressed to the mean. Against nothing but righties, he threw six sliders for balls, induced one swinging strike, and one groundout, and allowed two singles. I'm going to for now attribute his appearance on the leaderboard to small sample size.

And Dave, I don't know when you're going to check back on this or how ambitious you want to get with it, but you might want to try to find the performance of the pitch as well as the value. You'd have to break up called strikes and swinging strike, and properly regress each batted ball type and find a different way to adjust for the count, I'm thinking of something along the lines of the difference between BABIP and xBABIP or tRA and tRA* on statcorner.

Jeremy,

Good points.

I talk about that BABIP issue in the two comments above yours. I agree with you that I should be using a defense independent run value, so that all ground balls have the same run value no matter if they are outs or hits. That would give a much better picture of how successful you should expect these pitches will be going forward.

Yeah I am using the data up to Friday so I am missing Davies game on Saturday when two of his sliders were hit for singles.

So, Dallas Braden has the best changeup of anyone in baseball so far this year...

I've been saying this for a while, but here goes again:

When is someone going to start believing that Dallas Braden has the potential to be an awesome pitcher...?

Even in the early season and the caveat you gave us, this is still an awesome look into pitches...great job!

Given how well Beckett's two-seamer has worked for him, could you look up which pitch(s) has failed him? Four-seam fastball could be an obvious culprit, but I wonder if his curveball has failed him in the early going.

Dylan,

Because of the small sample size and BABIP issues we can't reach any firm conclusions with this data. But still it is encouraging and Braden's numbers in the minors are quite good. It is interesting to look back at Walsh's list of best changeups in 2007. There are some good pitchers on the list, but there are a lot of average pitchers there too (Blanton, Maroth, Moyer, Capuano, Henderickson). From Walsh's lists it looks like pitchers with great fastballs are almost always very good pitchers, pitchers with great secondary pitches are sometimes only average pitchers. So even if Braden does have an amazing changeup (which we will have to wait and see if that is the case) that will not necessarily make him an amazing pitcher.

Peter,

I looked at Beckett's other pitches. His curve has been very good, top 20 among starters. But his four-seam fastball has been well below average so I think that is the culprit.

Yovani Gallardo with the 4th best slider thus far? Is it for real? Because I would think we can expect good things from Gallardo this year if has developed another plus pitch to go with his deacent fastball and great curveball.

Is there any way to make this list live for every player in a sortable table?

Syed,

The first thing I want to do is resolve some of the BABIP issues I have been discussing in these comments with Jeremy. Once I get those figured out I will look into a way to make the whole list available. Maybe post a link to a google doc? Or just let people download an excel spreadsheet?