I’m in the midst of working on a series looking back at the various pitching repertoires from around the league last year. It’s a series I loved doing last year, and I’m enjoying it again. I recently wrote a piece on the most-chased pitches in the league last year, and now we’re going to take a look at some Money Pitches.
But first, let’s start with a definition. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘Money Pitch’ and don’t feel like clicking on the glossary link, here’s a quick overview. It’s pretty simple.
It’s a pitch that meets three thresholds: a chase rate (or O-Swing) of at least 40%, a zone rate of at least 40%, and a swinging-strike rate of at least 15%. In other words, it’s a pitch that misses bats, stays in the zone, and gets chased by hitters outside the zone, all at the same time, which is everything you want a pitch to do.
In total, there were 29 Money Pitches thrown last year, down a bit from 38 in 2018. And we don’t need to go over all of them, because a lot of them are obvious. We all know Charlie Morton’s curveball is amazing, we all know Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer have incredible sliders, and we all know Jacob DeGrom’s changeup is amazing.
What I really enjoy looking at are pitchers who are lesser-known than your Verlanders and Scherzers. I did a piece last year on those pitchers throwing Money Pitches in 2018, and now we’re going to take a look at ten who did it last year.
No. 1: Andrew Cashner’s changeup
Andrew Cashner’s career certainly has been an interesting one, as he’s bounced from being a top pitching prospect to being an okay starting pitcher in the majors, to being a really good starting pitcher (see: 2014 with his 2.55 ERA) to being a pretty bad pitcher (see: his 2018 with the Orioles with a 5.29 ERA).
But last year, Cashner had himself a really nice pitch in his changeup. It posted a 40.8% chase rate, 45.6% zone rate, 15.5% SwStr rate, .266 wOBA against, and a .136 ISO against, on its way to an 11.6 pVAL, the second best pVAL Cashner has ever earned.
Still, Cashner didn’t have a particularly good year. He had a really solid first half, posting a 3.83 ERA, which ultimately helped the Orioles move him to the Red Sox, but his second half was terrible, as he put up a 6.20 ERA.
No. 2A: Dylan Bundy’s changeup
Another Oriole? I know: Weird, right? Even weirder, Dylan Bundy has two Money Pitches. Guess how many pitchers had more than one Money Pitch last year? Two. Bundy and Max Scherzer. That’s pretty good company to keep.
As a result, I’m splitting up his two Money Pitches, and first, we’re going to look at his changeup.
If Bundy has been known for any pitch since he was drafted, it’s his changeup. It was his main putaway pitch in 2016 before he introduced his slider (his other Money Pitch). Once he started using his slider more, his changeup lost a bit of its step, but it bounced back last year in a big way.
Last season, Bundy’s changeup posted a 48.7% chase rate, 42.3% zone rate, 18.1% SwStr rate, and a .306 wOBA against. It was good, but it wasn’t as good as his slider.
No. 2B: Dylan Bundy’s slider
Speaking of which! Bundy introduced this pitch in 2017 and it’s been supa hot fire ever since. Last year, it had an excellent 41.6% chase rate, 40.9% zone rate, 22.2% SwStr rate (good for top 20 in all of baseball), and a .219 wOBA and .113 ISO against.
So with two Money Pitches, why exactly did Bundy put up a terrible 4.79 ERA last year? Because he has one of the worst fastballs in all of baseball. Seriously, the guy has nothing but positive pVAL pitches except for his fastball, which clocked in at a godawful -21.7, good for the second worst pVAL of any pitch in all of baseball last year.
So yeah, that would be the main problem.
No. 3: Joe Musgrove’s changeup
There’s been sort of a love/hate relationship between the fantasy community and Joe Musgrove. He’s got some filthy stuff, and has for some time, but has had a lot of trouble really pulling it all together, as evidenced by four straight seasons with an ERA above 4.00.
We’ve all been waiting for that Joe Musgrove breakout, and part of the reason is his repertoire, which includes this changeup. Last year, Musgrove’s changeup posted a 48% chase rate, 46.1% zone rate, 19.2% SwStr rate, and a .289 wOBA against. One downside: He had some trouble commanding it, as as opponents registered a .220 ISO against the pitch.
That’s actually a fairly common theme for Musgrove — great swing-and-miss pitches he doesn’t command super well. Of the six pitches in his repertoire, three had a swinging-strike rate above 17% and a chase rate above 41%, but four gave up an ISO above .210. Now you understand why he’s so frustrating.
No. 4: Jon Gray’s slider
Jon Gray’s career has been a bit of an up-and-down ride so far. His first full season as a starter saw him post a rough 4.61 ERA (though with a 3.72 SIERA and 3.60 FIP), then 2017 came with a much-improved 3.67 ERA (3.74 SIERA, 3.18 FIP). But, in 2018, he regressed to an awful 5.12 ERA (3.68 SIERA, 4.08 FIP). Last year? A 3.84 ERA (4.35 SIERA, 4.06 FIP). Yea, he’s confusing.
What’s not confusing about Jon Gray is just how good his slider is. Last year, it posted a 46.9% chase rate, 41.6% zone rate, 21.4% swinging-strike rate, .220 wOBA against, and .116 ISO against, on its way to a 15 pVAL, the best of his career.
So what’s Gray’s problem? Well, he pitches in Coors Field, which is never good for a pitcher, and he’s got a bad fastball. Last year, the pitch had a .403 wOBA and .201 ISO against, similar numbers to the season before.
No. 5: Max Fried’s slider
After looking excellent in limited action in 2018, Max Fried looked decidedly less great last year, posting a 4.02 ERA, though with a 3.83 SIERA and 3.72 FIP.
One of the best things about Fried, though, was his slider, which looked better than it ever has, posting a 40.9% chase rate, 42% zone rate, 15.3% swinging-strike rate, .237 wOBA against, and a .131 ISO against.
Fried’s got a nice couple of swing-and-miss pitches, with a curveball that was nearly a Money Pitch last year, with a 35.6% chase rate, 37.6% zone rate, and 15.4% swinging-strike rate. His biggest weakness has been his fastball, which posted a .365 wOBA against last year.
No. 6: Michael Wacha’s changeup
Fozzie Bear here (you know, because “wocka wocka?” I don’t apologize.) did not have the best year, and saw some major regression after a really nice 2018 where he posted a 3.20 ERA. Though looking at the 4.60 SIERA and 4.22 FIP he had that season, it’s not all that surprising he regressed.
Still, Michael Wacha’s 4.76 ERA (and even worse 5.08 SIERA and 5.61 FIP) was bad, but he certainly threw a beautiful changeup. Last year, the pitch posted a 44.3% chase rate, 43.1% zone rate, 21.7% swinging-strike rate, .251 wOBA against, and .129 ISO against.
Unfortunately though, it was his only good pitch, as every other pitch he threw posted a negative pVAL last year, with the worst being his fastball and its -13.1 pVAL. The changeup, though? An 8.8 pVAL, the best it’s ever been. So he’s got that going for him, I guess.
No. 7: Mike Leake’s slider
Mike Leake hasn’t been a viable fantasy pitcher for about four years now, posting an ERA above 4.20 in four out of the last five years. Even worse, his strikeout rate hasn’t topped 17% since 2014, so there’s really just not a lot here to like.
But you know what’s weird? He’s got a great slider, and he’s had a great slider. Last year, the pitch posted a 45.1% chase rate, 40.5% zone rate, and 15.5% swinging-strike rate, as well as a .256 wOBA against. This pitch has been a Money Pitch two years in a row now, but even when it wasn’t, it still posted excellent chase and swinging-strike rates.
Similar to the aforementioned Michael Wacha, this is just about his only really good pitch, and even that pitch he doesn’t command super well, as it posted a .210 ISO against last year. In fact, all but two of his pitches posted an ISO over .200 last year, which is very bad, including his sinker, which posted a simply terrible .385 ISO and .504 wOBA against. And it’s his second-most thrown pitch.
No. 8: Pablo Lopez’s changeup
You’ll notice there are two current Miami Marlins on this list, as well as a guy who was on the Marlins to start the year last year. Weird, right? First up of the three is Pablo Lopez, a pitcher I’m kind of a fan of, despite the not-so-great results he’s had so far.
Last year, he had a 5.09 ERA with a 4.44 SIERA and 4.28 FIP, but I really like his stuff. He’s got a really solid fastball that tops out around 98 MPH and posted a pretty decent .324 wOBA against and .157 ISO against last year.
And then there’s this changeup, which had a 45.8% chase rate, 43% zone rate, and 17.2% swinging-strike rate last year, alongside a .274 wOBA against. And, even better, he’s got a decent curveball that, while not getting much in the way of whiffs, induces a good amount of weak contact, posting a .298 wOBA against last year.
His biggest problem? Command. Three of his four pitches had an ISO against higher than .170 last year, which is not what you want. If he can rein that in, he’s got some good stuff. But enough of me pitching Pablo Lopez to you. (You should take a flyer on him! Okay I’m done.) Let’s move on.
No. 9: Sandy Alcantara’s changeup
Two straight years now, Sandy Alcantara has posted pretty solid ERA numbers and beat his peripherals. In 2018, he had a 3.44 ERA with a 5.42 SIERA and 4.75 FIP (in just six starts, though), and last year he had a 3.88 ERA with a 5.28 SIERA and 4.55 FIP.
Unfortunately, he’s had plenty of control problems, posting a 1.41 WHIP and 1.32 WHIP in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Plus his strikeout numbers have been fairly underwhelming, with a 20.6% strikeout rate in 2018 and an 18% strikeout rate last year.
But that’s not what we’re here for, right? No, we’re here to talk about his excellent changeup. Last year, his changeup posted a 44% chase rate, 41.1% zone rate, and 16.6% swinging-strike rate, making it a really solid swing-and-miss pitch.
No. 10: Trevor Richards‘ changeup
I saved the best for last. Well, maybe not the best, but it’s one of my favorites. If you’ve read my writing or follow me on Twitter (and if you do either, thank you and I’m sorry), you know how much I love Trevor Richards. Mostly because of just how awesome this changeup is.
Last year, the pitch posted a 51.1% chase rate (good for the fifth most-chased pitch in all of baseball last year), a 40.9% zone rate, and a 17% swinging-strike rate. And it’s been awesome his whole career; the main problem has been his fastball.
In 2018, it had a terrible -14.0 pVAL with a .397 wOBA and .212 ISO against. But last year he started improving on the pitch, adding some vertical movement to it and starting to control it better, which led to a much-improved .338 wOBA and .164 ISO against.
He’s a guy I’ve always thought was just on the verge of breaking out. Now he’s with the Tampa Bay Rays and mostly pitched out of the bullpen last year. The Rays will likely put him in the minors, and if he can continue to tweak his fastball and improve on a third pitch, I think he could easily be a really interesting pitcher.
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)