Going Deep: 15 Under-the-radar Pitchers With Money Pitches in 2018
There’s virtually nothing better to do in the offseason than overanalyze things, and lately, I’ve been doing exactly that with different pitchers’ repertoires.
Recently, I’ve been diving into the batted-ball stats of certain pitchers, and more specifically “money pitches.” What’s a money pitch you ask? A money pitch is 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 whiff rate of at least 15%. It’s a pitch that can miss bats, get hitters to chase it, and can stay in the zone enough to get strikes.
In all, there were 38 money pitches thrown in MLB last year. I recently wrote an article examining the five pitchers who threw more than one money pitch, but here, I want to spotlight some of the more under-the-radar pitchers who have some nasty pitches in their arsenals.
You don’t need me to tell you that Max Scherzer‘s slider is amazing or that Aaron Nola has an incredible curveball or that Jacob DeGrom‘s changeup is a work of art. You, dear viewer (and I know you’re not a viewer), know that already because you watch baseball and you love baseball (I assume).
But you might not know that some of these other less-heralded pitchers also throw some great stuff. So let’s take a look.
No. 1: Alex Wood’s curveball
Alex Wood‘s 2018 wasn’t quite his 2017, but a 3.68 ERA with an 8.01 K/9 certainly isn’t horrible. Generally, Wood has worked with three pitches — a sinker, a curveball, and a changeup. Last year, Wood started throwing his curveball more than he has in the past, and it worked well.
In fact, for the first time in his career, that curveball was a money pitch, with a 47.8% chase rate, 42.3% zone rate, and an 18.7% whiff rate on its way to a solid 4.0 pVAL.
It’s always been a solid pitch in his career, but in 2018, he reworked it slightly, adding a bit more vertical movement to it than it’s had in the past. While it worked better as a swing-and-miss pitch in 2018, it was hit a bit harder than it has been in the past — though a .267 wOBA against is still nothing to sneeze at, it’s just higher than the .233 wOBA and .225 wOBA against the pitch posted the previous two seasons.
No. 2: Anthony DeSclafani’s slider
In the piece, Port mentions that DeSclafani increased his usage of the slider last year, which is a good sign considering it’s his best pitch.
It’s been a money pitch before, in 2015, but Tony Disco’s slider looked its best this past year, logging a 46.6% chase rate, 41.7% zone rate, and a 17.8% whiff rate along with a .249 wOBA against and a 7.6 pVAL.
No. 3: Blaine Hardy’s changeup
Blaine Hardy bounced around between starting and pitching out of the bullpen for the Detroit Tigers last year, with mediocre results. A 3.56 ERA is certainly good, but the 4.34 SIERA and 6.91 K/9 it came with left a bit to be desired.
Still, his changeup (along with his slider) was arguably his best pitch, posting a 42% chase rate, 47.3% zone rate, and 16.7% whiff rate last year. It also ended up with its best pVAL of Hardy’s career at 5.2 and just a .265 wOBA and .211 average against it.
No. 4: Chad Kuhl’s slider
Now, if you’re like me and you’ve seen some Kuhl starts from Chad Kuhl, you’ve probably noticed his curveball as a pretty sick pitch. And you’re not wrong: It logged a solid 10.6% whiff rate and a great .156 wOBA and .063 ISO against.
But it was Kuhl’s slider that really rocked last year as a swing-and-miss pitch, with a 40.6% chase rate, 49.3% zone rate, and a 21.3% whiff rate. It’s arguably been his best pitch his entire career. In fact, its 4.3 pVAL was actually the worst of his career (it had a 10.8 pVAL last year and 5.2 pVAL in 2016).
No. 5: Clay Buchholz’s cutter
Generally, it’s been a good pitch throughout his career — just never a big-time strikeout pitch. In fact, in 2013, the pitch logged an 11.3 pVAL with a .209 wOBA and .022 ISO against it, so it’s been a great pitch in the past. But it was used more as a putaway pitch this past year, and it worked.
In fact, not only did it qualify as a money pitch in 2018, it was just the second time Buchholz has had a money pitch in his career, the first being his changeup all the way back in 2009, which had a 41.1% chase rate, 42% zone rate, and 24.7% whiff rate.
No. 6: Derek Holland’s curveball
The Dutch Invasion took an interesting turn last year as Derek Holland turned in a pretty solid season with the San Francisco Giants with a 3.57 ERA and an 8.88 K/9 — quite different from the 6.20 ERA and 6.93 K/9 he turned in with the Chicago White Sox in 2017.
So what changed? Two main things: First, his sinker got way better. In 2017, his sinker had a .397 wOBA and .211 ISO against with a 16.4% walk rate and 46.4% zone rate. That changed significantly in 2018, with a .296 wOBA and .110 ISO against with a 7.4% walk rate and 54.7% zone rate. Basically, he started controlling his sinker a lot better, and it worked well.
But this is about his curveball, and his curveball was another key to success for him last year, logging a 44.8% chase rate, 45.2% zone rate, and 16.9% whiff rate on his way to the second money pitch of his career (the first being his slider in 2014).
It was a big switch from 2017, when the pitch had a .419 wOBA and .380 ISO against, compared to a .235 wOBA and .143 ISO against in 2018. It was a great pitch, and it went a long way toward Holland’s success last year.
No. 7: Kenta Maeda’s slider
Kenta Maeda bounced between starting and the bullpen a little bit last year, but he was still able to log 20 starts and looked pretty solid, posting a 3.81 ERA with a 3.22 FIP and a 10.99 K/9.
One of the things that helped Maeda get that career-best strikeout rate was his slider. His slider has always been a good pitch — arguably his best — and for the second consecutive year, it was a money pitch, with a 48.5% chase rate, 41% zone rate, and 25.5% whiff rate.
Last year’s slider looked a lot like his 2016 slider and not so much like his 2017 slider, as he added about 2.5 inches of horizontal movement on it that wasn’t there in 2017 (but was in 2016). He also upped its usage back to 2016 levels, and it makes sense as it’s a great putaway pitch.
Still, Maeda was prone to making mistakes with the pitch: While it had a .208 average against, it also had a .175 ISO against it.
No. 8: Lou Trivino’s cutter
Lou Trivino‘s rookie season likely could not have gone better out of the bullpen. Pitching generally in non-save situations, Trivino ended the year with a 2.92 ERA, 9.97 K/9, and 23 holds over 74 innings.
That’s thanks in part to his fantastic cutter, which was easily his best (and most-thrown) pitch. Last year, his cutter ended up with a 46.9% chase rate, 45.4% zone rate, and 21.2% whiff rate on its way to a 14.6 pVAL.
I mean this thing was absurdly good. Opposing hitters could do nothing against it. The pitch posted a .188 wOBA and .067 ISO against it. It’s a fantastic pitch, and alongside his other offerings (none of which were bad pitches by any stretch), it’s easy to see why he was so good out of the bullpen.
No. 9: Matt Moore’s changeup
Matt Moore was … not good last year. Not good is a bit of an understatement, honestly. He was so bad he would have been the worst starter on the Baltimore Orioles (ayyy up top self-roast on the team I love I laugh to keep from crying being an Orioles fan is painful please help me).
During his first season with the Texas Rangers, he ended with a 6.79 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, and a 7.59 K/9 in 102 innings. He was eventually tossed into the bullpen, starting just 12 times on the year.
But believe it or not, Moore is on this list. And if you expected his knuckle curve to be the pitch on this list, you’re not alone (I did too). But it’s his changeup that was a great swing-and-miss pitch last year, with a 48.4% chase rate, 49.2% zone rate, and 18.3% whiff rate.
It was also his only pitch with a positive pVAL at just 0.6 (his fastball was his worst at -15.1, which is just so bad). But even though it was a decent pitch, Moore was prone to making mistakes with it. In fact, he was prone to making mistakes with all of his pitches, posting an ISO of at least .208 with all four pitches he threw last year.
But hey, his changeup was pretty sick, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice.
No. 10: Michael Fulmer’s slider
I really liked Michael Fulmer going into the year, but he turned in a pretty disappointing season, with a 4.69 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. However, he did end up with a 7.48 K/9, which was the best K/9 of his career (just barely).
I think his slider definitely played a role in that. This was a different slider than he’s thrown before. Way back in May, I wrote a piece on the changes he had made to his repertoire, including his slider, and it looks like the pitch worked out really well.
His slider in 2017 was all about vertical drop and had very little horizontal movement to it. Last year, he changed that entirely, reworking his slider to add a good bit of horizontal movement and not a lot of vertical movement.
The pitch ended up working well, posting a 40.9% chase rate, 51.2% zone rate, and 15.6% whiff rate. It wasn’t impervious to mistakes though: While the pitch had a great .203 average against it, it also had a .246 ISO, meaning Fulmer was prone to laying it in there every now and then.
No. 11: Mike Leake’s slider
Mike Leake is the definition of a No. 5 starter. He’s the guy who’s in your rotation because he eats innings. He’s not a particularly good pitcher, posting a 4.36 ERA last year and a 3.92 ERA the year before, but he’s always there. He’s a warm, upright body who can throw pitches.
So it might come as a surprise to you (it sure did to me) that Mr. 5.77 K/9 last year had a money pitch — the first of his career I might add (though he’s come close a handful of times).
Leake’s slider has always been one of his better pitches and a good strikeout pitch. Since his rookie season in 2010, Leake’s slider has logged a 40% or higher chase rate every year except two, and a 15% or higher whiff rate in every season. What’s kept it from being a money pitch has been his control, as the pitch has had a zone rate floating around high-20% to mid-30%.
But last year, he started controlling the pitch better, with a 42.9% chase rate, 44.9% zone rate (a career best), and a 16.9% whiff rate. That all sounds great, but Leake was prone to making a lot of mistakes with his slider, and I think the fact that he was keeping it in the zone more might have hurt him a bit.
In every season since 2014, Leake’s slider had an ISO against it of less than .100. Last year, it was a career-worst .290, which is really bad. It only had a .224 average against it, though, and a 0.9% walk rate, which all says to me that he wasn’t wild with it. Rather, the pitch was either a swing and miss, an out, or an extra-base hit. It wasn’t getting knocked around for singles constantly; it was getting crushed when Leake laid it in there.
No. 12: Mike Montgomery’s changeup
Another guy who’s not really known as a strikeout artist, Mike Montgomery has logged a K/9 of less than 7.00 in every major league season of his career except one, and last year, it was a mediocre 6.24 alongside a 3.99 ERA.
Nothing really special there, and a 3.94 FIP, 4.44 SIERA, and .309 BABIP against suggest last year was pretty legit. But there was one special thing, and it was Montgomery’s changeup.
In fact, his changeup was the best it’s been in his career, posting an 11.4 pVAL (his first-ever double-digit pVAL). And even when it was hit, batters didn’t do much with it, with just a .182 wOBA and .087 ISO against.
No. 13: Nick Pivetta’s curveball
I’m personally a big Nick Pivetta fan, and this curveball is a big reason why. Now, I know he didn’t have a great year last year, but his 4.77 ERA did come with a 3.51 SIERA and a 3.49 kwFIP. So hope springs eternal.
One thing that was great about Pivetta’s season last year was his 10.32 K/9, and that was thanks in part to this curveball, which posted a 41.5% chase rate, 43.7% zone rate, and 15.4% whiff rate last year. That’s a pretty noticeable improvement over the pitch’s 31.6% chase rate and 10.9% whiff rate in 2017.
It was kind of a different pitch in 2018, and I think that’s part of why it performed better. The pitch had about a half-inch more horizontal movement on it but perhaps more importantly, just over 4 inches more drop to it than in 2017. As a result, the pitch turned into a great strikeout pitch and improved in pVAL from -4.2 in 2017 to 5.2 last year.
No. 14: Robbie Erlin’s changeup
Robbie Erlin is another guy whose performance last year looks worse than it actually was. No, a 4.21 ERA isn’t ideal, but that ERA came with a 3.31 FIP and a 3.76 kwFIP. I’m optimistic he can do better.
Erlin’s changeup has generally been one of his better pitches, but it was better last year than it’s ever been, with a 42.5% chase rate, 43.2% zone rate, and 15.6% whiff rate. This isn’t the first time Erlin’s changeup has been a money pitch; it’s been one every year since 2014.
But what made it different last year? What made it post the best pVAL Erlin’s ever had for a pitch in his career (at 4.1)? Erlin made a lot fewer mistakes with it. In 2015, the pitch had a .222 ISO against it, and in 2016, it was .316 (he missed 2017 with after having Tommy John surgery). Last year, it had a .064 ISO against it.
No. 15: Ross Stripling’s curveball
I love that GIF. I love how Ross Stripling is able to get that much drop on a curveball while throwing from that angle. It’s a beautiful pitch, and it helped Stripling have an excellent season last year, with a 3.02 ERA and a 10.03 K/9.
The curveball also gave Stripling the first money pitch of his career, with a 42.4% chase rate, 40.3% zone rate, and 15.5% whiff rate. It also had a .219 wOBA and .119 ISO against it and a 49.1% strikeout rate.
Honestly, his curveball was the only pitch of his that didn’t get hit hard. His three other pitches all posted ISOs above .180, with his changeup posting a nasty .241 ISO. It’s no wonder Stripling relied on his curveball so much as an out pitch.
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire