Going Deep: The 10 Most-Chased Pitches of 2018
I love pitching. You love pitching (I assume, because, you know, you’re here on a site known for pitching GIFs and you’re reading an article about pitching). We all love pitching. It’s probably my favorite part of baseball, watching a hitter wipe out after chasing a nasty pitch that he definitely thought was going to be a strike but then wasn’t.
And that’s why I like making GIFs of these pitches: because they’re fun to watch. So today, I’m going to take a look at the 10 most-chased pitches of 2018.
Now, what do I mean by most-chased pitches? I’m talking about the pitches that led the league last year in the percentage of times a hitter swung at the pitch when it was outside the strike zone.
Also, to be included on this list, a pitch has to have been thrown at least 400 times. Why 400? Because I want to mostly focus on starters who threw the same pitch a ton throughout the year and it never got figured out by hitters. I had to pick some number of pitches as a cutoff, otherwise I’d be obligated to include pitches like Madison Bumgarner‘s eephus, which he threw 11 times for a 57.1% chase rate.
Anyway, this is a listicle, so I’m not going to kid myself and pretend like you actually want to read my intro. (It’s OK, I understand.) Let’s get to the pitches!
No. 10: Anibal Sanchez’s changeup (49.3 percent)
Last year, Anibal Sanchez had the best season of his career since 2006 because baseball is weird.
Honestly though, one of the big reasons he pitched so well last year was this changeup — it was an excellent pitch. Not only did it post a 49.3 percent chase rate, good for No. 10 on this list, but it also posted a 20.9 percent whiff rate. Oh, and opposing hitters had just a .185 wOBA and .061 ISO against the pitch.
Its 15.1 pVAL was the best pVAL he’s ever had for a pitch in his career. His second-highest pVAL ever? That was for his cutter, which he also threw last year. It wasn’t a put-away pitch, but it was exceptionally effective with a .242 wOBA and .120 ISO against and a 12.4 pVAL. Clearly Sanchez completely revamped this pitch last year, and it worked exceptionally well.
No. 9: Jameson Taillon’s slider (49.8 percent)
Jameson Taillon introduced a new pitch last year, and it was a beauty. He didn’t use his new slider a ton, but it worked really well as a put-away pitch when he needed it.
It didn’t quite measure up to our definition of a Money Pitch, but it was pretty close, with a 49.8 percent chase rate, 47.1 percent zone rate, and 13.7 percent whiff rate.
Combined with his curveball, which logged an impressive 34.3 percent chase rate and 13.9 percent whiff rate, Taillon had two solid strikeout pitches.
No. 8: Patrick Corbin’s slider (51.6 percent)
Some of the pitches on this list will be surprises; some will be “well duh” pitches. This is the latter. Patrick Corbin was one of the best pitchers in baseball last year, and his slider was a killer pitch.
Technically it didn’t meet the parameters of a Money Pitch because he only threw it in the zone 26.7 percent of the time, but with a 51.6 percent chase rate and a 29.3 percent whiff rate, he didn’t really need to throw it in the zone because it worked — worked as in a 54.2% strikeout rate, .195 wOBA against, and .098 ISO against. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best sliders in baseball.
No. 7: Trevor Richards’ changeup (52.3 percent)
While the rest of his repertoire wasn’t much to look at (including a fastball that logged an ugly -14.0 pVAL with a .212 ISO against), Richards had a filthy changeup. Last year, the pitch logged a 52.3 percent chase rate and a 24.2 percent whiff rate with a 35.8 percent strikeout rate and a .227 wOBA against. With about 2 inches more drop on it than your typical changeup, it’s no surprise it was such a good strikeout pitch. Now if he can just refine his fastball and curveball.
No. 6: Carlos Carrasco’s changeup (52.4 percent)
This is another one of those “well duh” pitches. Carlos Carrasco has been one of the better pitchers in baseball for a while now, and it’s entirely thanks to his breaking pitches.
Last year, his changeup was arguably his best pitch (that or his slider, which you’ll see in a moment), logging a 52.4 percent chase rate and a 23.5 percent whiff rate with a .222 wOBA and .087 ISO against. Basically, when a hitter did manage to hit it, he didn’t do much with it.
It took a minor step back from the ridiculous 2017 he had with the pitch, when it logged a .132 wOBA and .008 ISO against, but it was still an absolutely elite pitch.
No. 5: Carlos Carrasco’s slider (52.5 percent)
Aaaaand we’re back with another Carrasco breaking ball. Carrasco has two absolutely elite pitches, and if his changeup doesn’t get you, his slider will.
Last year, his slider logged a 52.5 percent chase rate, 26.2 percent whiff rate, 43.8 percent strikeout rate, and a .273 wOBA against. Carrasco actually changed his slider a slight bit last year, adding about an inch-and-a-half of horizontal movement on it that wasn’t there before.
Ultimately though, the slider produced slightly worse numbers than last year’s .185 wOBA against, but I mean, that’s just being nitpicky. It’s still an awesome pitch.
No. 4: Luis Castillo’s changeup (52.8 percent)
I’ll be honest: I don’t think it’s all that hard to see why people like Pitcher List founder Nick Pollack and myself (and many other fantasy analysts) were super psyched about Luis Castillo coming into this past season. Given his stuff and the display he put on in the second half of 2017, there was a lot of reason to love him.
Unfortunately, it didn’t really happen (until the second half of 2018, but that’s another article for another time), but what we did see what this ridiculous changeup be amazing again. The pitch logged a 52.8 percent chase rate and a 25.9 percent whiff rate, both better strikeout numbers than last year. Opposing hitters also had just a .239 wOBA and .130 ISO against it.
When this changeup is paired with his fastball and his fastball is working (it was inconsistent last year), it’s a deadly combination. Here’s hoping he can recapture that magic in 2019.
No. 3: Shane Bieber’s slider (52.9 percent)
Shane Bieber showed up last year and wowed us all with a nasty slider that made for an elite strikeout pitch. Last year, it logged a 52.9 percent chase rate and 26.2 percent whiff rate, and he controlled it well, keeping it in the zone 44.5 percent of the time.
Unfortunately, not unlike Richards, the Biebs’ slider was just about his only really great pitch. His fastball got knocked around a lot, with a .369 wOBA and .196 ISO against, and his changeup was wholly ineffective, with a .394 wOBA and .286 ISO against.
In fact, Bieber’s slider was his only pitch with a positive pVAL at 3.6. His next-best pitch was his curveball at -0.8, though it did log some nice strikeout numbers: a 40.6 percent chase rate and 14.5 percent whiff rate.
No. 2: Max Scherzer’s slider (53.1 percent)
This just in: Max Scherzer is really good. This is probably the most “duh” pitch on the list, but without question, it deserves admiration. Scherzer may have the best slider in baseball.
I mean, just look at these stats: a 53.1 percent chase rate, a 26.9 percent whiff rate, a 38.5 percent strikeout rate, and a .257 wOBA against. It’s just a ridiculous pitch. And yet, somehow, it was second among Scherzer’s pitches in pVAL at 10.3. The top pitch? His fastball, with a 30.9 pVAL. That’s insane.
No. 1: Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter (55.5 percent)
It wasn’t necessarily surprising to me that Masahiro Tanaka‘s splitter was on this list given that this is the pitch he’s known for, but to be the most-chased pitch in baseball? That was a bit surprising.
But chase it hitters did, at a 55.5 percent rate, along with a 21.7 percent whiff rate. He only threw it in the zone 27.8 percent of the time, but when guys are chasing the pitch more than half the time, why would he ever throw it in the zone?
And honestly, what’s impressive to me is the fact that he threw the pitch 724 times — more than anyone else on this list — and it still logged such elite numbers. It didn’t matter how many times people saw this splitter, they just could not hit it. And even if they did hit it, they didn’t do much with it, logging a .271 wOBA against and a 58.9 percent ground ball rate.
There were two pitches that technically met the requirements to make this list but were thrown by relievers (a lot), and I really wanted this list to focus on starting pitchers. Still, they’re worth mentioning.
David Robertson’s curveball (49.6 percent)
David Robertson has himself a couple nasty pitches, and his curveball is the one he uses the most. In fact, he threw it more than any other pitch in his repertoire last year, a total of 542 times, and it was awesome, logging a 49.6 percent chase rate and a 22.1 percent whiff rate on its way to an excellent 12.4 pVAL.
Tanner Scott’s slider (51.1 percent)
If you’re not really sure who Tanner Scott is, I don’t blame you. Not too many people were paying attention to the Baltimore Orioles last year outside of how awful they were, and probably even fewer were paying attention to their bullpen.
But if you’re an Orioles fan like myself (and if you are, I’m sorry), you know Scott from his time as a dominant reliever in the minors in 2017, with a fastball that tends to sit around 97 MPH and a wicked slider. That slider was on full display last year, logging a 51.1 percent chase rate, 29 percent whiff rate, 59.6 percent strikeout rate, and a .202 wOBA against.
So why wasn’t Scott one of the best relievers in baseball last year? Because his fastball was godawful. Seriously, it had a .200 ISO and .499 wOBA against it with a -13.1 pVAL. His slider? A 7.4 pVAL. So if he can get that fastball under control, he could be a dangerous reliever.
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire