Going Deep: Top Relief Pitchers by Pitch Value in 2018

Happy 2019 everyone! The best thing about the new year is that we inch closer and closer to meaningful baseball. But it also means that the season for mock drafts is well underway and people are starting to look for value players for late round picks. In an effort to identify some of the top relief pitchers from 2018 I looked at standardized pitch values and I will take a closer look at the top five relief pitchers with the best pitch values from 2018.

So what are pitch values? Pitch values are used to measure run expectancy from different counts/situations and can be used to see how effective a pitch is for pitchers, or how batters fared against different pitches. There are 2 different types of pitch values (1) total pitch values (pVAL) and (2) standardized pitch values (pVAL/C) which are the pitch values standardized to 100 pitches to account for differences in pitch usage. I’ve gone with the standardized pitch values here to make the pitches more comparable.

Now let’s get some of the boring methods out of the way:

  1. I only included pitchers who pitched at least 50 innings in 2018
  2. I used three classifications for pitchers – SP, RP, and SP/RP; where SP were pitchers who started more than 80% of their appearances, RPs started in less than 20% of their appearances and SP/RP were the spot starters.
  3. I only looked at pitchers who qualified as RPs

After grabbing all the data and a few data manipulations here are the top five relief pitchers by standardized pitch value.

Name Best Best pVAL/C Worst Worst pVAL/C
Matt Strahm Changeup (CH) 4.1 Slider (SL) 0.7
Will Smith Slider (SL) 3.9 Curveball (CU) 0.0
Tony Watson Changeup (CH) 3.8 Sinker (SI) -0.5
Blake Treinen Fourseam (FA) 3.6 Sinker (SI) 2.1
Lou Trivino Cutter (FC) 3.4 Fourseam (FA) -0.1

Matt Strahm‘s change-up comes out on top as one of the most valuable pitches from 2018. Earlier this year the Allfather (AKA Nick Pollack) highlighted the potential for Strahm to move to the starting rotation which can be found hereWe’ve also got a few other interesting names on this list with Will Smith‘s slider getting some attention, Tony Watson flashing that change-up, Blake Treinen throwing smoke with his fastball and finally Lou Trivino bringing that cutter to destroy bats.

Below is a table showing information relating to each pitchers arsenal (there may be some pitch misclassification between sources!). I’ve highlighted the two money pitches which both happen to be cutters by Treinen and Trivino. You could easily make a case that the sliders thrown by Treinen and Smith could be money pitches, but sliders are designed to be thrown out of the zone and get hitters to commit before the ball starts to break, so their Zone% is generally lower than that of other pitches. The numbers are amazing for Smith’s slider, just look at that 58.7 O-Swing% and generating swinging strikes almost 30% of the time.  He’s got an 11+ mph difference between his fastball and slider which clearly is giving hitters a hard time. I’ve also included some metrics for each pitch a pitcher threw to give you an idea of their velocity, effectiveness and pitch usage. And if you want to see some highlights, Treinen is showcased 6 times in the top 150 pitches of 2018.

Name Velocity Num pitches Pitch O-Swing% Zone% SwStr% pVAL/C
Blake Treinen 97.5 197 Fourseam (FA) 32.6 58.0 15.6 3.6
Blake Treinen 93.9 127 Cutter (FC) 46.2 51.1 19.6 3.0
Blake Treinen 89.2 265 Slider (SL) 52.0 27.5 28.7 2.5
Blake Treinen 97.3 607 Sinker (SI) 41.7 45.4 14.6 2.1
Lou Trivino 92.4 457 Cutter (FC) 46.8 45.4 21.2 3.4
Lou Trivino 81.0 78 Curveball (CU) 21.7 37.8 12.2 1.5
Lou Trivino 88.2 11 Changeup (CH) 14.3 36.4 0.0 0.7
Lou Trivino 97.7 239 Sinker (SI) 23.6 41.7 7.8 0.3
Lou Trivino 97.4 377 Fourseam (FA) 31.8 55.6 11.2 -0.1
Matt Strahm 86.0 143 Changeup (CH) 37.5 55.2 11.2 4.1
Matt Strahm 93.4 579 Fourseam (FA) 25.9 59.9 12.3 0.8
Matt Strahm 78.0 123 Curveball (CU) 18.4 60.2 3.3 0.7
Matt Strahm 87.1 153 Slider (SL) 33.3 31.4 23.5 0.7
Tony Watson 85.5 285 Changeup (CH) 44.6 38.4 19.4 3.8
Tony Watson 84.0 187 Slider (SL) 33.3 44.9 16.2 1.1
Tony Watson 92.5 486 Sinker (SI) 39.0 62.4 6.9 -0.5
Will Smith 81.0 312 Slider (SL) 58.7 39.3 29.8 3.9
Will Smith 87.1 9 Two-Seam (FT) 16.7 33.3 0.0 1.2
Will Smith 92.6 373 Fourseam (FA) 21.0 60.3 6.7 0.6
Will Smith 77.2 115 Curveball (CU) 22.0 55.3 5.3 0.0

 

2018 Stats Roundup

 

Blake Treinen

 

IP W L SV H K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA
80.1 9 2 38 0 11.20 2.35 0.22 0.78

I don’t know if you can ask for a better season from your closer.  His repertoire consists of a 4 pitch mix and finished 2018 with an average fastball velocity sitting at 97.5  and touching 100 mph. He complemented that velocity with a sharp cutter that he was able to consistently thrown in the zone (51.1% of the time) and then added in a dirty slider that generated swinging strikes at a 28.7% clip. This stat blew my mind when I saw it, his fastball allowed an ISO of 0.000! Hitters went 6 – 60 against his fastball with no extra base hits, and in total hitters only had 8 extra base hits against him last season (6 doubles & 2 home runs). He ended up amassing 38 saves which was good enough for 4th best in the majors.

Fastball

Slider

Lou Trivino

 

IP W L SV H K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA
74.0 8 3 4 23 9.97 3.77 0.97 2.92

2018 was Trivino’s first taste of MLB action, and he did not disappoint. Technically he boasts a five-pitch mix, but in reality, he only threw 11 change-ups (less than 1% of the time) and 74 curveballs (6.6% of the time), so I would probably say a solid four-pitch mix. Any bullpen would have been lucky to have this guy coming in late in the game where his sinker had a velocity of 97.7 mph and his four-seam at 97.4 mph. Even though he is able to touch 100 mph this velocity didn’t translate to very valuable pitches where the pVAL/C were 0.3 and -0.1 and wRC+ were 116 and 129 for his sinker and fastball respectively. The pitch that made him a star was definitely his money pitch cutter. Batters were only able to make contact with his cutter 62.3% of the time, but he will have to be careful pitching in the zone with his cutter as the  Z-Contact% was 83.5 compared to 36.9 O-Contact%. His curveball was his second best pitch by pVAL/C standards, and maybe by throwing it so rarely it kept hitters off balance. Among the five relievers mentioned throughout this article, Trivino had the most called strike three pitches in 2018, with a total of 21 (10 with the four-seam and 7 with the cutter).

 

Matt Strahm

 

IP W L SV H K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA
61.1 3 4 0 7 10.13 3.08 0.88 2.05

So did anyone notice that Strahm threw his curveball in the zone 60.2% of the time last year!?!? But then you look at the 3.3 SwStr% and that’s a little concerning. Among all pitchers who threw at least 50 curveballs last year, Strahm had the highest percentage, just ahead of Nathan Eovaldi at 60% (Smith was 5th on this list). He is a guy that really attacks the zone, with 3 of his offerings (fastball, curveball, and changeup) all having a zone% greater than 55%. Here’s another four-pitch mix guy, but his bread and butter was the change-up. There is about a 7 mph difference between his fastball and change-up, which doesn’t seem like it would be enough to me, but the results speak for themselves. It was the top-rated RP pitch by pVAL/C in 2018! Among the many reasons for this being such an effective pitch last season can likely be attributed to the strong ground ball rate of 63.9%.

Changeup

Curveball

IP W L SV H K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA
66.0 4 6 0 32 9.82 1.91 0.55 2.59

Over the last 6 seasons, he hasn’t thrown less than 65 innings, so durability isn’t an issue so far. He is your classic fastball, change-up, breaking ball pitcher with pitch velocities ranging from 84 to 92.5 mph. If he had thrown his change-up into the zone a little bit more over the season it would have registered as a money pitch, but the way it stands he fell just short. However, the change-up was still his best pitch in 2018. Over the last 4 years, his change-up has had pVAL/C of 3.2, 3.8, -3.1 and 3.8. If I had to guess, I would say the 2017 version of his change-up was an anomaly thanks to a 23.8% HR/FB rate compared to his career average of 8.3% for that pitch. He may not have the sexy strikeout numbers that the top relievers show, but his minuscule walk rate led him to the 9th best K/BB rate among qualified relievers last season.

Changeup

Slider

IP W L SV H K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA
53.0 2 3 14 6 12.06 2.55 0.51 2.55

Finally, we get to Smith who was in a semi-crowded Giants bullpen last season. After missing 2017 due to TJS, Smith came back with a vengeance.  A lot of his value came from filling for an injured Mark Melancon and an ineffective Hunter Strickland in 2018, but hey you have to seize the opportunities as they come. Similar to Watson, Smith is not your typical flamethrowing late-inning reliever. He comes in averaging around 92.6 mph with the fastball but complements that with two off-speed pitches, a curveball and slider, to keep hitters off balance. His curveball will come in at 77 mph and his slider, which happened to be his most effective pitch in 2018, is at 81 mph. With a K/9 of 12.06, he was the highest K/9 from this list of 5 pitchers and also had a very respectable BB/9.

(Main photo by Justin Paradis)

Colin Charles

I am located in Winnipeg, MB and make my living as a fish biologist. I enjoy making beer, talking baseball and the outdoors.

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Comments


Ian

Matt Strahm so badly needs to get into the rotation. I’m super stoked to have dynasty stock in him. Pretty excited for him moving forward

Great article and excellent work including the gifs. Never gets old.

Jack Cecil

Are you creating per pitch leaderboards to get these “money pitch” lists. I love the idea of using what seems to be Fangraphs plate discipline numbers, but I’ve never found a leaderboard on Fangraphs to do this.

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