Today we have a guest article written by Joshua Cline, a baseball nerd and former little league star. Follow him on twitter @joshuacline99.
A successful pitcher needs to have pitches that will fool the batter, pitches that make everyone who is watching drop their jaw in astonishment. Take a look at the most jaw-droppingly effective pitches thrown last year paired with GIFs courtesy of Pitcher List.
All GIFs are taken from the 2014 season.
Masahiro Tanaka’s Splitter
The Yankees made a $175 million commitment to Tanaka in the 2014 offseason. A big reason the Yankees felt comfortable giving him that money was because of his Splitter. The pitch ranked 2nd in Fangraphs Pitch Value coming in at 12.1 RAA (Runs Above Average). He came only 0.8 RAA behind Hiroki Kuroda despite throwing over 300 less Splitters because of an injury. Tanaka’s Splitter hits the triple crown of traits for good pitches – velocity, generates groundballs, and gets whiffs. Among all pitchers who threw at least 300 splitters, he ranked 1st in whiffs/swing (46%), groundballs per balls in play (69%), and 2nd in velocity (87.27 MPH).
Felix Hernandez’s Changeup
It seems like King Felix has been around forever, and it’s amazing to realize that he is only 29 years old despite entering his 11th season in the majors. Part of the reason Felix has remained successful for so long is because of his Changeup. Among all qualified SP’s in 2014, Felix’s Changeup ranked first with 23.1 RAA and at nearly 90 MPH, he threw the fastest “slow-pitch” in the majors. This led to an outstanding whiff rate of 40.58% and 73% of his in-play Changeups being hit on the ground. Looking across the leaderboard, Felix is near the top in almost every category. That accomplishment is even more impressive when you consider that he threw the more Changeups than anybody last year (1,076). King Felix was 5th in GB/FB (6.68), 6th in LD/BIP (14%), and 6th in FB/BIP with 11%.
Dellin Betances‘ Slurve
Dellin Betances owns one of the more mysterious breaking-balls in the majors. No body knows what to call it. Slurve? Curve? Slider? Knuckle Curve? I personally think that the speed and movement most closely resembles a Slurve. Fangraphs calls it a Slider but Pitch f/x calls it Knuckle-Curve. For this article, I’ll side with Pitch f/x and use their data. Among all RP with 50 Innings Pitched, Betances ranked 1st in pitch value with 16.2 RAA. Just to put that number in context, the best Curveball (Brett Cecil) was worth only 9.3 RAA and the Knuckle-Curve behind Dellin’s (Cody Allen) was only worth 8.2 RAA. To be fair to Allen and Cecil, RAA is an accumulation stat and Betances pitched a whopping 90 innings compared to Allen’s 69.2 and Cecil’s 53.1. Dellin’s curve doesn’t have much vertical movement, but it has almost 7 inches of horizontal movement which ranked 5th last year. Betances was 4th with a 50.9% whiff rate and trusted his curve so much that he threw a RP leading 644 Curveballs.
Aroldis Chapman’s Fastball
Ever since making his Major League debut in 2010, Aroldis Chapman has struck fear into hitters with his unbelievable Fastball. In 2014, Chapman averaged an unheard of 100 MPH on his fastball. He actually throws about 1 MPH faster than the next closest pitcher (Kelvin Herrera). Fangraphs says his heater was worth 11.1 RAA along with his 7.1 RAA Slider. Chapman ranked 1st among all pitchers with a 41.94% whiff rate on his fastball. He had a career low 0.89 FIP, which was helped by Chapman raising his fastball whiff rate from 35.89% in 2013.
Garrett Richards’ Slider
Garrett Richards had a breakout year in 2014 with a 2.60 FIP and a 4.5 WAR over 26 starts. His Slider combined an elite average velocity of 87.47 MPH with the 3rd best vertical movement in the majors (3.92 inches of drop). Richards’ combination of velocity and movement led to batters whiffing 43.11% of the times they swung. Opposing batters could only manage a .151 Batting Average and a .173 Slugging % against his slider. Richards also ranked 4th in the MLB with 15.2 RAA for his slider.
Corey Kluber’s Curveball
Kluber had an excellent 2014 by showing that he is one of the top pitchers in the league. He out-FIP’ed Felix Hernandez to win the American League Cy Young award. The shining spot in Kluber’s repertoire is his Curveball. Just like Betances, Kluber’s breaking pitch is somewhat of a mystery. Jeff Sullivan wrote an article featuring Kluber’s Curveball that refers to it as a curve, which would make it the most valuable Curveball in the MLB last year at 21.5 RAA, but shows that the pitch has some similarity to Yu Darvish’s Slider. For this article, I’m going to take Kluber’s breaking pitch stats and compare them to Curveballs. Among all starting pitchers, Kluber was top 5 in velocity (83.49 MPH), whiff rate (45.12%), horizontal movement (10.16 inches), and TAv (.103).
Clayton Kershaw’s Slider
Kershaw was without a doubt the best pitcher in the NL last year. He further cemented his status as the best pitcher in the league by winning his third Cy Young award and his first MVP award. He also set career high records for FIP (1.81), ERA (1.77), and K/9 (10.8). According to Fangraphs’ pitch values, Kershaw has three plus pitches with the most valuable pitch being his Slider as it ranked first in the MLB with a value of 21.5 RAA. While his Slider doesn’t have that much movement, its command was impeccable. Kershaw drew swings on 65.04% of his Sliders (first in MLB) and generated a whiff rate of 45.64% (2nd among all starters). Additionally, opposing batters could only manage to hit a paltry .150 against his slider, making it an excellent pitch to round out this list.
Unless otherwise noted, all ranks have a minimum qualifier of 200 pitches.