Pitching is fun, perhaps my favorite part of watching baseball, and one of my favorite things to do in the offseason when I’m not staring out the window with tears slowly running down my cheek thinking about Opening Day is to look at pitch data from last year and find out what the best pitches of the year were.
I did a whole series on it last year, including a version of this article, and I’m going to do it again, because it’s the offseason and what else do you have to do? Watch the NFL playoffs? Or the NBA? Or the NHL? Or speak to your family and friends? Please.
So today I’m going to look at the 10 most-chased pitches in all of baseball last year. But let’s first define what I mean by the most-chased pitches: I’m referring to the pitches that led the league in chase rate (percentage of pitches swung at outside the strike zone).
I’m also only including pitches that were thrown a minimum of 400 times. Why 400? Because I want this to mostly focus on starters who were throwing their pitch a lot all year and still maintained a high chase rate. Also, there has to be a cutoff because otherwise, I’d have to include things like Spencer Turnbull’s cutter, which he threw just 22 times for a 50% chase rate.
Anyways, blah blah blah with the intro, I know, skip to the list. Let’s go.
No. 10: German Marquez’s curveball (49.3%)
After a sort-of breakout in 2018, German Marquez had a much worse 2019. In fact, it was the worst season he’s had since his rookie year (if you count that, because he only pitched 20.2 innings). Last year he sported a 4.76 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 3.85 SIERA, and a 24.3% strikeout rate, all not particularly great numbers.
But there was one pitch that was very good, and that was his curveball. Marquez’s curveball has always been his best pitch, and this past season it was fantastic, with a 49.3% chase rate (the best of his career), a 24% SwStr rate, a .138 wOBA against, and a .089 ISO against.
So where were Marquez’s problems? It was everything else. His new slider he developed in 2018 that was very good was all of a sudden very bad, posting a .366 wOBA and .259 ISO against (compared to a .183 wOBA and .088 ISO against in 2018), and his fastball was also very bad, with a .359 wOBA and .201 ISO against.
But the curveball sure was pretty.
No. 9: Kevin Gausman’s splitter (49.6%)
I know, weird right? The former highly-touted prospect who has bounced around from the Atlanta Braves to the Cincinnati Reds and now with the San Francisco Giants since leaving the Baltimore Orioles was just terrible last year.
How terrible? Try a 5.72 ERA and 1.42 WHIP terrible. Now, to be fair, that awful ERA came with a 3.98 FIP and a 4.10 SIERA, which isn’t much better but it’s something I guess. He also had a 25.3% strikeout rate, which isn’t bad either.
But his split-change was excellent, as it’s always been. If there’s one pitch that has consistently been fantastic for Gausman, it’s this very pitch. Last year it posted a 49.6% chase rate, 22.7% SwStr rate, .258 wOBA against, and a .089 ISO against.
Problem was, it was the only good pitch he had. In fact, it was basically the only pitch he threw that wasn’t a fastball. Last year, Gausman elected to abandon throwing anything but a fastball and his split-change, throwing a slider just 32 times and a standard changeup just 21 times.
The splitter worked great, but the fastball did not, as opposing hitters had a .386 wOBA and .216 ISO against it last year.
No. 8: Clayton Kershaw’s slider (49.9%)
This is the first of a few “oh yeah, duh” entries on this list. It’s no shock that Clayton Kershaw, god of pitching, king of the Andals and the First Men, would have a really good pitch. And if you’ve been paying attention to baseball (which, if you haven’t, welcome to a fantasy baseball site I guess?), you know that Kershaw has an excellent slider.
And it was excellent once again last year, posting a 49.9% chase rate, 19.9% SwStr rate, 40.3% zone rate (qualifying it as a money pitch), .261 wOBA against, and a .137 ISO against.
While Kershaw wasn’t Cy Young-level dominant last year as he has been in the past, he still was very good, posting a 3.03 ERA (albeit with a 3.86 FIP and a 3.77 SIERA), and his slider was a big reason why.
No. 7: Luis Castillo’s changeup (50.2%)
One of the pitches that was also on last year’s list, it’s well-known by now that Luis Castillo has an absolutely filthy changeup, and it was once again filthy this year.
Alongside its 50.2% chase rate, the pitch had a 26.6% SwStr rate, .193 wOBA against, .071 ISO against, and a 46.6% strikeout rate, on its way to a 26.6 pVAL, the highest of Castillo’s career by a longshot, and the third-highest pVAL in all of baseball.
It’s no wonder Castillo had a nice bounceback year last year. After posting a 4.30 ERA in 2018, Castillo had a solid 3.40 ERA with a 28.9% strikeout rate, the best of his career. While that 3.40 ERA was great, it came with a 3.70 FIP and 3.95 SIERA, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can keep up the magic in 2020.
No. 6: Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter (50.8%)
This was the most-chased pitch in all of baseball in 2018, and while it’s not number one this year, it’s still a fantastic pitch.
If there’s one pitch Masahiro Tanaka is known for, it’s like this splitter. It’s generally one of the best splitters in the game, and while it had an elite chase rate last year, it took a step back in some other ways.
While it had its phenomenal 50.8% chase rate, it also had just an 11.2% SwStr rate, down from 21.7% last year and 23.7% the year before. That’s a really major drop. It also had a .306 wOBA against and a .162 ISO against, down from .271 and .132 last year, respectively.
So what was different? Well, Tanaka was throwing it more in the zone than before, though not by much, so that’s not likely the main culprit. But it does seem the pitch was moving differently last year, as it gained about an inch of horizontal movement and lost about an inch of drop.
Given that his main putaway pitch wasn’t quite working last year, it’s no shock Tanaka had a pretty down year, posting a 4.45 ERA with a 4.27 FIP and 4.46 SIERA.
No. 5: Trevor Richards‘ changeup (51.1%)
This is one of my favorite pitches in baseball and one of the most unheralded pitches too. Trevor Richards‘ changeup doesn’t quite get the respect it deserves, but that’s probably because Trevor Richards has generally been pretty bad.
Like I said, his fastball has been bad in the past. In 2018, it had a godawful -14.0 pVAL along with a .397 wOBA and .212 ISO against. But last year, he really improved the pitch, adding a bit of vertical movement to it and controlling it better. As a result, it had a much-improved .338 wOBA and .164 ISO against.
Richards is clearly working on his repertoire, and I like that a lot. Paired with this ridiculous changeup that had a 51.1% chase rate, 40.9% zone rate, and 17% SwStr rate (making it a money pitch), some tweaks could take Richards over the edge to being a pretty solid pitcher, but that remains to be seen.
No. 4: Anibal Sanchez’s changeup (51.4%)
Another repeat from last year! One of the major keys to Anibal Sanchez’s wild success in 2018 was his new, excellent cutter and his improved changeup. Last year, while Sanchez wasn’t quite as successful as he was in 2018, his changeup was still very good.
Last year, the pitch posted a 51.4% chase rate, 18.7% SwStr rate, and a .290 wOBA against. Now, one of the reasons he wasn’t quite as good this year was because he made mistakes with his changeup that he didn’t make the year before. Last year, his change posted a .172 ISO against, compared to just .061 in 2018.
But still, having a 3.85 ERA at age 34 in the year of the juiced ball is not bad at all for Anibal. It’ll be interesting to see if he improves this year.
No. 3: Tommy Milone’s changeup (52.4%)
I know right? It’s weird. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting to see Tommy Milone on this list, but here we are.
Milone wasn’t particularly good last year, working mostly out of the bullpen (though pitching a lot, to the tune of 111.2 innings pitched despite only starting six games), Milone posted a 4.76 ERA, 5.00 FIP, 4.30 SIERA, and a 20.8% strikeout rate. Not great numbers by any stretch.
But he did have a fantastic changeup that posted a 52.4% chase rate, 17.6% SwStr rate, .232 wOBA against, and .121 ISO against.
The problem? His fastball, his most-thrown pitch, was abjectly terrible, with a .422 wOBA against and a .405 ISO against (yes you read that right, and he threw the pitch 729 times). Just disgusting numbers and not what you want from your most-thrown pitch. But hey, at least he had a killer changeup.
No. 2: Justin Verlander’s slider (53.5%)
Another no duh entry and another guy who was on last year’s list, Justin Verlander put another notch in his Hall of Fame career last year, winning the Cy Young at age 36 after posting a 2.58 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 2.95 SIERA, 35.4% strikeout rate season.
We all know he’s incredible, and his repertoire is like a college dorm room—loaded with filth. But among the best was his slider, which posted a 53.5% chase rate, 40.3% zone rate, 24% SwStr rate (money pitch alert!), .160 wOBA against, and .102 ISO against, on its way to a 31.4 pVAL, the second-best pVAL in all of baseball.
I mean, he’s incredible, you know that, I know that, there’s not much more to say.
No. 1: Hyun-Jin Ryu’s changeup (56.6%)
I was sort of surprised this was the most-chased pitch in all of baseball but also not totally surprised. Last year, Hyun-Jin Ryu had a fantastic season, posting a 2.32 ERA and 3.10 FIP (though with a 3.77 SIERA).
That was thanks in part to this beautiful changeup, which had a 56.6% chase rate, 18.8% SwStr rate, .215 wOBA against, and .103 ISO against, on its way to a 24.1 pVAL which was good for the sixth-highest pVAL in all of baseball.
While his changeup was his best pitch, it wasn’t his only pitch. What’s amazing about Ryu last year is that he threw five different pitches at least 300 times, and every single one of them posted a positive pVAL. That’s really impressive.
Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)