Guess what everyone? It’s that time of year—time to get hyped about baseball (assuming, you know, there is baseball and the CBA negotiations don’t crater entirely and everything is terrible)! YEA get hyped!
Pitching is super dope, you don’t need me to tell you that, because you’re on a site called Pitcher List—a site that built its foundation on pitching GIFs and loving pitching. Well, you know what you’re going to get in this article? A bunch of GIFs of filthy pitches.
Why? Because we’re going to take a look back at the 10 most-chased pitches of the 2021 season. This is now the fourth time(!) I’ve done this article, and if you’d like to peruse the most-chased pitches of years past, check out the articles from 2020, 2019, and 2018.
Before we get started, I want to mention the criteria I used to determine which pitches made this list. I only included pitches that were thrown at least 400 times in a season because I want to focus on pitchers who threw a pitch a lot throughout the year and maintained a dominant chase rate.
So without any more intro (and shoutout to the people who actually read the intros to these pieces—you’re the best), here are the 10 most-chased pitches of 2021.
10. Luis Castillo’s Changeup & Kenta Maeda’s Splitter (43.9%)
Starting off our list, we have a tie! And a tie between two pretty awesome pitches, I might add.
Want a fun fact? As I said in the intro (which you read, right?) this is the fourth iteration of this article, and only one pitch has been featured on every single version of this article—Luis Castillo’s changeup.
I mean, at this point, what is there to say about this pitch that hasn’t been said a million times? It’s filthy, it’s a beautiful strikeout pitch, and while it didn’t post quite the swing-and-miss numbers that it has in past years in 2021, it was still awesome.
Now, Castillo still struggled a bit last year, but it wasn’t because of his changeup (it was his fastball and his sinker) and I wouldn’t be shocked at all if I’m featuring this pitch on next year’s list yet again.
Another repeat member of this list! Maeda’s splitter is a great pitch and certainly a beautiful one to watch. Similar to Castillo’s changeup, Maeda’s splitter wasn’t as good as it has been in the past (it had a 50.5% chase rate and 26% SwStr rate in 2020!) but it was still a great pitch and probably the best strikeout pitch Maeda had in his arsenal (though that slider isn’t far off).
The interesting question for this year is, which Maeda are we going to see? The dominant Kenta Maeda of 2020 who posted a 2.70 ERA and 3.00 FIP with a 32.3% strikeout rate? Or last year’s model with a decidedly less awesome 4.66 ERA, 4.10 FIP, and 24.9% strikeout rate?
My guess? It’ll be somewhere in between (peep that 3.98 SIERA and 3.71 xERA, for example).
9. Alex Wood’s Slider (44.3%)
Alex Wood had a rough go of it in the couple of years prior to this past season. He pitched just 35.1 innings in 2019 before being shut down with a back injury, and then just 12.2 innings in 2020 before being shut down with a shoulder injury.
So coming into 2021, now with the San Francisco Giants, who knew what Alex Wood would look like? The answer turned out to be, pretty much what he looked like when he was with the Dodgers, pitching to the tune of a 3.83 ERA, 3.48 FIP, and 26% strikeout rate.
A big reason for that? His slider. Wood was just a three-pitch pitcher last year, throwing a sinker, slider, and changeup, and it worked pretty well. The changeup wasn’t much, but the sinker got weak contact and the slider was a dominant strikeout pitch, posting a 21% SwStr rate alongside that 44.3% chase rate.
Now the question is, can Wood keep it up and stay healthy in 2022?
8. Zach Davies’ Changeup (44.9%)
Zach Davies had kind of a weird year last year.
He’s never been an ace (though I mean, he did throw a 2.73 ERA in 2020) but he’s generally been a pretty solid pitcher who pitches to a decent ERA and doesn’t strike a ton of guys out.
Well, last year, he continued to not strike out a lot of hitters but also posted the worst ERA of his career at 5.78 with a less-than-encouraging 5.45 FIP and 5.36 SIERA. He also led the league with the most four-pitch walks and posted a career-worst 1.60 WHIP.
So yea, not a great year for Zach Davies. But you know what was great? His changeup, obviously. Well, it was great as a strikeout pitch, at least, posting a 20.9% SwStr rate alongside its 44.9% chase rate. But Davies’ poor command really came back to bite him, as his changeup also posted a .215 ISO against.
And it wasn’t just the changeup that got knocked around, it was … basically everything. His sinker? A .400 wOBA and .197 ISO against. His cutter? A .366 wOBA and .273 ISO against. His curveball? Well, actually not that bad at a .313 wOBA and .132 ISO against. So I guess he’s got that going for him?
7. Yusei Kikuchi’s Slider (45.7%)
For roughly the first half of the season, Yusei Kikuchi was looking pretty good. Through the end of June, he posted a 3.34 ERA with a 25.5% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate, setting himself up to be a pretty valuable fantasy asset that you probably got for cheap.
Aaaaand then the peripheral numbers came back to bite him—his .220 BABIP and 4.34 FIP were major red flags and they were correct, and Kikuchi posted a 5.73 ERA from July on.
Kikuchi’s slider was a pretty sweet pitch though, posting a 17% SwStr rate alongside its 45.7% chase rate, and his changeup was a nice complimentary pitch, posting a 40.7% chase rate and 21.6% SwStr rate.
But Kikuchi’s cutter, which was a new and pretty effective pitch in 2020, was decidedly less effective, posting a .387 wOBA and .203 ISO against. But if that gets back into shape this year, the rest of Kikuchi’s arsenal looks pretty good.
6. Hyun-Jin Ryu’s Changeup (45.9%)
Ryu’s changeup has also been on this list before! In fact, it was the most-chased pitch of 2019, and it was a pretty sweet chase pitch yet again this year. But oddly enough, it did not get a ton of swings and misses posting a 13.6% SwStr rate, which is solid but not what you’d expect with a chase rate so high.
Ryu also interestingly toyed around with his pitch mix last year, throwing his fastball as his primary pitch over his changeup for the first time since 2018. Is that why Ryu had the worst season of his career last year? Hard to say, but it certainly didn’t help.
Ryu’s fastball has never been especially consistent. It’s had good years and bad years, and in 2020, it was decidedly bad, with a .404 wOBA and .220 ISO against. In 2021, it was better but still not great, with a .352 wOBA and .250 ISO against, and it was his most-thrown pitch of the year.
So hopefully he goes back to the changeup as his primary pitch?
5. Trevor Rogers’ Changeup (46.3%)
Man, what a year for Trevor Rogers. After posting a pretty disappointing 6.11 ERA in his 28 innings in 2020, he came out in 2021 and absolutely dominated like everyone hoped he could as a prospect.
And he did it as a three-pitch pitcher too, with a fantastic fastball and a changeup/slider combo that worked well as an out pitch, the changeup especially, as it posted a 19.3% SwStr rate alongside its 46.3% chase rate.
The slider was a solid swing-and-miss pitch as well, posting a very solid 15% SwStr rate, but really it was the fastball combined with the changeup that propelled Rogers to success last year.
Fun fact about Trevor Rogers—not a single one of his three pitches had a wOBA against worse than .299 nor an ISO against worse than .121 (and both of those marks were on his fastball). When you’re inducing that much weak contact with two solid-to-great strikeout pitches, you’re going to succeed in the major leagues.
4. Pablo López’s Changeup (46.8%)
Another Marlin! López was everything people have wanted him to be and more last year. He’s always had the potential, but last year, Pablo López really put it together with a 3.07 ERA, 3.29 FIP, and 27.5% strikeout rate.
Why was he so good? Because he threw five pitches that were all solid to excellent. He didn’t have a single pitch in his repertoire that posted a negative pVAL last year (though his sinker did post a 0.0 pVAL, but still! Not negative!)
And that changeup was awesome. Alongside the 46.8% chase rate, it also posted a 17.7% SwStr rate and a .280 wOBA against. In fact, outside of his sinker, none of López’s pitches had a wOBA against worse than .304 (the sinker’s wOBA against was .405, which really makes me wonder what he’d look like if he ditched that pitch).
3. Alex Cobb’s Splitter (47.8%)
Alex Cobb was on last year’s list and it’s no surprise he’s on this year’s list as well. The Thing, Cobb’s split-change, made its comeback last year and it stuck around this year.
It’s a nasty pitch. It’s the pitch that Cobb has essentially built his career on, and yet again, it was filthy last year. With that 47.8% chase rate, Cobb’s split-change posted a 20.2% SwStr rate, a .270 wOBA against, and a .082 ISO against.
The rest of Cobb’s arsenal is fine, if unspectacular. But the key is, it limits hard contact and sets up his split-change as a putaway pitch. I do wonder if he can post another high-3s ERA next year when he really has just one dominant pitch, but he’s done it once, he can do it again. The Thing is a special pitch.
2. Clayton Kershaw’s Slider (48.3%)
The last two people on this list shouldn’t surprise you at all. Clayton Kershaw has been on this list before and, frankly, he’s going to end up on a lot of “best pitch” lists because he’s just so darn good.
Or, at least, he usually is. Last year Kershaw actually saw the worst season he’s had since his rookie year, which is pretty wild considering a 3.55 ERA is the worst he’s been in over a decade.
But either way, Kershaw’s slider was great last year, as it always is. In fact, it was the first time since 2018 that Kershaw used his slider as his primary pitch, throwing it a whopping 237 more times than his fastball last year.
And why not? Alongside the 48.3% chase rate, the pitch also had a ridiculous 26.9% SwStr rate and a .255 wOBA against. It was a dominant pitch, as always, and will continue to be one of my favorite pitches to watch.
1. Jacob deGrom’s Slider (49.6%)
I know, big shock that Jacob deGrom is on this list, isn’t it?
Honestly, even by deGrom’s standards, the season he had last year (despite being cut short by injury) was absolutely incredible. To pitch to a 1.08 ERA with a 0.55 WHIP and 45.1% strikeout rate, that’s like, elite reliever numbers, not a starter. Truly insane.
And just like in 2020, his season was driven by three phenomenal pitches—a fastball that posted a .215 wOBA against, a changeup with a .141 wOBA against, and this slider, which had a .123 wOBA against alongside its 49.6% chase rate and 34%(!) SwStr rate. Oh yea, and that changeup wasn’t a slouch either, with a 37.1% chase rate and 24.3% SwStr rate.
Jacob deGrom is just other-worldly good at pitching, it’s mind-boggling, and I can’t think of another pitcher more deserving of leading this list.
Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)