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Fun with Pitch F/X Leaderboards Part 1: The Fastballs

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Within this particular Internet post, I try to determine who’s got the best four seam, sinker, and cut fastball in baseball this year using Pitch F/X leaderboards.

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals
Despite the loss in velocity in recent years, Verlander’s four seam fastball is still elite.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

If you’ve never played around with the Pitch F/X leaderboards at Baseball Prospectus, what are you waiting for? They have a wealth of information about pitchers that you can’t easily find anywhere else. Because there is so much information we can gather from these leaderboards, I’m devoting a multi-part series of posts to them, starting with today’s post.

We’re going to dive into the tables and look at the leaders in key metrics that relate to success as a starting pitcher. This means getting whiffs, good movement on your pitches, getting ground balls, and getting pop-ups, to name a few. Today, we’re going to focus on fastballs. Who has the best four seam in each of those metrics I just mentioned? How about the best sinker or cutter? I’m just going to show you the top 25 in each for simplicity, but check out the leaderboards yourself if you want more.

I’m hoping that filtering this information into bite-sized pieces will help you as you evaluate pitchers for your fantasy team. The specific stats I will be using are: horizontal pitch movement, vertical pitch movement (these are both in inches and relative to a ball with no spin), whiffs per swing, ground balls per ball in play, and pop-ups per ball in play (which are basically automatic outs).

At the end of this post, I will round up a list of the guys that have the best four seamers, sinkers, and cutters, by looking at who shows up on these top-25 tables the most times for each pitch. Let’s go ahead and get to the tables.

And now, here's the table with the guys that show up on at least three top-25 lists for each pitch type.

Now, we get to my analysis. I was not a believer in Justin Verlander after two very down years, but his four seam is still a very good pitch, even at 93 mph and that gives him a real weapon to compliment his other pitches and to use as his foundation. Unfortunately, his overall stuff has declined to the point where a 3.6 ERA is the best you could hope for. He should still get plenty of strikeouts, though.

Drew Smyly, despite his outcomes so far this season, has a devastating arsenal. Both his four seam and cutter are among the best in the game. He is a strikeout machine burned by a bad home run problem. I think his home run luck will improve and he could post a 3.5 ERA the rest of the way, provided his various health issues don't crop up.

I knew Rich Hill had a great curveball, but I didn't know his four seam was so good. He has somehow managed to keep pitching well this year and I don't see any reason for a major decline going forward if he can stay healthy.

Chris Tillman has taken big strikeout strides this season and he clearly has a good four seam to start with. That being said, I'm still not convinced, since his peripherals are all just below or above 4.00. The young gun, Julio Urias shows up on this list already. He's got lots of weapons, and it is good to know his fastball is one of them. I believe the hype.

Danny Duffy is in the midst of a true breakout season. I didn't want to believe, but look at those two fastballs! He's good good secondary pitches as well, but having two fastballs on this leaderboard is strong. I am buying.

Most of the good sinkers are for guys we know are very good: Carrasco, Salazar, deGrom, Hamels, and Price or for guys that don't have much else going for them: Wilson and Perez. CC Sabathia has been better this year and a good sinker can't hurt him, but Wei-yen Chen has not. Ditto for Kazmir, who actually still has a few elite pitches, but allows too many homers and a few too many walks.

As for the cutters, I'm a big fan of Odorizzi, Kluber, and Lester, so I'm glad to see their great cutters on this list. Marco Estrada is a guy I'm always too nervous to own (he has a history of tons of homers), but has really made improvements this year and I don't give him enough love. Mike Fiers has lost his great strikeout rate for some reason, despite a few great pitches, like his cutter. I'm not sure what happened.

Anibal Sanchez is kind of a disaster this year, but he still has good pitches, as you will see in Parts 2 and 3 of this series. That's right, I just foreshadowed. That said, his peripherals are still terrible and his walk rate is too, so don't buy him. Check back soon for Part 2: Breaking Balls. Tschus!