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Fun with Pitch F/X Leaderboards Part 3: The Offspeed Pitches

Within this particular Internet post, I try to determine who’s got the best change-up and splitter in baseball this year using Pitch F/X leaderboards.

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals
Did you know that in addition to a wicked curve, Kluber also has an elite change-up?
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Welcome to Part 3 of my series using Baseball Prospectus’ Pitch F/X leaderboards to determine who throws the best pitches of each type. Here’s the introductory info in case you missed Part 1 or Part 2. If you read those, you can skip down to the tables.

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.

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 off speed pitches. Who has the best change-up in each of those metrics I just mentioned? How about the best split-finger fastball? I’m just going to show you the top 25 in each for simplicity (except for splitters, which don’t have enough pitchers to list 25), 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 change-ups and splitters, 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.

Well, here's a reminder that having a single elite pitch doesn't mean you are a great starting pitcher. John Danks is not a good pitcher, but apparently he has a very good changeup. I'm not a believer in J.A. Happ, as his non-changeup pitches just aren't that good and he is going to regress after a hot start.

The rest of that change-up list is filled with guys we know are good (Arrieta, Lester, Kluber) or guys that having breakout seasons (Estrada and Duffy). I have been very slow to trust Estrada because he throws 89 mph in a hitter's park, allows a ton of fly balls, and is always a huge risk for home runs. However, I think I was selling his ability to limit hard contact and damage short. He is one of the rare pitchers that can consistently beat his xFIP and FIP. His great change up is a part of that.

Danny Duffy has shown increased velocity, better command and control, and improvement in several pitches this year, justifying his dramatically improved results. His track record is awful, but I'm a believer in his turnaround this year.

Moving to the splitters, Matt Shoemaker has turned his season around from AAA/bullpen to dominant starter by improving his command, increasing his velocity, and getting more swings and misses overall. He did all of this mostly by just throwing his most dominant pitch more than ever before, more than his fastball even. That splitter is one of the best in baseball, so why not try throwing it more if you can? He still has some homer-itis and gives up too much hard contact, but his strikeout/walk ratio is strong enough to overcome all that. He should be good for a 3.5 ERA going forward.

Kevin Gausman throws a wicked splitter and has a good slider to go with it. However, unlike Shoemaker, Duffy, or Estrada, Gausman isn't really having a breakout season. In fact, this swinging strike rate, K/9, BB/9, HR/9, and xFIP are almost EXACTLY the same as last season. He's basically unchanged, so similar results should be expected.

Finally, last and most certainly least, we have the worst starter in baseball, Alfredo Simon. He was finally put on the DL after posting a 9.45 ERA in 53 innings with a 5.7 xFIP. Even with good luck, he would still be terrible. But! He has a great splitter! So there's that.

Next time I will sum up this whole Pitch F/X leaderboard series and look at pitchers that showed up the most across all the different pitch types to see who has the most "best pitches" in baseball. Tschus!