clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Fun with Pitch F/X Leaderboards Part 4: The Best of The Best

Hey there! Here’s a post where I finish up my series looking at the best pitches in baseball by looking at who has the most “best pitches."

St. Louis Cardinals v Kansas City Royals
This Royals lefty is a breakout star of 2016. Pitch F/X data backs up that breakout.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

We have finally reached the finale of my series on who has the best pitches in baseball, as judged by movement, whiffs, ground balls, and pop-ups. I used the Pitch F/X leaderboards over at Baseball Prospectus to gather the data on each pitch type: four seam, sinker, cutter, slider, curve, change-up, and splitter. To see the results for those, check out parts 1 through 3 of the series: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

To finish out the series, I want to look at which pitchers show up most often on the individual pitch lists. Basically, I would like to identify who has the most "best" pitches. Who has a four seam, curve, and slider that are all in the top 25 in baseball for movement, whiffs, grounders, or pop-ups? You get the idea. These should be a list of the best arsenals in baseball (starters only here).

Before we get to that list, I’m going to embed all of the lists from the previous Parts for your reference. You can see the top guys for each pitch type.

Ok, enough delay. Here’s the final list. It has a grand total of six pitchers on it. Just six pitchers showed up on more than one pitch list. Shockingly, Kershaw is noticeably absent. Clearly he’s terrible because he’s not on this list. Anyway, you will see a couple of 2016’s biggest surprises, a couple aces, a top prospect, and a big enigma.

Danny Duffy is tied at the top of the list! Who saw this coming after putting up a 4.64 xFIP over 136 innings last year? His K/9 has surged from 6.72 to 10.39! Oh, and he has magically almost cut his walks in half at the same time! His K%-BB% went from an awful 8.3% to an elite 23.6%. I am running out of superlatives for his 2016 season. The best part is, it is all sustainable. He is getting a huge amount of swinging strikes, is getting more first pitch strikes, and has seen a 2 mph velocity boost. That all points to a completely different pitcher. He’s sporting a shiny 3.13 SIERA right now. It is probably too late in most leagues to snag him, but if not, go get him now!

Joining him at the top of the list with three great pitches is the enigma that is Drew Smyly. He’s striking everybody out and not giving up walks. Plus, he’s clearly got three great pitches (four seam, cutter, curve). So why is his ERA 5.33 now, with a still-not-great 3.93 xFIP? As far as I can tell, there are only two differences between Duffy and Smyly that explain the differences in their outcomes. Smyly throws a 90 mph fastball, compared to the 95 of Duffy and Smyly has a massive home run problem, while Duffy does not. My theory is that those two facts are related.

That gives me an idea for another post, so check back soon for that, but basically, Smyly’s fastball velocity is in the danger zone, where homers are prevalent. As you get farther above 90 mph, my theory is that homers start to drop off. With Duffy’s elite velocity for a lefty, he is far from the danger zone. For that reason, I think Smyly will continue to carry an ERA higher than you would expect for a guy with a crazy good K% and BB%. Maybe something like 3.8 or so going forward. All of that assumes good health, which is a big problem for Smyly, so if he’s playing hurt, his ERA could stay in the 4s.

Julio Urias was just sent back to AAA after an up-and-down 36-inning trial. He got enough strikeouts to hang with Smyly and Duffy in that department. Both his four seam and curveball showed up on the "best of" lists here. On the down side, his 4.21 BB/9 and 4.95 ERA aren’t great. I think he was very unlucky, judging by his 0.365 BABIP and 69% strand rate and actually pitched very well. It should be no surprise that I stand behind the scouting reports that see a potential ace in the making. In redrafts, he may not make many more starts in 2016, barring injuries (or re-injuries) to a couple starters, but dynasty leaguers should not let him go.

Jon Lester’s cutter is often considered the best in baseball. Throw in an excellent change-up and stellar command and you have a true ace. Sure, he has to share the spotlight with Jake Arrieta in Chicago, but he would be an ace on many teams. He’s 32, but showing no signs of slowing down, as his velocity and swinging strike rates are holding steady. Keep on rolling him out there.

Marco Estrada has surprised me, like Duffy, with his sustainable breakout this season (it kind of started last year). I was very concerned about a fly ball pitcher with an 88-mph fastball pitching in a hitter’s park. He has all the same ingredients for homer-itis as Smyly, except Smyly gets to pitch in a great park for pitchers. Well, the advanced stats still don’t like Estrada much. He has a history of ERAs well below his FIP and xFIP. This year, his ERA is 2.93, but his FIP is 4.14 and his xFIP is even worse at 4.50. His strikeouts are near a career high this year, but so are his walks.

He’s got that great cutter and change-up to get lots of whiffs with. He does give up too many home runs (1.21/9 innings), but succeeds by generating more pop-ups than just about anyone. He gives up a lot of fly balls, but many of them are harmless, automatic outs. His fly ball tendencies also allow him to keep a crazy low BABIP (currently 0.193) and high strand rate (80%). Unfortunately, his back is acting up and he is currently on the DL. Hopefully, he will bounce back soon. I can’t believe I’m saying this after avoiding him for so long, but he is an every-week starter in fantasy this year and should be able to keep an ERA in the low to mid 3s the rest of the way.

We all knew Corey Kluber had an elite arsenal of non-fastball pitches. This validates our thinking. His cutter and change-up both show up as some of the best in baseball. This uses Pitch F/X’s pitch classification, so some call his cutter a slider instead. Regardless, this is why he has been so successful without good fastballs. His fastball velocity is down a MPH from his peak, so his overall performance isn’t what it was, but he’s still a great fantasy starter.

Well, that’s the series. I hope you learned something from it all and got to see how much info you can get from the Pitch F/X leaderboards. Tschus!