I’m always talking about how good a pitch’s peripherals are, on our podcast, or on the radio, or on twitter, so I thought I’d help you get a sense of makes a good off-speed pitch, when it comes to whiff percentages. Since some of the listings in different places are whiff per swing (more here), and yet our site uses swinging strike rate (swSTR%), I thought I’d make the benchmarks in swinging strikes. You can see the whiff benchmarks in this oft-linked post here. You’ll also get ground-ball rates there, which is an important pitch peripheral that I won’t talk about much today.
So what makes a good pitch, swinging strike wise?
Obviously, the two- and four-seam fastball is important for things other than whiffs. They have the lowest ball rates, and decent ground-ball rates. And they help set up the off-speed offerings. And since this is PITCHf/x data, it all comes with a bit of a grain of salt. I didn’t put up split-fingers as their own group (they probably have an average whiff rate over 16%) because they are often identified as change-ups. Cutters could be sliders, too. But, since this came from the entire population, it still serves as a good guide.
I thought I’d give you some mini-leaderboards of the best and worst for each off-speed pitch, with high minimums for pitches thrown. These are important pitches for these pitchers, and sometimes they’re good and sometimes you wonder why they even throw them.
The Best Sliders
We know Patrick Corbin has an excellent slider. It’s nice to see Tyson Ross up there — he doesn’t have a change-up, but his slider might be good enough (and his home park enough of an aid in suppressing lefty homers) that it might work out. Al Alburquerque could never harness the arsenal, but Nate Jones — provided the glute is fine — might have the arsenal to close.
The Worst Sliders
A quick glance at some of these pitchers and you’ll see that many of these bad sliders are actually cutters. And look above to the benchmarks and see that even if they are bad cutters, it’s a little less embarrassing to have those kinds of whiff rates on a cutter instead of a slider. That might be true of most of these pitchers, actually. Except Jarrod Parker, Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo. They have sliders and they aren’t very good. Parker’s used to be vaunted — it was a big part of why he was drafted — so perhaps he makes good on that one eventually. Jimenez has seen the whiff rate on his slider tank over the last few years, and if he didn’t have the new splitter (17.5% swSTR), things might look more dire for him. Gallardo’s curve actually gets more whiffs than his slider, which you can see is strange from above.
The Best Curves
You can forgive PITCHf/x for calling Kluber’s slider a curve. After all, Kluber’s slider has eight inches of horizontal movement and that’s not normal for a slider. The rest of the list doesn’t contain too many surprises. Cody Allen could figure in for saves in the Cleveland bullpen if/when John Axford falls apart, so it’s nice to know he has this weapon, and that it’s equally effective against batters of both hands.
The Worst Curves
A curve can be used for ground balls, and at its best it’s not the best pitch for whiffs anyway. Tillman’s curve, for example, has re-affirmed my life choices, and also gets 64% ground balls, so it’s still a good pitch, just not for whiffs. The big bend, maybe. Estrada’s curve gets 59% ground balls, it’s his change that he uses for whiffs. These curves, though, are a little worse than most at getting whiffs. Perhaps this is the reason why Phil Hughes mostly dropped his curve for his slider last year. His curve wasn’t that good.
The Best Change-Ups
Told you Estrada’s change was good. And there’s Cole Hamels. And there’s Michael Wacha. And There’s Tim Lincecum. And Medlen, and Rodney… all the names you think of when you think of the pitch. If you’ve only got one great pitch, it really looks like this is the one to have. Your fastballs all have natural platoon splits — they’re all better against same-handed hitters — so you *could* just use a change and your fastballs to make it.
The Worst Change-Ups
Before rounding, that change-up from Harang actually had a .0099 swinging strike rate. Wow. You can use your change for ground-balls, too, so Bumgarner’s 50% ground-ball rate on his change-up is *slightly* redeeming, but mostly this is just a list of bad change-ups. And take a look at the platoon splits for most of these pitchers. Not good. If anyone ever tells you that I talk too much about arsenals and that it’s not that important to have a good change-up, well… just point them to this list. If they point to Bumgarner, you can check the splits on BrooksBaseball and tell them — Bumgarner’s change gets 17% whiffs against lefties, and anyway his curve is great against both hands. You can’t say that about Bronson Arroyo or Bud Norris, for example, and that’s meaningful.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.