Using Pitch Type Whiff Rates to Find The Elite Pitches

If you’ve been listening to the podcast, you know I’m very interested in looking at peripherals by pitch type. Looking at the swinging strike and ground-ball rates against benchmarks for each pitch type can give us an idea of which arsenals are the most well-rounded, and which pitches are elite when set against the league benchmarks. Let’s use last year’s per-pitch numbers to see if we can identify some undervalued pitchers. Today, we’ll go with the elite single pitches by whiff rates. Tomorrow, we’ll look at balanced arsenals.

Elite Pitches, Thrown Often
Tyson Ross, Slider (24.8% swSTR%)
Nate Jones, Slider (21.5% swSTR%)
Corey Kluber, Curve (19.1% swSTR%)
Cody Allen, Curve (18.1% swSTR%)
Marco Estrada, Change-up (22.7% swSTR%)
Tim Lincecum, Change-up (22.7% swSTR%)

All of these pitches are top-ten within their pitch type, given a high number of pitches thrown (at least 200 per). Tyson Ross, everybody knows he has a great slider. Nate Jones was also one of two pitchers to get half his contact on the ground, strike out double-digit batters per nine innings, and have an above-average walk rate last yea. David Robertson was the other. Those are two of the best reliever values in current drafts, and it’s nice to see that Nate Jones is elite in another facet of his game. Cody Allen looks good here, but he’s in a slightly different situation. His team acquired a reliever to close, and so Allen may have to spend the year in apprenticeship. Marco Estrada gets ground balls with the curve ball, whiffs with the slider and change, and has great control. It’s too bad his fastball isn’t great and his home park will lead to some extra homers, but he’s still a good pickup. Tim Lincecum still has that one great pitch, and he’s falling in drafts. I know about the command issues, but still. He’s worth a shot if he falls far enough.

Let’s relax the pitches thrown threshold and see what new names show as elite.

Elite Pitches, Smaller Sample
Gonzalez Germen, Change-up (30.5% swSTR%), Slider (26.4% swSTR%)
A.J. Ramos, Change-up (28.6% swSTR%)
Jordan Walden, Change-up (26.4% swSTR%), Slider (24.7% swSTR%)
Danny Salazar, Change-up (22.2% swSTR%)
Yusmeiro Petit, Curveball (27.8% swSTR%)
Danny Farquhar, Curveball (25.4% swSTR%)
David Robertson, Curveball (23.7% swSTR%)
Casey Janssen, Curveball (21.1% swSTR%)
Josh Johnson, Curveball (19% swSTR%)
Tyler Skaggs, Curveball (18% swSTR%)
Jesse Chavez, Curveball (17.9% swSTR%)
Will Smith, Slider (31.6% swSTR%)
Sergio Santos, Slider (30% swSTR%)
Rex Brothers (26.8% swSTR%)
Taylor Jordan (21% swSTR%)

Tons of relievers, but some of them are interesting to deeper leaguers. Jordan Walden might be more interesting than the other three-pitch reliever (Gonzalez German) just because he has more velocity. Given that Jonny Venters is a lefty, Walden is a decent handcuff against a Craig Kimbrel injury. Danny Farquhar has an elite curve and may yet take the job from the highly-paid free agent newcomer in Fernando Rodney. David Robertson is dreamy. Don’t let anyone tell you Casey Janssen gets buy on *only* guts and guile, he has a good curveball too. You know we love Danny Salazar, but it’s worth mentioning that he’s getting expensive in drafts, might have in-game pitch counts that limit his win total, and might have a 170 IP innings cap. Josh Johnson is obviously an injury question, but the stuff was still there despite a horrid year last year. Tyler Skaggs has a great curve, an okay change (18% swSTR%), and now he’s supposedly back up in the mid-nineties with the fastball. He’s now a mixed league upside play. Will Smith is still a lefty, but that’s a great whiff rate on his slider. He could be next in line in Milwaukee, not Brandon Kintzler. Sergio Santos has some stuff should Janssen’s shoulder prove to be troublesome. Taylor Jordan may look like he’s behind the veteran Ross Detwiler, but he’s got a great slider, a great change (21.6%) and has shown he can keep the ball on the ground. Maybe he’ll actually be the one to own at the back end of the Nationals’ rotation.

Opportunity is most of the battle when it comes to finding fantasy values. But some of these names have added opportunity to show off their elite pitches this year. Mixed leaguers should take note, and deep leaguers should pick these guys up to be ahead of the curve.

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.

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Ben Suissa
Ben Suissa

what are benchmark ground ball rates for pitches? on a per pitch basis (for every pitch thrown) AND on a swinging basis