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Two of the Very Best Pitches in MLB in 2016 Were Thrown By Cubs Pitchers

Analysis and Commentary

mike montgomery cubsAs the offseason creeps into its coldest months, various publications across the web are diving deeper into the nitty gritty of the 2016 season.

And being that we’re all huge baseball (and regular) nerds here at Bleacher Nation, we couldn’t be more excited.

One such dive comes from Eno Sarris over at FanGraphs. There, he decided to take a look at some of the best pitches thrown with regularity (from any given pitcher) in the 2016 season and see where that led him.

As an example (and spoiler!) of what this means, consider that Aroldis Chapman’s fastball ranked fourth in MLB. Not one of the fastballs he threw last year, mind you, but his typical fastball over the course of the season. Alongside Chapman, however, are two more Chicago Cubs relievers, and their presence in the top 15 might surprise you, and promise great things for the future. Let’s discuss.


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First and foremost, let’s explain Sarris’ project a little bit more.

In short, he grouped all of the pitch types thrown by every pitcher last year, so long as they met a minimum threshold (75 for non-fastballs, 100 for fastballs). In other words, if you threw a knuckleball just a handful of times last year, it doesn’t count in this sample even if you got five straight whiffs. And by “results,” he uses whiffs and grounders, so as as not to allow defense to spoil or prop up any one pitchers’ sample. For far greater detail on his process, check out his article at FanGraphs.

So then, the results.

The top fifteen pitches used with regularity during the 2016 season all came from relievers. As Sarris explains, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise, because relievers come in for short spurts, throwing their best stuff as hard as they can for a short amount of time. Here’s the list of names as it appears on FanGraphs (but without the results he includes on his chart):

  1. Zach Britton: Two-seam Fastball
  2. Sergio Romo: Sinker
  3. Michael Lorenzen: Two-seam Fastball
  4. Aroldis Chapman: Four-seam Fastball
  5. Jeurys Familia: Sinker
  6. Mike Montgomery: Change-up
  7. Alex Colome: Cutter
  8. Luke Gregerson: Slider
  9. Carl Edwards Jr.: Four-seam Fastball
  10. Rob Scahill: Two-seam Fastball
  11. Ken Giles: Slider
  12. Darren O’Day: Four-seam Fastball
  13. Pedro Baez: Two-seam Fastball
  14. Edwin Diaz: Slider
  15. Josh Osich: Two-seam Fastball

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So, let’s get a couple of quick non-2017 Cubs reactions out of the way. Zach Britton’s two-seamer was the best pitch in baseball for the second straight season and Aroldis Chapman’s four-seamer surprises no one with an appearance on the list. There are five two-seam fastballs, three four-seam fastballs, three sliders, two sinkers, one cutter, and one change-up overall. No curveballs made it into the top 15.

Okay, onto the Cubs stuff.

As I said/you can see, Aroldis Chapman’s 100+ MPH fastball makes the cut, but that’s hardly a surprise. And given that he’s on the Yankees from here on out, I think we’ll leave that at that.

Of course, that does lead us to Carl Edwards Jr., whose fastball averaged just over 95 MPH in 2016, but reached as high as 98.1 MPH on the top end. As you may recall, he also happens to feature one of the best spin rates in the game, which adds to the nastiness of the pitch.

According to the results, Edwards’ four-seamer garnered a swinging-strike 16.1% of the time, and a ground ball 33.3% of the time. Collectively, that gives him a Sum Z-score (the overall ranking) of 6.9. Britton led the group with a 12.6, but did so by a VERY wide margin. Chapman’s fastball, for reference, came in at 8.1. So, Edwards is doing quite well.


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But then there’s the other Cub on the list, and he might be the star of this feature: Mike Montgomery.

According to Sarris’ discoveries, Mike Montgomery’s change-up was the sixth most valuable pitch in all of baseball, with a 7.5 overall score. He was able to get a whiff 28.0% of the time he threw it (which, wow). That whiff rate is higher than any pitch above him and is the fourth best whiff rate of any pitch on the list at all. In addition, his change-up induced a ground ball a ridiculous 60% of the time, which was second best to Britton’s two-seamer. It was really, really, ridiculously good.

But that’s not all of it. Not even close.

Sarris’ article shows only the top fifteen pitches in baseball, but obviously there are many more (still extremely valuable) pitches after that. And, as it turns out, Mike Montgomery’s curveball cutter [see edit below] ranked quite highly, as well:


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As you may recall, we discussed Montgomery’s curveball previously, given that, after coming to the Cubs in a mid-season trade for Dan Vogelbach, he added 100 RPMs to his curveball and started throwing it with greater frequency (and into more success).

And, as it turns out, you might remember one of his curveballs quite vividly:

With a fastball that sits around 93 MPH and not one, but TWO of the best pitches in all of baseball, Mike Montgomery’s future as a starter might look brighter now than ever. We got a taste of it near the end of last season, but look out for him come 2017. The Cubs may have acquired their young (he’s 27), cost-controlled starting pitcher after all!

(Or maybe he’ll stay in the bullpen and be excellent there. It might depend on how the pursuit of Tyson Ross – and his overall health – turn out.)


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EDIT/UPDATE via Brett: Michael and I erroneously assumed that the second excellent Montgomery pitch must be his curveball, given that it’s been a great pitch for him. Turns out that wasn’t the second pitch to which Sarris was referring:

That’s still a mighty night ranking for the curveball, but not nearly as high as the cutter and the changeup. No wonder Montgomery relied much less on his four-seam fastball as the year went on – he’s got three excellent other pitches!


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Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.