The phrase “swing-and-a-miss, strike three” was a familiar refrain during the 2016 MLB season, with batters striking out in 21.1 percent of their plate appearances – a number that has been steadily rising over the last 10 years.
Some of the rise in strikeouts can be attributed to free swingers and batters who work deeper counts, but much of it should go to the pitchers throwing some of the filthiest pitches you’ll ever see.
At MLB.com, Mike Petriello unveiled the most dominant pitches in baseball from the 2016 season. The kinds of pitches where the pitcher takes full command and triumphs over a hitter because of his swing-and-miss stuff.
And the most dominant pitch in the Major Leagues belonged to … Ken Giles, the Astros reliever acquired from the Phillies prior to the 2016 season, who delivered a slider that carried a 62.2 percent whiff rate. Teammate Luke Gregerson (60.4%) wasn’t too far behind.
The pitch that picked up the highest percentage of whiffs that wasn’t a slider belonged to Felipe Rivero, a left-handed reliever who split time between the Nationals and Pirates in 2016, and owned a changeup with a 58.3 percent whiff rate.
You can check out every pitch category and the accompanying whiff percentages here, where you will see a fair share of familiar names and pitches. Current Cubs such as Jon Lester (curveball, 52.8%), Carl Edwards Jr. (four-seam fastball, 34.1%) stand out among the best in their respective groups, while pitchers who used to pitch in the organization such as Zack Godley (curveball), Fernando Rodney (changeup), Rich Hill (four-seam fastball), Arodys Vizcaino (curveball), and Aroldis Chapman (four-seam fastball) also made appearances on the list.
The exercise got us curious about all the Cubs’ pitchers, and just how whiff-inducing their various pitches were.
The Cubs rode a pitching staff that boasted the third highest strikeout rate and third highest percentage of swinging strikes to a World Series title in 2016. Surely, this pitching staff would have a slew of swing-and-miss pitches.
If that was your guess, then you guessed correctly. Here is a look at the projected main contributors for 2017, the pitches they throw (four-seamer, sinker, changeup, curveball, cutter, slider, split), and their whiffs-per-swing percentage data per Brooks Baseball (the extreme numbers you see – 100 or 0, for example – are likely mislabeled pitches or flukey stuff):
As you can see right away, the Cubs have assembled a great deal of swing-and-miss pitchers, and they are pitchers with multiple whiff-inducing pitches. If you’re going to create a pitching staff with one skill that stands out above the rest, a staff with the ability to miss bats seems ideal.
Here is a breakdown of which pitchers own the pitches with the highest whiffs-per-swing rates. For obvious reasons, Hector Rondon’s cutter and Wade Davis’ sinker are not in contention because of minimal usage:
- Four-seamer: Lackey (41.2%)
- Sinker: Arrieta (20.7%)
- Changeup: Montgomery (51.0%)
- Curveball: Edwards Jr. (58.8%)
- Cutter: Montgomery (37.3%)
- Slider: Strop (50.2%)
- Split: Strop (46.2%)
Among the big takeaways here are in the bullpen, where Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop both have multiple pitches that get high whiffs-per-swing rates. Strop has a long track record of nastiness, and Edwards Jr. is especially impressive with the fastball-curveball combination. If he harnesses his command of these pitches consistently, then the Cubs will have a true relief gem on their hands.
As for the starters, Mike Montgomery displayed a changeup and curveball that kept opposing hitters off balance. For this exercise, we only used data compiled while he pitched for the Cubs (when his repertoire changed a bit). Though, no matter how you shake up the data for Montgomery, the numbers still show two pitches that get major whiffs.
Jake Arrieta might have the most intriguing numbers of the Cubs’ projected starters. Everyone knows how his slider/cutter (slutter?) and sinker have been his bread-and-butter pitches, but his changeup seems vastly underrated. It’s not a pitch he uses often, but it is a pitch he used increasingly in the later stages of the season in each of the last two years.
If there is anyone to watch for with concern, it might be Koji Uehara. The former Red Sox closer will pitch in his ninth Major League season at age 42 come spring. And while his splitter has been nothing short of magical over the course of his career, the whiffs-per-swing percentage dipped below 40 percent for the first time since 2009. Further, the percentage of swings-and-misses dropped from 32.7 percent in 2015 to 23.2 percent in 2016.