The Reds pitching staff has had a tough time this season. They currently sport the fourth worst ERA (4.89) and are dead last in both xFIP (4.79) and pitcher WAR (-0.9). They also just set a Major League record for home runs allowed and we have twelve games left (raise the banner!). We’ve seen some improvement in the second half of the season, and hopefully, that leads to better pitching in 2017. Regardless, this year has been disastrous by any measure.
Good pitchers have effective pitches of course, and while Reds pitching has struggled this season, they clearly employ a few guys with good stuff. As we are reflecting on this season and looking toward next, I thought it would be interesting to look at which individual pitches were most effective this season.
I decided to use PITCHF/x’s pitch values as a starting place. PITCHF/x is a pitch tracking system installed at every Major League stadium that tracks lots of data for each and every pitch thrown. If you’re unfamiliar with the pitch value statistic that comes from PITCHF/x, here’s an overview:
“Essentially, there is an average run expectancy for each count (0-0, 0-1. 1-0, etc) and the change from from one to the other is the run value we use to create the pitch value. For example, if we start in a 0-0 count we begin at a perfectly average 0.0 run value (because all PA start as an average PA) and then the run expectancy of a 1-0 count is 0.04, meaning the value of taking that pitch for the hitter was +0.04 and -0.04 for the pitcher. If the next pitch is a strike, the run expectancy of a 1-1 count is about -0.02, so the batter gets -0.06 and the pitcher gets +0.06 from moving from the +0.04 world to the -0.02 world. Those run values are attached to the type of pitch thrown in each case, so if both were fastballs, the total wFB would be -0.02 for this at bat so far. Or -1.00 wFB/C, when scaling to 100 fastballs.”
So, we are dealing with run expectancies. A pitch that improves the count in the pitcher’s favor will garner positive value because it lessens the chance the other team will score. A pitch that improves the count in the batter’s favor will negatively impact the value score because it increases the opposing team’s chance of scoring.
The score is also affected by batted balls:
“Now imagine it’s a 1-1 count and the run value sits at -0.02. If the batter singles, the run value of that single is roughly 0.45, which means they will get a +0.47 for that pitch and the pitcher will get a -0.47 for that pitch. This brings the total for the three pitches (assuming all fastballs) +0.45 for the hitter and -0.45 for the pitcher. If the first two pitchers were fastballs and the third was a changeup, the wFB would be -0.02 and +0.47 wCH for the hitter.”
A score of zero is average with positive numbers being better and negative numbers being worse than average. I took the most common pitches and ordered the pitchers by the value of their individual pitches. I only included positive value scores (there were plenty of negative numbers) and listed no more than five pitchers per pitch. If there are only two pitchers listed, then those were the only two with positive value scores for that pitch. Also, I limited the sample by the following:
- Pitchers must have pitched at least 40 innings
- Pitchers must have used the pitch at least 7% of the time
These are completely arbitrary cutoffs. I wanted a big enough sample that included players who have had a modest-sized audition this season. These limits left me with 13 pitchers.
One quick warning: Pitch values aren’t a measure of true talent. They do roughly represent how effective a pitch has been over a season, but they are not predictive. Good pitchers will have better pitch values, but we need a larger sample than one season to truly evaluate a pitches effectiveness. I’ve included some other stats to provide more context, most importantly ground ball and whiff rates.
Ground balls are the best batted ball type for pitchers because they rarely go for extra-base hits and produce lots of outs, including double plays. Whiff rates are obviously important because getting batters to regularly swing and miss leads to more strikeouts, and strikeouts rarely lead to extra-base hits (haha). Let’s get to it.
This list is the weirdest of the group to me. Tony Cingrani uses his fastball far more than anybody else, but his inability to command the strike zone doesn’t jive well with the value score. Regardless, Cingrani hasn’t exactly been stellar this season, which may bring credence to the idea that you need more than one pitch to succeed, even out of the bullpen (Mariana Rivera excluded).
Tim Adelman’s fastball rates really well, and he has a ridiculous whiff rate in a smallish sample. But all his other pitches rate below average so far. He has filled in admirably this year, and I wonder whether he could be a bullpen option going forward. The stuff may tick up some, and his little hitch could deceive hitters in short outings.
Raisel Iglesias is getting lots of swings and misses for a four-seam fastball. For context, Noah Syndergaard’s fastball has a whiff rate around 9%. The quality of his other stuff likely leads to more whiffs as he has four pitches that rate above-average during his short career thus far.
According to pitch values, the two-seamer has been Desclafani’s best pitch this season. That’s in line with the rest of his brief major-league career. He doesn’t get many swings and misses, but batters are only hitting .233 against it.
Lorenzen might have the best two-seamer (he calls this a cutter) in the system. If he does get a chance to start, this pitch will go a long way toward making him successful. He gets a lot of swings and misses, but Lorenzen’s calling card is getting ground balls and the two-seamer forces TONS of them. Batters are only slugging .244 against the pitch. That’s crazy.
The effectiveness of this pitch is more impressive when you know that he only started throwing it late last season; It’s basically a new pitch that he didn’t have while starting last year.
Straily’s slider has been the most effective pitch for Reds pitchers this season. Opponents have a paltry .178/.230/.293 slash line against it. It’s also been his best strikeout pitch as 63 of his 150 strikeouts have come via the slider. Straily has always had an effective slider, but he has taken it to a new level this season. To continue outperforming his xFIP and SIERA, he will need the slider to continue to baffle hitters near the ridiculous rate it has this year.
Iglesias has a nasty slider. Just nasty. Of his 75 strikeouts this season, Iglesias has gotten 43 of them by the slider. Batters are slugging .178 against it. It has been borderline unhittable this season.
The slider has been the best strikeout pitch for both DeSclafani and Lorenzen. Batters have a wRC+ of 53 against DeSclafani’s slider and 43 against Lorenzen’s. More on their similarities later.
The Reds don’t have many pitchers who use the curveball very much. Lorenzen and Straily both have positive value scores with curve balls, but they don’t use them very much (Lorenzen was close to qualifying). Sunday, Lorenzen may have signaled that he is willing to use the curveball more as his two strikeouts both came on the pitch.
John Lamb has been wildly inconsistent in his short Reds tenure, but one thing has remained constant: he has a sweet curve ball. All of his other pitches had negative value this season. Lamb’s velocity dropped by over 1.5 MPH this season. If he could regain that velocity, the Reds might still have something there.
No surprise here. Brandon Finnegan’s changeup has received some nice ink for its effectiveness this year. Check out this slash line against it: .093/.171/.133. That’s an OPS of .304. I had to double-check that number several times to make sure it was right. If Finnegan is to remain a starter, the changeup will be key. He clearly has the stuff; whether he can command all of his pitches well enough remains to be seen.
Cody Reed had a tough ten starts in the major leagues, but his changeup was effective at least. Reed’s fastball had an atrocious value score of -17.9.
A Few Thoughts and Other Notes
Raisel Iglesias throws another kind of fastball that PITCHF/x labels as a “sinker.” That pitch has been successful this year as well giving him three pitches with positive value for the season. Based on the data I looked at here, you can easily make a case that Iglesias has the best stuff on the staff right now. He clearly has the weapons to be a top of the rotation guy. The only questions that remain surround his physical ability to pitch 200 innings.
I’ve stated this elsewhere, so if you’ve read it from me previously, I’m sorry. I was just so surprised by it. Desclafani and Lorenzen throw very similar pitches at very similar rates. Here are their pitch types and usages
Lorenzen throws his slider more while Desclafani makes more use of his curveball, but those numbers are much more alike than I would have imagined. It may not mean anything, but these two pitchers attack hitters in comparable ways.
Outside of Finnegan, Reds starters have really struggled throwing changeups this season. That seems strange to me because of the emphasis Bryan Price seems to put on the pitch for starters. Only Finnegan and Reed (in a smaller sample) have had success with it. That may not mean much because only five pitchers have started more than ten games this season and only two have started more than twenty, but I found it interesting nonetheless.
The slider is the only pitch the entire Reds pitching staff rates well on and they still rank 17th in baseball. They rank dead last in the Major Leagues in four-seam fastball pitch value with -79.3 on the season. Ouch.
The pitch value statistic reflects Reds pitching well this season. They just didn’t have enough guys with the stuff and command to get batters out consistently. While the return of DeSclafani, Lorenzen, and Iglesias improved the staff, they clearly need Homer Bailey to return to form and some of the youngsters to pitch well going forward or they are in trouble again. Luckily, we have plenty of talented, young arms on which to dream.
In 2017, these pitch values will likely look better. Unless the injury bug bites hard, I expect the Reds to put together a much better pitching staff next season.