Extreme Chases: Which Pitchers Are Best at Making Batters Look Bad?
Longtime baseball writer and analyst Buster Olney posed a question on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight podcast in 2020 wondering if there was a pitcher who got batters to swing at more offerings far outside the strike zone than Shane Bieber.
It eventually led to a discussion on an ensuing episode about how the Cleveland Indians ace led MLB in both inducing swings at pitches outside the strike zone and coaxing swings on pitches that are more than 18 inches from the center of the zone.
That’s a particularly telling indicator of nasty stuff. In many instances, batters see these pitches as strikes and begin their swing before the ball drops, breaks, sails, or rises well out of the strike zone. But while Bieber was elite when it came to generating swings on pitches far off the plate, the data revealed he wasn’t baseball’s best in that area in 2020.
He ranked third, according to extreme chase+. What is extreme chase+? It’s measured using a complex algorithm that finds pitches similar to ones we’re looking at here and calculates how frequently those pitches were called strikes – in this case, none.
The swing rate on those pitches is then adjusted for the league average, producing the extreme chase+ metric.
Leading the way in 2020 was Dinelson Lamet, who had a breakout season for the San Diego Padres. The right-hander went 3-1 with a 2.09 ERA while striking out 93 over 69 innings in 12 starts before an arm ailment ended his season. And Lamet’s extreme chase+ of 204 was 104% higher than the league average (100).
Data analysis provided by Lucas Haupt.