They’re referred to as the strikeout, wipeout, or go-to pitches. Some might call them the nastiest pitches in Major League Baseball.
When pitchers find themselves in a difficult situation, perhaps the game on the line, they want to turn to their best pitches. Ideally, it’s one that’s going to coax the batter into a swing and miss.
With the bases loaded, no outs and his team down 3-0 in the top of the eighth on Wednesday night, Chicago Cubs right-hander Michael Fulmer entered the game needing strikeouts. So he threw eight sweepers in 11 pitches to fan all three batters he faced – Luis Robert Jr., Yoan Moncada and Andrew Vaughn.
It allowed the Cubs to stay close enough to rally in the ninth for a 4-3 victory over the crosstown-rival Chicago White Sox 4-3.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Fulmer’s sweeper ranks third among those who have thrown it 200 times with a 141 whiff+, which measures how effective a pitch is at generating swings and misses with 100 being the league average.
Who has the best sweeper when it comes to getting swings and misses? What about other pitch types like fastballs and curves? We’re breaking down the whiff list in each pitch, starting out with four-seam, two-seam and cut fastballs.
Again, we’re going with a minimum of 200 thrown for each pitch.
Highest Whiff+ on All Fastballs
- Felix Bautista, Baltimore Orioles (217)
- Luis Garcia, Houston Astros (215)
- David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates (211)
- Luis Castillo, Seattle Mariners (210)
- Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins (208)
We recently analyzed Bautista’s repertoire and what has made him one of the game’s best relievers in just his second season with the Orioles. He’s the only pitcher to lead the majors in whiff+ in two pitch types (four-seam fastballs and splitters). It all adds up to a ridiculous MLB-best 47.8% strikeout rate among those with at least 50 innings this season. Garcia ranks No. 1 in whiff+ in the cut fastball category by a long shot. Max Scherzer of the Texas Rangers (174), Peyton Batter of the Cleveland Guardians (166) and Lance Lynn of the Los Angeles Dodgers (141) are the next best. Opposing batters only have a 52 discipline+ versus Garcia’s cutter, meaning they’re having a tough time laying off balls and swinging at pitches in the strike zone. Against Bednar’s four-seam heater, opponents have posted just a 38 BIP+, which measures a batter’s ability to do damage upon contact (league average 100). Josh Hader of the San Diego Padres leads the bigs in two-seamer/sinker whiff+ at 162, ahead of Jose Alvarado of the Philadelphia Phillies (137), Joel Payamps of the Milwaukee Brewers (136) and Lucas Erceg of the Oakland Athletics (135).
Highest Whiff+ on Sliders
- Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves (186)
- Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals (174)
- Andres Munoz, Seattle Mariners (165)
- Michael Grove, Los Angeles Dodgers (162)
- Andrew Chafin, Milwaukee Brewers (161)
Strider is known as a hard-throwing strikeout pitcher and his four-seamer ranks 25th among all fastballs with a 175 whiff+. But Strider also leads the majors with a devastating slider that owns a 186 whiff+. Working the slider off the fastball has led to decision-making issues for hitters as Strider has the lowest opponent discipline+ (45) in the majors on the slider. How tough is it to hit off Munoz? His four-seamer ranks 21st in baseball with an average velocity of 98.9 mph and his slider ranks third with a 165 whiff+. Not only does Grove sit fourth in whiff+, but he also has a 112 command+ on the pitch. So a big reason he’s able to generate swings and misses is that he’s able to put the slider wherever he intends to throw it at an above-average rate.
Highest Whiff+ on Curveballs
- Blake Snell, San Diego Padres (186)
- Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay Rays (183)
- Alex Lange, Detroit Tigers (172)
- David Robertson, Miami Marlins (168)
- Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros (164)
We mentioned that Bautista is leading the majors in whiff+ in two different pitch types. Well, Snell ranks first when throwing his curve and third when throwing his changeup (see below). It’s a big reason why the 2018 American League Cy Young winner paces the majors with a 2.65 ERA and sits fourth behind Strider (217), Kevin Gausman of the Toronto Blue Jays (187) and Pablo Lopez of the Minnesota Twins (180) with 176 strikeouts. You can go ahead and call Lange’s a power curve since it’s the fourth-fastest breaking ball at 86.9 mph among those who have thrown at least 100. It’s close to a slider with an average horizontal movement of minus-0.9 inches – fourth fewest in the league. So he’s getting side or gyrospin on it instead of topspin. It’s impressive when a pitcher also has top-notch command on a pitch that coaxes a lot of whiffs and Pressly has a 113 command+ on his breaking ball that ranks fifth in whiff+.
Highest Whiff+ on Changeups
- Raisel Iglesias, Atlanta Braves (176)
- Nick Martinez, San Diego Padres (160)
- Blake Snell, San Diego Padres (157)
- Alex Young, Cincinnati Reds (152)
- Jovani Moran, Minnesota Twins (151)
Iglesias, the Braves closer, not only leads the majors in whiff+, but opposing batters aren’t able to do much with the pitch when they do make contact. His opponent BIP+ on the change is 20, which ranks eighth in MLB. Teams that are getting ready for a series against the Padres are likely to face a couple of pitchers with nasty changeups. The lefty Snell has a 126 command+ on his change that is seventh in all of baseball. Moran is seventh with an opponent BIP+ of 18 against his change. In case you’re wondering, changeup-specialist Devin Williams of the Milwaukee Brewers (143) is seventh in whiff+ behind Brayan Bello of the Boston Red Sox (148).
Highest Whiff+ on Sweepers
- Sonny Gray, Minnesota Twins (152)
- Kyle Gibson, Baltimore Orioles (146)
- Michael Fulmer, Chicago Cubs (141)
- Ryan Walker, San Francisco Giants (134)
- Lucas Sims, Cincinnati Reds (132)
At 84.1 mph, Gray throws the sixth-fastest sweeper in the majors while also getting the second-most drop on the pitch (minus-3.2 vertical inches) among those who have thrown 200. What’s interesting about Gray’s sweeper is that while he leads MLB with a 152 whiff+, he has a 91 strike+ on the pitch that sits below the league average. That means he’s getting a lot of batters to chase the sweeper (likely because of the velocity and movement), but he’s not getting a lot of called strikes on the pitch.
Highest Whiff+ on Splitters
- Felix Bautista, Baltimore Orioles (203)
- Fernando Cruz, Cincinnati Reds (194)
- Mark Leiter Jr., Chicago Cubs (183)
- Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays (178)
- Kodai Senga, New York Mets (167)
With two strikes, Bautista has used his two nasty pitches to put away batters. He either goes with a high 100-mph fastball or a splitter that looks like a heater before dropping off the table. It’s a difficult combination to handle at the dish. By the numbers, Bautista and Cruz have two of the best splittys in the majors. Bautista tops MLB in opponent discipline+ (63) and contact+ (72) on the pitch. Cruz is No. 1 in opponent BIP+ (25) and total raw value (-10.7), which basically measures all these concepts together in one metric. McClanahan, the ace of the Rays, is tied with Bautista for the league lead with a 147 strike+ on splitters, but he’s out of the season with an elbow issue that requires Tommy John surgery.
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