Whether you are a fan of blistering fastballs that test the upper limits of a radar gun, or prefer wipe-out curveballs that frustrate the life out of opposing hitters, everybody loves a nasty pitch. Fish Stripes has extensively covered the collective success of the Marlins pitching staff this season, but it’s really the masterful execution of several specific pitches that’s been propelling them to such a high level in 2019. These weapons—belonging to rookies and grizzled veterans alike—rank among the most elite pitches in Major League Baseball.
In this discussion, we will consider a wide variety of statistics—in-zone swing and miss rates, missed chase rates, vertical movement, and horizontal movement for example—to better understand what makes pitches tremendously deceptive and consistent out-inducers.
Here are the five nastiest pitch types thrown by Marlins pitchers in 2019.
Honorable Mention: Austin Brice’s Curveball
For our honorable mention, we’ll introduce a member of the Marlins bullpen, Austin Brice, who utilizes a filthy curveball as his primary pitch in a diverse repertoire that consists of six pitches.
Brice’s big bender is easily his most preferred pitch to hurl, accounting for 44.3% of his total pitches. His next-most relied upon options—his four-seam fastball and his sinker—both have a usage rate below 30% in 2019. Granted that his curve is used so heavily, it is without a question that it has been the most reliable and successful Brice’s expansive pitch arsenal.
In a recent “Fishy or For Real” article on Austin Brice, we argued that there is a positive correlation between Brice’s recent success and the ever-increasing preference to bend the curve to his opposition.
Not only does it outshine all of his other pitches, but it is one of the league’s best curves thrown by any pitcher, including starters. The spin rate on his curve lies in the top four percent in all of baseball, which directly influences its movement. Possibly due to Brice’s herky jerky side-arm delivery, however, his curveball’s vertical drop of 44.6 inches lies just below the league average, but its horizontal movement is above average at 12.7 inches of break.
The curveball allows Brice to miss bats and limit damage. While opposing hitters will only whiff 14.5% of the time when the pitch is in the zone, when the pitch lies outside the boundaries of the strike zone, hitters will chase and miss on their swings 54.5% of the time. In addition, the curve has been used to strike out hitters 28.6% of the times that it is thrown, and opposing hitters have only been able to hit for a .154 average against it.
For Brice to be able to further climb up this exclusive list, he will need to further develop its movement horizontally and vertically as a means of painting every part of the zone and induce more missed swings. Something to watch for once he returns from a right forearm flexor strain.
5. Elieser Hernandez’s Slider
In 2019, Elieser Hernandez has been much improved from his rookie campaign, and there’s little doubt that the quality of his slider deserves some credit for his progression.
It is Hernandez’s most frequently used secondary pitch, occupying 30% of all of his pitches to supplement a fastball whose usage rate is 52.5%. Out of the four pitches in his repertoire, the slider boasts the greatest in-zone swing and miss rate by a large margin. Opposing hitters whiff on his slider 37% of the time, whereas his fastball—Hernandez’s second-best pitch when analyzing this statistic—only sees hitters whiff 20% of the time.
Impressive enough as it currently stands, Hernandez’s slider has found even greater results when his slider is outside the strike zone, inducing chased swing-and-miss 65.6% of the time. Consider that his fastball has only convinced 32.7% of hitters to reach outside the zone and come up empty.
Moreover, opponents have only hit for a .167 average against Hernandez’s slider and it has constituted 40.6% of his strikeouts in 2019.
If we look at Hernandez’s pitch location distribution for this season, it is noticeable that the vast majority of his sliders primarily dot the fourth quadrant of the strike zone. Not only does this show consistent command of his pitch, but it is reasonable to assume that the bulk of his dominance with the pitch occurs with a front-door slider to right-handed hitters and a back-door slider to left-handed hitters.
This is a legitimate tool, so why do we have him placed so low?
Effective as it’s been, Hernandez’s slider ironically has very little “slide” to it by MLB standards. While it does move 10.8 horizontal inches upon being released, this stat is just below average, and the vertical movement on his slider is 26% worse than the league average at 33.1 inches of drop. Essentially, if it lacks any real break and drop, it is only a matter of time before hitters figure out the deceptive factor of Hernandez’s slider and put up better swings on it.
Nevertheless, his success with the pitch is noticeable, and he has yet to disappoint with it in 2019.
4. Sergio Romo’s Slider
Could we even imagine Sergio Romo without his slider?
In what is surely an interesting usage pattern for any pitcher, Sergio Romo throws his slider for an astounding 57.8% of his pitches. It’s easy to forget that he also has a changeup! Throughout his entire career, Romo has been heavily reliant on his “frisbee” slider that, in combination with his submarine pitch delivery, has contributed to a ridiculous 2.93 career ERA out of the bullpen.
In 2019, Romo’s slider continues to be a force to be reckoned with for the opposition in the late innings. The slider has been responsible for 18 of Romo’s 27 strikeouts, it has been successfully executed to result in a strikeout 24% of the time it has been pitched, and opponents are hitting only .176 against it.
When the pitch is in the zone, opposing hitters whiff 21.8% of the time, and when it is beyond the boundaries of the strike zone, Romo’s slider’s missed chase rate is at a particularly high mark of 49.2 %; that is 16% higher than his second-best missed chase rate, which belongs to his fastball.
While all these numbers are encouraging, the dominance behind Romo’s slider lies in its horizontal movement. Romo’s slider’s horizontal movement—accentuated by his submarine/side-arm delivery—moves nearly a foot and a half to left from its origin point. His slider’s break of 16 inches is significantly higher than the MLB average.
However, whereas Romo thrives with his horizontal movement, he lacks greatly in vertical movement (again, attributable to his delivery). Romo’s vertical movement of 39.1 inches is nearly 12% below the league average, so his slider appears to literally slide from right to left coming off of his hand.
Regardless, the pitch continues to frustrate opposing hitters in his age-36 season.
3. Trevor Richards’ Changeup
If you are a Marlins fan in any way, odds are you have heard nothing but praise for Trevor Richards’ changeup—and for good reason. It’s largely because of the greatness of that weapon that more and more teams are looking into Richards as a potential trade acquisition in advance of the upcoming trade deadline on July 31.
Trevor Richards’ changeup is dominant in nearly every possible way, and his success with the pitch is emphasized by its particularly high usage rate of 38.8%. Contrary to some of the other pitches on this list, Richards’ changeup does not feature impossible-to-hit stuff (its in-zone missed swing rate is 22.6% and its chase miss rate is 35.9%), but the beauty behind its dominance exists in several of its other qualities.
Opposing hitters hit just .204 against Richards’ changeup despite frequently making contact. How is this possible?
Movement. Trevor Richards’ changeup moves a lot, and in all directions, creating a magnificently deceptive pitch.
Its 31.2 inches of vertical drop place him just above the league average of 30.8 inches, and his horizontal break of 15.5 inches is 18% better than the league average of 13.2 inches.
When deconstructed holistically, all of these factors point to the Richards changeup being an elite pitch not only on the Marlins pitching staff, but throughout all of baseball. It offers no true weakness and has never ceased to baffle hitters at the plate.
2. Pablo López’s Changeup
Not to downplay Richards’ signature pitch, but Pablo López’s changeup has been just slightly better. If anything, these two are interchangeable, and an argument could be made for each of these pitches to hold the number two spot on this list. However, based on the specific criteria we are using to evaluate the nasty factor of these pitches, López tops Richards in several aspects.
In terms of their in-zone whiff rates, López is just short of Richards by 0.5%, but once their respective changeups are outside of the zone, López’s changeup is decisively better with a 46.3% missed chase rate—approximately 10% higher than Richards.
A point of emphasis about Richards’ changeup in our previous argument was its movement. As impossible as it may sound, López’s offspeed pitch actually moves more, and by a significant amount. It averages three more inches of vertical drop and 1.7 inches more of horizontal break, making it extremely difficult to hit even for the best of hitters.
At least for now, it seems that López reigns as the premier changeup hurler on the Marlins pitching staff, with Richards right on his tail.
1. Jordan Yamamoto’s Slider
This one is bound to surprise many, but it shouldn’t. Jordan Yamamoto has thrived since his abrupt promotion from Double-A to the majors last month, as nobody has been able to figure out how to handle his slider.
Entering his latest outing versus the San Diego Padres, Yamamoto’s slider comprised 22.3% of his total pitches, a mark high enough to be his most frequently used secondary pitch. Despite being his second option, Yamamoto’s slider is easily his most formidable weapon. Although it is just his rookie year and the sample size is far from representative, it generates whiffs at a higher rate than anybody else’s on this list.
On pitches in the zone, opposing hitters miss the slider 36.4% of the time. When his slider fails to meet the zone, however, the missed swing rate skyrockets to 57.1%; in sum, these two percentages result in a combined whiff rate of 46.5%. Yamamoto’s ability to force hitters to pull the trigger has also served to his benefit in terms of his strikeout numbers, with his slider accounting for a jaw-dropping 60% of his total strikeouts in 2019.
While everybody drools over the elegance of a well-executed strikeout, the most fascinating aspect of Yamomoto’s slider is the batting average against it. Up until his most recent start Tuesday night, opponents hit .000 against it. Yes, you read that right. Zero base hits against 103 sliders!
Yamamoto has allowed this feat to be possible with the ridiculous movement on his slider, both vertical and horizontal. Unlike any of the other pitches on this list, Yamamoto’s slider is substantially above average in both of these categories of pitch movement. His 49.2 inches of vertical drop are roughly 10 more than that of Romo’s slider, and his 14.3 inches of vertical break is 3.8 inches more than the league average.
While its impact has been subtle, partly due to his mild-mannered and quiet demeanor, Yamamoto’s slider is an elite pitch deserving of national attention. He continues to consistently dominate his opposition on the mound and his devastating slider has been responsible for the bulk of it. As long as Yamamoto can command his slider the way he has up to his point, success on the mound will inevitably follow.