They say you have to have at least two pitches to make the majors. Three if you want to start. Having any number of “average” major league pitches is impressive, really, but they’re certainly not all created equal. Some guys have one “plus” pitch they can lean on to get the job done most of the time – a pitch that has devastating movement and/or the pitcher has excellent command of. Other pitchers rely on a mix of okay stuff to keep hitters from being able to predict what’s coming (off-balance). Sometimes an inferior pitch is needed to set up a more effective one. You get it – there’s no one way to pitch.
With all of this said, each pitcher has strengths and weaknesses within his arsenal. It’s time that we look at those more closely. For each major pitch category – fastball, breaking, offspeed – we’ll examine the best and worst from Diamondbacks starting pitchers last season.
Best Fastball – Zack Godley‘s Cutter
Sitting 90-91mph for three months, Godley’s cutter was simply a revelation. First of all, no one hand Godley on their radar heading into the season, which isn’t uncommon for 25-year old High-A pitchers. Second, the pitch was simply dominant, finishing 1.31 runs above average per 100 pitches. Godly threw it almost 36% of the time, the most of any single pitch for him. Interestingly, while the pitch doesn’t have Josh Collmenter‘s movement, especially of the cutting (horizontal) variety, it has a fair amount of “rise” – around six vertical inches. Although he logged just 36.1 innings on the year, the cutter from Zack Godley was a devastating weapon.
Honorable Mention: believe it or not, Rubby De La Rosa‘s four-seamer was slightly above average and he threw it a ton. Give him this and his slider and some right-handed hitters and you’ve got yourself a useful reliever.
Worst Fastball – Jhoulys Chacin‘s Sinker
Jhoulys Chacin does not exactly throw gas these days. His four-seamer is down almost three miles per hour and his two-seamer almost two. It’s the latter that gave him the most trouble last season, although both pitches were pretty terrible. The sinking two-seamer cost him almost three runs more than average per 100 pitches thrown. It runs less than average and has less sink than many of his contemporaries. Hitters didn’t whiff on this pitch, but they did show a propensity to either pop it up, or blast it deep.
Dishonorable Mention: the D-backs tried to teach Allen Webster a sinker and make him a ground ball guy. That didn’t work. His sinker was horrific and it led to him being DFA’d to keep guys like A.J. Schugel on the 40-man roster.
Best Breaking Ball – Patrick Corbin‘s Slider
The big question when Corbin came back was this: can he still throw his slider heavily post-Tommy John? We didn’t know if he’d get back to using the pitch as frequently as before after having his elbow redone, but it didn’t take long to find out. Corbin picked right up where he left off, pitching with the slider nearly a third of the time. Hovering around 80mph, the pitch is tight and shows solid two-plane break. This results in a higher than average number of whiffs and ground balls when hitters do make contact. Corbin’s slider saved nearly a run and half, compared to average, per 100 pitches. Here’s why:
Honorable Mention: Jhoulys Chacin survived his aforementioned sinker thanks to his terrific slider, a pitch that doesn’t have elite velocity but shows plenty of horizontal break.
Worst Breaking Ball – Chase Anderson‘s Curveball
Chase Anderson had an up, then down campaign for the Diamondbacks in 2015. At times, he was simply dazzling. At others, he completely fizzled. The curve represents the only breaking pitch for Anderson as he doesn’t throw a slider. Instead, the 12-6 curve is pretty generic, is easy to see out of the hand and wasn’t exactly good for him last year, either. Still, Anderson needs some kind of breaking ball to mix up looks and keep him in the rotation. Without it, he’s a two-pitch pitcher relying on a couple of different fastball/changeup looks. For Anderson to take a leap forward, a more effective breaking ball would be a good place to start.
Best Offspeed Pitch – Chase Anderson’s Changeup
If you were trying to guess which specific pitches were likely to be talked about in this article, Chase Anderson’s changeup probably came to mind before you reached this sentence. It’s a prolific offspeed pitch, that of the plus-plus variety, something rare, something to behold. And as we’ve already discussed, getting to the change can be a risky proposition, but one well-worth the stress. As Eno Sarris was first to point out, Anderson can manipulate the change into nearly two distinct pitches. He goes with the offspeed stuff nearly 24% of the time as the pitch(es) has an obscene amount of fade (around 10″ of horizontal movement). Anderson can locate it to get ahead in the count or use it to put hitters away as they just don’t really stand a chance.
Honorable Mention: In addition to the highly productive cutter, Zack Godley also flashed a useful changeup to pair with it. Although he didn’t throw the pitch all that many times, it does show good natural sink despite lacking some fading action.
Worst Offspeed Pitch – Rubby De La Rosa’s Changeup
It’s not like De La Rosa didn’t have other weapons – as noted his four-seamer and slider (and curve) were good. But when it came to pitches with arm-side run, his two-seamer, and especially his changeup, De La Rosa struggled. His issues when facing left-handed pitching have been previously discussed, and the changeup was a big part of that. As the pitch that is typically important for disposing of opposite-handed pitching, Rubby De La Rosa’s changeup didn’t do him any favors.
Dishonorable Mention: I feel bad picking on Allan Webster, but my goodness his year was terrible. You can add the changeup to the list of dirty deeds as he threw it 20% of the time, yet it got absolutely smashed.
There are bright spots and there are black spots. I guess that’s how pitching goes. You hope, at the end of the day, that your starters can survive their bad pitches in order to get to the good ones. We saw plenty of that in 2015, both good and bad. Next time we’ll take a look at relievers, guys who have the luxury of avoiding their bad pitches.
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