Earlier this week, we had some fun looking at the best and worst pitches from Diamondbacks starting pitchers in 2015. There were some really good pitches on disply there, even considering the struggles that the staff had last year. This time around we’ll position the microscope on the relievers, but there’s something notable to include here: relief pitchers have a certain luxury that starters don’t. They get to use as few as two pitches with regularity since most are up for just one inning worth of work at a time and often are paired up with hitters who provide favorable matchups. That can cause some extreme numbers in terms of pitch value but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Regardless, let’s take a closer look at the best and worst of 2015 from D-backs relievers.
Best Fastball – Brad Ziegler‘s Sinker
Whoa! Stop right there! Brad Ziegler throws a “fastball?” Well, he kinda does and it’s a really good pitch. The thing is, it doesn’t appear like anything we’re used to when we hear the word “fastball.” The pitch sits 82-85, 86 if Brad’s really feeling it. But it’s extremely effective with atypical deep, sinking action and little bit of arm-side run. Most two-seam or sinking fastballs have horizontal movement but given Ziegler’s unique throwing motion and release point, his is more vertically deceptive. It results in a ground ball four our of every five times it’s put into play, turning into a true ground ball machine. If you can’t square it up, it’s hard to do damage on any pitch, even if it’s an 84 mph “heater.”
Honorable Mention: We’ve talked about Randall Delgado’s two seamer, which is a bad pitch for him – the attemept to make him a sinker-heavy pitcher didn’t take last season. But his four-seam fastball remained effective with above average backspin and sitting at 94.
Worst Fastball – Daniel Hudson‘s Four-Seamer
This is going to sound weird, but Daniel Hudson’s power fastball wasn’t actually very good. He touched triple digits at Coors Field last in the season (I still think that gun was hot) which caused quite a stir, and backed it up by throwing in the upper nineties as the season wound down. The pitch does have some arm-side run, but not a ton. It generated a fair number of grounders and whiffs, but in June and August, for whatever reason, the pitch got punished. Part of this is sample size as he used his slider and changeup more frequently these months, but he actually faired better when he used the pitch more often, not less. Did he use it less by design in these months or did he back off of it when it was getting pounded? These types of questions make relievers tough to evaluate.
Dishonorable Mention: hey, remember Enrique Burgos? He was fun to watch sometimes. He was also tough to watch sometimes. We’ll talk more about the former in a minute, but despite Burgos’ elite velocity, his four-seamer didn’t do him any favors in 2015, thanks to shaky command.
Best Breaking Ball – Enrique Burgos’ Slider
Hey, remember Enrique Burgos? Ok, you should by now unless you skipped the preceding paragraph (not recommended). Burgos’ slider is flat out filthy (Jeffrey Loria certainly looks baffled). What makes it work has more to do with velocity than it does movement. His fastball clocked in routinely in the mid to high 90’s while the slider was around 88mph. The pitch doesn’t have elite horizontal or vertical movement, but it looks enough like a fastball out of the hand that it elicits a ton of whiffs and weak contact. The problem for Burgos is getting to the slider. He needs the fastball to set it up, but his aforementioned fastball command problems make that difficult. He still threw the slider a ton (49%) and it worked for him, but without a respectable fastball, his overall effectiveness was limited.
Honorable Mention: although not elite, Andrew Chafin‘s slider was nothing to sneeze at. The pitch has excellent depth and induces a high number of grounders while being thrown 27% of the time. Also in this category is Brad Ziegler’s curve, a pitch thrown infrequently (10%) but very effective.
Worst Breaking Ball – Addison Reed‘s Slider
Addison Reed once had a pretty wicked fastball/slider combination. Over time, however, he’s lost some velocity (on all pitches) and the horizontal movement of the slider has dropped. Part of the problem has been the drop in velocity difference between the two pitches, resulting in fewer whiffs given that Reed does throw a hard slider. The loss of horizontal movement hasn’t helped, although the pitch does still have some vertical depth. Overall, the pitch was just a tick below average and far from horrendous, but in a tough year for Reed, his slider didn’t bail him out.
Dishonorable Mention: Oliver Perez‘s slider was an average pitch, but it did take a dip in value as compared to his 2013 and 2014 campaigns. We’re splitting hairs here as an average pitch really isn’t worth getting worked up about.
Best Offspeed Pitch – Daniel Hudson’s Changeup
With the plus-plus velocity that Hudson showed with his fastball, his changeup was the largest beneficiary. The pitch is firm for a changeup clocking in at 86, but it still gives him a 10-11mph difference from his heater. Adding to it’s effectiveness, the pitch has a ton of horizontal, arm-side break – nearly ten inches of fade. This results in a ton of ground balls and some whiffs, too. It also gives him a fantastic option against lefties and can in part be credited with his reverse platoon split. The changeup is a game-changer for Hudson and probably his best overall pitch.
Honorable Mention: what pitch doesn’t Brad Ziegler’s throw well? We can add his changeup to the list of effective offerings for the D-backs closer, a pitch that has unique cutting action for it’s type, but a lot of depth and, once again, kills a ton of worms.
Worst Offspeed Pitch – Randall Delgado‘s Changeup
Adding to Delgado’s two-seam troubles was his changeup, a pitch that should have similar action. Whether it’s trouble with supination or something else, neither pitch worked for him in 2015. His change does generate a good number of whiffs, but it’s close enough to his fastball in velocity (only about 7mph difference) that he’s not getting the full effect from it. The pitch lacks some sink and fade as compared to more effective changeups, making it appears pretty pedestrian. It also limits his ability get lefties out more regularly, although they didn’t exactly kill him, either. The lack of a better changeup is what will ultimately keep Delgado in the bullpen as he just doesn’t have a third pitch he can rely on. His four-seam/slider combination makes him a pretty good bet as a reliever, though.
Dishonorable Mention: no one else on the staff really struggled with a changeup, although Josh Collmenter‘s offspeed offering has seen better days. It was still above average overall, however.
The story is different for relievers as Addison Reed found out the hard way. These guys are generally lesser pitcher to begin with and when one aspect of their game starts to go downhill, trouble isn’t usually far behind. In this instance, Delgado definitely looks like a reliever, Burgos looks like a real difference-maker if the command improves and Hudson has a nice collection of pitches that can help him get righties and lefties out. Brad Ziegler is pretty much The Man and can do no wrong while Andrew Chafin showed the stuff needed to be a very effective reliever.
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