Who needs an introduction? This piece is simply about the best pitches from 2020. I looked at a number of factors when making these determinations including run value, whiff%, K%, xwOBA, and hard hit%. I’ll cover the four main pitch types: fourseam fastballs, changeups, sliders, and curveballs. Let’s start with the heater!
Best Fourseam Fastball from 2020 (Minimum 300 thrown) – Walker Buehler
This one was extremely close between Walker Buehler and Freddy Peralta. So close in fact, that I deferred to run value per 100 pitches thrown. Here is the pertinent data.
Fourseam Fastball - Buehler vs Peralta
While Freddy generated more strikeouts via a better whiff%, Buehler induced more weak contact with a crazy-low xBA and xSLG. The tie-breaker for me was the run value. While extremely close, Buehler just edged out Peralta in this one. Buehler averaged 96.8 mph on his heater and didn’t give up a single home run and allowed just one barrel all season. Peralta on the other hand averaged just 93.0 mph which is insane considering how successful it’s been. He did allow one homer and three barrels, so that information justifies the choice of Buehler over Peralta.
Walker Buehler, fastball up and away, against Brandon Lowe. He got him whiffing three times. The command was impeccable. pic.twitter.com/7WqSs65G4J
— Positive Residual (@presidual) October 24, 2020
Best Fourseam Fastball from 2020 (Minimum 500 thrown) – Jacob deGrom
Jacob deGrom has continued to throw his fastball harder and more often over the last three years:
2017 – 40%, 95 mph
2018 – 43%, 96 mph
2019 – 48%, 97 mph
— Jacob Resnick (@Jacob_Resnick) July 24, 2020
Jacob deGOAT of course finished 2020 with the best fastball among starters with at least 500 thrown. He somehow added velocity (1.7 mph to be exact) from a year ago and this marks the fourth straight year he’s been able to improve his average fastball velocity. deGrom manages an insane 42.9% K-rate with his heater which would be a solid rate for a slider. His .186 batting average allowed was easily the best among starters with over 500 FB thrown, second best was Lucas Giolito with a .201 BA against. deGrom features three plus-plus pitches. His slider might be his third-best pitch and it manages a 45% whiff rate. His change earned a 40% K-rate and a .253 xwOBA. Even if deGrom loses a mph off his heater next year, he’s still my top SP for 2021.
Best Changeup from 2020 (Minimum 200 thrown) – Devin Williams
Rookie sensation, Devin Williams provided unquestionably the best changeup in 2020. He threw it 227 times, generating a 61.2% K% with a mind-boggling 61.1% whiff rate. It allowed just an 0.032 batting average and ZERO extra-base hits. The expected metrics backed it up as well with a 0.110 xwOBA on just a 9.5% hard-hit rate. I would have loved to see what he could have done across a full 162. He was on pace for 150 strikeouts which would have ranked 55th among ALL pitchers in 2019.
Devin Williams, Unfair 85mph Changeup…and 🔥 K Hop. pic.twitter.com/2TGHF4PDRz
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 6, 2020
Best Changeup among starting pitchers (minimum 200 thrown) – Kenta Maeda
Of course, Luis Castillo and Lucas Giolito earn honorable mention but in my opinion, this award goes to Kenta Maeda.
Kenta Maeda, Wicked 84mph Changeup. 🤢
12th K. 🤫 pic.twitter.com/7QpMiDI4Jx
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 19, 2020
Maeda tossed 291 changeups this year and had the highest whiff% (45.6%) and K% (40.9%) among starting pitchers with at least 200 changeups thrown. Yeah, he was awesome but it makes Williams’ numbers above just seem impossible. Either way, Maeda’s change was great in 2020. It’s so successful because it induces so many swings outside the zone In 2020, batters chased 50.5% of the time, a career-high. When hitters actually made contact with the pitch, it was put on the ground over 2/3rds of the time and allowed just one barrel and zero homers all season. An unlikely champ but well deserving. Good luck getting him outside of the top-20 SPs next year.
Best Slider in 2020 (Minimum 200 thrown) – Dinelson Lamet
“Dinelson Lamet and his equal opportunity Slider. This pitch does not discriminate based on batter handedness.”
Dinelson Lamet has this one in a runaway. He easily threw the most sliders in 2020 (559 thrown) which was 53.4% of the time. This pitch is straight nasty. Hitter’s 47.4% whiff rate (5th) and 51.4% K% (1st) is insane considering Lamet only has two pitches. He’s allowed just three home runs against his slider since the start of 2019 with over 1,100 thrown. In 2020, Lamet allowed an xwOBA of just 0.175. This one was easy.
Best Slider other than the GOAT Lamet (Minimum 200 thrown) – Dylan Bundy
The Honorable Mention team includes Max Scherzer, Zach Plesac, and Luis Castillo (yes, my guy LC shows up again as he improved his slider in 2020). But, the award goes to comeback pitcher of the year, Dylan Bundy! In his first season out of Baltimore, Bundy found himself in a much better ballpark and a situation where he started throwing his best pitch more frequently. I’ve been a fan of Bundy for a while now,
Dylan Bundy slider last 2 yrs
12.4 Pitch Value on 607 thrown
2.8 Pitch Value on 722 thrown
— Max Freeze (@FreezeStats) January 13, 2019
The point of the Tweet is that his slider was great in 2018 and even better in 2019 by the metrics but based on Pitch Value, did not produce the same results. Trust the metrics! In 2020, Bundy threw 255 sliders and his K% of 50% matches his whiff rate. As great as his slider has been in the past, it still allowed a barrel% of around 5%. This year, he did not allow a single barrel against his slider. That led to an extremely impressive 0.162 xwOBA against.
Dylan Bundy’s slider remains such a nasty pitch in key spots pic.twitter.com/yGrdaFAsQ3
— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) August 12, 2020
Best Curveball in 2020 (Minimum 200 thrown) – Tyler Glasnow and Shane Bieber
Tyler Glasnow and Shane Bieber are essentially a virtual tie for the best curveball in 2020.
Curveball - Glasnow vs Bieber
First, let’s start with Tyler Glasnow. Wow, look at that strikeout rate! While his curve misses a ton of bats, it also induces weak contact when hitters actually make contact. The only reason it’s not the clear cut winner over Bieber’s curve is that Glasnow gave up a .277 SLG compared to a .143 SLG for Bieber. I included the xSLG for each pitch and that clearly shows that Glasnow was just a bit unlucky. He gave up three homers off his curve and while two were crushed, the other was hit at 97 mph and went 332 feet. The difference between Glasnow and Bieber’s curve is when Glasnow makes a mistake, it’s hit. Bieber has a deeper arsenal, so it’s more difficult to guess what’s coming. Glasnow has two pitches. Every once in awhile a hitter is going to guess right when Glasnow makes a mistake. The other advantage to Bieber’s curve is he buries it. See the GIF below. When hitters make contact, the average launch angle against his curve is -13 degrees! Those are worm burners. Glasnow’s while solid, is -4 degrees. Sure, Bieber gives up harder contact but if keeps it on the ground, it doesn’t matter.
Now, let’s look at Shane Bieber’s breaker.
I hope you enjoyed the GIFs!
AP Photo/John Bazemore)