Longtime baseball writer and analyst Buster Olney posed a question on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight podcast not long ago wondering if there was a pitcher who got batters to swing at more offerings far outside the strike zone than Shane Bieber.
It eventually led to a discussion on an ensuing episode about how the Cleveland Indians ace led the majors in both inducing swings at pitches outside the strike zone and coaxing swings on pitches that are more than 18 inches from the center of the zone.
That’s a particularly telling indicator of nasty stuff; in many instances, batters see these pitches as strikes and begin their swing before the ball drops, breaks, sails, or rises well out of the strike zone. But while Bieber is elite when it comes to generating swings on pitches far off the plate, our data reveals he’s not baseball’s best in that area.
Entering this week, the honor went to Blake Snell, who is having a bounce-back season for the AL-best Tampa Bay Rays. After going 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA on the way to the 2018 AL Cy Young Award, the left-hander went 6-8 with a 4.29 ERA and underwent elbow surgery last season. In 2020, Snell has eased his way back into form with a 4-1 record and a 3.05 ERA in 10 starts.
It’s interesting to note that Snell ranks 12th in the majors in overall swing and miss percentage (32.9). But on pitches that we’ve categorized as being so far outside the zone that they have a virtual 0% chance of being called a strike, he has the top Extreme Chase+ in all of baseball among pitchers who have thrown at least 500 pitches.
Stats Perform has a complex algorithm that finds pitches similar to ones we’re looking at here and calculates how frequently those pitches were called strikes – in this case, none.
We then took the swing rate on those pitches and adjusted them for the league average, giving us Extreme Chase+. The league average swing rate on our pitches with a 0% called-strike probability is 11%. And Snell’s Extreme Chase+ of 207 is 107% higher than the league average (100).
Indeed, Bieber is second in these rankings at 203 and his curveball (33%) and slider (27%) have generated a higher swing rate on pitches way off the plate than Snell’s curve (26%) and slider (23%). Snell, however, gets more swings on pitches well outside the zone across his entire repertoire. His heater may produce the lowest rate of all his pitches, but it’s still at 19%, while Bieber doesn’t get many bad swings on his fastball.
Here’s the rest of our list featuring the pitchers who generate the highest swing rate on pitches that essentially have no chance of being called a strike (through Sept. 20):
There are some expected names on this list, but it’s illuminating to discover that Dinelson Lamet ranks third in all of baseball. The right-hander is having a breakout season, ranking second in the majors in strikeouts (89), third in opponents’ batting average (.166) and sixth in ERA (2.07) for the playoff-bound San Diego Padres.
Lamet has been particularly good in his last three outings, allowing just two earned runs while striking out 32 over 20 2/3 innings. San Diego has won his last six starts and nine of his 11 overall. He has an eye-opening 30% swing rate on sliders with a 0% called-strike probability – more than either Snell and Bieber.
Data modeling and analysis provided by Lucas Haupt.
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