Before we officially focus on 2021, we’re looking back at some impressive feats by Reds players in 2020. Earlier this week, we looked back at some of the best (and worst) moments at the plate, as captured by Statcast. Now, it’s time for the pitchers!
Michael Lorenzen: 100.5 mph, four-seam fastball
Prior to spring training, Michael Lorenzen stated his goal was to hit 103 mph with his fastball. He was clearly shooting for that goal early in the season, peaking at 100.5 mph in the third game of the season. The desire to throw harder potentially messed with his command, as Lorenzen wasn’t himself in the early going. We can clearly see catcher Curt Casali wanted this ball up in the zone to put Miguel Cabrera away, an ideal location for a high-spin four-seamer, but Lorenzen missed his spot badly in the middle of the plate and the pitch was fouled away. Despite being behind 1-2, this at-bat eventually ended in a walk for Cabrera. Lorenzen took some heat off his fastball following his disastrous start to the season, which helped him right the ship as the year moved along.
Matt Davidson: 63.4 mph, “changeup”
In a blowout loss, infielder Matt Davidson — who previously attempted to become a two-way player a la Lorenzen — took the mound for mop-up duty. As expected, it wasn’t pretty. He allowed a two-run home run and delivered this ugly offering, the slowest pitch of the season.
Slowest Pitch by a Pitcher
Wade Miley: 69.2 mph, curveball
If we’re talking actual pitchers, Wade Miley threw the slowest pitch of the season. The southpaw’s first inning as a Red didn’t go as planned — which the scoreboard indicates — but he ended it with a slow curveball in the dirt that fooled Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner badly.
Fastest Strikeout Pitch
Luis Castillo: 98.5 mph, four-seam fastball
Is anyone surprised? Only three starting pitchers (Dustin May, Jacob deGrom, and Sixto Sanchez) averaged more velocity on their four-seam fastballs in 2020 than Castillo (97.4 mph) — velocity the Reds hadn’t seen from the right-hander since his rookie year in 2017. Following a league-wide trend, Castillo focused on throwing his four-seamer up in the strike zone more frequently in 2020, and to great success. He posted a career-best (and elite) 37.2% whiff rate on the pitch, an increase of nearly 10 percentage points year over year.
Slowest Strikeout Pitch
Matt Davidson: 68.7 mph, curveball
It was hard to envision Matt Davidson appearing twice in this piece, but here we are. In his first of three pitching appearances on the season, he recorded his only strikeout on an impressive backdoor curveball.
Sonny Gray: 3,590 rpm, two-seam fastball
With strikeouts at an all-time high, not many of them are particularly memorable. But even though this one was over four months ago, it still stands out. Sonny Gray has long been known for spinning the ball; however, his breaking pitches are normally what he — and any pitcher — spins best. In this at-bat against Middletown’s own Kyle Schwarber, Gray put absurd spin on his two-seamer. For reference, his two-seamer has averaged 2,284 rpm during his career. It’s possible this particular instance was a Statcast error, but regardless, it’s a pitch worth revisiting.
In a 2-2 count, Tucker Barnhart sets up inside and calls for the two-seamer against a lefty, bucking Gray’s usual trend of throwing a breaking ball with two strikes. This was a bold call. A front-door fastball requires impeccable command, and few pitchers can execute it consistently. Gray did it perfectly here (and several more times throughout the season). Schwarber gives up on the pitch early, clearly expecting it to be a ball inside — only to watch it tail back over the corner of the plate for a called third strike. Notice how Barnhart barely had to move his glove after setting up the initial target. This is certainly in the running for the best pitch any Reds hurler threw in 2020.
Luis Castillo: 702 rpm, four-seam fastball
As opposed to a high-spin fastball, a low-spin heater will drop more. Typically, a low spin rate is ideal for a sinker rather than a four-seamer. And naturally, a low-spin fastball is more effective down in the zone. Regardless, Castillo got by a low-spin four-seamer up in the zone here. When you throw 97 mph, sometimes that can make up for mistakes in command. Casali sets up low in the zone, likely just looking to get a fastball over the plate to run the count full. But Castillo misses the spot badly. Thanks to his velocity, Castillo still managed to blow the fastball by the hitter and get a swing underneath the ball as if it was a high-spin fastball. It probably helped that it was the No. 9 hitter with a career 81 wRC+.
Highest Whiff Rate by Pitch
Amir Garrett’s slider: 57.1%
While there were many strong contenders for this nod, Amir Garrett and his sweeping slider come out on top. Hitters just simply couldn’t touch his slider in 2020, whiffing more than half the time they swung at the offering. Only four pitchers with at least 50 swings on their sliders had a higher whiff rate. With a weapon that dangerous, why not throw it 55% of the time? Now that Raisel Iglesias is a member of the Angels, Garrett will pick up even more high-leverage innings in 2021.
Lowest Hard-Hit Rate by Pitch
Luis Castillo’s changeup: 23.1%
You knew this pitch would show up eventually. While the changeup wasn’t quite as spectacular for Castillo in 2020 as it was in 2019, it was still one of the best in the game. Not only do hitters have trouble putting it into play in the first place (40% whiff rate), but they rarely make quality contact. They averaged an exit velocity of just 82.5 mph and 55% of their batted balls were hit on the ground. Here’s a nice example of that, with a nifty defensive recovery by Castillo to cap off a complete game.
Highest O-Swing% by Pitch
Robert Stephenson’s slider: 37.9%
Suffice to say the 2020 season didn’t go as expected for former Red Robert Stephenson, whether due to his back injury, poor fastball command, or both. But his slider still flashed as a special pitch. He maintained a 48% whiff rate with the breaking ball, thanks in large part to its propensity for getting hitters to chase it outside the strike zone. He’ll look to bounce back with the Rockies in 2021.
Best Slider Movement
Sonny Gray: 10 inches of break above average
We could go through the best movement for each pitch, but let’s focus on the most aesthetically pleasing type of pitches: breaking balls. First up, the slider. Gray’s is one of the best in the game, and the center field camera angle in Miller Park gives us a perfect view of its ridiculous movement. Gray averaged 16.8 inches of horizontal movement on his slider, 10.0 inches higher than average for pitchers with similar velocities and arm angles. That was the best mark in MLB. Enjoy.
Best Curveball Movement
Trevor Bauer: 11.0 inches of drop above average
You didn’t think we’d get through the whole list without at least one appearance by the Reds’ first Cy Young winner, did you? While he gives Gray a run for his money on slider movement, he takes the cake on the curve. No pitcher in baseball got more vertical movement vs. average than Bauer in 2020. Here, former NL MVP Christian Yelich had no chance against it. (Another shoutout to Miller Park for having much a better camera angle than GABP.)
Wade Miley: 6.42 feet
Even the best pitchers in the world will have the ball get away from them every so often. Now, with Statcast, we can see which pitches were the worst of the worst! Congrats to Miley on tossing the highest pitch of the year, throwing this four-seam fastball nearly 6-and-a-half feet above home plate. Also, nice hops from Barnhart.
Tejay Antone: -2.63 feet
Behind increased velocity and a pair of dazzling breaking pitches, Tejay Antone burst on the scene in 2020 with a fantastic rookie season. This breaking ball slipped out of his hand, though, landing well in front of home plate and requiring another nifty play from Barnhart to prevent the wild pitch. This is why Barnhart is one of the best blockers in the game and won his second Gold Glove award in 2020.
(Clarification on the “negative” number: Statcast considers 0 to be the ground at home plate. So, if the ball could physically go under home plate, Statcast projects that it would’ve crossed 2.63 feet under the plate.)
Featured Image: https://twitter.com/Reds/status/1151557285388464128