Astros: Each Pitcher’s Best Pitch (Part 2)

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

This is the second piece in a three part series on each Houston Astros’ pitcher and their best pitch.  Part 1 is here.

Lance McCullers, Jr. – Slider

Looking at McCullers, Jr.’s Statcast page is a joy for a numbers guy like me.  Nowhere on the Pitch Tracking page does slider appear before 2021, yet it’s quickly become his best pitch by far and it’s definitely elite.

Opponents are batting a minuscule .128 against it and it’s not luck – the xBA is .128.  He’s thrown it 571 times (29% of pitches), the majority of the time (85.1%) to righties, while preferring the curve against lefties.

Given that the majority of batters are right handed, McCullers, Jr. is throwing the curve only 20% of the time after using it 37.6% in 2020 and a whopping 46.6% in 2018.

In short, McCullers, Jr. has reinvented himself from a curve/sinker/change pitcher in 2018 to a sinker/slider/curve pitcher in 2021.

How good has the slider been?  A -15 run value along with a -2.6RV/100.

Elite indeed.

Pedro Baez – Changeup

Baez has thrown 16 pitches as a Houston Astro, 11 of them change ups, so who really knows what to expect from the post-injury Baez.  Early returns suggest less heat as both his four seam fastball and changeup velocity are noticeably down from previous seasons, which is definitely a concern.

The changeup was good to Baez in the shortened 2020 season and it was really good in 2019 when Baez threw the pitch 31.9% of the time for a .157 batting average against and allowed only 1 home run on 348 change pieces that season.  It should be noted Baez uses this pitch predominately against left handed batters (in 2019 73% of changeups were to LHBs), while mostly using the fastball and slider against righties.

Kendall Graveman – Sinker

Once the shock of the mid-series trade wore off and Astros fans saw Graveman pitch they simply wished Abraham Toro and Joe Smith good luck and planned for October baseball.

The slider is Graveman’s putaway pitch, with a 44 Whiff% and a 32 PutAway%, but that’s used mostly against right handed batters.

Gravemen uses the sinker against batters from both sides and it’s equal opportunity death.  He’s thrown 378 of them at an average of 96.5 MPH and in 79 at bats has given up nine singles. That’s it. No doubles, no triples, no homers.  That equals a .114 batting average and a .114 slugging percentage and a lot of outs.  With an average launch angle of two degrees, when it is hit it’s not going anywhere dangerous.

Those numbers equate to a -14 run value and -3.8RV/100.

A bonus is Gravemen’s presence in the Astros bullpen seems to have allowed Brent Strom to slot everyone else in roles they are comfortable with and good at.

The trade didn’t simply add a good pitcher in Gravemen, but in effect it changed the outlook for the entire bullpen with the exception of Ryan Pressly, who was already having a good season.

Ryne Stanek – Split Finger

I’d argue that no one has benefited more from the trade for Graveman than Stanek. After ERAs of 5.06 in May and 6.97 in June, Stanek began to turn it around in July (2.45).  Since Gravemen arrived and Stanek became the set up guy to the set up guy he’s had six consecutive scoreless appearances covering  5.1 innings, giving up two hits and walking only one for a WHIP of 0.56. In other words, he’s found his role.

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This may surprise a lot of Astro fans (myself included), but Stanek has two outstanding pitches to choose from and neither of them are his 97.5 MPH four seamer.

Stanek’s slider has been devastating to the opposition as he’s compiled an .095 batting average against the pitch, allowing only two singles in 21 at bats, a Whiff% of 46.2 and a PutAway% of 33.3.

On the other hand, Stanek has held opponents to a .100 batting average on the splitter, with .120 slugging, 44.9 Whiff% and a 25.8 PutAway%.

First glance would seem to favor the slider, but I’m going with the splitter. The analytics are comparable and the slider is mainly for right handed batters (78.7%), while the split is 51% RHB and 49% LHB.  Also, the run value is -5 (-2.4RV/100) on the splitter and -3 (-2.2RV/100) on the slider.

A slightly better run value and the ability to throw it against batters from either side wins my vote.

Luis Garcia – Cutter

Fascinating.  Luis Garcia highly tailors his five pitch arsenal to the handedness of the batter more than any I’ve seen to this point.

Pitch        %RHB   %LHB

Fastball        48         52

Cutter           85         15

Slider            98          2

Change          4         96

Curve             4         96

The change (10.3%) and curve (9.4%) are such small percentages of Garcia’s pitch count that I don’t consider them his best pitch, despite the outstanding underlying metrics.

The slider is slightly higher at 12.7%, but I’m going with the cutter (21.3%). Opponents are batting .142 against it, while slugging .283 and the three home runs allowed in 106 at bats isn’t horrible. Tack on a Whiff% of 45.1, PutAway% of 28.9 and a -10 run value (-2.4RV/100) and we have a winner.

dark. Next. Should the Astros Consider Signing Adam Eaton?