The best pitches of each Pittsburgh Pirates starter

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Mar 5, 2015; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting

Gerrit Cole

(45), pitcher

A.J. Burnett

(34) and pitcher

Jeff Locke

(49) watch from the dugout during the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at a spring training baseball game at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been written and said about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2015 starting rotation.  With the return of A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano, the Bucs’ rotation can be seen as both formidable and promising.  As spring training winds on and pitchers get their work in, we can truly start to see just how their ‘stuff’ will play for the upcoming season.

Today we are going to look at each projected starter and attempt to identify their best pitch.  Picking apart Burnett’s velocity recently made me curious to take a look at the other hurlers’ stuff on the Pirates’ staff.  Oftentimes, we as fans can pigeonhole a pitcher.  We are overheard saying “Gerrit Cole‘s fastball is incredible,” or “Liriano’s slider is so nasty!”  Yet, statistically speaking, are those signature pitchers their best?  I aim to find out.

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The word “best” is, by its nature, both objective and subjective at the same time.  Despite the best efforts of many talented baseball minds, subjectivity can creep in when trying to determine the best of anything in baseball.  Even with the vast statistical data available at sites such as FanGraphs (where the data for this piece was culled), one can spin that data in any way they like, valuing certain data pieces over others.

For the purposes of this column, I am going to place considerable weight into a few factors, which I think are highly important to a pitcher’s performance.  Only data from 2014 was used, to give us a better snapshot of where these pitchers are right now.  Here they are, with a brief explanation:

O-Swing% –  Simply put, this is the percentage of pitches that a pitcher throws outside of the strike zone that batters swing at.

O-Contact % – This is the percentage of times that a batter made contact on those same pitches that he chased out of the strike zone.

SwStr% – Swings and misses / total pitches.  Basically said, the time that a batter swung and missed against a particular pitch

Ground ball rate % & fly ball rate % – The percentage of times that a batted ball against a certain pitch resulted in either a ground ball, or a fly ball, respectively.

These are the factors that I believe truly show the best pitch of any given pitcher.  Getting batters to chase at pitches is critical for any hurler, and when these pitches are hit, keeping them on the ground is crucial.

Let’s begin with everyone’s favorite young fireballer.

Next: Gerrit Cole's best pitch may not be what you think