The best pitches of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Shark Tank

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In recent years, the Pittsburgh Pirates’s bullpen, “The Shark Tank” has risen to prominence, ranking in the top ten in almost all relevant statistical categories.  This offseason, Neal Huntington and staff put additional emphasis on beefing up the bullpen even further, adding Antonio Bastardo and Arquimedes Caminero, among others.

To refresh your memory, in 2013, the Bucs bullpen ranked third in ERA in 2013 at 2.46, and ninth for 2014 at 3.28.  The reasons for the the jump-up in ERA of almost a full run are plentiful, but to me chief among them was the horrible start in April by the bullpen.  Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon spearheaded a crew that blew five saves in that month alone.  Contributing his own special brand of bad baseball to those year-end numbers was Ernesto Frieri, who posted at 10.13 ERA as a Pirate.

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Looking at those factors, it was hard to fault Huntington for pouring more resources to bring the bullpen back to 2013-level dominance, from good back to great.

Today I’d like to prime us for another season of Shark Tank dominance by highlighting the very best pitches from the mainstays in the Pirates’ bullpen.  Just as I did with the starting rotation, I’ll be highlighting the pitches that each of these hurlers hang their hat on.

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.  First, I will only choose pitches that were thrown 10% of the time or more.  I had considered holding this to a higher percentage, but being that relievers throw less varied pitches than starters, 10% seemed appropriate.  Second, 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.  League average – 30%

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.  League average – 66%

SwStr% – Swings and misses / total pitches.  Basically said, the time that a batter swung and missed against a particular pitch.  League average – 9.5%

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.  League averages – 55.3%/10.5

(All data is pulled from pitchf/x information available at

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.

Our first bullpen arm is the one who actually christened The Shark Tank

Next: Mark the Shark