Pitchers had the upper hand in 2018, racking up more strikeouts than hits allowed for the first time and held hitters to a .248 average. But so many Major League games can come down to the cat-and-mouse game of pitch selection, and pitchers still need to know which hitters can
Pitchers had the upper hand in 2018, racking up more strikeouts than hits allowed for the first time and held hitters to a .248 average. But so many Major League games can come down to the cat-and-mouse game of pitch selection, and pitchers still need to know which hitters can hurt them if they throw the wrong pitch.
Statcast™'s watchful eyes help us determine which hitters crush which pitches better than ever before. We could cull all sorts of traditional statistics, like average, slugging or homers, from the Statcast™ data trove to drum up rankings, but we're going to use expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) -- just as we did last year -- to try to give the most comprehensive look at who excelled against what. Just in case you're not familiar, xwOBA is Statcast™'s all-in-one metric that considers strikeouts, walks and quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle).
Setting a minimum of 200 pitches seen for fastballs (four-seamers and two-seamers and sinkers combined) and 150 for secondary pitches (cutters and sliders, curveballs, changeups and splitters) creates a pool of between 200 to 400 qualified hitters for each pitch type. Here's who excelled against each offering:
.538 -- Luke Voit, Yankees
.504 -- Mookie Betts, Red Sox
.493 -- Matt Kemp, Reds and Mark Trumbo, Orioles
.491 -- Juan Soto, Nationals
MLB average: .347 xwOBA
Voit's first two months with the Yankees (.322/.398/.671, 187 wRC+) could be described roughly as an "out-of-body" experience, but his underlying Statcast™ metrics did suggest some potential for staying power this season. Like many young hitters, Voit feasted most on fastballs, but he wasn't exactly a slouch against secondary pitches either (.332 xwOBA against breaking balls, .457 against offspeed).
Betts was phenomenal across the board en route to his first American League MVP, but he particularly improved at jumping on fastballs and pulling to left field. Trumbo had a tough, injury-riddled 2018 (though his 110 OPS+ was perhaps higher than you remember) but could still hit a four-seamer, and Kemp was one of baseball's best fastball hitters during his resurgence last year. One of Soto's most impressive homers was his retroactive "first" dinger off a 97-mph heater from Yankees reliever Chad Green.
Two-seamers and sinkers
Video: TEX@OAK: Davis gets jersey signed by kid, hits HR
.551 -- Khris Davis, Athletics
.505 -- Gleyber Torres, Yankees
.483 -- Rhys Hoskins, Phillies
.480 -- Carlos Santana, Indians
.473 -- Bryce Harper, free agent
MLB average: .349
Here's a tip for AL West pitchers: Shelve the sinker when Khrush comes to the plate.
Sixteen of Davis' 48 homers came off this pitch type, ranging from everything from a 97-mph two-seamer from Garrett Richards to an 86-mph pitch from Bartolo Colon. The Oakland slugger averaged a scorching 97.4-mph exit velocity against two-seamers and sinkers and barreled that pitch type six more times than any other hitter in baseball.
Torres homered 12 times off two-seamers and sinkers, including an opposite-field blast off David Price in July. Hoskins and Santana forced sinkerballers to tread lightly through the Philly lineup, and Harper's sinker damage included his 451-foot, game-tying blast off Cardinals closer Bud Norris on Sept. 3.
Cutters and sliders
.399 -- Eugenio Suarez
.397 -- Michael Trout
.373 -- Ryan Zimmerman
.370 -- Betts, Red Sox
.370 -- Kendrys Morales
, Blue Jays MLB average: .267
That home run in the video above was a 109-mph, 408 foot tater that Suarez launched off a Max Scherzer cutter -- a pitch that Major Leaguers hit just .204 against last season. Suarez's xwOBA against these benders was .282 in 2017 and just .243 in '16, symbolizing the massive improvements he's made in his overall game.
Get familiar with Trout's name, because he dominated just about every secondary pitch thrown his way in a career year. Only three hitters homered off Chaz Roe
's mind-bending slider last season, and of course one of them was Trout
. There were very few holes in Betts' swing, and the longtime veterans Zimmerman and Morales remained top-five hitters
in terms of hard-hit rate (percentage of batted balls hit at least 95 mph) in 2018.Curveballs
Video: Must C Crushed: Martinez gets Red Sox on the board
.460 -- J.D. Martinez, Red Sox
.458 -- Justin Upton
.435 -- Trout, Angels
.427 -- Joe Panik, Giants
.423 -- Lorenzo Cain
, Brewers MLB average: .267
Martinez seems to have mastered the "air ball" approach, and he had no problem launching curves during his magnificent debut for the Red Sox. His homer off Justin Verlander
's hanging curve in Game 5 of the ALCS helped push Boston past the defending champion Astros last October.
Upton slugged a phenomenal .833 against curves in 2018, while Cain's rocking-chair swing seems tailor-made for laying into a hanging hook. The fact that Panik made this list without homering off a single breaking ball highlights his elite contact ability. And then there's Trout; he's likely baseball's best low-ball hitter, meaning diving curveballs like this high-spin hammer
from Gerrit Cole
play right into his wheelhouse. Changeups and splitters
.483 -- Nelson Cruz
.478 -- Trout, Angels
.460 -- Ronald Acuna Jr.
.424 -- Justin Turner
.411 -- Tommy Pham, Rays and Anthony Rendon
, NationalsMLB average: .279
Cruz's power travels to all fields and applies to all pitches, and only Martinez topped Cruz's eight homers off changeups and splitters last season -- including a 446-foot blast in the video above. Acuna immediately proved he was more than a fastball hitter, and Turner's recognition skills allowed him to hit changeups even with his relatively early contact point. Pham shot up toward the top of the hard-hit leaderboard in 2018, and Rendon continues to be one of MLB's most underrated sluggers. And there's Trout, of course, who's slugged below .500 against changeups just once in his seven full big league seasons.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.