These are the top pitches of the first half of the season

July 7th, 2023

Every pitch matters.

That might be an obvious or simplistic analysis but it's the basic premise of Statcast's Run Value system, which helped determine some of the top pitches of the first half of the 2023 season. Run values look at the run impact of an event based on the runners on base, outs, ball and strike count. Why use run values when looking at the top pitches?

When you're using whiff rate, you're only looking at pitches that were swung at. When you're looking at batting average or wOBA, it's only looking at pitches that decided a plate appearance. Even strikeouts are just a subset of pitches thrown with two strikes that got a certain result. Run value essentially puts a positive or negative impact on every pitch and adjusts for the context -- like how many runners were on base or what the count was.

These are seven of the best individual pitch types in the Majors at the halfway point, along with the run value they've provided. Since it was a close call, or even a tie, on many pitches, there was a preference for pitches that had good underlying numbers (whiffs, wOBA) and strong pitch characteristics.

All numbers are entering Thursday's games

, four-seam fastball
-16 Run Value

After a dip in production in 2022, Cole's four-seamer has made a major resurgence in '23. No pitch has produced more outs (185) than Cole's four-seamer or only one has produced a better run value (-15). The biggest difference? After throwing too many four-seamers in the middle of the zone last year, Cole has done a much better job of elevating and getting his fastball on the edges of the zone. Whereas hitters slugged .420 against Cole's four-seamer in 2022, they're slugging just .341 against it this season. That's led to Cole throwing his four-seam fastball more than ever with a career-high 56.4% usage rate.

, sinker
-15 Run Value

Valdez's elite sinker is just part of the equation that has helped him ascend to one of the best pitchers in baseball. What was already a valuable sinker has taken off to another level in 2023 thanks to a 1.6 mph increase in velocity. By sacrificing about 4 inches of drop in exchange for the velocity boost, Valdez has made his sinker one of baseball's best pitches. Only two pitches have produced a better run value while no sinker has produced more outs than Valdez's sinker (151). With his improvement on both his sinker and cutter, coupled with his already-elite curveball, Valdez has firmly established himself as one of the best pitchers in the game.

, cutter
-8 Run Value

13 years after debuting for the Dodgers, Jansen and his vintage cutter are still going strong. Jansen has maintained his success by finding the fountain of youth and throwing his fastest cutter (94.3 mph) since 2014. Hitters have a .233 expected wOBA -- based on the quality of contact (exit velo/launch angle), strikeouts and walks. Just five pitchers have generated more whiffs on their cutter (56) while Jansen has punched out 31 hitters with the pitch, which trails only Valdez and .

, curveball
-17 Run Value

With all due respect to 's Uncle Charlie moniker, it might be more appropriate for Morton. The 39-year-old is still going strong by relying on his Uncle Charlie -- aka his curveball -- more than ever before. He's throwing it a whopping 44.9% of the time, by far the most of any season in his career. It's not just the quantity of curves that's impressive, though; hitters are whiffing on 41.3% of swings and have just a .167 BA against the pitch. The combination of both quality and quantity of Morton's curve has led to the pitch being the most valuable pitch in the Majors according to run value.

, slider
-13 Run Value

There's something about Braves starters and their breaking balls. Morton's curveball and Elder's slider are two of the top breaking balls by run value while 's 57.4% whiff rate on his slider is the third-best in the Majors. In the case of Elder, his spectacular slider has been a key contributor to his 2.45 ERA, second-best among qualified starters. It's not an overwhelming pitch by either velocity (82.4 mph) or movement but Elder makes up for it by precisely locating it low and on the outside corner (glove side). In 148 plate appearances ending on Elder's slider, hitters have managed just a .164 BA and .293 SLG.

, changeup
-14 Run Value

Nobody is throwing their changeup more than Webb (633 times) and rightfully so. It's one of the most successful pitches in the Majors and checks all the boxes you want in a secondary offering. No starting pitcher is getting more drop on their changeup than Webb, who has 6.5 inches of extra drop vs. the average changeup. At 87.4 mph with 40.5 inches of drop, it's one of baseball's nastiest pitches that Webb also commands with sparkling control. Because Webb is consistently locating it at the bottom of the zone, hitters either hit it into the ground (71.8% groundball rate) or swing through it (28.4% whiff rate).

, splitter
-14 Run Value

Swanson has nearly doubled his splitter usage from last year up to 49.8% and that's for good reason; it's the best splitter by run value and one of the top overall pitches in the Majors at the halfway point. In 103 plate appearances ending with Swanson's splitter, hitters have a measly .104 BA and .229 SLG. What makes this splitter especially dangerous is that it's both an out pitch and one that Swanson can throw for strikes. Hitters are whiffing on 34.8% of swings against the splitter while Swanson is throwing it in the strike zone 51.3% of the time, well above the league-average mark of 37.1% on splitters.