Being able to mix pitches is a hallmark of good pitching technique, but not everyone has more than a few offerings they can really count on. Even the best pitchers in the sport will lean on one, two and maybe three pitches primarily while sprinkling in another pitch or two here and there.
Deciding which pitches to feature and which ones to use on a rainy day is typically a simple endeavor. A pitcher’s level of comfort and effectiveness with the pitch usually dictates the decision, although fluctuations in pitch usage from year to year for some pitchers shows that these things are not ironclad.
But what if you could assemble an arsenal of five pitches that was elite across the board? The Red Sox’s pitching staff in 2019 did not feature any single pitcher who boasted such a repertoire, but by their powers combined, maybe they could. Here is the best five-pitch combination you could assemble if you could select from every Red Sox pitcher’s offerings from 2019.
Before we get started, let’s go over the ground rules. Although the primary metric we’ll be using to make this decision are the pitch value metrics from FanGraphs, I’ll also be taking into account how frequently pitches were thrown and the overall success of the pitchers throwing them. In addition, we’ll only be looking at pitchers who threw at least 50 innings. Now let’s get to it.
Fastball - Eduardo Rodriguez
Rodriguez was easily the Red Sox’s most effective starter in 2019 so it makes all the sense in the world that his fastball, the bread and butter of most hurlers, was the best on the team. He set a team-high mark of 10.8 weighted fastball runs with his heater, which he threw 54.6 percent of the time with an average velocity of 93.2 miles per hour. Although that’s not the same type of sizzle you might get from other flamethrowers such as Nathan Eovaldi — who averaged 97.5 miles per hour — Rodriguez was able to locate this pitch and use it more effectively in combination with everything else at his disposal.
Changeup - Eduardo Rodriguez
I was originally only going to include only one pitch per pitcher, but Rodriguez’s changeup was just so much better than anyone else’s that I changed my mind. As a near perfect compliment to his fastball, Rodriguez’s changeup clocked in at 5.9 weighted changeup runs. He was one of only three pitchers on the roster to post a positive number in that metric, with Chris Sale (1.8) and Colten Brewer (0.2) a distant second and third, respectively. Rodriguez threw his changeup the second-most often (23.6 percent) and at an average velocity of 87.8 miles per hour.
Slider - Hector Velazquez
Wait. Where is Sale? Although Sale had one of the better sliders on the roster once again in 2019, his down year saw his slider fall below its usual effectiveness, at least on a consistency basis. The lefty did lead the team with 5.7 weighted slider runs, but he came in fifth in slider runs per 100 pitches while his velocity on the pitch fell below 80 miles per hour on average. Meanwhile, Velazquez nearly matched Sale’s weighted slider runs output (5.4) while throwing it harder (83.8 miles per hour) and more effectively on a per 100 pitches basis (team-high 3.31 weighted slider runs per 100 pitches). Sample size plays a large role in this outcome, as Sale threw his slider 38.4 percent of the time while Velazquez threw his at a 16.6 percent rate. However, the numbers weigh in Velazquez’s favor in terms of effectiveness so while Sale has the better all-time slider and uses his more often, in 2019, by the metrics Velazquez was a bit better.
Curveball - Brandon Workman
The Red Sox’s staff had some pretty good curveballs this season, with Workman, Matt Barnes and even David Price all featuring some effective offerings. Workman’s won out because he led the team in weighted curveball runs (12.3) while ranking second in weighted curveball runs per 100 pitches (2.1) behind David Price, who only threw his 2.5 percent of the time. In contrast, Workman threw his curveball 47 percent of the time, which was more often than he threw any other pitch. That type of effectiveness with that type of volume is a dangerous combination.
Cutter - Marcus Walden
This is, if you’ll pardon the pun, another clear cut decision. Walden outpaced everyone on the team in both weighted cutter runs (9.8) and weighted cutter runs per 100 pitches (2.87) while ranking second in cutter usage rate (26.8 percent). That wouldn’t be too bad a pitch to have as your fifth offering.