Most followers of the game of baseball are familiar with Baseball Savant (or Statcast) by now. The site is used to dig deep into the analytical side of the game and frequently uses stats with silly names but important meanings like xwOBACON and xISO.
Really, it's the ultimate tool for baseball nerds. Complete with percentiles for all major stats on your favorite players, Savant truly is an incredibly helpful tool to help determine just how valuable a certain player - and his skillset - is on any given day.
Recently, Savant paired with Rob Friedman, best known by his "Pitching Ninja" moniker, to create a new stat of sorts called a "sword". This is best defined by a pitch that causes a poor/weak/embarrassing (you name it) swing by the opposition. Last year, Dylan Cease led the league in swords with 55, while Spencer Strider was second with 52 and Pablo Lopez was third with 47.
The rules on what makes a sword a sword are simple:
- Be a swinging strike (no fouls)
- Cross the front face of home plate
- Have bat speed that is in the 10th percentile or lower for that specific player
- Be an "incomplete swing"
David Adler of MLB.com took a look at the best of the best when it comes to initiating a "sword".
- Michael Kopech generated 15 of them with his fourseam fastball last year.
- Jordan Montgomery generated 9 of them with his sinker.
- Framber Valdez generated 14 with his cutter.
- Strider generated 45 (!!) with his slider.
- Sonny Gray generated 23 with his sweeper.
- Blake Snell generated 28 with his curveball.
- Zac Gallen generated 29 with his knuckle-curve.
- Kodai Senga generated 17 with his unique forkball.
Then, to round out the list, there are a whopping three Blue Jays pitchers featured. This speaks volumes to the amount of pure filth the arms on the pitching staff has.
- Jose Berrios generated 23 swords with his "slurve", which is a pitch best defined as a mixture of a slider and a curveball.
- Trevor Richards' changeup, widely regarded as one of the best in the league, generated 22.
- Kevin Gausman's world-famous splitter generated 14 of its own.
The Berrios Slurve
Adler writes that Berrios's slurve played a major role in his turnaround in 2023, and he's right on with that. The pitch, classified more as a straight curveball by Pitcher List, was by all means an above-average offering and easily earned a Run Value of +5 per Statcast.
Thrown just a hair under 30 percent of the time last year, Berrios allowed the opposition to hit just .216 (league average on curveballs was .253) while generating both ground and flyballs at a high rate. The 15.6 inches of horizontal movement also rated as well above average and it's no wonder the PLUS% (essentially how often the pitch earned a positive result for the pitcher) was just under 57 on the season.
On the season, the 29-year-old went 11-12 with a 3.65 ERA and 116 ERA+ across a full 32-start showing. He experienced a significant improvement in pretty much every single major category for pitchers and even brought home a Gold Glove at season's end for good measure.
The Richards Changeup
You don't need me to tell you this, but the changeup that Richards throws is just disgusting. The right-hander uses it as his main pitch to excellent results. Last year, batters hit just .165 off of it and the PLUS% on it was 61.
In addition, his change ranked in the 92nd percentile in swinging-strike percentage and the 96th in called strikes + whiffs. While Berrios's slurve having a +4 Run Value was impressive, Richards and his changeup earned an excellent Run Value of +8. He also had 36.9 inches of drop and 15.5 inches of horizontal movement, which is insane out of a changeup.
All year long, the changeup in Richards's arsenal was utterly ridiculous, but his results decreased in a big way in the second half. This could easily be because he never fully recovered from his mid-season injury and was playing hurt, but there's still a lot to be happy with from a reliever that finished the year with over 100 strikeouts (105 total, 78 coming on the changeup).
All told, the 30-year-old made it into 56 contests in 2023 and wound up with a 4.95 ERA, 4.22 FIP and 86 ERA+. He is still on the Blue Jays' "roster bubble", but his job should be safe unless there are multiple new additions made to the club that makes someone like Richards expendable.
Similar to how Berrios's slurve helped him return to glory, Gausman's splitter is largely responsible for his emergence into an annual Cy Young contender. The right-hander has gotten over 100 strikeouts on the splitter alone in each of the past three seasons, including 127 last year (50 more than any other pitcher in the league).
Gausman used his splitter just over 38 percent of the time in 2023, using the pitch to finish in the 79th percentile in swinging-strike percentage and 82nd in called strikes + whiffs. The opposition managed to hit just .201 against the offering last year, which is much better than the .222 league average.
The right-hander's Pitching Run Value on the year was in the 90th percentile, while his Fastball Run Value was in the 95th. Through and through, it's easy to see why his repertoire earned him a third place finish in the AL Cy Young voting.