Pitchers Who Are One Pitch Away From Taking The Next Step
Elite pitchers have three or more valuable pitches, good pitchers have two, and bad pitchers have one. Some of these pitchers below have either one or two pitches and adding or improving one more pitch could take them to a whole other level. Pitch arsenals are important for obvious reasons whether it is keeping the batter on their toes, or if one pitch isn’t working that day you have other pitches to fall back on. Kind of like if Taco Bell is closed at least you can fall back on Chipotle (yes Taco Bell is better). Honestly, is there anything better in this world than a cheesy gordita crunch?!
Jakob Junis is probably the best one pitch pitcher on the planet. In 2019 he pitched 175.1 innings while providing a stellar 5.24 ERA (sarcasm). Junis makes this list because of his amazing, spectacular, superior slider.
Last year Junis slider was everything you wanted to see with a 34.0 O-Swing%, 40.0 Zone%, and 17.3 SwStr%. Junis utilized his slider really well and he, of course, used it often in two-strike counts. His slider was ranked seventh in swing and misses in a two-strike count. In other words, he was super efficient at getting batters to chase when he had them backed into a corner. In terms of break, Junis has an 8.32 horizontal break on his slider which is a ton of movement. When it comes to left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters it doesn’t matter, both sides of the plate put up an average against of .183 or lower.
Obviously, his slider is great, but his other pitches aren’t so great. His four-seam had a 183 wRC+ against with an HR/FB of 21.7%. The utilization of his four-seam was just brutal, in 2019 it put up a -15.1 pVAL. His sinker was even worse with a .350 batting average against and measly 4.5 SwStr%. He threw a changeup at times but didn’t get any swing and misses and it only had a six to seven MPH difference than his fastballs. His final pitch is his curveball which posted a lackluster .395 wOBA and .280 batting average against.
Proposal: Junis curveball has potential, it has extreme horizontal break and does show potential with a 25.6 Whiff%. He started using it more in the second half of last year and his deserved ERA went from 5.09 to 4.58, still not good but it is an improvement. What he needs to do is stop leaving his curveball in the zone. It has a way to high 48.2 Zone% and if he can start hitting the edges or getting hitters to chase out of the zone we could see Junis go from non-rosterable to a back end starter.
Trevor Richards didn’t have the best 2019, as a starter he had a 4.38 ERA, .321 wOBA, and 4.61 FIP. He was traded from the Miami Marlins to the Tampa Bay Rays and primarily used in relief after that. He did start three times for the Rays and faired rather well putting up 14.1 innings with a 2.55 ERA. There doesn’t seem to be a spot for Richards in the Rays rotation and he will most likely be a bullpen arm.
Richards is known for his fantastic changeup that he places really well in the bottom corners of the strike zone. It has some nice horizontal movement to it where it breaks hard right. While the 17.0 SwStr%, .207 batting average against, and 3.8 Barrel% are all great; what is most impressive is the 51.1 O-Swing%. When it came to hitters taking swings in the chase zone against changeups, Richards was ranked sixth overall. When it came to swings and misses in the chase zone he was ranked tenth. His changeup was also ranked second in RPM’s among starters.
With Richards awesome changeup the question is what other pitch can he go to? Richards did throw two breaking balls a slider and curveball but both were extremely lacking. Neither of them produced an O-Swing% of 20.0% or higher and neither of them had an SwStr% of 6.3 or higher. The four-seam was okay but with a .338 wOBA and 116 wRC+, it could have been better.
Proposal: Richards four-seam certainly has potential as he knows how to use it well (2.9 pVAL). It also produced a decent SwStr% of 9.4, but the hard contact was a pretty big issue as it produced a 10.1 Barrel% and .424 xwOBAcon. This all has to do with location, throughout most of the year Richards was leaving this pitch in the middle of the strike zone. But in the last two months, you can see he really raised the location and was constantly putting it up in the zone. With the above-average rise on his fastball and his newfound command, we could see Richards having one of the better fastball/changeup combinations in the game, whether he is a starter or reliever.
Joey Lucchesi had a decent year last year posting a 4.18 ERA, 4.17 FIP, and 14.9 K-BB%. Lucchesi certainly has a high floor and every year will seem like a safe bet for around a four ERA. The problem with him is the low strikeout upside and lack of third pitch.
Lucchesi has a fantastic fastball/changeup combo. His sinker produced a .264 batting average against, 51.7 GB%, and 57.5 Zone%. While there are some flaws to his sinker he knows how to utilize it well and create weak contact. The changeup is his go-to strikeout pitch with a 16.8 SwStr% and 7.4 pVAL. Lucchesi also throws a four-seam fastball or cutter (depending on the website) but with a .310 expected batting average against and a .369 xwOBA, Lucchesi should be looking the other way.
Proposal: Luchessi has two solid pitches that he utilizes well. The looming question of a third pitch is the issue and it is what’s keeping him from reaching the next level and becoming an above-average pitcher. The solution seems to be an entirely new pitch for him. In Jeff Zimmerman’s mining the news (can be seen here), word got out that Lucchesi was working on a mystery pitch. Whether that pitch will be legitimate or not is the question. But if he does develop a third pitch and one that causes hitters to chase, Lucchesi can certainly become an above-average pitcher.
More Food References
There are plenty more pitchers out there that could really use a second or third pitch. To reiterate, having a deep arsenal is extremely important when it comes to fooling hitters or having another pitch to fall back on. Just to bring in more food references and perhaps more controversy it is like if McDonald’s is closed at least you have Burger King (Wendys sucks), or if Dominos is closed you at least have Papa Johns (although it isn’t even close). Well, thanks for reading, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions!