Who had the most dominant pitch of 2016? It's not the same thing as who had the best pitch or the most effective pitch, because those are very different questions. After two years of Statcast™, we know that pitchers do exert a certain amount of control over the type of contact they allow, and a pitcher who can prevent exit velocity can be effective even if he's not missing bats. (Collin McHugh's curveball allowed the lowest pitch-specific exit velocity, at 81.4 mph, for example.) If you can miss bats and limit hard contact, then you're a star.
That's not the question we're asking, though. What we're interested in simply the purest outcome of the pitcher/hitter battle, which is when the hitter tries to make contact and fails. Yes, called strikes are good. Yes, poor contact is good. But there's nothing quite like a hitter swinging-and-missing entirely, is there? So which pitches collected the highest whiff rates (swinging strikes per swings), among those with at least 100 pitches thrown? You'll see some familiar names here, but others may surprise you.
Maybe you're surprised that we're starting with the changeup, when traditionally the fastball ought to lead these lists. We're doing it because Rivero's change might have been the most unhittable pitch in the game last year -- and it's a big part of why the mostly-disliked trade that sent him to Pittsburgh along with Taylor Hearn for Mark Melancon may end up being a steal for the Pirates.
Change-ups, swing&miss rate vs batting average. This is why I love Felipe Rivero, and liked Melancon trade for Pittsburgh. pic.twitter.com/L805S5aOJj
Four of these names make a tremendous amount of sense. Of course Chapman and his historic velocity are going to collect whiffs. Of course Hill and his high-spin fastball that works in conjunction with his high-spin curveball would be on this list, and the same goes for Edwards. Familia has become one of the more dominant relievers in the game. This all makes sense.
But none of them have the whiff rate of Vincent, who has quietly been a strong reliever in five years for the Padres and Mariners, striking out 226 against only 54 walks. Last year, that fastball allowed just a .194 average against, despite the fact he averaged just 90 mph. So why wasn't Vincent more successful? Because his slider wasn't nearly as effective, and it's tough to be a one-pitch righty without elite velocity.
Britton's sinker may be the single best pitch in baseball, because not only did he generate the second-highest ground-ball rate of any sinker (behind only Kansas City's Scott Alexander), he had by far the highest whiff rate on the pitch as well. As we further incorporate the quality of exit velocity allowed into pitch rankings, it's very possible that Britton's combination of whiffs, low exit velocity and grounder-friendly launch angles make this baseball's greatest pitch. Even without all that, it's still the most difficult sinker to make contact with.
It's OK if you don't know Romero, because part of the fun here is finding pitchers with quietly good skills. Last year, he had a 5.91 ERA with Tampa Bay, in large part because of huge trouble throwing strikes, as he walked 28 in 45 2/3 innings. But Romero averages 96.7 mph on his four-seamer, and he has the cutter that hitters can't touch when they swing. So considering he's only turning 26 this year, you understand why the Rays stick with him. There's raw, untapped talent here.
It's worth noting that the Rays have the top two names here, as the underrated Colome comes in second, and the flamethrowing Paxton is close behind in third, which is part of the reason we named him one of 2017's breakout pitchers. (Kenley Jansen and his famous cutter, by the way, came in ninth.)
Most impressions of Giles are colored by the fact that after requiring a huge price to extract him from Philadelphia, he then allowed 10 earned runs with a 9.00 ERA in April. That being the case, it was easy to miss just how great he was after that, whiffing 88 in 55 2/3 innings from May 1 on, allowing four homers in the final five months after allowing four homers just in April. While Giles throws hard, his fastball (.378/.456/.622 against) was crushed, but his slider (.093/.140/.186 and huge whiff rates) was elite.
You'll notice Giles' Houston teammate Gregerson here as well, but it's Diaz who should stand out. His overall strikeout percentage of 40.6 in his rookie season matched Chapman's, and it's not all because of fastball velocity. It's because Gregerson's slider is a truly elite swing-and-miss pitch.
Kimbrel's deadly curve has been a huge weapon of his for years, and while it does have good movement, a non-unrelated fact is that he also leads the curveball list in velocity, as his comes in at an average of 87.3 mph. Second on that list is Vizcaino, at 85.8 mph. Who, you're asking, is Godley? Part of Arizona's return for Miguel Montero from the Cubs, four of his five pitches were absolutely crushed in 2016. The fifth, however, was that curve, which allowed a mere .186/.231/.267 line against.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.