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10 Most Effective Pitches Of 2023

2023 was another great year of baseball. So, as the year comes to a close, now is a good time to look back at some of the best things it had to offer.

There are a number of topics that could be discussed. There were plenty of great plays. Numerous moments we’ll never forget. Some remarkable statistics and milestones were met by some of the game’s best players. And a player signed a contract for $700 million!

That being said, to recap the year, I came up with this idea: finding out what the 10 most effective pitches were.

Why? Well, I was interested in researching and finding out the answer.

I’ll start by going over the criteria used and then get into the pitches themselves. I’m not going to rank them, though. For my own sake, I just settled on naming them all worthy enough of finishing in the top 10.


Criteria

In order to come up with this list, I utilized Baseball Savant’s Pitch Arsenal Stats Leaderboard. I used a minimum of 100 plate appearances in which a specific pitch was used to find the ones that were thrown more than just a handful of times.

Some pitchers only appeared in a small amount of games and used a pitch not even 20 times. It wouldn’t make much sense for one of those to qualify for this list. The sample size would be way too small.

For example, AJ Smith-Shawver of the Atlanta Braves threw his changeup 48 times in 11 different plate appearances this past season. While the batting average and slugging percentage against his changeup were both .000, there’s not a large enough sample to deem it one of the most effective pitches of the year.

I looked at numbers such as run value and run value per 100 pitches thrown. I used hitters’ batting average, slugging percentage, and weighted on-base average, along with each of their expected counterparts, against a specific pitch, too. Hard-hit rate, whiff percentage, and put-away percentage were also used.

This isn’t a perfect list. And maybe those aren’t the most perfect numbers to use. But for the sake of accessibility and simplicity, they’re the ones I looked at.

I also didn’t crown a pitch worthy of being in the top 10 just because it was in the top three of one or two of the statistical leaderboards just mentioned. I tried to find pitches that regularly sat in the top 10 to 15 spots for most of them.

So, for instance, Gerrit Cole‘s four-seam fastball was the top pitch in the game in 2023 in regards to run value. But, it didn’t crack the top 10 in any other category. For that reason, I didn’t deem it worthy of being named one of the top 10 most effective pitches of 2023.

Again, this isn’t a ranked list. It’s just a compilation, in no specific order, of the 10 most effective pitches of 2023.

If you think this list is wrong, or there is another pitch that should be considered, please feel free to let us know.


Cole Ragans‘ Changeup

Ragans was traded from the eventual World Series champion Texas Rangers to the Kansas City Royals in late June. He was one of two players Kansas City acquired in return for lefty Aroldis Chapman.

Ragans, now 26, appeared in 29 games in ’23, posting a 3.47 ERA across 96 innings. He was rather impressive with the Royals, making 12 starts, finishing with a 2.64 ERA and 2.49 FIP in 71 2/3 innings pitched, and striking out 31.1% of the batters he faced.

The southpaw used his changeup 23.7% of the time. It was his second-most used pitch behind his four-seam fastball.

Here’s a bit more on Ragans’ changeup:

StatisticTotalRank
Run Value Per 100 Thrown2.88th
Slugging Percentage Against.19211th
Hard-Hit Rate Against20%9th
Statistics for Cole Ragans’ changeup from the 2023 season courtesy of Baseball Savant.

And here’s a glance at what the pitch looked like:


Evan Phillips‘ Sweeper

Phillips was one of the more effective relievers in baseball in ’23. He appeared in 62 games, finishing 36 of them and picking up 24 saves along the way. He tossed 61 1/3 innings and posted a 2.05 ERA, 0.832 WHIP, 28.2% strikeout rate, and 5.6% walk rate.

The right-hander used his sweeper 45.5% of the time. Opponents swung and missed at the breaking ball 42.1% of the time. The put-away rate of Phillips’ sweeper was 29.4%.

Here’s how batters performed against the right-hander’s sweeper:

StatisticTotalRank
Batting Average Against.1116th
Slugging Percentage Against.19412th
Weight On-Base Average Against.1656th
Statistics for Evan Phillips’ sweeper from the 2023 season courtesy of Baseball Savant.

And here’s what Phillips’ sweeper looked like when compared to his fastball:


Kyle Bradish‘s Curveball

The right-handed Bradish was the ace of the 101-win Baltimore Orioles this year and one of the better pitchers in his league. Across 30 starts, he had a 2.83 ERA, 3.27 FIP, and 1.043 WHIP. His ERA was third-best in the American League, while his FIP and WHIP were the fifth- and fourth-lowest marks in the league. Overall, Bradish’s 4.9 bWAR was third-best in the AL.

Bradish used his curve just 17.3% of the time – it was his fourth-most used pitch – but it was very effective for him.

Here’s further analysis of Bradish’s curve:

StatisticTotalRank
Run Value Per 100 Thrown3.43rd
Batting Average Against.14212th
Slugging Percentage Against.1655th
Weighted On-Base Average Against.152t-4th
Statistics for Kyle Bradish’s curveball from the 2023 season courtesy of Baseball Savant.

On top of that, this is what Bradish’s curveball looked like:


Devin Williams‘ Changeup

Williams has solidified himself as one of the best relievers in baseball in recent years. He continued to prove that point in ’23.

For the Milwaukee Brewers, the 2020 National League Rookie of the Year made 61 appearances, racking up the fifth-most saves in the sport (36), while posting a 1.53 ERA and striking out 87 hitters.

Williams threw his changeup 549 times and got batters to swing and miss at it 42.2% of the time.

Here’s a closer look at some of the numbers for the reliever’s changeup:

StatisticTotalRank
Run Value14t-12th
Run Value Per 100 Thrown2.610th
Expected Batting Average Against.151t-8th
Expected Slugging Percentage Against.25616th
Batting Average Against.097t-4th
Slugging Percentage Against.1877th
Statistics for Devin Williams’ changeup from the 2023 season courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Now, here’s some video of Williams’ changeup, aka “The Airbender”:


Tyler Glasnow‘s Curveball

Glasnow, now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the foreseeable future, posted a 3.53 ERA in ’23 for the Tampa Bay Rays. He finished an even 120 innings in 21 starts, finishing with a 2.91 FIP, 1.083 WHIP, and 162 strikeouts.

The six-foot, eight-inch righty mainly used a fastball-slider combination this year but mixed in his curve 21.3% of the time.

Here’s a further breakdown of Glasnow’s curveball:

StatisticTotalRank
Whiff Rate51.6%7th
Batting Average Against.0933rd
Slugging Percentage Against.1909th
Weighted On-Base Average Against.1372nd
Statistics for Tyler Glasnow’s curveball from the 2023 season courtesy of Baseball Savant.

And now here’s a peak at what Glasnow’s curveball looked like:


Will Smith‘s Slider

Smith is not only a man who has been a member of the last three World Series champions — the Braves in 2021, Houston Astros in 2022, and Rangers this year — but he also had one of baseball’s most effective pitches this year.

Smith was right around league average in terms of run prevention, indicated by his 102 ERA+ in 60 appearances. He also recorded 22 saves for Texas.

Despite his lack of elite run prevention, Smith possessed a very good slider.

The left-hander used that pitch 50.1% of the time, and hitters had a hard time hitting it:

StatisticTotalRank
Run Value Per 100 Thrown3.91st
Expected Batting Average Against.151t-8th
Expected Slugging Percentage Against.230t-8th
Batting Average Against.1208th
Slugging Percentage Against.21314th
Weighted On-Base Average Against.152t-4th
Statistics for Will Smith’s slider from the 2023 season courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Here’s some video of the southpaw’s slider:


Kodai Senga‘s Forkball

Senga’s first season in the majors with the New York Mets after coming over from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball was very good. The 30-year-old right-hander finished his rookie campaign with 202 strikeouts across 166 1/3 innings in 29 starts. His 2.98 ERA was second-lowest in the National League, while his 4.5 bWAR was third-best.

The right-hander was named to his first All-Star team in ’23, while finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting and seventh in the NL Cy Young Award race.

Aside from Senga’s overall presence in the big leagues, seeing how major-league batters would fare against his forkball, nicknamed “The Ghost Fork,” was much anticipated.

It’s safe to say the pitch lived up to the hype:

StatisticTotalRank
Whiff Rate59.5%1st
Hard-Hit Rate22.2%t-11th
Expected Batting Average Against.1033rd
Expected Slugging Percentage Against.1472nd
Expected Weighted On-Base Average Against.1866th
Batting Average Against.1105th
Slugging Percentage Against.1473rd
Statistics for Kodai Senga’s forkball from the 2023 season courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Here’s Senga’s forkball in action:


Fernando Cruz‘s Splitter

Cruz wasn’t great from an overall perspective for the Cincinnati Reds in ’23. His 93 ERA+ in 66 innings pitched indicates he was a slightly below-league-average pitcher in terms of run prevention. However, his 98 strikeouts in that workload resulted in a 33.6% strikeout rate, the fifth-highest among qualified relievers in the National League.

Without being a very effective pitcher, the 33-year-old did possess a very effective splitter, which he used 35.9% of the time:

StatisticTotalRank
Run Value Per 100 Thrown2.7t-9th
Whiff Rate56.7%2nd
Put-Away Rate33.5%t-1st
Batting Average Against.0942nd
Slugging Percentage Against.1544th
Weighted On-Base Average Against.152t-4th
Statistics for Fernando Cruz’s splitter from the 2023 season courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Here’s some video of Cruz’s splitter:


Sonny Gray‘s Sweeper

Gray, now a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, pitched in ’23 as a member of the Minnesota Twins. His performance, a 2.79 ERA in 32 starts with a major-league-leading 2.83 FIP, was good enough for him to finish second in American League Cy Young Award voting.

Gray’s sweeper was used 20.4% of the time, and his second-most used pitched. It was also his, along with one of the game’s, most effective pitches:

StatisticTotalRank
Run Value19t-7th
Run Value Per 100 Thrown3.2t-4th
Batting Average Against.097t-4th
Slugging Percentage Against.1181st
Weighted On-Base Average Against.1151st
Statistics for Sonny Gray’s sweeper from the 2023 season courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Here’s a couple of clips of Gray’s sweeper in use from this past season:


Blake Snell‘s Curveball

The left-handed Snell won the National League Cy Young Award this past season in large part because of his major-league-leading 2.25 ERA and 5.8 hits allowed per nine innings. The southpaw finished the season with 234 strikeouts across an even 180 innings in 32 starts.

On his way to winning his second career Cy Young Award, the now 31-year-old offered batters a look at four pitches. Behind his four-seam fastball, he used his curveball the most, throwing it 19.8% of the time. And it was extremely effective:

StatisticTotalRank
Run Value Per 100 Thrown3.52nd
Whiff Rate56.3%3rd
Put-Away Rate33.5%t-1st
Expected Batting Average Against.0992nd
Expected Slugging Percentage Against.1643rd
Expected Weighted On-Base Average Against.1493rd
Batting Average Against.0791st
Slugging Percentage Against.1402nd
Weighted On-Base Average Against.1383rd
Statistics for Blake Snell’s curveball from the 2023 season courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Here’s video of Snell’s curveball:

Bailey Digh

I've been writing for Diamond Digest since July 2022. I'm also currently a contributor for Phillies Nation. You can find me on X @bailey_digh.

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