I wasn't always a huge fan of baseball. Through my early years until around middle school, I was merely a casual fan that recognized a few players, but nothing more than Kirby Puckett, Brad Radke, pretty much the best players. However, that all changed thanks to a visit to Barnes & Noble. While perusing the sports section of the store, I discovered a book titled "The Scouting Notebook." Inside were scouting reports on hundreds of players, including a top-10 prospect list for every team. Additionally, there was information on every ballpark and manager.
Perhaps what fascinated me the most (other than seeing how goofy Minute Maid Park was shaped) was learning about the pitches for every pitcher. I was already aware of the fastball, curveball, change-up, slider, and knuckleball, but I saw that someone had a forkball. Another threw a splitter. Mike Mussina had a knuckle-curve. What's a screwball?
After purchasing that book, I realized that the baseball video games I played were often incorrect in assigning pitches to pitchers. Perhaps the most egregious one I remember was Carlos Silva - noted sinkerball pitcher, by the way - didn't even have any type of sinking fastball in his repertoire one year. You just had to watch one inning to notice that he fired sinker after sinker towards the plate, and yet the game said he was your standard four-pitch hurler: 4-seamer, change-up, curveball, and slider.
Since then, I realized that even the books had it wrong. PitchF/X was created and made publicly available, and now I rarely see a pitcher take the mound without consulting the Texas Leaguers website first. It's not as robust compared to other sites such as Brooks Baseball, but I find it cleaner and simpler to use. I find it useful to fact-check broadcasters, and it turned out it even proved Terry Ryan wrong this offseason. For some reason, a scout or Ryan himself believed Ervin Santana threw a curveball, as Ryan announced both at the press conference of Santana's signing and at my Holiday Party earlier this month. That's great, except Santana doesn't have a curveball, so keep on using your eyes, Twins scouting department!
In addition to using pitchF/X to identify a pitcher's repertoire, I also like checking on the linear weights, or "pitch values" for each pitch. You can click on that link to read the full explanation at FanGraphs, but the gist is that every outcome from a single pitch is assigned a value. Balls and strikes have small values whereas recording outs and hits have much higher values. When you add everything up at the end of the season, it gives you a rough idea of how effective a pitch was for that year. Granted, these numbers aren't in a vacuum as each pitch is dependent on what was thrown earlier, pitch location, and the batter's hitting ability. Still, I find it very useful as you can discover which pitches are most effective for a pitcher.
Using pitchF/X and pitch values, I compiled a list of the best pitches on the Twins staff. Now, I am going to look at each pitch value per 100 pitches thrown (to standardize for each pitcher) for that pitcher's career since looking at a single year is often unreliable, just like defensive stats. Pitch values per 100 (written below as w[pitch type]/C) typically run from -2.00 to +2.00, though occasionally a pitcher does have a pitch so terrible or dominant that it exceeds those thresholds. I looked at the five main pitches used by pitchers - 4-seam fastball, 2-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and change-up - and selected the best starting pitcher and reliever for each pitch. Anyone that threw a pitch less than 10% of the time was omitted. Finally, I included a GIF of each pitch, because GIFs are what make the Internet world go 'round.
SP: Phil Hughes - 0.44 wFA/C
2014 Stats: 92.0 MPH, 61.9% usage rate, 9.3 in. vertical, -4.21 in. horizontal
A 0.44 wFA/C doesn't seem like much, but this is Hughes' primary pitch so it is a little predictable to the batter and everything else for his career has been below-average. It's a little straighter than your average fastball (-5.95 in. horizontal movement) which probably explains some of his homer problems in New York, but he trusts it and just keeps firing it into the strike zone.
RP: Caleb Thielbar - 2.33 wFA/C
2014 Stats: 89.1 MPH, 31.7% usage rate, 10.96 in. vertical, 4.36 in. horizontal
I must say that I was shocked to find out that Thielbar has had the best fastball out of everyone in the 'pen. My first guess would have been Glen Perkins, but even looking at his fastball since becoming a full-time reliever, it hasn't been as good as Thielbar's. Now, he was boosted by a crazy 3.88 wFA/C in 2013, but it was still an above-average pitch for him last season as well.
SP: Kyle Gibson - (-0.03) wFT/C
2014 Stats: 92.1 MPH, 41.1% usage rate, 5.78 in. vertical, -8.15 in. horizontal
Two disclaimers should be mentioned here for Gibson's sinker. First, it's his main pitch and those will typically have lower run values if you're throwing it the most (such as Phil Hughes' fastball). Second, it was an above-average pitch last season (0.51 wFT/C), but that wasn't enough to override how terrible it was in 2013 (-1.65 wFT/C). Also, something interesting I found was that his sinker actually has slightly less movement than your average 2-seamer. Sure, the GIF looks amazing with the horizontal movement above, but I also cherry-picked one of the most impressive sinkers he threw all season.
RP: Tim Stauffer - 1.41 wFT/C
2014 Stats: 90.1 MPH, 26.8% usage rate, 5.19 in. vertical, -7.96 in. horizontal
Stauffer throws none of his 5 pitches more than 30% of the time. He also pitched in San Diego, which has an offset center field camera. Thus it was difficult for me to find a good shot of his 2-seam fastball. In fact, just watching this GIF now makes me wonder if I'm actually seeing his 4-seamer instead.
tl;dr, the offset camera should be illegal.
SP: Ricky Nolasco - 0.31 wCU/C
2014 Stats: 73.9 MPH, 14.0% usage rate, -7.53 in. vertical, 9.25 in. horizontal
Hey, Ricky Nolasco is good at something! I think everyone is a little too down on Nolasco right now, and what's interesting is that all his offspeed pitches are above-average while his fastballs are poor. His curveball has a lot more movement than your typical curve (it drops 2 inches and sweeps 4 inches more) so I wish he'd throw it more often. However, he's already throwing his fastball less than 50% of the time, and you can't exactly ditch the fastball completely.
RP: Ryan Pressly - 1.99 wCU/C
2014 Stats: 81.0 MPH, 19.9% usage rate, -5.43 in. vertical, 9.22 in. horizontal
When the Twins selected Pressly in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2013 season, a big reason they were drawn to him was his excellent curveball. It's been good to see that it's still an effective weapon in the major leagues. In spite of there being other clips out there where Pressly got a strikeout with his curve, I stuck with this one because it appeared to show more movement. Plus, I can't say no when a batter is completely fooled.
SP: Ervin Santana - 1.33 wSL/C
2014 Stats: 83.3 MPH, 33.9% usage rate, 1.66 in. vertical, 3.10 in. horizontal
I already talked about how the Twins believe that Santana throws a curveball for some reason. Truthfully, he's just like Phil Hughes in that he's just a 3-pitch pitcher. He throws his slider very often (3rd-most in 2014) so there is a bit of an injury risk with him, but he's managed to avoid significant injuries thus far in his career. With a slider as dominant as his, it makes sense to throw it as much as you possibly can, especially when his fastball and change-up rate so poorly.
RP: Ryan Pressly - 1.58 wSL/C
2014 Stats: 87.4 MPH, 33.1% usage rate, 1.88 in. vertical, 3.53 in. horizontal
Once again, this was something where I expected to see Glen Perkins. It turns out Pressly also has a solid slider, so I found it puzzling that he's generated so few strikeouts with a fastball that averages 93 MPH and two breaking pitches that rate so well in pitch values. I checked and by my count from Baseball Prospectus, Pressly generated a swing and miss about 15% of the time with his curve and 13% from his slider. Both numbers are pretty low, showing that he can use them to generate a lot of weak contact but can't seem to get the strikeout.
By the way, that GIF was literally the only slider I could find for Pressly on MLB.com. Such is life when you're a middle reliever.
SP: Tommy Milone - 0.74 wCH/C
2014 Stats: 80.3 MPH, 26.5% usage rate, 5.14 in. vertical, 10.14 in. horizontal
What do you do to fool hitters when you already throw slow? Throw even slower, apparently. Milone's change-up has great horizontal movement compared to his fastball, moving nearly 5 inches further into a lefthander. Plus, it averages about 2 extra inches from the major league average change-up. In the GIF above, it doesn't appear that it's running away from the batter because Milone throws across his body and with a three-quarters arm angle, making the pitch appear to drop straight down when really it's moving away.
RP: Tim Stauffer - 1.35 wCH/C
2014 Stats: 80.6 MPH, 17.5% usage rate, 4.00 in. vertical, -4.33 in. horizontal
Say all you want about Stauffer being a product of Petco Park, but I think he'll be just fine. Yeah, his road ERA was far worse than at home, but the Padres' divisional opponents included the Rockies and Diamondbacks, two teams with home ballparks that boost offense significantly.