The UN-Luckiest Pitches in the Majors This Year

Last time, we found out that Roy Oswalt possessed one of the luckiest fastballs in baseball this year. But did you know he also possessed the most unlucky pitch in ALL OF BASEBALL this year?

Two weeks ago, we took a look at what individual pitches in baseball were the luckiest pitches in baseball all year, or rather we looked at the pitches that owed most of their success to outside factors other than the pitcher himself.  We did this by looking at the differences between the expected run values for individual pitches and the actual run values, as often seen on fangraphs (under Pitch Type Run Values).  For more on the failures of run values and the differences between expected and normal run values, see the last article.

Today we're going to look at the opposite: the individual pitches that are the UNluckiest* pitches in baseball.  These are pitches that look mediocre to poor (generally) if you look them up on fangraphs, but really have just been affected by other factors to an extent that their run values and results are really misleading.

*I'm not sure if unluckiest is an actual word, but I like it, so there.

Obvious note:  I'm calling these pitches "unlucky" but of course it's totally possible that something about these pitches is really causing these worse results.  But it's far more likely in most cases that these pitches are suffering the worst effects of random variation.

*Minor Housekeeping Note:  The Pitch classifications for the data in this post come from MLBAM classifications and involve me combining different pitch types (Splitters and change-ups in particular) at times due to how the algorithm works.  This may result in slightly different numbers than on Fangraphs or elsewhere. 

NOTE THAT IN ALL OF THE TABLES BELOW, NEGATIVE RUN VALUES ARE GOOD FOR PITCHERS, WHILE POSITIVE RUN VALUES ARE BAD FOR PITCHERS (The Reverse of how Fangraphs does it)

The Top 5 Unluckiest Four-Seam Fastballs

Pitcher Name Expected Run Value Per 100 Pitches (RVe100) Run Value Per 100 Pitches (RV100) Total Expected Run Value Total Run Value Difference between RV100 and RVe100 Difference between Total Run Value and Expected Run Value
Bobby Parnell -1.453 +0.699 -6.247 +3.005 +2.152 +9.252
Kyle Davies +0.394 +2.399 +2.133 +12.953 +2.004 +10.820
AJ Burnett +0.082 +1.971 +0.892 +21.448 +1.889 +20.556
Chris Tillman -1.074 +0.767 -7.218 +5.157 +1.841 +12.374
Fausto Carmona -0.028 +1.805 -0.098 6.316 +1.833 +6.414
Max Scherzer -0.720 +0.702 -12.483 +12.161 +1.422 +24.645

Table 1: The Unluckiest Four-Seam Fastballs and their Expected and Actual Run Values

The Mets' new closer Bobby Parnell showcases a four-seam fastball that averages in the high 97s and often breaks 100.  But results wise - as seen in the actual run values on the pitch - it really has not been impressive this year.  But this appears to be mainly the result of bad luck, in fact the worst in baseball on a per pitch basis for a 4-seam fastball.  Expect results to change. 

Kyle Davies, AJ Burnett, and Fausto Carmona* all of four fastballs that simply aren't good at all, but bad luck makes look an awful lot worse than they are (Especially AJ, whose fastball has been hit HARD).  Chris Tillman actually does have a good four-seamer, but you wouldn't know it from the results of the pitch. 

*Note Carmona's pitches may be misclassified sinkers.  I'm not sure how much I trust these classifications here.

And then there's Max Scherzer.  I sort of cheated with Scherzer here - he's NOT the guy with the 6th most unlucky 4-seamer on average this year.  However because he's thrown SO MANY four-seamers (1733 as of 8/30, good for 4th most in baseball), his fastball's "bad luck" (factors beyond its control) has had the greatest impact on ANY pitch's results in the Majors.  This is not a bad pitch (it's not amazing either) but the bad luck has been enough to turn a pitch that should have saved 12 runs into one that's been 12 runs worse than average.  Ummm wow.  Don't expect that pitch to look so poor in the future.

The Top 5 Unluckiest Two-Seam Fastballs/Sinkers

(Note that Fangraphs doesn't differentiate between two-seam and four-seam fastballs)

Pitcher Name Expected Run Value Per 100 Pitches (RVe100) Run Value Per 100 Pitches (RV100) Total Expected Run Value Total Run Value Difference between RV100 and RVe100 Difference between Total Run Value and Expected Run Value
Carl Pavano -0.865 +1.568 -6.488 +11.763 +2.433 +18.25
Wandy Rodriguez -0.127 +2.190 -0.645 +11.145 +2.316 +11.79
Ricky Nolasco -0.186 +1.902 -0.653 +6.677 +2.088 +7.33
Chad Billingsley -0.277 +1.752 -1.384 +8.744 +2.029 +10.128
Aaron Harang -0.497 +1.398 -4.029 +11.336 +1.895 +15.364

Table 2: The Unluckiest Two-Seam Fastballs and their Expected and Actual Run Values

Carl Pavano has had some pretty bad luck on his two-seamer/sinker this year, changing the pitch from a pretty decent pitch to an awful pitch. 

The next three guys on this list all have pretty mediocre two-seam fastballs, but bad luck seemingly has transformed them into pitches that have looked really bad this year at times. 

Aaron Harang marks the first guy we've seen to have a pitch be among the most unlucky AND to have a top 5 lucky pitch be in his arsenal.  Unfortunately, Harang throws this fastball far more often than his curveball, so the bad luck on this fastball more than overwhelms the good luck on his curveball.

Oh yeah and Ricky Nolasco being on a list of things that are unlucky?  Shocking (Not Really).  He's one guy who's "bad luck" may simply be the result of something he does as a pitcher.

The Top 5 Unluckiest Cutters/Cut-Fastballs (using MLBAM Classifications)*

*MLBAM has special issues with cutters - it has a hard time telling them apart from sliders or fastballs at times, so take the numbers here with a little grain of salt.

Pitcher Name Expected Run Value Per 100 Pitches (RVe100) Run Value Per 100 Pitches (RV100) Total Expected Run Value Total Run Value Difference between RV100 and RVe100 Difference between Total Run Value and Expected Run Value
Jon Niese -1.723 +0.760 -7.305 +3.221 +2.482 +10.525
Colby Lewis -1.717 +0.636 -4.053 +1.502 +2.353 +5.555
Nick Blackburn -0.499 +1.363 -1.815 +4.949 +1.863 +6.765
Alfredo Aceves -1.365 +0.353 -4.026 +1.042 +1.718 +5.068
Cliff Lee -1.898 -0.233 -11.673 -1.433 +1.665 +10.240

Table 3: The Unluckiest Four-Seam Cutters and their Expected and Actual Run Values

One of the common laments from Met Fans this year is that Jon Niese has used his curveball at times pretty frequently.  After all, it's had some pretty poor results.  But that's mainly because it's been the most unlucky cutter in baseball this year.  According to expected run values, Jon Niese actually has the 7th best cutter in baseball this year. 

Only Colby Lewis has had bad luck close to that of Jon Niese on his cutter.  Oddly enough, Lewis has the 8th best cutter in baseball according to expected run values this year, right behind Niese.  However, he's also only thrown 236 cutters this year, lowering the effect of such bad luck (Niese has thrown 424 cutters). 

Another strange coincidence is the presence of the 6th best cutter in baseball on this list - Cliff Lee's cutter, giving us the 6th, 7th, and 8th best cutters all on this list.  Lee has thrown the pitch a lot (615 times) so the effect of his bad luck is almost as large as the effect of Niese's bad luck. Yep, Cliff Lee is pretty good, and yet on this pitch he was UNLUCKY.

The Top 5 Unluckiest Splitters or Change-ups (using MLBAM Classifications)*

*Due to the similarities in these pitches and how they're classified, I'm combining these two pitch types, which may result in some odd results for pitchers who have both a change-up and a splitter.

Pitcher Name Expected Run Value Per 100 Pitches (RVe100) Run Value Per 100 Pitches (RV100) Total Expected Run Value Total Run Value Difference between RV100 and RVe100 Difference between Total Run Value and Expected Run Value
Roy Oswalt -1.470 +1.699 -4.264 +4.926 +3.169 +9.190
Tom Gorzelanny -1.420 +0.533 -4.146 +1.558 +1.953 +5.704
Hiroki Kuroda -0.814 +1.081 -3.287 +4.265 +1.894 +7.653
Bronson Arroyo -0.219 +1.477 -1.123 +7.562 +1.696 +8.685
Ian Kennedy -1.440 +0.255 -5.990 +1.061 +1.695 +7.050

Table 4: The Unluckiest Change-ups/Splitters and their Expected and Actual Run Values

Wow Roy Oswalt.  Wow.  Here's another guy whose name was on last article's list - then due to having the 4th most lucky two-seam fastball.  Well here's why he hasn't been lucky overall - Oswalt has the UNLUCKIEST PITCH IN BASEBALL in his change-up and it's not even close.  Don't expect for his change-up to continue to look poor in the future. 

Also notably on this list is Ian Kennedy, who's amazing fastball should have been complimented this year by a pretty damn good change-up, except bad luck has made the change-up look pretty poor.  Kennedy's arsenal, though fastball heavy, is no joke.

The Top 5 Unluckiest Sliders (using MLBAM Classifications)

Pitcher Name Expected Run Value Per 100 Pitches (RVe100) Run Value Per 100 Pitches (RV100) Total Expected Run Value Total Run Value Difference between RV100 and RVe100 Difference between Total Run Value and Expected Run Value
Jonathan Sanchez -1.299 +0.605 -4.052 +1.889 +1.904 +5.941
Jordan Lyles -0.326 +1.381 -1.006 +4.267 +1.706 +5.273
Tim Stauffer -1.039 +0.531 -7.596 +3.885 +1.571 +11.481
Scott Baker -0.782 +0.709 -4.585 +4.155 +1.492 +8.740
Ryan Dempster -2.117 -0.627 -20.109 -5.954 +1.490 +14.154

Table 5: The Unluckiest Sliders and their Expected and Actual Run Values

Ryan Dempster owns a pretty amazing slider in general during his career, but suddenly the pitch's value has dropped to merely okay this year.  That's not the result of aging, that's just bad luck.  And it's that bad luck which has mainly resulted in Dempster's ERA being inflated this year.  That slider should have contributed the 3rd most value of any slider in baseball this year.

The Top 5 Unluckiest Curveballs (using MLBAM Classifications)

Pitcher Name Expected Run Value Per 100 Pitches (RVe100) Run Value Per 100 Pitches (RV100) Total Expected Run Value Total Run Value Difference between RV100 and RVe100 Difference between Total Run Value and Expected Run Value
Jake Westbrook +0.388 +2.917 +0.904 +6.796 +2.529 +5.892
Jake Arrieta -1.603 +0.834 -4.521 +2.352 +2.437 +6.874
Ted Lilly -0.096 +2.074 -0.219 +4.728 +2.170 +4.947
Ricky Nolasco -1.372 +0.786 -4.281 +2.452 +2.158 +6.733
Luke Hochevar +0.161 +2.046 +0.476 +6.067 +1.886 +5.582

Table 6: The Unluckiest Curveballs and their Expected and Actual Run Values

Hey look it's Ricky Nolasco again, with another pit should be decent but looks horrible due to "bad luck!"  Shocking. 

Also, I'm sorry Luke Hochevar, Ted Lilly, and Jake Westbrook fans: while their curveballs have been pretty darn unlucky, all three of these guys have basically sub-average curveballs.

Conclusion:

I wouldn't take away too much from this article or the last one if your favorite pitcher was on one of these lists.  I wouldn't take away much if your favorite pitcher was on neither list; I AM showing basically only the MOST and LEAST lucky pitchers - just because a pitcher isn't on here doesn't one of his pitches hasn't been really lucky. 

But the examples here should show the danger of putting too much emphasis on pitch type run values or even the results you see of a pitch in general: a pitch may look pretty good according to the results and run values, but they may just be the beneficiary of luck, just like everything else in baseball.


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