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Masters of the swinging strike (blocked)

A look at which pitchers use a ball in the dirt to their advantage.

New York Mets v Detroit Tigers Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, with the new season still in its infancy, the Angels scored seven runs in the ninth inning to come back from down six and beat the Mariners. Entering that inning the Angels had a win expectancy of just 0.2 percent, but somehow they rallied to victory.

Chart via FanGraphs

While watching the Mariners collapse play out in front of me at Angel Stadium, one aspect really peaked my interest; Edwin Diaz kept throwing the ball in the dirt. Diaz is without a doubt one of the brightest young closers the game has to offer, but on this day not only could he not find the zone, he could barely find the plate. He threw seven balls in the dirt to the first five Angels hitters he faced. SEVEN!

The first one was swung at by Danny Espinosa, who’s not exactly known for his stellar plate discipline. The next six were all looked at by Angels who presumably had caught on to his wildness. As I sat there watching this implosion it made me curious: which pitchers are able to bury their offerings in the dirt effectively? Who’s the best at making hitters chase unhittable pitches?

What did Drew Butera ever do to you, Cody Allen?
Gif via MLB.com

To be honest, answering this question takes a simple Baseball Savant query, not an exhaustive study. Find the total number of pitches classified in MLB.com’s Gameday as either “Ball In Dirt” or “Swinging Strike (Blocked)” then divide the whiffs — swinging strike (blocked) — from that total number of balls in the dirt. We’ll call it the “Whiffs to Balls in Dirt Rate,” listed as WH/BD % on the following leaderboards.

First a look at the overall leaders in 2016, then a look with some more specificity.

WH/BD % Leaderboard: Overall

Player Total Pitches in Dirt Whiffs WH/BD %
Player Total Pitches in Dirt Whiffs WH/BD %
Carlos Carrasco 39 23 59.0%
Dellin Betances 59 33 55.9%
Derek Law 32 17 53.1%
Ken Giles 85 45 52.9%
Cody Allen 50 25 50.0%
Lance McCullers Jr. 53 26 49.1%
Bryan Shaw 29 14 48.3%
Nate Jones 27 13 48.1%
Craig Kimbrel 44 21 47.7%
Matt Andriese 65 31 47.7%
Ross Ohlendorf 66 31 47.0%
Will Harris 45 21 46.7%
David Robertson 52 23 44.2%
Buddy Boshers 25 11 44.0%
Stephen Strasburg 48 21 43.8%
Mark Melancon 32 14 43.8%
Michael Pineda 92 40 43.5%
Sean Manaea 60 26 43.3%
Cam Bedrosian 30 13 43.3%
Ryan Pressly 70 30 42.9%
Justin Grimm 63 27 42.9%
Kyle Barraclough 61 26 42.6%
Ivan Nova 115 49 42.6%
Brett Cecil 40 17 42.5%
Danny Duffy 57 24 42.1%
Keone Kela 31 13 41.9%
Junior Guerra 79 33 41.8%
Madison Bumgarner 108 45 41.7%
Corey Kluber 89 37 41.6%
Wade Davis 29 12 41.4%
Daniel Coulombe 29 12 41.4%
Koji Uehara 29 12 41.4%
Junichi Tazawa 46 19 41.3%
Jerad Eickhoff 85 35 41.2%
Jon Lester 85 35 41.2%
Chasen Shreve 34 14 41.2%
Pedro Strop 37 15 40.5%
Joaquin Benoit 37 15 40.5%
Jose Fernandez 116 47 40.5%
Zack Godley 82 33 40.2%
Yordano Ventura 122 49 40.2%
Nick Goody 25 10 40.0%
Patrick Corbin 153 61 39.9%
Nathan Karns 68 27 39.7%
Taylor Rogers 28 11 39.3%
Luke Gregerson 46 18 39.1%
Hector Neris 41 16 39.0%
Jameson Taillon 44 17 38.6%
Chris Devenski 52 20 38.5%
Arodys Vizcaino 39 15 38.5%
Albert Suarez 26 10 38.5%
Trevor Bauer 92 35 38.0%
Collin McHugh 147 55 37.4%
Josh Tomlin 54 20 37.0%
David Price 49 18 36.7%
Dustin McGowan 63 23 36.5%
Tyler Duffey 107 39 36.4%
Danny Farquhar 33 12 36.4%
Rubby De La Rosa 25 9 36.0%
Jon Gray 92 33 35.9%
Felipe Rivero 28 10 35.7%
Zack Greinke 119 42 35.3%
Trevor May 34 12 35.3%
Zach Duke 34 12 35.3%
Jake Barrett 43 15 34.9%
Matt Moore 112 39 34.8%
David Hernandez 46 16 34.8%
Matt Wisler 72 25 34.7%
Liam Hendriks 49 17 34.7%
Julio Teheran 52 18 34.6%
Clayton Kershaw 87 30 34.5%
Robert Stephenson 29 10 34.5%
Chris Smith 29 10 34.5%
Chris Sale 32 11 34.4%
Vince Velasquez 44 15 34.1%
Will Smith 44 15 34.1%
Michael Tonkin 44 15 34.1%
Boone Logan 56 19 33.9%
Robbie Ray 121 41 33.9%
Fernando Rodney 42 14 33.3%
Mike Foltynewicz 36 12 33.3%
Erik Goeddel 30 10 33.3%
Kyle Gibson 121 40 33.1%
Ricky Nolasco 122 40 32.8%
Joe Biagini 52 17 32.7%
Joakim Soria 49 16 32.7%
Jake Peavy 49 16 32.7%
Carlos Rodon 86 28 32.6%
Jason Hammel 117 38 32.5%
Max Scherzer 77 25 32.5%
Chris Archer 145 47 32.4%
Christian Friedrich 71 23 32.4%
Dallas Keuchel 136 44 32.4%
Jeff Samardzija 34 11 32.4%
Blake Treinen 56 18 32.1%
Michael Blazek 28 9 32.1%
Ryan Garton 25 8 32.0%
Cole Hamels 119 38 31.9%
Adam Wainwright 104 33 31.7%
Drew Smyly 164 52 31.7%
Matt Barnes 60 19 31.7%
Marcus Stroman 114 36 31.6%
Nick Tropeano 57 18 31.6%
Zach Putnam 38 12 31.6%
Chad Bettis 112 35 31.3%
Brad Hand 80 25 31.3%
Xavier Cedeno 45 14 31.1%
Mat Latos 42 13 31.0%
Tony Barnette 42 13 31.0%
James Paxton 68 21 30.9%
Matt Shoemaker 82 25 30.5%
Danny Salazar 66 20 30.3%
Luis Severino 33 10 30.3%
John Lackey 106 32 30.2%
Kendall Graveman 40 12 30.0%
Justin Verlander 77 23 29.9%
Gio Gonzalez 112 33 29.5%
A.J. Ramos 48 14 29.2%
Aaron Blair 38 11 28.9%
Yusmeiro Petit 35 10 28.6%
Roberto Osuna 35 10 28.6%
Ryan Madson 28 8 28.6%
Anthony DeSclafani 88 25 28.4%
Hisashi Iwakuma 74 21 28.4%
Mike Montgomery 53 15 28.3%
Kenta Maeda 71 20 28.2%
Trevor Cahill 50 14 28.0%
Ross Stripling 50 14 28.0%
Zach Britton 47 13 27.7%
Jeff Manship 40 11 27.5%
Blake Wood 51 14 27.5%
Johnny Cueto 73 20 27.4%
Jeurys Familia 55 15 27.3%
Michael Feliz 44 12 27.3%
Nathan Eovaldi 33 9 27.3%
Jorge De La Rosa 136 37 27.2%
Noah Syndergaard 114 31 27.2%
J.P. Howell 48 13 27.1%
Tyler Thornburg 48 13 27.1%
Ryan Dull 48 13 27.1%
Yu Darvish 52 14 26.9%
Tyler Clippard 26 7 26.9%
Addison Reed 41 11 26.8%
Dylan Bundy 41 11 26.8%
Eddie Butler 45 12 26.7%
Matt Cain 30 8 26.7%
Luis Cessa 30 8 26.7%
Jeff Hoffman 30 8 26.7%
Seung Hwan Oh 34 9 26.5%
Blake Snell 91 24 26.4%
Jerry Blevins 38 10 26.3%
Tyler Anderson 61 16 26.2%
Archie Bradley 115 30 26.1%
Wei-Yin Chen 69 18 26.1%
Tommy Milone 46 12 26.1%
Joe Blanton 46 12 26.1%
Michael Fulmer 31 8 25.8%
Tony Sipp 31 8 25.8%
Hunter Cervenka 39 10 25.6%
Kevin Gausman 90 23 25.6%
Chris Young 67 17 25.4%
Doug Fister 103 26 25.2%
Francisco Liriano 119 30 25.2%
Edinson Volquez 120 30 25.0%
Adam Warren 40 10 25.0%
Steven Matz 32 8 25.0%
Chris Capuano 32 8 25.0%
Kevin Siegrist 32 8 25.0%
Ervin Santana 162 40 24.7%
Luis Perdomo 77 19 24.7%
Mike Leake 49 12 24.5%
Alex Colome 49 12 24.5%
Braden Shipley 45 11 24.4%
Kevin Jepsen 45 11 24.4%
Brad Brach 41 10 24.4%
Francisco Rodriguez 41 10 24.4%
Raisel Iglesias 37 9 24.3%
Eduardo Rodriguez 33 8 24.2%
Adam Morgan 58 14 24.1%
George Kontos 29 7 24.1%
Mike Clevinger 25 6 24.0%
Jose Alvarez 25 6 24.0%
Wade Miley 113 27 23.9%
Zach Davies 59 14 23.7%
Jeremy Hellickson 114 27 23.7%
Andrew Cashner 106 25 23.6%
Sonny Gray 106 25 23.6%
Masahiro Tanaka 94 22 23.4%
Tyler Wilson 47 11 23.4%
Ryan Vogelsong 43 10 23.3%
Tyler Skaggs 43 10 23.3%
Tom Koehler 156 36 23.1%
Jose Quintana 104 24 23.1%
Dan Straily 91 21 23.1%
Clay Buchholz 65 15 23.1%
Dan Jennings 52 12 23.1%
Mauricio Cabrera 26 6 23.1%
Kevin Quackenbush 26 6 23.1%
Daniel Norris 26 6 23.1%
Jake Arrieta 110 25 22.7%
Jimmy Nelson 66 15 22.7%
John Gant 44 10 22.7%
Felix Hernandez 119 27 22.7%
Jarred Cosart 49 11 22.4%
Carlos Martinez 58 13 22.4%
Jonathon Niese 58 13 22.4%
Kyle Hendricks 58 13 22.4%
Matt Garza 85 19 22.4%
A.J. Griffin 45 10 22.2%
Jeremy Jeffress 27 6 22.2%
Deolis Guerra 50 11 22.0%
Drew Pomeranz 132 29 22.0%
Carlos Torres 41 9 22.0%
James Hoyt 32 7 21.9%
Jhan Marinez 32 7 21.9%
Taijuan Walker 55 12 21.8%
Scott Feldman 37 8 21.6%
Tanner Roark 102 22 21.6%
Daniel Mengden 47 10 21.3%
Enrique Burgos 33 7 21.2%
James Shields 151 32 21.2%
Juan Nicasio 57 12 21.1%
CC Sabathia 38 8 21.1%
Brandon Maurer 43 9 20.9%
Jose Berrios 43 9 20.9%
Dillon Gee 58 12 20.7%
Gerrit Cole 49 10 20.4%
Chris Rusin 49 10 20.4%
Derek Holland 64 13 20.3%
Marc Rzepczynski 55 11 20.0%
JC Ramirez 30 6 20.0%
Randall Delgado 86 17 19.8%
Wily Peralta 76 15 19.7%
Jaime Garcia 134 26 19.4%
Logan Verrett 52 10 19.2%
Reynaldo Lopez 26 5 19.2%
Colby Lewis 47 9 19.1%
Antonio Bastardo 68 13 19.1%
Edwin Jackson 63 12 19.0%
Brandon Finnegan 95 18 18.9%
Jacob deGrom 37 7 18.9%
Marco Estrada 80 15 18.8%
Carlos Villanueva 32 6 18.8%
Aaron Sanchez 70 13 18.6%
Ariel Miranda 27 5 18.5%
Jim Johnson 38 7 18.4%
Tommy Layne 33 6 18.2%
Colin Rea 39 7 17.9%
Erik Johnson 28 5 17.9%
Michael Wacha 87 15 17.2%
Shawn Tolleson 29 5 17.2%
Ian Kennedy 60 10 16.7%
Alfredo Simon 36 6 16.7%
Hansel Robles 30 5 16.7%
Ross Detwiler 30 5 16.7%
Jhoulys Chacin 67 11 16.4%
Zach Eflin 25 4 16.0%
Matthew Boyd 25 4 16.0%
Jose Urena 25 4 16.0%
Fernando Salas 44 7 15.9%
Clayton Richard 32 5 15.6%
Rick Porcello 77 12 15.6%
Adam Conley 66 10 15.2%
Tyler Chatwood 74 11 14.9%
Bud Norris 54 8 14.8%
Chris Tillman 61 9 14.8%
Josh Smith 34 5 14.7%
Ubaldo Jimenez 109 16 14.7%
Mike Fiers 96 14 14.6%
Tim Lincecum 55 8 14.5%
Keyvius Sampson 42 6 14.3%
Jesse Chavez 35 5 14.3%
Matt Harvey 28 4 14.3%
Jason Grilli 28 4 14.3%
Cesar Ramos 36 5 13.9%
Tyrell Jenkins 29 4 13.8%
Yovani Gallardo 51 7 13.7%
Anibal Sanchez 52 7 13.5%
Jared Hughes 45 6 13.3%
Carlos Estevez 30 4 13.3%
Scott Kazmir 77 10 13.0%
Jake Odorizzi 78 10 12.8%
Tom Wilhelmsen 48 6 12.5%
R.A. Dickey 65 8 12.3%
Daniel Hudson 33 4 12.1%
Jake Diekman 33 4 12.1%
J.A. Happ 83 10 12.0%
Martin Perez 118 14 11.9%
Lucas Harrell 34 4 11.8%
Erasmo Ramirez 34 4 11.8%
Jeff Locke 35 4 11.4%
Miguel Gonzalez 44 5 11.4%
Jake McGee 27 3 11.1%
Shelby Miller 55 6 10.9%
Joe Ross 37 4 10.8%
Brett Oberholtzer 40 4 10.0%
Jordan Lyles 31 3 9.7%
Steven Wright 31 3 9.7%
John Axford 32 3 9.4%
Brian Flynn 35 3 8.6%
Jake Thompson 36 3 8.3%
Jered Weaver 36 3 8.3%
Justin Nicolino 36 3 8.3%
Chase Anderson 90 7 7.8%
Hector Santiago 39 3 7.7%
Louis Coleman 26 2 7.7%
Alex Wilson 27 2 7.4%
Vance Worley 31 2 6.5%
Tim Adleman 32 2 6.3%
Paul Clemens 33 2 6.1%
Joel De La Cruz 26 1 3.8%
Mike Wright 32 1 3.1%
Minimum 25 Balls in Dirt Data via Baseball Savant

Carlos Carrasco is the whiffs-to-balls-in-dirt rate king, as batters have offered at 59 percent of the 39 pitches he bounced. It’s an interesting top 10 in that only two starters sit alongside eight relievers. In fact, if we extend the list to the top 30 pitchers, only 10 on them are starters.

One theory might be that certain relievers have complete mastery of a single breaking pitch and therefore extreme ability to manipulate it. Look at relievers in the top 10 again: Dellin Betances has the slurve; Ken Giles, Bryan Shaw, and Nate Jones have the slider; Cody Allen has the curve; and Craig Kimbrel has the knuckle-curve. All of those pitchers use that one, dynamic breaking pitch as the only thing playing off their respective fastballs. Derek Law doesn’t really fit perfectly as he’s a mostly three, sometimes four pitch pitcher who isn’t necessarily in the class of those others yet, but he’s still pretty good!

In a general sense what’s noticeable about this leaderboard is how the top is filled with some of baseball’s best pitchers and the bottom is filled with some of the game’s worst. There are exceptions of course (this is observational, not scientific) but sort the table from the from the bottom and you’ll find a group in stark contrast to the top. Here’s a scatter plot visualization for whiffs compared to total balls in the dirt with some outliers highlighted.

Chart via Baseball Savant

Look, the sample here is small and it covers just one season, but it stands to reason that the best pitchers in baseball have better control than most and a higher percentage of their balls in the dirt will be on purpose. This in turn generates more swings as the situation presumably is one in which the hitter is more likely to chase. Context of an at-bat is important, so here are the situational whiff-to-balls-in-dirt rate leaderboards. For these the minimums have been dropped because they are smaller pieces of the previous overall list.

WH/BD % Leaderboard: Pitcher Ahead

Player Total Pitches in Dirt Whiffs WH/BD %
Player Total Pitches in Dirt Whiffs WH/BD %
Dellin Betances 30 20 66.7%
Craig Kimbrel 23 15 65.2%
Junior Guerra 34 22 64.7%
Cody Allen 24 15 62.5%
Jon Lester 45 27 60.0%
Yordano Ventura 51 30 58.8%
Carlos Carrasco 24 14 58.3%
Zack Godley 33 19 57.6%
Ivan Nova 54 31 57.4%
Corey Kluber 47 27 57.4%
Ryan Pressly 35 20 57.1%
David Robertson 23 13 56.5%
Ken Giles 55 30 54.5%
Ross Ohlendorf 39 21 53.8%
Matt Andriese 41 22 53.7%
Sean Manaea 28 15 53.6%
Matt Moore 45 24 53.3%
Joaquin Benoit 21 11 52.4%
David Price 23 12 52.2%
Kyle Barraclough 33 17 51.5%
Ricky Nolasco 61 31 50.8%
Patrick Corbin 77 39 50.6%
Danny Duffy 30 15 50.0%
Jameson Taillon 22 11 50.0%
Jake Barrett 22 11 50.0%
Mark Melancon 20 10 50.0%
Lance McCullers Jr. 35 17 48.6%
Stephen Strasburg 31 15 48.4%
Luke Gregerson 27 13 48.1%
Will Smith 23 11 47.8%
Eddie Butler 21 10 47.6%
Nathan Karns 36 17 47.2%
Kyle Gibson 51 24 47.1%
Trevor Bauer 62 29 46.8%
Carlos Rodon 30 14 46.7%
Justin Grimm 26 12 46.2%
Chris Sale 24 11 45.8%
Josh Tomlin 35 16 45.7%
Trevor May 22 10 45.5%
David Hernandez 22 10 45.5%
Drew Smyly 78 35 44.9%
Madison Bumgarner 58 26 44.8%
Joakim Soria 27 12 44.4%
Matt Wisler 43 19 44.2%
Jerad Eickhoff 41 18 43.9%
Arodys Vizcaino 23 10 43.5%
Blake Wood 23 10 43.5%
Chris Archer 58 25 43.1%
Jake Peavy 28 12 42.9%
Zach Davies 28 12 42.9%
Danny Salazar 28 12 42.9%
Christian Friedrich 21 9 42.9%
John Lackey 47 20 42.6%
Justin Verlander 40 17 42.5%
Tyler Duffey 66 28 42.4%
Will Harris 33 14 42.4%
Michael Pineda 55 23 41.8%
Jason Hammel 60 25 41.7%
Jon Gray 41 17 41.5%
Cole Hamels 56 23 41.1%
Jonathon Niese 22 9 40.9%
Zach Duke 22 9 40.9%
Junichi Tazawa 22 9 40.9%
Chris Devenski 27 11 40.7%
Francisco Liriano 50 20 40.0%
Hisashi Iwakuma 40 16 40.0%
Yu Darvish 30 12 40.0%
Michael Feliz 25 10 40.0%
Vince Velasquez 25 10 40.0%
Fernando Rodney 25 10 40.0%
Mike Foltynewicz 20 8 40.0%
Koji Uehara 20 8 40.0%
Jose Fernandez 56 22 39.3%
Nick Tropeano 28 11 39.3%
Adam Wainwright 54 21 38.9%
Collin McHugh 98 38 38.8%
Zack Greinke 62 24 38.7%
Wade Miley 47 18 38.3%
Robbie Ray 55 21 38.2%
Archie Bradley 55 21 38.2%
Jimmy Nelson 34 13 38.2%
Dustin McGowan 34 13 38.2%
Matt Barnes 29 11 37.9%
Marcus Stroman 48 18 37.5%
Yusmeiro Petit 24 9 37.5%
Joe Blanton 24 9 37.5%
Mike Montgomery 24 9 37.5%
Tyler Thornburg 24 9 37.5%
Jake Arrieta 43 16 37.2%
Matt Shoemaker 46 17 37.0%
Adam Morgan 27 10 37.0%
Zach Britton 27 10 37.0%
James Paxton 30 11 36.7%
Felix Hernandez 55 20 36.4%
Chad Bettis 55 20 36.4%
Blake Snell 44 16 36.4%
Jorge De La Rosa 58 21 36.2%
Ross Stripling 25 9 36.0%
Clay Buchholz 25 9 36.0%
Max Scherzer 59 21 35.6%
A.J. Griffin 20 7 35.0%
Boone Logan 23 8 34.8%
Joe Biagini 26 9 34.6%
Matt Garza 32 11 34.4%
Jaime Garcia 60 20 33.3%
Luis Perdomo 42 14 33.3%
Brad Hand 42 14 33.3%
J.P. Howell 27 9 33.3%
A.J. Ramos 24 8 33.3%
Edwin Jackson 24 8 33.3%
Blake Treinen 24 8 33.3%
Jerry Blevins 21 7 33.3%
Gio Gonzalez 55 18 32.7%
Kevin Gausman 37 12 32.4%
Alex Colome 31 10 32.3%
Carlos Martinez 25 8 32.0%
Logan Verrett 25 8 32.0%
Adam Warren 22 7 31.8%
R.A. Dickey 22 7 31.8%
Tom Koehler 79 25 31.6%
Johnny Cueto 38 12 31.6%
Ubaldo Jimenez 35 11 31.4%
Marco Estrada 35 11 31.4%
Michael Tonkin 32 10 31.3%
Wei-Yin Chen 45 14 31.1%
Anthony DeSclafani 58 18 31.0%
Ryan Dull 29 9 31.0%
Andrew Cashner 39 12 30.8%
Bud Norris 23 7 30.4%
Doug Fister 43 13 30.2%
Kyle Hendricks 30 9 30.0%
Scott Feldman 20 6 30.0%
Clayton Kershaw 57 17 29.8%
Dallas Keuchel 75 22 29.3%
Kevin Jepsen 24 7 29.2%
Dan Jennings 31 9 29.0%
Kenta Maeda 38 11 28.9%
Ervin Santana 80 23 28.8%
Jeremy Hellickson 56 16 28.6%
Daniel Mengden 21 6 28.6%
Trevor Cahill 21 6 28.6%
Roberto Osuna 21 6 28.6%
Brandon Finnegan 25 7 28.0%
Noah Syndergaard 43 12 27.9%
Jose Quintana 58 16 27.6%
Aaron Sanchez 22 6 27.3%
Yovani Gallardo 22 6 27.3%
Liam Hendriks 34 9 26.5%
Dan Straily 38 10 26.3%
Masahiro Tanaka 42 11 26.2%
Tommy Milone 23 6 26.1%
Gerrit Cole 27 7 25.9%
Jhoulys Chacin 27 7 25.9%
Dillon Gee 31 8 25.8%
Edinson Volquez 55 14 25.5%
Tanner Roark 47 12 25.5%
Drew Pomeranz 63 16 25.4%
Jarred Cosart 20 5 25.0%
Carlos Villanueva 20 5 25.0%
Carlos Torres 20 5 25.0%
Martin Perez 38 9 23.7%
Sonny Gray 51 12 23.5%
Marc Rzepczynski 26 6 23.1%
Chris Rusin 22 5 22.7%
Tyler Chatwood 22 5 22.7%
Brandon Maurer 22 5 22.7%
Ian Kennedy 27 6 22.2%
Rick Porcello 43 9 20.9%
James Shields 60 12 20.0%
Chris Tillman 30 6 20.0%
Colby Lewis 25 5 20.0%
Randall Delgado 36 7 19.4%
Wily Peralta 31 6 19.4%
Chris Young 26 5 19.2%
Fernando Salas 21 4 19.0%
Antonio Bastardo 21 4 19.0%
Derek Holland 27 5 18.5%
Adam Conley 27 5 18.5%
Mike Fiers 44 8 18.2%
Josh Smith 22 4 18.2%
Miguel Gonzalez 22 4 18.2%
J.A. Happ 43 7 16.3%
Chase Anderson 43 6 14.0%
Keyvius Sampson 22 3 13.6%
Michael Wacha 38 5 13.2%
Anibal Sanchez 29 3 10.3%
Scott Kazmir 20 2 10.0%
Jake Odorizzi 26 2 7.7%
Minimum 20 Balls in Dirt Data via Baseball Savant

There are some of the same names in this top 10 as the overall leaderboard, with master of the splitter Junior Guerra joining the list. Percentages are mostly higher from the overall list as presumably hitters are expanding the locations in which they will swing to protect against a called strike that either puts them in a deeper hole or sends them back to the dugout.

WH/BD % Leaderboard: Pitcher Behind

Player Total Pitches in Dirt Whiffs WH/BD %
Player Total Pitches in Dirt Whiffs WH/BD %
Brad Brach 10 4 40.0%
Christian Friedrich 13 5 38.5%
Robbie Ray 18 6 33.3%
Tim Lincecum 12 4 33.3%
John Lackey 13 4 30.8%
Antonio Bastardo 10 3 30.0%
Zack Godley 11 3 27.3%
Edinson Volquez 15 4 26.7%
Andrew Cashner 27 7 25.9%
Dallas Keuchel 16 4 25.0%
Noah Syndergaard 16 4 25.0%
Taijuan Walker 12 3 25.0%
Kevin Gausman 17 4 23.5%
Tyler Anderson 13 3 23.1%
Jon Gray 14 3 21.4%
Chad Bettis 14 3 21.4%
Gerrit Cole 10 2 20.0%
Chris Archer 16 3 18.8%
Randall Delgado 11 2 18.2%
Blake Snell 17 3 17.6%
James Shields 18 3 16.7%
Michael Wacha 13 2 15.4%
Masahiro Tanaka 13 2 15.4%
Jaime Garcia 21 3 14.3%
Patrick Corbin 14 2 14.3%
Jeremy Hellickson 14 2 14.3%
Cole Hamels 15 2 13.3%
Matt Moore 17 2 11.8%
Kyle Gibson 17 2 11.8%
Wade Miley 17 2 11.8%
Jeff Manship 10 1 10.0%
Blake Treinen 10 1 10.0%
Archie Bradley 21 2 9.5%
Junior Guerra 11 1 9.1%
Blake Wood 11 1 9.1%
Drew Pomeranz 11 1 9.1%
Jon Lester 11 1 9.1%
Francisco Liriano 24 2 8.3%
Carlos Martinez 12 1 8.3%
Mike Fiers 12 1 8.3%
Clay Buchholz 12 1 8.3%
Jorge De La Rosa 26 2 7.7%
Adam Wainwright 13 1 7.7%
Corey Kluber 13 1 7.7%
Yordano Ventura 13 1 7.7%
Felix Hernandez 13 1 7.7%
Scott Kazmir 15 1 6.7%
Jake Odorizzi 15 1 6.7%
Shelby Miller 16 1 6.3%
R.A. Dickey 18 1 5.6%
Tyler Chatwood 19 1 5.3%
Tom Koehler 20 1 5.0%
Brandon Finnegan 20 1 5.0%
Ubaldo Jimenez 25 1 4.0%
Aaron Sanchez 21 0 0.0%
Martin Perez 18 0 0.0%
Ervin Santana 18 0 0.0%
Sonny Gray 15 0 0.0%
Tanner Roark 15 0 0.0%
Jason Hammel 13 0 0.0%
Drew Smyly 13 0 0.0%
Ricky Nolasco 12 0 0.0%
Jake Arrieta 12 0 0.0%
Ian Kennedy 12 0 0.0%
Tyler Duffey 12 0 0.0%
J.A. Happ 12 0 0.0%
Doug Fister 11 0 0.0%
Zack Greinke 11 0 0.0%
Marco Estrada 11 0 0.0%
Dan Straily 11 0 0.0%
Adam Conley 10 0 0.0%
Jake Thompson 10 0 0.0%
Carlos Rodon 10 0 0.0%
Nathan Karns 10 0 0.0%
Jhoulys Chacin 10 0 0.0%
Bud Norris 10 0 0.0%
Minimum 10 Balls in Dirt Data via Baseball Savant

The opposite applies here as hitters are bound to be more selective and less likely to offer at a ball in the dirt when they are already in control of the count. The sample sizes at work here are tiny, so is Brad Brach a true talent 40 percent whiff to ball in dirt rate pitcher when behind in the count? Probably not; we can’t tell based on 10 pitches without even looking at which hitters he’s facing.

It is noteworthy that 22 pitchers did not generate even one swing on a ball in the dirt when they were behind in the count. Aaron Sanchez threw 21 balls in the dirt when he was behind without generating a single swing. More notable still is how few pitchers are on this list compared to the overall leaderboard. Throwing balls in the dirt without an advantage in the count is not often going to be a successful strategy, and many pitchers do so only rarely.

WH/BD % Leaderboard: 0-2 Count

Player Total Pitches in Dirt Whiffs WH/BD %
Player Total Pitches in Dirt Whiffs WH/BD %
Craig Kimbrel 12 9 75.0%
Matt Moore 11 8 72.7%
Ryan Pressly 11 8 72.7%
Junior Guerra 17 12 70.6%
Ivan Nova 27 19 70.4%
Zack Godley 10 7 70.0%
Jon Lester 10 7 70.0%
Ken Giles 18 12 66.7%
Nathan Karns 12 8 66.7%
Ricky Nolasco 23 15 65.2%
Yordano Ventura 17 11 64.7%
Stephen Strasburg 11 7 63.6%
Kyle Barraclough 11 7 63.6%
Corey Kluber 16 10 62.5%
Madison Bumgarner 20 12 60.0%
Danny Duffy 10 6 60.0%
Dellin Betances 10 6 60.0%
Jameson Taillon 10 6 60.0%
Jake Barrett 10 6 60.0%
Clayton Kershaw 14 8 57.1%
Robbie Ray 14 8 57.1%
Luke Gregerson 18 10 55.6%
Jon Gray 18 10 55.6%
Ross Ohlendorf 11 6 54.5%
Joaquin Benoit 11 6 54.5%
Archie Bradley 17 9 52.9%
Cole Hamels 25 13 52.0%
Patrick Corbin 29 15 51.7%
Tyler Duffey 34 17 50.0%
Trevor Bauer 24 12 50.0%
Jose Fernandez 14 7 50.0%
Matt Andriese 12 6 50.0%
Christian Friedrich 10 5 50.0%
Jaime Garcia 27 13 48.1%
Tom Koehler 23 11 47.8%
Luis Perdomo 19 9 47.4%
Josh Tomlin 17 8 47.1%
Edwin Jackson 11 5 45.5%
Joe Biagini 11 5 45.5%
Chris Archer 20 9 45.0%
Adam Wainwright 18 8 44.4%
Brad Hand 16 7 43.8%
Lance McCullers Jr. 16 7 43.8%
Jorge De La Rosa 16 7 43.8%
Blake Snell 16 7 43.8%
Jason Hammel 21 9 42.9%
Will Harris 14 6 42.9%
Jerad Eickhoff 14 6 42.9%
Collin McHugh 38 16 42.1%
Drew Smyly 24 10 41.7%
Jake Peavy 12 5 41.7%
Chad Bettis 17 7 41.2%
Jeremy Hellickson 27 11 40.7%
Ervin Santana 25 10 40.0%
Michael Pineda 20 8 40.0%
Kyle Hendricks 10 4 40.0%
Kevin Gausman 10 4 40.0%
Chris Sale 10 4 40.0%
Zach Britton 10 4 40.0%
Marcus Stroman 18 7 38.9%
Max Scherzer 31 12 38.7%
Felix Hernandez 13 5 38.5%
Justin Verlander 13 5 38.5%
Wade Miley 21 8 38.1%
Jake Arrieta 16 6 37.5%
John Lackey 19 7 36.8%
Dallas Keuchel 19 7 36.8%
Chris Devenski 11 4 36.4%
Zach Davies 11 4 36.4%
Dylan Bundy 11 4 36.4%
Martin Perez 11 4 36.4%
Zack Greinke 25 9 36.0%
Matt Wisler 14 5 35.7%
Joakim Soria 14 5 35.7%
Dillon Gee 14 5 35.7%
Dan Straily 17 6 35.3%
Wei-Yin Chen 20 7 35.0%
Doug Fister 12 4 33.3%
Steven Matz 12 4 33.3%
A.J. Ramos 12 4 33.3%
Drew Pomeranz 19 6 31.6%
Johnny Cueto 16 5 31.3%
Francisco Liriano 13 4 30.8%
Hisashi Iwakuma 10 3 30.0%
Edinson Volquez 21 6 28.6%
Anthony DeSclafani 21 6 28.6%
Gio Gonzalez 14 4 28.6%
Dan Jennings 11 3 27.3%
Noah Syndergaard 12 3 25.0%
Jose Quintana 17 4 23.5%
Tanner Roark 17 4 23.5%
J.A. Happ 13 3 23.1%
Matt Shoemaker 13 3 23.1%
Michael Tonkin 13 3 23.1%
James Shields 18 4 22.2%
Sonny Gray 14 3 21.4%
Dustin McGowan 14 3 21.4%
Logan Verrett 10 2 20.0%
Gerrit Cole 10 2 20.0%
Masahiro Tanaka 13 2 15.4%
Marco Estrada 13 2 15.4%
Michael Wacha 10 0 0.0%
Minimum 10 Balls in Dirt Data via Baseball Savant

Ahead 0-2 is a typical time to try and bounce a pitch to induce a swing; a fact reflected in the high percentages of success. To be honest I expected to see more pitchers and more attempts on this list, but again context is important and surely trying to bounce a pitch is only a sound strategy in certain specific situations. The hitters plate discipline profile and tendency to chase matters, as do the outs and base runners at the moment.

Most notable from the 0-2 leaderboard is that Michael Wacha was unable to generate even one swinging strike on his 10 pitches in the dirt in this spot. In 2016 Wacha did have a better FIP and wOBA allowed through an 0-2 count than league average which might speak to the overall unimportance and unpredictability of this particular skill.

Finally, here are the individual pitch type leaders in whiffs to balls in dirt rate.

WH/BD % Pitch Type Leaders

Player Pitch Type Total Pitches in Dirt Whiffs Whiffs/Balls in Dirt %
Player Pitch Type Total Pitches in Dirt Whiffs Whiffs/Balls in Dirt %
Danny Duffy Curveball/Knuckle-curve 35 23 65.70%
Ken Giles Slider 83 45 54.20%
Joaquin Benoit Changeup 26 13 50.0%
John Lackey Fastballs (FF, FT, FC, SI) 77 25 32.50%
Junior Guerra Splitter 40 19 47.50%
Minimum 25 Balls in Dirt Data via Baseball Savant

Yep, that checks out. Those are all quality pitchers whose respective listed pitches are an important part of their arsenals. For what it’s worth — if Joaquin Benoit doesn’t get you excited — Stephen Strasburg and David Price are second and third on the changeup leaderboard.

As Michael Wacha will attest, the ability to bury a pitch in the dirt and induce a swinging strike is not a necessary skill; some pitchers have it, some don’t. There are plenty of other ways to be successful. It can be a useful weapon though, and some of the best pitchers in baseball are able to utilize the “swinging strike (blocked)” to great effect.

Just ask Drew Butera.

Gif via MLB.com

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Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @mrchrisanders.