The Best Pitches of April – Relief Edition

Earlier this month, I brought you the Best Pitches of April for starting pitchers.  That was back on May 2nd.  I wanted to share the same for relievers.  Ideally going forward, I will present both the starters and relievers early in month as opposed to one iteration in the middle of the month.

To determine the “best” pitches of the month, I will be using FanGraphs Pitch Values and then supplying GIF-based examples of those of pitches.  FanGraphs offers pitch values on fastball, slider, cutter, curveball, changeup, split-finger and knuckleball pitches, but for this exercise, we will be looking at the first six as no reliever throws a knuckleball.

I’ll list the top overall value for each pitch, the top value in the other league (so if 1st place is from an NL guy, I’ll list the top AL guy even if he’s further down the list) and also the top surprise listing which is of course arbitrary to my own tastes.  GIFs will be included for the Top Overall in each pitch only.

FASTBALL

  • Top Overall – Matt Thornton (Value 4.7, Usage 78%, Velocity 95.8 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Josh Lindblom (4.0 [3rd-best], 67%, 92.5 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Duane Below (4.2 [2nd-best], 54%, 90.4 MPH)

Thornton has long had a great fastball registering pitch values of 17 and 19 in 2008 and 2010, respectively.  In fact it was the emergence of his fastball in 2008 that took him from a solid reliever to an elite one resulting in a 2010 All-Star bid.  His fastball helped him to a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings in April with 10 strikeouts.

Here is a series of fastballs from Thornton to Oakland’s Cliff Pennington on April 25th in the bottom of the 10th inning.

SLIDER

  • Top Overall – Alexi Ogando (Value 3.5, Usage 38%, Velocity 84.7 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Jon Rauch (3.4 [2nd-best], 43%, 82.8 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Craig Stammen (2.5 [5th-best], 31%, 84.6 MPH)

Ogando would be a mid-rotation starter on most teams and no worse than a closer on many others.  On the insanely deep Texas Rangers, he is a bridge reliever pitching crucial innings to get to Mike Adams and Joe Nathan.  There is a ton of value in his role as managers often save their closer, ostensibly their best reliever, for save situations only.

With Ogando, manager Ron Washington gets to use his best reliever when it actually matters most: those especially sticky 6th, 7th and 8th inning situations.  Perhaps the best part is that Ogando can give you more than three outs without incident, in fact the best deployment of him should include more than an inning of work.

Here are some sliders from Ogando to both Brent Morel of the White Sox on April 6th and Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers on April 22nd.  The White Sox game is in the bottom of the 7th and the Tigers game is in the bottom of the 8th.

CUTTER

  • Top Overall – Mike Adams (Value 3.5, Usage 57%, Velocity 87.8 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Josh Roenicke (1.6 [4th-best], 32%, 83.9 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Jason Isringhausen (2.4 [3rd-best], 35%, 88.4 MPH)

Of course Texas relievers had two of the best pitches in April.  This team is just so ridiculously stocked top to bottom.  I remember when the Rangers were talking trade with the Padres and everyone assumed they would go for Heath Bell.  When it turned out they “only” got Adams, some thought they settled.  Even before this year’s implosion with Bell, it was obvious they got the much better reliever.  That said, they paid a premium in Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland so they deserved to get the better reliever.

Here is some of Adams’ work with the cutter against Ben Zobrist of Tampa Bay in the top of the 8th inning of an April 28th meeting.

CURVEBALL

  • Top Overall – Kris Medlen (Value 3.4, Usage 11%, Velocity 78.5 MPH)
  • Top Other League – J.P. Howell (3.0 [2nd-best], 39%, 79.0 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Tom Wilhelmsen (2.1 [t5th-best], 31%, 78.7 MPH)

Medlen doesn’t quite reach Ogandian levels, but he is another favorite of mine who shows the embarrassment of riches that the Braves have on their staff.  He would definitely be starting on a lot of teams, but the Braves have the luxury of using him as a multi-inning middle reliever.

Hopefully manager Freddie Gonzalez lets Medlen absorb a substantial workload so he doesn’t run Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters into the ground again this year.  Medlen had outings of 2.0, 2.7 and 3.0 IP in April giving up just two runs in 13 innings of work.

Here is his curveball working against Justin Turner in an Opening Day (April 5th) meeting with the New York Mets in the bottom of the 7th inning.

CHANGEUP

  • Top Overall – Kris Medlen (Value 2.2, Usage 20%, Velocity 82.1 MPH, Split from FB 10.0 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Craig Breslow (1.6 [2nd-best], 15%, 78.6 MPH, 12.5 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Matt Maloney (1.8 [3rd-best], 20%, 81.2 MPH, 7.8 MPH)

See why I think this guy could be starting?  He had two of the best pitches among relievers in the month of April.  He hasn’t been getting strikeouts at the level we are used to seeing from him (career 7.5 K/9, just 2.8 K/9 in April), but he has the capability and I think they will come as the season  progresses.  He notched 4 Ks in his 2.7 inning outing against the Mets on April 17th.

Here is his changeup against a pair of Pirates, Alex Presley and Garrett Jones, from an April 27th meeting in Turner Field during the top of the 8th and 9th innings.

SPLIT-FINGER

  • Top Overall – Jose Arredondo (Value 3.6, Usage 46%, Velocity 84.8 MPH)
  • Top Other League – Joel Peralta (1.2 [4th-best], 15%, 78.6 MPH)
  • Top Surprise – Ryan Mattheus (1.7 [2nd-best], 20%, 81.2 MPH)

Remember when Arredondo was awesome?  OK, awesome might be a stretch, but his rookie year saw him throw 61 innings with a 1.62 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and a 10-2 record.  That is all awesome, but the 8.1 K/9 and 2.5 K/BB don’t necessarily marry up with the performance which is why that season probably falls just short of awesome.  He followed it up with a 6.00 ERA in 45 innings.  He missed all of 2010 to injury before resurfacing with Cincinnati last year.

He has become a useful entity in the bullpen again notching a 10.1 K/9 in April, the highest of his career (which he has continued through May thus far).  He only allowed runs in one of his 10 April outings, too, yielding a 2.53 ERA in 10.7 innings.

Here is his splitter

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