Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/20/14
Shortly after the Mariners made the mistake of trading Brandon Morrow for Brandon League and another guy, it was noted by the Mariners’ front office that, the season before, League had thrown baseball’s most unhittable pitch. No pitch in baseball, apparently, generated a lower contact rate against than Brandon League’s splitter, and that gave us Mariners fans something to look forward to. What it actually wound up doing was give us something to complain about all the time, but no matter. That was the first I’d personally heard of a most unhittable pitch, and I fell in love with the concept. What better measure of dominance than whiffs over swings?
Of course, we all understand that pitches don’t exist in isolation. That year, League’s splitter was baseball’s most unhittable pitch, but it wouldn’t have been so if League only ever threw his splitter and never threw his fastball. There’s a lot of game theory stuff at play, so isolating individual pitch types is a little improper and misleading. Still, it’s a fun exercise, and I’m about to indulge. So we’re all about to indulge.

Just recently Baseball Prospectus folded in PITCHf/x leaderboards, based on Brooks Baseball data. I found myself navigating the leaderboards this afternoon, and I grew curious about 2012′s most unhittable individual pitch. I decided that I only wanted to look at starters, because relievers throw fewer pitches and have very different jobs. I also decided that I wanted a minimum of 200 pitches thrown, to weed out some small-sample noise. Not that there isn’t still noise, and not that I’ve made any correction for game-theory data or count, but whatever, I knew what I was getting into. This left me with a pool of 632 pitchers and pitch types. The pitcher and type with the lowest contact rate: Stephen Strasburg, changeup, 46-percent contact.
PITCHf/x recorded Strasburg throwing more than 400 changeups this season. Batters swung at 219 of them, and of those swings, 119 completely whiffed. Less than half the time batters swung at Strasburg’s changeup did their bats so much as touch the baseball in flight. It’s not far and away the most unhittable pitch in the sample, but the gap between first and second does appear wide enough to hold through the end of the year. It’s not like Strasburg is going to be throwing anymore changeups.
For good measure, Strasburg’s change also generated a grounder two out of every three times it was put in play. But, as noted before, it was very seldom put in play, so I don’t know how much this matters. It was a good pitch, is the point.
The predictable thing to do here would be to show .gifs of Strasburg generating swinging strikes with his changeup. He did that very often, and the .gifs would allow you to visualize what the pitch looks like, if you can’t recall it off the top of your head. Instead I’m going to show you .gifs of the two times Strasburg’s changeup was hit for a home run. You can still visualize what the pitch looks like, but now it’s all been turned on its head! Wacky!
The first batter to take Strasburg’s changeup deep was Jose Bautista, and there’s hardly any shame in that.

The second batter to take Strasburg’s changeup deep was Tyler Colvin, and there’s some very limited shame in that. Although it’s not like Colvin identified the pitch out of the hand and hit the living crap out of it.


I still can’t figure out how that swing made that ball leave that yard, but it did, and I suppose one of the lessons here is that even a very good pitch can be drilled for a home run and nothing is automatic. Baseball’s most unhittable pitch — by a stater — was not actually unhittable.
Strasburg has a good changeup — this we know. This we basically just confirmed. It stands to reason that a big part of the pitch’s effectiveness is that the hitters have to look out for the heat and the slurve. Strasburg is known for his high-90s fastball, and he’s always had this devastating breaking ball, and including a changeup is some degree of unfair. What’s interesting is that people weren’t really talking about Strasburg’s change as a weapon at the time he was drafted. Strasburg said in college he just sometimes mixed the pitch in. This draft report essentially labels the change as inconsistent. Quote:

Nitpickers may look at the secondary offerings as being just average and his command needing a little refinement, but none of that will keep him from being atop just about every Draft board.

Strasburg’s long thrown a changeup, but it never got the attention that his fastball did, or that his breaking ball did. He does indeed have a very good fastball and a very good breaking ball, but his changeup looks to have been baseball’s most unhittable regular pitch by a starter in 2012. Ending be damned, this was a pretty good season for Stephen Strasburg.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Amari Cooper not a fan of New Orleans, thinks it smells

WATCH: Jennifer Lawrence does Louisville chant at game

WATCH: Did Bret Bielema do ‘Horns Down’ gesture?

Devils unveil unique coaching by committee situation

Report: 49ers expect Jim Harbaugh to take Michigan job

Report: Johnny Manziel fined for being late to treatment

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Duke Johnson's mother says son will enter NFL Draft

Starlin Castro questioned following nightclub shooting

Report: Jeff Driskel thinking about transfer to Duke

Browns suspend Josh Gordon for final game of season

Report: Rex Ryan has already cleaned out his office

Clint Trickett retires due to concussions, hid two

Report: Jim Harbaugh to Michigan is done deal

WATCH: Frank Beamer busts a move after bowl win

Bears could clean house after season

Nebraska chancellor booed by Huskers players?

WATCH: Rory McIlroy trolled by 'Sweet Caroline' song

Auburn, Wisconsin players literally ate tons of food

Did Kobe Bryant respond to heckler with the rings count?

Doug Fister bought Starbucks for his Twitter followers

DeMarco Murray dumped over cheating accusations?

Video: Rudy Gay tosses half-court alley-oop to McLemore

WATCH: Craig Sager is touched by outpouring of support during leukemia fight

Hiroki Kuroda returns to Japan, ditches Yankees

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

Amari Cooper not a fan of New Orleans

Harbaugh to Mich. is done deal

WATCH: Jennifer Lawrence supports Louisville with chant

Did Bielema do ‘Horns Down’?

WATCH: Beamer busts a move

Bears could clean house after season

Nebraska chancellor booed by players?

Johnny Manziel fined by Browns

Castro questioned after shooting

Rory McIlroy trolled with 'Sweet Caroline'

Browns suspend Josh Gordon

Kobe gives heckler the rings count?

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.