Watching Masahiro Tanaka pitch against the Cubs and seeing how easily he put the lineup down via strikeout caused two things.

First, it caused a great deal of envy knowing we were so close to getting him. I don’t know how much he’d have helped this team this year, but being able to watch that every 5th day instead of Carlos Villanueva would be awfully nice. Second, and more importantly, it caused a lot of awe. I know our offense is not the best, but he was missing bats with ease. They talked a little about it on the broadcast, but I decided to pull some numbers to look at who has the “nasty stuff” in their arsenal.

The first stat we’re going to look at is related to pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. Any good pitcher will tell you that the key to pitching isn’t all about throwing the ball in the zone. It’s about strategically planning and placing the ball where you want, when you want. The goal is to get the batter to swing at a pitch that they really can do nothing with. To be able to be effective in that quest, you have to be able to get hitters to swing at balls outside of the zone. Let’s take a look at the leaders, coming into today’s games, in terms of getting hitters to swing at pitches outside of the zone.

O-Swing% – The percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone. (League Average = 30%)

O-Contact% - The percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with outside the strike zone when swinging the bat. (League Average = 68%)

Looking at these numbers, we see that Tanaka has been the best in the business when it comes to getting hitters to swing at bad pitches. Most likely he stuff looks so appealing and the movement so sharp that they can’t hold up and then can’t make contact when they do swing. Not only does he have a tremendous ranking when it comes to getting the guys to swing, but even when they do swing, half the time they don’t even hit the ball. Of the 46% of the time they actually make contact, those have resulted in an OPS of just .350. Remember, OPS is on base + slugging, so .350 is pathetic. Unfortunately, no Cubs made the list, but don’t worry, it gets a little better.

The next stat I looked at on my guest to find the nasty stuff guys was swinging strike percentage. Fan Graphs describes this stat as “The percentage of total pitches a batter swings and misses on.” League average is 8.5%. Here are the leaders for the season so far.

Once again we see Tanaka right at the top, but this list contains two names that weren’t on the other list. Both Travis Wood and Jason Hammel make this list, with Wood finishing in the top 5 so far. It’s interesting that Jeff Samardzija didn’t make the top 15 list. I would have generally hypothesized that he had better overall deception on his pitches.

The final list I ran was a list of overall contact rate. Again, Fangraphs describes this stat as “The overall percentage of a batter makes contact with when swinging the bat.” League average is 81%.

Once again we see Tanaka up near the top, but once again we see Wood and Hammel making the list.

What does it mean? Well, for one thing, it’s clear that Tanaka as well as guys like Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana, Felix Hernandez, etc have nasty stuff, but it also shows that the Cubs have guys who can miss bats as well, and that is key to being successful.

  • Bizarre catcher interference play in the first game allowed Joe Girardi a chance to pick which result he wanted to go with. I liken it to when a coach in football has the option to decline or take a penalty on the other team based on the result of the play.
  • The Cubs came into the game with the longest streak of putting up at least four runs in a game. Needless to say that streak is over.
  • Zac Rosscup was the 26th man on the roster, which is allowed for the double headers and pitched 1.2 innings of scoreless ball in the 2nd game. Nice to see.
  • Darwin Barney‘s primary skill that he brings to the table is defense, so when he’s not hitting, the last thing he wants to do is make an error, but that’s what happened to him in game 2.

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers as well as host of VFTB Radio. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail