Getting MLB hitters to swing and miss isn’t everything. Of the three pitchers who draw the most contact from batters, Bartolo Colon (No. 2) and Mark Buehrle (No. 3) stand as shining examples of pitchers who tempt batters to make poor contact so they can get deep into ballgames. It’s no surprise that among leaders in career complete games, Colon ranks second (35 CG) while Buehrle is tied for third (29 CG) among active pitchers.
However, when a pitcher needs a strikeout, there is nothing better than a devastating pitch batters can’t touch. A glance at the top twenty pitchers in avoiding contact reveals mutliple Cy Young winners and a bunch of no-hitters among them. These guys deceive batters into swinging at pitches that look capable of landing in the strike zone yet have the raw stuff to get them to miss.
Here are the ten most unhittable MLB pitchers in 2014. These ten have gotten batters to swing and miss at a higher percentage (i.e. they have the lowest contact rate) than any other hurlers in Major League Baseball. Stats were found on Fangraphs.com and are current as of August 15, 2014.
10. Garrett Richards, Angels
Out in Anaheim, the Angels have the pitcher with the highest average fastball velocity at 96.4 mph, and Richards has found the formula to miss bats on an elite level in his second full MLB season. In 159.2 innings, Richards has a contact rate of 75.2 percent, meaning he misses the bats of opposing hitters about once every four pitches. His strikeout rate of 8.85 K/9, 12-4 record, and 2.54 ERA all point to Richards’s dominance on the hill in 2014.
9. Zack Greinke, Dodgers
L.A.’s Zack Greinke is having one of his best seasons in 2014 with a 2.84 ERA and 12 wins in 152.1 innings. His walks per nine innings (1.77 BB/9) are right at his career low while his 9.69 K/9 rate is just off his career high. At least part of the equation is the 75.1 percent contact rate for batters facing him. Greinke is missing so many bats that he has become even more difficult to face in 2014.
8. Corey Kluber, Indians
Along with Garrett Ruchards, Corey Kluber is among the biggest breakout pitching sensations of 2014. Kluber has devastated lineups across both leagues in his second full year. His 13-6 record, 2.46 ERA, and 9.80 K/9 tell most of the story, but his 75 percent contact rate shows just how much he is deceiving opposing hitters. Kluber has 187 K versus 36 BB in 171.2 innings this season.
7. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Washington’s Stephen Strasburg is sporting the lowest walk rate in his career (2.04 K/9), while his 10.69 K/9 rate is approaching that of his best season (2012). His 3.54 ERA and 9-10 record don’t fit those numbers, but there is plenty of reason to expect better things ahead for Strasburg. His 74.7 percent contact rate per pitch thrown is seventh best in baseball. Strasburg’s stuff is as devastating as ever, which he displayed in an August 14 win versus the Mets. Strasburg’s line: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 8 K, 2 BB. Consistency remains his problem at age 26.
6. Ervin Santana, Braves
Overall, Atlanta has to be satisfied with Ervin Santana’s performance in his first year with the Braves in 2014. Santana is 12-6 with a 3.66 ERA over 150 innings and 137 K against 45 BB. His stuff is as sharp as just about any MLB pitcher’s in 2014, as he has posted a 73.8 percent contact rate. Poor Braves infield defense is likely to blame for the high batting average of balls in play and a few ticks on Santana’s ERA in 2014.
5. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
There is no need for analysis when describing King Felix Hernandez. Anyone who has seen him pitch can attest to the swing-and-miss stuff Hernandez showcases every start on the mound. He is in the midst of a career-best season, which is saying something for the Cy Young winner. He is 13-3 with a 1.95 ERA and 194 K against 32 BB (a nasty 6:1 ratio). His ERA and 0.88 WHIP are tops in the American League, while his 6.2 WAR is best among all MLB pitchers and second to Mike Trout among all players. As a point of reference only, Felix’s contact rate is 72.9 percent.
4. Chris Sale, White Sox
Like King Felix, Chicago’s Chris Sale fills just about every stat sheet without getting deep into swing-and-miss percentages, but for the record he’s fourth in the game with a contact rate of 72.9 percent. Sale (10-2, 2.01 ERA) has brutalized hitters with that stuff to the tune of 150 K in 130 IP (10.38 K/9) while allowing just 24 walks. He shares that 6:1 K/BB ratio with Hernandez only with fewer innings pitched. All arms and legs coming at a hitter, Sale remains one of the toughest at-bats in baseball.
3. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
Tanaka exceeded the lofty expectations he brought from Japan. Throwing for a decimated Yankees rotation, Tanaka carried the team on his back for the early summer, going 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA before departing with a slight UCL tear. His greatest stats might be his 135 K versus 19 BB (better than a 7:1 ratio), but there is no weak part of Tanaka’s game. He flashed an AL-best 72.5 percent contact rate before his injury.
2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw is putting up one of the great seasons (14-2, 1.78 ERA) in memory, posting 163 K versus only 19 walks (better than 8:1). Because of time missed to injury, he is not among the leaders in innings pitched in 2014, but he did manage to throw a no-hitter and another shutout to go with his MLB-best five complete games. Of course, Kershaw is also leading the game in ERA and WHIP in what some are calling an MVP campaign. Hitters have had their hands full and have made contact just 72.4 percent of the time off Kershaw.
1. Tyson Ross, Padres
Major League Baseball’s most unhittable pitcher of 2014 has been Tyson Ross of the San Diego Padres. His 11-10 record doesn’t tell the story, but his 2.63 ERA and 160 K in 160.2 IP hint at the raw stuff Ross possesses, as well as how crippling his slider is for batters. It is only his first full season as a starter, but Ross already hit his stride at the start of July. He has rattled off a 5-2 record with a 1.53 ERA over eight starts since.
Ross’s 71.6 percent contact rate is tops in MLB, which makes him project to even greater heights when he can cut down on a few more walks. Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane is widely celebrated for his brilliant moves, but trading Ross to San Diego in 2012 was not one of them. For such a tremendous pitching talent, Beane received Andy Parrino and Andrew Werner in return. Good luck finding them on the field for the A’s.