MLB Playoffs: Ranking the Most Intimidating Pitchers in the Post-Season
It seems every championship team boasts a pitcher that strikes fear into the hearts of opposing batters.
The 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks had Randy Johnson. The 2003 Marlins had Josh Beckett. The 2008 Phillies had Cole Hamels. The 2009 Yankees had CC Sabathia. The list goes on and on and on.
This year's postseason boasts a ton of pitchers with fiery fastballs and gargantuan mound presences. Let's take a look at a handful of some of the most intimidating pitchers in the playoffs.
Keep in mind this list is hardly comprehensive. If you feel I've left a truly fear-inducing hurler off my list, let me know your suggestions in the comments section below.
8) Tommy Hunter
Tommy Hunter's aggregate stats won't spark fear in too many batters. He finished the year with a 5.45 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP in 2012. So why did manager Buck Showalter include him on the postseason roster over Zach Britton and Steve Johnson?
The answer is simple: Hunter has improved dramatically recently. He's become a real force in the Orioles bullpen.
In his last ten games, all in relief, he's allowed just one run in 12 2/3 innings, for a 0.71 ERA, while striking out 12 batters.
More importantly, his velocity has risen dramatically. Take a look at this velocity chart, per fangraphs.com. Hunter's fastball speed hovered in the high 80s-to-low 90s most of the year, but in the latter part of the season, he's been averaging over 95 MPH. He even hit 101 on the radar gun in an Orioles' extra-inning win against the Red Sox in late September.
Hunter is a massive man at 6'3", 250 pounds. With his velocity back on track, he could be a key reliever for the Orioles in their playoff run. His fastball alone makes him a tough pitcher for opposing batters to dig in against.
7) Edwin Jackson
Edwin Jackson will be the Nationals' Game 3 starter in their NLDS match-up with the St. Louis Cardinals.
While he's the grizzled veteran of an otherwise young staff, it's clear that when the ten-year veteran pitches, he's still an intimidating presence on the mound.
According to fangraphs.com, Jackson's average fastball velocity was the eighth-fastest in Major League Baseball at around 94 MPH. That's tough stuff to stand in on when it's coming from a 6'3", 210-pounder.
The stuff translated into results—Jackson totalled 168 strikeouts in 189 innings for a ferocious 8.0 Ks-per-nine rate.
He's got consistency problems, as evidenced by his Sep. 28 stinker vs. STL—1 1/3 innings, 8 earned runs. But Jackson can also spin occasional gems with the best of them, and he's got the stuff to blow away batters in the postseason.
6) Matt Cain
Matt Cain was unhittable in his three starts during the San Francisco Giants 2010 championship season.
He threw 21 1/3 innings and didn't give up a single earned run during that span.
By contrast, the Giants' ace looked vulnerable in Game 1 of this postseason against the Reds, giving up three runs before being yanked for a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning. But his fantastic 2012 campaign looms larger than one mediocre start.
Cain registered a career-high 193 strikeouts in 219 innings this year, finishing with a 125 ERA+ and a 7.9 K/9 rate.
The big 6'3", 230-lb righthander isn't blowing away batters with speed—per fangraphs.com, his average fastball velocity is 91 MPH—but he's scary in a different way. Instead of trying to muscle through hitters, Cain keeps them guessing with a four-pitch arsenal that includes an 86 MPH cutter, a 75 MPH curve and a mid-80s change.
His stuff is working. Cain threw one of the best games in baseball history this season, tossing a perfect game with 14 strikeouts. He completed a fantastic 2012 regular season campaign and heads into the postseason as smart and scary as ever.
5) Jason Motte
Jason Motte was 2011's answer to Brian Wilson.
A burly closer with a lumberjack beard and a fiery demeanor, Motte helped the Cardinals win their second title of the new millenium.
He's continued his success through 2012 with an incendiary fastball that tops out around 98 MPH. He racked up 86 strikeouts in just 72 innings this year, totaling 42 saves in 49 chances.
If the Cardinals can hand him a lead, opposing batters won't revel in the chance to face Motte with the game on the line.
Plus, he's nearsighted. It's a terrifying prospect to face a pitcher who throws nearly 100 MPH and can't see what he's throwing at. I know for a fact I would be bailing out mid-windup in that situation.
As for his beard? It's got his own Twitter handle (@theMotteBeard), dedicated to "helping Jason Motte intimidate baby batters."
4) Max Scherzer
Max Scherzer is a hurler with a Bond villain's quirk: His eyes are different colors.
If that's not enough to psyche out opposing batters, check out his 2012 resume.
Scherzer finished second in the league in total strikeouts with 231. He finished first in the league in Ks-per-nine innings with an incredible 11.1. He's been almost unstoppable since the All-Star Break, winning eight games and allowing just a .229 average-against.
The 28-year-old righty boasts a ferocious fastball that has hit 100 MPH in the past. He's also got a vicious slider that buckles knees and sends hitters diving for cover.
Scherzer, who has dedicated himself with extra vigor this season after a family tragedy, is as dialed-in as ever.
Hitters fear Scherzer's nasty stuff and efficient style. He'll be a force for the Tigers this postseason. But he's not the most intimidating pitcher on his own team.
3) C.C. Sabathia
Sabathia has struggled in his playoff career (4.81 ERA in 86.0 innings) but he's not a guy that batters want to face, regardless of the month.
Sabathia, who had another strong year (124 ERA+ and a 4.48 K/BB ratio) looked great as the season drew to a close.
His last three starts, which came as the Yankees were in a tight division race with the Baltimore Orioles, were among his best of the season. In total, he pitched 24 innings, racked up 28 strikeouts and gave up just four runs.
He did so with dominant, 95-mph stuff.
The gargantuan 6'7", 290-pound dynamo enters the playoffs with a head of steam. That's bad news for AL competitors.
2) Justin Verlander
It's pretty scary to think that Justin Verlander didn't pitch his best in Game 1 of the ALDS.
That's right, the same Game 1 performance in which Verlander pitched seven innings, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out 11.
Verlander struggled with his command at times, walking four batters for just the fifth time in 34 starts. He also yielded a leadoff home run to Athletics OF Coco Crisp.
But Verlander displayed an electric fastball in Game 1. It started out at 95 MPH and rose as high as 98 as the game progressed.
He threw 121 pitches in seven full innings while blowing away the A's.
Verlander burns through hitters with his blazing fastball, 90 MPH slider and knee-bending curve. The demeanor may not scream intimidating, but the stuff certainly does.
1) Aroldis Chapman
Is there a more intimidating pitcher in baseball than Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman?
The 6'4" southpaw frazzles radar guns with readings they're not equipped for. Chapman hits triple digits in MPH with minimal effort.
Beyond the pure speed of his fastball, there's an element of explosiveness to the pitch that makes opposing hitters tiptoe into the back corner of the batter's box.
As Cardinals second-baseman Skip Schumaker said (per ESPN.com):
When you face him, it feels like he's [a foot-and-a-half] away. Then he winds up, and he's all herky-jerky. He's big. He's tall. He's throwing elbows and knees at you. And even though you're sitting dead-red fastball, it's just like it's by you, before you can even think about it. I've never seen a fastball explode like that. Ever. It's just ridiculous.
The big lefty with the big stride simply overpowers hitters with incendiary stuff. That's why he's the most intimidating pitcher in baseball, let alone the 2012 playoffs.