Ranking MLB's Filthiest Pitches of the Last 3 MonthsAugust 13, 2021
More than three months have passed since we ranked Joe Musgrove's slider, Corbin Burnes' cutter, Jacob deGrom's fastball and the 10 filthiest pitches from the first month of Major League Baseball's 2021 season.
So, yeah, it's about time for a new list.
In ranking 10 more of the nastiest pitches of 2021, our major ground rule was that any pitch that made the first list couldn't also make the cut for this new list. Now that they have larger sample sizes under their belts, we also opened the door for relief pitchers this time.
Also of note is that both aesthetics and results matter here. The ideal pitch was one that not only stands out for its velocity, movement and other qualities but also because its stats scream "unhittable!"
With all GIFs courtesy of Rob "Pitching Ninja" Friedman, let's count 'em down.
10. Kendall Graveman’s Sinker
Let's start with how Kendall Graveman prefers to knock on the backdoor:
Alas, the poor sinker. It's certainly the lesser of the three dominant fastball types, as the average hitter is hitting a sturdy .279 against sinkers compared to only .256 against four-seamers and .257 against cutters.
Against Graveman's sinker, though, hitters are just 8-for-75 with not even one extra-base hit.
It helps that the Seattle Mariners-turned-Houston Astros right-hander is throwing it at a career-best average of 96.5 mph. He also mostly works his sinker on the inside half of the plate against both left-handed and right-handed batters, and their meager 84.7 mph average exit velocity against the pitch speaks to how frequently Graveman jams them with it.
9. Patrick Sandoval’s Changeup
And now for Patrick Sandoval, an underrated pitcher who might just have the most underrated pitch in baseball:
Granted, Sandoval's changeup might not look especially nasty. It's certainly not as aesthetically pleasing as, say, the all-time great lefty changeups of Johan Santana or Cole Hamels.
Yet ever since Sandoval moved into the Los Angeles Angels' rotation on May 17, his changeup has racked up more swings and misses than any secondary pitch outside of Kevin Gausman's splitter. It was also largely responsible for the 32 whiffs that he got in a single outing on June 6, which is still the high mark for any pitcher this season.
To give credit where it's due, Luke Hooper of FanGraphs did a fine job of breaking down the exact mechanics of Sandoval's changeup in July. As a starter, he's used it to hold opposing hitters to a .139 average (14-for-101) with 49 strikeouts.
8. Devin Williams’ Changeup
Better hide those cabbages, because here comes an airbender:
The changeup was the defining feature of Devin Williams' run to the National League Rookie of the Year in 2020. It accounted for 52.7 percent of his pitches and 41 of his 53 strikeouts, all of which came in tandem with a microscopic 0.33 ERA.
Rather than back off, the Milwaukee Brewers righty has doubled down on his changeup in 2021. He's now throwing it for 62.5 percent of his pitches, which is more often than Kenley Jansen is throwing cutters this season.
And yet Williams' airbender is still baffling opposing hitters, who are 20-for-117 with 54 strikeouts against it. It's as if the pitch has more vertical movement than any other changeup, not to mention horizontal action that can break one way or the other.
7. Framber Valdez’s Curveball
Which left-hander has the best curveball in baseball today?
We'll see your Blake Snells and Clayton Kershaws and raise you a Framber Valdez:
If nothing else, the Astros ace's curveball is noteworthy for the frequency with which he throws it. He didn't even make his 2021 debut until May 28 because of a broken finger, yet he's still thrown more curves than all but six other southpaws this season.
There also aren't many curveballs that break like Valdez's, which is in well-above-average territory with its vertical and horizontal movement. That all happens late, too, as his hooks have a habit of looking like hangers until they suddenly hightail it out of the hitting zone.
It's a pitch that simply can't be laid off and can't be hit. Opposing hitters who've tried are merely 14-for-121 with 63 strikeouts against it.
6. Craig Kimbrel’s Curveball
If anyone's in the mood for an oldie but goodie, here's Craig Kimbrel's curveball:
Many a hitter has been emasculated by Kimbrel's curve over the years, in part because he just throws it so darn hard. At an average of 86.4 mph in 2021, it's indeed more like a slider than a curveball.
This is also true of the pitch's movement these days. Over the last two seasons, Kimbrel has been throwing his hook from a lower arm angle than he did previously. That's reduced the pitch's vertical movement but upped its horizontal action.
You could make the case that Kimbrel, who recently moved from the Chicago Cubs to the Chicago White Sox, should not have messed with a good thing, but, well, the .071 average (4-for-56) against his curveball this year is the lowest of his career.
5. Alex Reyes’ Slider
As he's walked 42 batters and thrown nine wild pitches in only 52.2 innings, Alex Reyes might be the wildest pitcher in baseball. Yet here's one reason to let that slide:
There are also other reasons, as Reyes' slider is but one of five pitches he's throwing with regularity in 2021. That alone makes him more remarkable than John Q. Closer, who only throws two pitches.
What makes the St. Louis Cardinals closer's slider particularly gnarly is that it comes to the plate at 86.1 mph on average and has legit two-plane break by way of its above-average horizontal and vertical movement.
So, kudos to Javier Baez and Bryan Reynolds for being the only players to hit Reyes' slider over the fence this year. Those are basically the lone blemishes on a pitch against which hitters are 5-for-58 with 36 strikeouts.
4. Aaron Bummer’s Slider
They really ought to test Aaron Bummer for foreign substances that have the power to turn ordinary baseballs into whiffle balls:
Bummer's slider breaks about as much as you'd think. It not only boasts more horizontal movement than any other pitcher's slider but is also up there in vertical movement.
It's therefore hard to blame hitters for getting all deer-in-the-headlights whenever the White Sox lefty unleashes his slider. It only draws swings about half the time and has been hit into play on only 15 occasions all season.
Those 15 incidents have yielded only five hits (all singles) in 62 at-bats ending by Bummer's slider. He's also collected 47 outs by way of the strikeout, which actually gives his slider the highest strikeout rate of any pitch that's ended at least 50 plate appearances.
3. Blake Treinen’s Slider
Pick a Blake Treinen pitch. Any Blake Treinen pitch. No matter your selection, it'll move like it's on a string.
For instance, his slider:
As nasty as Treinen's sinker and curveball are in their own right, you can see why his slider has become his primary pitch in 2021.
Numbers-wise, it doesn't have quite as much vertical movement as Bummer's slider. It does, however, have comparable horizontal movement and a velocity advantage of over three miles per hour at an average of 86.5 mph.
Ultimately, the Los Angeles Dodgers righty's slider is about as unhittable as pitches get. Hitters have struck out 36 times against it while collecting only four hits in 65 at-bats. That's an .062 average, the lowest such mark of any pitch that's ended at least 60 plate appearances.
2. Shohei Ohtani’s Splitter
Though he mainly works as the best home run hitter in Major League Baseball, Shohei Ohtani also moonlights as one of the league's great pitchers.
With respect to his triple-digit fastball and underrated slider, the Angels ace is as good as he is largely because of splitters like this one:
At an average of 87.6 mph, Ohtani's splitter is one of the fastest in baseball today. And while its downward action isn't that impressive relative to other splitters, what movement it does have seems to happen when the ball is inches away from the plate.
No wonder hitters just can't hit it.
In 2021 alone, they're 7-for-86 with 55 strikeouts against Ohtani's split. Go back to 2018, and those numbers jump to 10-for-145 with 92 strikeouts.
1. Freddy Peralta’s Four-Seam Fastball
Appropriately, at the very top of this list is arguably the best pitch in baseball right now.
Take it away, Freddy Peralta:
OK, so, it's a fastball. Definitely a good one, as evidenced by that pitch's 97 mph reading on the radar gun. But apart from that, seemingly nothing special.
And yet there is something instructive about the fact that Peralta has gotten more called strikeouts with his four-seamer than any other pitcher.
Perhaps that comes down to how well the Brewers ace hides the ball. Or how, relative to other 5'11" pitchers, he's able to release the ball closer to home plate. Or maybe it's the pitch's rising action. Or all of the above.
Whatever it is, Carlos Rodon's four-seamer is the only pitch that has Peralta's heater matched in terms of overall run value. And since Peralta's pitch is the better of the two in opposing average (.133) and strikeout rate (34.5 percent), it gets a slice of cake from us.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and Baseball Savant.