Dylan Cease's Slider and the Most Unstoppable Pitches in MLB Today

Zachary D. RymerSeptember 1, 2022

Dylan Cease's Slider and the Most Unstoppable Pitches in MLB Today

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    AP Photo/Julio Cortez

    Major League Baseball's strikeout rate is mercifully down in 2022, but maybe not as much as one would expect now that the designated hitter is permanently universal.

    Blame it on the hitters if you want, but another rational conclusion is that there's simply too much nasty stuff in baseball today. A select few pitches are even downright unstoppable.

    Allow us to illustrate by submitting our picks for the best of the best. We've broken things up by pitch type, with one featured pitch and one honorable mention for each of the following: four-seam fastball, sinker, cutter, slider, curveball, changeup and splitter.

    We naturally considered aesthetics, for which the Twitter feed of Rob "Pitching Ninja" Friedman is a gift that never stops giving. But since aesthetics are only worth so much without the results to match, we also turned to the data for guidance.

    In any case, let's get to it.

Four-Seam Fastball: Luis Castillo, Seattle Mariners

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Key Stat: 35.8 Whiff%

    How It Looks

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Luis Castillo, 97mph 🔥 <a href="https://t.co/XP9OnKcD56">pic.twitter.com/XP9OnKcD56</a>

    How It Works

    At least among those that have ended at least 100 plate appearances, the 35.8 swing-and-miss percentage that Luis Castillo is getting on his go-to fastball is the highest among four-seamers.

    To make matters more impressive, Castillo is a starter who's thus far been tasked with throwing a career-high 103 pitches per start. Clearly, he's doing something right with his heater.

    As much as it helps that he's averaging 97.0 mph on it, of equal importance are the changes he's made to how he uses it. He throws his fastball from a lower release point than he used to, yet also locates it higher in the zone.

    Counter-intuitive, perhaps, but the effect of that is a rising offering that looks good to hit until its not. It's almost literally unhittable when he puts it more than three feet above the ground, where hitters are thus far 2-for-49 with 32 strikeouts against it.


    Honorable Mention: Carlos Rodón, San Francisco Giants

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Carlos Rodón, Elevated 99mph ⛽️ <a href="https://t.co/t9lywlxbN7">pic.twitter.com/t9lywlxbN7</a>

Sinker: Clay Holmes, New York Yankees

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Key Stat: .234 xSLG

    How It Looks

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Clay Holmes, Filthy 98mph Sinker. 😷 <a href="https://t.co/j6roqKBejr">pic.twitter.com/j6roqKBejr</a>

    How It Works

    The thing about sinkers is that they're generally meant to be hit. The idea behind throwing one is less about missing the bat entirely and more about missing the barrel.

    Clay Holmes' sinker, however, has enjoyed the best of both worlds in 2022.

    Among sinkers that have ended at least 100 plate appearances, its 27.5 whiff rate ranks behind only Josh Hader. And whereas opposing hitters have averaged 196 feet in distance and hit five home runs when they've made contact against Hader's sinker, batted balls against Holmes' sinker have yielded only one homer and averaged only 57 feet.

    Put another way, the average batted ball off Holmes' sinker doesn't even make it back to the mound. This, apparently, goes to show what a guy can do with a sinker when he throws it 96.9 mph with the kind of heavy movement that would make actual bowling balls blush.

    Honorable Mention: Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Aaron Nola, Dotted 93mph Back Door Two Seamer. 🎯<br><br>19 inches of run. <a href="https://t.co/dJkEzmprXH">pic.twitter.com/dJkEzmprXH</a>

Cutter: José Alvarado, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Key Stat: .106 xBA

    How It Looks

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    José Alvarado, Wicked 94mph Cutter. ✂️ <a href="https://t.co/pXGS1kkWPc">pic.twitter.com/pXGS1kkWPc</a>

    How It Works

    OK, we might have just lost some of you. This is supposed to be about the best cutter in baseball and the featured pitcher is not Corbin Burnes? Uh, duh and/or hello.

    Yet here's the thing about José Alvarado's cutter: Provided the bar is set at 50 plate appearances' worth of data, it's the only one that's drawn whiffs more often than not when batters have swung at it.

    This perhaps raises the question of where the line is between a cutter and a slider, but Alvarado's surely resembles the former more than the latter. He gets it up there at an average of 93.8 mph with late movement that's more, well, cutty than slidey.

    It's a hard hit to pitch generally, but even more so when Alvarado gets hitters to chase it outside the strike zone. That's where they're 3-for-38 with 30 strikeouts against it.

    Honorable Mention: Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Corbin Burnes, Perfect Back Door Cutter. 🎯 <a href="https://t.co/XPTebyrlkv">pic.twitter.com/XPTebyrlkv</a>

Slider: Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox

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    David Berding/Getty Images

    Key Stat: Minus-32 Run Value

    How It Looks

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Dylan Cease, Wicked Sliders. 🤢 <a href="https://t.co/mDWH9HqJlC">pic.twitter.com/mDWH9HqJlC</a>

    How It Works

    "Dylan Cease's slider is now the best pitch in baseball" feels like it ought to be a hot take, but the truth is that it might not even be close right now. That minus-32 run value puts it 10 up on Justin Verlander's four-seamer for the most valuable pitch in baseball this season.

    As for what makes Cease's slider so effective, the mustachioed gent put it this way to James Fegan of The Athletic: “I fiddled with my slider grip a little bit to get a little bit more depth. And I threw more inside fastballs to make sure I establish that.”

    You can see what the relationship between Cease's fastball and slider looks like in practice here, though we'd guess that the slider would still dominate if it was all he threw.

    It does, after all, come in at an average of 87.2 mph with better than average vertical drop. It's especially unhittable when he throws it off the lower edges of the zone, where two-thirds of batters' swings against it come up empty.

    Honorable Mention: Edwin Díaz, New York Mets

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Edwin Díaz, Vicious 93mph Slider. 🎺🎺 <a href="https://t.co/0sQzpH0ZhJ">pic.twitter.com/0sQzpH0ZhJ</a>

Curveball: Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Guardians

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Key Stat: 51.2 K%

    How It Looks

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Triston McKenzie, Pretty 82mph Curveball. 🌈 <a href="https://t.co/SHXFE7VDUU">pic.twitter.com/SHXFE7VDUU</a>

    How It Works

    You are indeed reading that right. Triston McKenzie's curveball has ended a total of 121 plate appearances, and 62 by way of the strikeout. By comparison, his fastball is responsible for two fewer strikeouts even though it's ended more than twice as many plate appearances.

    Such numbers are befitting of a curve that that's eminently pleasing to the eye. "Sweeper" breaking balls are all well and good, but there's just something about a classic 12-to-6 hook that never gets old.

    In addition to the movement and the 12.9 mph average velocity differential between his curve and his fastball, location also plays a part in the effectiveness of McKenzie's curve. He throws it low in the zone in general, but really buries it in two-strike counts.

    It's no wonder hitters are batting just .065 against McKenzie's curve in two-strike counts, which is as good as it gets.

    Honorable Mention: Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Shane McClanahan, Fierce 83mph Curveball. 😤 <a href="https://t.co/r9WAPl1no3">pic.twitter.com/r9WAPl1no3</a>

Changeup: Sandy Alcántara, Miami Marlins

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Key Stat: .147 AVG

    How It Looks

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Sandy Alcántara, Unfair 93mph Changeups. 😯 <a href="https://t.co/iLCefScsMk">pic.twitter.com/iLCefScsMk</a>

    How It Works

    The .147 average against Sandy Alcántara's changeup is the lowest for any changeup that's ended at least 100 plate appearances, and there are two primary reasons for that.

    He's gotten more swings and misses on his changeup than all but two other pitchers, and batters generally can't do much with it even when they do put it in play. More than 70 percent of batted balls off Alcántara's changeup end up on the ground, which helps explain why he's given up...[double-checks notes]...wow, zero home runs on it thus far in 2022.

    The twist is that Alcántara doesn't depend on batters chasing his changeup outside the zone. Quite the contrary, as he's throwing an increasingly higher rate of them in the zone as the years go by.

    How does he get away with that? Well, it helps that its low-90s velocity pairs so well with the high-90s velocity of his sinker. To opposing hitters, the two pitches are indistinguishable until it's too late.

    Honorable Mention: Tyler Anderson, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Tyler Anderson, Filthy Changeups. 👌👌 <a href="https://t.co/CxIvSWtm8Z">pic.twitter.com/CxIvSWtm8Z</a>

Splitter: Félix Bautista, Baltimore Orioles

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Key Stat: .103 xwOBA

    How It Looks

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Félix Bautista, Unfair Splitters. 😯 <a href="https://t.co/tnG5FHtkc9">pic.twitter.com/tnG5FHtkc9</a>

    How It Works

    Shohei Ohtani and Kevin Gausman were baseball's most celebrated splitter maestros coming into 2022, but now there's Tony Gonsolin and, even better, Félix Bautista.

    His splitter is as successful as it is in large part thanks to a four-seam fastball that's his primary offering to the tune of a 62.2 percentage. It sits at 99.0 mph and goes as high as 103.1 mph. That's an awful lot of velocity for hitters to protect against.

    When they do get the splitter, they're basically helpless. It comes in at an average of 10.6 mph under Bautista's four-seamer, with ball-on-string movement just as it's entering the hitting zone.

    Of the 110 swings hitters have taken at Bautista's splitter, 59 have come up empty and only five have produced hard contact. It therefore deserves the lowest xwOBA of any pitch that's ended at least 50 plate appearances.

    Honorable Mentions: Tony Gonsolin, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

    Tony Gonsolin, Wicked Splitters. ✌️😼 <a href="https://t.co/YW2hro3ty9">pic.twitter.com/YW2hro3ty9</a>


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Savant.

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