Building the Ultimate 5-Tool Pitcher with Every MLB Roster
Now it's time for the pitchers.
Ahead we've assembled each team's ultimate five-tool pitcher by selecting the best individual fastball, changeup, curveball, slider and alternate pitch (sinker, cutter or splitter) on each pitching staff.
To make things a bit trickier, each pitcher could only be included once, meaning the five pitches had to come from five different pitchers. Injured hurlers were eligible for inclusion.
Pitching data from the last few years and the eye test both played a role in deciding who earned the nod for each pitch, meaning there was a certain level of subjectivity at play.
I look forward to discussing and debating my selections in the comments!
Fastball: Robbie Ray
Changeup: Luke Weaver
Curveball: Zac Gallen
Slider: Andrew Chafin
Other: Stefan Crichton (sinker)
Best Pitch: Zac Gallen's changeup
There's not a huge velocity gap between Zac Gallen's fastball (93.1 mph) and changeup (85.1 mph), but he gets tremendous movement on the pitch, averaging nearly seven inches of horizontal break. That has led to an excellent 38.7 percent whiff-per-swing rate.
Even though he has thrown the pitch just under 17 percent of the time, it has accounted for 32 of his 132 strikeouts since the start of 2019.
Fastball: Mike Soroka
Changeup: Cole Hamels
Curveball: Mark Melancon
Slider: Max Fried
Other: Touki Toussaint (splitter)
Best Pitch: Max Fried's slider
Max Fried has a pair of quality breaking pitches in a mid-70s curveball with excellent shape and a harder mid-80s slider that he tunnels well off his fastball.
The slider induces a higher swing rate (53.1% to 40.5%) and a higher whiff rate (16.4% to 15.6%) than the curveball, showing that it's more enticing to the batter and harder to hit. Those two pitches are a big reason the 26-year-old has been one of the breakout stars of 2020.
Fastball: Miguel Castro
Changeup: John Means
Curveball: Jorge Lopez
Slider: Tanner Scott
Other: Travis Lakins (cutter)
Best Pitch: Tanner Scott's slider
Left-hander Tanner Scott has the prototypical late-inning profile with a high-octane fastball (96.4 mph) and a wipeout slider (89.0 mph). His command is spotty at times, but when he's throwing strikes, he can be unhittable as evidenced by his 12.8 K/9 career strikeout rate.
Opposing hitters have batted .153 with a .069 ISO against his slider the past two seasons, and the pitch has accounted for 40 of his 52 strikeouts during that span. He's held left-handed batters to a .190 average with a 33.1 percent strikeout rate in 181 plate appearances over his career.
Boston Red Sox
Fastball: Nathan Eovaldi
Changeup: Eduardo Rodriguez
Curveball: Brandon Workman
Slider: Chris Sale
Other: Martin Perez (cutter)
Best Pitch: Brandon Workman's curveball
Brandon Workman relies on his curveball more than any other pitch in his arsenal, throwing it 47.1 percent of the time and racking up 60 of his 115 strikeouts with it since the start of 2019.
The pitch averages just 3.7 inches of horizontal movement, but it's an absolute hammer, checking in with a staggering 10.4 inches of north-south break. With a gap of nearly 13 mph between his fastball and curveball, he can use it as a change-of-pace in the zone or a strikeout pitch out of the zone.
Fastball: Rowan Wick
Changeup: Kyle Hendricks
Curveball: Dillon Maples
Slider: Alec Mills
Other: Yu Darvish (cutter)
Best Pitch: Yu Darvish's cutter
In terms of visual appeal, not many pitches top Dillon Maples' curveball, but effectiveness is also an important factor. In the end, it came down to Yu Darvish's cutter against Kyle Hendricks' changeup for top honors.
Hendricks is more a sum-of-the-parts guy than someone who has one dominant pitch. Despite having a 10-pitch repertoire that might suggest the same, Darvish leans heavily on his cutter, and it's helped make him one of baseball's best strikeout pitchers.
Mike Petriello of MLB.com took a deep dive into Darvish's repertoire last year and identified his cutter—a pitch that can be viewed as two different pitches due to his ability to add and subtract velocity—as his go-to offering.
Chicago White Sox
Fastball: Jose Ruiz
Changeup: Lucas Giolito
Curveball: Dylan Cease
Slider: Carlos Rodon
Other: Aaron Bummer (sinker)
Best Pitch: Aaron Bummer's sinker
The White Sox signed Aaron Bummer to a five-year, $16 million extension that includes club options in 2025 and 2026 after he pitched his way to a 2.13 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 27 holds in 58 appearances in 2019.
He posted those numbers on the strength of a bowling ball sinker that helped induce a 72.1 percent ground-ball rate, trailing only Zack Britton (77.2%) among pitchers who worked at least 50 innings last year. It's not a swing-and-miss pitch, evidenced by his somewhat pedestrian 8.0 K/9 strikeout rate overall, but he's the perfect counter to the launch-angle revolution.
Fastball: Amir Garrett
Changeup: Luis Castillo
Curveball: Sonny Gray
Slider: Robert Stephenson
Other: Trevor Bauer (cutter)
Best Pitch: Luis Castillo's changeup
He's thrown the pitch 32.6 percent of the time since the start of 2019, and hitters have been consistently baffled by its 9.2 inches of horizontal movement, posting a .147 average and .075 ISO with just 15 extra-base hits against 1,151 total changeups.
Fastball: Mike Clevinger
Changeup: Carlos Carrasco
Curveball: James Karinchak
Slider: Shane Bieber
Other: Aaron Civale (cutter)
Best Pitch: James Karinchak's curveball
It's hard not to pick a Shane Bieber pitch of some sort here given how impressive he has been to start the 2020 season, but James Karinchak's stuff is simply on another level.
He used his fastball-curveball combination to strike out 74 of the 125 batters he faced in the minors last season, and it's been just as effective against MLB hitters this year. The 24-year-old has a 0.71 ERA in 11 appearances and has fanned 24 of 46 batters he's faced, with 14 of those punchouts coming by way of his vicious hammer curveball.
Fastball: Carlos Estevez
Changeup: Kyle Freeland
Curveball: German Marquez
Slider: Jairo Diaz
Other: Wade Davis (cutter)
Best Pitch: German Marquez's curveball
An underrated young starter pitching at altitude, German Marquez has racked up 435 strikeouts since the start of the 2018 season, good for 11th in the majors during that span. His curveball has been the finisher on 240 of those punchouts.
He tunnels the pitch extremely well with his mid-90s fastball, and a velocity gap of roughly 12 mph between the two pitches makes him an uncomfortable at-bat for hitters. His curve might not be the most visually appealing since it doesn't feature a ton of break, but location and late life make it extremely effective.
Fastball: Joe Jimenez
Changeup: Buck Farmer
Curveball: Anthony Castro
Slider: Matthew Boyd
Other: Casey Mize (splitter)
Best Pitch: Casey Mize's splitter
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Casey Mize entered the pro ranks with an advanced arsenal of pitches, headlined by his devastating splitter.
MLB.com wrote: "Mize's bread and butter is his splitter, a nearly elite pitch that registers in the mid-80s with outstanding late tumbling action that causes it to bottom out as it nears the plate, netting the right-hander plenty of whiffs and weak contact."
He had seven strikeouts in his MLB debut Wednesday, and four came with the splitter.
Fastball: Justin Verlander
Changeup: Zack Greinke
Curveball: Ryan Pressly
Slider: Roberto Osuna
Other: Brooks Raley (cutter)
Best Pitch: Zack Greinke's changeup
It was tempting to include Zack Greinke's slow curveball, but it's his changeup that has become his best offering in the late stages of his career.
He's thrown the pitch 21.4 percent of the time since the start of 2019, holding opposing hitters to a .203 average and a .128 ISO with an impressive 16.7 percent whiff rate that generally accompanies a breakout pitch. Then again, with nearly seven inches of horizontal movement, it might as well be a breaking ball.
Kansas City Royals
Fastball: Trevor Rosenthal
Changeup: Kris Bubic
Curveball: Josh Staumont
Slider: Jakob Junis
Other: Mike Montgomery (cutter)
Best Pitch: Jakob Junis' slider
Jakob Junis led all qualified pitchers in slider usage last season, and it has been an extremely effective pitch throughout his career.
For his career, he's surrendered a .184 average and .118 ISO with his slider while finishing off 308 of his 412 strikeouts with the hard-biting pitch. With 8.2 inches of horizontal movement, it's a legitimate frisbee and one of the more visually appealing sliders in the game.
Los Angeles Angels
Fastball: Ty Buttrey
Changeup: Griffin Canning
Curveball: Ryan Buchter
Slider: Dylan Bundy
Other: Shohei Ohtani (splitter)
Best Pitch: Dylan Bundy's slider
Dylan Bundy is off to an excellent start in his first season with the Angels, posting a 2.48 ERA and 0.80 WHIP with 38 strikeouts in 32.2 innings. A virtually unhittable slider has been the foundation for that success.
He's thrown the pitch 133 times this year at a 28.7 percent usage rate, and opposing hitters are batting .029 with just one extra-base hit against it. His slider has also accounted for 21 of his strikeouts and coaxed an impressive 22.6 percent whiff rate.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Fastball: Dustin May
Changeup: Pedro Baez
Curveball: Clayton Kershaw
Slider: Walker Buehler
Other: Kenley Jansen (cutter)
Best Pitch: Clayton Kershaw's curveball
So. Many. Choices.
Dustin May's two-seam fastball has been the talk of baseball. Kenley Jansen has built a career around his cutter. Walker Buehler has a dynamic arsenal of pitches highlighted by his mid-90s fastball and a terrific slider. Pedro Baez has an underrated changeup. Blake Treinen still throws his bowling ball sinker.
In the end, Clayton Kershaw's curveball is as much a work of art as it is a breaking ball. He's thrown his slider (39.8%) far more than his curveball (16.2%) since the start of 2019, and both pitches have been extremely effective, but few pitches are more enjoyable to watch than his knee-buckling curveball.
Fastball: Sandy Alcantara
Changeup: Pablo Lopez
Curveball: Jordan Holloway
Slider: Jeff Brigham
Other: Brandon Kintzler (sinker)
Best Pitch: Jeff Brigham's slider
Among pitchers who threw at least 50 sliders last year, Jeff Brigham ranked 10th in active spin rate, and he had a quietly successful season largely on the strength of that one excellent offering.
Batters teed off on his fastball to the tune of a .347 average and .347 ISO in 2019, but they only mustered a .145 average and .044 ISO with 21 strikeouts against his slider. The 28-year-old is still finding his footing in the majors, but he has a chance to be a late-bloomer thanks to his breaking ball.
Fastball: Josh Hader
Changeup: Devin Williams
Curveball: Corey Knebel
Slider: Brandon Woodruff
Other: Adrian Houser (sinker)
Best Pitch: Josh Hader's fastball
Josh Hader is the most dominant reliever in baseball, and he does it with two pitches: a lively four-seam fastball that he has thrown roughly 82 percent of the time since the start of 2019 and a wipeout slider.
Both pitches have been virtually untouchable, and both would be fitting selections here:
- Fastball: 1,073 pitches, .166 BAA, .233 ISO, 116 K
- Slider: 232 pitches, .055 BAA, .055 ISO, 32 K
He's allowed 14 home runs with his fastball, which is the reason for the inflated ISO, but aside from that handful of mistakes, it's been overpowering with an elite 40.2 percent whiff/swing rate.
Tip of the cap to Devin Williams' changeup, which would have been the pick for a lot of other teams.
Fastball: Trevor May
Changeup: Kenta Maeda
Curveball: Tyler Duffey
Slider: Sergio Romo
Other: Randy Dobnak (sinker)
Best Pitch: Tyler Duffey's curveball
Tyler Duffey quietly emerged as a force out of the Minnesota Twins bullpen in 2019, posting a 2.50 ERA and 1.01 WHIP with 82 strikeouts in 57.2 innings.
The 29-year-old posted those numbers while throwing his knuckle curveball 45.9 percent of the time, limiting hitters to a .202 average and .141 ISO while getting more than seven inches of vertical drop. He's throwing his go-to pitch even more frequently this year with a 63.4 percent usage rate.
New York Mets
Fastball: Jacob deGrom
Changeup: Michael Wacha
Curveball: Seth Lugo
Slider: Noah Syndergaard
Other: Marcus Stroman (sinker)
Best Pitch: Jacob deGrom's fastball
Two-time NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom is averaging an absurd 98.8 mph with his fastball through five starts this season, and he's surrendered just one extra-base hit with the pitch while throwing it 39.1 percent of the time.
Velocity is only part of the reason the pitch is so effective, as it also averages 3.6 inches of arm-side movement, making him extremely difficult to square up. His slider is equally overpowering and would have been a worthy selection here as well.
New York Yankees
Fastball: Gerrit Cole
Changeup: Tommy Kahnle
Curveball: Jonathan Loaisiga
Slider: Aroldis Chapman
Other: Zack Britton (sinker)
Best Pitch: Gerrit Cole's fastball
Gerrit Cole vs. Aroldis Chapman for the title of best fastball on the New York Yankees roster was one of the tough decisions of this entire exercise.
Let's go to the 2019 numbers:
- Cole: 54.1% usage, 97.4 mph, .175 BAA, 18.3% whiff, 195/326 K's
- Chapman: 58.9% usage, 98.3 mph, .239 BAA, 10.8% whiff, 24/85 K's
Despite Chapman's advantage in velocity, Cole generated far more whiffs with his fastball, and he did it while maintaining his own elite velocity deep into games.
There's a case to be made that Cole's four-seam fastball is the best pitch in baseball.
Fastball: Liam Hendriks
Changeup: Jesus Luzardo
Curveball: Lou Trivino
Slider: Frankie Montas
Other: Yusmeiro Petit (cutter)
Best Pitch: Jesus Luzardo's changeup
Jesus Luzardo has an electric repertoire reminiscent of Johan Santana's at his peak with the Minnesota Twins, and while he has a terrific curveball-slider pairing, his changeup is his best secondary offering.
MLB.com wrote: "He has one of the best changeups of any pitching prospect in baseball, thrown with a ton of fade and sink."
In his brief time in the majors, he's thrown his firm changeup 131 times for a 21.4 percent usage rate, limiting opponents to a .050 ISO and just one extra-base hit. That pitch will be the key to his success as he looks to live up to his billing as one of baseball's best young arms.
Fastball: Zack Wheeler
Changeup: Aaron Nola
Curveball: Vince Velasquez
Slider: Zach Eflin
Other: Hector Neris (splitter)
Best Pitch: Hector Neris' splitter
Hector Neris enjoyed a breakout 2019 season as the Philadelphia Phillies closer, nailing down 28 of 34 save chances with a 2.93 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 89 strikeouts in 67.2 innings.
He threw his devastating splitter 65.5 percent of the time, limiting opposing hitters to a .170 average and .113 ISO with the pitch while logging a 22.3 percent whiff rate and 57 strikeouts on it. The fact that he limited left-handed hitters to a .596 OPS speaks to how effective the pitch is, regardless of who is in the batter's box.
Fastball: Nick Burdi
Changeup: Steven Brault
Curveball: Keone Kela
Slider: Joe Musgrove
Other: Dovydas Neverauskas (cutter)
Best Pitch: Keone Kela's curveball
Keone Kela pitched almost exclusively off a 96.6 mph fastball (53.5% usage) and a hard-biting 82.1 mph curveball (43.7% usage) last season, and his curveball accounted for 25 of his 33 strikeouts.
The 14-plus mph differential between the pitches and the fact that he mixes them so evenly makes it tough to sit on any one pitch or velocity, and opposing hitters' .130 average and .093 ISO against the curveball last year speak for themselves.
San Diego Padres
Fastball: Andres Munoz
Changeup: Chris Paddack
Curveball: Drew Pomeranz
Slider: Dinelson Lamet
Other: Kirby Yates (splitter)
Best Pitch: Dinelson Lamet's slider
Chris Paddack's changeup, Kirby Yates' splitter and Dinelson Lamet's slider would probably all find their way onto a list of the 20 or so best pitches in baseball, and any of them would a fine choice for best pitch on the San Diego Padres roster.
Since debuting in 2017, Lamet has shown some of the best swing-and-miss stuff in baseball, and his hard slider has been the driving force behind his success.
He's thrown the pitch 42.6 percent of the time, slightly more frequently than his fastball. It has held opposing hitters to a .129 average and .090 ISO with a 21.3 percent whiff rate while accounting for 188 of his 280 career strikeouts.
San Francisco Giants
Fastball: Sam Coonrod
Changeup: Tony Watson
Curveball: Drew Smyly
Slider: Sam Selman
Other: Kevin Gausman (splitter)
Best Pitch: Kevin Gausman's splitter
Beneath the surface of a middling 4.21 ERA, Kevin Gausman is having a terrific season for the San Francisco Giants after signing a one-year, $9 million deal in December.
He has a 3.11 FIP and a 1.17 WHIP thanks to a brilliant 34-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and increased usage of a resurgent split-finger fastball has been the key to his success.
The No. 4 pick in the 2012 draft is throwing his splitter 29.5 percent of the time and generating an elite 24.6 percent whiff rate thanks to its nearly seven inches of vertical drop. The pitch has racked up 18 of his 34 strikeouts and opposing hitters have a paltry .171 average and .086 ISO against it on the year.
Fastball: Dan Altavilla
Changeup: Marco Gonzales
Curveball: Carl Edwards Jr.
Slider: Austin Adams
Other: Justus Sheffield (sinker)
Best Pitch: Austin Adams' slider
Austin Adams was a revelation for the Seattle Mariners last season after they acquired him from the Washington Nationals in May.
He struck out 51 of the 124 batters he faced following the trade, good for a 14.8 K/9 strikeout rate, and he did it throwing his slider 64.9 percent of the time.
His low arm slot and whip-like delivery generate good sweep across the strike zone and make his slider a lethal put-away pitch. Unfortunately, he is still recovering from offseason knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and has yet to take the mound in 2020.
St. Louis Cardinals
Fastball: Jack Flaherty
Changeup: Carlos Martinez
Curveball: Adam Wainwright
Slider: Giovanny Gallegos
Other: Jordan Hicks (sinker)
Best Pitch: Jack Flaherty's fastball
The triple-digit radar gun readings of Jordan Hicks' sinker are a lot of fun, and Adam Wainwright's big, looping curveball will always have a place in St. Louis Cardinals lore.
However, right now, there's no better pitch on the staff than Jack Flaherty's fastball.
The 24-year-old has averaged 94.6 mph with 2.7 inches of horizontal break on his four-seam fastball since the start of 2019, and he's thrown that pitch 45.7 percent of the time while emerging as one of baseball's most promising young aces.
Opposing batters are hitting just .196 against his fastball during that span, and it has accounted for 110 of his 240 strikeouts. He plays his fastball off his slider and vice versa, making both pitches better in the process.
Tampa Bay Rays
Fastball: Tyler Glasnow
Changeup: Anthony Banda
Curveball: Charlie Morton
Slider: Chaz Roe
Other: Yonny Chirinos (splitter)
Best Pitch: Chaz Roe's slider
Narrowing the above categories to one pitch was borderline impossible.
Aside from the ones mentioned, Diego Castillo's slider, Tyler Glasnow's changeup, Nick Anderson's curveball-slider hybrid, Blake Snell's curveball, Peter Fairbanks' power fastball-slider combination, and Ryan Yarbrough's cutter all deserve a mention.
In the end, the nod went to slider specialist Chaz Roe.
The 33-year-old threw his slider 63.8 percent of the time last year and racked up 54 of his 65 strikeouts with it while limiting hitters to a .093 ISO. Among all hurlers who have thrown at least 50 pitches in 2020, his slider has the highest active spin rate by a wide margin.
Fastball: Lance Lynn
Changeup: Mike Minor
Curveball: Jordan Lyles
Slider: Jonathan Hernandez
Other: Kolby Allard (cutter)
Best Pitch: Lance Lynn's fastball
Since the start of the 2019 season, Lance Lynn leads all qualified starters in fastball usage by a wide margin, and that speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the pitch, considering how good he's been since putting on a Texas Rangers uniform.
The 33-year-old is working largely off a mix of his four-seam fastball (57.5%) and cutter (20.6%) this year, and the result has been a 1.37 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 39.1 innings. He clocks in at 94.6 mph average velocity on his fastball and gets an impressive 3.4 inches of horizontal movement.
Toronto Blue Jays
Fastball: Nate Pearson
Changeup: Hyun-Jin Ryu
Curveball: Anthony Kay
Slider: Ken Giles
Other: Matt Shoemaker (splitter)
Best Pitch: Hyun-Jin Ryu's changeup
There's a very good chance that Nate Pearson's high-octane fastball or wipeout slider will occupy this spot sooner than later, but for now, Hyun Jin Ryu still has the best pitch on the Toronto Blue Jays staff.
He threw his changeup more than any other offering in his vast arsenal last year when he finished as the runner-up in NL Cy Young voting, turning to it 27.4 percent of the time and limiting hitters to a .194 average and .103 ISO.
There's a 10 mph variance between his fastball and changeup, and his change gets a stellar 7.5 inches of horizontal break, leading to a 19.3 percent whiff rate that was tops among his pitches.
Fastball: Max Scherzer
Changeup: Stephen Strasburg
Curveball: Austin Voth
Slider: Patrick Corbin
Other: Will Harris (cutter)
Best Pitch: Patrick Corbin's slider
Max Scherzer might have the best repertoire of any pitcher in baseball, but in terms of singling out one pitch from the Washington Nationals roster, Patrick Corbin's slider takes top honors.
The 31-year-old finished 11th in NL Cy Young voting in his first season with the Nationals after signing a six-year, $140 million contract in free agency, ranking among the NL leaders in ERA (3.25, eighth) and strikeouts (238, fourth).
He threw his slider more than any other pitch (37.0 percent usage rate), and it accounted for 157 of his strikeouts. Opposing hitters batted just .161 with a .110 ISO against the 1,220 sliders he threw.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference. Pitch data comes courtesy of Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball and FanGraphs, while all linked GIFs are courtesy of Pitcher List. All of those sites were invaluable tools while compiling this list.