Ranking the Filthiest Pitches of the 2021 MLB Season So Far

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 26, 2021

Come get a load of Joe Musgrove's slider and other nasty pitches.
Come get a load of Joe Musgrove's slider and other nasty pitches.Gregory Bull/Associated Press

It's early yet, but Major League Baseball hitters are working on an all-time low .232 batting average and an all-time high 24.6 strikeout percentage in 2021.

Then again, maybe this isn't so much bad hitting as good great utterly nasty pitching.

If you've been on social media at any point during the opening weeks of the 2021 season, chances are you've seen GIFs of some of the overpowering stuff that hitters are up against. If not, well, you're in luck.

We've ranked the 10 filthiest pitches of the 2021 season so far. Naturally, these are pitches that just plain look good. Even better for nerds like us, they also offer fun metrics and results to dive into. 

With all GIFs courtesy of Rob "Pitching Ninja" Friedman, let's start with a long list of honorable mentions and then count 'em down.


Honorable Mentions


10. Trevor Rogers' Fastball

Hey, check this out:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Trevor Rogers, 95mph Fastball...and 8th K thru 5. https://t.co/d4nGKwYxnu

Yeah, that's the good stuff.

Because it's responsible for 23 (highest among left-handed starters) of the 31 strikeouts that he has to go with his 1.64 ERA, it's fair to say that Trevor Rogers' fastball is driving his breakout season with the Miami Marlins. Uncoincidentally, said fastball is up from 93.6 mph in 2020 to 94.9 mph on average in 2021.

If Rogers' fastball seems nastier than a typical mid-90s heater, it's not just you. His 6'5" frame affords him extension comparable to Madison Bumgarner and Blake Snell. To boot, his four-seamer boasts 3.2 more inches of horizontal movement than the average pitch in that category.


9. Jacob deGrom's Four-Seam Fastball

Light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Jacob deGrom, 101mph ⛽️ https://t.co/rfFk5GzEOl

Or "laser," for short.

With two Cy Young Awards already in his collection, Jacob deGrom is now well on his way to a third this season. Through three starts, he's allowed just one earned run on 13 hits and three walks with 50 strikeouts. And that's out of just 101 total batters faced. 

His fastball is responsible for an MLB-high 25 of those strikeouts, and the method behind that madness isn't complicated. He's throwing it at an MLB-best average of 99 mph, with a max of 102 mph.

Other starting pitchers simply don't do that. Probably because other starting pitchers simply aren't Jacob deGrom.


8. Lucas Giolito's Changeup

Look out, Mike Trout!

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Lucas Giolito dismantling Mike Trout with an absurd 85mph Changeup. 😯 https://t.co/9vFyZQYiZ0

You should have looked out, Mike Trout.

Oddly enough, Lucas Giolito's changeup has actually been knocked around to the tune of a .250 average and four extra-base hits. But much of that damage was done by the Boston Red Sox last Monday. Previously, hitters were just 3-for-26 against Giolito's changeup.

Giolito is unusually aggressive with his changeup, having thrown 152 of them (50 more than any other pitcher) in the heart of the strike zone since last season. Yet that ultimately speaks to how well he tunnels it off his fastball, not to mention that dastardly 11.4 mph velocity gap between the two pitches.


7. Kevin Gausman's Splitter

Ever heard of the "Splendid Splinter"? Well, this...:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Kevin Gausman, Filthy 85mph Splitter. 😷 https://t.co/OLalK6R5Dg

...is the "Splendid Splitter."

It's nothing new to see Kevin Gausman making hitters look silly with his split-finger fastball. Dating back to his first full season with the Baltimore Orioles in 2014, he leads all hurlers in both whiffs and strikeouts on splitters.

Now in his second season with the San Francisco Giants, what is different about Gausman's splitter in 2021 is that he's throwing it from a higher release point compared to 2020, yet it's still ending up about the same distance from the ground.

It's therefore gone beyond merely falling "off the table," so it's no wonder that opposing hitters are 5-for-51 with 24 strikeouts against it.


6. Dustin May's Curveball


Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Dustin May, Unfair Breaking Balls. 😳 https://t.co/od6n0N6AMJ


Though Dustin May generated plenty of GIFs in his first two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019 and 2020, they almost always highlighted his sinker. Rightfully so, given that he can get it up around 100 mph with absurd lateral movement.

But as promised, May is throwing his curveball more often in 2021. And what a curve it is, as it sits at an MLB-best 86.5 mph with 3.3 more inches of horizontal movement than the average hook.

Will hitters adjust to it? Probably. But in the meantime, they're 0-for-21 with 14 strikeouts against it.


5. Carlos Rodon's Slider

Behold, mortals:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Carlos Rodón, Vicious 87mph Slider...and Pitching with 🔥 https://t.co/2HgjkkdatA

Dear deity.

Highlighted by his no-hitter against Cleveland on April 14, Carlos Rodon is teasing a long-awaited breakout with a 0.97 ERA and just five total hits allowed through three starts for the Chicago White Sox.

As for how he's doing it, he's notably forcing hitters to protect against a fastball that's sitting at a career-best 94.9 mph. That's surely making it easier for him to catch hitters off-balance with his slider, which is made that much harder to hit by its two-plane break and frequent location below the strike zone.

Because opposing batters are 0-for-18 with 14 strikeouts against Rodon's slider so far, the next batter to actually hit it should get a prize. 


4. Jose Berrios' Curveball

Here it comes:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

José Berríos, Insidious 86mph Curveball. 😵 I'm gonna have to dig deep into my thesaurus to tweet this game. https://t.co/xojUY6BC7V

And there it goes.

Ah, Jose Berrios' curveball. It's been a good friend to the Pitch GIF community for a while now, even if that's made him many enemies within baseball. Just ask Caleb Joseph.

Thus far in 2021, the Minnesota Twins ace is averaging a career-best 84.3 mph with characteristically excellent horizontal break on his curve. What's more, he's also getting it down better than ever before.

You know, just in case you were wondering why hitters are 2-for-27 with 17 strikeouts against it. And you were, right?


3. Shane Bieber's Breaking Balls


Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Shane Bieber, Wicked 86mph Slider. 🤢 https://t.co/CVNIt1lvjB


Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Shane Bieber, Beautiful 83mph Knuckle Curve. 🤩 https://t.co/ZdqLRG8VIs

The highlight of this two-for-one Shane Bieber special is surely his knuckle curveball, which has been and still is known for turning professional hitters into well-sculpted statues of jelly.

Yet it's actually Bieber's slider that's more deserving of attention. It's returned to his arsenal in a big way this year after playing a mere supporting role during his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2020. It's a nasty pitch in its own right, and it's that much nastier in tandem with his knuckle curve.

Hence how Cleveland's ace has 33 more whiffs on breaking balls than any other pitcher this season. In all likelihood, that number will keep growing exponentially.


2. Corbin Burnes' Cutter

Let's have an awed hush, please, for Mr. Burnes' cutter:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Look at this Corbin Burnes 97mph Cutter. 👀 https://t.co/Ei0A5teJGX

Corbin Burnes, whose middle name is annoyingly not "Montgomery," is off to a truly historic start for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2021. In four outings, he's allowed just one run on eight hits with zero walks and 40 strikeouts. Nobody had ever done that before him.

This is partially a case of Burnes' carrying over the successful run that he started in 2020 after abandoning his windup. Yet notably different in 2021 is that his cutter has mid-90s velocity reminiscent of peak Garrett Richards, not to mention above-average vertical and horizontal movement.

In 41 at-bats against Burnes' cutter, hitters have just four hits and 20 strikeouts. That, in a word, is good.


1. Joe Musgrove's Slider

Gaze in wonder:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Joe Musgrove, Sick 84mph Slider. 🤒 🤫🤫🤫🤫 https://t.co/1Xdua75ua7

At last, now we know what Carl Sagan was referring to when he said, "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."

Like Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow before him, Joe Musgrove merely needed to get away from the Pittsburgh Pirates to unlock his full potential. In his case, all he's really doing is using his slider as his primary pitch and throwing it from a slightly lower release point.

The latter change likely explains why Musgrove's slider now features 9.1 more inches of horizontal movement than the average slider. That's the kind of movement that allows it to either evade right-handed hitters or attack the shins of left-handed hitters as needed.

In any case, hitters from both sides are 2-for-35 with 24 strikeouts against Musgrove's slider. At least for now, that's as good as it gets.