10 MLB Pitchers with the Best 'Late Movement'

Alec Snyder@@alec_snyder62Contributor IIINovember 4, 2011

10 MLB Pitchers with the Best 'Late Movement'

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    Baseball has had its moments over the years, and pitching, being a part of every moment, is always fun to watch. Different pitchers have pitches with different amounts of movement...there's just so much to take in. I find it interesting.

    Pitchers are usually judged by their pitch rotation and their location, as well as speed. All of those stats lead to strikeouts, which lead to fewer baserunners, which lead to fewer runs, which lead to more wins. It's vital for any pitcher in major league baseball to display control, accuracy, and speed to be successful.

    However, a stat not always referenced is a pitcher's late movement. The late movement is the pitch's movement from its reaching the plate to its reaching the catcher's mitt.

    Many pitchers rely on late movement to bolster their stats and earn more strikeouts. In this slideshow, we'll be observing some of baseball's best late-movement pitchers, and which pitch specifically works for them and why.

    Are you ready? Let's get down to business.

Starting Rotation: Roy Halladay's Sinker

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    Over the course of his career, Roy Halladay has been known for many things, including his intense work ethic, dedication to the game, and pitching finesse and perfection. He's been considered one of the game's all-around best over the last decade or so, and he only continues to improve with age.

    The 34-year-old Halladay has accomplished much throughout his illustrious career. He's won two Cy Young Awards (one in each league), is an eight-time All-Star, and has thrown a perfect game and postseason no-hitter.

    His career record of 188-92 is one of the best among active pitchers, and his 66 career complete games and 20 career shutouts are nearly unparalleled by any other active starting pitcher.

    Halladay has had many reasons for his success, but one of the leading factors in his success is his sinker. Halladay's sinker, which he holds like a two-seam fastball, is one of the best pitches in the majors, fooling hitters with its fastball speed yet its descent as it reaches the plate.

    For Halladay, the pitch generally rests in the low 90s (about 92-93 mph, give or take) and basically follows the commands from its master. Halladay can throw the pitch with pinpoint accuracy, and rarely does it fail him.

    In this video of Halladay's perfect game against the Florida Marlins last year, take a look at his strikeout of Dan Uggla at 4:05. It has a rotation closer to that of an actual two-seam fastball in that instance, but it slightly sinks and also cuts inward to strike Uggla out looking.

    There are many other instances of Halladay's use of the sinker in the video as well.

Starting Rotation: Justin Verlander's Fastball

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    Justin Verlander was arguably the most dominant pitcher in the majors this past season. With a record of 24-5, 250 strikeouts, a 2.40 ERA, and a 0.92 WHIP, (pitching in the American League, mind you), Verlander not only won the AL Triple Crown, but was also a leader in baseball in a handful of stat categories.

    One of Verlander's main accomplishments this season was his no-hitter. Thrown on May 8 against the Toronto Blue Jays, he struck out four, throwing 74 of his 108 pitches for strikes, walked just one, and faced the minimum 27 batters.

    However, what might have been the most impressive aspect of the no-hitter was that he hit 100 mph in the ninth inning of the no-no. That's practically unheard of.

    The way Verlander pitches is that he starts out hot by throwing heat, then cooling off for the middle of his outing by pitching with less power, and then revving his arm back up near the end of his day.

    While hitting 100 mph is no laughing matter, doing so in the ninth inning of a complete game no-hitter is extremely impressive. The way Verlander handles his fastball with such precision and pace is incredible to watch.

    Believe it or not, Verlander's four-seam fastball, which usually sits around the 96-98 mph range, does have some rotation on it. His two-seam is much more notable for its movement, which comes in at the low to mid-90s.

    When it approaches the plate, it jolts back, often fooling the hitter, who expects it to remain straight in its direction.

Starting Rotation: Cliff Lee's Spike Curveball

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    Yes, I am a Phillies fan, and with Cliff Lee's spiked curveball and Cole Hamels' filthy change-up, it's difficult to leave out either one. However, I feel that Lee's curveball is more of a late-movement pitch, and since that applies to this slideshow, I'm in luck.

    In Cliff Lee's first full season in Phillies pinstripes, Lee posted a 17-8 record with a 2.40 ERA, 238 strikeouts (a career high), and a 1.03 WHIP. He was also nominated to the NL All-Star team, and in the game he gave up the AL's only run, a solo home run to Boston Red Sox slugger Adrian Gonzalez.

    Lee, a former Cy Young Award recipient, is also notorious for his postseason accomplishments. He's got a fantastic postseason record at 7-3, a great postseason ERA of 2.52, and a stellar postseason WHIP of 0.93.

    However, despite the odds in favor, Lee gave up a Phillies 4-0 lead in Game 2 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, losing the game 5-4 and tying his career high in hits allowed, with 12.

    When Cliff Lee was a Phillie back in 2009, much emphasis was put on his spike curveball, which is another name for a knucklecurve. Lee throws the pitch so it looks like it's a simple curveball coming into the middle of the plate.

    Yet when it reaches home plate, the ball takes a sharp dive and often doesn't make it to the catcher's mitt without bouncing into it. Although Lee doesn't throw it as often as he once did, when he does, it's a pitch to watch.

Starting Rotation: Tim Lincecum's Split-Finger Changeup

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    Tim Lincecum is quite the character. Known not only by his teammates but throughout baseball as "The Freak" due to his odd pitching motion and his long hair, Lincecum has been one of baseball's most effective and skilled pitchers over the last few seasons, winning two consecutive NL Cy Young Awards from 2008-2009 as a result of his efforts.

    While this past season was not Lincecum's best, it was nonetheless decent—he went 13-14, but the win-loss record doesn't show his effectiveness. He posted a 2.74 ERA, and despite having a somewhat-high 1.21 WHIP, he fanned 220 batters.

    Many of Lincecum's struggles this past season can be attributed to his teammates' inability to produce run support for him, which is a shame, given his talent.

    But The Freak did overcome the lack of hitting enough to strike out a hefty number of batters. Arguably Lincecum's best pitch is what he calls his changeup, which he actually holds like a splitter that moves like a sinker.

    The pitch is awesome to watch but not awesome to face—it looks like a fastball for the first half of its duration (like a changeup), but as it reaches the batter, it takes a sharp turn away from the batter (predominantly lefties) and decreases by as much as 10 mph from its fastball look-alike, usually topping out at the 82-85 mph range.

    On a personal note, I'm not a big Lincecum fan, but every time I watch him throw that changeup, I get a little shiver down my spine. Yeah, I did consider putting Dan Haren's cutter in here, but when credit is earned, credit is due.

Starting Rotation: Josh Beckett's Curveball

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    Over the last few years, Josh Beckett has been one of baseball's more inconsistent pitchers. However, that doesn't bar him from having any movement on his arsenal.

    Beckett, a three-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion, had one of the best seasons of his career in 2011, going 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, and 179 strikeouts.

    While not necessarily a leader in any given stat, Beckett led the AL in ERA for quite some time during the season and was the Red Sox's standout starting pitcher this season.

    One of the pitches that Beckett throws best is his curveball. It comes in at around 75-78 mph and cuts down sharply to the plate. It fools batters, especially righties, who have no clue that the ball will take such a dive away from them.

    Beckett has been streaky over the last few years, but one of his consistencies has been his breaking ball despite throwing it effectively since only 2007.

Long Reliever: Jeff Samardzija's Fastball

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    For a team as bad as the Cubs, Jeff Samardzija has been a bright spot.

    Samardzija, who's got a career record of 12-9, has a somewhat-high ERA of 4.40 yet also owns 142 strikeouts.

    He's been a fairly good and reliable pitcher out of the bullpen, and with many uncertainties on the Cubs' roster, Samardzija has been consistent, at least by Cubs' standards. He may even switch to the rotation next year if needed.

    Samardzija's best pitch is his fastball, which hits 96 mph and can top out as high as 99 mph. The fastball has little movement, yet its speed and slight cut cause hitters to swing and miss often.

    If Samardzija is moved to the rotation, the Cubs should be able to garner at least a few more wins. It wouldn't even be surprising to see Samardzija be the No. 3 starter or so, barring any big free-agent signing.

Middle Reliever: Mark Rzepczynski's Slider

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    Yeah, that's right. I included Scrabble on this list.

    Marc Rzepczynski, whose name I will type only once due to its complex spelling, has been a very good left-handed reliever.

    Despite a career 8-11 record (mostly with the Blue Jays, mind you), he does have an average 3.89 ERA and 156 strikeouts, not to mention being a southpaw, which is always a valuable asset in a pitcher.

    Scrabble isn't an overwhelming pitcher, yet not many of these pitchers are. This is about late movement, and Scrabble's slider has just that.

    It hits anywhere from 80-85 mph and is effective against both righties and lefties. To righties, the pitch sweeps downward near the back of their stance, which causes them to swing right over it.

    As for lefties, it completely moves away from them, and with a slider, that's always a good thing.

    I'll admit it, I'm not so happy to see a Cardinals player on this list (I know the Phillies choked; no need for controversy here, folks), but I've liked Scrabble since he was a Blue Jay, and his pitching style is fun to watch. At least sometimes.

Middle Reliever: Tyler Clippard's Out-Pitch

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    Tyler Clippard has been a pretty good pitcher over the last few seasons. Owning a career 21-12 record with a 3.05 ERA and 220 strikeouts, Clippard has been extremely effective, yet he was a relative unknown until recently.

    Clippard, an All-Star for the first time this year, pitched well in the game, taking over for Cliff Lee once he gave up a solo shot to Adrian Gonzalez.

    Clippard took the reins and pitched well, and due to Prince Fielder hitting a go-ahead double the next inning, Clippard earned the win when the NL won 5-1.

    Clippard's listed for his "out pitch" because he has a different one depending on the batter. To right handed hitters, Clippard throws a changeup hovering around 81 mph that just dominates the batter and is deceiving.

    To lefties, Clippard throws a hard, breaking slider that sits around 86 mph and is a great strikeout or groundout pitch for him.

    Clippard is just becoming known, but he'll surely shine for the Nationals in the future.

Set-Up Man: Brad Lidge's Slider

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    You're probably thinking "What?!" Yes, as a Phillies fan, I tried to stray away from Phillies pitchers, yet Lidge was difficult to exclude.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big Lidge fan, but one can't take away the contributions he made for the Phillies in 2008. Without him, they'd have likely missed the World Series, and potentially even the playoffs.

    Back in his heyday in 2008, Lidge was well known for his slider, which ranged from 85-87 mph, and even today, although his fastball has lost some heat, his slider has, for the most part, still got it.

    Lidge's slider comes in with its breaking movement and dips down just as the bat would make contact with it.

    It's an easy pitch to misplace, yet Lidge's accuracy with the pitch has allowed him to strike out one hitter after another, especially right-handed hitters, although it's just as effective on lefties as well. Just ask Eric Hinske.

    And yes, Lidge can be included in the eighth inning since he didn't close for the Phillies last year. Am I maybe cheating a bit? Potentially. But his slider is pretty sick.

    ...Okay, fine. I get it. No Phillies. Got it. Then let's use Mike Adams of the Texas Rangers. Adams has a pretty good slider too, which cuts sharply inside to lefties, making it difficult to hit. And yes, Adams has been more effective recently and as a set-up man. Okay. Adams it is.

Closer: Mariano Rivera's Cutter

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    Need I say more?

    Mariano Rivera is (almost) undoubtedly the best closer of all time. He's racked up 603 saves in his career (the most all-time), has a career ERA of 2.21, a career WHIP of 1.00, and 1,111 career strikeouts, along with a 75-57 career win-loss record.

    And in the postseason, Mo's been just as incredible, having gone 8-1 with 42 saves (another record) in October ball in his career.

    Also a 12-time All-Star, five-time World Series champion, and five-time winner of the AL Rolaids Relief Man Award, the 41-year-old Rivera is a force to be reckoned with. Despite throwing only one pitch (but on occasion, also a two-seam fastball) to take down hitters, Rivera has done so effectively for years.

    That pitch is Mo's cutter. Among the best pitches in baseball (and likely the best cutter among today's pitchers), Rivera can do most anything he wants with his cutter—he has learned that by slightly changing either his finger position, his finger pressure, or both, that the ball, despite being one pitch, can take tons of twists and turns, and that is why he's one of the best in the game.

    While I'm not a Yankees fan, Mo is one of my favorite pitchers to watch. He's got such talent and skill and he'll surely be enshrined in Cooperstown when his time comes to be placed on the ballot.