2020 Nastiest Pitches Preview: NL/AL Central

Ben Brown previews the nastiest pitches in the NL/AL Central divisions.

You might already know this, but we love nasty pitches here at Pitcher List. Hundreds of thousands of pitches are thrown every season, and it is our duty to bring you the nastiest of them all. To get you ready for the 2020 season, we’ve collected some of the best pitches in each division for your viewing pleasure. Some that we’ve chosen are obvious inclusions that you’ve likely seen here many times before, while others may surprise you. We’ve handpicked three pitchers from each team and have broken it down into the following format:

The Mainstay: A guy who’s been around awhile, generally a starter, who you’ve likely seen in the Nastiest Pitches section before.

The Reliever: Could be a closer, could be a middle reliever, doesn’t really matter. You may recognize the name and the pitch.

The Under-the-Radar Guy: Could be a starter, could be a reliever. This guy may have one really good pitch while the rest are terrible, or a pitch that has improved year-over-year that is worth mentioning.

With that said, let’s watch some nastiness!

 

 

Chicago Cubs

 

Yu Darvish‘s Slider

 

 

Yu Darvish is playing chess while Miles Mikolas is playing checkers. Darvish seriously looks like he’s throwing a wiffle ball at times when he gets this much horizontal break on a pitch. Will somebody please check that ball for holes? His slide piece averaged 16.7 inches of break in 2019 which was a whopping 112% more than league average. With a 39.6% O-Swing it fell just short of qualifying as a “Money Pitch“, but that doesn’t make it any less dope. A pVAL of 21.0 is also very dope. Here’s to more dope things out of Yu Dopeish in 2020.

 

Ryan Tepera‘s Cutter

 

 

Ryan Tepera had the worst year of his career last season with an ERA of 4.98 and a K/9 that fell flat at 5.82. His cutter posted the second-lowest K% of his career and was incredibly lucky, as evidenced by a .176 BABIP. It still generated a 39.1% O-Swing, a 36.1% Zone% and a 17.6% SwStr rate, as well as a 47.1% groundball rate so the pitch was still effective at getting outs. Tepera missed three months of the season with an elbow impingement, which could be a reason why the break on his cutter was half of what it was in past years. If Tepera is healthy and can get some of that lost break back, expect his cutter to be a deadly weapon whenever he’s called upon out of the pen.

 

Tyler Chatwood‘s Curveball

 

 

Tyler Chatwood‘s curveball posted the best SwStr% (17.9%) of his career in 2019 as well as a 47.1% strikeout rate. His .324 average against was largely propped up by a crazy .611 BABIP, likely due to a 50% line drive rate. The pitch has pretty average drop and break but this particular pitch was all kinds of nasty. If I could have a chat with Tyler I’d tell him to keep the ball away from the wood and generate even more swinging strikes. Easy enough for me to say, right?

 

Cincinnati Reds

 

Luis Castillo‘s Changeup

 

 

Luis Castillo‘s changeup is one of my favorite pitches in all of baseball. It generated an otherworldly 50.2% O-Swing with just a 44.5% O-Contact. Opposing batters had a .129 average and struck out 46.6% of the time against the pitch as Castillo used it 32.5% of the time. It’s an absolutely filthy pitch that averages 34.3 inches of drop and 16.8 inches of horizontal break, both above league average of course. Castillo is must watch TV anytime he’s on the mound and I’m sure we’ll be seeing him in Nastiest Pitches throughout the season.

 

Amir Garrett‘s Slider

 

 

Amir Garrett finally put some of the pieces together in 2019 and looked like the dominant pitcher the Reds expected him to become. His 3.21 ERA and absurd 12.54 K/9 were easily career bests and a lot of that success was due to his slider. He doesn’t throw it in the zone enough for it to qualify as a true Money Pitch (32.6% Zone rate), but his O-Swing (44%) and SwStr% (25.7%) easily qualify. A 10.9 pVAL on a pitch he used 58% of the time is fantastic, and in this whacky season he should be a solid contributor of strikeouts that shouldn’t be overlooked for your fantasy squad.

 

Anthony DeSclafani‘s Knucklecurve

 

 

Tony “Le Disko” DeSclafani has a few little toys up his sleeve, with one of them being this perfectly executed knuckle curve. Elias Diaz felt this weapon’s full sensation as it whizzed by him en route to a called strike three. If DeSclafani wants to fly and make us believe in his dreams of becoming a great pitcher he needs to cut down on the home runs and induce more ground balls in 2020. This pitch is absolutely filthy though, and I have to say I am a believer in the silver shadow.

 

Milwaukee Brewers

 

Brandon Woodruff‘s Fastball

 

 

Brandon Woodruff posted a very respectable 3.62 ERA for the Brew-Crew in 2019 as he started asserting himself as the ace of the staff. His fastball posted a very respectable 39.8% strikeout rate and a .213 average against despite a .354 BABIP that was just a tad unlucky. His 58.5% Zone rate on the pitch generated a lot of contact, but he limited the damage to mostly singles. Many are expecting Woodruff to take the next step this season and if he does a lot of that success will likely be due to this nasty fastball.

 

Josh Hader‘s Fastball

 

 

Watching Josh Hader paint spots is far more exciting than watching Bob Ross paint trees. A 48.7% strikeout rate and a .167 average against is unreal, and a pVAL of 13 on a pitch that may not even be the best in his arsenal is what makes Hader arguably the best reliever in baseball. He’s helped to revolutionize the fireman role out of the bullpen while his long, golden locks have been blinding batters since his rookie year in 2017. A vote for Hader is a vote for fun and I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of Hader in this space over the next three months.

 

Corbin Burnes‘ Slider

 

 

Corbin Burnes has been on fire in Summer Camp which is so exciting for those of us who were burned by his misfortune last season. Despite his 8.82 ERA overall, his slider was actually a really good pitch with a 55.9% O-Swing and a crazy 35.1% SwStr rate. It was his only pitch that returned a positive pVAL (3.5) and still returned a .188 average against despite a .379 BABIP. Burnes used the slide piece 31% of the time, which surprisingly was less than the 34.2% of the time he used it in 2018. He should be a popular early-season waiver pick, especially if he does well in his first start on either Friday or Saturday. Pick him up if he’s still available.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

 

Carlos Martinez Slider

 

 

I would say I feel bad for Tony Wolters here but his mustache game is an A+ and, despite striking out looking here, he is still winning the game of life. Carlos Martinez dazzled in his brief bullpen role last season and will now be given another chance in the starting rotation. Martinez’s slider was a Money Pitch last season, generating a 41.8% O-Swing, 50.2% Zone rate, and a 19% SwStr rate. His 41.2% strikeout rate was actually the lowest of his career on the slider, but he also used it fewer times in 2019 than he has the rest of his career. Martinez is currently slotted into the 5th starter role for St. Louis but he is easily the most talented fifth starter in the league, so don’t be afraid to let him fly in your lineup this season.

 

Giovanny Gallegos‘ Fastball

 

 

Giovanny Gallegos will start the year on the IL for the Cardinals which temporarily promotes Kwan Hyun Kim to the closer role. When Gallegos returns he should be a great source of saves and strikeouts in the back of the Cardinals bullpen. While his fastball isn’t his main strikeout pitch it is still very effective at keeping opposing batters at bay with a 28.5% strikeout rate and a pVAL of 9.2. His four-seamer does get 10.7 inches of horizontal break which is 48% above league average and is on display in this nasty GIF.

 

Dakota Hudson‘s Curveball

 

 

For some reason, Fangraphs doesn’t list the curveball in Dakota Hudson‘s arsenal so I can’t give you any specifics, but you don’t need them to know this pitch is certified nasty. Over his two years in the majors, the pitch has actually shown below average drop but above average break. It’s his fourth most used pitch at 10% but the PutAway% came in second at 25%. A former first-round pick, Hudson will be in the Cardinals rotation and he has an opportunity to assert himself as the future #2 behind Jack Flaherty.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

 

Joe Musgrove‘s Slider

 

 

Joe Musgrove is a Pitcher List darling this year, thanks in large part to his slider. His second most used pitch at 22.1%, Slidy-Joe generates 11.6 inches of horizontal break out of his sliders which is a whopping 121% above average. It was a true Money Pitch in 2019 with a 41.6% O-Swing, 41.8% Zone rate, and a solid 19.5% SwStr rate. A 40.4% strikeout rate was the best of his career, as was his pVAL of 10.1. Musgrove also had another money pitch, his changeup, so if he can improve his fastball (which wasn’t great in 2019) he has a chance to be a breakout star in the shortened season.

 

Keone Kela‘s Curveball

 

 

Keone Kela still has not reported to camp and it is unknown when or if he will pitch for the Pirates this season. If he does, however, his curveball will be a lethal weapon at the back end of their bullpen. He has posted a positive pVAL with the pitch in every year of his career (6.5 in 2019) and his strikeout rate has never been below 43%. He has also only ever given up two homes runs with the pitch, which is surely going to balloon now that I’ve pointed it out. Hopefully, we will see Kela this season because that curve is a lot of fun to watch.

 

Dovydas Neverauskas‘ Fastball

 

 

The first player ever signed out of Lithuania, Dovydas Neverauskas went to school at Lithuania Sports University, a place more well known for producing tens of thousands of Phys Ed teachers over the years rather than Major League Baseball players. The pitch itself hasn’t been super spectacular yet, posting slightly above average drop and break, but his contact rates have dropped and his SwStr% has risen each of the past three years. It’s a 70-grade pitch for the Lethal Lithuanian that shows some promise, averaging 95.9 MPH while topping out just shy of 99 MPH, so don’t be surprised if you hear his name start popping up elsewhere in the next few months.

 

Chicago White Sox

 

Lucas Giolito‘s Fastball

 

 

Lucas Giolito arrived on the scene in big fashion last season, nearly doubling his K/9 to 11.62 while cutting down on walks and home runs that plagued him in years past. This perfectly located fastball clocked in at 96 MPH and caught Randal Grichuk completely off guard. After posting a 19.9% walk rate on his fastball alone in 2018, Giolito cut that number in half to 9.1% in 2019 while also upping his strikeout rate from 13% to 31%. It also returned a pVAL of 20.5 and was an absolute weapon all season long. Averaging 94.2 MPH, the fastball is a perfect complement to his changeup that averaged 81.7 MPH and also returned a pVAL of 14.4. Giolito is an ace in the making and should anchor the White Sox rotation in 2020 and for years to come.

 

Aaron Bummer‘s Slider

 

 

Isn’t is a bummer that Bummer won’t have a chance to close for the White Sox this season? Bummer’s slider improved in 2019, earning it’s first positive pVAL (2.1) of his career while seeing decreased contact rates and a dope 56.3% strikeout rate. It averaged 14.4 inches of break which was 173% above league average, and he only used it 3.2% of the time. I expect him to use it more in 2020 as the pitch continues to develop into a nasty weapon fit for a king. If Alex Colome falters at all in the closing role expect Aaron Bummer‘s name to start getting called in the 9th more often.

 

Carson Fulmer‘s Changeup

 

 

Carson Fulmer was the 8th overall pick in the 2015 draft who unfortunately has never lived up to the hype. However, in a small-ish sample size of 86 pitches in 2019, Fulmer’s changeup flirted with Money Pitch status. The strikeout rate (20%) wasn’t great, and he had really good luck thanks to a .133 BABIP, but he successfully kept the ball on the ground and limited home runs. Progress, baby! Fulmer is out of options and, after making the roster as the final piece in the bullpen, needs to have a productive year if he wants to continue his career. This perfectly located pitch that strikes out Aaron Altherr shows that Fulmer still has the talent to impress, it’s just a matter of putting it all together into one successful outing after another.

 

Cleveland Indians

 

Mike Clevinger‘s Slider

 

 

Mike Clevinger‘s slider was nearly untouchable in 2019, registering a pVAL of 8.2 and a 38.3% strikeout rate. He threw it outside of the zone more often, resulting in more whiffs and more ground balls. It’s 16.8 inches of break was 91% above average on similarly thrown pitches and it was just another weapon in Clev-Daddy’s arsenal. He’s fully recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him prior to spring training and was likely a bargain for many of those who drafted him this season. Clevinger is one of the best pitchers in the game and will surely be featured in nastiest pitches throughout the season.

 

Emmanuel Clase‘s Cutter

 

 

It’s been a busy 12 months for Emmanuel Clase since he burst onto the scene last year throwing 100 MPH gas before getting traded to the Indians in the Corey Kluber trade during the offseason. On May 1st he was also hit with an 80 game PED suspension that will keep him out of the game until 2021, so this is less of a preview for his 2020 self and more of a celebration of his electric stuff. His cutter is his weapon of choice, used 73.3% of the time in 2019, and flirted with Money Pitch status.  A 3.1 pVAL is also notable in for a rookie reliever. Clase has the stuff to become an elite reliever, and hopefully, his absence won’t impact his development.

 

Carlos Carrasco‘s Changeup

 

 

Carlos Carrasco missed a significant portion of last season after a scary cancer diagnosis, so it’s really exciting to see him back in the Indians’ rotation in 2020. He’s definitely not an “under the radar” type of guy, but his filthy changeup is worth highlighting just because it is dope and fun to watch. An 87.8 MPH changeup with 34.5 inches of drop is a beautiful thing to see, especially when it’s generating a 21.4% SwStr rate and a 30.9% strikeout rate as it did in 2019. A healthy Cookie is an elite starter who likely fell in many drafts, and I’m really looking forward to watching him pitch in 2020 and beyond.

 

 

Kansas City Royals

 

Danny Duffy‘s Curveball

 

 

Danny Duffy‘s curveball wasn’t statistically great in 2019 but it was at least effective in generating ground balls. He’s always thrown the pitch in the zone, with a career Zone% of 42%, but hitters made contact in the zone 94.6% of the time last season which is far too often. 63.2 inches of horizontal drop is above average and one must wonder if he could generate more whiffs on the pitch by locating it down and out of the zone more often. There is no doubt that this pitch has the potential to become all kinds of nasty in the future and it’s just a matter of Duffy making some adjustments to really kick it into full gear.

 

Ian Kennedy‘s Knuckle Curve

 

 

Kennedy finally put it all together in the closer role last season, posting a career-best 10.37 K/9 and earning 30 saves in the process.  The knuckle curve also posted a career-best SwStr% (11.4%) despite a 94.7% Z-Contact rate, but thankfully most of that contact was in ground ball form (55.3%). Kennedy got above-average drop and break on the pitch last season, a new development compared to past seasons where the pitch was mostly average. That could be attributed to his new role in the bullpen but it would take a smarter person than me to answer that question. Either way, the knuckle curve is a filthy pitch in Kennedy’s arsenal and we’ll likely be seeing more of it in 2020.

 

Brad Keller‘s Slider

 

 

Our own Nick Pollack is a huge fan of Brad Keller this year, and though he didn’t rank Keller in his top 100 starters due to COVID concerns Keller is still a late-round upside play with a nasty slider in his belt pocket. He was bitten by the home run bug last year, giving up 15 home runs in 165.1 innings and six on the slider alone. Hitters made a lot of contact on the pitch anytime it entered the zone (91.2%) but his O-Contact rate of 58.5% was much better. The pitch induced ground balls 54.9% of the time and earned a pVAL of 10, so the key to Keller’s slider success may be to set it up with his other pitches and then throw it out of the zone to generate more whiffs. It has above-average drop and above-average break so the tools are there, he just needs to use them properly to unlock all of that potential.

 

Detroit Tigers

 

Matthew Boyd‘s Slider

 

 

Are you a Boyd Boy? If you’re not, there’s still time to buy in. Matthew Boyd exploded onto the scene in the first half of last season, and despite fizzling out in the second half he’s still a favorite in the hearts of many around these parts. His slider earned a pVAL of 10.3 and he improved his SwStr% from 15.8% in 2018 to 20.1% in 2019. This helped lead to a 42.3% strikeout rate with the pitch which was easily the best of his career. Boyd is the ace of the staff and will be starting on opening day. There is always the possibility of a trade, as it was floated around prior to last year’s deadline, but that should only improve his value. He’s a solid rotation building arm that should be very valuable for your fantasy team in 2020.

 

Joe Jimenez‘ Fastball

 

 

Joe Jimenez‘s fastball averaged 95.1 MPH last season with above average amounts of drop and horizontal break. It was his most used pitch at 68.4%, returned a positive 1.7 pVAL and the results were pretty good, though he did give up nine home runs and a scary 58.9% fly-ball rate. The problem with Jimenez has been his changeup which he uses 5.8% of the time. It clocks in at 89.2 MPH, a gap of only 5.9 MPH between it and his fastball, and got absolutely pummeled in the few times it was used. Jimenez would really benefit from an overhaul of the pitch since his other two are solid offerings. It’s the one thing that is keeping him from breaking out as a true force in the bullpen and hopefully, he can make those strides sooner than later.

 

Spencer Turnbull‘s Curveball

 

 

Spencer Turnbull is a guy I love heading into 2020 and he’s a guy I’ve targeted in every single one of my drafts. Despite going 3-17 for the Tigers he did flash some promise. His fastball was his best pitch with a pVAL of 14.1, much better than the -5 pVAL on his curveball, but the curve does generate above-average drop and break so the results should improve. It was his fourth most used pitch in 2019 behind his four-seamer, slider, and sinker, and while a 39.1% Swing% leaves something to be desired, his 37% strikeout rate and 12.1% SwStr rate are both promising. A .413 BABIP on the pitch is also pretty unlucky, though so is just pitching for the Tigers in general. I have faith that Turnbull will continue to grow as a pitcher in 2020 and develop into a solid rotation piece for an otherwise mediocre Tigers team.

 

Minnesota Twins

 

Rich Hill‘s Curveball

 

 

Does anyone ever watch a Rich Hill curveball GIF only once? It’s a work of art on par with the Mona Lisa or the Pantheon. It generates 65.9 inches of drop and 18.5 inches of break, both obviously above average, and induced a 64.3% ground ball rate which tied for the best of his career. Hill doesn’t generate a ton of strikeouts with the pitch but it is still an effective weapon that hitters have to worry about at any time of the at-bat. Hill has moved from sunny California to chilly Minnesota, but his arsenal should play anywhere. The knock on Hill throughout his career has been injuries, but in a shortened season that may not be as much of a factor. All he has to do is get through 8-10 starts, which is certainly doable. With a late-round pick, you could do a lot worse than Rich Hill.

 

Taylor Rogers‘ Slider

 

 

Lefty sliders are so much fun to watch, that is unless you’re in the batter’s box opposite them. Taylor Rogers ran away with the closer job last season as his K/9 skyrocketed to 11.74 and he stranded 86.2% of inherited runners. If you’re wondering, yes the pitch was a Money Pitch in 2019 and his strikeout rate nearly doubled to 46.7%. Rogers is a top 10 closer anywhere you look and we will probably be seeing more of his slider in Nastiest Pitches this year.

 

Kenta Maeda‘s Slider

 

 

Another former Dodger joining the Twins rotation this year is Kenta Maeda. He was never really given a shot to earn a full-time rotation spot in Los Angeles but he should slot in as the #3 starter for a really underrated Twins staff. Maeda’s slider has been a Money Pitch pretty much throughout his career and 2019 was no exception, with a 41.8% O-Swing, 44.4% Zone rate, and 21.8% SwStr rate. It also earned a 19.1 pVAL. The slider had a .155 average against in 2019 but a below-average .205 BABIP means there could be some regression in that department. One positive of joining the Twins is that they will get to face the Royals and Tigers a total of 20 times, which Maeda should be able to capitalize on. Maeda is yet another late-round target who has a chance to return really solid value for your team.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Ben Brown

Ben is a lifelong resident of the great state of Maine who loves the wild and wacky intricacies of baseball. During the summer months, you'll find him either in the woods at a golf course or floating on the water upta camp, both with a local beer in hand and a game on the radio.

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