2020 Nastiest Pitches Preview: NL/AL West

Ben Brown previews the nastiest pitches in the NL and AL West.

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!

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

 

Madison Bumgarner‘s Curveball

Wait – what happened to that baseball? Every time I watch this GIF, I know it’s a curveball, but I never actually see it drop, so it catches me off guard. Madison Bumgarner’s curve is a special type of wizardry that perfectly illustrates why baseball is the best sport on the planet. It starts with his trademark delivery, which looks lackadaisical and goofy right up until his release point, when the ball explodes out of his hand toward the plate. Then there’s the pitch itself, which averaged 78.8 mph in 2019 with 49.6 inches of vertical drop and 11.8 inches of horizontal break. The pitch was actually a full mile per hour faster in 2019 than it was in 2018, with less drop but more break, which ultimately made it a more effective pitch. Its pVAL of 9.3 was the best of his career, and if he carries those changes over into 2020, be prepared for even more nastiness on his new team.

 

Taylor Clarke‘s Slider

Taylor Clarke used his slider 25.4% of the time in 2019, and for good reason. It registered a 41% O-Swing, a 35% zone rate and an eye-popping 20.6% swinging-strike rate. It’s a nasty pitch, one that Willy Adames had no chance of hitting. Clarke is projected to settle into a long-relief role this season after starting 15 games in 2019, but he was a third-round pick and was the 10th-rated prospect in the Diamondbacks’ system heading into 2019, so the pedigree is there. The bullpen in Arizona isn’t exactly full of lights-out stuff, so Clarke has a chance to see increased usage in high-leverage situations if he can cut down on the number of home runs he gives up on his fastball (17 in 2019), and keep striking out guys with this devastating slider.

 

Luke Weaver‘s Cutter

Nick mentioned this pitch in his great article about starters to monitor in summer camp, and after seeing this GIF I understand why. Luke Weaver had a 32 CSW% on his cutter in 2019, and this called strike totally stunned Josh Donaldson. Was it a borderline pitch? Absolutely, but Donaldson has to be swinging at that in a 1-2 count. Weaver increased his cutter’s usage from 4.7% to 14.1% in 2019, and it registered a positive pVAL (2.1) for the first time in his career. His chase rate, zone rate, and swinging-strike rate all improved, while his contact rates all decreased, which is is exactly what you want to see. Here’s to hoping the improvements stick so we can see more of this in 2020.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Clayton Kershaw‘s Curveball

 

What’s an NL West Nastiest Pitches article without a Clayton Kershaw curveball? It’s a true 12-6 curve with a 28.3% CSW that he throws 16.2% of the time. At an average of 73 mph, I’ve got time to grab a hot dog and get back to my seat before the pitch even reaches home plate. If I were Brandon Woodruff, I’d certainly rather sit back and eat a hot dog in the dugout than have to face this Kershaw filth. Luckily for him, the controversial NL DH has been instituted for the 2020 season, so Woodruff can spend his half-innings in the dugout worrying about whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich (it isn’t) rather than trying to hit this filthy curve.

 

Joe Kelly‘s Knuckle-Curve

Brett Gardner has faced Joe Kelly 11 times in his career. Brett Gardner has exactly zero hits against Joe Kelly in his career. Brett Gardner cries whenever he has to face Joe Kelly. In all seriousness, I wonder what Gardner did when he found out about Kelly’s decision to leave the AL East and sign with the Dodgers after the 2018 season. Did he buy a large bottle of champagne from his local liquor store to celebrate? Did he cry tears of joy? Fast forward to this at-bat, where Gardner struck out on three straight knuckle-curves and looked absolutely silly doing so. I feel bad for you, Brett, because nobody should be subjected to these dirty tricks. Kelly threw his knuckle-curve 33.5% of the time in 2019, returning an awesome 6.6 pVAL, which was by far the highest of his career. Kelly is a legitimate weapon in one of the best bullpens in the league, and I would expect to see more of this pitch in the next few months.

 

Brusdar Graterol‘s Sinker

I’m not sure if Brusdar Graterol’s sinker can be considered under-the-radar when it quite literally incinerates the radar gun on a regular basis. This pitch was clocked at a fuming 101.2 mph, and that extra bit of sinking left-to-right movement is simply icing on the cake. Dodgers fans will get used to this pitch pretty quickly, since he uses it 49.3% of the time at an average velocity of 99 mph, and Yasiel Puig should be sleeping easily at night knowing he likely won’t have to face this pitch again in 2020.

 

Colorado Rockies

 

Jon Gray‘s Curveball

Jon Gray’s slider is his true Money Pitch but you can’t tell me this curveball isn’t money too. It’s a fabulous pitch. One might even call it … Grayt. Haha, I’ll go ahead and let myself out now. I do apologize though, because I had to lie a bit in order to make that terrible joke. Gray’s curve was not so spectacular in 2019, as it returned a 90.3% zone contact rate and only a 12.6% swinging-strike rate. But it did only have a .189 BABIP, so luck was on his side. What I do love about this particular pitch, however, is Gray’s location execution. You can clearly see the catcher give him the spot to aim for, then drop down to where he expects the pitch to end up, and Gray placed it perfectly. No, the pitch didn’t induce a crazy swing, or drop 40 inches, or hit an absurd number on the radar gun. It was simply a display of two teammates in perfect sync with each other, executing a perfect 0-1 pitch en route to a three-pitch strikeout of A.J. Pollock. That, my friend, is nasty.

 

Carlos Estevez‘s Fastball

Man, I really don’t mean to pick on Brett Gardner again, but when Carlos Estevez is pumping 100 mph cheese and hitting his spots like this, I don’t really have a choice. Brett, I know you’re reading this, so I’m just here to tell you it’s not your fault. You shouldn’t be expected to hit a triple-digit fastball that’s perfectly located down and away. It’s simply unfair.

Estevez used the pitch 69% of the time in 2019, and it averaged just under 98 mph with a 42.2% fly ball rate and a not-so-great 20.4% HR/FB rate. His 14.2% swinging-strike rate is decent, but still not what you’d like to see out of a guy who can hit triple digits. I hope Estevez is able to keep the home runs down and improve that swinging-strike rate so we can see more of him in Nastiest Pitches in 2020.

 

Peter Lambert‘s Changeup

Was Anthony Rizzo actually trying to hit this ball, or was he just practicing his golf swing on a pitch he knew he had no chance of hitting? That golf swing isn’t very good, according to Kris Bryant, but golf is the type of game you never really get “good” at anyway. As far as the pitch goes, it’s the best Peter Lambert has to offer. Lambert’s knock is that his fastball only sits at 92.7 mph, while his changeup is only seven ticks lower at 85.2 mph, a gap of 7.5 mph which normally isn’t large enough for his changeup to be super effective. However, Lambert did post a 40.1% chase rate and a 15.3% swinging-strike rate, which are both pretty good, and with a 36.2% zone rate this pitch is surprisingly very close to being a “Money Pitch.” Lambert is no ace, but he prevented Rizzo from hitting a hole in one (or two, since a man was on base) with this nasty changeup.

 

San Diego Padres

 

Chris Paddack‘s Changeup

Though Ryan Braun might not agree, Chris Paddack‘s changeup is a thing of beauty. It burst onto the scene with an 8.8 pVAL in 2019, on top of a 48.4% O-Swing and a 16.5% swinging-strike rate. Paddack’s changeup averaged 84.5 mph on the gun, while his fastball sat at 93.9 for a difference of 9.4 mph, which is a huge reason why both pitches were so effective last season. We’ll talk about the gap between these two pitches for another player below, but a pitcher ideally wants them to be about 10 mph  apart. I’m really looking forward to what Paddack has in store for us in his sophomore season.

 

Kirby Yates‘ Splitter

Kirby Yates’ splitter averaged 37.6 inches of drop and 13.6 inches of break last season, and that filth was on full display here. Joe Panik expected this ball to be inside and belt high, which I can’t blame him for, because it was headed that way for the first 50 feet until it fell out of the sky and landed perfectly at the bottom of the strike zone. We all know Yates is a consensus top-two fantasy closer this year, and with so much young talent on the Padres, I’m excited to tune in and watch more opposing batters get fooled by this nasty splitter.

 

Joey Lucchesi‘s Changeup

Is it a changeup? Is it a curveball? Is a churve even a real pitch? The answers to these questions vary depending on who you ask, but no matter what it is, this pitch is certified filth. Baseball Savant categorizes the churve as a changeup, but Lucchesi is actually working on a traditional changeup for this year, so we may finally see a proper adoption of the churve as a real pitch (it is). Lucchesi’s chimerical churve returned a 7.4 pVAL last year, a huge improvement over the -1.7 from 2018. His contact numbers rose across the board on the pitch, but he induced more ground balls (43%) than in 2018, fewer line drives (18.8%), and a much lower HR/FB rate (8.8%). Yes, this is a nice strikeout of Willy Adames, but Lucchesi doesn’t need to be a strikeout guy to be a successful MLB pitcher. As long as that nasty churve is chugging along and generating outs, Lucchesi will be a fun pitcher to watch in 2020 and beyond.

 

 

San Francisco Giants

 

Jeff Samardzija‘s Slider

Even though it’s been stolen from the OG Shark (golfer Greg Norman), Shark is still one of the best nicknames in sports. If I were in San Francisco’s marketing department, I’d be selling a Shark Slider at Oracle Park. The dish would basically be a plate of mini burgers, made out of shark meat (of course), topped with everything you can imagine. It would be disgusting, but this pitch is also disgusting, so it would be appropriate. Joc Pederson may not agree that this was a strike, but he may also be a bit biased. After a terrible year in 2018, Jeff Samardzija’s slider rebounded across the board, posting lower contact rates and an 11.8% swinging-strike rate that was 4.1% higher than in 2018. 2018 was an outlier year for Shark, but it was nice to see him bounce back, and hopefully that success carries over to 2020.

 

Tony Watson‘s Changeup

Tony Watson sneaked this perfectly located 2-2 changeup right past Ryan McMahon, and as the projected closer for 2020, he should be on your radar. His changeup is his best pitch, returning a 19.9% swinging-strike rate and .230 BAA in 2019. Watson has been around for what feels like forever, and as time has gone on, his sinker usage has dropped (along with its velocity), while his changeup usage has increased. The velocity gap between the two pitches has grown smaller and smaller, as evidenced by the graphic below.

Data visualization by M. Starks Powell | NewLifeFantasy.com

As that gap decreases, I expect the changeup to eventually start losing its’ effectiveness and, while it hasn’t happened yet, the cliff is coming soon. Be aware of this as we head into the 2020 season.

 

Logan Webb‘s Slider

The broadcast calls this a curveball, Baseball Savant calls it a slider, I call it nasty. Logan Webb made his MLB debut last season with mixed results; however, he was ranked as the organization’s fifth-best prospect by Pitcher List’s own Hunter Denson earlier this year, so the pedigree and talent are certainly both there. Webb doesn’t have a rotation spot locked down headed into the shortened season, but if he gets a chance and continues throwing his 60-grade sliders for strikes like this one, he may be a guy worth streaming.

 

Los Angeles Angels

 

Shohei Ohtani‘s Fastball

Every other pitch in these GIF previews is from 2019, but since Ohtani did not pitch last year, I cheated a bit and threw in a pitch from 2018. Sorry, not sorry. It’s a filthy pitch though: 101 mph on the corner is completely untouchable, and Josh Reddick reacted accordingly. Ohtani’s fastball had a 53.7% zone rate in 2018 and was very hittable with a .382 BAA. His 8.8% strikeout rate on the pitch seems low for a guy with the ability to hit triple digits, so there is room for improvement there. Beggars can’t be choosers though, and the fact of the matter is that Ohtani will be on the mound in 2020, and that is all that matters.

 

Hansel Robles‘ Changeup

I couldn’t believe it when I saw this pitch clocked in at 90 mph, and I’m pretty sure it caught Jon Jay off guard too. It seems much slower than that at first glance. Is it an optical illusion, or am I just going crazy? Both are probably true. The pitch averaged 89.5 mph last season and just nearly missed out on being a “Money Pitch,” with a 39.2% O-Swing, 39.7% zone rate and a 19.5% swinging-strike rate. A 31.3% strikeout rate and a .169 BAA are also really good, so what we’ve got here is a legitimate out pitch. Robles enters 2020 as the closer for the Angels, and I’m drafting him wherever I can.

 

Dylan Bundy‘s Slider

Bundy, Bundy, Bundy. If you’ve followed Pitcher List at all in recent years, you know we have a few Orioles fans who have been beating the Dylan Bundy drum all along. Bundy has the pedigree of a fourth overall pick, but after numerous injuries, never converted his immense talent into results while with the Orioles. The Angels have given him a fresh start, and for the first time in a while, there is legitimate sleeper buzz surrounding him. Bundy’s slider was a legitimate Money Pitch last season, with a 41.5% O-Swing, 40.9% zone rate and a 22.2% SwStr% to go along with an 8.8 pVAL, 40.8% strikeout rate and .152 BAA. One pitch doesn’t make or break a repertoire, but it’s pretty clear that the stuff is still there for Bundy, and if he can improve his other offerings, then he should be a late steal for you in drafts.

 

Seattle Mariners

 

Justus Sheffield‘s Slider

Ryan Cordell, meet Justus Sheffield. Sheffield throws the slider 35.7% of the time with decent results. He had a 23.8% swinging-strike rate and a 49.2% strikeout rate, which are both good, but a pVAL of -3.6 and a .302 BAA are not so great. His .636 BABIP against this pitch is absurdly unlucky and could be attributed to a 41.7% line drive rate. He would be in much better shape if he could cut down on those line drives and induce more soft contact in the form of ground balls. In its current form, the pitch is a decent offering, but there is certainly room for improvement, and Seattle will need him to improve if they’re going to compete in 2020.

 

Matt Magill‘s Slider

Seattle’s closer role appears to be up in the air at the point, and one of the guys making a push for the job is Matt Magill. Magill had a K/9 of 11.37 in 50.2 IP in 2019, and his slider was particularly nasty, with a 19.6% swinging-strike rate and a 32.4% strikeout rate. The pitch averages 4.5 inches of break, a whopping 46% more than similarly-thrown sliders. If Magill earns the opportunity to pitch in high leverage situations this season, his slider could be a deadly weapon out of the bullpen that hitters like J.D. Davis will fear near the end of the game.

 

Matt Carasiti‘s Forkball

It wasn’t until after I made the GIF and took notes on Carasiti that I found out he both no longer pitches for the Mariners and actually underwent Tommy John surgery in March. Yeah, great notes I made, right? I love wacky pitches, and the forkball is wacky enough that I’ll include Matt Carasiti in this write-up anyway. According to Baseball Savant, he was the only pitcher who threw a forkball in 2019, and he’s one of only six who have thrown more than 10 since 2010. So, what is a forkball? In order to throw a forkball, the pitcher wedges the ball between his index and middle fingers as deeply as possible in order to achieve a tumbling drop as the pitch nears the plate. Baseball Prospectus goes deeper into the forkball than I can here, and it’s definitely worth a read if you’re interested. While we won’t see Carasiti pitch in 2020, here’s to hoping he makes a full recovery and latches onto another team in 2021 so we can see the forkball live another day.

 

 

Houston Astros

 

Zack Greinke‘s Eephus

Two wacky pitches in a row? Where’s the gyroball? Seriously though, the forkballs and eephuses of the world make baseball fun. Another wacky pitch, the spitball, was the subject of one of my favorite presentations from PitchCon 2020, and I highly recommend it if you’re interested in the history of baseball. Greinke threw only 28 eephuses in 2019, per Baseball Savant, while FanGraphs registers the eephus as a slow curve and notes that he threw 62 of those last year. I can’t tell you much about the pitch stat-wise because of the discrepancy, but who cares about stats with a pitch like this? It’s just fun and nasty and makes you feel all warm inside. Gimme more eephuses, please!

 

Ryan Pressly‘s Curveball

Ryan Pressly easily has one of the best, if not the best, curveballs in the league. It features 53.8 inches of drop and an astounding 16.8 inches of horizontal break, which is 146% more break than the average curveball. It’s on full display in this pitch that Andrelton Simmons completely whiffs against. Opposing batters had a .143 average against Pressly’s curve in 2019, and the pitch notched a pVAL of 7.0, the best mark of his career. With a K/9 of 11.93 in the setup role, Pressly is already a fantasy option in holds leagues and for those looking for strikeouts with a low ERA, but he obviously would be an immediate waiver wire addition in the event that something happens to Roberto Osuna.

 

Josh James‘ Fastball

I’m so excited to see what Josh James can do with an opportunity in the starting rotation, which it appears he will have heading into 2020. James averaged 97.1 mph on his fastball, which returned a pVAL of 4.3 last year. A 44.9% fly ball rate on the pitch is high and a bit worrisome, but, luckily, he only gave up five home runs for a HR/FB rate of 12.5%. His changeup averaged 89 mph for an 8 mph velocity separation, which is good, but I would like to see that a bit closer to 10. He also needs to cut down on walks from his 5.14 BB/9 in 2019. James threw 64 pitches in an intrasquad game on Thursday, so he’s being stretched out for the rotation and has a lot of promise.

 

Texas Rangers

 

Lance Lynn‘s Fastball

Lynn had one of the best seasons of his career in 2019, thanks in large part to better command with his nasty fastball. Lynn’s 10.63 K/9 and 2.55 BB/9 were the best rates he’s posted in his career, en route to a 3.67 ERA that, on the surface, wasn’t totally indicative of how successful his season actually was. Jose Altuve was not a fan of this pitch, but it was perfectly located at a deadly 96 mph. The fastball itself fooled everyone last season with an average velocity of 94.5 mph, nearly a full tick higher than in 2018 and two higher than in 2017. Lynn’s improved fastball led to another career best 14.1% SwStr rate and an absurd 25.7 pVAL. Expect more big things out of Lynn this season if the fastball is still as good as it was last year.

 

Jose Leclerc‘s Slider

Jose Leclerc, or Jose LeNasty, as I like to call him, regressed in 2019 after earning the closing role in a stellar 2018 season. It appears that FanGraphs categorizes his slider as a splitter for some reason, but regardless of what they call it, the swing rates on the pitch were down and the contact rates were up across the board. Leclerc’s zone rate for his slider hit a career high at 43.5%, but it was very hittable with a zone contact rate of 83.7%, which was over 20 points higher than in 2018. A pVAL of 6.4, while still lower than the 10.0 he posted on 2018, shows the pitch is still effective. I believe the stuff is still there for Leclerc, and he should be able to hold on to the closer role and excel for the Rangers in 2020.

 

Kolby Allard‘s Cutter

For those who don’t know, Kolby Allard is a former Braves prospect who should serve in a long relief role with the Rangers. Allard is only 22, and was the 14th overall selection in the 2015 draft, so there is still plenty of time for him to figure things out at the major league level. He threw his cutter in the zone 50.7% of the time and induced a lot of ground balls with the pitch. It’s not a huge strikeout pitch for him, but it’s effective in getting ground ball outs thanks to the nasty horizontal movement he gets on the pitch. While this pitch is nasty to watch, I am more intrigued by Allard’s fastball, which jumped a full 3 mph to 92.4 in 2019. His changeup also increased a hair to 81.6 mph and that, my friends, is a velocity separation of 10.8 mph. I won’t get too excited since it was a sample size of only 45 innings, but Allard is a guy I’ve had on my watch lists for a few years and I’m really rooting for him to succeed.

 

Oakland Athletics

 

A.J. Puk‘s Fastball

Kyle Seager‘s face really says it all here. 97 mph cheese located perfectly down and away is going to be very difficult to hit if A.J. Puk takes the reigns in his first full season as a starter. If you’re wondering the same thing I was, Puk is 6-foot-7 and definitely passes the ace eye test. His fastball is his primary pitch, followed by a slider, changeup and the occasional curveball mixed in every once in a while. We can’t make many assumptions off his 11 major league innings, but he’s been a top prospect ever since he was drafted 6th overall in 2016, so the pedigree is certainly there. He didn’t exactly light the world on fire in the minors, and yes, he did go under the knife for Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2018, but that’s no longer the boogeyman it once was, so I’m not too concerned about it. Puk has league-winning abilities; the only question is whether he will tap into that immense talent this year or next.

 

Lou Trivino‘s Cutter

George Springer knew this pitch was pure filth almost immediately. Lou Trivino‘s cutter was a near Money Pitch in 2019, posting a 39.1% O-Swing, 46% zone rate and a nasty 20.5% SwStr rate. It was also a bit unlucky, as evidenced by a .348 BABIP, but a 31.5% K rate saved him. The pitch lost two inches of horizontal movement last year, which could be a big reason why it wasn’t as effective generating swings outside the zone as it was in 2018. Trivino also used his changeup a bit more often, which cut into the cutter’s usage. Overall, it’s still a solid pitch and should keep mystifying hitters in 2020 and beyond.

 

J.B. Wendelken‘s Changeup

J.B. Wendelken is a guy I had never heard of prior to looking deep into the A’s bullpen. Randal Grichuk, on the other hand, knows all about Wendelken after getting completely fooled by this nasty changeup. Wendelken also throws a 95 mph four-seamer, a curveball, a slider, and the occasional sinker. None of them are particularly noteworthy, but this changeup, oh boy is it nasty. Thrown 78 times in 2019 (16.5% usage), the change registered a 42.5% O-Swing, 39.7% Zone% and 19.2% SwStr rate, all massive increases over the 2018 version of the pitch and making it a borderline “Money Pitch.” While Liam Hendriks is firmly entrenched in his closing role, don’t be surprised if Wendelken’s usage in high-leverage situations increases a bit in 2020.

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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