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2021 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 2021 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

 

Kyle Hendricks‘ Changeup

 

 

Kyle Hendricks is Mr. Reliable. Is stuff isn’t overpowering by any means, but it’s surgical and surprisingly nasty. I’m particularly a fan of his changeup, which has the ability to drop off the table at the last minute and disappear into the upside-down world. That’s exactly what happened here to Kolten Wong. With a 28% CSW in 2020, it wasn’t his most successful pitch, but here’s the thing: Nasty pitches aren’t all successful. It’s all about being visually pleasing and passing the eye test for our purposes, and that’s exactly what Hendricks’ changeup does.

 

Ryan Tepera’s Sinker

 

 

Ryan Tepera’s 2020 season was solid and came with a storybook ending, earning a single 10th place MVP vote. While it may have actually been a mistake, it was still one of my favorite nuggets to come out of the 2020 season and will forever be one of those random bar trivia questions. Tepera’s cutter is pretty filthy and gets thrown down and away to righties quite often, but the sinker is also a pitch that can be nasty at times. This is a great example of a pitch that is enhanced a bit by the off-center camera angle, but we really only care when a camera angle makes a pitch look worse than it is. This is filthy!

 

Adbert Alzolay’s Changeup

 

 

After an offseason of being told that Adbert Alzolay would start the season in the bullpen, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he’ll instead be the number five man in the rotation. While Nick Pollack may not be a fan of Alzolay thanks to his inconsistency, I love to see that he’s been given a chance to start because it means we’ll get to see him rock his filthy stuff early and often. His best pitch is a slider that gets a heck of a lot of movement, but he’s also flashed at times with the changeup. He’s a young guy with a lot of potential and I really hope he can put it all together this season.

 

Cincinnati Reds

 

Sonny Gray’s Sinker

 

 

The camera angle really doesn’t do this pitch justice. St. Louis is among the worst angles in baseball so Gray got robbed of an absolute gem here, but the pitch is still dope regardless. The sinker earned a 29.2% PutAway% and 38 strikeouts, easily the highest of any of his pitches. It achieved all of that success despite turning in below average break, but it still passes the eye test as a filthy pitch and that’s all that matters for our purposes.

 

Amir Garrett’s Slider

 

 

Is Garrett the closer or is he not? Whether he is given the role by himself or is part of a committee is still up in the air, but he is still a must-watch pitcher regardless of if he holds the closer’s crown or not. Garrett is one of the pitchers I have the most fun watching, and when I’m doing Nastiest Pitches I make sure to watch him if I see he entered the game. His slider is absolutely filthy, earning a 42.6% CSW% last season, so this is an occurrence where the stats absolutely back up the nastiness. Garrett is primed to be a stud at the back end of this bullpen once again.

 

Tejay Antone’s Sinker

 

 

Tejay Antone exploded onto the scene in 2020 and there was some hope that he’d end up in the rotation in 2021. It turns out he will at least be starting the season in the bullpen, but he will elevate to a starting role at some point in time. Our own Michael Ajeto wrote a fantastic article in January about Antone and really got the hype train started around these parts for him. I watched a little bit of Antone last year and his sinker always popped to me. This is an excellent example of it passing the eye test. Whether he’s in the rotation or in the ‘pen, Antone is a must-watch guy in 2021.

 

Milwaukee Brewers

 

Corbin Burnes‘ Cutter

 

 

It was difficult to choose only three Brewers pitchers for this article. Between Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Josh Hader, Devin Williams, Freddy Peralta, and even Justin Topa and Josh Lindblom, the Brewers have an incredibly talented pitching staff. Any of Burnes’ pitches could have been featured here, but I chose this cutter because it’s one of my favorites of the year. 93 MPH with that kind of movement is absurd. Burnes is locked and loaded for a top-15 season in 2021.

 

Devin Williams‘ Changeup

 

 

What more is there to say about Devin Williams‘ changeup? Nothing. Here’s a bunch of them from an outing against the Twins in 2020. Enjoy.

 

Freddy Peralta’s Curveball

 

 

Strikeouts, strikeouts, strikeouts. Freddy Peralta dominated in Spring Training and earned himself the fifth starter spot over fellow strikeout enthusiast Josh Lindblom. He has big time Cherry Bomb potential, but there’s no doubt that his stuff is filthy. He’s been a target late in all of my drafts and I’m excited to see what he can do this year.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

 

Jack Flaherty’s Slider

 

 

Jack Flaherty had a ridiculous 37.4% CSW% with his slider in 2020, and as the ace of the Cardinals’ staff he’s going to be relied upon to keep the momentum going. He earns a ton of swinging strikes with the pitch (24.8%) and had a .176 batting average against last season. He’s a threat to end up in Nastiest Pitches anytime he takes the mound.

 

Jordan Hicks‘ Sinker

 

One Hundred and Four miles per hour. 104. How is that humanly possible? We were robbed of seeing Jordan Hicks pitch in 2020 thanks to an unfortunate torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery in June 2019, but thankfully he has returned and should hold down a late-inning role for St. Louis. Baseball is more fun when Hicks is involved, and hopefully he stays healthy this season so we can be treated to more of this magic.

 

Alex Reyes‘ Slider

 

 

Yes, THE Alex Reyes is our “Under the Radar” choice for the Cardinals in this piece. Why? Despite his high end prospect status for what seems like ages, he is now healthy and may be getting ignored by some thanks to some likely prospect fatigue. He’s going to be pitching out of the bullpen early on this season, but I have a feeling we’ll either see him in some high-leverage situations or as a starter one way or another. Control has been an issue during his time in the majors, but that could just be chalked up to his lack of innings over the past few years due to injury. I have a feeling that the more he pitches, the better his control gets. Regardless, I’m excited to see what he can do over a full season.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

 

Mitch Keller’s Curveball

 

 

The young gun in the Pirates’ rotation isn’t exactly a mainstay at this point in his career, but who else on the Pirates was I supposed to pick for that spot? With his talent, he’s the most likely option to become a mainstay for Pittsburgh (that is, until they trade him), and he’s certainly on our radar for Nastiest Pitches. The camera angle in Cincinnati doesn’t do this pitch justice, but trust me when I say that his curveball passes the eye test.

 

Richard Rodríguez’s Slider

 

 

Richard Rodríguez is the obvious choice for closer in Pittsburgh this year, which may not mean much to some but he at least has the role locked down. The slider is Rodríguez’s secondary pitch and it registered a wonderful 34.3% CSW in 2020 to go along with a whopping 63.6% Whiff%. It gets above average vertical drop for a slider and he can control it very well. It’s a filthy weapon, one that plays both on the stat sheet and in Nasty Pitches as well.

 

JT Brubaker’s Sinker

 

 

When I reached out within our Pitcher List Discord about needing an Under the Radar guy on the Pirates, our own Shelly Verougstraete offered up JT Brubaker as an option. When Shelly speaks up, you listen, so here is a pretty sick sinker from Brubaker. I’m a huge fan of glove-side sinkers that zip back across the plate and this one looks super nice. The pitch only gets slightly above-average movement, but in looking through a bunch of them I’m a fan of what I saw. My favorite part of writing this article is finding guys that weren’t on my radar before hand, and Brubaker is certainly one of them.

 

Chicago White Sox

 

Lucas Giolito’s Changeup

 

 

Coming off a year in which he threw a no-hitter while thoroughly dominating the AL Central, Lucas Giolito is the definitive ace on the White Sox’ staff. He had three pitches with a CSW% over 30%, but the changeup was his highest in that department. It actually gets below average movement on average, but batters are still confused by it on a regular basis and it can make them look silly.

 

Garrett Crochet’s Fastball

 

 

Despite suffering a scare in the playoffs when he was forced to exit one of Chicago’s games with elbow soreness, Garrett Crochet is back, healthy, and ready to dominate opposing batters with his triple digit stuff. He’s primed to enter the season as a middle reliever for the White Sox, but don’t be surprised if he starts getting into some high leverage situations this year. I still like Codi Heuer more from a Nastiest Pitches standpoint, but Crochet is filthy in his own right and that fastball is straight up gas.

 

Codi Heuer’s Sinker

 

 

If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the offseason, you’ll know that this pitch by Codi Heuer was my favorite of the 2020 season. He’s definitely a dark horse in the White Sox bullpen, but with a devastating sinker and an equally nasty slider Heuer should be a force to be reckoned with in 2021. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up getting some save chances ahead of both Aaron Bummer and Crochet whenever Liam Hendriks needs a day off. I’m no Rick Graham, so I’m certainly no expert, but Heuer passes the eye test in a big way. You will be seeing him plenty of times in Nastiest Pitches this season.

 

Cleveland Indians

 

Shane Bieber’s Knuckle-curve

 

 

The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner is a command darling and can throw any of his pitches at any time. The Knuckle-curve is one of his nastiest pitches, but you can’t really go wrong with any of his offerings. It dominated batters to the tune of a 34.4% CSW% and a 52.6% strikeout rate. Insane in the membrane.

 

James Karinchak’s Curveball

 

 

James Karinchak has such a unique delivery and his curveball looks unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. He should hopefully be the closer in Cleveland this season (more on this in a moment), and the curveball is a deadly weapon that can generate a ton of outs. Karinchak earned a ridiculous 45.9% CSW with the pitch in 2020, making it one of the best pitches in all of MLB by CSW. Regardless of his role in 2021, Karinchak will be a fun guy to watch pitch anytime he enters a game.

 

Nick Wittgren’s Slider

 

 

Nick Wittgren is in the running for the closer’s job in Cleveland, something I don’t think anyone really expected after Brad Hand departed in free agency. This was Karinchak’s job to take, but Wittgren has three solid pitches which make him an intriguing option in the back end of Cleveland’s bullpen. The slider is his #3 pitch and he earned a 19.3% SwStr% with it in 2020, primarily throwing it down and away to righties. He doesn’t get much horizontal movement with it, but if you can make the MVP look silly like he does here then you’re doing something right.

 

Kansas City Royals

 

Brad Keller’s Slider

 

 

Brad Keller is a guy who has flashed at times but has mostly underwhelmed in his short career with Kansas City. He has some impressive stuff but he unfortunately hasn’t quite put it all together. The slider is easily Keller’s best put-away pitch, with a pretty good 14% SwStr% and a 27.7% CSW%. It gets a ton of vertical drop and can make batters look totally foolish. I’m rooting for Keller’s success in 2021 and beyond, and I’m sure we’ll see more of this pitch in consideration for Nastiest Pitches.

 

Josh Staumont’s Curveball

 

 

Much of the talk around Josh Staumont has been about his erratic control and electric velocity. Maxing out at 102.5 MPH in 2020, the fastball is his most utilized weapon, but the flamethrower setup man also mixes in this devastating curveball just under 30% of the time. It generates above average movement and was responsible for nearly half of his strikeouts on the season. While you’ll probably see a few Staumont fastballs scattered about in Nastiest Pitches this season, don’t be shocked if you also see some knee-breaking curveballs as well.

 

Scott Barlow’s Curveball

 

 

Did I just throw you a curveball with the third straight Royals’ curveball? I asked the Pitcher List Discord for a under the radar Royals reliever and our own Rick Graham responded with a guy I’ve never heard of, Scott Barlow. I’m now intrigued. The pitch had a .166 xwOBA in 2020 and 15.1 inches of horizontal break, 31% above average compared to other curveballs. A 20% SwStr% is excellent, and the pitch earned nearly half of Barlow’s strikeouts on the season. Fangraphs has Barlow as the 7th inning man in KC, but don’t be surprised if he earns a handful of save chances during the season thanks to this filthy breaker.

 

Detroit Tigers

 

Matthew Boyd’s Curveball

 

 

Are you a Boyd Boy/Girl like the rest of us Pitcher Listers? While the stuff is there for Matthew Boyd to be a fantasy stud, the results haven’t quite shown up yet on a regular basis. Detroit has a very poor camera angle, so most of his pitches don’t look nearly as impressive as they should, but there are times when the camera angle doesn’t matter. This pitch is a great example of that. Boyd’s curveball had a magnificent .133 average against in 2020, and he earned seven strikeouts on only 81 thrown. It’s his fourth most thrown pitch (used 7.5% of the time in 2020), so you won’t see a lot of them, but it’s a solid out pitch for Boyd when he does choose to use it.

 

Gregory Soto’s Sinker

 

 

Gregory Soto is the likely closer in Detroit, and he hasn’t been on my radar until this year. That has now changed. He can occasionally reach triple digits, and despite his erratic control he should be a solid source of strikeouts and saves at the backend of the Tigers’ bullpen. His slider is a wipeout pitch that registered an absurd 30% SwStr% in 2020, albeit on a small sample size of 80 thrown. Whether it’s the devastating slider or a 100 MPH sinker panted on the corner, Soto is a guy who is on our radar this year.

 

José Ureña’s Sinker

 

 

José Ureña’s middle name is volatility, and for years it seems like he’s flashed at times and gotten blown up at others. He is a walking, talking Cherry Bomb, but there is no denying that he does possess filthy stuff. My apologies for the glitchy GIF, but this is a great representation of just how filthy his sinker can be. In 2020 it improved across the board, with a career best 12.5% SwStr% and a career low 76.7% Contact%. Sinkers aren’t generally great real-world whiff pitches, but from a Nastiest Pitches perspective they are among the nastiest out there.

 

Minnesota Twins

 

Kenta Maeda’s Arsenal

 

 

Yeah, that’s right. I’m including the entirety of Kenta Maeda’s arsenal on this list because it’s all absolutely filthy. Maeda is a guy whose starts I will go out of my way to watch, because he rarely disappoints and I know I can usually grab a handful of pitches for use in Nastiest Pitches. The slider and changeup are particularly filthy, and you have my word that you’ll see plenty of both this season.

 

Taylor Rogers‘ Slider

 

 

Is Rogers closing, or is he not closing? The closer role in Minnesota is still murky thanks to the addition of Alex Colomé, but Taylor Rogers will still be pitching out of the ‘pen no matter what. Whichever role he holds, that slider will play. The pitch holds a career 16.8% SwStr%, 41.4% O-Swing%, and 48.8% Zone%, making it a true Money Pitch that befuddles batters on the daily. Rogers is a stud and he’ll be on our radar all season long.

 

Randy Dobnak’s Changeup

 

 

Randy Dobnak was the surprise of the season in Minnesota last year, coming out of nowhere to put together a really impressive stretch of pitching to help get Minnesota into the playoffs. I’ll be honest, I didn’t watch much of him at all last year so when I went back to look at some of his pitches I was pleasantly surprised. His slider is his main put away pitch, and while his sinker doesn’t get elite velocity (91.7 MPH) it still gets a ton of vertical movement.

This changeup caught my eye despite the GIF glitching midway through, and it’s almost as if the GIF itself whiffed at the pitch at the same time as the batter (shoutout to Christopher Reeves). Dobnak’s changeup does get above average drop and break which definitely works for Nastiest Pitches purposes, so be on the lookout for more of these this season. He’s currently the odd man out in the Twins’ rotation, but he should be the first man up whenever a spot start needs to be made.

 

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns 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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