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2021 Nastiest Pitches Preview: NL/AL East

Max Posner previews the nastiest pitches in the NL/AL East 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.

The NL and AL East pitching staffs include more than a few true aces as well as shutdown closers. I also tried to shine some light on some deserving, if not yet well-known pitchers.

 

Baltimore Orioles

 

John Means‘ Changeup

 

 

John Means is the lone bright spot in the Orioles rotation. Means had a 0.98 WHIP in 2020 using good command and a mix of four pitches to keep hitters off-balance. Means mixed in more breaking balls in 2020, but his bread and butter is still the changeup. Means uses an almost identical action with his fastball and changeup that helps keep hitters off balance. The slow-motion on this pitch shows the late fade that Means gets on his changeup. Hitters see a fastball arm action and commit before Means pulls the string.

 

Tanner Scott’s Slider

 

 

With Hunter Harvey set to start the season on the injured list, Tanner Scott may be first in line for the few save opportunities likely to be available in the Orioles bullpen. Scott has a big fastball and a hard slider in the classic lefty reliever mold. The Orioles roster makes me sad, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t capable pitchers with nastiness to offer. As velocity has spiked in the 21st century, so has the baseline nastiness level for pitchers.

 

Jorge López’s Curveball

 

 

Jorge López has a nice curveball with an aesthetically pleasing vertical drop. López also throws an effective changeup but has been plagued by the long ball in his young career. López shows flashes of beauty every once in a while, and in Baltimore, any flashes are enough for a rotation spot at this point in the Orioles’ long-term cost-cutting rebuild.

 

Boston Red Sox

 

Garrett Richards‘ Slider

 

 

Garrett Richards might be the most fragile piece in a Red Sox rotation full of delicate and unlucky pitchers. Richards has an elite arm that puts above-average movement on his pitches at a high velocity. Richards has a quality curveball in addition to his slider, but I chose to showcase the slider because of the way it falls off the table. Richards, Eduardo Rodgriguez, and Nate Eovaldi all come with significant downsides, but it could also be pretty fun for a while.

 

Adam Ottavino’s Slider

 

 

It’s hard to believe, but this slider is not even close to Adam Ottavino’s best. Ottavino has always battled control problems because it is difficult to harness the movement on his pitches. In the admittedly bizarre 2020 season, Ottavino’s control was typically uneven, but he also seemed to be a touch below his early 2019 peak. Ottavino will have the chance to pitch against lefties more in Boston which gives him the opportunity to prove himself before his coming free agency.

 

Nick Pivetta’s Knuckle-Curve

 

 

Nick Pivetta had a volatile Phillies career that included periods of effectiveness between periods of implosion. Pivetta has a beautiful knuckle-curve that is great against righties but less great against the lefties, who tend to beat up on him. That said, Pivetta makes one of the best lefty hitters in baseball and the reigning MVP look like a kid who has never swung a bat before. That’s why he’s still tantalizing despite his volatility.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

 

Nate Pearson’s Four-Seam Fastball

 

 

Nate Pearson was like a buzzsaw going through termite-infested wood pitching out of the Blue Jays bullpen in the 2020 playoffs. Pearson’s already well-above-average velocity played up out of the bullpen and made hitters like Ji-Man Choi late on pitches in seemingly dangerous locations. Pearson’s velocity gives him the leeway to miss his spot completely and still get whiffs.

 

Jordan Romano’s Slider

 

 

Jordan Romano will start the season with the pole position on filling the closer role left open by Kirby Yates‘ injury. Romano throws both his fastball and slider hard, but he will be tested by both the Rays and Yankees lineups. The Blue Jays offense has a high upside, so Romano may end up with a ton of save opportunities even if the Blue Jays rotation frays.

 

Ross Stripling’s Changeup

 

 

Stripling is free from the depth of the Dodgers pitching and the lack of opportunity the depth caused. Stripling is now seemingly cemented in the Blue Jays rotation and is another pitcher with something to prove after shuttling between the bullpen and rotation in Los Angeles. Stripling can spot his changeup/splitter very well, and the pitch has tremendous vertical drop that can induce whiffs. Bonus points for Sandy León giving Stripling a deserved crotch grab of respect after he swings through the perfectly spotted pitch.

 

Tampa Bay Rays

 

Tyler Glasnow’s Four-Seam Fastball

 

 

Tyler Glasnow has the arsenal of an elite closer, except he’s a starter who can throw deep into games when his control doesn’t get away from. Glasnow has now added a cutter to go along with his four-seam fastball that already naturally cuts enough to induce whiffs from Aaron Judge. If Glasnow ever gets his BB/9 in the 2.5 range for a full season, he’d probably win the Cy Young.

 

Pete Fairbanks‘ Four-Seam Fastball

 

Pete Fairbanks was not afraid to challenge Luke Voit with a fastball up in the zone in a big spot for good reason. Fairbanks doesn’t have the natural cut of Glasnow’s fastball, but he has the rise and velocity needed to go toe to toe with the 2020 regular-season home run leader. Fairbanks got Voit to whiff in a big spot, and he was understandably amped up afterward.

 

Chaz Roe’s Slider

 

 

I have probably made more GIFs of the under-the-radar Chaz Roe slider than any other pitcher in my time at Pitcher List. There’s not much more to say other than enjoy the lateral movement of frisbee now with a baseball.

 

New York Yankees

 

Gerrit Cole’s Four-Seam Fastball

 

 

Gerrit Cole was not quite as good in 2020 as he was in 2019 because of the long ball. To nitpick, Cole gave up too many long balls on his fastball in 2020. If Cole wants to win another Cy Young, he will need to keep the ball in the ballpark in a tough environment. Command will be key, and Cole has shown before that he can dominate with his fastball alone when his command is on. I’ll be excited as a Yankees fan to see if 2021 Cole can be just a little bit better like he was in 2019.

 

Aroldis Chapman’s Splitter

 

 

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a pitcher learning a completely new pitch halfway through the season, trying that pitch a handful of times in September, and then adding it to his arsenal in the playoffs, but that’s what Aroldis Chapman did. Chapman’s splitter looks a bit like a knuckleball with not a lot of spin before the pitch dives downward. Alejandro Kirk had no chance to hit this pitch. Chapman has lost a touch of velocity, and the fresh splitter may help Chapman stay at an elite level as he loses more.

 

Darren O’Day’s Slider

 

 

Darren O’Day is back in the AL East after a stop in Atlanta and is still getting whiffs on his slider using his quasi-submarine delivery. O’Day will be relied on to get righties out for his new team, but he also may be asked to do more with injuries to lefties Zack Britton and Justin Wilson leaving the Yankees righty heavy.

 

Atlanta Braves

 

Max Fried’s Curveball

 

 

Max Fried is part of a Braves rotation and pitching staff with quality starting pitching depth rarely seen in today’s game and only comparable to the Dodgers in 2021. Any one of Fried, Ian Anderson, Charlie Morton, or Mike Soroka could start Game 1 of a playoff series depending on how 2021 goes. Fried showed in 2020 that he could is more than a backend starter, and his curveball is a sight to behold. There’s something so elegant about Fried’s windup and mechanics. The way he hides the ball from the hitter before unleashing the parabola-like movement of his curveball.

 

Chris Martin’s Slider

 

 

Chris Martin is in line for save opportunities if Will Smith is used in more of a relief ace role coming in for high leverage opportunities as needed. Martin’s whiff generator is a slider with disgusting lateral movement. If the Braves reach their potential, it’s possible someone like Martin could come out of nowhere and save 25 games out of the blue.

 

Sean Newcomb’s Curveball

 

 

Sean Newcomb is another Braves pitcher that would probably start games for at least a handful of other teams. Newcomb had a rough 2020, but now in a defined bullpen role, Newcomb’s stuff may play up, giving him the chance to be at least an effective weapon against lefties in high leverage situations. Newcomb’s curveball was his out pitch as a starter and the same is true now that he is in the bullpen.

 

Miami Marlins

 

Pablo López’s Changeup

 

 

Pablo López is probably the most established pitcher in a Marlins rotation brimming with potential and depth. If everything clicks right, the Marlins may end up with a rotation with no back-end starters. López upped his changeup usage in 2020 and the results were positive. López is able to throw the pitch for strikes down in the zone or bury the pitch below the zone to induce whiffs in pitcher counts. I’m excited to see if the Marlins rotation can reach its potential, this year and going forward. I was skeptical of the Derek Jeter regime, but the early results have raised my expectations.

 

Anthony Bass‘ Slider

 

 

Anthony Bass will likely be the closer for the Marlins to start the season and Bass will certainly give righties trouble with his vicious slider. If Bass doesn’t throw enough strikes and has trouble with lefties, the Marlins may be on the trade market to add a bullpen arm for a playoff push.

 

Trevor Rogers‘ Changeup

 

 

Trevor Rogers isn’t really under the radar after a quality 2020 and a set spot in the previously mentioned competitive Marlins rotation. Rogers changeup has late movement that helps miss bats after hitters start their swing like it’s a fastball in their happy zone.

 

New York Mets

 

Jacob deGrom’s Slider

 

 

Jacob deGrom keeps adding velocity and getting better year after year like no other pitcher in the game. deGrom’s slider was already up to 94 and touched 95 at times last year, but as deGrom adds velocity again, it will be fun to track just how hard he can throw a pitch still technically classified as a slider and not a cutter even if to the naked eye the movement looks like a cutter. Or do we just think it’s a cutter because no one throws a slider that fast? deGrom makes me think about what’s possible and how that expands over time, and that’s part of what I love about baseball.

Edwin Díaz’s Fastball

 

 

I’ve been harping this for a while now, but Edwin Díaz is not really that far off the level he reached in Seattle. He’s had some unexplainable bad luck and poor performance in high leverage spots, but he’s also missed a ton of bats and still throws about as hard as he did in Seattle. I’m rooting for Díaz and hope he can get back in Mets fans’ good graces as the team becomes more competitive using Steve Cohen’s money and ability to not be a Wilpon.

 

Miguel Castro’s Sinker

 

 

Miguel Castro is a pitcher with above-average velocity and movement to the naked eye who has never performed quite as well as his stuff would indicate. Castro has a quality slider and changeup, but his lead offering is a hard sinker. It’s possible Castro’s mechanics allow hitters to see the ball well out of his band, but that’s just a shot in the dark from a guy who is not a scout but has watched a lot of baseball.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

 

Aaron Nola’s Sinker

 

 

Aaron Nola has three pitches that are highly effective as well as beautiful to watch. I had a tough time choosing between Nola’s breaking ball, his changeup, and his sinker, but I ended up choosing the sinker because few pitches get hitters to give up before a called strike like Nola’s sinker. The movement is mesmerizing.

 

José Alvarado’s Cutter

 

 

José Alvarado was a much bigger man and a less effective pitcher in 2020 than the José Alvarado in Phillies camp. Alvarado lost fifty pounds in the offseason and maybe the slimmer Alvarado will have an easier time throwing strikes while avoiding the implosions and injuries that plagued his Rays career. Alvarado throws so hard and can make hitters look so foolish. As a fellow thicc man, I’m rooting for Alvarado.

 

Zack Eflin’s Sinker

 

 

Zack Eflin is another pitcher who isn’t really under the radar, but like Trevor Rogers, Eflin is far from a household name. He’s probably best known by Phillies fans and fantasy baseball players hoping to scoop up Eflin as a value in drafts. Eflin’s ADP has risen because of his 2020 flashes and because he missed bats with great movement. Eflin’s sinker probably isn’t quite at Nola’s level, but that’s no embarrassment. Eflin’s sinker can stand on its own as a nasty pitch.

 

Washington Nationals

 

Max Scherzer’s Changeup

 

 

Like Nola, I could have chosen any of Max Scherzer’s three pitches to include in this preview. Scherzer’s changeup may be less appreciated than his cutter/slider, but I find the change more aesthetically pleasing because of the late drop. Scherzer also spots all his pitches so well and makes hitters swing at pitches they can’t hit by attacking the zone relentlessly. It’s a joy to watch Scherzer compete and throw nasty pitches.

 

Brad Hand’s Slider

 

 

Brad Hand has taken his talents to Washington after the Indians pinched pennies and didn’t offer Hand arbitration this offseason. Hand has relied on his slider more and more as his fastball velocity has diminished and will need to command the slider well inside and outside of the zone as he loses more.

 

Tanner Rainey’s Slider

 

 

Tanner Rainey has some of the best stuff in the majors. He throws his fastball and slider with elite velocity, and the movement and tilt on his slider are plus. Too often, though, Rainey has no idea how to throw strikes. Sometimes Rainey can throw his fastball for strikes, but he only occasionally throws the slider for strikes, so hitters won’t swing at the slider unless Rainey gets ahead with the fastball. All the stuff in the world doesn’t make an effective pitcher if the power can’t be harnessed. Easier said than done for Rainey.

 

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Max Posner

Max is a NYC born student living in Baltimore, MD. He enjoys the Yankees, overanalyzing, and asking lots of questions.

  • Jeff Chisholm says:

    Love these Max!! Small correction, need to fix the link to Scherzer, as you are showing Maeda

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