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2021 Nastiest Pitches Preview: NL/AL West

Shawn Barletta previews the nastiest pitches in the NL/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 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!

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

 

Zac Gallen’s Fastball

 

 

Thrown 39% of the time, Zac Gallen’s four-seamer achieves great results without elite velocity. The fastball provides a strong CSW (33.9% in 2020) and low batting average against (.185 in 2020). The offering Gallen turns to most frequently gets him ahead early and often (60.9% strike rate). Gallen has consistently produced better than average vertical movement with the pitch, contributing to the tenth-highest fastball pVAL among starters in 2020.

 

Joakim Soria’s Curveball

 

 

The D-Backs brought in the veteran during the offseason to anchor the backend of their bullpen. What is Arizona getting in Joakim Soria? They are getting a guy who leans heavily on his fastball (64% usage). They’re also getting a guy with a pretty devastating curveball. Soria’s breaking ball is a great change of pace, registering a 21 mph difference. Although it was used less than 10% of the time last year, the breaking ball has elite vertical break (74 inches) which could lead to an uptick in usage if the fastball velocity begins to slip for the 36-year-old right-hander.

 

Merrill Kelly’s Changeup

 

 

Merrill Kelly made just five starts in 2020 before he was shut down with season-ending thoracic outlet surgery. Prior to the injury, Kelly posted a 2.59 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP, thanks in part to one of the best walk rates in baseball (5 BB/31.1 IP). Small sample size? Sure, but on the other hand, the whiff rate on his changeup did take a pretty big leap, from 24% in 2019 to 38% in 2020.

 

Colorado Rockies

 

Germán Márquez’s Curveball

 

 

As has been the case for the last few seasons, the most valuable arm in the Mile High City last year was that of Germán Márquez. Speaking of value, Márquez’s 2020 curveball logged its second highest pVAL of his career (8.7). The pitch produced an incredible 43.9% whiff rate and held hitters to a .110 AVG thanks in part to the highest curve spin rate the pitch has seen since 2016. Even more impressive is the .176 xwOBA on the pitch since 2018. That number is casually the lowest in baseball on a specific pitch.

Tyler Kinley’s Slider

 

 

Coming out of the Colorado pen, Tyler Kinley relied heavily on his slider in 2020. It was his pitch of choice 60% of the time, to be exact. This was good news for the Rockies, as Kinley’s slide piece resulted in a microscopic .106 batting average against. Kinley’s expected stats backed up the surface numbers, as he led Colorado pitchers in xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA. The absence of any success with his fastball and a somewhat unlucky strand rate (51.6% compared to the league average of 71.6%) led to a Mile High ERA of 5.40.

 

Antonio Senzatela’s Slider

 

 

26-year-old Antonio Senzatela had a breakout season in 2020, posting a 3.44 ERA in 12 games started. Since 2017, Senzatela’s slider has seen an uptick in velocity each season, with the 2020 version averaging 86 mph. The slider was used on both sides of the plate and produced a 54% ground ball rate.

 

Houston Astros

 

Zack Greinke’s Changeup

 

 

Plenty of pitchers are able to use a fastball-changeup velocity difference to keep a batter off-balance. With an average velocity difference of just two ticks, Zack Greinke doesn’t have that luxury, although it doesn’t seem to matter. The 37-year-old’s changeup produced a 44% whiff rate, almost doubling the 2019 number (27%). Thanks in part to a hefty 32 inches of drop on the pitch, opposing batters slugged a measly .253 last season.

 

Blake Taylor’s Fastball

 

 

Blake Taylor may have only logged 20 innings last season, but there was plenty to be impressed with. The Statcast darling posted 95th percentile or better in exit velocity and hard hit rate, as well as expected batting average and slugging percentage against. Taylor tossed his fastball 261 times last season, surrendering only six base hits (5 singles, 1 double). The former second-round pick will look to build off a strong rookie campaign as he heads into 2021.

 

Framber Valdéz’s Curveball

 

 

After pitching mostly in relief in 2019, Framber Valdez led the Astros in innings pitched during 2020. This led to plenty of opportunities to watch one of the best benders in baseball. A true put-away pitch, the curveball alone generated 60 punchouts in 70.2 innings last season. Few can spin it like Valdez. At 2,982 rpm, it ranks in the 97th percentile of MLB curve spin rates. Add in a 36.6% CSW, and you can see why the Astros (and all fans of nastiness) are anxiously awaiting his return.

 

Los Angeles Angels

 

Dylan Bundy’s Curveball

 

 

Dylan Bundy’s least-used pitch in 2020 may very well have been his most effective. Bundy’s curve was unhittable last season. Literally unhittable, as in no hits given up. A batting average against of zero. The pitch had a 43.7% called strike rate, the highest of any pitch in baseball last year. This is the definition of nasty.

 

Raisel Iglesias’s Slider

 

 

Raisel Iglesias was added to the Los Angeles bullpen this offseason. With Iglesias, the Angels are getting a slider with a big-time 48% whiff rate. The pitch is nearly 12 mph slower than his fastball and held hitters last season to an expected average of .173.

 

Mike Mayers‘ Cutter

 

 

2020 was the first year of Mike Mayers in an Angels’ uniform, and what an addition it proved to be. A 35.5% strikeout rate put Mayers in the top 6% of baseball. The implementation of a cutter was one of the driving forces behind the breakout season. The pitch resulted in a strike rate of 42%, a batting average against of .156, and a .197 xwOBA. The cutter logged a 43.5% put away rate, which was the highest
of any pitcher in the AL West last season.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Walker Buehler’s Fastball

 

 

Truly one of the elite pitches in baseball belongs to Dodgers starter Walker Buehler. Buehler’s fastball brings with plenty of velocity (96.8 mph) and vertical movement (97th percentile spin rate). This led to a miserable time for hitters who collectively posted a .168 wOBA. What’s more is that Buehler’s fastball surrendered just one barrel all season. Not too shabby.

 

Tony Gonsolin’s Slider

 

 

Making up about 17% of his arsenal, Tony Gonsolin’s slider is a thing of beauty. Gonsolin used this pitch more times than not to right-handed batters who, at best, struggled. The slider produced a 28% swinging strike rate which was good for the 11th highest mark of any pitch in the NL last year. Toss in an outside the zone swing rate on 50% and you can see how difficult it was for hitters to do much with this pitch.

 

Víctor González’s Slider

 

 

In what was his first taste of the big leagues, Víctor González dominated out of the Los Angeles pen. A fastball-slider guy, Gonzalez ranked in the 95th percentile of xBA, and the 99th percentile of both xSLG and xwOBA. This slider wasn’t put in play very often curiosity of a 40% CSW. After just turning 25 this offseason, there is plenty for the Dodgers to be excited about with this big left-handed arm.

 

Oakland Athletics

 

Frankie Montas‘ Slider

 

 

The COVID-shortened 2020 season was a rollercoaster for Frankie Montas. The most consistent aspect of his season may very well have been his nasty slider. While Montas will throw the pitch to both right and left handed batters, righties had an especially tough time with it. The pitch posted a whopping 41% CSW against righties while holding them to .146 average.

 

Jake Diekman’s Fastball

 

 

At 34 years-old, Jake Diekman continues be nasty. The Oakland reliever pitched in 21.1 innings and posted a 0.42 ERA last season. Diekman did this with an overpowering fastball and a sweeping slider. The four-seamer, used 59% of the time, featured over 13 inches of horizontal movement. Diekman gave up a total of two base-hits off his fastball which resulted in a .053 average against.

 

Lou Trivino’s Cutter

 

 

The cutter was once again Lou Trivino’s best pitch in 2020. Thrown about 24% of the time, Trivino’s cutter yielded a .118 average against and .185 wOBA. The pitch posted a 36% CSW and a 21% swinging strike rate.

 

San Diego Padres

 

Yu Darvish’s Slider

 

 

When the Padres added Yu Darvish this off-season, they gained an elite arm with one of baseball’s best repertoires. Darvish’s best pitch seems to vary each year and you could argue that it’s one of the aspects of his game that makes him great. In 2020, his slider was the offering that seemed to outshine. 14.9 inches of horizontal break made the movement of this pitch elite. A colossal 46.6% CSW left him near the top of the leaderboard. Hitters couldn’t do much with the slider, hitting just .095 against it.

 

Drew Pomeranz’s Fastball

 

 

Drew Pomeranz goes to his fastball a lot. Last season he used it 77% of the time. Despite the predictability of the pitch, hitters struggled to make any kind of solid contact against it. With a fastball spin rate in the top 10 percent of baseball, Pomeranz’s four-seamer held batters to .111 AVG and .182 SLG.

 

Chris Paddack’s Changeup

 

 

The Chris Paddack changeup was on display 31% of the time in 2020. The off-speed offering had a 17% swinging-strike rate and a 43% chase rate. Hitters were forced to get their hacks in against the pitch because Paddack refused to walk anyone with it (23% K-BB rate). Confirmed by a 9.4 pVAL, Paddack’s changeup was indeed a nasty pitch.

 

San Francisco Giants

 

Kevin Gausman’s Splitter

 

 

Kevin Gausman’s splitter isn’t just one of the nastiest pitches in the NL West, it’s one of the nastiest pitches in all of baseball. The splitter has big-time movement and limited hitters last year to a .121 xwOBA. The former first round pick is able to create an incredible amount of swings on pitches outside the strike zone (55.6% O-Swing). It’s also one of the most effective two-strike pitches in baseball with a 29.9% put-away rate.

 

Jake McGee’s Fastball

 

 

Jake McGee, the newest arm in the Giants pen, throws his fastball 96% of the time. That isn’t a typo. McGee threw 12 pitches all season that weren’t fastballs. You know what you’re getting when you face Jake McGee, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The fastball produced a 38% strike rate alongside a 17.8% swinging-strike rate. The pitch isn’t thrown incredibly hard (79th percentile) and doesn’t have great spin (48th percentile). What it does do however is consistently get results. McGee’s xwOBA of .246 was one of the better in all of baseball.

 

Sam Selman’s Slider

 

 

Sam Selman has a sensational slider. Not only does that phrase just seem to roll off the tongue, it’s also very accurate. Essentially a two-pitch pitcher (fastball and slider), Sam finished in the top 1% of hard hit balls allowed in 2020. The money pitch here was a slider which held batters to a .128 average. The pitch was a strike 67% of the time, which helped bolster a 37.7% CSW.

 

Seattle Mariners

 

James Paxton’s Curveball

 

 

In bringing back James Paxton, the Mariners are hoping for a full recovery from the strained flexor in his left forearm that robbed him of his velocity last year. The fastball may have been an issue in 2020, but the curve continued to be challenging for opposing hitters. The results were a microscopic .185 wOBA against and a CSW of 35%. The overall usage of the pitch was down from previous years but it’s certainty worth keeping an eye on as Big Maple returns to Seattle.

 

Anthony Misiewicz’s Cutter

 

 

Did you know that the Mariners had a bullpen arm last year who was in the top 2% in all of baseball in limiting barrels? It’s true! Few arms in baseball limited this ideal contact like lefty Anthony Misiewicz. At the centerpiece of Misiewicz’s repertoire: a cutter he used more than 50% of the time. The pitch was mostly used in on righties and away to lefties all while collectively producing a 31.5% whiff rate.

 

Justus Sheffield’s Slider

 

 

Through 55.1 innings of work last season, Justus Sheffield’s slider proved to be a legitimate punchout pitch. Sheffield’s slider sported a 33% chase rate and an overall strike rate of 63%. Opposing hitters struggled when it came to both reaching base (.222 xOBA) and making contact with the slider (37% strikeout rate).

 

Texas Rangers

 

Jordan Lyles‘ Slider

 

 

Jordan Lyles’ slider was a bright spot in the Rangers rotation last season. The slider was used around 13% of the time and only gave up four base hits all year. Opposing batters were held to a .178 wOBA. It was the most effective pitch Lyles had last year, so now the question is whether or not the usage goes up in 2021.

 

Taylor Hearn’s Fastball

 

 

Thrown 61% of the time with an average velocity of 95 mph, Taylor Hearn’s fastball is the real deal. Hearn’s fastball generated a 67% strike rate while limiting batters to a .169 xBA. Of that 67%, an impressive 28.9% were all strikes (the eighth-highest mark in baseball). All of this was reflected in a fastball pVAL of 4.5 during the 2020 season.

 

Jonathan Hernández’s Changeup

 

 

Jonathan Hernández’s changeup was as dominate as any changeup last season. In 31 innings, a base hit was recorded on the changeup exactly zero times. The pitch produced a whiff rate of 51.7% while limiting batters to a .046 wOBA. Believe it or not, the changeup use went down from 2019 to 2020. The pitch was nasty last year and it absolutely worth keeping any eye out for in 2021.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Shawn Barletta

Current writer, creator, and MLB The Show player. Former MLB Front Office staffer. Stroudsburg University alum.

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