Welcome to part two of our Nastiest Pitches series regarding the best pitches in baseball. Last week, Benjamin Haller kicked things off with MLB’s Nastiest Breaking Balls of 2022. Today we shift to the hard stuff and reveal the most effective fastballs from last season. We’re covering all fastballs, not just four-seamers, so the list is replete with splitters and cutters.
For guidance, we leaned on our newest metric, Pitch Level Value (PLV). If you are not yet familiar with PLV, take a look at Nick Pollack’s in-depth primer for all the details. In a nutshell, PLV measures the quality of the pitch regardless of the outcome. In other words, how good (or bad) is a pitcher’s repertoire and overall arsenal?
Without further ado, let’s jump into the list. Below are the best four-seamers, splitters, and cutters from 2022, ranked in order of PLV:
Pete Fairbanks‘ Four-Seamer
Injuries limited Pete Fairbanks to only 24 innings last season, which is a shame for Rays’ fans as he was lights-out when healthy. Fairbanks primarily relies on two pitches, a four-seamer, which he threw 61% of the time, and a slider. Both pitches were effective in 2022, but his four-seamer was off the charts:
Fairbanks brings the heat, averaging 99 mph on the pitch and often crossing over into triple digits. His velocity and spin rate were both among the best in the league, and the resultant .118 batting average against and 13% hard contact rate indicate how much difficulty hitters had catching up to it. The chart below shows how Fairbanks’ four-seamer was off the charts in PLV:
If you interpreted that his fastball was the most effective of anyone in the league last season, you were correct. Even more impressive is that Fairbanks’ four-seamer is the only four-seamer to make our top ten nastiest fastballs. The next highest PLV on a FF was Jacob deGrom at 5.47 – well below Fairbanks’ 5.79. Below, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could only watch as a 101 mph heater up in the zone froze him:
Kevin Gausman’s Splitter
Kevin Gausman’s 3.35 ERA last season is a bit misleading. His FIP was nearly a run lower, and his overall PLV was among the best in baseball. Of the four pitches Gausman throws, his splitter was by far the most effective:
Gausman’s not afraid to throw the splitter, doing so 34% of the time. This is a good plan when you have a 27% SwStr% and a 30.7% CSW%. Opposing batters were clearly fooled by this pitch, swinging at splitters out of the zone nearly 53% of the time. While Gausman was above average on three of his four offerings, the chart below reveals how dominant his splitter was, with a PLV of 5.71:
The video below shows the nastiness of Gausman’s splitter as it drops down and in on Giancarlo Stanton. Sit down, Giancarlo; better luck next time!
David Bednar’s Splitter
David Bednar only threw his splitter at a 17% rate, but that figure rose to 41.5% when he had two strikes. There’s a good reason for this, as it’s a devastating put-away pitch. Bednar controlled the pitch superbly, keeping it in the zone 41% of the time and inducing swings on pitches out of the strike zone on 42% of his offerings. His 68% strike percentage on the splitter was crazy good. It’s no wonder batters only hit .182 against it last season.
Based on the chart below, Bednar may want to consider using the splitter more in 2023 at the expense of his below-average curveball:
Here is Bednar’s splitter in action. Jesús Aguilar had no shot on this pitch which dropped from the bottom of the zone to grazing the dirt!
Aroldis Chapman’s Splitter
As with Bednar, Aroldis Chapman may want to consider throwing his splitter more in 2023. He’s only been throwing it for three years, but it has developed into his most devastating pitch. Despite averaging 88 mph, it’s a change of speed pitch for Chapman, whose four-seamer is ten mph faster. A 26% CSW and .120 average against will get it done!
The velocity on Chapman’s four-seamer isn’t what it used to be. While he once averaged over 100 mph on the pitch, he was down to 97.4 mph last season. While this is still impressive, it’s no longer among the league leaders. Chapman may be able to re-invent himself in Kansas City, though, as PLV loves his splitter and slider:
Watch the break on this offering. Yoán Moncada was fooled so badly that he hoped just to get a piece of it!
Chris Martin’s Cutter
MLB’s best cutter in 2022 belonged to Chris Martin. The batting average against it doesn’t reflect the pitch’s effectiveness, thanks to a .353 BABIP. However, the xAVG of .204 and xwOBA of .201 are light-years below the league average and more reflective of Martin’s cutter’s dominance in 2022. A 19.3% called-strike rate also indicates how beguiling the pitch was to opposing batters.
Martin has a broad repertoire of six pitches, though he leaned on his four-seamer and cutter last year. The 32% rate was a career-high in usage for the pitch and increased over the second half of 2022. Undoubtedly, Martin recognized his cutter was special last season.
Here we see Marlins’ rookie Luke Williams, ironically now with the Dodgers, get punched out on a cutter that squeaks into the strike zone low and in:
Shohei Ohtani’s Cutter
It’s no wonder we ranked Shohei Ohtani as the best player in MLB. Not only is he one of the league’s best hitters, but Ohtani was tied for the highest overall PLV in 2022 with Shane McClanahan. Ohtani is so good that his cutter and splitter made our list of the best fastballs, and they weren’t even his best pitch, according to PLV. His slider ranked as one of the best pitches in baseball! First, let’s take a look at the results from his cutter:
Ohtani didn’t throw it often, only 9% of the time, but he controlled it exceedingly well. The 54.1% Zone% was in the upper echelon of all MLB pitchers. Though not as fast as his four-seamer, Ohtani’s cutter was in the 85th percentile in velocity and had a CSW of 28.3% vs. 25.3% for his FF.
Below is the cutter in action. Gary Sánchez thought he drew a walk to load the bases, but not so fast!
Shohei Ohtani’s Splitter
Next up for Ohtani is his splitter, which ranked almost as high as his cutter by PLV. The velocity was virtually identical, making it all the more difficult for batters to recognize. Ohtani induced swinging strikes nearly a quarter of the time he threw the splitter and held batters to a .129 average, which may have been inflated according to his xAVG of .109!
Ohtani’s splitter breaks more than his cutter and in the opposite direction. He used it primarily as a punch-out pitch; throwing it on two-strike counts 68% of the time.
As good a hitter as Rafael Devers is, Ohtani makes him look foolish with this splitter. Devers does his best to make contact but is left hoping for a passed ball as he makes his way back to the dugout!
A.J. Minter’s Cutter
A.J. Minter excelled with all three of his pitches last season, but his cutter is ranked highest in PLV. He generated strikes off it a whopping 73% of the time with a 21% SwStr%. An unseemly .451 BABIP inflated the batting average against the cutter, but don’t let that fool you. A 36.2% CSW% and 73% Str% are legit.
Both of Minter’s fastballs ranked high in 2022, and his changeup was slightly above average. It’s no wonder he led MLB with 34 holds last season!
Minter’s cutter slipped back into the zone at the last instant in the clip below. Wil Myers could only shake his head and walk back to the dugout.
Paul Blackburn’s Cutter
Paul Blackburn had his first full season in the bigs last year and fared pretty well, winning seven games with a 4.28 ERA. His cutter, which he just started throwing in 2021 after abandoning his slider, was his best pitch in 2022 by far. Batters only generated hard contact off it 20% of the time, though they appeared to get lucky with a .368 batting average driven by a .385 BABIP. Blackburn doesn’t strike out batters at a high rate, but he managed to generate a lot of strikes with his cutter, posting a 68% strike rate on the pitch.
Blackburn has six pitches in his arsenal, four of which ranked below average in PLV. His curveball was slightly above average, but his cutter was an outstanding 5.47 PLV. Wisely, Blackburn threw a lot of them with a usage rate of 19.4%, nearly double the rate of his four-seamer.
Here we see Blackburn punch Eloy Jiménez out with a nifty cutter on a 3-2 count that Eloy undoubtedly thought would drop out of the zone for ball four.
Nathan Eovaldi’s Splitter
The last of our nastiest fastballs from 2022 was the splitter from veteran Nathan Eovaldi. According to PLV, Eovaldi deserved better than his 3.87 ERA in 2022, as his 5.28 overall PLV was the twelfth highest in MLB. His splitter devastated opposing batters, who hit only .173 against it last season and swung and missed nearly a quarter of the times he threw it.
Eovaldi was average or better on all his pitches last season except his sinker, which he threw only 2% of the time. His splitter was the best of the bunch, though, and was one of the top fastballs in the league:
Watch the bottom drop out on this nasty split-finger to Jared Walsh – swing, miss, strikeout, inning over.
Are there other fastballs you like better? Let us know whose, and tell us why!
Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)