There’s no such thing as too much of a nasty pitch. So there are plenty that we want to see a lot more of next season.
All of these pitches are fun to watch. But for one reason or another — whether it’s a pitcher who has too many nasty pitch types to go around, or is under-utilizing a good weapon, or just developed a promising new pitch, or just got to the big leagues and flashed a potentially dominant offering — we didn’t get enough of them in 2020.
Here are 13 nasty pitches we want to see more of in 2021.
Yu Darvish’s four-seam fastball
Key stat: 42.3% swing-and-miss rate
Darvish throws so many different pitches that you might get distracted from his plain old fastball. But Darvish’s four-seamer is anything but plain, now that he’s tapped into its full potential. You see, Darvish has always had elite four-seam spin rate, but until 2020, he never really turned that into the
Last season, not only did Darvish add nearly two full miles per hour to his fastball velocity (94.1 mph to 95.9 mph), he finally converted his spin into rising action. Darvish increased his spin efficiency from 72% to 87%, increased his rise from +1.0 inch above average to +2.5 inches above average, and increased his swing-and-miss rate from 29% to 42%. But he only threw his four-seamer 15% of the time in 2020. We want to see Darvish bring even more high heat in his debut season with the Padres.
Dustin May’s four-seam fastball
Key stat: 101.5 mph max velo
May’s two-seamer, with its crazy running movement, gets all the attention. Naturally, the Dodgers’ rookie used that pitch as his primary fastball in 2020. But his four-seamer, which he only threw 6% of the time, also brings explosive heat, and it was actually more of a swing-and-miss pitch than his two-seamer. May averaged 99.2 mph on his four-seamer between the regular and postseason, trailing only White Sox fireballer Garrett Crochet. He hit 100-plus mph 15 times, including three strikeouts. The fastest of those was a 101.5 mph four-seamer to blow away Manuel Margot in Game 5 of the World Series.
Dustin May, 101mph Four Seam Fastball (Foul) and 100mph Two Seamer (Swinging K), Overlay w/ Tails. pic.twitter.com/sdIv8vSrGh
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 26, 2020
Tyler Glasnow’s changeup
Key stat: 91.5 mph avg. velo
Glasnow’s changeup is only a “show-me” pitch at this point, since his four-seam/curveball combo is so overpowering that he throws those two pitches almost exclusively (5% changeup usage in 2020). But if he learns how to command the changeup, it has a lot of potential as a third weapon. Glasnow is a pure power pitcher, and his changeup is a power pitch; averaging 91.5 mph, it was the third-hardest changeup in the big leagues last season. It’s similar to Jacob deGrom’s in that respect — deGrom averaged 91.4 mph, right behind Glasnow — and he’s obviously the gold standard to emulate as far as “overpowering stuff plus command.”
Glasnow just gonna spot up 94 mph changeups on 2-0 now huh pic.twitter.com/a2tNyoz1T7
— David Adler (@_dadler) July 27, 2020
Corbin Burnes’ curveball
Key stat: 2,963 rpm spin rate
Burnes’ breakout as a Cy Young contender for the Brewers in 2020 was spearheaded by his cutter and slider, but his slower curveball, which he only threw 9% of the time, is nasty, too. Burnes throws high-spin everything, and that curve is no exception, ranking in the 95th percentile of the league in spin rate. Thanks to all that spin, Burnes’ curveball gets +2.8 inches of horizontal break above average, and hitters whiffed on 47% of their swings against it. Opponents hit .095 against his curve, and 13 of those 21 plate appearances were strikeouts.
Walker Buehler’s slider
Key stat: +3.8 inch drop vs. avg. / +6.8 inch horizontal break vs. avg.
Buehler’s slider was his most-used secondary pitch in 2019, but in 2020, he only threw it 7% of the time, making it his least-used pitch. But it’s too good of a pitch to not use it more. The Dodgers’ young ace gets great vertical and horizontal movement on his slider, and it sure seems like he could use it in tandem with his harder cutter and slower curveball as an in-between weapon. Buehler gets extremely high spin and movement on all three pitches, and the velocity increments between them — Buehler’s cutter averages 92.7 mph, his slider averages 87.4, and his curve averages 81.9 — set him up to mix all three together.
Aroldis Chapman’s splitter
Key stat: 91.1 mph avg. velo
Chapman broke out a low-90s splitter out of nowhere down the stretch in 2020. A brand-new pitch for the veteran closer, at least as far as real-game usage, the split could be a real problem for hitters to contend with alongside Chapman’s 100 mph heat and sweeping slider. Chapman gets nasty tumbling action with the splitter, and he even went 3-for-3 striking out hitters when he unveiled it in September.
Look at this Aroldis Chapman splitter action pic.twitter.com/SjULMGjYO4
— Talkin’ Yanks (@TalkinYanks) September 26, 2020
Lance McCullers Jr.’s cutter
Key stat: 55.6% putaway rate
McCullers’ low-90s cutter is a new pitch. He added it in 2020, and it looks like it has great potential as a weapon against left-handed hitters. McCullers only threw 16 cutters last season, all to lefties, but those 16 cutters produced four misses on eight swings, and of the nine McCullers threw with two strikes, five got the strikeout. (That’s the 55.6% putaway rate.) Interestingly, he uses the cutter to attack the top of the strike zone in particular.
Lance McCullers, Nasty 94mph Cutter. ✂️
8th K. pic.twitter.com/m4eM7eMgr3
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 12, 2020
Tejay Antone’s curveball
Key stat: .056 BA allowed
The 27-year-old Antone just broke into the Majors with the Reds in 2020, and he has great stuff. While he primarily used his two-seam/slider combo, his curveball, which he only threw 17% of the time, was his best strikeout pitch. Antone struck out 45 batters in 35 1/3 innings, and 20 of those K’s were on curveballs (compared to 18 on sliders and seven on two-seamers). The signature of Antone’s curveball is horizontal movement — he averaged 16.3 inches, or +6.8 inches above average, thanks to his top-tier 2,959 rpm spin rate. Hitters went just 2-for-37 against Antone’s curveball, an .054 batting average, with the 20 strikeouts. The curve is good enough that we’d love to see it more often beyond putaway situations in 2021.
Garrett Crochet’s four-seam fastball
Key stat: 62.5% of fastballs thrown 100+ mph
Let’s take a look at a few rookies who only had short debuts in the big leagues in 2020 but brought instant electric stuff. First up is Crochet, who might have made the biggest impression in the shortest time. The White Sox 2020 first-round Draft pick was in the Majors by September and throwing one of the biggest fastballs in MLB. Crochet only got to throw 72 fastballs down the stretch, but an insane 45 of those 72, 62.5%, were 100 mph or faster. The 21-year-old struck hitters out at 101.5 mph, 100.8 mph, 100.5 mph, 100.2 mph and 100.1 mph.
Justin Topa’s sinker
Key stat: 17.8 inch avg. horizontal movement
Topa is another late-blooming rookie like Antone, who made the Majors at age 29 with the Brewers in September and started pumping nasty high-90s sinkers. Topa’s sinker averaged 97.5 mph, 17.8 inches of horizontal break and 25.0 inches of drop, giving him above-average movement in both directions at extreme velocity. Hopefully he can keep those sinkers coming over a full season in 2021.
Justin Topa, Gross Two Pitch Sequence (98mph Two Seamer and 82mph Slider). 🤮 pic.twitter.com/nZitaaY6hF
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 27, 2020
Clarke Schmidt’s slider
Key stat: +14.7 inch drop vs. avg. / +9.6 inch horizontal break vs. avg.
The Yankees’ top pitching prospect only made three appearances in 2020, but his slider already looks like a wipeout pitch. Schmidt didn’t pitch enough to qualify for Statcast’s pitch movement leaderboards, but if he had, his slider would have ranked No. 1 overall in vertical movement vs. average and No. 6 in horizontal movement vs. average. Five of Schmidt’s seven strikeouts came on sliders last season, and when he gets called up for real, he’s going to have a lot more.
Brailyn Marquez’s changeup
Key stat: 33.4 inch avg. drop / 15.4 inch avg. horizontal break
Marquez is the Cubs’ top prospect because of his big-time fastball from the left side — sitting in the upper 90s and regularly reaching triple digits, it draws the top 80 grade on scouting reports. But in his MLB debut on the last day of the 2020 season, the 21-year-old’s changeup looked very interesting. Marquez averaged 90.8 mph on his “offspeed” pitch, to go with the 97.9 mph on his four-seamer, and his changeup got lots of movement, too. Really, we’re hoping we get to see more of everything from Marquez in 2021.
Demarcus Evans’ four-seam fastball
Key stat: +4.4 inches of rise above avg.
The Rangers’ No. 22 prospect, Evans drew a 70 grade on his fastball not because of elite velocity, but because of elite spin and rising action. The 24-year-old reliever pitched in only four games in his 2020 debut, but that was enough for his fastball to pique our interest. Evans averaged 93.8 mph, but with a very high 2,545 rpm spin rate, which generated +4.4 inches of rising movement above average. Had he pitched enough to qualify for the movement leaderboards, that would have been the second-most rise of any four-seamer. Evans struck out Kole Calhoun, Nick Ahmed and Alex Bregman with elevated four-seamers, and hopefully there’s more where that came from in 2021.