Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Nastiest Pitch in Baseball

How did Tim Lincecum's filthy start against the Astros on Opening Day not get shown until half-way through Sportscenter? When will this kid get some respect for his back-to-back Cy Young Awards?

Lincecum's Opening Day start in Houston revealed one thing about Tim that the public may not know- he is bored with Spring Training. He must be, right? Maybe he likes to watch his fans worry at the thought of him not performing like he has, then watch them take a big sigh of relief as he throws 7 innings of shut-out ball on Opening Day. Either way, "The Freak" is lights out. And these days, it is his one pitch that may be the secret, yet not-so-secret ingredient to his success.

No, it is not his mid-90's fastball, although that may be the 6th or 7th best pitch in baseball. No, it is not his knee-buckling 12-6 curveball, although that is also a top 10 pitch. It is his change-up, and the one that thrives and inherits most of Lincecum's strike-outs because of all the other nasty pitches he delivers. Batters are so worried about looking dopey at the 12-6 curve, or getting gas-faced at the 97 MPH fastball, that they forget about how befuddled they are going to look when Lincecum fires an.....84 MPH change-up that falls off the table like no other.

I think that Lincecum's change-up may be the best pitch in baseball. It was Mariano Rivera's cutter, the one that everyone knows is coming, yet still can't hit. But the way Lincecum uses his change-up in a variety of ways and how crafty he gets with it may be the extra push to get his pitch to the top of the charts.

Here are the 5 nastiest and best pitches in all of baseball, in my opinion.

5. Brandon Webb's Sinker

Not that the pitch is unhittable, but he throws it with such a consistency that he constantly gets people to ground out. The sinker is a pitch where you go into a start and either you have it or you don't for that particular day. Webb has it on a regular basis, and that is what separates his sinker from any others. He throws it about 85% of the time during his start, and he is so accurate with it that once he is on, it is hard to stop. He can throw it where it starts at the plate and dives down to a right-handed hitter, or he can back-door the right-handed batter and have them not think twice. Either way, prepare for a groundout.

4. Roy Halladay's Cutter

Maybe he learned it from Mariano Rivera, or maybe he didn't. One thing is for sure, it is quickly becoming one of the wickedest pitches in all of baseball. He does have other pitches in his arsenal that baffle the hitter, but the cutter may be his best. The pitch comes in on right-handers and tails away from lefties at such a whippy look that it is hard not to get caught up in it. He can throw it anywhere from 88-93 MPH. His name isn't Doc Halladay for nothing. He is constantly sawing off batter's knuckles with his cutter that seems to never find the barrel of the bat. That's good news for Phillies fans.

3. Jonathan Papelbon's Splitter

Jonathan Papelbon's electric excitement after striking out the last batter of the game is usually preceded by a diving splitter in the dirt that has come to be one of the most dirtiest pitches in the game. What sets it up is his 4-seam fastball nearing triple digits that he dares batters to hit, which may take credit for the success of the splitter. No doubt, when he has 2 strikes on a batter, he goes to the splitter that is thrown just a few MPH under the fastball and in the same location, until it dives off the plate and into the dirt, proceeded by the batter being tagged out by catcher Jason Varitek, and then the signature Papelbon pandemonium.

2. Mariano Rivera's Cutter

They know it is coming, yet still can't hit it. That is the motto for Mariano Rivera's cutter that has dared hitters for years. He dares them to hit because he throws it 90% of the time. The ball goes into left-handers and away from right-handers at around 95 MPH with such a, well, late "cut" that the batter simply has no chance of making contact. And if they do, it's not going very far. Rarely is Rivera's cutter struck on the barrel of the bat. Mostly, you will find, for a right-hander at least, the ball connecting off the end of the bat. That may be the only way of connecting with the ball, and that is why Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time.

1. Tim Lincecum's Change-Up

Okay, it's maybe not his change-up alone, more like the way he uses it to make the batter look silly and why he is a 2-time Cy Yound winner at age 25. I already said he sets the pitch up with his mid-90's screaming fastball and 12-6 curveball, but the change-up itself is not bad either, or why would we be talking about it as the best picth in the game today. It dips, it dives, it is much slower than any other pitch he throws, and it dances straight down with a sort of movement that I have heard as can only be described if you are at-bat against him. The best pitch from the best pitcher in the game.

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