These are the AL West's best pitches

May 3rd, 2018

HOUSTON -- Hitters in the American League West don't get much of a break when it comes to facing dominating pitching. From former AL Cy Young Award winners and in Houston to Japanese star in Anaheim and up-and-coming lefty  in Oakland, the quality arms are deep.

Of course, every good pitcher has his bread-and-butter pitch, his go-to choice to produce bad swings and long walks back to the dugout by opposing hitters. How and when the best pitchers in the AL West use their fiercest pitches is a well-crafted science. Sometimes it's to set up other pitches and sometimes it's to end at-bats -- to stop the hitter in his tracks.

In the case of Astros pitcher , he uses his curveball as much as he can. It's that good. But so are Ohtani's splitter and 's slider in Seattle.

So, step to the plate if you dare for a breakdown of the best pitch thrown by a pitcher on each team in the AL West and how they taunt opposing hitters with them.


The pitch: Ohtani's splitter

How he throws it: Ohtani throws his splitter with his right index and middle fingers spread wide over the seams.

How he uses it: Ohtani's splitter is a devastating swing-and-miss pitch and is typically not thrown in the strike zone.

What it does: Ohtani's splitter, which averages 88 mph, operates like a changeup and plays well off his upper-90s fastball. The splitter comes out of Ohtani's hand like a fastball before diving away from hitters at the last second.

What they say about it: "His splitter just kind of drops off the table," Zack Cozart said. "Looks like a strike I feel like almost every time, but it never is. It just drops below the zone. That's how it comes out, the same as his fastball. It makes it tough as a hitter."

Statcast™ fact: Ohtani's splitter has a 59.6 percent strikeout rate, with 17 of his 26 punchouts coming on the pitch this season.


The pitch: McCullers Jr.'s curveball

How he throws it: McCullers puts the nail of his right index finger on the seam of the ball right above the Major League Baseball logo and the middle finger on the longer seam to the right. The thumb is below the ball on the seam to the left of the index finger. From there, it's all about force and throwing it as hard as he can. He produces more swings and misses and more ground balls than most other curveballs.

How he uses it: Often. McCullers throws nearly 50 percent curveballs, to go along with a fastball and an ever-developing changeup. Last year in the playoffs, he threw 24 consecutive curveballs to finish off the Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. When other pitches aren't working the way he'd like, McCullers can rely on the curveball to get swings and misses and ground balls.

What it does: Against lefties, he tries to make a more conscious effort toward throwing a true 12-to-6 curveball, and against right-handers he wants to give the pitch more of a sweeping motion.

Statcast™ fact: McCullers' ground-ball rate on his curve is 63.4 percent. That ranks 10th among 65 starting pitchers (minimum 10 batted balls). Last year, his ground-ball rate was 60.6 percent.


The pitch: Manaea's slider

How he throws it: Manaea uses a low release point, so the ball comes out almost under his hand. It makes his fastball and changeup look exactly the same.

What they're saying about it: "The breaking ball has more topspin, whereas the fastball has backspin," A's pitching coach Scott Emerson said. "But if [Manaea] keeps both pitches tight, it's hard to recognize that difference. The right-handers think fastball away and then his slider darts in, while lefties think fastball in and then it darts away."

Statcast™ fact: Manaea has thrown the slider with only 17.5 percent of his pitches this season, but it's produced by far his lowest expected batting average among his three pitches (.220).


The pitch: Diaz's slider

How he throws it: Diaz grips the ball with most of the pressure on his middle finger and thumb, a grip he adopted from veteran two years ago. That was a change from more of a two-finger grip he deployed as a young starter coming up through the Minor Leagues. He says the grip allows more depth and dive to the slider as it approaches the plate.

How he uses it: Diaz possesses a high-90s fastball that hitters need to gear up for. So, having the hard slider coming out of the same "tunnel" to counter that heater has been a difference-maker for him. Normally, Diaz will set hitters up with the fastball and then bring the slider, but he'll start some batters off with the slider if he thinks they're sitting on the heat.

What they're saying about it: "He's got arms and legs coming at you and is just so aggressive with it," Mariners catcher Mike Zunino said. "Besides the spin and the break, he's just coming at you on all cylinders and you have to be ready for 100 mph and that just makes the slider play even more."

Statcast™ fact: Opponents have whiffed on 70 percent of their swings against Diaz's slider, the highest rate among the 54 pitchers who've induced at least 50 swings on that pitch this year. Opposing batters are 0-for-22 with 17 strikeouts in at-bats ending on his slider heading into Wednesday's games.


The pitch:'s fastball

How he uses it: Colon throws a fastball -- either four-seam or two-seam -- 80-82 percent of the time. Occasionally he breaks 90 mph, but averages 87.8. That is the third-slowest fastball for a pitcher who has thrown at least 200 of them so far this season. Colon will throw a heater in all counts but specializes in getting ahead of hitters. He throws first-pitch strikes on 64.4 percent of batters, 15th best in the AL. The 44-year-old induces hitters to make contact, as 22.2 percent of his pitches are put in play, the highest mark in the AL.

What it does: The four-seamer is used mainly when he is ahead in the count. Colon will go with the sinker when he is behind or late in the count. He is a ground-ball pitcher with a sinker that goes away from left-handed hitters. But he is not afraid to throw up in the strike zone to change the batter's eye level. According to the Statcast™ detailed zone chart, Colon has thrown 37 pitches in the lower third of the strike zone or below. He has also thrown 37 pitches in the upper third of the zone or above.

What they say about it: "He knows what he is doing: Work fast, throw strikes and change speeds. Every one is an individual battle, but most important is being able to locate your fastball on both sides of the plate. Young pitchers need to be able to establish their fastball. That's what we are missing in baseball. People don't how to establish their fastball as well as they should. They just want to see velocity. Bartolo knows how to pitch." -- Rangers assistant pitching coach Dan Warthen