5 filthy pitches from NL Central hurlers
Most Major League pitchers can consistently bring velocity into the 90-95 mph range and have an assortment of secondary pitches in the bag of tricks. But fewer of them have that one pitch.
You know that one pitch. It's the one that consistently baffles hitters or has them looking already defeated in the batter's box. It's that pitch that breaks bats and has the opposition analyzing video for any sign of weakness.
It's just plain special, and everyone in the ballpark knows it.
In other divisions, that one pitch could be Shohei Ohtani's split-fingered fastball, Albertin Chapman's triple-digits heater or Kenley Jansen's cutter.
Pitchers in the National League Central have some filthy pitches, too. Here is a closer look.
The pitch:Josh Hader's fastball
How he throws it: Hader keeps it pretty simple. It's a two-seam grip, but his arm path makes it harder for opposing hitters to pick it up right away.
How he uses it: Because he's a reliever, Hader is a two-pitch guy. The handful of changeups you see in his pitch mix are almost all sliders that might have been mischaracterized and were misclassified. So to make that awesome slider extra effective, Hader must be ahead in the count, and he gets ahead with the fastball. He did that with maximum success for a save vs. the Reds on Monday, throwing 2 2/3 innings and becoming the first pitcher to ever notch eight strikeouts in an outing of less than three innings. Of the 37 pitches Hader threw, 28 were fastballs that averaged 93.7 mph, according to Statcast™.
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What they say about it: "Growing up, my dad always told me a fastball is a good pitch to have," Hader said. "He said you have to master that pitch if you want to be a pitcher. Being deceptive with my mechanics helps me out a lot. It helped that fastball look a little bit better and get on them a little bit quicker."
The pitch:Jordan Hicks' sinker
What it does? Also known as a two-seam fastball, the pitch from the 21-year-old Hicks is objectively the hardest pitch in baseball this season. The rookie owns the highest velocity pitch of 2018 -- 102 mph -- thrown on Tuesday vs. the White Sox, and nine of the fastest 12.
"If you've got it, flaunt it," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
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The downside of Hicks' heat is that he has a lower whiff rate, plus hitters are attacking the sinker early in counts now. The force with which Hicks throws the pitch makes it hard to control. In the past 14 days, the righty has walked 24.1 percent (seven of 29) of batters, according to Inside Edge. That's third worst among qualified pitchers.
What they say about it: "I looked at [catcher] Yadier Molina after my swing and said, 'Oh, man, good to be young again,'" Mets third baseman Todd Frazier recalled after striking out in Hicks' big league debut. "That's not fair. What the hell's that about?"
The pitch:Yu Darvish's curveball
How he uses it: Sparingly. Everyone know Darvish has a big curveball -- almost an eephus pitch -- but he keeps it in his back pocket most of the time in favor of the fastball, slider, cut fastball, split-finger and changeup. So hitters know he can throw a curve, but they can't sit on it because it rarely comes their way. According to Statcast™, before his start on Wednesday, Darvish had thrown his curveball 2.8 percent of the time (14 total), and has thrown it 13 times when he's ahead in the count, and eight times when he has two strikes on a batter. He's thrown 10 curves vs. left-handed batters.
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"I was never expecting him to throw that pitch," Brewers catcher Manny Pina said Friday, when he struck out on a 64-mph Darvish curveball. "He just threw that one all day, right? I was ready for a two-seamer in or a slider away, and he threw me that."
What they say about it: "I'm not surprised that Pina was surprised, because of the rarity with which he throws the curveball," Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "It was effective because it was a little bit of an ambush, if you will. I think it could be an effective part of his repertoire. For me, personally, we've been trying to simplify it a little bit, just by doing a little bit less better versus trying to work six pitches into the mix. There's certainly a spot for the curveball. There have been times in his career when it was his put-away pitch."
The pitch: Felipe Vazquez's changeup
How he throws it: It's a two-seam grip, which is interesting because the triple-digit fastball Vazquez is known for is a four-seamer. Back when he was a young Rays prospect still named Felipe Rivero, he learned the grip from Jorge Moncada, a former Minor League pitching coach with Tampa Bay. He hasn't changed it since.
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What it does: It falls off the table. The pitch clocks in about 10 mph slower than his fastball but faster than the slider and curveball that round out the closer's four-pitch mix. So far this season, Vazquez's changeup has averaged 87.4 mph. Two years ago, there was a 2 1/2-week stretch in August when hitters swung and missed at every single changeup he threw. This year, hitters are whiffing on 55.6 percent of Vazquez's changeups, batting .182 with a mere .273 slugging percentage against the pitch.
The pitch:Raisel Iglesias' slider
What it does Since converting from a starter to closer a couple of seasons ago, Iglesias' fastball has picked up velocity and can hit 97-98 mph. It makes his 84-86-mph slider even harder to handle for hitters, especially right-handers with two strikes. That's because Iglesias can throw it from three or four different arm angles. It comes at them like a fastball before breaking hard, and can produce some pretty flimsy swings -- like in the video below from Iglesias striking out Manny Machado last season.
What they say about it: "When right-handed hitters are up there and he's throwing sliders to them, he gets some weird swings, some weird looks because of how nasty it is," Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "You can tell by swings and how guys react to the pitch. If it's down the middle and guys are bailing out of the way or guys are taking, you get a pretty good idea that guys aren't seeing it well. And when it starts out as a ball, and gets swings and misses, it just shows how good the pitch really is."
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