These are the best pitches on the FA market

November 26th, 2023

We know who the best pitchers are on the free-agent market -- but what about the best individual pitches?

The top arms wouldn't have gotten where they are without a great pitch or two, so let's take a look at the very best available.

These are the free-agent pitchers who throw the best version of each of baseball's main pitch types -- four-seam fastball, sinker, cutter, slider, curveball, changeup and splitter -- plus a couple of Statcast's newer classifications, the sweeper and slurve.

Just note that we're only using individual pitchers once each, and Aaron Nola isn't on here because he's already re-signed with the Phillies.

Here are the best pitches on the 2023-24 free-agent market.

4-seam fastball --

Let's start off with the hardest thrower out there and his triple-digit heat. Hicks is more known for his sinker than his four-seamer, but when he straightens his fastball out and lets it ride, it becomes even more of a swing-and-miss pitch. Hicks' four-seamer averaged 100.3 mph for the Cardinals and Blue Jays in 2023, making him one of only four pitchers to average 100-plus last season, along with Twins closer Jhoan Duran and rookie flamethrowers Ben Joyce and Justin Martinez. Hicks maxed out at 103.8 mph -- the fastest four-seamer thrown by anyone besides Duran in 2023 -- and recorded his fastest strikeout at 102.7 mph.

Sinker --

Hader's "sinker" behaves more like a rising four-seamer, and that's what makes it such an overpowering fastball. The lefty closer averaged 96.1 mph on his sinker in 2023, and opponents batted just .190 against it with 48 strikeouts and 109 swing-and-misses. He led all MLB relievers in swinging strikes on sinkers and was second in K's behind only Aroldis Chapman. Hader's sinker is so good that he can throw it 73% of the time and still get results like that.

One of the more under-the-radar, yet solid, starting pitchers on the market, Rodriguez uses his high-80s cutter to command both sides of the strike zone against right-handed hitters. He threw it to the edges of the plate over 50% of the time in 2023 -- one of the highest rates by any starter with any pitch type, alongside pitches like Shane Bieber's fastball, Zac Gallen's changeup and Logan Webb's changeup.

Curveball --

Yamamoto's signature pitch is his curveball, a beautiful rainbow curve that evokes Clayton Kershaw's. We don't have a lot of Statcast data on Yamamoto yet, but we got a preview of his stuff at the World Baseball Classic. In those outings, Yamamoto's curveball averaged 77 mph with a high 2,809 RPM spin rate, 66 inches of vertical drop and 14 inches of horizontal break. That type of curveball is something of a cross between pitchers like Kershaw, Max Fried, Adam Wainwright and Yu Darvish. It should be a fun pitch to watch in the Majors for a long time.

Slider --

Snell's bread-and-butter is his breaking-ball duo, slider and curveball. The majority of the now two-time Cy Young Award winner's strikeouts come on sliders and curveballs down below the zone. Both pitches are nasty wipeout breaking balls, but we went with Yamamoto for the curveball here, so let's focus on Snell's slider. It's a great power slider, averaging 88.4 mph last season with only 3 inches of horizontal break but 28 inches of drop. Since the 2020 season, Snell has a .143 batting average allowed on his slider, with 183 strikeouts in 402 plate appearances and a 48% swing-and-miss rate. In 2023 specifically, Snell's slider whiff rate was 54%, top-10 for any pitch type in the Majors. His curveball was also top-10.

Sweeper --

The sweeper -- a "Frisbee" style of slider defined by its large amount of horizontal movement -- is the trendy new pitch in the Major Leagues, and Gray throws one of the best. For the AL Cy Young runner-up in 2023, Gray's sweeper was his No. 1 pitch by far. Gray allowed a batting average of just .097 in 203 plate appearances decided on his sweeper, while racking up 108 strikeouts and not allowing a single home run. Gray was one of only 15 pitchers with 100-plus K's on an individual pitch type, and he had the most sweeper K's by far (Shohei Ohtani was second with 71). And 108 K's without any homers? The next-closest pitcher to that was Shane McClanahan with his changeup … who had 55 K's and zero homers allowed.

Slurve --

Statcast only categorizes a handful of pitchers as throwing a slurve -- a slider/curveball hybrid that has velocity closer to a slider but movement closer to a curve -- but it just so happens that one of the prominent free-agent starters throws a good one. Stroman always has a wide-ranging repertoire, throwing lots of different pitches and variations on those pitches. Last season for the Cubs, his slurve averaged 84.6 mph with 38 inches of drop and 13 inches of horizontal break and was his second-most-used pitch behind his sinker. Stroman collected 35 K's on the pitch.

Changeup --

Giolito has struggled over the past couple of seasons, but he's long thrown one of better changeups among starting pitchers, and that changeup is still his best pitch. The right-hander held hitters to a .209 batting average against it with 65 strikeouts and a 35% whiff rate in 2023, which is more or less in line with his changeup numbers from his stellar run from 2019-21. Over those three seasons, when Giolito was always in the Cy Young mix, he had a .199 batting average against his changeup with 196 K's and a 39% whiff rate.

Splitter --

Ohtani's splitter has been one of the nastiest pitches in baseball from Day 1 in the big leagues for the two-way superstar. When he returns to the mound in 2025, it will still be one of the nastiest pitches in baseball. Ohtani's wipeout splitter, which he throws in the high 80s to low 90s with drop-off-the-table downward movement, is one of the best strikeout pitches there is.

In his MLB career, Ohtani has a .103 batting average allowed on his splitter, generated a 50% swing-and-miss rate and notched 198 strikeouts in 348 plate appearances. That's a 57% strikeout rate with his splitter, third-highest for any pitcher on any pitch type since 2018 behind only Tyler Glasnow's curveball and José Alvarado's cutter.