Pitch perfect: MLB's nastiest offerings of '17

Cy Young finalists Kluber, Scherzer, Strasburg own some of MLB's best pitches

November 11th, 2017

The 2017 MLB regular season saw a total of 724,625 pitches thrown. Some were faster than others, ranging from the 104-plus mph heaters from Yankees closer to the mid-50s "super-changeups" thrown by Red Sox reliever .

Some pitches were more effective than others, too.

But with such a large sample size to draw from, how can one determine which were the best pitches of 2017? The answer, in some ways, will always be subjective, but thanks to the ever-watchful eyes of Statcast™ and its Pitchcast tracking system, there's empirical data to draw from as well. The pitches described below helped catapult some pitchers into national recognition, while others were cornerstones for 2017 Cy Young Award candidacies. Each of them had one thing in common: They made hitters look silly in their own way.

Below are one observer's nominations for the top individual pitches from the 2017 season, simplified to five pitch types as classified by Pitchcast's tracking technology: Four-seam fastballs, two-seamers (which also include sinkers), curveballs (which also include the growing number of knuckle curveballs), sliders and changeups. With the competition in each of these pitch categories so fierce, honorable mentions are also included.

Thinking of a pitch that wasn't included below? Feel free to comment with your nomination.

Four-seam fastball: , Yankees

Full pardon given to those who weren't familiar with a pitcher who had recorded a 4.73 ERA over 12 rookie appearances (eight starts, four in relief) for the Yankees in 2016. But if you didn't know Green's name coming into 2017, you should certainly know it now, as he's become one of the premier big league relievers.

Green ascended from obscurity to one of the Yankees' most important postseason pitchers on the strength of his four-seam fastball. Its velocity (topping out at 99.4 mph and averaging 95.8) was certainly effective, but was made way more lethal by Green's accompanying average spin rate of 2,484 RPM -- one of the very highest in the Majors.

Three years of Statcast™ data has taught us that elite spin is the force that makes a four-seamer look like it's "rising" to hitters, which really means it's carrying its plane through the zone longer than average-spin heaters. That leads to more missed swings and popups, and Green racked those up in bunches in an historic year for his heater.

Simply put, no one had a more stifling four-seam fastball than Green, giving the Yankees just one more weapon in a bullpen stocked full of stud relievers.

The runners-up: , Chris Sale, ,

Two-seam fastball/Sinker: , Astros

Down, down, down. No one operates in the lower-third of the strike zone and below more than Keuchel, and he's able to do that so successfully due in large part to his two-seamer. Keuchel uses his two-seamer to stretch the boundaries of the strike zone both horizontally and vertically, making hitters reluctantly swing where they're not accustomed to swinging.

Gif: Dallas Keuchel barehand

Opponents slugged just .309 against Keuchel's two-seam fastball in 2017, the third-lowest mark of any pitcher who ended an at-bat with either a two-seamer or sinker. They hit it for a ground ball an MLB-best 80.2 percent of the time (min. 150 batted balls), lifted it for a hard-hit ball in the air a league-low 12 percent of the time and clubbed only seven home runs off the pitch out of 217 balls put in play. Keuchel's two-seamer was arguably MLB's best worm-burning pitch, particularly with Orioles closer Zach Britton sidelined for much of the year.

The runners-up: , J.A. Happ, Joe Kelly, Brad Peacock

Curveball:, Indians

Kluber calls the pitch a curveball. Mickey Callaway, his former pitching coach and now manager for the Mets, called it a slider. Statcast™'s classifications agree with Kluber, but whatever one prefers to call it, Kluber's breaking ball has a claim to baseball's best pitch, both statistically and aesthetically. 

"He picked it up so fast it wasn't even funny," said Garrett Quinn, the man who helped Kluber develop the pitch. "It wasn't even out of my mouth yet and he was doing it. There's a genetic aspect to what he does that you can't coach into pitchers."

Only and threw their curveballs with a higher-average velocity than Kluber at 84.4 mph, helping him disguise it so that it looks like his two-seamer and cutter until the very last moment. If a hitter can't initially detect the spin on Kluber's curve, there's just about zero chance he'll catch up to it once it begins breaking.

Gif: Kluber swinging K.

MLB hitters went just 26-for-249 in at-bats ending with Kluber's curve this year, for a microscopic .104 average that ranked 10 points lower than second-place Charlie Morton among starting pitchers. Only seven players were lucky enough to knock an extra-base hit. When batters swung at Kluber's hook, they missed just about half the time. Baseball's best pitch? It's hard to argue against it.

The runners-up: , McCullers, Morton,

Slider:Max Scherzer, Nationals

Baseball's best pitcher this side of got even better in 2017 by re-tooling his slider and using it to dominate hitters in the strike zone. Scherzer set a career-high usage rate with his slider in 2016 and stuck with that approach this year, holding batters to a .123 average (18 hits in 146 at-bats) and league-best .138 weighted on-base average (wOBA) while also recording an MLB-best 52.6 percent whiff-per-swing rate with the pitch.

Gif: Max Scherzer ridiculous pitch

Batters hit just .156 (14-for-90) and missed on nearly 40 percent of their swings against Scherzer's sliders inside the strike zone, and each of those were the best marks in baseball. When the zone chart against a pitcher's breaking ball looks like this, he's doing something right.

The runners-up: , Brad Hand,

Changeup:, Nationals

Members of the Cubs can attest to the nastiness of Strasburg's change of pace after they went a combined 0-for-15 with 12 strikeouts against it in his two National League Division Series starts. Strasburg's changeup comes in around 90 mph to play off his high 90s fastball, inducing feeble swing after feeble swing from hitters.

MLB hitters whiffed on an even 50 percent of their swings against Strasburg's changeup, the highest rate in baseball (min. 150 swings induced), while slugging just .160, also a league-best mark.

Gif: Stephen Strasburg strikes out

"He throws that fastball that rises and that changeup that falls off the planet," Cubs star said during the NLDS. "Basically anyone who goes into a batting cage and doesn't know how to hit, that's what it feels like."

We couldn't have summed it up better ourselves.

The runners-up: , Carrasco, , Scherzer