WASHINGTON -- Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has spent his entire 14-year career playing against the National League East, so while considering some of the pitchers in the division, he laughed and wondered why anyone would willingly decide to become a hitter.Because the NL East not only features its share
WASHINGTON -- Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has spent his entire 14-year career playing against the National League East, so while considering some of the pitchers in the division, he laughed and wondered why anyone would willingly decide to become a hitter.
Because the NL East not only features its share of baseball's nastiest pitches, but a wide variety of them as well. MLB.com took a look at one of the best pitches from each team in the division to find out what makes each pitch so difficult for opposing hitters.
Among the five pitches are: two variations of a slider, one thrown harder than some fastballs and one that can dart out of the zone almost like a curveball; the hardest fastball tracked in the Majors so far this season; a changeup that can act like a splitter; and a curveball with the most horizontal break in baseball.
The pitch: Arodys Vizcaino's slider
How he uses it: Vizcanio's slider does not overpower hitters or generate a jaw-dropping spin rate, rather the sharp break of this pitch has helped him create a swing and miss with nearly a third of the sliders he has thrown. The pitch averages about 84.8 mph, and although he is reluctant to use it when behind in the count, it accounts for nearly half of the two-strike pitches he has thrown this season.
What it does: The slider can almost act like a curveball, a wipeout pitch that often disappears from the strike zone when it works best. Vizcanio is primarily a two-pitch pitcher, so he uses the slider to work off his fastball when he is most effective.
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What they say about it: "His is more, I guess you can call it a slider, but it's more curveball-ish," Zimmerman said. "It's got more up-to-down depth than a slider. He does a good job of throwing that fastball kind of at the top of the zone and plays the curveball off of that. It's a pretty good pitch."
Statcast™ fact: Vizcanio has got a swing and miss or a called strike with 44.59 percent of his sliders, the 10th-highest percentage among all pitchers who have thrown at least 50 sliders.
The pitch: Tayron Guerrero's fastball
How he uses it: People are starting to take notice of Guerrero's fastball, which he relies on heavily. Primarily a two-pitch pitcher as a reliever, he has thrown his fastball 79.2 percent of the time this season. So Guerrero will rely on it ahead or behind in the count, and it has the velocity to blow past hitters when he needs a strike.
What it does: Guerrero, a 6-foot-8 right-hander, can light up the radar gun with a fastball that has topped triple digits 17 times this season. The only two pitchers who have more readings above the century mark are Jordan Hicks and Albertin Chapman. Guerrero averages 98 mph on his fastball, the fourth fastest in the Majors.
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What they say about it: "He's just a nice story," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "From the standpoint of his success, and he was a guy in the Minor Leagues who didn't throw the ball over all the time. He had great stuff. He's made huge strides."
Statcast™ fact: Guerrero threw a 101.8-mph fastball on Monday, which at the time was the fastest pitch thrown this season as tracked by Statcast™.
The pitch: Noah Syndergaard's slider
How he uses it: Typically ahead in the count, Syndergaard is capable of burying his slider down and away to right-handers as a wipeout pitch. His whiff rates (swinging strikes per swings) are off the charts with that pitch, and for a pitcher who can throw fastballs near triple digits, guarding against the slider makes for an uncomfortable at-bat for opposing hitters.
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What it does: Syndergaard possesses skills never seen before for a pitcher, and his slider is the best example of that. Pitches are not generally thrown with such velocity that carry the same movement as his devastating slider, which has become one of the game's best put-away pitches. It dives more north and south than a typical slider, with breaking-ball movement instead of cutter movement, all while averaging from 91-93 mph and topping out at 95 mph.
What they say about it: "He just throws that pitch as hard as he can, and it's got good break," Mets catcher Jose Lobaton said. "I've faced him before and it's really good. It's different because it's so hard. You never expect somebody to throw 93- to 94-mph sliders."
Statcast™ fact: Since Syndergaard began throwing it routinely in 2016, his 47.82 percent whiff rate is sixth among starters who have thrown at least 100 sliders.
The pitch: Stephen Strasburg's changeup
How he uses it: The luxury about Strasburg's changeup is that he can use it whenever he wants. It's most often a lethal put-away pitch, and he entered Tuesday leading the Majors with 16 strikeouts on changeups this season. Strasburg is comfortable throwing it inside the strike zone, and it has enough movement to tantalize opposing hitters to chase it out of the zone. He can even start throwing it in the strike zone to use as a pitch to induce weak contact to get ground balls. This season, opposing hitters are hitting .150 against it, with one extra-base hit.
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What it does: Changeups are effective because of the difference in velocity from their fastball, and Strasburg's changeup still has an average velocity at 88.5 mph in his career, about 7 mph different from his fastball. This changeup has a sharp drop as it nears the plate, which helps him generate swings and misses.
What they say about it: "It looks just like his fastball coming out," Nats catcher Matt Wieters said. "I think you kind of look back to Curt Schilling where he'd throw his splitter all the time. It's almost that kind of action, more than a straight changeup would be. Where it comes out looking like a fastball and kind of drops off the table. It is a straight change, but it acts more like a splitter would."
Statcast™ fact: Of the 80 pitchers who have had at least 200 at-bats end with a changeup, Strasburg has allowed the lowest batting average (.136) and slugging percentage (.208) to opposing hitters since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015.
The pitch: Aaron Nola's curveball
How he uses it: Nola's curveball is his greatest weapon. He will throw the pitch in any situation in any count. Nola has thrown it 42.53 percent of the time behind in the count, since making his MLB debut in 2015. He has thrown it in a three-ball count 66 times over the years. It has been a strike 52 times in those situations.
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What it does: The average spin rate on Nola's curveball is 2,509 rpm, which is slightly above league average (2,492 rpm). But it is not an average pitch. Since Nola broke into the big leagues, it has the most horizontal break in baseball, according to FanGraphs. Essentially, it moves and sweeps across the plate, making it incredibly difficult to hit.
What they say about it: "There is no comp," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "You can really see that thing take a sharp left turn out of his hand."
Statcast™ fact: Batters have swung and missed at the pitch 38.96 percent of the time since the beginning of last season, which is 19th out of 105 pitchers (minimum 100 swings against it).
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.