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Ranking The Best Pitches In The Top 100

Has there been a more maligned group of prospects in baseball than pitchers? The nuances of pitching are a wide stretching web of interconnected skills both physical and mental. It’s a difficult position to evaluate.

So many things can go wrong early on for even the most promising of talents. This high risk factor has led to a general apprehension from the prospect ranking community toward pitching across the board. While we may blame the subjects, perhaps, we as public evaluators just haven’t been very good at understanding the nuances.

Truth be told, things like statcast and pitchfx have only been available for a short time, historically speaking, even at the major league level. It’s caused the baseball world, or at least those that think about these things, to re-evaluate how and what we look for in pitchers. Our ability to study elements of individual pitches like spin induced movement, location, approach angle, velocity and the outcomes they correlate to has improved our ability to identify what makes pitchers successful or not.

The first step is knowing what a pitcher throws, how he throws, how it moves to the plate, and what outcomes these pitches drive. Through exhaustive sourcing our team at Baseball America was able to assemble a significant amount of information that allowed us to do a better job than ever of understanding the nuances of each pitching prospect we cover.

With this in mind I’ve been tasked with identifying and discussing the best individual pitches thrown by prospects inside the Baseball America Top 100. We’ll take a look at some of the best pitches and briefly discuss what makes them good.

To be clear this is not a ranking of overall pitches in the minors by pitch type, it’s a look at the top pitches thrown by pitching prospects within our Top 100. 

The Best Pitch Mixes—Admittedly I’m cheating a little bit here. However, I will throw out this qualifier as to why I have a section for best pitch mix. First, these players had three or more pitches that could have qualified as being in the “best” group. For that reason, I’ll remove them from discussion and list them below. I have indeed ranked these pitch mixes based on who had the best combination of whiff and strike rates across their entire pitch mix, and then used my personal biases for certain movement profiles as a differentiator.

1. Grayson Rodriguez (FF, SL, CB, CHG)—Simply put, Grayson Rodriguez’s pitch mix is on another planet. His four-seam fastball has average movement, but he ranks third in average fastball velocity for pitchers on the Top 100, along with the third highest whiff rate on his fastball at a mark of 37%. His slider generates whiffs at a 40% rate, while landing in the zone at an above-average rate. His curveball is one of the top three curves on the list, as he was one of two pitchers in the top 100 with a curveball that had both a strike rate above 60% with a whiff rate above 50% (Cade Cavalli was the other). The changeup, however, might be Rodriguez’s best pitch. He has the only changeup on the list with a true negative IVB, meaning he has an innate ability to kill lift, or ride, on the pitch. This unique movement profile allows the pitch to generate good outcomes at a high rate as Rodriguez boasts the only changeup in the top 100 with both a strike rate above 65% and a whiff rate above 45%. It’s Rodriguez’s command of his plus stuff that sets him apart from other pitching prospects.

2. Shane Baz (FF, SL, CHG)—We saw the strength of Baz’s arsenal at the major league level in 2021, as the rookie started a playoff game for the AL East-champion Rays. This had previously been mentioned by Michael Aielo of Baseball Prospectus, but Baz’s pitch mix is eerily similar to that of Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. For example, Baz’s four-seam fastball has a similar tilt, velocity, raw spin rate (2,450 range for both), and release height, around 68 inches. In a similar fashion, Baz’s fastball drives whiffs at a high rate with a high baseline of command. In fact, Baz was one of just three pitchers on the list with a strike rate on his four-seam above 70% and a whiff rate above 30%. Baz’s slider, much like Cole’s, is a tight gyro pitch with little vertical or horizontal movement with an average speed of 86 mph or above. His slider was one of seven sliders on the list to average 86 mph or above with a strike rate above 65% and a whiff rate above 40%. Like Cole, Baz utilizes a curveball and changeup as his third pitch depending on the hitter's handedness and like Cole’s four-seam and slider each pitch has nearly identical ranges for velocity, release and movement. However, it’s the quality of his changeup that saw Baz qualify as having three pitches that could rank within the “best” range. His was one of three changeups with a strike rate above 60% and a whiff rate above 40%. He has a true four-pitch mix with three pitches that grade metrically as plus.

3. D.L. Hall (FF, SL, CB, CHG)—Unfortunately, injuries robbed us of a full season from Hall in 2021, because when Hall is healthy he boasts some of the best lefthanded stuff in baseball. Case and point, Hall is the only pitcher on this list with four different pitches with whiff rates above 40%, meaning every pitch in Hall’s arsenal has the ability to miss bats at a high rate. His fastball is the only heater on this list with a whiff rate of 40% or above, and he showed the ability to get the pitch in the zone, with a strike rate just a hair below 70%. It’s the combination of plus velocity and a flat approach angle that drives results on Hall’s fastball, as he has the flattest approach angle of pitchers on this list that averaged 97 mph or above on their fastball. Batters were helpless against his four-seamer even when they did make contact, batting just .119/.246/.186 against it in his brief 2021 season. While Hall’s primary secondary as an amateur was a curveball, his slider and changeup have become equally important parts of his arsenal. His curveball still misses bats, and hitters had the lowest slash line against the pitch of any in his mix, but his command is better on both his changeup and slider,  meaning the curveball’s utility is primarily as a chase pitch. His slider, on the other hand, was one of six sliders on the list with a strike rate of 60% or above and a whiff rate of 40% or above. His changeup was hit the most of his quartet of pitches, but also drove the most whiffs, while seeing an average strike rate. In closing, Hall has an easy plus fastball that is metrically double-plus, with a trio of strong secondaries that miss bats. It's just a matter of sustained health and improved strike-throwing on his curveball and changeup.

4. Kyle Harrison (FF, SL, CHG)—The 2020 third-rounder is the youngest player listed among the top pitch mixes entering 2022 at just 20 years old. His three-pitch mix checks several boxes with both of his secondaries generating 40% or greater whiff rates and his fastball ranking fourth among all the fastballs on the list for that particular metric. His four-seam succeeds in large part due to his vertical approach angle. The only fastball on this list with a flatter plane to the plate is the Twins' Joe Ryan’s notoriously flat four-seamer. Harrison’s changeup has the most arm-side run of any on this list, and it’s one of three changeups with a whiff rate above 45% and a strike rate above 60%. His slider is another potential plus offering, driving the lowest OPS in his mix as batters hit just .204/.282/.258 against the pitch in 2021. Much like his changeup and fastball, Harrison generates whiffs at a plus rate against his slider. The pitch ranked top 10 in whiff rate among sliders thrown by pitchers in the top 100. Harrison could take a large step forward this year by simply getting his robust three-pitch mix in the zone more.

5. Reid Detmers (FB, SL, CB, CHG)—Coming out of Louisville, Detmers was known for two things, a downer curveball with jaw dropping shape and a fastball with plus shape but below-average velocity. Fast forward to a year later and Detmers added 4 mph of velocity onto his average fastball and over 6 mph of velocity onto his slider. His four-seam fastball now averages nearly 94 mph, with similar vertical movement and a slightly flatter vertical approach angle than he had at Louisville. His four-seam had the fifth-highest whiff rate of any thrown by a pitcher in the Top 100, and he’s the only one of the five to have major league experience included within his sample. His slider has the highest strike rate of any on this list, and is one of just three sliders with a strike rate above 70% and a whiff rate above 40%. His notorious curveball sees equal usage to his slider, and while it’s not a heavy bat misser, he knows how to get it in the zone with the third-highest strike rate of any bender on the list. While his changeup did not see the results of his other three pitches in 2021, much like he does with his entire arsenal he displays innate feel for the offspeed, so much so his changeup was one of two on this list with a strike rate above 70%. With tremendous feel for his entire pitch mix and added power, Detmers is armed with a true four-pitch mix.  

The Fastballs

1. Brandon Williamson, LHP Mariners
Average Velocity:
93 mph 
Whiff Rate: 37% 
Strike Rate: 69%

The second-best bat-missing fastball on this list, Williamson has the only fastball that is in the neighborhood of D.L. Hall’s in regards to both whiffs and strikes. This is in large part due to his induced vertical break. The lefthander has the highest on this list and is one of two pitchers with an average that exceeds 20 inches of IVB inside the top 100. Williamson’s elite pitch shape allows the pitch to play above its average velocity and generate whiffs at the second-highest rate of any Top 100 pitcher.

2. Eury Perez, RHP Marlins
Average Velocity: 95 mph 
Whiff Rate: 31% 
Strike Rate: 71%

The precocious Marlins righthander owns the distinction of being the tallest pitcher on the list at a monstrous 6-foot-8. However, unlike many tall pitchers, Perez shows an elite combination of shape, power and strike-throwing ability that puts him in rare territory. In fact, Perez is the owner of the only fastball on the list with an average velocity of 95 mph, an average induced vertical break of 19 inches or above, a whiff rate above 30%, and a strike rate of 70% or above. Eury has a fastball that checks all the boxes of velocity, shape, command and bat-missing ability that define plus four-seamers.

3. Ryne Nelson, RHP D-backs 
Average Velocity: 94 mph 
Whiff Rate: 31% 
Strike Rate: 70%

Nelson has one of just three fastballs thrown by pitchers inside the top 100 with a strike rate above 70% and a whiff rate of 30%. He generates whiffs due to his high-ride four-seam fastball that generates the fifth-highest induced vertical break on this list. His combination of efficient spin induced movement and a lower release manifests itself in a flatter vertical approach angle, as Nelson’s fastball has the fifth-lowest of any pitcher on this list—a good example of how modern movement traits can drive successful outcomes.

4. George Kirby, RHP Mariners
Average Velocity: 97 mph 
Whiff Rate: 29% 
Strike Rate: 75%

Much like the aforementioned Detmers, Kirby has added substantial velocity as a professional, and his fastball ranks as the third-hardest on this list behind just Hunter Greene and Nate Pearson. Unlike those two pitchers, Kirby gets his in the zone at an elite rate while generating the highest whiff rate of those three fastballs. His 75% strike rate is also the highest on the list by a 4% difference. A combination of velocity and command make Kirby’s fastball among the best on this list.

5. Joe Ryan, RHP Twins
Average Velocity: 92 mph 
Whiff Rate: 28% 
Strike Rate: 72%

At the end of the 2021 regular season for a short period Joe Ryan’s fastball was the talk of Major League Baseball. For good reason, as the pitch continued to befuddle batters at the highest level of the sport despite averaging just 92 mph. As a case study in the effectiveness of a flat vertical approach angle, Ryan’s VAA sits at a remarkable 4.1 degrees, a mark that’s in line with Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom and Shane Bieber. With this unique look, it’s hard for batters to time up Ryan’s fastball and subsequently has driven strong results for the pitch.

Bonus: Jack Leiter, RHP Rangers

This pitch has yet to be thrown in professional baseball but it featured all of the traits that would have likely earned him the distinction of one of the top fastballs on the list. Leiter’s four-seamer features vertical ride, a flat vertical approach angle and velocity. We’ll have to wait and see if his 2022 output earns him a feature in this section prior to 2023.

The Sliders

1. Daniel Espino, RHP Guardians
Average Velocity: 87 mph 
Whiff Rate: 67% 
Strike Rate: 72%

There is exactly one pitch thrown by a pitcher inside the Top 100 with a whiff rate greater than 60% and a strike rate above 70%, and that would be Daniel Espino’s slider. While he doesn’t have jaw-dropping shape on the pitch, he throws it hard and locates it at an elite level. There’s a real argument that this is the best pitch thrown by a pitcher inside the Top 100.

2. Roansy Contreras, RHP Pirates 
Average Velocity: 86 mph 
Whiff Rate: 60% 
Strike Rate: 66%

There are two pitches on the entire Top 100 with a whiff rate of 60% or above and a strike rate of 65% or above. Those two pitches were Daniel Espino’s slider, as previously mentioned, and Roansy Contreras’ slider. As luck would have it both Espino's and Contreras' slider have similar movement and velocity, so you should not be surprised to learn that each pitch produced some of the best outcomes of any slider. Contreras' slider is arguably the second-best pitch thrown by a pitcher in the Top 100.

3. Aaron Ashby, LHP Brewers 
Average Velocity: 84 mph 
Whiff Rate: 52% 
Strike Rate: 68%

There are three sliders on this list with a whiff rate of 50% or higher and a strike rate of 65% or higher. In fact, there are only three pitches thrown by any pitcher on the Top 100 that fall inside those two categories. Those pitches are Daniel Espino’s slider, Roansy Contreras’ slider and Aaron Ashby’s slider. Ashby's is more of a sweeper than either Espino's or Contreras’ slider, but it shares a similar combination of control and bat-missing ability.

4. Quinn Priester, RHP Pirates
Average Velocity: 88 mph  
Whiff Rate: 49% 
Strike Rate: 64%

The 2019 first-rounder’s slider is one of five sliders thrown by a pitcher within the Top 100 with a whiff rate of 49% or higher. Additionally, it’s one of four sliders with a strike rate above 60% and a whiff rate above 49%. To add to the pitch’s superlatives, it’s the second-hardest slider on the list. With improved command, Priester’s slider could reach the top of this ranking entering 2023.

5. Max Meyer, RHP Marlins
Average Velocity: 87 mph 
Whiff Rate: 46% 
Strike Rate: 63%

There are seven sliders on this list with a whiff rate above 45% and a strike rate above 60%, Meyer’s famous slide-piece is one of the seven. It also has the second-most sweep of any slider on this list with an average of 11 inches or greater of horizontal break. During his Double-A debut, Meyer proved that the pitch’s bat-missing ability easily translated from the collegiate game to the professional level.

6. Matthew Liberatore, LHP Cardinals 
Average Velocity: 86 mph 
Whiff Rate: 41% 
Strike Rate: 71%

There are three sliders on this list with a whiff rate higher than 40% and a strike rate higher than 70%, Daniel Espino’s, Reid Detmers’ and Matthew Liberatore’s. We’ve already discussed both Espino's and Detmers' slider as they rated among the best pitches in this pitch type. Liberatore’s, however, shares a similar slider style to Detmers' in terms of movement, velocity and results. The pitch developed into the jewel of the lefthander’s arsenal over the course of the 2021 campaign.

7. Hunter Greene, RHP Reds
Average Velocity: 88 mph 
Whiff Rate: 46% 
Strike Rate: 62%

While Greene’s fastball gets headlines due to its triple-digit velocity, it is his slider and not his powerful four-seam that is his best pitch. Greene’s slider has the highest whiff rate in his arsenal, and it’s one of the three hardest sliders on this list. It’s also one of seven sliders on this list with a whiff rate of 45% or higher and a strike rate of 60% or higher.


Prospect Report: George Kirby Impresses In MLB Debut

George Kirby dominated in his MLB debut. Alek Thomas also arrived with a bang and Jackson Chourio is a name to know.

The Curveballs

1. Matt Brash, RHP Mariners
Average Velocity: 83 mph 
Whiff Rate: 40% 
Strike Rate: 63%

Brash and the Mariners call his primary breaking ball a slider, a common term for sweeping breaking balls. Measurement devices, however, typically classify these sliders as curveballs. For this reason we’ll classify it as a curveball here, even if it is, in fact, a slider. Brash's breaker has plenty of fanfare and deservedly so. It’s a heavy low-to-mid-80s sweeper that misses bats in bunches. In fact, the pitch has more sweep than any pitch, curveball or slider, on this list, with an average of more than 16 inches of horizontal break. Additionally, it’s one of four curveballs thrown by pitchers inside our Top 100 with a whiff rate of 40% or higher and a strike rate of 60% or higher. It’s Brash’s ability to command his hellacious sweep that might be most impressive, as he boasts the second-highest strike rate of a curveball thrown by a Top 100 pitcher. That’s even more remarkable when you consider Brash’s curveball is his most used pitch—accounting for 46% of his total pitch usage in 2021.

2. Nick Lodolo, LHP Reds
Average Velocity: 81 mph 
Whiff Rate: 59% 
Strike Rate: 59%

Lodolo’s low slot plays up his deception and pitch movement and no pitch reaps the benefits of these traits quite like his curveball. His 59% whiff rate is the highest among curveballs on this list, with a strike rate above 50%, and it also happens to have the second-most sweep of any pitch on this list after Matt Brash’s curveball. It's a true plus offering that wreaks havoc on righthanded and lefthanded batters alike.

3. Cade Cavalli, RHP Nationals
Average Velocity: 85 mph 
Whiff Rate: 54% 
Strike Rate: 62%

Cavalli may have an argument for the superlative of the two best breaking pitches on the list. Cavalli's slider could have qualified under that pitch type as well, but for our purposes it takes a backseat to his hard curveball. The righthander’s curveball features a heavy two-plane break and is the hardest of any curveball thrown on this list. It should come as no surprise it’s one of two curveballs with a 50% or greater whiff rate and a strike rate above 60%, the other being Grayson Rodriguez’s bender. Cavalli has a truly remarkable feel for shaping and commanding his breaking pitches despite below-average raw spin rates.

4. Edward Cabrera, RHP Marlins
Average Velocity: 83 mph 
Whiff Rate: 42% 
Strike Rate: 64%

The highest strike rate of any curveball thrown by a Top 100 pitcher, Cabrera is one of four pitchers on this list—alongside Matt Brash, Cade Cavalli and Grayson Rodriguez—who throws a curveball with a whiff rate of 40% or higher and a strike rate of 60% or higher. While Cabrera boasts a trio of strong secondaries, his curveball sticks out for his ability to land it in the zone and generate whiffs.

5. Cole Winn, RHP Rangers
Average Velocity: 80 mph 
Whiff Rate: 46% 
Strike Rate: 53%

There’s just one curveball thrown by a Top 100 pitcher that averages 80 mph or greater with an induced vertical break of -14 inches or greater—that pitch is Cole Winn’s curveball. The very definition of a downer, it was one of seven curveballs with a 45% or higher whiff rate and a strike rate of 50% or higher.

The Changeups 

1. Aaron Ashby, LHP Brewers
Average Velocity Separation: 7.5 mph 
Whiff Rate: 41% 
Strike Rate: 64%

Only one pitcher in the Top 100 throws a changeup with a higher strike rate and higher whiff rate than Ashby. That pitcher is Grayson Rodriguez. Ashby reached the major leagues in 2021, making four starts for the Brewers in addition to nine relief appearances. During that time his changeup performed well against the best hitters in the world, as MLB hitters batted just .200 against the pitch. Despite stiff competition, Ashby’s combination of strikes, whiffs and results against major league competition earned him the top changeup designation. It doesn't hurt that Grayson Rodriguez wasn’t included here.

2. Ryan Pepiot, RHP Dodgers
Average Velocity Separation: 8.5 mph 
Whiff Rate: 40% 
Strike Rate: 61%

The cambio is Pepiot’s signature pitch, earning an 80 grade from our team this offseason. The numbers back that grade up every bit, as Pepiot’s changeup is one of seven changeups thrown by a Top 100 pitcher with a whiff rate of 40% or higher and a strike rate of 60% or higher. A nearly impossible pitch to barrel, hitters batted .156 against Pepiot’s changeup in 2021.

3. Bobby Miller, RHP Dodgers
Average Velocity Separation: 10.5 mph 
Whiff Rate: 50% 
Strike Rate: 55%

The former Louisville star joins D.L. Hall as the only two pitchers on this list with a whiff rate of 50% or higher on their changeup and a strike rate of 55% or higher. While Hall’s changeup may boast higher whiff and strike rates, Miller’s changeup does a better job of avoiding hard contact.  Batters hit just .111/.143/.148 versus his changeup over the course of the 2021 season.

4. Cole Winn RHP Rangers
Average Velocity Separation: 7.5 mph 
Whiff Rate: 36% 
Strike Rate: 68%

The only pitcher to throw his changeup for a strike with greater frequency than Cole Winn during the 2021 season was Reid Detmers. However, there’s nearly a 250-point difference in batting average against in Winn’s favor. Batters hit for a paltry batting average of .133 against Winn’s changeup while whiffing at a 36% rate. Only Grayson Rodriguez and Cole Winn throw changeups with a batting average against below .150, a whiff rate above 35% and a strike rate above 65%. It’s a testament to the strength of Winn’s balance of strike-throwing ability, bat-missing and contact management.

5. Blake Walston, LHP D-backs
Average Velocity Separation: 7.5 mph 
Whiff Rate: 36% 
Strike Rate: 66%

There are three pitchers that throw a changeup inside the Top 100 with a whiff rate of 35% or higher and a strike rate of 65% or higher. Grayson Rodriguez is one, Cole Winn is another and the final pitcher is D-backs lefthander Blake Walston. With a 7.5 mph velocity separation off of his fastball, hard arm-side run and late tumble, the pitch plays especially well off of Walston’s four-seamer.

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