Last year, I listed the top five pitches in baseball. It was conceived as a way to slobber over Jonny Venters' sinker, and I worked backward from there. Once you have the answer you want, then all you need is the evidence. If that's a good enough maxim for people to use for their entire lives, it's good enough for my stupid baseball articles.
The piece opened with fawning over Mariano Rivera's cutter, suggesting that the best-pitch award was a one-man race for the 15 previous seasons. This was a joke. In 1996, I was not awarding best-pitch awards. I was going to college in Oregon and twirling around at Rusted Root shows because I was going to college in Oregon. It probably would have gone to Rivera, though.
The esteemed Sam Miller pointed out this column, though, which made me feel awful.
For the first time in the 16-year history of the awards, Rivera's cutter was not selected as the best pitch in baseball.
Oh, man. Some poor soul thought the awards were real, and he has a Google News alert set up to let him know when the 2012 awards are out. He's thinking that all is lost, that there will be no awards this year. Hold on, pal! I'm a-comin' as fast as I can!
This time the list goes to 10. I could have kept it at five and made all of them more bestier, but this one goes to 10, and it's split into two parts. The first half:
10. Sergio Romo's slider
As cries of "bias" ring through the peanut gallery, allow me to present my case. Miguel Cabrera is probably the best hitter in the world right now. He might not run the bases especially well, and he might not be a fleet-footed center fielder, but he's the best at standing in the batter's box and hitting a baseball in such a way to produce a positive outcome. He's excellent.
And with the season on the line and him representing the tying run, Cabrera took a sinker right down the middle. This happened because he was expecting/worried about Sergio Romo's slider. It's a pitch that makes great hitters take fastballs down the middle.
If you watch Giants broadcasts, you've heard the term "no-dot slider" from Mike Krukow 493,091 times. But if you don't, it's the idea that the rotating seams on a baseball create a tell-tale red dot when a pitcher throws a typical slider. This allows you to pick up the pitch a fraction of a second earlier, unless you're Hunter Pence. Romo's slider, for whatever reason, doesn't have that dot. So that split-second advantage is gone for the hitter, and makes it a tough pitch even if you suspect it's coming.
It's especially funny to watch first-timers flail against it. It has to look tempting the first time you see it.
9. Kenley Jansen's fastball
There are a lot of people who hate the proliferation of GIFs in posts like these. Slows down computers, blows up phones, etc …. And I wish there were some way around it, but the GIF is almost essential. The alternative is an embedded video that you would have to reset manually after every play. What a pain in the butt. The point of a GIF is to isolate a specific moment or pitch, and then repeat it as often as you'd like, revealing its nuances and messages.
But Jansen's fastball almost works better as something that doesn't repeat. It's a fastball with the velocity of a four-seamer and the movement of a two-seamer. My mathematical acumen suggest, then, that it is likely a rare three-seamer, which few pitchers dare even attempt. It's almost better to watch it in the wild, then question whether or not what you just saw is real. Then you get to perch on the edge of your seat and wait for him to throw it again. Because there's no way that's a real pitch.
It works only okay as a GIF:
You can't really tell how much it's moving without looking at the catcher, but it's almost like a slider. That was one of Marco Scutaro's eight swing-and-misses in his 268 plate appearances as a Giant. He's probably a pretty good judge of the pitches that are hardest to hit.
GIFs are also nice because they isolate the visual, ignoring the audio distractions. But this one should probably have sound. I suggest opening this in a background tab and watching the pitch over and over until you go insane with fear.
Another reason that GIFs are the best is they often show people getting hit in the radishes over and over and over. Doink!
8. Cole Hamels' change
There had to be a way to get a change-up on here. The only question was whose? James Shields has a case, as does Chris Sale and Jarrod Parker. This would have been an easy way to get Felix Hernandez some love. Heck, if you buy linear weights, Jason Vargas had the best change in baseball, and it wasn't even close.
The Platonic ideal of what a change should do, though, is probably best represented by Cole Hamels. Here he is on a 3-2 count:
It doesn't have to be Hamels' change at this spot, but it's certainly one of the best examples of the genre.
7. Yu Darvish's what's-it
I'm the worst at repeating my own jokes, analogies, and similes. The peril of writing thousands of words without watching the movies and TV shows of today to obtain "new" pop-culture references. So when I wanted to describe Darvish's cutter/slider/running fastball with a Jack Handey quote, I googled my name and "Jack Handey" to see if I'd used the reference to describe a pitch before. I did! To describe Darvish. Which means I get to do it again. The quote:
Anytime I see something screech across a room and latch onto someone's neck, and the guy screams and tries to get it off, I have to laugh, because what is that thing?
I used that to describe Darvish's slider. But it works just as well for his what's-it. No idea what that thing is, but it makes me laugh when it's thrown to a poor, unsuspecting hitter.
Because what is that thing? His four-seamer also qualified for the list, as did his slider. Both also qualify for the Jack Handey quote, too. When I watch that GIF, I have no idea how Darvish's ERA isn't 0.34.
6. Craig Kimbrel's everything (but especially his fastball)
The pitchers who usually get hosed on a list like this are pitchers like Darvish, who do a lot of things well. This is why it's hard to get Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, or David Price on a list like this -- they're more than a single, obvious pitch. And Kimbrel is something of a package deal, too. His fastball is great because his slider is great, and they just spend all sorts of time together being great and terrorizing the rest of the baseball world.
Even though it's hard to separate the fastball from the slider as the reason for Kimbrel's success, he has to be represented by one of them. He set the record for strikeouts-per-nine-innings as a reliever, so he's probably doing something right. Like this:
That kind of fastball is why you get months like this. If you don't want to click the link: 53 batters faced in September, with seven hits, two walks, and 28 strikeouts. He also hit a couple of guys, probably because of something they did.
Will Barry Zito's curveball make a return? What about Kyle Lohse's sinker? Do I assume that Pedro Martinez probably still has the best change in baseball still? Stay tuned for part two, coming on Wednesday morning.