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  • Nasty has a number of meanings in baseball, so let's take a look at a variety of the best changeups and splitters on display in the game today.
By Emma Baccellieri
June 20, 2019

Over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at baseball’s nastiest fastballs and breaking balls. Now, it’s time to lay out the nastiest of everything else—baseball’s other offspeed pitches, changeups and splitters.

As we’ve said before, nasty has no single universal measure. A pitch can be filthy in its movement, its trickery, its results. It can’t always be quantified, but you know it when you see it. (Or, alternately, when you see a hitter helplessly swinging and missing.) You can’t find a statistical leaderboard to sort for maximum nastiness. But you can compare the various forms of filth—complete with demonstrative GIFs, of course—and that’s exactly what we have here.

The One With the Greatest Separation From the Fastball

There’s a trickiness to this category that doesn’t apply for, say, identifying the most devastating fastballs and curves. For a changeup, nasty isn’t necessarily obvious in a vacuum; it’s not self-evident like the one-dimensional filth of a triple-digit heater (speed!) or a perfect curveball (geometry!). Instead, its nastiness is a little more complex. It’s chiefly nasty via deception—nasty via the unsettling realization that you’ve been misled, you don’t actually know what’s in front of you, after all. This particular bit of trickery depends on much more than just a velocity gap with the fastball. It’s not only that the pitch looks like a fastball and turns out to be, well, not; it’s that it’s delivered just like a fastball, impossible to distinguish from arm speed or release point or anything else. But the velocity gap is certainly part of it, and so here’s the biggest one:

Aníbal Sánchez’s “butterfly” changeup clocks in at an average of 69.5 mph, making it roughly 20 mph slower than his typical heater. In other words, it’s about as eephus-y as a non-eephus pitch can be. True to its name, it gracefully flits and floats in… which often results in the hitter being stung like a bee (sorry!), as more than a third of swings turn into misses.

Some honorable mentions here? There’s rookie phenom Mike Soroka, with a fastball-change velo gap of roughly 13 mph...

...and elite prospect-turned-potential-bust-turned-ace Lucas Giolito, with about the same:

The One With the Most Whiffs

On to a more straightforward way of evaluating nasty—the most swings and misses. The honor belongs to Luis Castillo, who owes much of his success as one of the best pitchers in the National League to his change. He throws the pitch almost as often as he does his fastball, and, well, look at it:

Half of Castillo’s changeup swings are misses. Half.

And the leader in this category for splitters, with a whiff percentage of a crazy 57%? Ryne Stanek:

The One With the Lowest Batting Average

Or we can turn to an even simpler strategy, one rooted in effectiveness, rather than aesthetics: Which one allows the fewest hits? The answer is Tommy Kahnle’s, with a batting average on the pitch of .100. Don’t worry, though, it provides just as much aesthetically as it does numerically:

All the Rest

And then there are plenty that stand out on their own, regardless of leaderboard clout. Like Kyle Hendricks...

...or Jacob deGrom’s, which is among the hardest in baseball, and the most absurd, too...

...or Trevor Richards’, easily among the best features of the Miami Marlins, if not the best (hey, the position’s been open since the demise of the home run sculpture)...

…or, finally, the one that you knew had to be here.

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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)