Last week SI's MLB staff attempted to construct the best pitching staff possible among active players. This week we're entering a baseball laboratory to concoct the perfect pitcher.
If you were to mold a pitcher from scratch, allowing him to throw any four individual pitches among today's pitchers, what is he throwing?
Gerrit Cole's 4-Seam Fastball: With true backspin, elite velocity and impeccable command, it’s the best in the game. Batters hit .166 against it last year.
Charlie Morton's curveball: The sweep on that pitch is devastating.
Luis Castillo's changeup: Amazing run and great arm speed makes it almost unhittable.
Justin Verlander's slider: Tight spin, late bite. It looks like a fastball until it’s not. He threw almost a thousand of them last year and hitters never did figure it out. They batted .119.
I would start with Gerrit Cole's four-seamer. You could make a case for just taking Cole's four-seamer, slider, curveball and changeup, but that's no fun. So let's go with the fastball that had the second best batting average against among starters last year: .166. (Kyle Hendricks beat him, with a .140, but Hendricks's fastball averaged 87 mph. Cole's averaged 97.)
Next I'd take Justin Verlander's slider. He changed his grip midway through 2017, and it's been virtually unhittable ever since.
Charlie Morton's curveball is so successful in part because it moves exactly as far as his sinker, but in the opposite direction, so maybe it's cheating to take one and not the other. But that curveball is outrageous, so I want it.
For a lot of these, I've looked at FanGraphs' pitch values. Stephen Strasburg's changeup was No. 7 last year. But I watched him strike out José Altuve swinging with one in Game 6 of the World Series, and I'm not sure I'll ever see a more impressive pitch.
I'll take Patrick Corbin's slider (for the last two seasons, more than half of swings have been whiffs), Gerrit Cole's four-seam fastball (because you need at least one pitch from the best guy in the game) and Charlie Morton's curve (based equally on its spin rate, overall movement, and this GIF). And, finally, Jordan Hicks's two-seam fastball—this repertoire would have been perfectly capable with three, so if we're going to add a fourth, let's have a little fun with one that can hit 104 mph.
My pitcher, Cy, is one of extremes. That's why he'll throw Jordan Hicks's fastball, which the Cardinals righty consistently fires at triple digits. Cy will pair that with Zack Greike's slower-than-molasses eephus pitch, which registers below the speed limit on the highway. Charlie Morton's curveball is the trendy pick in this discussion, but Stephen Strasburg's curve is hardly any easier to hack at either. Finally, Justin Verlander's slider was so much better than anyone else's last year, it's hard to overlook.
Baseball has a shortage of elite left-handed aces, so I will use my Frankenstein-like powers to create the ideal southpaw starter. He will have a lanky 6'10" frame, a pronounced scar stretching from his right dimple to his forehead and Max Scherzer's multi-colored eyes. Intimidation, right? His arsenal would include Gerrit Cole's four-seamer, Clayton Kershaw's curveball, Chris Sale's slider and Zack Greinke's eephus/changeup.
In 2019 Cole averaged 97.1 mph on his four-seam fastball, and it had 20% more rise and 46% more break than league average, according to Statcast. Kershaw's slow curve is the most gif-able pitch in baseball, with a looping 12-6 drop that buckles knees and baffles hitters and fans alike.
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Sale is going to miss 2020 and his best years are likely behind him, but his peak slider is as lethal a pitch as anything ever uncorked from a distance of 60-feet, 6 inches. After all that, imagine this pterodactyl flipping in Greinke's 63.5-mph eephus for strike three, just because he can. The only person who'd be able to hit it—obviously—would be Zack Greinke.
The active-players-only caveat eliminates Mariano Rivera's cutter, (the greatest pitch of all time) but there is no shortage of quality options at our disposal.
I'd build my perfect pitcher with some serious versatility, so let's pair Jordan Hicks's 100 mph two-seamer with Clayton Kershaw's 12-6 curveball. Luis Castillo's changeup is the best in the game, and even at 90+ MPH, it's still a nasty complement to a triple-digit fastball. How should we round out this near-perfect arsenal? Let's opt for some more power. Josh Hader sported a 1.04 ERA with his four-seam fastball last year, and he can certainly hit 100 MPH on the right day. Two electric fastballs, Kershaw's curveball and the game's best changeup could send even Mike Trout back to the bench on three pitches.