Building a Perfect Pitcher From the Yankees' Pitching Staff
This week, SI MLB's staff attempted to build the perfect pitcher, molding this all-time arm with any four individual pitches among today's active hurlers.
We're talking about a pitcher that has the capability to throw any of the game's best individual pitches, like Jordan Hicks' 104 mph two-seam fastball, Justin Verlander's tight slider, Clayton Kershaw's devastating curveball, Luis Castillo's changeup and more.
But what if we narrow this down even further. Which pitches would you choose if this exercise was limited to one individual big-league team? Can you create the perfect pitcher using members of the Yankees pitching staff?
New York just so happens to have arguably the best pitcher in the game, alongside a bullpen notorious for filthy, knee-buckling pitches capable of making the best hitters in baseball look silly at the plate.
There's an old baseball adage that reminds pitchers to work the ball "up, down, in and out." In building the perfect hurler, here's four different dominant pitches that excel in each quadrant of the zone.
Gerrit Cole's fastball
As Stephanie Apstein joked in SI MLB's piece, you can choose four of Gerrit Cole's pitches and assemble a pitcher that's pretty close to perfect. Cole's high fastball, however, is one of – if not the – best single pitch in the game today.
Purely based upon Cole's usage of his four-seam fastball in Spring Training, it's not hard to tell how effective this pitch will be in pinstripes once baseball returns. Here's what his second strikeout in Grapefruit League play looked like, capping off his first inning of work by getting Pittsburgh's Josh Bell to swing and miss on one up and out of the strike zone.
Opponents hit just .166 against this pitch in 2019. Cole threw his fastball 51.6 percent of the time and had a 37.6 whiff rate. It was clocked at 97.1 mph on average, but he won't shy away from dialing this pitch up to triple digits.
The right-hander's ability to locate and extend the top of the zone, influencing hitters to chase, will make these next three pitches even more effective.
Tommy Kahnle's changeup
Those that stepped into the box and saw Tommy Kahnle's changeup last year posted a .136 batting average – that's the lowest among all four of these nasty pitches.
Averaging at 90 mph, Kahnle's change is on the faster side. Then again, factor in Cole's fastball and that's nearly a 10 mph difference, which is more than enough to keep hitters off balance.
Even though his changeup was the pitch Kahnle used the most last season – over half the time – it still missed plenty of bats. His changeup registered a 49 percent whiff rate.
Zack Britton's sinker
From a pitch dropping off a table into the dirt, to another with some sinking action and tail in on the hands.
Zack Britton's sinker is what makes the southpaw one of the best in the game at inducing ground balls. Britton had a 77 percent ground ball rate in 2019, 30 percent higher than the league average.
Britton's sinker has two feet of vertical break and one foot of horizontal movement. Even if he throws it 86 percent of the time and hitters effectively know it's coming – regardless of whether he's facing a right-handed hitter or a lefty – this pitch is designed to avoid solid contact and keep hitters aware of the inner portion of the zone.
Adam Ottavino's slider
Finally, the put away pitch.
Adam Ottavino's slider looks like a frisbee or whiffle ball floating from the third base side of the rubber across to the first base dugout. With 18.4 inches of horizontal break, Ottavino's slide piece has almost a foot more break (10 inches) than the league average.
Hitters had just a .157 average against this pitch in 2019. Averaging 81 mph, this filthy strikeout pitch may initially appear destined for the corner once it leaves Ottavino's hand, but it'll end up feet outside and in the dirt.
If not these four, consider Aroldis Chapman's blistering fastball, James Paxton's looping curveball, or a slider from Masahiro Tanaka and Chad Green.
Which weapons would be in your perfect pitcher's arsenal? Let us know in the comments below!
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