The Filthiest Pitches in Baseball

Dirty PitchThere are many different factors that go into creating the perfect pitcher. In fact, creating the perfect pitcher is probably not possible. Having said that, it is possible for a guy to hone his skills and create a perfect pitch. There have been many pitchers who have gone entire decades dominating the entire league, and they usually have one or two perfect pitches that carry the torch for them. Velocity, control and all of those other factors are still important, but a pitcher needs to have that one pitch in his arsenal that he knows is unhittable. While other guys are basically hoping for the best when they get into a tough jam, a pitcher who has a filthy pitch always knows he can get himself out of trouble. A filthy pitch is basically a get out of jail free card for the guy on the mound. It can also strike fear in every batter around the league because the fact that this guy has a dominate pitch that cannot be touched is always in the back of his mind. While the hitter is thinking about the curveball, cutter or knuckle ball that is hard to touch, the pitcher can simply come back with a fastball on the corner to lock up the batter’s knees. There are many different complexities to look at when we are talking about the filthiest pitches in baseball, but the most important factor is the pitch itself. Before we get into some of the best pitches out there in the game today, let’s take a look at some of the pitches that were so memorable that they are still talked about today.

The Filthiest Pitches from Baseball’s Past

Most of the guys who throw something filthy today grew up watching someone else who was able to dominate every hitter who walked up to the plate. Emulation is the truest form of flattery, and most of the pitchers behind the pitches on this list will definitely be flattered by what they see in baseball today. If there is one thing that we have learned from watching some of the greatest pitchers over the years, it is that someone can be the best pitcher in the league with a number of different weapons. Whether it’s Greg Maddux crafting his way to a shutout or Randy Johnson striking out 18 hitters as he strikes fear in the spine of the entire lineup on the other team, every pitcher has their own pitch that they turn to when they need to get the job done. Let’s take a look at some of the tools that the greatest pitchers in history used to destroy anything that walked into their path.

Greg Maddux – Shuuto

Greg Maddux was not the most powerful pitcher in the game, but he was able to dominate batters from the leadoff spot all the way down to the last spot in the lineup. While most people think of a guy throwing 100 MPH heat when they try to imagine the top pitchers in the league, Greg Maddux was one of the few guys who used his craftiness more than anything else. He had many different weapons in bag of tricks, but the best one was definitely the shuuto. This is a pitch that is more popular in Japan than the United States, and Maddux was able to use that to his advantage for many years. The shuuto is basically a cutter with much more movement. It’s a slider in the opposite direction that can throw off hitters on both sides of the plate. The way in which Greg liked to use this pitch was when he was facing a lefty. He would pepper the inside edge of the plate with a few fastballs, and mix in the shuuto along the way. The shuuto would look like a regular fastball that was going to miss the plate, and then it would cut back in for a strike. The mind games that Maddux could play with this pitch led to many guys getting caught looking and broken bats. One other interesting note to point out about Maddux is that control was actually his only weakness when he came out of high school. Although he is remembered as one of the most controlled pitchers the game has even seen, it’s funny to think of him as someone who could barely get the ball over the plate at one point.

Christy Mathewson – Screwball

Although Chrity Mathewson is from a time period in baseball that no one can remember, he is still known as one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Through his 17 years on the mound, he was able to keep an ERA around 2.10 and garner over 370 wins. The screwball is a pitch that is basically the shuuto of the curveball. It breaks in the opposite direction of the curveball, and Mathewson was one of the pioneers of this pitch back in the early days of the game. This is not a pitch that can be mastered by many people even in today’s game, which is why Mathewson was able to be so dominant in his day. When people think of the screwball, Christy Mathewson is usually the first pitcher who comes to mind.

Bob Feller – Curveball

It is pretty hard to narrow down one guy for the curveball, but Bob Feller seems like the easiest choice. If you just take a look at his stats over the years, it’s easy to see why his curveball is so memorable to this day. Feller was definitely someone who mastered the art of the “12 to 6” curve, and that’s what led him to over 2,500 strikeouts during his career. Bob Feller is a perfect example of how mastering one pitch can lead to a Hall of Fame career. The reason that Feller was able to dominate with his curveball was that he could also throw some heat. When he threw that dominating curve, most hitters decided to jump out of the way and assume it was a fastball before diving out of the way when it was already too late.

Gaylord Perry – Spitball

It would be impossible to go through this list without mentioning the spitball. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and nobody threw the spitter better than Gaylord Perry. Perry is so synonymous with the spitball that he actually mentioned it in the title of his autobiography, “Me and the Spitter.” The spitball was used to strikeout over 3500 hitters over Perry’s career, and it was so dominant that it actually became illegal. This is one pitch that has not been able to inspire any copycats in today’s game because it is simply not allowed.

Phil Niekro – Knuckleball

The knuckleball is probably the one pitch in baseball that has the clearest love-hate relationship with players and fans. Phil Niekro was the guy who took the knuckleball to the next level back in the day, and it is the reason that he was able to win 121 games after the age of 40. No one else will probably be able to win as many games as that at such a late stage in their career because the knuckleball does not require a lot of stamina from a pitcher. It only comes in at around 70 MPH, but it can break and bend at any second. One reason that this pitch is hard to master is that if it does not bend or break it can turn into a soft fastball on a silver platter for the hitter. This is definitely the most infuriating pitch that a hitter can face in his career.

Nolan Ryan – Fastball

Although most people view the fastball as the pitch that is used to set up other pitches, that was not the case with Nolan Ryan. Ryan could throw so hard throughout his entire career that his fastball was basically his bread and butter. He could throw harder than 100 MPH on a consistent basis, which is something that is still rare in today’s game. There have been plenty of guys who could throw the ball hard over the years, but no one was able to rack up the 5,714 strikeouts that Ryan has on his resume. Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson are two other names that come up when you talk about a dominant fastball, but even they do not hold a candle to what was possible with Nolan Ryan. It’s rare to see a guy use a fastball as his best pitch, but it’s easy to see why it can be so powerful when it is used by a guy like Ryan.

The Filthiest Pitches in Today’s Game

Now that we have taken a look at the best pitches from baseball’s past, it’s time to see who, or what, is dominating the game today. Many of today’s greats have learned from baseball’s legends, but they are also able to carve out their own little piece of history. There are more guys with dominating pitches right now than ever before because the game is being played at a much higher level these days. Most people do not head to the ballpark to see a filthy pitch because they just want to see the longball. Here are a few of the guys who like to ruin the dreams of fans and leave hitters looking foolish.

Mariano Rivera – Cut-Fastball

This is definitely a pitch that will go down in history as the one that lead to the career of the most dominant closer the game has ever seen. No other pitch in baseball right now strikes fear in a batter’s mind more than Rivera’s cut-fastball. He is the best closer of all time, and a lot of that has to do with his ability to trick batters with the cut-fastball. He has a few other pitches as well, but the bulk of his work revolves around mixing up the cut-fastball with his regular fastball. Batters do not know if they are getting a nice fastball to turn on or if it’s about to cut back in and hit them on the hands. In addition to being the all-time leader in saves, Rivera is probably also the all-time leader in broken bats caused by a certain pitch.

Clayton Kershaw – Curveball

Clayton Kershaw is the owner of the best curveball in the game today. He has complete control over this pitch, and he’ll throw it whenever he feels like it. Although most guys like to keep things conservative when they are facing a full count and are in a tough spot, Kershaw uses these kinds of opportunities to bust out the one pitch that makes batters buckle at the knees in fear.

Justin Verlander – Fastball

Kershaw’s curveball is definitely a great tool to have in a pitcher’s inventory, but the fact of the matter is that you cannot throw a curveball that often. The fastball is the pitch that will be thrown the entire game, and no one throws it better than Justin Verlander. Nolan Ryan was mentioned before as one of the few pitchers who could routinely hit 100 MPH, and Verlander is another guy who is in the elite class of pitchers. It does not really matter what else is going on when you can control a 100 MPH fastball, and Verlander’s heat will be talked about for many years to come. Perhaps one day people will be talking about him the same way they talk about Nolan Ryan right now, but he still has a way to go before that happens. The funny thing about Verlander is that he does not like to start throwing 100 MPH at the beginning of a game. He’ll wait until you think he must be tiring down to bring out the heater. When you try to count the number of guys who can throw 100 MPH in the 8th and 9th innings, you will only need one hand to tally up the final number.

Stephen Strasburg – Curveball

I know we already mentioned another curveball specialist on this list, but Strasburg needs to be mentioned somewhere. While Kershaw is the master of the 12 to 6 curve, Strasburg is the master of the curveball that simply falls off the table. Just when a hitter is sitting on the fastball and sees it coming right down the middle of the plate, suddenly it rolls off the table and lands in the dirt. Whether he’s looking for a strikeout or a ground ball out, this is the pitch that Strasburg will turn to when he is in a jam. Everyone knows that he comes to the mound with a rocket for an arm, but it’s the combination of the heat with his curveball that makes him such a young, special talent.

R.A. Dickey – Knuckleball

I was not going to get to the end of the current list without another knuckleball. I admit, I have a soft spot in my heart for the knuckleball, but no one can frustrate hitters in today’s game like Dickey. While most pitchers rely on the element of surprise involved with similar pitches, Dickey just lets his knuckler do all of the work. While Verlander and Strasburg have to worry about throwing out their arms at a certain point, Dickey can sit back and play catch with the catcher when he has the knuckleball on his side. Although the knuckler can lead to the downfall of a pitcher’s night when it is not working properly, Dickey is still the guy with the best knuckleball in the game right now.

Honorable Mentions

Everyone cannot make the list of the filthiest pitches in baseball, but there are a few guys that didn’t deserve to be completely left out. It should also be mentioned that selecting the filthiest pitches in baseball can be a rather opinionated process, so these are just a few pitches that I clearly remember as being particularly fascinating over the years.

Tim Wakefield – Knuckleball

I was too young to ever see Phil Niekro play, and Tim Wakefield was the knuckleballer of my generation. Every decade needs its own knuckleball specialists, but then again, most knucklers end up throwing for more than two decades. After starting with the pirates, Wakefield went to the Boston Red Sox to start his legendary 17-year career with them. Wakefield based the knuckleball baton to R.A. Dickey in 2012, but it is safe to say that he has left this infamous pitch in good hands. Wakefield was able to rack up 200 wins over his long, up and down career.

Rip Sewell – Eephus

To many people, the eephus is that joke pitch of baseball. In Rip Sewell’s case, it was no laughing matter. This is the man who is most known as the man who threw the eephus, and it is a pitch that rarely ever pops up in today’s game. The point of this pitch is that the hitter gets so excited by what is coming their way that they end up swinging too early. It is basically the ultimate changeup, and it can sometimes reach a height of 25 feet as it approaches the plate. It takes a very cool and collected hitter to do anything with this pitch. One such hitter was Ted Williams, the only guy to ever hit a homerun off of Sewell’s eephus.

Randy Johnson – Slider

He’s already been mentioned a few times in this article, but it’s time to give the game’s best slider it’s due. Randy Johnson will always be remembered as the guy who could throw harder than anyone else during his career, but it was his slider that made him such a special talent. He used it in a similar way that Rivera uses his cut-fastball, and the point was that you were not sure if the slider or the fastball was coming your way. Since Johnson was a lefty, his slider was particularly troublesome for right-handed hitters. You always had to think twice when you saw something coming to the inside of the plate because you never knew if it was a straight fastball or the slider that would come in and push you off the plate.

The Pitch Makes the Pitcher

When you take a look at any of the legendary pitchers in baseball, you always have to take a look at the pitches behind the pitcher. You can guarantee that all of the best pitchers in baseball’s history have at least one pitch that they know strikes fear into the eyes of their opponent. There are a few guys who can get by as decent pitchers with a handful of inconsistent pitches, but the legends are the ones who hone their craft and put a little bit of science behind their skill.