In the game of baseball, there have been many standout pitches that define a pitcher. In today’s game, Alrodis Chapman’s electric fastball and Clayton Kershaw’s hooking curveball lead this generation while in the 1990’s/early 2000’s, Randy Johnson’s heater and Mariano Rivera’s cutter paved the way. Many iconic pitches stand head and shoulders above the rest, but when constructing a perfect pitch mix, these five elite caliber pitches are skyscrapers upon buildings.
Fastball: Randy Johnson, SP, LHP
Nicknamed the “Big Unit”, the 6-foot-10 lanky build of Randy Johnson throws one of the strongest and most impactful fastballs in baseball history. In his eventual Hall-of-Fame career, Johnson’s heater often touched speeds near 100 MPH. Although, naysayers could counter and make the argument that most pitchers are able to reach triple digits. While that is true, what sets Johnson apart from the rest, is his sheer consistency and durability throughout games and eventual seasons. The 5-time Cy Young award winner led Major League Baseball four times in Complete Games and twice in Shoutouts, which proves pivotal to his dominance and stamina on the mound.
The intimidation factor from Johnson’s build, presence and repitoure on the mound made him team’s worst nightmare. The “Big Unit’s” K per 9 is one of the greatest of all time, with 10.6. Too add, Johnson and his elite fastball led all of baseball six times in strikeouts throughout his historic time in the game. The 2001 World Series Champion surely holds the greatest fastball in baseball history.
Changeup: Pedro Martinez, SP, RHP
Whether you’re a fan or a detractor of Pedro Martinez, it would be wrong to ignore his impact on baseball through his lengthy and first ballot Hall-of-Fame career. Martinez’ highly regarded changeup first blossomed while spending time on the Montreal Expos. Pedro’s elite caliber off speed pitch secured him his first Cy Young award (of many) and an ERA title. This was not the first time Pedro pitched with dominance, as he went on to win a total of three Cy Young awards and five ERA Titles.
Fast forwarding, Pedro was deemed the face of Boston after signing with the team and leading them to historic accomplishments. The heart and soul of the city led the Red Sox to a championship in 2004 and while placing 4th in the American League Cy Young award race. Many passionate fans believe Pedro’s changeup never could never and will never be replicated. The numbers Martinez touched while in the prime of his career with his off speed junk is like no other. The right-hander led the American League three times in strikeouts, five times in K per 9, once in complete games and shoutouts and was named to eight All-Star games. Martinez and his infamous changeup hold an elite class of its own.
Curveball: Clayton Kershaw, SP, LHP
One of the most recognized curveballs in baseball history belongs to the southpaw Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw’s trademark hook was once deemed “Public Enemy No. 1” by legendary play-by-play broadcaster Vin Scully. The hooking curve from the face of the Dodgers franchise obliterates and picks apart opposing hitters annually. In 2014, Kershaw and his hook showed its dominance by taking home the National League Cy Young and National League MVP awards. In his remarkable 2014 run, the left-hander led all of baseball in wins, ERA and K per 9 with groundbreaking statistics.
In the middle years of Kershaw’s career, the southpaw was elected into six straight All-Star games from 2011-2017. Titled the ‘King of Curves’, Kershaw has thrown upwards of 4,000 curveballs in his potential Hall-of-Fame time in baseball. In his time in LA, Kershaw has shown he can stay dominant for a number of years. Safe to say, the southpaw holds the most elite curveball in baseball history.
Slider: Roy Halladay, SP, LHP
Roy Halladay or as most would call him, “Doc”, always captured the attention of fans with his dominating presence while on the mound. Halladay and his well-respected slider was his go-to pitch and would always bail him out of tough situations in games. In Halladay’s first postseason appearance, he showed what kind of pitcher he truly was by tossing a one-walk no-hitter. ‘Doc’ joined the legendary Don Larsen as the only pitchers to toss a no-hitter in the postseason.
The late great retired from the game with two Cy Young and eight All-Star nominations under his belt. Halladay’s slider was taught to many, but could rarely be replicated. Roy’s slider was often argued to be the most dominant pitch of the 2000’s. Many portrayed Halladay to be a work horse on and off the mound, always trying to better himself. When it’s all set and done, Roy “Doc” Halladay holds one of the most elite pitches in the game of baseball.
Cutter: Mariano Rivera, Closer, RHP
Mo. 42. GOAT. Yankee legend. All-Time Saves leader. These are all titles to describe the iconic and record breaking career of Mariano Rivera. Mo’s legacy and time in baseball will never be topped as he currently holds the record of All-Time saves and Games Finished with 652 and 952, respectively. Throughout years, it’s rarely seen that a closer receives Cy Young award votes, but not for Mo, as he placed Top-3 in the American League Cy Young four times while taking the role as closer for New York.
The cutter brings an edge to Mo that dismantles hitters on daily basis. His famous cutter breaks in towards left handed hitters and away from right handed hitters, and is responsible for thousands of broken bats from opposing hitters. Players have admitted that they are scared to face Mo when they step into the batter’s box. The 5-time World Series champion and 13-time All-Star was the first unanimous player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The 1999 World Series MVP sits in a class of his own with his dominating cutter.
Photo: Nick Laham / Getty Images