Last night, I tweeted something early on during Game 1 of the World Series between the Red Sox and Dodgers:
Obviously, the Dodgers didn’t have too much trouble against him since they knocked him out before he could record an out in the fifth inning, but still, I can’t imagine too many pitchers that are more uncomfortable to face than Sale. I decided to consider each team’s most uncomfortable pitcher to face and here we are.
Boston Red Sox: Chris Sale
New York Yankees: Aroldis Chapman
Chapman’s windup isn’t as deceiving as Sale’s, but he averages 99 MPH with his fastball (sometimes reaching 104 MPH) and backs it up with a devastating 87 MPH slider.
Tampa Bay Rays: Blake Snell
Snell’s delivery is slow and deliberate which makes his average 96 MPH fastball sneak up on you, seeming that much faster. No surprise he’s in the running for the AL Cy Young Award.
Toronto Blue Jays: Joe Biagini
As he prepares to pitch, he stands with his glove extended out and he waits a while. His average pace of 30.3 seconds between pitches tied for the fourth-slowest among 151 qualified relievers. Then he’ll pump in a mid-90’s fastball
Baltimore Orioles: Mychal Givens
Slim pickings with the Orioles, unsurprisingly. As he delivers, Givens rocks back just a bit, hiding the ball before he fires from a three-quarters arm angle. He throws mostly mid-90’s fastballs but mixes in a change and a slider every now and then.
Cleveland Indians: Andrew Miller
Miller is an uncomfortable at-bat hitters for the same reasons as Sale: he’s tall, gangly, and throws hard. When he’s healthy and locating, Miller is among the absolute toughest pitchers to square up.
Minnesota Twins: José Berríos
Berríos isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but it’s not common. He brings his glove over his head, pauses briefly, brings his knee up to his glove, hides the ball before whipping it from behind his hat towards the plate. And that’s before considering his stuff, which is electric.
Detroit Tigers: Matthew Boyd
Boyd’s stats didn’t show it this past season, but I can’t imagine he’s any fun to face as a hitter. His delivery screams “1980’s-era lefty slop-thrower,” and by 2018 standards, he does throw slop. Boyd drags his arm well past his back then slings it from over the top. He does have a straight fastball but he relies more on his slider, curve, and change-up, so very little of what he throws doesn’t move or deceive in some way.
Chicago White Sox: Carson Fulmer
Fulmer has yet to get a grip on his command issues, issuing walks to 44 of 318 (14%) batters he’s faced in the majors. He has hit an additional nine of them. Fulmer doesn’t know where the ball’s going half the time, which hitters don’t like one bit.
Kansas City Royals: Tim Hill
No explanation needed. Just look at this.
Houston Astros: Joe Smith
Since they’re so much less common, I think side-armers are definitionally more uncomfortable for hitters to face than someone who throws over the top or from three-quarters. As he delivers, Smith hunches to hide the ball as he brings it behind his ear, then flings it from the side.
Oakland Athletics: Daniel Mengden
Mengden’s wind-up is a whole production. He stands facing home plate with his feet spread apart, brings his glove over his head, then turns and fires. There are plenty of pitchers better equipped to miss bats, so Mengden has to find other ways to gain an advantage. He has chosen this.
Seattle Mariners: Edwin Díaz
Díaz throws in the high 90’s with one of the game’s filthiest sliders. I have no idea how anyone’s supposed to hit that arsenal.
Los Angeles Angels: Andrew Heaney
Heaney’s wind-up is slow and deliberate, and he hides the ball practically the entire time. No surprise that lefties in particular have had trouble hitting him as he has a .578/.801 OPS platoon split.
Texas Rangers: Jake Diekman
I worried that this list might be populated too heavily with lefties and it kind of is. Diekman is cut from a similar cloth as Miller and Sale: tall, gangly, left-handed. Absolutely zero fun to face. Interestingly, over his career, he has hardly a platoon split at all.
Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran
Teheran has a herky-jerky delivery, even with runners on base. He starts off normally, bringing his knee up but as he drives forward, he kicks his leg out, providing him both power and deception.
Washington Nationals: Max Scherzer
Among the more obvious picks here. Beyond his delivery and his stuff, Scherzer is arguably the most competitive person in baseball. He has been seen on the mound loudly cursing at the opposing hitter while he gets into his wind-up. Imagine being in the batter’s box against a psychopath who throws in the high-90’s.
Philadelphia Phillies: Aaron Nola
To start off, Nola is among the most deliberate starters in the game, taking on average 26.6 seconds in between pitches. Only Justin Verlander and David Price were slower among qualified starters. Nola’s stuff will come at you from all directions, featuring a sinker that tails towards the right-handed batter’s box and a 12-6 curve.
New York Mets: Noah Syndergaard
Jacob deGrom is the better pitcher, but Syndergaard is the less comfortable of the two to face. Syndergaard makes hitting the upper-90’s look easy with a short, compact delivery. If his off-speed stuff weren’t as devastating as it is, he would still be an elite reliever.
Miami Marlins: Tayron Guerrero
Guerrero is strictly fastball-slider and it works. He averaged 99 MPH this past season, hitting 104 once and 103 MPH at least three times, according to Statcast. He also doesn’t exactly have great control, so hitters might be a little scared that 103-104 could be coming at their ribs.
Milwaukee Brewers: Josh Hader
Another obvious one that doesn’t need much of an explanation, especially if you watched the Brewers in the postseason. He’s just considerably filthy.
Chicago Cubs: Steve Cishek
The Cubs have a surprising amount of candidates for this, but you gotta go with the side-armer when it comes to uncomfortable at-bats. He is what some might call a “frisbee thrower.”
St. Louis Cardinals: Jordan Hicks
Hicks threw the three hardest pitches this season, according to Statcast, at 105.1, 105.0 and 104.4 MPH. As if he wasn’t already unfair enough, Hicks also throws a wipeout slider at a cool 88 MPH, a vast 13 MPH difference compared to his fastball.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Jameson Taillon
The Pirates have some threatening pitchers, but none that I’d consider “uncomfortable” to face, so I went with Taillon. Just a tall right-hander with tons of deception.
Cincinnati Reds: Raisel Iglesias
Iglesias seems to make his mid-90’s fastballs rise since he gets so low in his delivery. Makes his change-up and slider that much better.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
Quite a few honorable mentions here: Kenley Jansen, Pedro Báez, Alex Wood. But it’s Kershaw, king of the herky-jerky delivery with lots of bendy pitches. #Analysis
Colorado Rockies: Adam Ottavino
Ottavino will be a free agent next week, but we’ll consider him with the Rockies for now. He stands on the first base side of the rubber, but rather than step straight forward, his momentum takes him towards the third base side. It has worked well throughout his career and will make him a valued arm on the free agent market.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Zack Godley
Godley is incredibly deliberate, taking 25.6 seconds in between pitches. He’s also one of the rare short-armers, rocking back before powering forward like a bow-and-arrow.
San Francisco Giants: Madison Bumgarner
A lot of this has focused on pitchers’ deliveries, their velocities, and how much their stuff moves. Bumgarner creates an uncomfortable at-bat just because of his temper. You never know what will set him off and you know he’s not afraid to throw one up and in.
San Diego Padres: Joey Lucchesi
Lucchesi may have my favorite wind-up among pitchers in baseball. There’s so much going on.
I probably missed a few so feel free to let me know which pitchers they are in the comments.