The Five Best Pitches In Baseball

ANAHEIM, CA - : Closer Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees pitches the ninth inning on his way to picking up a save against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on June 5, 2011 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. The Yankees won 5-3. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

It’s time for the annual Best Pitch In Baseball Award! Here’s a look back at the previous winners:

1996 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
1997 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
1998 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
1999 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
2000 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
2001 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
2002 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
2003 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
2004 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
2005 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
2006 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
2007 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
2008 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
2009 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)
2010 - Mariano Rivera (cutter)

It’s been an exciting ceremony every year. It should be noted that Eric Gagne’s changeup won in 2003, but the award was later rescinded after it came out that he was chemically enhanced. His goatee was dyed to make it look even more stupid. Disqualified.

The 2011 rankings are in!

5. Justin Verlander (fastball)
This would probably be Adam Wainwright’s curve if he weren’t broken, but the list needed a fastball. A good ol’ fastball. No cuts, no sinks. Just a fastball. Ubaldo would have made the list last year, but this year it’s all Verlander. It’s not like he’s a one-pitch pitcher, but when his fastball is pushing triple digits, he certainly could be. MLB should mandate that a fastball like this needs to come with wonky control because a) it’s amusing, and b) not fair when a guy can spot a 100-mph fastball. I still can’t believe that his ERA isn’t 0.02 every season.

4. Roy Halladay (cutter)
Everyone always ponders what it would be like if Mariano Rivera were to start. Halladay is as close as we’ll get, except he has stamina and other plus pitches on his side, so it’s an imperfect comparison. Halladay’s cutter is the ultimate anti-lefty deployment, a pitch that chews left-handed hitters up. If there were ever a prototype for the ultimate starting pitcher, it would be Halladay, and his cutter would be one of the biggest reasons why. Anyone who tries to compare a draftee or minor-league prospect to Halladay should be hit with a cutter on the hands.

3. Tim Lincecum (changeup)
This brought up a philosophical question. Halladay is the better pitcher -- even the most rabid Giants partisan would have to agree at this point -- so wouldn’t that make the cutter better? After careful consideration, though, the changeup makes it because Lincecum is the best strikeout pitcher in the game, and this pitch is why. When he was struggling with velocity dips, averaging 89 mph, his changeup never stopped making hitters look goofy. The fastball is great, the slider and curve have their moments, but this changeup has made Lincecum the fastest pitcher to reach 1,000 strikeouts.

2. Mariano Rivera (cutter)
Wait. There must be some sort of mistake. The votes weren’t counted correctly. The delegate from Massachusetts is up to shenanigans. Something’s off. How can Rivera’s cutter not win again? It’s a pitch that moves hither and thither, confusing lefties and righties alike. No one knows where it’s going. It’s like a 91-mph knuckleball that Rivera can throw with his mind. It’s kept him effective until he’s 64 years old. How can this not be the greatest pitch in baseball?

1. Jonny Venters (sinker)
Maybe this is the equivalent of a mid-life crisis -- I’m looking for new, exciting things because I’ve sat down for dinner with Rivera’s cutter for 17 years now, and we don’t really have a conversation anymore. We can finish each other’s sentences ... but where’s the spark?

A left-handed, 95-mph sinker? Oh, man. There’s the spark. So new, so fresh. It feels like this pitch was developed in a lab, run through focus groups, and then presented to baseball fans just to make lists like this. I love the look on Wes Helms’ face. That’s a guy who makes his living hitting lefties, and it was like the face of a video-store owner who had just read about Netflix’s business model for the first time.

A left-handed, 95-mph sinker. What will these crazy kids come up with next?

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