Which are the hardest pitches to hit in baseball? Everything you need to know

Which are the hardest pitches to hit in baseball? Everything you need to know

Ciku Njuguna
updated at December 19, 2023 at 8:49 AM

Baseball is one of the most enjoyable sports to watch and play. However, certain complexities emerge when it comes to playing. Starting and relief pitchers are tasked with the role of putting the ball in motion in a baseball game. This article details the role of a batter or hitter and some of the hardest pitches to hit.

Hardest pitches to hit
Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds winds up before throwing a fastball against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 28, 2012, in Denver, Colorado. Photo by Dustin Bradford.
Source: Getty Images

What are the hardest pitches to hit? The ability to throw a pitch at maximum effort, is not only determined by a player's talent but also by factors such as speed, the location and movement of the ball. Scroll down for a deep dive into the world of baseball and discover the mysteries that surround pitching.

What are the hardest pitches to hit?

According to the MLB, there are 14 pitching types commonly used by professional road game players. Some of the relatively hard pitches to hit in baseball include the sinker, changeup, screwball, and forkball.

Top 5 hardest pitches to hit in baseball
Nolan Ryan of the Houston Astros pitched against the New York Mets during the League Championship Series at Shea Stadium in October 1986. Photo by Ronald C. Modra.
Source: Getty Images

Different types of baseball throws can be used by a pitcher to gain an advantage over the hitter. Additionally, pitchers have been known to keep unpredictable throws that find the batter off guard in their arsenals.

What are the top 5 hardest pitches to hit in baseball?

Sports Brief has combed through existing data from reputable publications to give a comprehensive report on the hardest pitch to hit in MLB. Here is a list of the top five toughest pitches to hit.

What is the hardest pitch to hit in baseball?
Legendary pitcher, Cy Young hurls for the Boston Red Sox before a game at Huntingdon Avenue Grounds in Boston in 1908. Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics.
Source: Getty Images

The fastball

A favourite of baseball legend Babe Ruth, this pitch is typically thrown at high speeds to catch the hitter off guard. Over the course of history, the speeds have increased from 90 miles per hour (144.8 kilometres per hour) up to 104 miles per hour (167.3 kilometres per hour).

The best fastball pitchers of all time

Coupled with speed, this pitch is thrown in a tight spin, making it difficult for the hitter to predict or track the ball's movement. The four-seam fastball is the most effective fastball, which has a higher velocity with a backspin that increases its unpredictability. The best fastball pitchers of all time include:

  1. Walter Johnson
  2. Cy Young
  3. Lefty Grove
  4. Nolan Ryan
  5. Bob Gibson
Top 5 hardest pitches to hit in baseball
Baseball legend Lefty Gomez takes a pitching pose for a photo circa 1938 in Yankee Stadium in New York City. Photo by Transcendental Graphics.
Source: Getty Images

The splitter

The splitter or split-finger fastball is thrown by gripping the ball. To throw a splitter, a hurler grips the ball with two fingers, forming a V shape on opposite sides of the ball. Because of its slower velocity and sharp drop, hitters often bat early, missing the pitch or with weaker contact.

Famous players who used the splitter

The splitter ranks highly among professional baseball players in difficulty and is mainly used by Japanese pitchers. Its deceptive appearance as a fastball makes it more unpredictable, causing batters to miss the hit. It is also one of the hardest pitches to throw. Famous players who used the splitters are:

  1. Shohei Ohtani
  2. Bruce Sutter
  3. Francisco Rodriguez
  4. Kevin Gausman
  5. Nathan Eovaldi
What baseball pitch is the hardest to hit?
Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on May 3, 2023, in St Louis, Missouri. Photo by Dilip Vishwanat.
Source: Getty Images

The curveball

A typical curveball features a downward break as it nears the plate. Masters of the curveball throw the pitch by spinning and snapping the wrist. It can also be thrown as a fast or slow ball, reaching speeds between 12 miles per hour (19.3 kilometres per hour) and 80 miles per hour (128.7 kilometres per hour).

Who are the best curveball pitchers?

Like the idiom to throw a curve, the curveball is meant to trick the batter with something unexpected. On the other hand, a botched curveball, known as a hanging curve or a hanger, does not break as much and moves in a straight trajectory with a slower velocity, which is much easier for the batter to hit. These are some of the best curveball pitchers:

  1. Sandy Koufax
  2. Bert Blyleven
  3. Dwight Gooden
  4. Satchel Paige
  5. Nolan Ryan
What is the hardest pitch to hit in baseball?
Pitcher Randy Johnson of the New York Yankees delivered a pitch against the Kansas City Royals on June 1, 2005, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Photo by Tim Umphrey.
Source: Getty Images

The slider

Much like a football, a slider is thrown with a combination of forward spin and gyro. When throwing it, the hurler snaps and spins their wrists, generating spin. It is a hard throw characterised by speed and a late and sharp break away from the batter, making it easy for batters to miscalculate and miss hitting the ball.

Who throws the best slider in baseball?

A great slider is the physical embodiment of the word 'mind-bending.' How these pitchers get a baseball to move the way they do will never fully be understood. It is better to sit back and watch. Here are five of the best sliders in baseball:

  1. Randy Johnson
  2. Bob Gibson
  3. Sparky Lyle
  4. Jacob deGrom
  5. Tyler Rogers
Top 5 hardest pitches to hit
Pitcher Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants throws a curveball against the Washington Nationals on September 2, 2007, at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Photo by Diamond Images.
Source: Getty Images

The knuckleball

When making this pitch, knuckleballers hold the ball with their knuckles on or just above it and nails digging into the ball. The knuckleball is favoured among professional players for its deceptive movement and unpredictability.

Who are the best knuckleball pitchers?

Hit with little or no spin, the knuckleball is a slow throw that exhibits fluttery or dance-like movement. It also changes direction as it nears the plate. For this reason, it is also known as the flutter ball or dancing knuckleball. These are some of the best knuckleball pitchers:

  1. Phil Niekro
  2. Hoyt Wilhelm
  3. Tim Wakefield
  4. R.A. Dickey
  5. Wilbur Wood
Top 5 hardest pitches to hit
Pitcher R.A. Dickey of the Seattle Mariners throws a knuckleball against the Oakland A's at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on March 4, 2008, in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Stephen Dunn.
Source: Getty Images

Final word

Professional pitchers develop individualised playing styles over the course of their careers. These styles involve the use of some of the hardest pitches to hit that give them an advantage over the opposing team's hitter or batter.

READ MORE: What is a pinch hitter in baseball, and what is their role?

Sports Brief has published an article on the roles and responsibilities of a pinch hitter in baseball. The term pinch hitter refers to a substitute hitter in games such as baseball and softball.

Major League Baseball has rules that govern pinch hitters and substitution during a baseball match. Click the link above to discover everything about pinch hitters and substitution rules.

Ciku Njuguna photo
Ciku Njuguna
Ciku Njuguna is a journalist with 3 year’s experience in content creation based in Kenya. She currently covers sports personnel as well as team biographies.