Bruce Sutter

The list of pitchers who made their career on one novelty pitch is short but worth looking at. There’s Sutter of course with the split-finger fastball. Then there are the practicioners of the screwball: Carl Hubbell (who probably threw it 80% of the time), Tug McGraw, Mike Marshall, Bill Lee, and Fernando Valenzuela. Pedro Martinez also had great success with the pitch, but he didn’t throw it as much because he had a lights-out fastball. Christy Mathewson threw a screwball essentially, but it was called a fadeaway pitch, and like Martinez, Mathewson possessed other lethal weapons. Mike Cuellar also utilized the screwball, but he had such a great curveball that he used the screwball mostly as a setup pitch. Rollie Fingers made a living on his slider, which broke down and away from enemy batters. Fingers used the pitch more often later in his career, when his other pitches were less effective. David Cone is probably the pitcher most associated with the slider, but the pitch had been a fairly common choice among pitchers for decades prior to Fingers and Cone using it so famously well. Reliever Elroy Face made the forkball popular back in the 1950s. The pitch is closely related to the split-finger fastball, but the ball is held deeper between the spread fingers in the delivery. Face was an excellent reliever, one of the two or three best in Pirate history. Jack Morris learned the forkball from Roger Craig, who had previously helped teach the split-finger fastball to many of his pupils. Morris mastered the forkball as his strikeout pitch, so much so that he frequently had bouts of wildness due to the effectiveness of the tumbling action that his forkball displayed. When he pitched a no-hitter in 1984, Morris’s forkball was so good that catcher Lance Parrish was kept bouncing around all game trying to reign it in. Craig later taught the pitch to Mike Scott, who used it to have a few amazing seasons for the Astros. Lefties Frank Viola and Tom Glavine relied heavily on the circle change. The palmball has been around nearly as long as the game itself, and the most notable pitchers who used it a lot were Ewell Blackwell and Jim Konstanty. The cutter, which is really just a fastball with movement (released with pressure on the forefingers, often across the seams) is the signature pitch of Mariano Rivera. It appears that most pitchers who are known for a single pitch are relievers, often closers. That makes sense – batters will only see the pitcher once, maybe just a handful of at-bats each season. Familiarity breeds success, and the less a batter faces a pitcher’s money pitch, the more advantage to the pitcher. When Sutter was at his best with the splitter, he was practically untouchable. It almost seemed unfair.