The 5 Toughest Hitters in Baseball

·11 min read

Before I jump into my list, let me just start out by addressing something right up here at the top. That no-hitter I threw a few weeks back? Where I K’d eight guys and didn’t give up a single hit? How’d I do that? Well, I mean….

Your guess is as good as mine, man.

I honestly still can’t believe it.

There’s just so much that needs to go right for you to throw a no-no — everything from the positioning of guys in the field to getting some good bounces to having a few calls go in your favor. And with me? It’s even more improbable. I don’t blow anyone away. I give up more contact than a lot of pitchers. I’m not really the no-hitter type.

If you’d asked me before that game if I was ever going to pitch a no-hitter, I’d have told you flat out: “Not in a million years.”

But, you know, what can I say…? Here we are. I guess it was just meant to be.

I don’t blow anyone away. I give up more contact than a lot of pitchers. I’m not really the no-hitter type.Wade Miley

During the game, while everything was happening, it was a pretty weird experience, to be honest with you. I’m someone who needs to talk during the course of a game. So it was super strange from about the sixth inning on, when I could feel guys on our bench going out of their way to leave me alone.

Now, of course … I get it. I was in the dugout for Verlander’s no-hitter in 2019. I’ve been that guy not wanting to jinx it. I know the feeling. But for me? As the pitcher? It just flat out sucked. I had nothing to take my mind off the game and calm any nerves. Guys wouldn’t even give me high fives when I was coming off the field after like the seventh. Everyone but Winker bailed on me. (Shout-out to Jesse for hanging in with me for all nine! By the eighth, they were borderline awkward high fives, but that guy stuck it out.)

On the field, looking back on it, I don’t think I did anything different or extra. In some ways it’s almost more special to me because of that — because I really just did what I do all the time. I was myself out there, and I ended up with a no-no.

But yeah, don’t ask me exactly why or how. I’ve got nothing for you. My main takeaway from this whole thing is honestly about gratitude. I have so much respect for the hitters who play this game, and I just feel blessed to be out there competing with people that talented.

So, for a guy like me, when I’m thinking about a list like this one, it’s like: Toughest hitters?

They’re all tough!!!!!

Funny, it turns out that The Players’ Tribune wanted a bit more than that. So here’s a rundown of the guys I think are the five toughest hitters in the game, including a few wild cards that you probably wouldn’t have guessed.

José Ramírez

I’m going to start out with this guy because when I threw my no-hitter, I distinctly remember him occupying my mind for several minutes right around the sixth or seventh inning.

Quick flashback first, though.

It’s 2016. Spring training. Before José really blew up. I’d never even heard of the guy. It was just like … O.K., a switch hitter’s coming up now, and that was basically it.

So I throw him a fastball, and he immediately hits a home run off me.

Whatever. Spring training. It happens.

An hour later, he’s up again.

Hahahahha. Changeup!!!!! He’s toast now.

Another home run — this one longer than the first one.

Then, a few weeks pass, and I’m facing the Indians again. I’ve got it all planned out when he gets to the plate....

Curveball!!!!!!

Dude, no joke … another frickin’ home run.

After that? Believe me, I knew who José Ramírez was. I’d emptied my book. He’d seen every pitch I had. And hit them all out of the park.

Jae C. Hong/AP Photo
Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

I’m glad that José turned out to be the real deal, I guess. Because now I don’t feel so bad about him owning me before anyone even knew his name. He really is just a special hitter. He can cover the whole plate, and he does it with authority.

With guys like José, my only shot is to make a pitch look really, really hittable out of my hand but then have it turn into a ball as soon as possible after that. Like I’ll throw him a bunch of cutters, but then, at two strikes, I’ll try to turn it into a slider — like make it bigger, so he thinks it’s one thing but it’s actually something else. I’ll do that and then … just hope it’s enough to miss his barrel.

Late in the game during that no-hitter, after I’d gotten José out twice, I remember looking at the lineup card and saying to myself, There’s no way I’m getting this guy out three times in a row. This is how it ends.

Then, when I actually did get him out, I remember this huge wave of relief flowing through my body. All of a sudden it was like….

Holy cow, maybe I can actually do this tonight.

Buster Posey

Another quick story for you.

Back in 2014, almost seven years ago now, when I was pitching for the Diamondbacks, I struck out Buster Posey this one afternoon out in San Francisco.

The end.

That’s the entire history of me striking out Buster Posey during my career. I’ve faced Buster more than 30 times. I’ve struck him out once.

Yeah.

I’m not gonna jump on Google and pull up the numbers, but I’m pretty sure that guy is hitting like .600 against me. He barrels up everything I throw him.

I’ve got nothing for Buster Posey.

I’ve faced Buster more than 30 times. I’ve struck him out once.Wade Miley

And it’s not like I’m giving you any sort of scoop here. He knows it. I know it. It’s just the way it is.

I’m not sure how anyone ever gets that guy out.

And with him … he’s even tougher in the clutch, with runners on base.

Because he’s a really great catcher, I also feel like he knows what I’m going to try to do to him in the box. He’s looking to call for the best possible pitches against guys like himself all the time. So it’s like he’s a step ahead of everyone else when he’s at the plate.

Or at least that’s what I like to tell myself so I can feel better.

Mike Trout

Big surprise, right?

In my opinion, Trout is the greatest hitter our game has seen in a long time. And for me to face that guy? More than anything it’s just … fun.

It’s always a cool at bat when you’re going up against Mike Trout. It’s just freakin’ awesome to be standing on that mound, looking in to home plate and seeing that guy in the batter’s box. You have to be on your game and execute your pitches just right to have any shot at getting him out. If you don’t, he will punish you. And there’s no maybe about it. He will punish you.

I just love the challenge of that. You’re testing yourself. You’re going up against the best. And it’s like, “Let me see where I stand.” If you’re a competitor, and you love this sport, how can you not appreciate that moment? You know what I mean?

It’s fun knowing that you’re facing a first-ballot Hall of Famer and that you’ve got to be 100% locked in. And those instances where I’ve actually been able to bear down and win a battle or two, well … that’s something I’ll be able to tell my grandkids about, right? Like that’s special.

I think sometimes people maybe assume that players aren’t fans of other players or something. But, come on. Mike Trout is Mike Trout. He’s an incredible player, and one of my favorites to watch — just in terms of how he goes about the game and does things the right way.

If I K that guy, my grandkids are hearing about every pitch from that AB … even if they’ve already heard about it 20 times.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Evan Longoria

Here’s a guy who might be a surprise to some people out there, but if you’re in the game — or you know the game inside and out — you’re not surprised in the least to see him on this list.

Evan Longoria is someone everyone in our sport respects. He’s just a really good baseball player. And he’s been really good for what seems like forever.

Most of my experience facing Evan has been when he was in Tampa, and when I’m facing him, I never feel like I have a pitch — or a spot — where I know I’m going to have success. Try to go in and he’s ready for it and pulls it down the line. Changeup away? He’ll slap it into right like it’s nothing. I used to always try to set him up with sliders in, and I’d have him taking all these bad swings, and then I’d try to get him out down and away. And somehow he’d be ready for it. Then it’d be like … home run to right field.

Come on. What the hell?

I’m just never comfortable when I’m facing that guy. I never feel like I have him figured out. And now that he’s with the Giants, with Posey? For me it’s like: No fair, man. Those two guys in the same daggum lineup?

Honestly, sometimes I’m just going to walk Longoria rather than let him do any real damage. Like: No thanks, bro. Free pass. Here ya go.

In fact, earlier this season in San Francisco … I’m on the hill facing him, man on second, two outs. I fall behind 2–0, and at that point I’m just like: Let me walk Longoria here and try to get the next guy instead.

So I throw a changeup like six inches off the plate and … I just barely kept that guy in the park.

He flew out to the warning track in center. Thank God we were in San Francisco or else that’s a home run.

Even when I’ve given up and am trying to walk that guy, he’s so good that he can still make me pay.

Pablo Sandoval

I promised this wouldn’t be completely predictable, right?

Kung Fu Panda!!!!!

I haven’t faced Pablo in a while, but that guy … he just hits everything.

Everything!

You can bounce a breaking ball to him and he’ll hit it. Throw the ball up high and a foot off the plate?

Base hit.

I know he may not be on some guys’ “5-toughest” lists or whatever, but like … toughest?

Toughest?

What’s tougher on a pitcher than not being able to throw anything at a guy that he can’t hit? It’s infuriating. I’m telling you.

Brad Mangin/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images
Brad Mangin/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

When he first came up, we all talked about him as the new-school Vlady.

In terms of strategy, there’s not much you can do, because he’s just hitting balls wherever you throw them. There’s no setting up a guy like that. But when you throw a pitch way off the plate, or do something you think is sure not to result in a hit, and the guy hits it anyway? As a pitcher, that’s probably the most frustrating thing you can have happen. The hard liners, the doubles, the homers, with those it’s like ... I made a mistake. I can live with that. My bad, or whatever.

But when you make a pitch that you feel like you executed perfectly and there’s no way it’s gonna be hit, and he sticks his butt out and slaps it into right? That frustrates you way more than a mistake pitch that gets hammered.

At one point a few years back, I decided that my best option was to literally just throw him four-seamers middle middle. Like: Here you go, dude.

That didn’t really work, either.

The funny thing is, I actually ended up playing one season with him up in Boston in 2015, and I remember early on going up to him like: “Yo, Pablo, for real … why didn’t you ever take any pitches when you faced me? You just swung at everything.”

And, you know what? I gotta hand it to him for his reply. It was perfect.

“Well,” he said, “It’s because I liked everything you threw.”