The fastball is far and away the game’s most important pitch. Even this early, we can see who is dominating with it and who is struggling. And we can reasonably bet that these trends will continue. So let’s focus now on percentage of swings on fastballs that miss (MLB average is 15.9%) and well-hit rate on fastballs (average is .228), courtesy of the video scouts at MLB stat provider Inside Edge.
The surprisingly good
Jacob deGrom is someone we knew was good but we questioned his health, at least before he started firing 97 mph fastballs right out of the gate in spring training. But what is most surprising about him is that he has not only recovered from offseason surgery but currently owns the game’s most dominating fastball, generating misses on an insane 37% of fastball swings. That’s about lapping the field, as Taijuan Walker and Danny Salazar are next highest at 31%. DeGrom is as good as it gets after Kershaw and maybe Chris Sale, if you believe Sale can continue to dominate the Green Monster all year as a lefty.
Marco Estrada is viewed as a guy who does it with smoke and mirrors but forget about velocity and look at these results: 26% misses and a well-hit rate of .102 vs. his fastball. Estrada is a unicorn because he works up in the zone and the game is moving in his direction as umpires reportedly are winking at the commissioner’s secret plan to raise the strike zone.
I wanted no part of Lance Lynn coming off the injury and running off the field seemingly with something serious late in spring training. But he’s dominating with 24% missed swings and a solid .134 well-hit allowed on his gas. Lynn is set-it-and-forget-it when he’s right.
We all want to make fun of Hector Santiago and people who are betting on him. I get it. But he’s earning his early success. I’m not saying it’s going to continue but there is nothing random about it so far: 22% swinging strikes and .125 well-hit. Right now, I’d only think about rostering Santiago in 15-team leagues but this model says I’m wrong.
One of the Pirates’ prodigy pitchers has paid off and the other has not. If you chose Jameson Taillon, you chose wisely. If you picked Tyler Glasnow, well, you wish things were different. Taillon is 22% and .141, respectively. Glasnow generates only half as many missed swings (11%). Taillon also is generating an elite 57% groundball rate on heaters.
I thought Robert Gsellman was going to be the Mets pitcher to own and have never been a fan of Zack Wheeler. But Gsellman has struggled (mostly unlucky and I would definitely be picking him up off the waiver wire). Wheeler off of two years of injuries has his fastball intact, generating 21% misses and allowing a .080 well-hit. He’s at least streamable but someone I would keep in 12-team leagues as a top 70 arm given the park and division.
We view Chase Anderson as a junk-baller but his heater is getting misses on about 20% of swings. That’s higher right now than Stephen Strasburg. I’m not comparing them or saying Anderson has a better fastball than Strasburg. The point is that Anderson’s fastball is underrated.
The shockingly bad
Corey Kluber owns the worst fastball at generating misses on swings (just 7%). How is this possible? And the well-hit average also is poor (.250). I understand that Kluber is piling up a reasonable amount of Ks but his fastball clearly is lagging.
Kyle Hendricks is very troubling also at 11% missed swings and a .264 well-hit vs. the fastball. If he can’t make people chase, his velocity simply is not playable.
Bonus: The Ace of Chase
Brandon McCarthy is having hitters swing out of the zone at his fastball on 34% of fastball swings. It’s really hard to generate quality contact this way so it’s no surprise that McCarthy is allowing a paltry .092 well-hit on heaters. And McCarthy is also elite this year in percentage of outs that are strikeouts in four pitches or less — 22%. Roster him now in all formats and get him in your lineup.