Five relatively unknown pitchers whose swing-and-miss fastballs could set up big-league success
The fastball remains an important pitch, and these five hurlers have good ones
Tom Seaver once said the fastball was the most important pitch in baseball, as well as the second-most important pitch in baseball. Times have changed since Seaver's heyday, with pitchers more willing than ever to work backward and spam the opposition with high-grade breaking balls, but a good heater remains a valuable commodity. As such, we wanted to highlight five under-the-radar pitchers whose fastballs have graded well this season.
Before we get to the pitchers, let's explain what we mean by "under-the-radar" and "graded well." The former is, frankly, subjective in nature. Everyone knows Gerrit Cole has a fantastic heater, so we don't feel the need to include him. We're focusing on pitchers who haven't made an All-Star Game, or whose names you might otherwise not know. As for the other part -- the "graded well" aspect -- that's objective: We're using whiffs per swing to quantify fastball quality.
Obviously more goes into being a quality pitcher than their fastball alone, just as more goes into a pitch's worth than its ability to generate empty swings. We're trying to keep things simple here is all. With that in mind, let's get to the pitchers in question.
Marlins have many interesting pitchers. You can add Jose Quijada to the list. He's a 23-year-old left-hander who has the third-highest fastball swing-and-miss rate in baseball -- behind Kenley Jansen (a limited sample) and Josh Hader. Quijada is a member of the Church of the High Fastball, and batters have whiffed on nearly 40 percent of their swings taken against his 93 mph heater. Unfortunately, there is one obvious flaw in his game: his command. He's walked 25 batters in 26 big-league innings (three intentionally), and his 58.4 strike percentage is one of the worst among pitchers with similar workloads. Quijada's fastball and youth should grant him ample opportunity to become familiar with the zone., the
The Red Sox have a lot of relievers who miss bats with their fastballs, but none have shown more promise at it than Darwinzon Hernandez, a 22-year-old lefty with a high-spin heater who ranks just behind Quijada in our metric of choice.
One thing Hernandez has in common with Quijada is a poor walk rate, having issued 23 walks in 29 innings. In fact, he's either walked, hit, or struck out roughly 59 percent of the 138 batters he's faced in the majors, suggesting his defenders get bored during his outings. Hernandez has shown good contact-suppression chops, and could end up working in the late innings for a long time if he can throw more strikes.
At last, a left-hander with a good fastball who doesn't walk everyone. Colin Poche, a member of the Rays, ranks seventh in our metric and first in the hearts of those who put strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.5) above all (like his 99 ERA+).
So far as a big-leaguer, Poche has allowed 27 hits. Eight of them have been home runs. If he qualified, that would be the fifth-highest rate of extra-base-hit per hit in baseball, just behind Justin Verlander, Joe Musgrove, Chris Sale, and Trevor Bauer -- hey, that's solid company. Poche has thrown about 90 percent fastballs this season, and while the pitch doesn't stand out in any one way -- like velocity or spin rate -- he does a beautiful job of shielding the ball from the batter using his body.
Shawn Armstrong is on team No. 3 (the Orioles) since the end of the 2017 season. He keeps getting looks in part because of his success in past cameos (he had a 152 ERA+ and 2.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 58 career big-league innings entering this season), and in part because of his heater. Armstrong doesn't live up to his name in terms of velocity -- he sits around 93 mph -- but he ranks in the 97th percentile in spin rate. Add in a deceptive delivery, wherein he hides the ball and pitches across his body, and he should continue to cash checks for a while longer.
Houser is the only starter on our list, though he's split the season between the Brewers rotation and bullpen. Milwaukee moved him back into the starting five in late July, and he's since notched a 2.81 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 41 innings. Again, that'll play. Houser is built well and throws strikes with a power arsenal. If the Brewers make the postseason, expect him to play a role.
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