Derek Johnson, 2019 MLB Coach of the Year (Baseball America) and current Reds Pitching Coach, recently said the following regarding what he looks for in pitchers:
“I like guys that can make hitters swing and miss. If you look at ground balls, yeah, if they’re weakly hit, they’re out. But ground balls are hits a lot of times. Then you couple that with a walk, couple that with a homer, and all of a sudden, we’re looking at 3 or 4 [runs]. Again, swings and misses don’t lie. I’d much rather have a swing and miss than a ground ball.”
While the sinker has shown to be an effective pitch throughout the history of baseball (and will continue to for decades to come), it still relies much on one thing: a pitcher’s defense. The swing and miss, however, is a much more efficient way of minimizing risk.
Enter Chase Petty, the flame-throwing 17-year old who this past summer became the first prep-aged player to hit triple digits at a Perfect Game tournament.
For most of his life, Chase has thrown from a true 3/4 slot off the mound, causing his electric fastball to run to the arm side at an elite level (18H+). This pitch plays very much like the sinkers thrown by Reds pitcher Luis Castillo & Dodgers pitcher Dustin May.
It was during his Plyo throws, however, that we noticed something interesting: many of Chase’s throws were from a much higher slot. When asked about it, Chase said it was not something he was doing intentionally, rather, it just felt comfortable. This began to make us wonder. Could he actually carry a four-seam?
To truly maximize Chase’s velocity, we decided to see whether he could pair his incredibly low release height (5’5”) with as much positive vertical break as possible.
Spoiler alert: he could.
The reason we feel that being able to carry the fastball is so important comes back to DJ's point from the opening of this article: swings and misses play.
Jacob deGrom, 2-time Cy Young Award winner and one of the top pitchers in all of baseball, also lives in the upper-90s with a heater from a low release-height. What makes him so special, in addition to the elite command and extension, is that his fastball looks as though it is "rising" to the hitter (30.1% Whiff Rate on FBs from '18-'20).
One of the key benefits to throwing a low-release height, high vertical-moving fastball is the ability to own the upper part of the strike-zone. This is due mainly to the ball having the illusion that it is going up (although really it is just fighting gravity more-so than a fastball with less vertical break does). Many of the swinging strikes that occur on fastballs happen in the upper part of the zone.
Pitchers that have less vertical break on their fastballs typically have less success up in the zone due to a steeper VAA (Vertical Approach Angle). Think of a pitcher’s VAA as being the opposite of a batter’s Approach Angle. The farther away we can get from the hitter’s swing plane, the less opportunity for contact they will have.
Will Chase Petty have success throwing 100MPH sinkers? Of course he will. But to ultimately best develop Chase to get hitters out at the highest level, we feel that adding a carry 4-Seam Fastball to his arsenal to pair with his already Big-League ready sinker (oh, and did we mention his -20HB Slider at 85 MPH and 17HB Changeup at 87?) will make him almost un-hittable. And that, to us, is the name of the game.