Going Deep: The 5 Best Fastballs of 2018
I’ve been diving into some of the best pitches thrown in baseball in 2018, starting with changeups, followed by curveballs, sliders and cutters. Today, we’re going to take a look at the five best fastballs thrown in the MLB this past season.
As a reminder, these pitches are ranked by pVAL, and if you aren’t sure what that all means, check out the changeups article, which will explain everything you need to know.
So let’s do it!
#5: Jacob deGrom
The reigning NL Cy Young champ is one of just two pitchers to have a pitch ranked in the top five of its type by pVAL (the other is Anibal Sanchez).
Jacob deGrom‘s fastball was fantastic. You don’t typically see fastballs getting big strikeout numbers—that often goes to the breaking pitches—but deGrom’s fastball had an excellent 16.2% SwStr rate and 35.5% chase rate.
It also induced loads of weak contact, as opposing hitters had just a .247 wOBA and .088 ISO against it—not bad for your most-thrown pitch. It also logged a 23.6 pVAL, the best of his career, with the second best being his fastball in 2015 at a 21.7 pVAL.
#4: Zack Wheeler
Of all the pitchers on this list, I think Zack Wheeler might be the most surprising to some. But if you’ve been paying attention to him (or if you’ve been reading this site at all), you’ll see why many people are really high on him.
Wheeler made massive improvements on his fastball last year, ramping it up from a -1.1 pVAL in 2017 to a ridiculous 25.5 last year. So what was different? Well, the velocity was up to an average of 96 MPH and could touch 100—the best velocity numbers of his career.
He was also able to induce a lot more weak contact with the pitch. In 2017, opposing hitters had a .354 wOBA and .153 ISO against the pitch. Last year, that dropped to a .285 wOBA and .103 ISO.
Also, for more on Wheeler, check out Nick Pollack’s excellent GIF breakdown of him.
#3: Gerrit Cole
Gerrit Cole has always had a very good fastball, but last year he took that fastball and took it to elite level, logging a 29.4 pVAL, far and away the best of his career.
The velocity was up a slight tick to 96.6 MPH on average from 95.9 in 2017, but the big thing was how he used the pitch and how well he commanded it. He induced a lot of weak contact, as opposing hitters had just a .268 wOBA against the pitch.
He also got his fair share of swings and misses, with a 13.8% SwStr rate, which is really solid for a fastball.
#2: Max Scherzer
If you wanted to tell me that Max Scherzer‘s fastball is the best fastball in baseball, I probably wouldn’t argue too hard. It’s not the best by pVAL, but it’s pretty close, and pVAL isn’t the gospel or anything.
Speaking of pVAL, Scherzer’s fastball is one of only two pitches to log a pVAL above 30 (the other is the #1 fastball) at 30.9, and it deserves every bit of praise you can think of.
Scherzer controls it really well, with a 61.9% zone rate, and it gets a fair amount of swings and misses with a 14% SwStr rate. It also induced a lot of weak contact, with a .249 wOBA and .122 ISO against. Simply put, this is an absolutely killer fastball.
#1: Justin Verlander
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the best pitch in all of baseball (at least, by pVAL). I also give you one of my favorite GIFs ever, but that’s probably just because it makes a New York Yankees player look dumb (and I always love that).
Honestly, the fact that Justin Verlander is able to haul back and launch a fastball that averages 95 MPH and can hit 99 at age 35 is just amazing to me. He can even do it late in games (like in the above GIF, where he throws 97 with his 105th pitch).
Last year, it had a 31.0 pVAL, the highest in all of baseball, and you know what’s nuts? That’s the second-highest pVAL Verlander’s ever had. The highest was in 2017, again with his fastball, at 34.3.
Similar to some of the other fastballs on this list, Verlander was able to get some swings and misses on his pitch, with a 13.7% SwStr rate and a solid 30.5% chase rate. Even when hitters did make contact, they didn’t do much, with a .283 wOBA against it.
Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire