I’m in the midst of taking a look back at some of the best pitches of each pitch type in 2020, and in this edition, we’re taking a look at the top five fastballs of the year.
If you want to read more about how this series works, check out my list of the top five changeups of 2020 where I explain it.
Let’s get to it!
5. Julio Urias
We got to see Julio Urias start in 10 games last year, the most he’s had in a season since his rookie year in 2016, and he was pretty impressive, posting a 3.27 ERA, 3.72 FIP, and a 20.1% strikeout rate. Not numbers that blow you away, but very solid numbers.
A very large part of that success is owed to his fastball, which was excellent last year, posting a .265 wOBA against and, as an added bonus, an 11.4% SwStr rate, which is pretty solid for a fastball, though not necessarily super surprising for Urias’s fastball, given it’s got loads of spin on it.
Urias had a nice strikeout pitch in his changeup, which had a 46.1% chase rate and 16.4% SwStr rate, but the rest of his repertoire was focused on weak contact. In fact, here’s an impressive stat: of the four pitch types Urias threw last year, the worst wOBA against was his changeup at .289. That’s very impressive.
Speaking of young, impressive Dodgers pitchers, we got to see eight starts out of Tony Gonsolin last year and he looked very good, with a 2.31 ERA, 2.29 FIP, 0.84 WHIP, and 26.1% strikeout rate
Similar to Urias, Gonsolin also has a pretty high-spin fastball at 2,489 RPM, good for the 91st percentile in baseball last year, and clearly the pitch worked beautifully.
Last year, Gonsolin’s fastball was excellent at inducing weak contact, with a .211 wOBA and .079 ISO against. He also had an excellent slider that posted a filthy 49.2% chase rate and 27.1% SwStr rate, and a splitter that was an excellent swing-and-miss pitch with a 20% SwStr rate.
Unfortunately, with the acquisition of Trevor Bauer, I’m betting we don’t see much of Gonsolin in the rotation, but if we do, he’s going to be a really interesting fantasy piece.
For full transparency, this list includes four four-seam fastballs and one sinker/two-seamer—Adrian Houser’s. Why? Because Houser’s sinker was the best sinker in baseball, and by pVAL, it fit right at number three among fastballs.
Since he introduced the pitch in 2019, Houser’s sinker has been top-notch, and last year was no exception, as the pitch had a .283 wOBA and .092 ISO against it, not to mention a really impressive 35.7% chase rate (that’s wild for a sinker) and a 10.3% SwStr rate.
Unfortunately, that’s about all Houser has. His four-seamer is solid, but he doesn’t have a real top-quality strikeout pitch. His curveball, slider, and changeup are all very okay, with his slider and changeup having some significant command issues (.371 and .250 ISO against last year, respectively).
All of that is likely why Houser posted a 5.30 ERA and 4.82 FIP last year alongside a very mediocre 17.9% strikeout rate.
He’s got a great sinker and a solid four-seamer as a base, which is awesome, he just really needs to develop a good breaker or off-speed pitch to pair with them.
More Dodgers?? Yup. They’re all over this article, it’s wild.
Another Dodger with an absurdly high-spin fastball (in the 97th percentile of the league), Buehler was really good last year, with a 3.44 ERA and a 28.6% strikeout rate, and you can thank his fastball for a good bit of that success.
Last year, the pitch had a .163 wOBA and .016 ISO against, meaning hitters made extremely weak contact against it, if they did happen to hit it. It also induced a decent number of swings and misses, with a 10.4% SwStr rate.
If you want to read more about how Buehler utilizes his fastball, our own Alex Fast used him as an example of a pitcher who utilizes non-elevated fastballs and it’s very much worth the read.
1. Trevor Bauer
We’ve got three guys on this list who were Dodgers in 2020 and now we’ve got a guy who’s going to be a Dodger in 2021. Man, there are going to be some great fastballs in Los Angeles.
Trevor Bauer’s fastball has certainly been a topic of discussion over the past year. If you’re not up to speed why, here’s what happened.
Back in 2018, Bauer accused the Astros of using foreign substances to increase spin rates on their pitches which caused a whole kerfuffle with Astros players and added that he could totally increase his fastball spin rate with foreign substances but doesn’t, because he has “morals.”
Enter 2020: Trevor Bauer’s fastball has suddenly increased its spin rate by more than 350 RPM compared to 2019, probably because of…good fortune? Fairy godparents? Hard to tell.
Either way, that fastball was absurdly good last year, with the highest average spin rate in baseball and a .237 wOBA against it.
That fastball, alongside Bauer’s plethora of other excellent pitches (including three pitches with SwStr rates at 16% or higher) led Bauer to a 1.73 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 36% strikeout rate, and his first Cy Young award.
It’ll be interesting to see what this fastball looks like in 2021.
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