Throwing Heat Week 1

Baseball is happening! Watching baseball again is quite possibly the best feeling in the world. Better than getting married and I can say that because my wife doesn’t read any of my stuff…. can’t say I blame her. I decided for the entire season to run a weekly article on pitchers who have been “heating up.” I will dive into what it could mean for the pitcher and what you should do with them. This should be a captivating concept because it will be pitchers of all levels, anywhere from aces to pitchers you would have never drafted. That’s what it’s all about, catching players as they improve and acting on it before anyone else can realize. Welcome to “Throwing Heat!”

Yusei Kikuchi
Last start: vs SFG 6.0 IP 3 ER 10 K’s

To quickly note, once we are deeper into the season I will also be displaying a pitcher’s stats for the last two weeks. Kikuchi pitched really well in this start. The four-seam velocity stuck to his mark from 2020 and it really impressed. Against the Giants it had a phenomenal 48.0 CSW% and 17.2 SwStr%. What’s really interesting is his fastball’s vertical movement was up half an inch in this start compared to last year. It already had elite movement meaning so that uptick just makes this fastball even better.


His new cutter that came to fruition last season was placed on the edges really well and it once again looks to be a great first option for Kikuchi. The slider didn’t induce a ton of whiffs, likely due to the not-so-great command on it but it did move well vertically.

This is of course one start and we need to see him become more consistent. The key takeaway here is that he did everything we wanted. If you have him keep holding, if not take a shot and grab him off the wire if he is available.

Jose Berrios and Corbin Burnes
Berrios last start: @MIL 6.0 IP 0 ER 12 K’s (no hits)
Burnes last start: vs MIN 6.1 IP 1 ER 11 K’s

I really hope most of you got to watch this pitching duel because it was beyond amazing. Both of these pitchers were crazy dominant by consistently hitting their spots and painting the corners of the zone. Burnes also had a no-hit bid going until Byron Buxton hit a home run off of him in the seventh inning.

When it comes to Jose Berrios being dominant it is all about that curveball. In this matchup, it had a 40.9 SwStr% and 59.1 CSW%. That is flat-out stupid. The four-seam looked good but he did struggle with his command at times (just me nitpicking). Fantastic start by Berrios and hopefully he can keep it going and break out into the starter we all keep hoping for.

Burnes stole my heart when I watched this start. I for one have zero shares of Burnes due to the fear of him not pitching a lot of innings. So far I look pretty stupid. Every pitch was working and he just looked like he was playing chess while everyone else was playing checkers. The cutter, changeup, and slider were inducing whiffs left and right. The Buxton home run was off a well-placed pitch leading you to realize he made literally no mistakes in this game. Burnes’ future looks bright.

Zack Wheeler
Last start: 7.0 IP 0 ER 10 K’s

Who said Zack Wheeler can’t strike out hitters?! What is really interesting with Wheeler is his increase in fastball velocity over the past few years. In 2017 he was throwing his four-seam on average 94.8 MPH. In his start last week it averaged 97.7 MPH. Crazy times. In his first start that four-seam had a 20.3 SwStr%, .000 ISO, and .082 wOBA.

The slider was up in velocity as well averaging about 90 MPH. It created a lot of called strikes and lead to a 40.0 CSW%. For the most part he was able to keep it low and targeted the outside of the plate against right-handed hitters.

This was a good start for Wheeler because if he can keep producing those strikeouts he will become a top 20 pitcher. To point out one thing (because that’s what we do here) he does need to bring those fastballs up a little more often because he did leave some over the middle.

John Means
Last start: 7.0 IP 0 ER 5 K’s

We need to clear the air here when it comes to John Means’ four-seam velocity. He upped it at the beginning of 2020 and a lot of people were excited. If you check his velocity from his first start you’ll see it two MPH lower. Do not panic. This is by design.

At the end of last season if you look at his game logs he dropped the velocity of his fastball. He realized he was throwing it too hard and was losing his command because of the elevated velo. When he made the change he performed a lot better in his last few starts. Fast forward to last week and Means kept the same mentality. The announcers even brought it to light that the coaching staff told him to tone it down. Means doesn’t need to throw heat he needs to have command.

As a fan and someone who purposely watched this entire start, Means might have missed the glove only twice. Both times coming in the first inning. He was in full control and when that happens everything falls into place for him. The four-seam and changeup played off each other and he finished with a 30.9% CSW rate.

Hold on to Means and see if the command sticks with his fastball. We could easily see 2019 John Means again.

Jon Gray
Last start: 5.0 IP 1 ER 7 K’s

Gray pitched so well and with such intensity that he was taken out in the fifth inning because of “full-body cramping.” Gray’s slider was working wonders in this start. He tossed it 21 times leading to an astounding 38.1 SwStr%. He utilized it really well by pushing his four-seam high and tight then purposely laying his slider low and away causing a change in eye level. Then just when you thought you figured him out he brings in the changeup that has an eight MPH drop in velocity compared to his fastball.

Oh, I forgot to mention this was played at Coors field against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jon Gray out dueled Walker Buehler. Gray has always had the really good breaking pitches but just like German Marquez, their home field has always held them back. Gray has beat Coors for a season in the past and maybe he can do it again. Ed. note: Gray gets the Giants on the road this week!

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Was following Matz’s start today and I’ll be interested to see his velo. I had him sitting 94-95 and touching 96 so it looks like he held onto his velo gains from last year. Obviously he needs to do more than just throw harder but I’m always in on guys who bump their velo.