There’s something daring about the high fastball.
It captivates me, with the guts it takes to throw it on top of the talent to blast it past an elite hitter, it’s just a wonderful pitch to think about. For so long in our baseball watching — and playing, if you’re cool enough — lives, that was kind of looked at as a dangerous place to pitch. If you miss, and the ball ends up somewhere closer to the waist than the letters, you’re bound to give up a laser of a ball.
Compounding that, the only pitch that can really go there is that fastball, the least break-y of the pitches, so you’re kind of running short of deception there. So in this era of ever-increasing velocity and power, the ever-growing use of the high fastball that we see from an ever-growing list of pitchers has been a lot of fun for me. Cleveland hasn’t really had the arms to do it, getting by with control and guile, but it’s part of what made Aaron Civale such a curious case.
That’s a story for another day though, and one I’ve probably written about. I’m thinking about Triston McKenzie, the tallest drink of water to walk Progressive Field since what, Andrew Miller? That willow branch of a pitcher lives in the top end of the zone despite having merely above-average velocity and does it as much as he wants. In fact, McKenzie ranks sixth among pitchers to have thrown at least 1,000 pitches in times he’s placed it at the top end of the zone, as described by Baseball Savant’s attack zone. That’s a lot of words.
Here’s a picture:
In short, 18.7% of his pitches end up in that area of the zone. Now, the results aren’t always amazing — batters have a .304 wOBA on pitches in that zone off McKenzie, and if you look at just fastballs it bounces up to .313 which is basically the overall league average wOBA. It’s not wonderful, but we are talking about, again, non-breaking pitches right around the top end of the strike zone. It places McKenzie about 75th in baseball among those with over 1,000 pitches thrown. Again not great.
You know what though? I really love watching him do it. He’s so damn long and lanky, it just looks like it buzzes in there on an absolute line. Check this out:
Or this one:
This is one of about 40 or so from this season. I could post them all, but bandwidth demands I just post some neat ones. And anyway, they all look pretty similar. I just love how he does it, how it seems like it just goes ZORP straight out of his whip-cracking hand and dotting the top of the zone. Aesthetically, it’s one of my favorite pitches a Cleveland pitcher throws, and when you tie it in with his curve — and they mesh so well, my goodness — it’s just a total joy. To see him hit them with the ol’ hammer out of nowhere is like seeing lightning strike right at your feet. I mean, imagine seeing that fastball up top, and then this thing drops next:
That stuff is amazing. How hitters ever hit, I’ll never be able to comprehend.
I know he’s got a lot of growth to do, and a long way before he becomes something like the ace we all dreamed he’d become. Still, finding these moments of fun, these little doses of electricity that remind us why he was so highly touted and such a valued prospect, it’s why we tune in these days.
The present of 2021 might be all but dead, but the dream is still alive.