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How Sustainable is High Fastball Usage? Hunter Greene, Justin Steele Analysis

hunter greene fantasy baseball rankings draft sleepers pitcher waiver wire

Hunter Greene and Justin Steele have looked very sharp to start the 2022 season. They are both trendy waiver wire additions in fantasy leagues right now, but I noticed something very interesting about these two guys. They have both been extremely reliant on their four-seam fastball in their first two outings, and in Greene's case, he's been throwing the ball harder than anybody you'll typically see not coming out of the bullpen.

Greene just set a record for the most 100-plus MPH pitches thrown in a single game (39). Steele only averages 92.4 MPH on his fastball but he's used it 63.4% of the time in his first two starts.

I wanted to dive a bit into the historical data to see how common it is for a pitcher to use a fastball this often, and how that plays out.

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60%+ Fastball Usage

I checked 2018, 2019, and 2021 to see how many pitchers that made at least 20 starts used their four-seam fastball more than 60% of the time. Here is the whole list:

You can see it's a very short list, and not exactly a list of aces. The lone exception here is Verlander, who had tons of success in 2018 despite the heavy fastball usage.

So far in 2022, we have already seen seven starting pitchers throw their four-seam fastball over 60% of the time.

Those names: Triston McKenzie (69.3%), Jake Odorizzi (67.8%), Hunter Greene (65.7%), Justin Steele (63.1%), Joan Adon (62.1%), Michael Kopech (61.8%), Logan Gilbert (60.6%).

It is quite possible that this is just a consequence of the fact that pitchers are just getting going. These guys are still getting stretched out, and it's entirely possible that they're just relying on their heater this much because of that and this trend will not continue.

Staying focused on the young guys, Green and Steele, we find that neither of them seems to have a very deep arsenal. Here are the breakdowns of their pitch usages so far.

Hunter Greene 2022 Pitch Usage

Pitch # Thrown
4-Seam Fastball 113
Slider 41
Changeup 18

Justin Steele 2022 Pitch Usage

Pitch # Thrown
4-Seam Fastball 99
Slider 47
Sinker 5
Curveball 5
Changeup 1

Steele has five different pitches, but you can see he's been very hesitant to use anything but the four-seamer or the slider. As for Greene, he seems to only have three pitches to thrown, and there's not much confidence being shown in the changeup thus far.

I think this is pretty bad news for these two guys. It's not unheard of for a starter with 80%+ of their pitch mix being dedicated to two pitches to have success (Tyler Glasnow is a positive case for this), but it's typically the exception rather than the rule.

The other note to mention on Steele is that his fastball hasn't even been very good in terms of earning strikes. The pitch has just a 25% CSW% and a bad 5% SwStr%. He has yet to allow a barrel on the pitch, which explains a lot of his success, but it seems very unlikely to me that the pitch will continue to have success given its lack of velocity (92.4 average mph) and how often he throws it. It's a different story for Greene, at least in terms of velocity – so let's talk about that.

 

Velocity Sustainability

So far, Hunter Greene has thrown 113 fastballs and they have AVERAGED 100.0 miles per hour. That is incredible stuff. I again looked at every starter with 20+ GS since 2018, but this time I wanted to see who had the highest average velocities on their fastballs. I've included 2022 data here just to show where Greene lines up.

We see Greene towering over the field here, and we also see that usage being way, way above the rest.

So there are two possibilities at hand.

  1. Greene throws the ball way harder than anybody else in recent baseball history.
  2. Greene is maxing out effort-wise early on due to adrenaline and the desire to have early success in his rookie year.

I'm going to go with #2 there. I am fairly certain that most pitchers who average 96 or above in the big leagues COULD average 100 if they really wanted to, but they simply know that it's not safe or sustainable. You do not want to be throwing the ball as hard as you possibly can if your goal is to throw a full season's worth of innings.

Now, I suppose it's possible that Greene isn't doing that. Maybe he could average 103 if he wanted, and he's holding back a bit and just averaging 100. I'm not sure what the limits are on human biology, but I think averaging 103 like that might be past them. I would wager quite a bit of money that Greene's average fastball velocity is going to be around 97-98 as we move forward.

This isn't to say that a 97-mile-per-hour fastball isn't really fast and tough to hit, you can tell above that averaging 97 would put him right with the league leaders over the last three full seasons. I'm not trying to say that his fastball will be a bad one just because he'll lose a couple of ticks on it.

What I am saying is that the fastball will perform worse if/when it comes down a bit in velocity. Right now, the 18.6% SwStr% he's put together on his four-seamer leads the league. It has also gone over the fence three times in two starts and been barreled up four times. I don't think anything above a 16% SwStr% on a four-seam fastball can be sustained. Alek Manoah led the league in SwStr% on the four-seam last season at 15.3%, and only five pitchers even managed above 14%.

 

Conclusion

Both of these pitchers are overly reliant on their four-seam fastball. In the case of Steele, it appears that he has way over-performed on the pitch given its lack of velocity and how often it is thrown at hitters. Louder contact is inevitably coming soon, so I would avoid Steele on waivers in favor of other names.

As for Greene, the velocity and the usage of the four-seamer just have to come down. The big worry with him is that he's only shown us two other pitches so far, which is really limiting his options as far as adjusting goes. Greene is a very talented arm with a bright future, but I think he's going to have a bumpy road ahead of him as Major League hitters get some plate appearances against them. I would be looking to sell Greene in redraft leagues right now.



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