Best Fastballs Among 2023 Top 100 Prospects
There’s few rushes I experience that match the excitement of seeing a radar gun flash 100 mph. If you catch the right fastball on the right day you might hear it cut through air on its way to the plate. Despite the movement to lower fastball usage across the game, there’s still nothing like a plus fastball. Ask any pitcher that throws one.
In an effort to expand upon last year’s Best Pitches In The Top 100 article, this year we’ve decided to make it a limited series. In an effort to illustrate the process behind the rankings, we’ll look at a variety of different metrics to determine the best pitches. From pitch type to pitch type, different metrics will have varying levels of importance. Before we get into the rankings we’ll explain what measures and statistics we’re looking at and what they all mean.
Key Fastball Metrics
Velocity: This one is simple—the harder you throw the better.
Spin Axis: How you spin the baseball and the movement generated by that spin is far more important than your raw spin rate. One way to determine the efficiency of a fastball’s movement is to look at the spin axis. This helps define the movement profile of the pitch. For example, a sinker has a different spin axis from a four-seam fastball with heavy bore and life, etc.
Induced Vertical Break (IVB): This is a metric used by ball flight-capturing devices (For example: Trackman) to determine how much a baseball moves up or down from a central point of zero. Good four-seam fastballs average between 17 to 18 inches of induced vertical break. Anything above 19 inches is considered elite. The pitchers capable of hitting 20 inches of induced vertical break are in the upper echelons. This metric removes gravity from the equation.
Vertical Approach Angle (VAA): Every pitch has a vertical approach angle. Its reading varies in importance from pitch to pitch. When it comes to fastballs, generally speaking, the flatter the better. Elite vertical approach angles on four-seam fastballs are below -4.3 degrees. There’s a handful of pitchers throughout baseball that throw a fastball with an average vertical approach angle flatter than -4.2 degrees, but almost universally that group generates higher whiff rates than those outside that range.
Whiff Rate: The rate of total swings against a pitch that results in a swinging strike or a whiff. This is the purest way to determine how well a given pitch misses bats.
Chase Rate: The rate of total swings against a pitch that induces chases or swings out of the zone.
Called+Swinging Strikes Rate (CSW%): The number of called strikes and swinging strikes added together and then divided by the total number of pitches.
Weighted On Base Average (wOBA): Weighted On Base Average is a variation of on-base percentage that weighs each method of getting on base differently. Think of it like this; a walk is worth less than a double and a double is worth less than a home run. This is an excellent way to view a pitcher’s ability to drive outs.
Expected Weighted On Base On Contact xwOBAcon: xwOBAcon is useful when analyzing fastballs for a very simple reason. It eliminates strikeouts and walks and only measures the quality of balls in play. It also excludes foul balls unless they result in an out, which is a useful inclusion when looking at fastball quality. The ability to induce infield fly balls and foul pop outs is a skill and is a common characteristic of pitchers with high induced vertical break and a flatter fastball plane. While more complex in its construction, xwOBAcon allows us to remove things we can measure with other metrics (Ex: whiffs or called strikes, etc.) and isolate the quality of contact against the pitch.
The Hot 100 (mph) Club
There were five pitchers inside the Top 100 that touched 100 mph or faster in 2022. While radar guns vary, we used sourced minor league statcast data to determine this group. The hardest-thrown pitch by a player in the Top 100 was 101.6 mph by the Dodgers’ Bobby Miller. The only other pitcher within the Top 100 to hit 101 according to this data was the Phillies’ Andrew Painter.
The Daniel Espino Problem
Espino would likely have had the best fastball among Top 100 pitchers had he not gotten hurt early in the season. By every measure he has the best fastball on the Top 100, but with a sample size of under 200 fastballs he clearly didn’t measure up to the larger group in terms of sample sizes. For this reason Shane Baz was also eliminated from consideration.
Two other pitchers were purposely excluded from this exercise—the Mets’ Kodai Senga and the Padres’ Dylan Lesko. While there is data available for each, neither has thrown a pitch in affiliated baseball in North America.
The Best Fastballs In The Top 100
1) Gavin Williams, RHP, Guardians
Average Velocity: 95 mph | BA Stuff+ 117
The Guardians certainly have a knack for identifying top-tier pitching talent. Williams, a 2021 first-rounder, had a strong professional debut, making 25 starts across High-A and Double-A. His 1.96 ERA across 115 innings was the fourth-lowest mark among minor league pitchers with 100 or more innings pitched. Williams struck out 33.1% of batters he faced in 2022, while his .171 opponent average was third lowest among minor league pitchers with 100 or more innings. Williams enjoyed a great deal of success in 2022 and it was in large part due to his excellent fastball.
Williams’ four-seam fastball blends a perfect combination of power, movement and command. Williams sits 94-96 mph, touching 98-99 mph at peak, spinning his four-seamer from a near perfect 1:00 spin axis, creating heavy bore. Williams’ fastball type, not dissimilar from Gerrit Cole’s, generates above-average ride (18.5 inches of induced vertical break on average) and arm-side run (9.5 inches horizontal break on average). Beyond his movement and power, Williams consistently lands the pitch for strikes, with a 69% strike rate on his four-seamer in 2022.
In fact, Williams’ performance with the pitch overall is what earned him the distinction of best fastball among Top 100 Prospects. Williams was the only pitcher among the Top 100 with the following combination of performance metrics—a whiff rate of 30% or higher, a chase rate of 30% or higher, a called+swinging strike rate of 30% or higher, a swing rate against of 55% or above, a wOBA against below .300 and a xWOBAcon under .300. The simple translation is Williams generates swings and misses and weak contact. Even more impressive, Williams forces hitters into these outcomes by consistently landing his fastball in locations that dare them to swing. When the performance statistics and expected numbers agree like this, there’s no need to argue.
2) Bryce Miller, RHP, Mariners
Average Velocity: 96 mph | BA Stuff+ 129
There was a true battle for the best fastball and it came down to Williams and Miller. Each drove great results with a sample size of over 1,000 fastballs thrown, and our BA Stuff+ model liked Miller’s fastball more than any pitcher in the Top 100—it graded out at 129. While the performance was slightly better for Williams, Miller generated more whiffs, had a lower wOBA against and a lower xwOBAcon.
Like Williams, Miller offers an equally attractive combination of velocity, movement and command. In fact, as the BA Stuff+ model illustrates, Miller’s fastball has the better movement profile and hence a higher grade. But what exactly makes Miller's fastball so special?
It’s a combination of a few elements. First, premium velocity, as Miller sits 94-96 mph, touching 100 mph at peak. Next, plus ride or induced vertical break. Miller averages more than 19 inches of induced vertical break and is one of the few pitchers on this list that consistently registers pitches with 20 or more inches of IVB. Finally, Miller’s combination of low release, spin efficiency and velocity creates a vertical approach angle of -4.3 degrees, a number within an elite range. This allows Miller to miss bats, particularly at the top of the zone, as it’s a difficult pitch for hitters to get their barrel on plane against.
3) Kyle Harrison, LHP, Giants
Average Velocity: 93 mph | BA Stuff+ 120
As discussed within Bryce Miller’s capsule, a flat vertical approach angle generally translates to higher whiff rates. This certainly holds true with Harrison’s four-seam fastball. While Harrison certainly has power from the left side, sitting 92-95 mph, it’s his -4.1 degree VAA that explains some of the factors behind the pitch’s success. That success led to a 42% whiff rate, the highest whiff rate of any fastball among Top 100 Prospects.
While Harrison doesn’t have the fastball command of Williams or Bryce Miller, he does baffle hitters, generating the highest called+swinging strike rate (36%) in the Top 100. His extremely low release (sub-5-feet), power and heavy arm-side run makes the pitch impossible for lefties and difficult for righthanded hitters to handle on the outer half of the plate. His .288 wOBA against his four-seamer ranked eighth among fastballs on the Top 100.
Harrison generates as much arm-side run as any fastball among Top 100 pitchers, with over 17 inches of horizontal break on average. With his low slot, flat plane and above-average power from the left side, Harrison has one of the most unique fastball looks at any level of baseball.
4) D.L. Hall, LHP, Orioles
Average Velocity: 96 mph | BA Stuff+ 117
The Orioles lefthander has a stockpile of plus or better pitches, and certainly has a case for the best fastball on this list. His four-seamer sits 95-97 mph, and he’s the only lefthanded pitcher to touch 100 mph on the list. While command is a question, Hall is a fairly strong strike thrower, landing in the middle of the list in terms of strike rate and metrics that measure location. The wOBA and xwOBAcon against the fastball were higher than others ranked below Hall, but Hall also faced Triple-A and MLB hitters for a majority of his sample in 2022.
The combination of velocity and movement coming from the left side is elite. Very few lefthanders throw as hard as Hall. There’s only a handful of lefthanders in the major leagues that throw as hard as Hall and a majority of them are single-inning relievers. In addition to premium velocity, Hall’s flatter vertical approach angle from the left side with his velocity allows him to generate whiffs at a rate greater than 31% of the time.
Hall has a top-of-the-scale fastball from the left side to go along with a deep arsenal of plus or better pitches. Few, if any, lefthanders have Hall’s level of raw stuff at their disposal.
Tink Hence Handles Everything Cardinals Throw At Him
The Cardinals used caution when rolling out Tink Hence in Low-A last season, but he learned a lot in between starts that could speed up his development.
5) Andrew Painter, RHP, Phillies
Average Velocity: 97 mph | BA Stuff+ 113
The highest-ranked pitcher in the Top 100, Painter is one of the hardest-throwing starters in the minor leagues. His average fastball of 96 mph ranked as the third-hardest fastball on the list behind only the Dodgers' Bobby Miller and the Pirates' Luis Ortiz. His max velocity in 2022, per Trackman data, was 101 mph, behind only Miller. It’s not just velocity, however, that makes Painter’s fastball special. It’s his combination of velocity, movement and command.
Painter’s movement is unique as he’s able to generate an impressive amount of vertical break on his fastball. His average IVB of 19 inches was the third-highest average on the list. Painter’s ability to generate elite levels of ride with high-end velocity makes his four-seam fastball a standout pitch on stuff alone. When you factor in Painter’s plus fastball command you begin to understand what makes Painter so unique.
Painter’s ability to generate strikes, whiffs, chases and called strikes is notable. He’s one of four pitchers on the Top 100 with a whiff rate, chase rate and called+swinging strike rate of 30% with a strike rate of 70% or above. He’s the only one in that group that averages 96 mph or higher on his fastball.
6) Eury Perez, RHP, Marlins
Average Velocity: 97 mph | BA Stuff+ 127
This is Perez's second time featured in the best fastball section of the Best Pitches in the Top 100. While he’s fallen from two to six, it can be argued only Bryce Miller has better pure stuff on his fastball. While his whiff rate doesn’t stand out among the heaters that earned inclusion on this list, his degree of difficulty as a 19-year-old in Double-A was higher than any other prospect in the Top 100.
Perez sits 96-98 mph, touching 99 mph at peak, with heavy bore, not dissimilar from Gavin Williams. Perez generates over 18 inches of induced vertical break on average, with nearly 11 inches of arm-side run. It has excellent fastball shape with premium power behind it. Beyond Perez's velocity and movement, his ability to command his fastball is unmatched on this list.
Across 500 fastballs thrown this year, Perez landed the pitch for a strike over 73% of the time, making him the only pitcher in the Top 100 with a strike rate of 71% or higher.
7) Tink Hence, RHP, Cardinals
Average Velocity: 96 mph | BA Stuff+ 116
Few pitchers in the lower levels of the minor leagues burst onto the scene in the fashion Hence did in 2022. Drafted in 2020, Hence had a total of just eight professional innings under his belt entering the season. He got a late start, as he didn’t make his debut until May 19, but the results that followed were outstanding. Over 52.1 innings across 15 appearances, Hence allowed eight earned runs and just one home run, while striking 81 batters to just 15 walks. While Hence was certainly handled with kid gloves in his full-season debut, he boasted one of the best fastballs in the minors.
Sitting 94-96 mph, and touching 99 mph at peak, Hence pairs power with a flat vertical approach angle in the same -4.1- to -4.2-degree neighborhood Harrison's fastball sits in. Much like Harrison, Hence’s fastball generates whiffs at an elite rate, with his 35% whiff rate ranking behind only Harrison and Ricky Tiedemann. In short, Hence’s four-seamer misses more bats than any fastball thrown by a righthander among the Top 100 Prospects.
What keeps Hence behind others on this list with lower whiff rates is his still improving fastball command, which will fluctuate at times. While he’s still an average strike-thrower with his fastball, he did have the highest rate of bad misses on the list.
8) Ricky Tiedemann, LHP, Blue Jays
Average Velocity: 95 mph | BA Stuff+ 115
The 2022 year was an incredible breakthrough season for Tiedemann. He climbed three levels of the minors, reaching Double-A by the beginning of August. Over 18 starts the broad-shouldered lefthander allowed just 19 earned runs over 78.2 innings, while striking out 38.9% of batters he faced. With three plus or better pitches, Tiedemann has one of the more robust arsenals. Everything, however, works off of the lefty’s most used pitch, his four-seam fastball.
Tiedemann’s fastball is not traditionally what you’d call a plus fastball based on things like induced vertical break or vertical approach angle. Instead, Tiedemann’s combination of premium velocity, heavy arm-side run and a low deceptive lefthanded slot create a unique union of traits culminating in a nasty mid-90s heater.
Performance-wise, Tiedemann had no peers among lefthanders. In fact, Tiedemann’s four-seamer is the only fastball thrown by a Top 100 Prospect with a whiff rate above 35%, a chase rate above 35% and a called+swinging strike rate above 35%.