Anthony Banda’s fastball is special, but not for its velocity. The pitch typically clocks in between 93-95 mph with flecks of higher velocities, but that’s not what makes it stand out.
Banda throws his fastball in a way that allows it to dip, dart and dive during the final few feet of its journey in a way that induces tons of swings and misses on pitches both inside and outside the strike zone.
“When that ball gets 20 feet from home plate and it’s exploding at the plate,” Durham pitching coach Rick Knapp said. “It’s not where you’re thinking that it’s going to be. His ball has some life to the end of it.”
Through his first three starts with Triple-A Durham, Banda, a lefthander who was acquired from the D-backs in the deal that sent Rays outfielder Steven Souza to Arizona, has a swinging-strike percentage of 13.3 percent. That figure places him among the top 10 in the International League, according to stats at Fangraphs.com.
“It definitely plays up from whatever the number is, 94-95 (mph),” Durham manager Jared Sandberg said. “Another telltale sign would be when you’re seeing swings and misses in the zone, not necessarily swings and misses out of the zone.
“That tells you you’ve got an electric fastball, but when you’re getting swings and misses in the zone with your fastball, it’s another telltale sign that it’s a good one.”
Another part of Banda’s early effectiveness has come because of the improvement of his slider. The pitch is relatively new—he introduced it into his arsenal last December—but he’s already shown an ability to use it as a finisher when he’s hunting a strikeout.
“He’s shortened up the slider a little bit,” Sandberg said. “He’s worked on it in the bullpen during his last two side sessions. Just by shortening that up the other day he was able to get it around the back foot of the righthanded hitters and beneath their barrels.”
With the slider in the mix, Banda now works with a full, four-pitch complement that also includes a high-80s changeup and a mid-70s curveball that he can flip in the zone to steal an early strike.
Still, the fastball has been the key early in his first season with new organization. He’s shown early in the year that, even when his other pitches might not be as consistent as he might like, he can still carve up hitters with old number one.
In his first start, six of the swings and misses he recorded over the first three innings came on the fastball. The next time out, his fastball got him 10 more swings and misses over five innings of one-run ball.
So, how does Banda get such wicked movement of his fastball? There are some underlying theories, but neither the pitcher nor his coaches have a firm answer.
“I’m certain it has something to do with his finger pressure and the arm speed he creates and the linear direction that he’s imparting on the ball . . .” Knapp said. “It’s talent.”
Banda himself couldn’t put a finger on why his fastball moves the way it does.
“I don’t know. I just try to hit my spots and induce weak contact,” he said. “On that side, I guess that’s just what I do. I don’t really know how I get that or what I do. There’s no secret to doing it. I just throw it as hard as I can with some conviction and let it do what it’s doing.”
So far, what it’s doing is dominating.
While Banda is the most interesting pitcher in Durham’s rotation, the team has a stable of intriguing, high-octane arms in its bullpen waiting to hold any lead they’re handed.
From Triple-A veterans like righthanders Diego Castillo, Hunter Wood, Ryne Stanek and Jaime Schultz to newcomer Ian Gibaut, nearly every arm in the Bulls’ bullpen has the ability to lock down the opposition.
“They’re all electric coming out of that bullpen,” Durham catcher Adam Moore said. “There’s not one comfortable at-bat with all those arms coming out of that bullpen with electric stuff that will keep you off-balance.
“Those guys are all throwing 95-plus miles per hour, but they can throw their offspeed for strikes at any given time. You can’t sit on certain pitches against any of those guys.”
Even with Wood already called to the big leagues, Sandberg still has plenty of options at his disposal. Castillo has touched 100 mph and locked down Durham’s Triple-A National Championship last September. Stanek touches 100 mph and is a Futures Game alumnus.
Schultz hasn’t hit triple-digits yet, but has struck out seven hitters in his first 2.2 innings of the year. Gibaut is making his first turn at Triple-A and has also, you guessed it, touched 100 mph.
“With the likes of Schultz, Castillo, Stanek, it’s impressive, and those guys were all here (last year)” Sandberg said. “And then you add Gibaut, who’s come up through our system as well, it’s a lot of fun.”