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MLB Draft Prospects: Analyzing Fastball Shapes Of Top 2024 College Pitchers


Image credit: (Photo by Eddie Kelly)

After looking into some of the data we have for college hitters a few days ago, I’ m turning my sights toward pitchers to conduct a similar exercise. 

There’s plenty to tackle on the pitching front, but the foundational pitch for anyone who steps on the mound is the fastball. Having a quality fastball isn’t optional in order to become a solid big league pitcher. It’s a requirement. 

While nothing is more important than fastball velocity, there are plenty of factors that determine whether or not a pitcher has a good heater: spin, release height, vertical and horizontal break, extension, deception and command, among others.

For this exercise, I pulled data available between TrackMan and Synergy for 25 of the top college pitchers in the class to try and get a bit more granular. Each of these pitchers currently rank on our Top 100 draft board, though Alabama righthander Pierce George is not included after facing just 11 batters in 2023. All data below is pulled exclusively from 2023 college seasons.

Our first table comes via TrackMan and includes velocity, spin, release height (Rel-Z) and pitch movement. It is sorted by velocity:

Brody BrechtRHPIowa97.723286.315.37.5
Chase BurnsRHPWake Forest9623986.117.811.3
Ben HessRHPAlabama94.923485.817.513.9
Jac CaglianoneLHPFlorida94.8217161417.7
Fran Oschell IIIRHPDuke94.422196.119.58.9
Michael MasseyRHPWake Forest94.32326620.26.3
Tyson NeighborsRHPKansas State94.325106.120.68.8
Carter HoltonLHPVanderbilt94.22185616.713.3
Thatcher HurdRHPLouisiana State9424366.320.410.6
Drew BeamRHPTennessee93.921166.31712
Ryan JohnsonRHPDallas Baptist93.923615.711.711.6
Trey YesavageRHPEast Carolina93.822906.6228.6
Kyle RobinsonRHPTexas Tech93.220166.616.58.7
Jonathan SantucciLHPDuke93.2215561812.5
Luke HolmanRHPLouisiana State93.121986.320.29.6
Hagen SmithLHPArkansas92.723095.8169.9
Janzen KeiselRHPOklahoma State92.424045.119.27.8
Matt AgerRHPUC Santa Barbara92.223976.318.410
Braden MontgomeryRHPTexas A&M92.121495.921.29.8
Carson BengeRHPOklahoma State9220185.916.811.1
Marcus MorganRHPIowa91.923865.211.410.4
Cole MathisRHPCollege of Charleston90.42082614.113.1
Josh HartleLHPWake Forest90.123505.59.17.9
Daniel AvitiaRHPGrand Canyon89.422524.87.513.4

*The lefthanded pitchers actually have a negative horizontal break which indicates running movement towards the opposite side of the plate compared to righthanders. For this table those values have been implemented to simply show total horizontal movement.

Our next table comes from Synergy and includes pitch results data and usage and is sorted by miss rate. Miss rate is the percentage of misses per swing, not overall misses per pitch (not to be confused with swinging strike rate, which is the latter).

Janzen KeiselRHPOklahoma State72%57%40.28%39%42%17%23%
Michael MasseyRHPWake Forest54%64%44.35%50%41%30%27%
Fran Oschell IIIRHPDuke76%62%42.16%48%40%27%52%
Ben HessRHPAlabama56%71%44.92%53%33%29%27%
Jonathan SantucciLHPDuke56%63%49.22%49%30%23%44%
Hagen SmithLHPArkansas56%61%41.14%40%29%23%47%
Brody BrechtRHPIowa48%56%35.15%38%28%22%63%
Tyson NeighborsRHPKansas State54%69%49.51%50%27%27%24%
Daniel AvitiaRHPGrand Canyon67%68%45.81%52%26%26%40%
Trey YesavageRHPEast Carolina53%68%49.93%51%25%25%23%
Josh HartleLHPWake Forest46%66%42.59%48%25%29%63%
Chase BurnsRHPWake Forest52%65%46.67%49%24%26%29%
Thatcher HurdRHPLouisiana State55%61%44.22%43%24%21%22%
Jac CaglianoneLHPFlorida69%59%38.88%40%24%24%47%
Carter HoltonLHPVanderbilt59%66%48.43%51%21%26%39%
Drew BeamRHPTennessee53%69%51.22%53%20%30%51%
Marcus MorganRHPIowa40%52%34.54%36%20%18%54%
Luke HolmanRHPLouisiana State54%70%49.21%52%19%32%34%
Cole MathisRHPCollege of Charleston43%65%45.16%49%19%23%51%
Matt AgerRHPUC Santa Barbara46%66%44.20%48%19%26%36%
Carson BengeRHPOklahoma State66%62%45.11%40%18%17%41%
Kyle RobinsonRHPTexas Tech55%66%45.17%50%17%25%51%
Ryan JohnsonRHPDallas Baptist36%64%47.95%47%14%21%45%
Braden MontgomeryRHPTexas A&M74%60%34.11%36%14%18%24%

Here’s one last visual before we dig into a few specific players. The below graph is a plot sorted by average velocity (x axis) and miss% (y axis). The plot point size is based on the total amount of induced vertical break (IVB): the bigger the plot point the more IVB and vice versa.

You can click on any player’s plot point to bring up the actual fastball data.

Janzen Keisel, RHP, Oklahoma State

For my money, Keisel has the most unique fastball of this group. While his 92.4 mph fastball was a tick below average in pure velocity, he is one of just three players with a miss rate greater than 40% and his 41% miss rate narrowly edged pitchers like Michael Massey and Fran Oschell III. Keisel gets his miss from unexpected fastball movement. Despite a 6-foot-4 frame, Keisel has an extremely low release height at 5.1 feet which was the second-lowest behind only Daniel Avitia. He gets to that release height with a slot that’s almost fully sidearm and presumably through above-average extension (I don’t have extension data here, but it looks to me like he gets down the mound fairly well). 

It’s more typical for pitchers with a low release height to induce less IVB. Four of the five pitchers here with the lowest release height all have induced vertical break numbers between 7.5-11.7. Keisel, of course, is the outlier. He manages to get above-average riding life on his fastball despite that low release point, which when combined with his above-average pure spin leads to tons of swing and miss at the top of the zone. Hitters have grown accustomed to fastballs moving certain ways from this release point, and because Keisel’s fastball doesn’t follow the typical movement pattern, they whiff a lot. 

Those traits make his 72% usage rate—third-most of this group—make plenty of sense, but he has plenty of room for improvement in 2024. Both Keisel’s strike% and in-zone% with the fastball were bottom five and his swing rate against was also in the bottom five. That’s not surprising for a pitcher who has a career 14.7% walk rate in two seasons. If he improves his command and control this spring, he could find even more success with his fastball without gaining a tick of velocity. 

Brody Brecht, RHP, Iowa

Brecht is one of the hardest throwers in the country and he leads this group of players with an absurd 97.7 mph average fastball velocity. That’s more than a tick and a half better than the next player on this list—Chase Burns at 96—and among players with at least 100 pitches in 2023 that velocity was good for third in the country—behind only Eriq Swan and Paul Skenes. 

That velocity alone should be enough to make Brecht’s fastball a weapon, but the above plot and some of the specific numbers here show that it hasn’t quite reached the quality that his velo alone might suggest. Brecht has solid cutting action on the fastball, but he throws the pitch from a higher release point and it has just average riding life, which has led to it being more of a groundball-inducing pitch than an elite bat-misser like you might expect. 

His 63% groundball rate against the pitch is tied with Josh Hartle for the best such rate of this player grouping, while his 28% miss rate is a tick above-average but perhaps not what you would expect given his velocity. While you might be able to nitpick the shape, I think a far greater issue is simply his location of the pitch. His 56% strike rate is the second-worst of this group, his 35.15% in-zone rate is the third-worst and his 38% swing rate against is third-worst.

He simply needs to get the fastball over the plate more often, which will help both his heater and more effectively set up his hellacious upper-80s slider. In 2023, hitters slashed .139/.383/.188 against his fastball. The OBP element here is the outlier and shows why hitters aren’t doing damage to Brecht—he’s mostly doing it to himself. He showed a bit of progress in this area in his final starts of the 2023 season. Now he needs to expand on that progress in 2024.

Michael Massey, RHP, Wake Forest

Massey’s fastball is perhaps the most “meta” fastball here. It’s the elite cut-ride heater that is en vogue at the major league level with 20.2 inches of induced vertical break, 6.3 inches of horizontal break and comes from a six-foot release height. Massey’s fastball plays up even further due to his ability to hide the ball until the last moment in his delivery, and to hitters it looks like a 94-mph fastball comes from behind his head at the latest moment possible and then moves up as it approaches the plate.

Massey’s 41% miss rate is second to only Janzen Keisel on this list, and he also managed to throw it for strikes and put it inside the zone at an average clip. Additionally, the 30% chase rate he got on the fastball was tied for second-best of this group. It’s a fastball practically designed to generate miss at the top of the zone, and as such he has much more success when he locates in the upper third than below it:

OPS vs. upper third fastballs: .474

OPS vs. middle third fastballs: .866

OPS vs. lower third fastballs: .539

Massey’s challenge this spring will be maintaining his pitch shape, velocity and command while moving from a bullpen role back to a starting role. Perhaps he’ll need to use his fastball/slider combination less than 97% of the time in that capacity, but then again maybe both pitches are good enough for that sort of usage even as a starter at the college level.

Fran Oschell III, RHP, Duke

Usage rates can be a decent proxy for pitch quality and no one used their fastball more frequently in 2023 than Oschell III, who threw the pitch 76% of the time. Batters managed just a .531 OPS against the pitch, which has above-average riding life and cut.

Oschell has unique results with the pitch thanks to both a 40% miss rate and a 52% groundball rate. For the most part, heavy groundball-inducing fastballs didn’t generate an elite miss rate and fastballs with a ton of miss generally had near average or below-average groundball rates. Oschell’s fastball generated the third-highest miss rate and the fourth-highest groundball rate, making it one of the most difficult pitches here for opposing batters to barrel up.

Like Massey, Oschell was in a bullpen role last spring, so his usage rates and overall pitch mix developments will be something to follow in 2024 as he moves to a starting role. Scouts seemed impressed with his touch and feel of the fastball last summer with Team USA.

Tyson Neighbors, RHP, Kansas State

One of the best relievers in college baseball, Neighbors has the highest-spin fastball of the group, and at 2,510 rpm he was the only pitcher to surpass the 2,500 rpm threshold. The pitch characteristics actually seem pretty similar to Michael Massey, though Neighbors’ results in both miss rate (27%) and OPS (.720) weren’t nearly as good. Here are their pitches side by side:


Perhaps the gap in results just comes down to deception, as Neighbors doesn’t seem to hide the ball as expertly as Massey does. But I do wonder how much location has to do with it as well. Neighbors actually threw strikes with his fastball at a better rate than Massey, but a lot of those strikes were fastballs in the middle of the strike zone. Neighbors had a 7% middle-middle rate with his fastball in 2023 compared to a 4% middle-middle fastball rate by Massey. That’s a marginal difference, but Massey also seemed to more effectively land his heater in the zone to his glove side, which perhaps is an area that Neighbors could improve in 2024.

Ben Hess, RHP, Alabama

Hess’ fastball doesn’t jump off the page with any one metric, but it does seem to be one of the most effective and well-rounded of the group. The pitch is above-average in a number of categories including velocity, spin rate, IVB, horizontal break, strike rate, swing rate, miss rate and chase rate.

His 71% strike rate is the best of the group and is particularly impressive considering that he managed a 64% rate with the pitch in 2022 and improved his walk rate from 13.4% to 5.5% year over year. Hess’ season was cut short in 2023 due to injury and he only has 70 total innings under his belt currently, but the heater is an intriguing pitch—if not the most electric.

The 13.9 inches of arm-side running life he had on the fastball was the most of any righthander and second-most run overall (behind lefthander Jac Caglianone) and the swing rate against his fastball was tied with Drew Beam for the highest rate in this group at 53%.

Drew Beam, RHP, Tennessee

Like Hess, Beam doesn’t have a fastball that wows immediately in any one metric, but he does seem to have a heater that he uses effectively and can help him set up the rest of his arsenal. Beam averaged about 94 mph on the pitch and throws it in the zone at a better clip (51.2%) than any pitcher on this list.

He does a nice job moving the ball to both sides of the plate, changing eye levels and avoiding the heart of the zone, and while his 20% miss rate is below-average, he does drive an above-average 51% groundball rate. He might be able to get away with nibbling around the zone even more considering his 6.7% career walk rate and efficient pitching style, but it’s hard to knock his current results and performance in the SEC over two full seasons in a starting role.

5 Hardest Fastballs:

  • Brody Brecht — 97.7
  • Chase Burns — 96
  • Ben Hess — 94.9
  • Jac Caglianone — 94.8
  • Fran Oschell III — 94.4

5 Slowest Fastballs:

  • Daniel Avitia — 89.4
  • Josh Hartle — 90.1
  • Cole Mathis — 90.4
  • Marcus Morgan — 91.9
  • Carson Benge — 92

Top 5 IVB: 

  • Trey Yesavage — 22
  • Braden Montgomery — 21.2
  • Tyson Neighbors — 20.6
  • Thatcher Hurd — 20.4
  • Michael Massey, Luke Holman — 20.2 

Bottom 5 IVB:

  • Daniel Avitia — 7.5
  • Josh Hartle — 9.1
  • Marcus Morgan — 11.4
  • Ryan Johnson — 11.7
  • Jac Caglianone — 14

5 Most Arm-Side Run:

  • Jac Caglianone, 17.7
  • Ben Hess, 13.9
  • Daniel Avitia, 13.4
  • Carter Holton, 13.3
  • Cole Mathis, 13.1

5 Most Glove-Side Cut:

  • Michael Massey, 6.3
  • Brody Brecht, 7.5
  • Janzen Keisel, 7.8
  • Josh Hartle, 7.9
  • Trey Yesavage, 8.6

5 Highest Release Points:

  • Trey Yesavage — 6.6
  • Kyle Robinson — 6.6
  • Thatcher Hurd, Luke Holman, Matt Ager, Drew Beam, Brody Brecht — 6.3

5 Lowest Release Points:

  • Daniel Avitia — 4.8
  • Janzen Keisel — 5.1
  • Marcus Morgan — 5.2
  • Josh Hartle — 5.5
  • Ryan Johnson — 5.7

5 Highest GB%

  • Josh Hartle, Brody Brecht — 63%
  • Marcus Morgan — 54%
  • Fran Oschell III — 52%
  • Drew Beam, Kyle Robinson, Cole Mathis — 51%

5 Lowest GB%

  • Thatcher Hurd — 22%
  • Janzen Keisel, Trey Yesavage — 23%
  • Braden Montgomery, Tyson Neighbors — 24%

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