Detroit Tigers left-handed starter Tarik Skubal throws more fastballs than Gerrit Cole, but Saturday showed us why he may be able to keep it up
One of the more common answers to the question, “What is so different about the major leagues?” from pitchers is that they can no longer just blow fastballs by guys and expect to succeed. The frequent answer to this common question is what gave scouts some pause about Tarik Skubal, who was doing precisely that in the minor leagues.
Pitching in the major leagues is difficult; and as we have seen with Skubal and Mize both, success is not always linear. But Skubal showed some adjustments he has been able to make while still keeping his fastball usage high. 57.1 percent of Tarik Skubal’s pitches are fastballs. For context, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, thought to have one of the better fastballs in the game and has the same four-pitch mix as Skubal, throws his heater 54.1 percent of the time. Three reasons stuck out as to why Skubal had success with the pitch.
Tarik Skubal Added and Subtracted Velocity
One of the marks of an impressive fastball as well as an impressive pitcher is showing the ability to add and subtract velocity on their fastball at will. Tigers fans fondly remember Justin Verlander starting many of his outings at 92-93 mph, then by the seventh inning pumping it up to 96-98 mph for a big out.
Saturday night, Tarik Skubal showed on several occasions he was able to do just that even within at-bats. He would mostly start a batter in the 93-94 mph range, then ramp it up to 96-97 mph when he had two strikes. Such a difference is almost as much as the recommended change up velocity separation, so it gives the hitter yet another look despite it being the same pitch.
Tarik Skubal Generates Movement
Skubal’s fastball has more than enough velocity to get by, but it also has plus movement. According to Statcast, the pitch yields 4.2 inches of horizontal break, which is 64 percent more than average. At least part of the movement he generates likely comes from his 3/4 arm slot which makes it a tough angle for hitters while adding deception.
Borrowing from our earlier comparison, Cole’s fastball has 4.6 inches of horizontal movement; so while the pitchers themselves are completely different and Cole’s fastball runs a bit harder than Skubal’s, the amount of movement they generate with a pitch generally designed to be straight suggests the high usage might be warranted.
Tarik Skubal Located It
It is one thing to throw hard and to get a fastball to move, but good major league players can hit velocity and they can hit pitches that have movement. The kicker with Skubal Saturday was his ability to locate his fastball where he wanted to generate swings and misses.
Specifically, he was able to leverage the high fastball to generate swings and misses. Ahead in the count, he struck out Byron Buxton and Ryan Jeffers on high fastballs; something he has struggled to do in past starts. Even if Skubal does not get those swings and misses, though, it allows him to better tunnel the slider, which he likes to throw to the back foot of right-handed hitters and should increase the effectiveness of that pitch.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Skubal’s effort was impressive, and although most fans were willing to practice patience with his success, finding some in just his fourth start is a welcomed sight for a team that appears to be shifting from rebuilding to winning. Saturday’s start lowered Skubal’s ERA from 6.75 to 4.70; his obtuse fastball that gets delivered with surprising regularity was integral as to why.