Chris Bassitt has risen up from a 5th starter/reliever type to looking like a potential middle of the rotation guy with even higher upside. How has this happened? Is this real, or should we expect regression? Let’s dive in.
Let’s start with the basics. Bassitt is a 26 year old righty who had a cup of coffee last year with the White Sox, pitching reasonably well. He was traded to the A’s in the Jeff Samardzija deal (man does that deal look great for the A’s now). There was talk that he might earn a rotation spot out of Spring Training, but that didn’t happen, so he was sent to AAA. His peripherals were outstanding in Nashville, with more than a strikeout per inning, and just one home run given up in 69 innings. He was promoted in late April to serve as a long reliever, but struggled with control, with nine walks in ten and 2/3 innings, earning a demotion as the revolving door pushed him back out. He was summoned back to the rotation in late June, and has made seven starts since then. In those seven starts, he’s averaged 6 & 1/3 innings, with a 2.27 ERA. On the year, he’s got a 2.48 ERA, a 3.36 FIP, and a more than respectable 7.29 K/9. What can we learn about him, though, when really looking at him? What is he throwing most often? Let’s ask Fangraphs.
It’s important to note that Pitch F/X tends to categorize two seam fastballs as sinkers, and judging by his velocity, that’s most likely what we’re seeing here. He tends to pitch one of his two fastballs more often than anything else, but he has more success with the fourseam than the two seam. That said, he’s somehow to get a little more velocity on his two-seam, dialing it up to 97 at times, which is a pretty nasty tool. He also gets a ton of opposite armside run on his two-seamer, about as much as his changeup, so it makes sense why he’s trying to harness it.
Let’s first take a look at two heat maps, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
So Bassitt’s pattern tends to try to bust people inside with the hard stuff before tailing everything offspeed/breaking away from the batter, at basically an unhittable location. While it’d be nice to see that red square darken a little bit for the fastball, seeing him unafraid to work the inside part of the plate is good. How well has it worked out for him, though?
Yikes, that sinker has not been good. Opposing hitters have really wrecked that pitch. That said, everything else has been phenomenal, including the four seamer. Bassitt, as such, has the ability to cut down on the two-seam and use the four-seam primarily, and even mix in the offspeed more. That changeup in particular has been extremely effective. Hitters have yet to score an extra base hit off of that and the curveball, and it’s not surprising when we look at the aforementioned heat map. Looking even further, though it’s been just two starts, hitters have yet to even hit his curveball in the air this month. The sinker has also been rather effective in those two starts, generating groundballs more than 50% of the time hitters make contact on it. If he had a better infield in front of him, that’d be phenomenal, having both his bread and butter and his primary out pitch generate groundballs reliably.
What drew me to write about Bassitt was that I felt like his combination of heightened velocity and great movement on his curve was a rare breed. Out of curiosity, I dug into FanGraphs to compare him to other pitchers. It turns out there are only 10 pitchers total that sit 93 or higher with a fastball, and have as much or more vertical movement on their curveball. Here’s that list, if you’re curious:
|Name||Team||W||L||SV||G||GS||IP||WAR||vFA (pfx)||CU-Z (pfx)||CU-X (pfx)|
|Joe Kelly||Red Sox||4||6||0||18||18||93.2||0.6||95.6||-8.1||7.2|
|Jim Johnson||– – –||2||5||9||53||0||51.2||0.1||93.7||-7.5||3.6|
It’s cherry picking, sure, but it’s still pretty fascinating. This chart undersells his recent velocity uptick as well. Since his return to the rotation, he’s sat at nearly 95 on his fastball, and if he can reach that echelon, there are just four others remaining on the list. None of the guys on this list come anywhere close to the ridiculous horizontal movement on Bassitt’s curveball either. Let me show one more table to get you excited about Bassitt:
Can you guess who the pitchers are? Pitcher A is Clayton Kershaw, while Pitcher B is Bassitt. In 2015, Bassitt’s curve, while a bit slower than Kershaw’s, has had better overall movement than Kershaw’s, and their fastballs sit at similar levels too. Obviously Bassitt is not Kershaw, but it shows that Bassitt can be pretty dang exciting to watch when he’s on. For reference, the other two guys who have the best curveballs this year according again to FanGraphs, Felix Hernandez and Mike Bolsinger, have movement ratings of 11.2 and 9.1 this year, though their curveballs are much faster.
All this is to say that Chris Bassitt has the tools to be something special. Like many guys, he has to harness his command to keep his tools at the edges of the zone, but he’s shown plenty of signs of that in the last two months. Expect Bassitt to remain in the rotation for now, and if he keeps this up, he’ll be a rotation lock for next year with some serious upside.Next post: More on Game Theory and Defensive Shifts
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